The search parties scoured the woods for weeks. I can distinctly remember the way the police chief spoke to us when he told us they were going to cease the search, but that they wouldn’t be giving up the fight to find Abby. That if she is still out there, they would find her. Somehow, some way, they would find my little girl. I even remember the way he hugged me and hugged my wife and I could tell that he had rehearsed every line of the bullshit he was feeding us in the mirror the night before. I was grateful though for the trembling in his voice – that meant that he cared. He was just doing his job. They couldn’t continue to exhaust the resources anymore and the volunteers were getting fewer and fewer by the day. It wasn’t that he wanted to stop Looking – but that, at this point, there wasn’t a lot of hope that they were going to find Abby…at least not find her alive.
The morning that Abby went missing wasn’t the worst of the days. I think the worst day was day two. You see, on day one you are scared, but you are hopeful. On day one, you think that whatever happened will have a resolution and that they will find your daughter and arrest whoever took her or that she would simply come back home. Nine-year-old kids can run away. It isn’t a common thing, especially not around these parts, but it can happen. She had her rebellious streaks from time to time, so it wasn’t completely improbable that she took off for one reason or another. Looking back at it all now, I realize that was stupid. Like I said, on day one, you’re hopeful. On day two, the realism sets in.
By day two the hopefulness is gone. You realize how long twenty-four hours can actually be and your brain begins to think of all of the things that could have happened to your sweet, innocent daughter over the course of twenty-four hours. There are a lot of terrifying things that can happen in that amount of time. I recall there even being a part of me that wished if someone had taken, that she was dead at this point – I didn’t like the thought of my baby suffering at the hands of some monster. Who could ever hurt a child? The bastard.
The police were very kind. Especially in the beginning. They would check in on my wife and I and they would make sure that we were informed if anything was found. They reported back with us daily and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. However, their searches always came up empty, with the exception of one time. There was a point, about a week into the searches, where someone had stated that they had found a young girls sleeping gown out in the woods towards the edge of town. I was heartbroken when I heard the news, but that hopeful glimmer raised it shiny head for just a second. Even though it wasn’t that somebody had found my daughter, we were one step closer to an answer; to closure of some sort. But the gown wasn’t hers. We Looked at it immediately after the call came in. We had never seen anything like it before on our Abby. It was a false lead.
There were plenty of tips coming into the department, but other than the gown, none of them were anything more than hearsay or speculation. People would call in and say they thought they saw somebody who Looked like Abby at a hardware store forty-five miles away – but it would always amount to nothing. It is kind of like when you go fishing as a kid. Every single time your line moves, even slightly, you get excited and think that you are on the path to catching that big fish – but it turns out just to be the drag from the bottom of the lake. Eventually, you realize that it is just mud and dirt and scum and eventually you realize it is worthless. Just like those calls. Those dozens of calls that meant nothing.
While the police were relatively kind, the townsfolk, though hiding it well at first, had opinions of their own. I understand where they were coming from, but it still hurt nonetheless to be suspected. You always hear about the crazy parents who kidnap their own children or things of the sort, but you never really think about what it would be like to be a parent of those missing children. I have since learned to forgive the folks in town around here who believe that I or my wife had a hand in my daughter’s disappearance. They weren’t being cruel – they were just believing what they always heard in the media or on the news about other stories. Not to mention, it is much easier to have a face on the monster that took a small child from her bed at night than to think that the person is still out there. They want to know, in their own minds, that their child is safe, so thinking of me or my wife as the culprit helps them to sleep at night. As long as they stay away from us – from our family – then this devilish beast they have made me out to be won’t come snatch up their babies in the middle of the night. And yet they still continued to aid in the searches. I assume it was more for our Abby than it was for either of us. I like to think though that, now that the searches are ending and everyone is getting on with their lives, that they can start to see us as more normal parts of the community – even though I know that stigma will hang over our heads for the rest of our lives…at least as long as we live in this town.
This was weeks ago. The murmurs have begun to die down, though still very present and certainly not whispered with any shame. The stares continued as I would walk through the grocery store, but at least it felt like it was only every few people instead of every single person and I could no longer feel the shift of tension float along with me in the people I surrounded as I walked down each aisle. Life was starting to peak out a tiny morsel of normalcy and even though I knew I had nothing to worry about and nothing to be guilty of, the weight and burden of the event lifted ever so slightly from my shoulders. My wife felt the same. In fact, she seemed to be stronger during these hard times than I did – I will admit, even as a man – that I relied on her courage throughout this ordeal. I wouldn’t have been able to handle all of this if it wasn’t for her efforts and her hopefulness, even though we all knew the inevitable.
“Abby was gone. Abby wasn’t coming back. We will never see Abby again.” I would say to myself, holding back tears. “Abby is in a better place now.”
I was wrong.
It was 4:15 in the morning or so when the phone rang. I was sleeping, as was my wife. The shrill sound her cell phone came piercing through the dark room; her phone face down, only emitting the tiniest bit of light that seeped out from between the wooden nightstand and the metal hunk of technology.
“Caroline, who is calling you this early?” I asked my wife, wiping at my eyes and trying to get a grasp on the foggy world through my tired eyes. “Is everything ok?”
Caroline leaned over and picked up the phone. The shine from it revealed a puzzled Look on my wife’s face. Her head cocked to the side like a puppy waiting for its next direction.
“It’s an unknown number,” she replied, still Looking down at the screen.
I grumbled and rolled back over to my side, pulling the pillow over my face to keep the light at bay.
“Are you going to answer it?” I asked.
“No,” Caroline said back sharply, shaking her head a bit, still trying to piece it all together herself. “I’m sorry, Mark. Go back to bed.”
And with that, I heard her phone vibrate as she turned off the ringer and set the phone back down on the bedside table. She laid down and in seconds was back to sleep, softly snoring. Just as I was drifting off into unconsciousness again, I heard the phone once more, buzzing wildly against the cheap IKEA furniture.
“Caroline. Come on.” I muttered, gripping that pillow over my ears now, waiting to feel my wife’s body tussle out of the covers to grab the phone. She moved quickly and silenced the vibrations.
She held the phone up close to my pillow for me to inspect. It rubbed my open hand across my face and let out a sigh as I squinted to read the screen. Unknown Caller.
“Just answer it. It’s probably some shithead kid or something. Maybe one of those nasty old crones finally got our number and want to harass us about…you know. Or maybe someone in a different time zone or something trying to sell shit. I don’t know. Just pick it up. A phone call isn’t going to hurt. But whoever it is, let them know it’s four in the morning and they need to stop fucking calling here.”
I felt Caroline shift once more as she held the phone to her ear.
“Hello?” she asked quietly. She paused. “Hello?” Another pause. Then I heard my wife scream. I sat up just in time to watch her hurl her phone across the room and she began to sob into her folded arms that lay across her knees.
“Caroline, what the hell?!” I asked. “What happened? Who was that?”
All she could do was cry. I stood up out of bed and shuffled over to where her phone had landed. The call was still going – I could see the timer ticking up, second by second, on the screen. I picked the phone up and held it to my ear.
“Mark, don’t!” Caroline yelled at me. I didn’t listen.
“Who the fuck do you think – ” I started into the phone, but was abruptly cut off.
“Daddy? Daddy? Is that you?”
“Listen here – if you think this is some kind of game, I swear to God I will – ” I started yelling into the phone before being abruptly cut off.
“Daddy, why are you screaming at me?”
I knew this had to be a joke. Somebody from town must think this is some sort of sick game and I could just imagine them sitting in a room with all of their little friends, trying to hold back their giggles so I wouldn’t hear it on my end.
“Look, we don’t think this is funny,” I replied, trying to keep my calm and maybe even reach out to the pranksters enough that they might not choose to do this sort of thing again. “I know that you’re getting a laugh from this, but you need to understand that this really is a crushing matter to my family.”
“Daddy, please. Daddy, it’s freezing here. And I’m scared.”
The voice on the other end started sobbing, and not some fake, comic sobbing of a bratty teenager making a prank call, but a sob that I had heard so much before. The sob I had heard with every scraped knee and with every lost dolly. It was the sob I had heard when our family dog died and the sob I had heard when dessert couldn’t come before dinner. This was my little girl. This was my Abby.
“Where are you, sweetie?” I said sternly into the phone, now giving up the idea that this was a prank. I had accepted that, even if there was only a slim chance that my Abby was on the other end of the phone, I wanted to find out as much as I could. “Sweetheart, I need you to tell me where you are! I can come to get you! I will come to get you! Look around you! What do you see, sweetie! Tell me!”
“It’s so dark, Daddy.” the voice replied.
“Mark, you’re scaring me,” Caroline said. “Hang up the phone, Tell them that this isn’t funny and that they need to leave us alone!”
I could hear the tremble in my wife’s voice. It shook, just like mine, and her eyes were filling up with tears.
“Sweetheart, please. Abigail, please tell me something. Tell me anything. We are coming for you,! I promise! We are going to find you, no matter what! Do you see anything at all? Anything that can tell us where you are? Please, Abby! Please Look as hard you can!”
“Mark.” my wife repeated, the tremble in her voice even more pronounced than before. “Mark, this has got to be some stupid kids playing some stupid game. Please hang up the phone. This is too much.”
“Daddy, it’s dark.” the voice said again. “ Daddy, it’s dark.”
“I know, sweetie, but – ”
“Daddy, it’s dark.” the girl’s voice repeated. “Daddy, it’s dark. Daddy, it’s dark.”
“Abigail?” I asked into the receiver. “I hear you, honey, just – ”
“Daddy, it’s dark. Daddy, it’s dark. Daddy, it’s dark. Daddy, it’s dark”
The voice echoed itself over and over. I stood there, my knees rattling, staring at my now sobbing wife. The sound that was coming through the phone grew deeper, as it relayed its message over and over. Gradually, almost like a record player slowing down, the voice deepened but kept to its phrase.
“Daddy, it’s dark. Daddy, it’s dark.”
Leaping out of bed, Caroline grabbed the phone from my hand and threw it to the ground. The sound of the plastic and glass breaking on the floor pulled me out of the trance this prankster had just put me in. The rock in my stomach stayed sunken in my gut as I Looked to my wife, wanting to cry, but simply not able to project tears or sound. I shook. I just shook.
We didn’t clean up the pieces of the phone. For a few moments after the call we just existed; the overwhelming nature of the situation flooding over us – drowning us, silently. I was the first to make a sound.
“That was an awful thing to do.”
“What the hell was that, Mark?” Caroline asked. “That was sick. That sounded almost…I don’t know…demonic? Who does that kind of shit? You know there is no way that was Abby, right? You know that couldn’t have been her. That wasn’t our little – ”
“I know.” I interrupted. “I know. But damn, Caroline. Damn…it sounded so much like her.”
“I know what it sounded like.” my wife said, coming to the side of the bed where I stood. “I know that it seemed like it could have been her, but it’s been months. And her voice is going to live in your head forever – you know that. I’m sure we will both hear her voice for the rest of our lives, in every little laugh or somewhere on every television show. She is always going to be with us, Mark. But that…that wasn’t our girl.”
“The sound she made,” I said. “And why was she saying that it was dark?”
“Mark, stop it.” my wife replied. “Get it out of your head that it was Abigail. It wasn’t. You want it to be her so bad, and I get that, but Mark…she’s gone. She has been gone for months and, though it hurts to think about, you know what the sheriff said.”
“That she is gone,” I said back, whispering through the forming blockage in my throat. “That she likely gone. That she is likely dead.”
“It’s hard,” Caroline said, reaching for my hand. “There isn’t anything that we can do at this point. There isn’t anything that we can – ”
Her reassurance was interrupted abruptly by a stiff knocking at the front door. I Looked over to the clock to see that it was still only half past four in the morning, then brought my gaze back to my wife, who was obviously just as confused as I was; staring at me for some kind of answer. I felt a heat rise in my body as the rock from my stomach shot up into my chest, now a fireball as I allowed myself with rage.
“No,” I said. “This has gone too far. The call is one thing, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let this motherfucker come to my home.”
I made my way over to the closet and, from the top shelf, pulled down the twelve gauge shotgun I had left there to protect my family. Now, if ever, was the right time to claim it from its resting place. It loaded with a loud ‘clack’ as my wife said nothing. I could sense she was now sharing my rage, but couldn’t find the right move to make. I stormed out of the bedroom door and made my way towards the front of the house.
I held my breath as I stood in the foyer, shotgun in hand, waiting for another sound. I could hear my heart racing inside of my own head, but it left me unbothered. I had a goal and I was ready to teach these punks a lesson. I wasn’t sure if I was going to actually shoot them or just scare them straight, but I knew that, somehow, I was going to get my point across. The next bang on the door didn’t take long to arrive.
I leaped forward, grabbing the handle and pulled the knob as hard as I could towards me. I shouldered my weapon, finger on the trigger and took one step to the threshold of the house.
“Look, officer, I’m telling you, we both heard the knocking, we both heard the call, we both heard the voice. This isn’t something in our heads.”
“Mark, listen.” Officer Brown said, placing a hand on my shoulder. “We all know you and Caroline have been through a lot. We know that this isn’t something people just work their way through or get over. And I’ll even go as far as to say maybe you did hear something knock against the door. But I don’t think someone is messing with you two. I just don’t. These houses creak and rattle. The bang could have been the wind or maybe the house is settling or something like that. I don’t know. But people don’t just…”
“Vanish?” I asked.
“You know that’s not what I meant, Mark,” Brown replied.
“You’ll be hard pressed to find me not believing that people can’t just vanish,” I said as Brown hung his head, aware of the fact he had struck a chord.
“Maybe you two need a vacation. When was the last time you guys got out? Maybe try to leave this town – this house – for a week or two. It might do you some good. A little rest and relaxation certainly never hurt anyone. But unless you got some kind of proof about either of these claims – the call or the knocking – there really isn’t much I can do but maybe drive by and check in on the house a bit on shift when I’m doing rounds around town.”
“I’d appreciate that,” I said back, feeling more defeated than dismissed. Officer Brown nodded to me, patting the hand he was resting on my shoulder down gently twice, then nodded to Caroline, before exiting. I shut the door behind him.
“They think we’re crazy, you know that, right?” Caroline asked me. “They think we are fucking nuts.”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “I think they don’t know what to do. I don’t think they believe us, that’s for use, but I don’t think they think we are crazy.”
“He pities us,” she said. “Nobody takes us seriously, Mark. He pities us like children. We worked so hard and tried so hard and we did everything we could.” She was starting to break down again.
“Caroline, it’s going to be ok.” I tried. “Maybe he was right about getting away. Maybe we should get out and try to go somewhere nice for once. He’s not wrong – it’s been quite some time and, honestly, maybe a change of scenery could do us some good.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Caroline snapped back at me. “I’m not leaving until I find out who the hell is pulling this shit!”
“What does it matter? Who cares? If it happens again, we can hopefully trace the call back to a number. I’ll call the phone company. I’ll get hold of somebody. They might not even have my number and we can change yours when we get you a new phone. They won’t be able to reach us.”
“Except through the front fucking door, Mark!” Caroline said, her voice getting louder. “Except when they show up at our house at four-thirty in the morning! What’s next? Climbing through windows? Hiding under our bed? How far are you willing to let this go, Mark?”
“Calm down,” I said. “Slow down for just a moment. You’re talking – ”
“Crazy?” she interrupted. “Am I? Or am I saying things that are scaring you just as much as they scare me? How do we know that the banging wasn’t a distraction? How do we know that there isn’t someone in the house now? How can you be so damn sure, Mark?!”
“No one is in our house, Caroline!”. I tried to keep my voice calm, but I was starting to get more and more frustrated as her tone raised against mine. “You don’t think that maybe we would have heard them? And none of the windows are open or broken or anything of the sort. The house is secure. Do you think they just came through the walls? The only way they could have gotten in would be through the front door, which I opened, and I assure you, there was nobody there. Trust me, I Looked. I was ready for anything to be standing there and there wasn’t a soul on our front porch or by the door or anything – and nothing got past me. I promise you.”
“You think I’m crazy too, don’t you?” Caroline sat on the living room sofa, dropping her head and placing her hands, folded, on the back of her skull. “You think I’m just as crazy as the cops do. What are we doing, Mark? What is happening here?”
“Nothing is happening.” I sat beside her, placing my arm over her shoulder, feeling her shift her weight over onto my body. “You’re scared. I’m scared. It’s ok. If you don’t want to go anywhere, we don’t have to. We can stay here and we can keep the doors locked and we can do whatever you feel would make you more comfortable. I’m here. I won’t let anything get to you. I promise.”
Caroline stayed on the couch most of the day, Looking up to the ceiling, blankly. I offered her something to eat or drink and she only nibbled at the sandwich I made for her around dinner time. She was disconnected.
When the sun had set and I was getting myself ready to go back to bed, I entered the living room to find her, still there, gazing up.
“Caroline?” I asked. “Are you ready for bed?”
I crossed the living room, behind the couch, and glanced over some of the books on the shelves that sat firmly against the back wall. I turn to the couch and ask again, but in a tone as not to sound intrusive.
“Caroline? If you’re not ready, that’s ok. We can stay down here tonight if you feel safer but I think some rest upstairs might do you some good, don’t you think?”
Caroline mumbled quietly, almost under her breath. I couldn’t make out what she was saying, so I stepped closer, still behind the couch.
“I’m sorry, dear. Could you say that again?”
She mumbled, but still too soft for my ears to pick up.
“Let’s go to bed, Caroline. It’ll be – ”
“Daddy, it’s dark,” said Caroline, cutting me off.
“What?” I asked, my heart beating slightly faster.
“Daddy, it’s dark,” she repeated. “Daddy it’s dark. Daddy, it’s dark.”
Her repetition sped up as she spoke these same words, over and over and over. I started calling out her name but she wasn’t listening. She was yelling now at the top of her lungs, loud enough that I could hear the strain on her vocals chords and could imagine the pain in her throat. From behind the couch, I screamed for her to stop, but she didn’t. I pleaded, now terrified.
“Daddy, it’s dark! Daddy, it’s dark! Daddy, it’s dark!”
She sounded almost amused at this point, but I could still hear her voice giving out. It was deafening. I had never heard Caroline get so loud in the years we had been together. I finally lost it and hollered one last time.
“Caroline! Fucking stop!”
And she did. That same eerie silence that loomed after the knocking the night before had returned. I wanted to speak up but I couldn’t find the words. I couldn’t even hear Caroline breathing on the other side of the couch, but I could feel it. I could feel her smiling. I could feel her eyes, still staring to the ceiling, all from behind the sofa, out of view.
Then there was movement. I heard the shuffling on the cushions, slow, but light. I was frozen, my eyes Looking towards the back of the couch, waiting to see Caroline sit up for the first time today. In the dim light of the room, I saw a hand come over the top of the couch and grip. It stayed there for a moment and it took no more than a second for me to realize that it was not Caroline’s hand that was reaching to pull the weight up.
“Abigail?” I asked, my voice shaking and hushed.
The hand shot back down behind the sofa as I ran around to the other side, pulling myself by using the weight of the furniture. There lay Caroline, her eyes still staring, her mouth wide open as if screaming. She was cold. She was gone.
As if the townspeople didn’t think I was a monster before, I am sure they do now. I had called the police immediately after I realized that Caroline was dead. They told me that I did the right thing by calling, but I had to go in for extensive questioning. I knew they were going to originally think that it was me that killed her, but thankfully the autopsy proved my innocence. She had died of a heart attack. I never told them about the screaming or my daughter’s hand. They would never have believed me anyway. I said that I found her lying there, just as she was.
And I never told them about last night.
I never told them about how I was in my bed, watching the minutes tick by on the clock. I never told them that a small tap came to my window. I never told them that a young voice could be heard from outside of it and that this time, there was no fear. This time there was a calm. I never told them that I followed that voice out into the yard and across the way into the woods that lined the back of my home. I never told them how I made my way through the trees and how I could feel exactly where to stop. I never told them that I dug, roughly 5 feet deep into the ground and discovered what I had always feared someone else from the search parties would find. But again, there was only calm. And a voice.
“It’s ok, Daddy.” the voice said softly. “It’s not dark anymore.”
“Did she do this to you?” I asked, still Looking into the pit.
“How could I have not known?” I asked.
“Abigail, I’m so sorry. I wish I could have done something. I wish I would have known.”
“Daddy, it’s ok. It’s not dark anymore.”
I let the corner of lip come up to a tiny smile – not one of cheer, but more of satisfaction. I Looked down and started to push the dirt back in the hole.