Chapter 1

November 5, 2011 at 11:58 pm (The Truth)

Nelle Tatum headed for home one last time. The sidewalk was deserted. Her world felt the same way. She’d lived in the same neighbourhood in Surrey for all of her ten years and now her mom was tearing her away from everything she knew. It wasn’t fair, but no one asked a kid what they wanted. Nelle was expected to follow orders. Pack up your room. Bring home anything you want to keep from your school. Say good-bye to your friends. She’d followed orders and done everything she had to and now she would be moving the next day.

Tugging her dark brown braid so it fell over her shoulder, Nelle thought about her last conversations with her friends. Everyone said they’d write, but would they? Mom’s promised to bring their daughters over for a visit, but Nelle wasn’t so sure that would happen.

She couldn’t understand why her parents had to split up. She knew that things hadn’t been so great since her brother had died, but she was still there. It didn’t seem to matter. Her father wanted to have another child and her mother didn’t seem to want any children, including the one she still had left.

If her parents talked at all, it was at the top of their lungs. It gave Nelle a headache and a sore tummy. She had started staying in her room a lot, just to avoid their heated arguments or the dead stares they gave her whenever she voiced her own opinion. They’d looked right through her when she had reminded them that they still had a child. That’s when she’d realized that her father didn’t want a daughter. He wanted a son to replace the one he’d lost.

Nelle missed her brother. She’d been eight when he’d been killed. Her parents hadn’t told her what happened. There had been whispers around school, from the teachers. Nelle knew that someone had taken her brother away and hurt him and then killed him. The police had found his body several days later. Her father had to go with them to identify her brother’s remains. They wouldn’t let Nelle go.

She’d wanted to see him again. She couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t let her say goodbye. They said she was too young to understand, but if they’d just explain it to her then maybe she would get it. But adults never explained anything to a child, in her experience. They shut them out and closed them off from everything that could teach them what was happening.

So Nelle had learned from school, from some of the older children, that her brother had been killed by a serial killer. She’d had to ask what a serial killer was. The older students had delighted in telling her the details, which had scared her and made her cry. They’d laughed and taunted her until a teacher had come by and made them stop. Her parents had been called in to the school. Her mother had come several hours later, but her father hadn’t come at all.

Her mother had grounded her for a week for causing a scene at school. After that, Nelle stopped asking questions. She didn’t understand some of what the other students had told her, but she was afraid to get more details. She knew that some man had caused her brother a lot of pain and then he’d killed him. The students had told her that other boys had gone missing as well. That’s what made someone a serial killer. They took people and they killed them in the same way and they didn’t stop until the police caught them.

Nelle didn’t understand why the police couldn’t catch the man who was hurting these boys. Why did her brother have to die? What had he done wrong? He’d only been ten years old when he’d died. Now she was ten years old and worried that she would die, too. Did the serial killer only take ten-year-old boys?

Suddenly, the quiet street felt creepy. Where was everyone? The sun was shining and people should be out playing. Nelle picked up her pace a little, wanting to get home where it was safe. When she heard someone calling her name, she whirled around, her heart pounding.

“Nelle, wait up!”

It was Harris, a boy from her class, pushing his bike along the side of the road. He’d come out from a side street that led away from the forest. Nelle waited until he caught up with her. His blond hair stuck out in spikes and his blue eyes glowed with mischief. He was pushing his bike because his chain was broken. It dragged on the ground, collecting dirt and grass.

“What happened to your bike?”

“I tried to jump a rock, but landed on it and the chain snapped. Mack’s going to be pissed, because it’s his bike.” Mack was Harris’ oldest brother and Harris hadn’t asked before he’d taken the bike. Now he knew he was going to catch hell for it and he was trying to put that off as long as he could. “Where are you going?” he asked.

“Home. I spent a couple of hours at Jenna’s house. I leave tomorrow, so I don’t know when I’ll get to see her.” Nelle didn’t want to think about it too much or she’d start crying again. She had to leave all of her best friends behind and move so far away. Her mom told her it was only an hour away by car, but an hour to a 10-year-old who couldn’t drive may as well have been the other side of the world.

“Why do you have to move?” Harris asked. He gestured for her to keep walking. If he walked her home then he wouldn’t have to face his brother for a little while longer. Plus, his dad said it was the right thing to do, to escort a lady home. Nelle was a girl not a lady, but he guessed it still counted.

“My parents are getting a divorce.” Nelle started walking again. She didn’t have to go straight home, but there wasn’t anything else she wanted to do. Dinner would be ready in an hour or two. She didn’t think she’d be able to eat. At lunch she’d found it difficult to swallow past the lump in her throat. “I’m going to live with my mom at my grandparent’s place. They live in West Vancouver.”

“That’s so far,” Harris said. He knew where North Vancouver was, because Mack had rugby games out there and his dad took him along to watch. West Van was even further away.

Nelle nodded. It was so far away. She wouldn’t be allowed to take a bus back to Surrey to see her friends. Not for a few years yet, anyway. And Nelle was smart enough to realize her mother wouldn’t drive her out here. Her mom had told her that she’d make new friends at her new school. To Nelle, that meant her mom thought she could just trade the old friends for some new ones.

“Do you want to live with your grandparents?” Harris asked. He knew that if his parents split, he’d want to live with his dad. His mom wasn’t home very much and besides, his dad was pretty cool.

Nelle shrugged. “I like them and they seem to like me, so maybe that will be enough.” She loved her grandparents, but she didn’t know what it would be like to live with them all the time. They’d be telling her what to do and all that. She’d have to wait and see how it worked out.

Harris walked with Nelle for several more minutes before she pointed out her house. His house was a little further away, up the hill. He’d have to push the bike up it and then tell his brother what he’d done. He hoped Mack wouldn’t be too mad about the bike.

Nelle saw him frowning at the chain as it dragged along the ground. “Is your brother going to be angry with you?”

Harris smiled. “Yeah, probably at first, but then he’ll just get a new chain and make me put it on. He might punch me, but only on the arm and he wouldn’t do it hard.”

Nelle laughed, thinking about the times when her brother had done the same thing. She looked up at her house and saw her dad standing in the doorway. He smiled and waved at her, surprising her. Nelle waved back, a brief glimmer of hope growing. Maybe her parents were patching things up and she wouldn’t have to move. As soon as the thought entered her mind, a moving truck appeared around the corner onto their street. It crept along the road until it found her address. Parking in front, the driver and his partner got out and walked past her to talk to her dad.

“I’ll miss you,” Harris whispered, staring at his feet. He’d always like Nelle, but he’d never told her.

Nelle hugged him, not caring if she made things awkward. “I’ll miss you, too.” His arms slipped around her and then he squeezed her tight. Nelle thanked Harris for walking her home and went inside the house. She didn’t want to think about moving or West Vancouver or anything. She just wanted to stay where she was and be with her friends. And she wanted to stay with Harris.

***

Harris opened his eyes to a darkened room. It was damp and chilly and there was a funny smell in the air. He tried to move his hands but they were strapped to the table he was lying on. Pulling on the restraints only dug them into his wrists. The table had holes along the edges that the straps were tied to. His legs were tied down. A rag had been wrapped around his head, preventing him from making any noise. His eyes welled up, the tears rolling down his face and into his hair.

He didn’t understand what had happened. It felt like there was blood in his hair. Blinking away the tears, he ignored the pain streaking through his head and focused his mind on what he could remember. He could remember Nelle and how soft she was. How pretty she’d looked with the sun bouncing off her red-brown hair. He’d been pushing Mack’s bike up the hill and just thinking about Nelle. He’d wanted to hang onto her and not let go.

Where was the kid? He’d heard a kid crying nearby. Where was that? Harris concentrated on the thought and then he remembered the ball court. He’d stopped to watch a couple of guys who were playing basketball in the courts. He thought maybe his brother might be there. Sometimes Mack liked to meet his friends there and shoot a few hoops. But Mack hadn’t been there. He’d stopped to watch for a little while and then he’d admitted to himself that he was stalling and figured he should get home.

He’d heard the kid crying then. It was coming from the bushes next to the courts. He figured it belonged to someone who lived in the house on the other side of the bushes. He’d gone in search of the kid, but once he was in the bushes the kid had stopped crying and Harris couldn’t find him. That was the last thing Harris could remember.

His eyes had adjusted to the dimness of the room. He couldn’t make out very much. There were no windows. Nothing was familiar to him. Harris felt the tremors start in his legs and carry up through his body until he was shaking in fear. A sob, muffled by the gag, escaped him. His thin, little body shook so hard that it rattled the legs of the table.

He’d heard what the older kids had told Nelle about her brother and he’d heard his own brothers talking about the man who was killing young boys. Harris felt the warm trickle of urine escaping down his legs. He wanted to go home. The tears started again and the shakes got more violent. He felt the vomit building in the back of his throat. His nostrils flared and his eyes widened at the thought of getting sick. His mouth was blocked. What would happen if he got sick with a gag in his mouth? Snot ran from his nose, making it tougher to breathe.

The click of a lock froze him in place. The tears still leaked and the snot still streamed out, but the shakes had stilled. He watched as the door opened and a dark figure stepped into the room. The door closed behind the man and what little light had come in from the other room was cut off. Harris’ eyes followed the man as he walked across the room and past his view. He could hear the man clanking about. Then all went silent again.

Harris listened sharply, but the man made no sounds. A match struck close to his face. The bright flame ruined his night vision. He saw spots in front of his eyes. A glowing red ember appeared very close to his face. Was the man going to burn him with the cigarette? But no, the man leaned back and all Harris could see was the burning end of the cigarette.

After a few more puffs, the man tossed the cigarette on the floor and ground it out with his shoe. Harris could hear the man move away from him again. He had returned to the area beyond Harris’ view and picked something up off the table. Moving toward the door, Harris thought the man was leaving but instead he flicked on the overhead light.

Harris squinted at the sudden brightness. He heard the man walk closer to his side, but he couldn’t see for a minute. Blinking furiously, his eyes adjusted and he was able to see again. The man stood next to him with a knife in his hand. Harris whimpered when he saw it.

“Maybe you will understand,” the man whispered, leaning over Harris to stroke a hand down the side of his face.

***

The boy hadn’t understood. None of them had. It was frustrating trying to make them see what he wanted of them only to have them blubber and whine about going home to their mommies. This one had begged for his daddy, but otherwise it was the same routine. None of them could grasp the lessons he was trying to teach them.

It was never quite the same for him either, not since the first boy. The newness of it had been exquisite. The blood was glorious. And then there was the torture. Oh, how he remembered the agony that first boy had endured. Nothing had quieted his soul quite as well as that first boy’s pain had.

But it wasn’t working anymore. This last boy hadn’t been nearly as comforting for him. He’d caused more torture than he ever had before, but it still wasn’t enough. Something else had to be done. Some new twist had to be added to his game.

Perhaps the challenge of the hunt could be increased. Young boys were easy to lure away. Older boys might be less eager to please. They would put up more of a fight, too. That alone would add a level of uncertainty and risk to the chase.

Or, perhaps he should try capturing a young girl.

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