Elsewhere, night falls, but in Moonlight Bay it steals upon us with
barely a whisper, like a gentle dark-sapphire surf licking a beach.
At dawn, when the night retreats across the pacific toward distant
Asia, it is reluctant to go, leaving deep black pools in alleyways,
under parked cars, in culverts, and beneath the leafy canopies of
According to Tibetan folklore, a secret sanctuary in the sacred
Himalayas is the home of all wind, from which every breeze and
raging storm throughout the world is born. If the night, too, has a
special home, our town is no doubt the place.
On the eleventh of April, as the night passed through Moonlight Bay
on its way westward, it took with it a five-year-old boy named
Near midnight, I was on my bicycle, cruising the residential
streets in the lower hills not far from Ashdon College, where my
murdered parents had once been professors. Earlier, I had been to
the beach, but although there was no wind, the surf was mushy; the
sloppy waves didn't make it worthwhile to suit up and float a
board. Orson, a black Labrador mix, trotted at my side.
Fur face and I were not looking for adventure, merely getting some
fresh air and satisfying our mutual need to be on the move. A
restlessness of the soul plagues both of us more nights than
Anyway, only a fool or a madman goes looking for adventure in
picturesque Moonlight Bay, which is simultaneously one of the
quietest and most dangerous communities on the planet. Here, if you
stand in one place long enough, a lifetime's worth of adventure
will find you.
Lilly Wing lives on a street shaded and scented by stone pines. In
the absence of lampposts, the trunks and twisted branches were as
black as char, except where moonlight pierced the feathery boughs
and silvered the rough bark.
I became aware of her when the beam of a flashlight swept back and
forth between the tree trunks. A quick pendulum of light arced
across the pavement ahead of me, and tree shadows jumped. She
called her son's name, trying to shout but defeated by
breathlessness and by a quiver of panic that transformed Jimmy into
a six--syllable word.
Because no traffic was in sight ahead of or behind us, Orson and I
were traveling the center of the pavement: kings of the road. We
swung to the curb.
As Lilly hurried between two pines and into the street, I said,
"What's wrong, Badger?"
For twelve years, since we were sixteen, "Badger" has been my
affectionate nickname for her. In those days, her name was Lilly
Travis, and we were in love and believed that a future together was
our destiny. Among our long list of shared enthusiasms and passions
was a special fondness for Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the
Willows, in which the wise and courageous Badger was the stalwart
defender of all good animals in the Wild Wood. "Any friend of mine
walks where he likes in this country," Badger had promised Mole,
"or I'll know the reason why!" Likewise, those who shunned me
because of my rare disability, those who called me vampire because
of my inherited lack of tolerance for more than the dimmest light,
those teenage psychopaths who plotted to torture me with fists and
flashlights, those who spoke maliciously of me behind my back, as
if I'd chosen to be born with xeroderma pigmentosum--all had found
themselves answering to Lilly, whose face flushed and whose heart
raced with righteous anger at any exhibition of intolerance. As a
young boy, out of urgent necessity, I learned to fight, and by the
time I met Lilly, I was confident of my ability to defend myself;
nevertheless, she had insisted on coming to my aid as fiercely as
the noble Badger ever fought with claw and cudgel for his friend
Although slender, she is mighty. Only five feet four, she appears
to tower over any adversary. She is as formidable, fearless, and
fierce as she is graceful and good-hearted.
This night, however, her usual grace had deserted her, and fright
had tortured her bones into unnatural angles. When I spoke, she
twitched around to face me, and in her jeans and untucked flannel
shirt, she seemed to be a bristling scarecrow now magically
animated, confused and terrified to find itself suddenly alive,
jerking at its supporting cross.
The beam of her flashlight bathed my face, but she considerately
directed it toward the ground the instant she realized who I was.
"Chris. Oh, God."
"What's wrong?" I asked again as I got off my bike.
"No." She turned from me and hurried toward the house. "This way,
Lilly's property is ringed by a white picket fence that she herself
built. The entrance is flanked not by gateposts but by matched
bougainvillea that she has pruned into trees and trained into a
canopy. Her modest Cape Cod bungalow lies at the end of an
intricately patterned brick walkway that she designed and laid
after teaching herself masonry from books.
The front door stood open. Enticing rooms of deadly brightness lay
Instead of taking me and Orson inside, Lilly quickly led us off the
bricks and across the lawn. In the still night, as I pushed my bike
through the closely cropped grass, the tick of wheel bearings was
the loudest sound. We went to the north side of the house.
A bedroom window had been raised. Inside, a single lamp glowed, and
the walls were striped with amber light and faint honey-brown
shadows from the folded cloth of the pleated shade. To the left of
the bed, Star Wars action figures stood on a set of bookshelves. As
the cool night sucked warmth from the house, one panel of the
curtains was drawn across the sill, pale and fluttering like a
troubled spirit reluctant to leave this world for the next.
"I thought the window was locked, but it mustn't have been," Lilly
said frantically. "Someone opened it, some sonofabitch, and he took
"Maybe it's not that bad."
"Some sick bastard," she insisted.
The flashlight jiggled, and Lilly struggled to still her trembling
hand as she directed the beam at the planting bed alongside the
"I don't have any money," she said.
"To pay ransom. I'm not rich. So no one would take Jimmy for
ransom. It's worse than that."
False Solomon's seal, laden with feathery sprays of white flowers
that glittered like ice, had been trampled by the intruder.
Footprints were impressed in trodden leaves and soft damp soil.
They were not the prints of a runaway child but those of an adult
in athletic shoes with bold tread, and judging by the depth of the
impressions, the kidnapper was a large person, most likely
I saw that Lilly was barefoot.
"I couldn't sleep, I was watching TV, some stupid show on the TV,"
she said with a note of self-flagellation, as if she should have
anticipated this abduction and been at Jimmy's bedside, ever
Orson pushed between us to sniff the imprinted earth.
"I didn't hear anything," Lilly said. "Jimmy never cried out, but I
got this feeling...."
Her usual beauty, as clear and deep as a reflection of eternity,
was now shattered by terror, crazed by sharp lines of an anguish
that was close to grief. She was held together only by desperate
hope. Even in the dim backwash of the flashlight, I could hardly
bear the sight of her in such pain.
"It'll be all right," I said, ashamed of this facile lie.
"I called the police," she said. "They should be here any second.
Where are they?"
Personal experience had taught me to distrust the authorities in
Moonlight Bay. They are corrupt. And the corruption is not merely
moral, not simply a matter of bribe-taking and a taste for power;
it has deeper and more disturbing origins.
No siren shrieked in the distance, and I didn't expect to hear one.
In our special town, the police answer calls with utmost
discretion, without even the quiet fanfare of flashing emergency
lights, because as often as not, their purpose is to conceal a
crime and silence the complainant rather than to bring the
perpetrator to justice.
"He's only five, only five," Lilly said miserably. "Chris, what if
this is that guy on the news?"
"The serial killer. The one who...burns kids."
"That's not around here."
"All over the country. Every few months. Groups of little kids
burned alive. Why not here?"
"Because it isn't," I said, "It's something else."
She swung away from the window and raked the yard with the
flashlight beam, as though she hoped to discover her tousle-haired,
pajama-clad son among the fallen leaves and the curled strips of
papery bark that littered the grass under a row of tall eucalyptus
Catching a troubling scent, Orson issued a low growl and backed
away from the planting bed. He peered up at the windowsill, sniffed
the air, put his nose to the ground again, and headed tentatively
toward the rear of the house.
"He's got something," I said.
Lilly turned. "Got what?"
When he reached the backyard, Orson broke into a trot.
"Badger," I said, "don't tell them that Orson and I were
A weight of fear pressed her voice thinner than a whisper. "Don't
"I'll be back. I'll explain. I swear I'll find Jimmy. I swear I
I could keep the first two promises. The third, however, was
something less meaningful than wishful thinking and was intended
only to provide a little hope with which she might keep herself
In fact, as I hurried after my strange dog, pushing the bicycle at
my side, I already believed that Jimmy Wing was lost forever. The
most I expected to find at the end of the trail was the boy's dead
body and, with luck, the man who had murdered him.
Excerpted from SEIZE THE NIGHT © Copyright 1998 by Dean
Koontz. Reprinted with permission by Bantam. All rights