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Silence hung over the darkened house like a shroud. Outside the window, the moon peered bleakly through the skeletal pines. Gray-black clouds scudded across the sky, rats deserting a sinking ship.
Audrey Bock screamed.
Her shriek resounded in the confines of the bedroom, and then away down the hall, like the caterwaul of a hell-bent train. Her husband, Richard, bolted upright, fumbling for the lamp. The alarm clock clattered to the floor.
Audrey screamed again. Beneath the fury of her gut-wrenching cry, other sounds struggled toward the surface in Richard's consciousness. His fingernails scratching the tabletop. A thin breeze fluttering the curtains.
The light finally flicked on as Audrey screamed yet again.
She sat with her back pressed stiff against the headboard, staring straight ahead through unfocused blue eyes, her knees tucked tightly to her chest. Her short blond hair was tousled and her hands flapped wildly in front of her face, warding off some unseen menace.
Richard clutched her, following her gaze across the harsh shadows of their bedroom, into the empty hallway, barely lit by the bathroom night-light.
"Let him go!" she cried.
Richard shook her gently. "Honey, there's nobody there. It's just a bad dream. Wake up."
"She's got him!" Audrey shrieked, so loudly that Richard winced. "She's got him!"
"Honey, it's a nightmare. Wake up!"
"Leave him alone! Leave my baby alone!"
Richard tugged her back as she struggled feebly in his arms. "Audrey!"
"She's got him," she said in a voicesuddenly far too calm. It seemed as though she'd taken a step back from whatever it was in her mind. As though her pounding heart had abruptly stilled, not because the terror was over, but because it had become too great to bear.
"You're asleep. You've got to wake up."
"She's going to kill him," she whispered, her words digging into his heart. "She's got my baby."
Richard couldn't understand how she could have her eyes wide open and still be sound asleep. This was nothing like the nightmares that had plagued her since Zach's disappearance. This was something different, more sinister. He couldn't reach her through the barricade of sleep, if she was asleep at all.
Without warning, her panic returned. "I've got to go!" She fought him, stronger this time, but still unable to break free.
He couldn't stand to see her this way. It summoned buried feelings of inadequacy and guilt. He stared at the ceiling, praying to find a revelation there, but none appeared.
"Honey, if you don't wake up I'm going to put you in the shower." He wasn't sure that was such a good idea--he seemed to recall something about not shocking someone in the middle of a nightmare, or was that sleepwalking?--but he didn't know what else to do. Perhaps just the threat would work.
"Don't touch him!" she screamed. This time she broke free of his grasp, wobbling beside the bed, gesturing toward the shadows in the hall.
Richard slid across the bed, standing to wrap her in his arms again. Lifting her easily, he carried her out into the hall. Audrey pawed at the empty air, the terrible vision following her through the house. Richard lowered her gently into the tub, and she cringed in the far corner, quivering, as though the icy water had already been turned on.
"Audrey, please wake up," he pleaded.
Just as he feared, she gave no sign of hearing him. He turned on the tap, expecting another cry as the cold water struck her, but her silence was worse. She quailed in the farthest corner of the tub. The water plastered her hair to her head. Her chin rested between her knees and she shivered so violently her teeth chattered, but still she stared straight ahead at the nightmare visible only to her.
Richard knelt beside the tub, spray soaking his pajamas, stroking soggy hair out of her face. "Aud, it's a dream. It's just a bad dream. You have to wake up."
"It isn't a dream." Her voice was flat and mechanical again.
He lightly slapped her cheek. "It is."
She turned to glare into his eyes, and for the first time he thought she could see him, but the terrified expression that slowly slipped across her features told him she still wasn't back in the here and now.
"She's here!" she screamed.
He gripped her shoulders and shook her, barely feeling the icy spray on his back. "No one's here, Aud."
"She's got him." Her tone was hesitant again. Confused. Her emotional roller coaster frightened him as much as the crazy dream or his inability to reach her. What in the world could be going on inside her head? It was as if some mad scientist were alternately injecting her with uppers and downers, to test her reaction to the drugs. But he sensed a growing awareness of her surroundings in her eyes, in the way she jerked when the water hit her in the face again as he moved.
"Wake up, honey," he said. "You're almost awake. Come on. Stand up."
"I am standing up."
"No, you're not. Come on."
He lifted her to her feet, and she wrapped her arms around him, collapsing into his soaking embrace. They huddled together beneath the frigid shower for several minutes, until her breathing eased and her heart slowed again. She shook against him, sobbing into his shoulder.
"I want him back," she whimpered.
"I want him back, too, Aud." He held her at arm's length, peering into her eyes. "Are you with me now?"
She gave him a curious look.
"Are you awake?" he asked.
"Good. Let's get you dried off."
She stood compliantly as he removed her dripping nightgown and toweled her dry. Then he kicked off his own sodden pajamas and dried himself, tossing towels and pajamas into a damp pile in the corner.
"Let's go back to bed," he said, exhausted.
But she stood as still as a zombie and he realized that wherever she was, she still wasn't completely back yet. He lifted her again--like a child, because she wasn't much larger than one--and speaking calmly to her all the time, carried her ever so gently back to bed.
Outside the old red-brick courthouse with its one lit window, Arcos, Maine lay sleeping Friday night away. A freshening breeze stirred maples, oaks, birches, and balsams, wafting the scent of manure into town from outlying farms that were renewing their fertile black soil for spring. The easternmost reaches of the White Mountains shadowed the moon, and only starlight shimmered on the lakes and ponds that made the area a mecca for summer tourists. Arcos, seat of Ouachita County, lay at the foot of the slopes, as though ready to slide down into the water of Lake Arcos, hidden by a low ridge just behind the building. Flatlanders were always asking "Where's the lake?" and locals would point toward their backyards and say "right through there."
Inside the building, Sheriff Virgil Milche ran his fingers through his hair and gnawed on his monthly cigar, finally stubbing out the fat butt in a pristine ashtray on the windowsill to his left. Virgil's full head of ash-gray hair matched his eyes, and his face was fluted with sun-browned wrinkles. Although he was shorter than every deputy on the force, he was powerfully built with thick arms and broad shoulders.
His amber-shaded desk lamp gave the entire office a cozy feeling to which the rattling radiator in the corner contributed. But even this late in the season, with the warmth from the ancient heater threatening to put him to sleep, Virgil couldn't shake a chill. As he stared at the twin manila file folders on his otherwise bare desk, he heard the door open but didn't bother looking up. Deputy Birch was the only other officer on duty in Arcos that night.
"Want me to pick you up something to eat, Sheriff?"
Virgil shook his head, scraping at a small brown stain on one of the folders, residue from some long-forgotten fly he'd done in. Names were taped on the front of each file in plastic labels.
Doodles of knives and pistols covered the flat manila space around the names. Virgil filled in a tiny bare spot beneath the second a in Zachary with a fountain pen.
"Virg?" Most times Birch was unfailingly correct, and he was one of the cops Virgil had never had to discipline. Not once. But alone in the office at night, Virgil didn't stand on protocol, and besides, Birch was more than just a deputy. Even though he was one of the least senior men on the force and thirty years Virgil's junior, he'd become a friend.
Birch padded closer to the desk. Virgil concentrated on not coloring outside the lines.
"Virg, are you all right?"
Virgil glanced up, wondering why Birch had never done anything about his hair. It was cut short enough to be regulation, but it always looked as though he'd accidentally dropped the blow-dryer in the tub with him. "What?"
"Are you okay?"
"Doris doing all right today?"
Virgil's eyes dropped back to the files. "Yeah. She's okay."
"Why don't you go home?"
"Later. What did you need, Birch?"
"Nothing, Virg. You just looked like maybe you didn't feel too good."
"Okay, then. I'll put those files away for you, if you like."
Out of the corner of his eye, Virgil saw Birch's hand reaching, and he slapped down on the files a little harder than he had intended. When he looked up into Birch's eyes again, he saw surprise.
"Sorry," said Virgil, taking a deep breath. "I'll take care of the files."
Birch nodded, staring at the folders. "The Merrill boy disappeared before I started, but I was here when Zach Bock got taken."
"I know it still bothers you a lot, Virg."
"Yeah, Birch. It bothers me a lot." He stared off into space, hoping that Birch would get the message. After a longer than average time, he did.
"I'm gonna run over to the Big Apple and grab an ice cream bar. You should go on home."
"I'm gonna do that."
"Tell Doris I said hi."
Virgil watched through the glass panel of his office as the deputy exited the station. Doris liked that kid almost as much as he did. Birch was thoughtful, smart, a hard worker, and he knew when to get out of the way. Most of the time.
Virgil closed his eyes and rubbed his temples hard, but the pain he felt now wasn't the kind that could be massaged away. He opened his eyes and began flipping through Timmy Merrill's file. Black-and-white photographs slid across his desk and he gathered them up like a deck of cards. The woods across from the Merrills. Bicycle tracks in the dirt alongside the road. Timmy's cap, brought in later by a town roadworker who'd discovered it a mile from the Merrills' house.
Virgil set the photos aside and fingered through pages of depositions. Nobody had seen anything. That was one of only three things that tied the two disappearances, four years apart, together.
Nobody saw anything.
A lot of people thought Virgil was crazy when Zach Bock disappeared and he dug up Timmy Merrill's file. Timmy disappeared a mile from home while riding his bike. He lived a couple of miles outside of Arcos in a residential but still rural area. Zach Bock was kidnapped right off his front lawn. Zach lived with his parents on a five-acre wooded lot fifteen miles outside of town. His nearest neighbor was a quarter-mile down the road. Timmy was an average boy, not overly bright but not stupid. By all accounts, Zach was a prodigy. He could read and write by the time he was four. Timmy was large for his age, with blond hair and blue eyes. Zach was small, dark hair, and deep brown eyes like his father. Timmy was seven when he disappeared. Zach was nine. The kidnappings were four years and fifteen miles apart, and in the intervening years no other children had disappeared in the area and no similar abductions had occurred in the county. Yet Virgil remained convinced that the two events were related.
Both victims were young boys. Both were taken by someone in an automobile, since the dogs never found a trace of them in the woods, not a scent.
And no one saw a thing.
He slid the photos back into the file and closed it, stacking the pair. The swirl patterns danced before his eyes. He refused to believe that two monsters lived in his county.
He picked up the files and returned them to his top drawer. When he flipped off the desk light, the whole station went dark. He could hear Birch's car starting outside and the sound of a semi cruising up Route 26 where it merged with Main Street. But in his mind he could hear the sound of a madman laughing. A hideous, cackling, you-can't-catch-me-you-stupid-cop laughter that rankled and chilled at the same time.
There were monsters everywhere and Virgil had made a life out of making sure none of them came to live in Ouachita County. But it had been five years without one new clue since the first disappearance, and now he knew he wasn't likely to bring this one to justice.
He had other problems.
Audrey awakened the next morning to the smell of frying bacon. She stretched languorously, shocked by the feel of linen against her bare skin. Lifting the sheets, she stared at her nude body. She'd gone to bed in a nightie, no question about that. But that was the last thing she remembered, and forgetting things that she shouldn't have unsettled her. She grabbed her robe out of the closet and followed the smell of breakfast into the kitchen. Richard was a great cook. Better than her.
He glanced up from the electric griddle as she entered.
"How do you feel?" he asked.
"Sleepy. What time is it?"
He glanced at his watch. "Ten-thirty."
"Why'd you let me sleep so late?"
"It's Saturday. Besides, after last night, I thought you needed your rest."
She took the coffee he offered and dropped into a chair, frowning. "I slept like a log. But I woke up with nothing on."
"You don't remember anything?"
"Remember what? Did we have a wild night?"
"You had the worst nightmare you've ever had."
He set his coffee cup beside the griddle. "I had to carry you into the bathroom and put you in the shower to wake you up. That's why you were sleeping nude."
"I'm not kidding. It was awful. I couldn't get through to you. You just kept staring into space and screaming."
"Screaming?" She couldn't believe it. She was definitely tired--as though she hadn't really slept--but she didn't remember waking in the night, and she certainly didn't recall a shower.
Posted December 9, 2008
Arcos, Maine is a small quiet town where people know their neighbors and doors are never locked. Yet in the space of four years two boys disappeared without a trace and most people, including Sheriff Virgil Milche, think they will never be found. Zach Bock has been missing for over a year now and his parents, Richard and Audrey, remain tortured by his absence. Audrey, who had a very strong bond with her son, has begun suffering night terrors and episodes where she hears her son¿s voice. Richard thinks she is near a breakdown and insists that she visits a psychiatrist. To pacify him, she agrees to go. After speaking time with the doctor, Audrey realizes that the aunt who raised her after a traumatic childhood with her mother has brainwashed her into forgetting her salad days. If she hopes to find out what happened to Zach, Audrey must be willing to face the demons of her own past. Chandler McGrew has written a masterful work of psychological suspense with some paranormal elements intertwined into the story line. The heroine is facing every mother¿s worst nightmare while fighting for her own sanity. She is a character that readers will identify with and take into their hearts. NIGHT TERRORS is a fascinating reading experience because like Memorex readers don¿t know what is real and what is a figment of the character¿s imagination. Harriet Klausner
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