Again, the dream creeps in.
It’s a foggy, gray day and I’m in the kitchen, on the phone, talking to someone . . . but that part changes. Sometimes it’s my husband, Wyatt; other times it’s Tanya, and sometimes it’s my mother, though I know she’s been dead a long, long time. But that’s how it is. . . .
From the family area, the room right next to the kitchen, here in this house, I hear the television, soft cartoon voices speaking, and I know that Noah’s playing with his toys on the rug in front of the flat screen.
I’ve baked some bread—the kitchen is still warm from the oven— and I’m thinking about Thanksgiving. As I glance out the window, I notice that it’s nearly dark outside, dusk at hand. It must be cold, too, as the trees shiver in the wind, a few stubborn leaves hanging on to thin, skeletal branches. Across the bay, the town of Anchorville is invisible, shrouded by fog.
But inside this old mansion, the one my great-great-grandfather built, it’s cozy.
Smelling of cinnamon and nutmeg.
And then, from the corner of my eye, I see movement outside. It’s Milo, our cat, I think, but I remember that Milo, a prince of a tabby, is dead. Has been for years.
I squint, suddenly fearful. It’s hard to see through the fog rolling in from the sea, but I know something’s out there, in the yard, behind the hedgerow of roses where the scraggly bushes are thin and bedraggled, a few shriveled petals visible in the dead blooms and thorns.
My skin crawls as a shadow passes near the porch.
For the briefest of seconds, I fear there’s something evil lurking just beyond the arrow-shaped spikes of the surrounding wrought- iron fence.
Creeeaaaak! Bang! The gate’s open, swinging in the buffeting wind.
That’s when I catch a glimpse of Noah, my son, in his little hooded sweatshirt and rolled-up jeans. He’s gotten out of the house somehow and wandered through the open gate. Now, in the twilight, he’s running joyfully, as if he’s chasing something, down the path to the dock.
I drop the phone.
It knocks over my water glass in slow motion.
I spin around and think I’m mistaken, that surely he’s in front of the couch by the TV, that ...I see the room is empty, some Disney thing—Aladdin?—still playing. “Noah!” I scream at the top of my lungs, and take off at a dead run.
I’m in my pajamas and my feet feel as if they’re in quicksand; I can’t get through this damned house fast enough, but as I race past each of the windows looking out at the bay, I see him running through the descending darkness, getting closer and closer to the water.
I pound on an old pane with a fist.
The window shatters.
Still he doesn’t hear me. I try to open the windows to the veranda overlooking the bay. They don’t move. It’s as if they’re painted shut. Blood drizzles down the panes.
I slog forward. Screaming at my son, and for Wyatt, I run in slow motion to the doors. They’re unlocked, one swinging open and moaning loudly as I push myself onto the porch. “Noah!”
I’m crying now. Sobbing. Panic burns through me as I nearly trip on the steps, then run past the dripping rhododendrons and windswept pines of this godforsaken island, the place I’ve known as home for most of my life. “Noah!” I scream again, but my voice is lost in the roar of the sea, and I can’t see my boy—he’s disappeared beyond the dead roses in the garden, no sight of him in the low-hanging mist.
Oh, please, God, no... let him be all right!
The chill of the Pacific sweeps over me, but it’s nothing compared to the coldness in my heart. I dash down the path strewn with oyster and clam shells, sharp enough to pierce my skin, and onto the slick planks of the listing dock. Over the weathered boards to the end where the wharf juts into the mist as if suspended in air. “Noah!” Oh, for God’s sake! “NOAH!!!”
No one’s there.
The pier is empty.
Vanished in the mist.
“Noah! Noah!” I stand on the dock and scream his name. Tears run down my face; blood trickles down my cut palm to splash in the brackish water. “NOAH!”
The surf tumbles beyond the point, crashing and roaring as it pummels the shore.
My boy is missing.
Swallowed up by the sea or into thin air, I don’t know which.
“No, no . . . no.” I’m wretched and bereft, my grief intolerable as I sink onto the dock and stare into the water, thoughts of jumping into the dark, icy depths and ending it all filling my mind. “Noah . . . please. God, keep him safe . . .”
My prayer is lost in the wind . . .
Then I wake up.
I find myself in my bed in the room I’ve occupied for years.
For the briefest of instants, it’s a relief. A dream . . . only a dream. A horrible nightmare.
Then my hopes sink as I realize my mistake.
My heart is suddenly heavy again.
Tears burn my eyes.
Because I know.
My son really is gone. Missing. It’s been two years since I last saw him.
On the dock?
In his crib?
Playing outside under the fir trees?
Oh, dear God, I think, shattered, heart aching . . .
I can’t remember.