Narrated by Bob Eccles
I was having dinner next door, in my best friends’ house, right across from the world’s loudest clock. It ticked and the forks clicked against the plates, tick/click, tick/click, tick/click. I wanted to push back the hands of that clock.
Sarah and Melody and Holly, their mother, kept up this small talk. Nobody mentioned Amy. I kept moving the fish around on my plate and Melody kept looking at me as if I had three arms.
Afterward, Melody and Sarah and I went up to their room. We sat on the shag carpet.
“Have you got a ransom note or anything?”
“Melody!” Sarah acted as if she were a lot older than Melody, even though she was only a year older.
“No ransom note,” I said. “No nothing.” I was kind of relieved to be talking about it, because I couldn’t think about anything else.
There was dead silence.
“We’ve got to do something!”
We’d always done things together, ever since they moved next door when I was five. They were the first friends to see my sister after she was born.
Melody shrugged. “But what can we do? The police are looking for her.”
“She’s been gone too long,” Sarah said. “And there are flyers all over the place.”
We felt as if our hands had been cut off.
I heard my father come in and shut the door behind him.
I left my room and looked downstairs and saw him go into the family room. I crept down the stairs.
We were all on eggshells. No wonder Alex stayed away. He was never the eggshells type. I wondered if he had the nightmares when he stayed over at the Jameses.
Dad had put on the TV. The news was on. He was staring at it. He didn’t even see me come in and sit down beside him. It was like a monster had stolen my parents and left their empty bodies. They were like zombies.
Then the newsman said, “Still no sign of the Anderson girl”, and I saw something in my fathers face that looked like a mad bull that wanted to smash right through the TV screen, but then it was gone.
The phone rang, and I flew out of the couch. It was Gramma. I dropped into the nearest chair.
“Alice? How are you?” The sadness was there, in her voice, but there was space in it. It wasn’t all crushing itself up against her words.
“I’m okay.” I didn’t dare to say anything else.
“Is Alex there?”
“He’s at the Jameses. He’s always over there.”
“Well, your parents are very upset.”
“I know.” (Talk to me. Don’t hang up.)
“JB and I would love you to come and stay with us for a while. You and Alex. Would you like that?”
Would I! But I hesitated. I was worried about Mum and Dad. Like maybe I should do something. Help them somehow.
“We think it would be good for Dee and John to have a little time alone.”
Had she read my mind? Sometimes it seemed like Gram could do that. “Do you think it’d be a good idea?”
It was tempting. Gram and JB owned land in the middle of a forest. Twelve acres with a creek and singing birds. There were so many birds and so few houses, that the birds would try to fly right through the windows. JB would have to collect their bodies in the morning. Alex even put a sign on the biggest window. It said, THIS IS A WINDOW. There were so few houses there, that the birds didn’t know what windows were. I told him that birds couldn’t read, but he thought maybe just having the piece of paper there would help.
Alex went. I stayed. I couldn’t leave Mum and Dad. I was afraid. I was afraid they’d disappear, too. Like they would go somewhere in their minds where I couldn’t reach them.
We slog through the partially melted snow. I don’t even have my boots on. We go to Giant Rock, where we always have our picnics in the summer. Then we go hiking, and keep right on going past the NO TRESPASSING sign. I don’t know why. We’ve never done that before. We know about Buster. Buster is a pit bull and Buster is the reason we never went past the sign before. He can make a lot of noise. That’s why we begin to be spooked. Not a bark. We cut across to the frog pond, instead of taking the long way around. Suddenly, we all break into a dead run. Then Melody stops cold. Sarah and I keep right on running. We are running so fast, we can’t stop. I think she will catch up with us, but she doesn’t. We both stop at the same time and look back. No Melody.
Sarah yells, “MELODY!” at the top of her lungs. Nothing. Not even a dog bark. We look at each other. We are both scared. We don’t know if we should run back or walk back, so we do both.
Then we hear something. A whine. A whimper. But not human. And we can barely hear it. We each pick up a stick, the strongest we can find, and move slowly toward the sound.
We find the old shack. It looks like someone had lived in it a long time ago. There’d been a fire, and the inside is blackened. There is one room with a stairway by the door that leads up to another room. Downstairs, there is an old rusted stove. The floor is littered with weeds and leaves.
The whine is coming from upstairs. Then we hear the sound of the dog dragging itself across the floor.
We look up the stairwell. It is Buster, staring down at us, but he doesn’t look so ferocious. He looks sad, whining and yelping softly. We look at each other and start up the stairs.
When we get up there, we find Melody, with Amy in her arms. Melody lets out a breath. “I was hoping that was you!”
If you can feel confusion like hunger or thirst, that’s what I feel. I mean my whole body feels it. My heart doesn’t know if it should beat. My lungs don’t know if they should breathe. I drop to my knees and reach.
Amy looks at me, her eyes lock into mine, and then she is in my arms, and it is all so wild and joyous that I woke up with such a grin that I thought my face would crack. But no, it was my heart.
It was dark and cold and I was alone. I closed my eyes again. I wanted to go back. But I couldn’t get back into it. I was locked out. So I lay there, between awake and asleep, between alive and dead, with the night still pushing against me, feeling like I was in a grave, and there was this heavy stone I couldn’t get off my chest.
I love you, Amy, wherever you are. I said it to myself as if she could hear it, she could feel it, she could know it in any corner of heaven or earth. As if somehow it could reach her even if it couldn’t protect her. As if it could hold her in the face of anything. I wanted her to be here now and the kidnapping just some stupid dream. I was still not quite awake.
I climbed out of bed and walked out and looked into Amy’s room. Her bed was empty and still made up and like a slap of cold water. I went in and grabbed her lucky trolls and threw them at the wall. I grabbed her pillow, it smelled like baby shampoo, I hugged it to me as if I were trying to stuff the hole in my gut.
Then somehow I was in the living room, and I called Gram.
“I’m coming,” I said.
I looked out the window and I saw Amy everywhere; she was in the tree; she was in the sky; she was in the mailbox playing hide and seek like some little elf, and she was laughing.
My mother came into the room and smiled, but it was a small smile. It hadn’t reached her eyes yet.
She came to my side.
I said, “Why can’t you come?”
She looked out the window. “The last time I saw Amy, she was out in the front yard, singing. That crazy raindrop/gumdrop song that Alex taught her. She had her head back and her mouth and arms and hands all open wide and she was dancing around in circles.”
We stood there looking out the window as if we were watching Amy.
She took my hand. The phone rang but we just let it, neither one of us moved. The machine would pick it up. We were listening, staring through the glass, as if we could see what was on the other side.
AUTHOR BIO: Nancy Gauquier’s stories have been published in the US, Canada, England and New Zealand (where Amy was first published, in Takahe).
ILLUSTRATOR BIO: Eleanor Leonne Bennett is an internationally award winning artist. Her photography has been published in the Telegraph, The Guardian, BBC News Website and on the cover of books and magazines in the United states and Canada. See more of her photography at www.eleanorleonnebennett.com