My Daughter Who Went Missing Just Showed Up On My Doorstep (Sarah)


My wife and I had just sat down to dinner when we were interrupted first by the sound of the front doorknob twisting, then by three loud knocks.

I stood up from the table and went to the front door, wondering who would have tried the knob first before knocking - my brother maybe, but it was a little late for a visit from him on a weeknight.

The sound of the rainstorm outside grew as I opened the door. When I saw her standing on the porch, covered in rain and mud, my heart nearly leapt out of my chest.

“Hi daddy,” Sarah said. The way her eyes and nose were scrunched up told me she was crying, even though the rain washed away her tears the second they fell from her eyes. “Can I come inside? It’s so cold.”

I heard something glass shatter in the kitchen, then rushed footsteps.

I grabbed my daughter in a tight embrace and began to sob. “Oh my god. You’re home,” I said.

Three years ago we had reported our daughter missing. We told the police that we had put her to bed one night, and the next morning she was gone. The police found that her bedroom window showed evidence of having been pried open. My wife, Hannah, and I hadn’t heard anything that night, and the neighbors all agreed that they hadn’t either.

What happened next was the largest search-party in our small town’s history - it’s not often thirteen-year-old girls go missing, especially under such terrible and mysterious circumstances. But despite everyone’s best efforts and news reports throughout the state and neighboring states, there was no trace to be found of our little girl.

I picked her up and carried her into the house while she sobbed into my neck. I heard my wife turn the corner, let out a small scream, then run to join us in our first complete family hug in three years.

“What happened?” Hannah asked. “Did anyone follow you here?”

“No,” Sarah said through her sobs. “I don’t know what happened - I just woke up in the dark and started trying to find my way home. I don’t know where I was, somewhere in the desert I think, and I just started walking.”

I set her down and looked at her again. Her hair was long - it probably hadn’t been cut since the night we lost her - and the clothes she wore looked like they had been given to her by a homeless person.

“Let’s get you a hot shower,” my wife said. “Are you hungry?”

Sarah sniffed and nodded. “Can I have a peanut butter sandwich?”

“Anything,” my wife said, now choking back tears of her own. “I can’t believe you’re back.”

We dressed her in some of Hannah’s old clothes, which were still a little large for Sarah. I promised to go to the store first thing in the morning to buy a whole new wardrobe.

The rest of the evening was spent with tears and laughter. Hannah and I couldn’t believe she was back, and with no recollection of the time between the night she disappeared and when she woke up. Perhaps that much was for the best.

After Sarah was asleep - we put her in the office with an air mattress and promises of a new mattress along with her new clothes - I sat outside on the patio with a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

My wife came outside and softly closed the door behind her.

We sat in silence for a moment, then she finally spoke. “What the hell do we do?” Her voice was low and shaky.

I shook my head slowly and took a long drag from my cigarette. “I have no idea.”

“Thank God she doesn’t remember anything,” Hannah said, taking a sip of the wine she’d brought with her. “You don’t think she knows, do you?”

“Shhhh,” I said sharply, trying to keep my emotions level, which was difficult because I was on the brink of panic myself. “We shouldn’t talk about it.”

She took a sip of her wine and lowered her voice even more so it was just barely above the sound of crickets chirping in the grass. “You don’t think she can hear us, do you?”

“I don’t think so,” I answered slowly. “But I didn’t think a lot of things before, and look at what happened.”

We sat again in silence for a long while, both reflecting on the night she disappeared and the lies we’d told to every police officer and news reporter that came our way. Keeping the lie straight had taken months of practice, but somehow we’d pulled it off. But that wasn’t even the hard part.

The hard part was keeping the whole plan away from Sarah. The year or so we’d spent planning the whole thing in secret, talking to the neighbors to get their cooperation, all while doing our best to keep the life-changing event as far out of our minds as possible.

“She’s bound to find out what we did,” Hannah said. “We’re not so good at keeping things away from her as we used to be.”

“It’s just like riding a bike,” I said, hoping more than anything I was right.

The fact of the matter was that, three years ago, Hannah and I had committed the unforgivable act of filicide - we’d killed our own daughter. The very one that was now three years older and slept on an air mattress inside. If that wasn’t bad enough, shortly after doing so, for good measure, we had moved across town to get a fresh start and, although we never said it outloud, even to each other, because we were still terrified even though she was gone. We were careful not to list our address on anything - no yellow pages, no direct mailing, nothing. And yet, Sarah still managed to find us.

We hadn’t wanted to do it. We spent years convincing ourselves that we were in control, that it was just a matter of good parenting. After what happened to the Jarvis boy though, we knew that for the sake of ourselves and everyone around us there was only one thing to do.

I took another drag from my cigarette, I hadn’t realized until that moment that my hand was shaking, and stared out at the night sky, trying not to think about everything that led up to that night, but being able to think of nothing else. 


Sarah was a beautiful, smart, and happy little girl. As new parents, everything we did revolved around her. I couldn’t wait to get home from work just so I could hold her. Hannah, as exhausted as she was, loved the late-night feedings because she got extra time with the baby. We bought toys and clothes for her every time we ran to the store. We were completely under her spell.

Which is why we found it so strange that very few people actually wanted to interact with her.

Both our mothers came down to visit during the weeks after Sarah was born, each simply bubbling over with excitement about meeting their new granddaughter, but neither of them stayed in the house for more than an hour, and only five minutes or so was spent holding the baby.

Strangers would actively avoid looking at her and nobody, not once, ever stopped us to say how adorable our baby was.

We hadn’t noticed these things at first. The thing with our mothers had definitely rubbed us the wrong way, but the avoidance in public, the sideways glances from people at the store, the way our neighbors never seemed to visit anymore, all took time to finally come together to form the complete picture. People simply wanted nothing to do with Sarah, and for no reason at all that we could understand.

We took her to the doctor on a regular basis to track her growth and development, and every time the doctor and nursing staff would do everything they could to get in and out of the room as quickly as possible. Eventually I brought it up that they always seemed to be in a rush, and although the doctor fed us a line about how busy he was, the nurse told me after he left that the room “felt weird.” She said she had no idea why, but when she walked into the room she was reminded of when she was a little girl and had to go fetch something for her mother from the basement. She said profusely that it was nothing to do with us or our darling little girl, but Hannah and I had begun to suspect the truth by that point and we knew that the nurse was just being polite.

I’d be lying if I said this didn’t bother us, but we told ourselves that people would come around eventually, and if they didn’t, then fuck them.

It was when Sarah was around three that we began to feel for ourselves that there was something different about her. We’d long since come to terms with the fact that she made people uncomfortable, but it was at this time we actually dipped our own toes into that pool.

Anyone who has been around toddlers can attest that even the best-behaved children can be a handful at times. They want to be independent, they want to make their own decisions, but often lack the skills to do so. Although there was a lot that seemed different about Sarah from the beginning, this was not one of those differences. She yearned for independence and defiantly disagreed with just about anything we told her.

This went on for some time, and Hannah and I were beginning to approach a method of maneuvering around these disagreements, when Sarah threw us a curveball that changed everything.

She started arguing and throwing fits BEFORE we had said anything. Hannah first noticed it during an argument with Sarah over what we were having for dinner. I was still at work while Hannah was working out whether we should have grilled chicken or pork shops. She had gotten up to open the freezer when Sarah came running into the kitchen and said she didn’t want chicken or pork chops, she wanted pancakes for dinner.

Hannah laughed this off and told Sarah that we’d have pancakes another night, which of course quickly turned into stomping feet and red-faced tears and a time-out in her bedroom. Hannah had told me later that night that the strange thing that struck her wasn’t that Sarah had known what she was about to do, but it was the peculiar feeling she got just before it happened. She said she felt a strange sense of unease wash over her like she imagines a gazelle gets when it senses a lion approaching.

I felt the same thing while I was changing the oil in the car a few weeks later. I had forgotten to grab the fuel filter wrench and was about to slide out from under the car to get it when I was suddenly stricken by an overwhelming sense of dread. I quickly slid out from under the car, worried that the jack would fail and I’d be crushed when I saw Sarah approaching me with the tool in her hand.

She smiled and said “Here you go daddy!”

Holding back a shudder, I thanked her, kissed her forehead, and she went back into the house to watch cartoons.

The past couple days after Sarah arrived back have been some of the most stressful days of our lives. We’ve done everything we can to be the parents she remembered us to be and not the parents who had killed her and left her body in the desert.

The hardest part is that we can’t even THINK about that night or how terrified we are. We have to keep thinking about how happy we are to have her home and how sad we had been when she was gone, and there is absolutely no margin for error.

Sarah’s story, as she told us over breakfast, was full of blindspots and holes. She remembered sitting down to dinner with us - we had picked up burgers from her favorite restaurant down the street - and she remembers going to bed, but after that it’s all completely blank. The next thing she recalls was stumbling around naked in the desert, finding a road and eventually being picked up by a truck driver and given a ride to the truck stop 25 miles away where she stayed the night. The next morning she started off to find us.

She didn’t tell us how she found us, and we didn’t ask. I’m not sure she would be able to answer the question, and if she could I don’t think I want to know the answer anyway.

Hannah and I took turns spending time with her while the other went out under the guise of running errands - picking up clothes, ordering a bed, buying groceries - but the honest truth was that we needed to distance ourselves from the constant thrum of unease that followed Sarah wherever she went.

Even when she was younger, sleeping in the same house as Sarah was difficult, especially with that distinct feeling of impending danger spread thin across every room. We hadn’t always felt that way, but the older she got the more that feeling deepened - now that she’s sixteen and we’re out of practice, the feeling is almost unbearable. We feel like mice trying to rest while a cat sleeps across the hall.

After what happened last night, we know that the nights are going to be significantly worse.

I hadn’t been asleep for long before I was startled awake by a loud thump. Hannah awoke as well and we sat up together searching the bedroom for the source of the sound.

I was reminded vividly of a night from when Sarah was ten or so and a few birds had pelted the house, waking us up in similar fashion. Sarah had feigned innocence, however she’d been quiet all afternoon and Hannah and I suspected she’d had a run-in with some of the neighbor kids earlier that day.

Another loud thump shook the house. It was a hollow, hard sound, like a fist pounding on our bedroom wall.

We exchanged a look, then quickly got out of bed and went to the room next door where Sarah slept. My heart pounded in my chest as we both paused before opening the door. We knew that nothing good could come of opening the door, but the alternative could be far worse.

Another loud thump, then another. They were getting faster and there was a strange crackling sound that came with the last one that turned my pulse up another notch.

I threw the door open and flipped on the light.

I first noticed that Sarah’s bed was empty, then that she stood with her back against the wall this room shared with our bedroom. She had a twisted Cheshire grin on her face that was so tight it looked painful; the tendons in her neck stood out like cords and her throat bulged from the pressure of it all, but the smile stopped at her mouth. Her eyes looked like they had been made of glass.

We stepped into the room and Sarah thumped the back of her head hard against the wall. The crackling I’d heard had been drywall that I now saw breaking from the spot where her head collided and speckling her bare feet with dust.

“Sarah, what are you-” Hannah asked, but was cut off by another thump, then another. Sarah sped up, hitting her head against the drywall as fast as she could.

I rushed over to her and pulled her away. Her body was rigid, but relaxed as I laid her back down on the air mattress.

She looked up at me then. The glass in her eyes was gone and for a brief moment I could see my baby girl in them. Seeing the faint reflection of the past in those eyes made my heart feel like it weighed a ton. The moment passed and her eyes grew their hard look again. It was the cold, unfeeling look I’d seen unwavering since the incident with Preston Jarvis and the horrors that came in the weeks that followed. It was the look that ultimately led us to commit our own unforgivable sin.

“My head hurts, daddy,” she said in a small voice.

“I know,” I told her. “What were you doing?”

“I had to get them out,” she said.

“What?” I asked.

“The memories.” 


Sarah was six when we first saw her strange talents affect the physical world. Until that point it seemed that whatever she could do was strictly tied to an ethereal plane. She could change our emotions and read our minds to a certain degree, but she certainly wasn’t bending spoons or levitating off the ground.

Either of those would have been preferred.

It was sometime in July. The weather had turned from warm to hot and the dog days of summer were upon us. A scream and a crash from the kitchen destroyed whatever tranquility had been in the house that day. I came running into the room to find Hannah precariously balancing on the counter and a glass of iced tea smashed on the floor.

She saw me and immediately pointed to the stove. “It went under there!”

“What did?” I asked.

“The mouse!”

I laughed and earned daggers from Hannah’s eyes. She’d never been one to cope well with household critters. “I’ll get a trap.”

Just before I turned to go fetch a mousetrap I saw a black blur bolt from beneath the oven. Hannah shrieked again and I went for the broom that hung in the closet next to me, but before I could do anything else, the mouse stopped suddenly in the middle of the floor.

With the broom in hand, wondering if I could somehow sweep it out of the house, I approached the rodent. As I got closer though, I noticed it wasn’t moving. Its ribs weren’t expanding and contracting the way they do in little animals, nor was its head twitching around as it searched for a place to hide. In fact, this mouse wasn’t even standing.

I tapped it with the bristles of the broom curiously and Hannah let out an audible shudder.

“Calm down,” I told her. “I think it’s dead.”

“Dead? It just died?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I think so.”

I knelt down to get a closer look, then I looked up and saw Sarah staring at us from the hallway. She had this look in her eye, one I would come to see often and dread. Even that first time it made my blood run cold and sent chills up my spine.

“Sarah?” I said carefully. “Are you alright?”

She looked at me and the look was gone - melted away to expose the happy face of the little girl I loved so dearly. “Yeah daddy. Now that mouse won’t scare mom anymore.”

I looked at the dead mouse, then back at my daughter. “Did you do something to that mouse?”

“Yeah.” Her answer was so cold, so casual that it gave me goosebumps. “Just like I do to the spiders sometimes.”

I stood in shocked silence for a minute, which Sarah took as her queue to return to whatever she’d been doing in her bedroom.

Hannah slid from the counter and stood next to me for several minutes before she asked the question that had been floating in the back of my mind but hadn’t yet come forward.

“When was the last time you saw a spider in the house?”

“I,” I started, then stopped. “I don’t know.”

After the incident with the mouse, Hannah and I took special care to teach Sarah right from wrong. She seemed to grasp the concept that hurting anything was wrong, and it was especially wrong to kill things. We asked her never to do what she did to the mouse again and to try to focus on doing good things with her talents. We weren’t entirely sure what she was capable of doing, so trying to give her examples of good things she could do was a bit difficult; for the most part we just hoped she didn’t do anything without our consent.

After we’d gotten used to the uneasy feeling we got whenever she peeked into our minds, we started playing guessing games. This allowed her to stretch her muscles, in a manner of speaking, and allowed us to pick up on subtleties we otherwise would have been blind to. Hannah and I learned that Sarah could pick up what we were thinking, but only what we were actively thinking about. If there was a secret we didn’t want her to know, we could keep it from her by keeping a song in our heads or thinking about work. This skill, which we initially used to keep Christmas and birthday presents secret, would become vitally important and likely saved many of our lives years later.

Outside our home, things were significantly different from Sarah. Very few people got used to the way she made them feel - that inescapable feeling of danger looming that she seemed to exude was difficult to ignore. It took several years, but eventually our neighbors did start coming around again. Bob, an elderly man across the street who lived for his rose bushes, was the first person outside of Hannah and myself to really open up to Sarah. With a wife who had passed away three years prior and his only grandkids living two states away, it surprised nobody to see that he and Sarah found solace in the other’s company.

Like all the other neighbors, Bob politely declined any invitation into our home, regardless of the weather, and he never spent too much time with Sarah, but if she was playing alone in the front yard, as she often did, it wouldn’t be long before Bob came shuffling over with a bag of taffy or an ice cream bar in his hand for her. He’d give her a crooked grin, tell her not to spoil her dinner with it, and would walk back across the street to trim his rose bushes or fertilize his lawn.

Had this unlikely friendship not come into existence, Hannah and I would probably not have known about the incident with Bear, the Rottweiler that lived down the street.

The neighborhood children were often cruel to Sarah, which sadly surprised us very little. Hannah and I did everything we could to mitigate it, we talked to Sarah about it as often as we could; we told her that she was loved no matter what the other kids said, but at eight or nine years-old, the isolation from her peers was devastating. The other kids’ parents were of little to no help either, being as difficult or more than their children. Eventually Sarah learned it was best to keep to herself, which worked for the most part.

It was October. The leaves were changing and there was a crisp chill in the air that made us all crave pumpkin spice and apple cider. Halloween was a week or two away, but the spirit was alive already, especially for the children in the neighborhood who rode their bikes up and down the street, smashing pumpkins and doorbell ditching helpless victims. Sarah of course never participated, which was just fine by us considering the trouble the other kids got into.

Three of these kids lived down the street from our home - Austin Francis, Kenny Ryan, and Preston Jarvis - and they were the worst offenders. If I found eggs on my house, it was one of those boys. If Hannah found the garden torn up, it was one of those boys. If Sarah was being picked on in the front yard, it was one of those boys. They were like a small pack of hyenas, laughing to themselves and wreaking all sorts of havoc.

Hannah was doing laundry in the basement and I was at work that day in October when the three boys came riding down the street on their bikes, hooting and hollering like they did back then, one of them carrying a leash attached to a particularly mean Rottweiler named Bear. Sarah had been decorating the driveway with sidewalk chalk when the boys rolled up and stopped at the curb.

“Hiya, freak!” Kenny called out. “Whatcha doin?”

Sarah didn’t respond.

“Hey!” Preston said. “We asked you a question.”

Sarah, again, said nothing.

Austin took a step forward, unzipped the front of his pants, and let forth a stream of urine all over the chalk drawing Sarah had been working on. Sarah stood up and took a step back to avoid the piss and Austin sprinkled the pile of chalk she’d been using for good measure.

As this back and forth went on, or maybe just “back” because at this point there was no “forth,” Bear grew more and more agitated. Sarah had never had any luck with animals - most avoided her more than people did - but Bear was a nasty dog without any additional prodding. He’d charge the fence at anyone who passed his yard, snarling and growling and slamming his considerable weight against the chain-link, making anyone on the other side of that fence immediately nervous. There was even a rumor that the Ryans had to pick their mail up from the post office because the mail carriers refused to deliver to that address anymore.

Noticing this agitation, Kenny called out to his friends. “Hey look at Bear! Even HE hates her.”

The dog was pulling at his collar and snarling at Sarah now, large ropes of saliva hanging down from his jowls.

“Looks like he wants to get off that leash,” Preston said. “I say we let him go and have at whatever’s pissin’ him off.”

Preston went over to the dog, who was pulling so hard at the leash now that Austin was leaning backward to keep control of him. It was at this point that Bob, who had been watching this scene unfold from his front yard, decided he needed to step in, not knowing that he wouldn’t get past the end of his driveway before it was all over.

Sarah stepped forward, still saying nothing, and the boys instinctively took a step back. Bear, however, inched forward, the muscles in his neck and chest flexing as he pulled the boy on the other end of the leash along.

Sarah took another step forward, now less than a foot away from the beast that weighed more than she did, and that was when the dog stopped snarling.

He still pulled at his leash, but the fight had left him. Instead, he pulled and twisted his neck in the way of a dog attempting an escape from a collar. Bear pulled harder and the links of the metal choke collar broke, tinkling against the ground like lost change.

The entire time Sarah’s blank gaze followed Bear.

Although he’d felt fear countless times throughout his life, Bob admitted later that watching this play out, and especially seeing the cold, dead, predatory look in Sarah’s eyes, was the first and only time he’d ever experienced real, unadulterated terror.

Bear got only a few feet away before the orange and white blur of an oncoming U-Haul truck collided with it and the Rottweiler was no more.

The driver leapt out of the cab and the rest of the scene unfolded as one would expect with the exception of Sarah, who picked up her piss-covered chalk, and returned to the picture she’d been working on while screams and apologies and tears went on behind her.

Moments later Hannah would hear the commotion and come outside. Bob would call me a day later and tell me what he’d seen. He’d tell me how frightened he was and how strangely the dog had moved when it made its final footsteps - like a puppet on a string. A week after that, Bob would come outside to find three of his biggest, healthiest rose bushes looking black and brittle while Sarah stood motionless, watching him from her bedroom window. 


To say that Sarah was different after the incident with the Rottweiler would be a gross understatement. The darkness in her eyes that visited from time to time had taken up residency, only leaving for brief moments to remind us that our little girl still existed.

We took her to several therapists, hoping that perhaps with professional mental help she could overcome whatever demons she was battling inside her and that we’d finally get our little girl back. What we got in return were conflicting diagnoses - psychosis, bipolar disorder, depression, ADHD, schizophrenia to name a few - and a constant wave of referrals. Sarah would barely get two or three appointments out of the same therapist before being recommended to another “more qualified” practitioner - some would even just stop showing up at all and refuse to return our phone calls. After a couple years of this, Hannah and I ultimately decided to forego therapy and focus on learning what we could on the subject ourselves. The constant loss of people in her life was doing far more harm than good.

Given the juggling act of therapists, requests for her to change teachers in school mid-year, and the lack of friends, I can’t say I was surprised to see Sarah shut down, and it broke my heart.

The bullying tapered off for a while after the demise of Bear, but children are quick to forget and it wasn’t long before the abuse from the other children started up again, and with a ferocity that both terrified and infuriated us. Hannah and I did everything we could think of to protect Sarah from the barrage of hate and to protect the other children from suffering unimaginable consequences. We practiced breathing exercises, we taught Sarah how to get help from adults, specifically adults who were required to intervene, and how to get herself away from these situations.

Always vigilant, Hannah and I would drop Sarah off at school or take walks around the neighborhood and see other children in casts, braces and crutches and we would wonder how many of them had been genuine accidents and how many had pushed Sarah too far. There certainly seemed to be more injuries than seemed normal - it was foolish to assume Sarah hadn’t played a part in at least a few of them no matter how often we practiced self control with her.

Of course we couldn’t ask Sarah about it; we couldn’t even think about it around her. We told ourselves it was because we wanted to avoid isolating Sarah more than she already was, which was absolutely true, but the whole truth was that we were also afraid of her turning on us. She seemed so volatile that a wrong word, a wrong thought, could push her over the edge. For better or worse, we didn’t have to bring it up because her involvement in the mysterious neighborhood injuries was all but confirmed over the course of a few months when the three boys from down the street - Austin, Preston and Kenny - all managed to find themselves in casts with broken bones and were suddenly too busy to care much about picking on our daughter.

If I’m being honest with myself, I was glad to see those boys laid up for a bit. Sarah’s wrath had been a long-time coming, and if I could have gotten away with smacking those boys around a bit, I probably would have.

After some time passed, Hannah and I noticed that one of the three boys was missing. Although Kenny and Preston still came around on occasion to throw rocks at the house or yell profanities at Sarah as she sat outside, Austin was nowhere to be seen. Fearing the worst, we started asking around the neighborhood about the boy. Neither Hannah nor myself had a good rapport with Austin’s parents - I’d nearly come to blows with his father over the incident with his dog - so walking down the street and knocking on the door wasn’t really an option.

Fortunately, Hannah was able to gather that the Francis family had moved a few weeks prior from the woman who lived next door. Nobody knew why they’d moved, but nobody really had a great relationship with that family. Randall Francis was an alcoholic and Lorraine Francis was a chain smoking drug addict - nobody in the neighborhood was sorry to see their house vacant.

About a year later the Ryan family moved as well, leaving Preston Jarvis alone to pick on Sarah. Having now lost his two best friends to cross-country relocations, Preston’s own isolation made him even meaner and more cruel toward Sarah. Perhaps if his friends had been around things would have gone differently for Preston, although that was far out of his control.

The Preston Jarvis incident, as it would forever branded in my mind, occurred on July 4th, 2019.

The three of us had spent the morning with the rest of the town on Main street for the annual Independence Day parade. Sarah hadn’t wanted to go, but had been a good sport about it at least. These days she kept almost entirely to herself, only really coming out of her room for meals and to go to school. Every free moment she had was spent with her nose in a book, enjoying the escape to distant lands where children were nice to each other and villains got their comeuppance. Hannah and I encouraged this as much as we could while also trying to promote social growth, which was as difficult as it was terrifying, but also equally as necessary.

Sarah had brought along a novel called New Moon, the second book in her favorite series that she’d finished several times already, and together we enjoyed the sun and the food and the sights offered by the parade. We’d gotten a few smiles out of her, a rare occurrence these days, so Hannah and I were taking the day as a win.

That was until Preston Jarvis rolled up on his bike. He’d been bold to bully Sarah in front of us before, but today he must have been feeling especially brave.

“Hey there freak!” he called from the curb. “Why don’t they put you in a cage and parade you around this year.”

“Get the fuck out of here,” I retorted.

“Oh fuck off old man,” Preston said angstfully. “It’s your fault she’s such a freak anyway. Your whole family is probably a bunch of devil worshipers - that’s what my dad says. I think we’d all be better off if you were all dead.”

I stood from the camping chair we’d brought with us and walked the few feet that stood between us.

“Listen here you little shit,” I said between my teeth. “I don't give a fuck what you or your dad thinks. Come around my family again and I’ll put you in the hospital.”

He looked at me for a beat, then opened his mouth to reply. His eyes shifted then to Sarah, and his expression turned to a mixture of fear and hatred, then his mouth closed and he rode off down the street.

I sat back down, expecting to be chastised by Hannah for threatening a kid, but got nothing other than a sideways look.

“You alright, kiddo?” I asked Sarah. I couldn't be sure from where I sat, but I thought I could see the shadow of a smile on her lips.

“Yeah,” she answered. “I think it’d be better if he were dead.”

Hannah and I exchanged a look of concern.

“I don’t think so,” Hannah said, always the mitigator. “I think his family would miss him. We may not like him, but there’s plenty of people that do and they would be sad if something happened.”

Sarah nodded in response - more of an acknowledgement than agreement - and went back to her book.

Later that day we found ourselves at the park to enjoy the firework display the city put on. We’d enjoyed as much as we could from the crowds during the parade, so that night we hung back quite a bit from where the main groups were. Hannah and I sat on a park bench enjoying hotdogs while Sarah sat under a tree and worked on finishing her book before the sun finished setting.

Just as I swallowed the last bit of hotdog I heard a hissing sound and felt the rush of warm air on my cheek.


A bottle rocket exploded near the tree where Sarah sat.

I whipped around and was unsurprised to see Preston Jarvis ten feet away aiming another bottle rocket at us.

He lit the rocket and moments later it flew past me, hitting the tree Sarah sat against and exploding.

I stood up and Preston knew he only had a few seconds before I knocked him to the ground. He bent over and picked out the largest from the pile of fireworks at his feet - it was significantly larger than the ones he’d shot at us - and lit the fuse.

Before I could get close enough to stop him the firework went off. It fired several shots, one after the other, turning our small patch of park into the scene from the war move. I turned my back and felt the hot rockets hit my back and shower me in ash and spent gunpowder. I looked up and saw that several of the fireworks had hit their target. Sarah was wiping embers off her face and out of her hair while her book smoldered at her feet.

After the firework was spent, smoke and the scent of sulfur hung in the air like fog, I turned around to face Preston. The rage I felt must not have been the fraction of rage Sarah was feeling because I didn’t get a step toward the boy before every firework at his feet exploded.

He stumbled backward and cried out in surprise and pain, then a dark spot began to grow at the crotch of his pants and his eyes widened to a look of sheer terror. He stood up and began to run, screaming in horror and calling for help. A second later Sarah rushed past me after the boy.

I lunged forward, hoping to catch one of Sarah’s hands, but she was too quick.

The sun had set by now and the park was growing dark quickly as I bolted after the children. Preston’s legs and arms pumped wildly as he ran past trees and bushes, desperately trying to escape his pursuer.

He turned and ran into the thicker part of the trees with Sarah hot on his heels. I bee-lined toward them calling Sarah’s name and begging her not to do anything to Preston. I saw their shapes passing the trees. Preston then Sarah, Preston then Sarah, then it was just Sarah.

“No!” I cried desperately. “No Sarah, no!”

Sarah stopped and I maneuvered around the trees as quickly as I could, praying that I would find anything other than the boy’s body at her feet.

I was both relieved and terrified when I found Sarah alone.

“Sarah, where’s Preston?” I asked between hard breaths. “Where did he go?”

“Nowhere,” Sarah said.

I looked around the ground, up in the trees, in the bushes, and there was no sign of the boy.

“Sarah,” I said sharply. “What happened?”

She didn’t answer.

I grabbed her shoulders, trying not to panic but slowly losing the battle. “Sarah!” I yelled, shaking her. “Sarah what did you do?”

Hannah caught up to us by now and gently removed my hands from Sarah’s shoulders. “What happened?” she asked. I could tell she was trying as hard as I was to keep her voice steady. “Where’s Preston?”

Sarah still said nothing. The glassy, dead look in her eyes remained, unwavering.

I looked down then and saw the boy’s footprints in the dirt. In the quickly dwindling light it was difficult to make them out from Sarah’s and my own, but with the flashlight on my phone I was able to track the boy’s final steps.

He’d run past the tree that I’d last seen him behind, then turned, and then his footprints stopped in the middle of the path. They didn’t lead to a tree or a bush, they simply just stopped.

I searched for hours and found no other clue to Preston’s whereabouts. Hannah took Sarah home and put her to bed - she still hadn’t said a word about what had happened, nor would she ever. When I’d exhausted my search of the area, I had Hannah pick me up. We drove home in silence, neither of us sure about what to say, but both feeling unspeakably terrified.

I waited anxiously for the phone call from the police, for the news reports about the missing child, for the Amber alert on my phone, but nothing came. There were no newspaper articles, no “Breaking News,” no “Missing Child” posters - absolutely nothing.

Two weeks went by before I had the courage to ask Preston’s father about him. We hadn’t ever been on good terms, but he had been washing his car while I was out for my morning jog and I didn’t think another opportunity would present itself in the near future.

“Hey Mark!” I called from the street.

“Hey!” he called back pleasantly, which somewhat surprised me. “How’s it going?”

“Not bad,” I said. “I haven’t seen Preston in a while - is he at summer camp or something?”

“Who?” Mark Jarvis asked.

My heart had been pounding furiously in my chest from the anticipation of speaking with Pretson’s father, but now it seemed to stop completely.

“What?” I asked breathlessly.

“Who are you talking about?” Mark wore an expression of confusion, as if I’d just grown a second head.

“Preston,” I repeated. “Your son - about Sarah’s age.”

The corners of his mouth turned down slightly and he raised an eyebrow. “I don’t have a son,” he said. “You feeling alright?”

I tried to swallow, but my mouth was too dry. “Uh, yeah” I managed to get out. “Sorry, I think I might have a little heat stroke I guess.”

“You better get inside then,” he said, his expression now turning from confusion to genuine concern. “Sounds like it might be serious. Do you want me to walk up the street with you?”

“No thanks,” I told him. “I’ll head back home now.”

He waved goodbye as I walked away, my morning cardio routine completely forgotten.

Later that night, long after Sarah had fallen asleep, I would tell Hannah about what had happened. She would look as confused as I had felt for a moment, then after taking the time to fully process what had happened, she would begin to sob.

We had thought that Sarah killed Preston Jarvis, but the reality was much worse. She had completely erased him from existence. 


It took weeks for the shock of what happened to Preston Jarvis to wear thin enough for Hannah and I to even think about what to do next. We both tried talking to Sarah about it, but the little girl we’d raised seemed to have evaporated that night along with Preston. Her eyes showed no joy, no love, no hope - nothing but emptiness.

We attempted a few times to talk to Sarah about the incident, but it was obvious we couldn’t get through to her. When we asked her what exactly happened to Preston, her answer was always different variations of “I made him go away.” She never said she killed him, and I suppose that wasn’t entirely inaccurate, but she also said she couldn’t bring him back. I’m not sure whether I believed that she couldn’t undo what she’d done - at this point I wasn’t sure if she was incapable of anything - or if it was more that she wouldn’t undo what she’d done.

I’m not sure which option terrified me more.

Sarah kept to herself even more than she had in the past. Before, Hannah and I could always carry conversations with her and get her to join us on trips to the store, but now it was nearly impossible to even get her out of her bedroom for dinner. We would go days without seeing her. We only knew she was alright because we could hear her moving around in her bedroom and the plates of food Hannah would leave in the hallway would be emptied by morning. I tried to stay up late once to see if I could catch Sarah coming out of her bedroom, but I’d fallen asleep around 3 AM and by the time I’d woken up, the food was gone.

Every night the scene replayed over and over in my mind. When I closed my eyes I could see the trees silhouetted in the dark, feel my heart racing, hear the terrified final screams of the boy who would be wiped from existence in mere seconds. I had hated that kid, it was hard to deny after the torment and pain he’d caused my family, but I wouldn’t have wished his fate on anyone. I tried to tell myself that maybe things were better off this way - maybe Preston would grow up to be a serial killer or something - but I knew in my heart that was probably not the case. Sarah had an effect on people that brought out the worst in them. Preston was a terrible kid, but would things have been different had his family not moved down the street from ours? Would he not have acted so maliciously if he hadn’t been exposed to Sarah?

There was no way to know for sure, but these questions are the ones that kept me up at night. That was until the shock had worn off enough for me to finally consider the two questions that I’d been too afraid to broach - was this the first time she’d done this? And would she do something like this again?

I had a thought cross my mind in the wee hours of the morning after all but the raccoons and crickets had gone to sleep - originally there had been three boys that tormented Sarah. The other two had allegedly moved away, but I hadn’t seen a moving van. All we had to go by was the account of the bored and nosey neighbors on our street.

I spent days thinking about this before I finally decided to find out for myself. If the Francis and Ryan families really had moved, their houses would be empty - if they hadn’t, well…

I waited until Hannah and Sarah were asleep. I had no intention of telling either of them anything until I had a solid conclusion. As much as I loved Hannah, she wasn’t always good at keeping things from Sarah - she didn’t have the same focus I did, I suppose. I didn’t blame her for that, but it meant I had to be careful with what I told her.

At around three I got out of bed and slipped on my shoes.

The street was illuminated by the street lamps spaced a few houses apart, and the moon above cast an ominous glow around me as I stepped out into the July night. I put my hands in my pockets and began to stroll down the sidewalk. I badly wanted to run, to get there and be done with the whole business as quickly as possible, but I knew if someone did see me, a man running in the middle of the night seemed a bit more suspicious than someone going on a late-night stroll.

It must have been only ten or fifteen minutes before I approached the house where Austin Francis had once lived. The yard was mostly dirt with only a few patches of grass here and there, all framed by a silver chain-link fence that once kept Bear the Rottweiler from terrorizing the town. I opened the gate and approached the window. I didn’t need to enter the house, just needed to see inside, but unfortunately the curtains were drawn and all I was able to glimpse was a wall of black.

I walked the perimeter of the house and attempted another window. Still there was nothing to see but darkness. Sighing, I allowed myself one last attempt before I went to the Ryan household - I tried the knob on the back door.

It twisted and the door opened with a soft creak that sent my heart pounding.

I stepped in and was immediately hit by the acrid scent of decaying meat. I turned on the lights and was unsurprised to find that there was no power. Using the flashlight on my phone, I toured the house.

Bowls and plates still sat out on the kitchen table, the food they had once held long since dried up leaving gray and brown remnants. Curiously I opened the fridge, then immediately closed it as the smell struck my face and made my eyes water.

I walked the rest of the house, seeing dirty laundry, empty bottles of alcohol, and generally the signs of a house that was being lived in, NOT a house that had been vacated.

The scent grew stronger as I approached the bedroom. Terrified to see what was on the other side of the door, but knowing I had no other choice if I intended to get answers, I turned the knob and stepped in. It was a boy’s bedroom - presumably the bedroom of Austin Francis. Again I found more indications that nobody had packed anything away - a television, a Playstation, video games, model cars - things that no boy would leave without. But none of that was what surprised me.

What surprised me were the black splatters of dried blood and tissue and fragments of bone that covered the walls, spreading from the bed like the boy had gone to bed with a belly full of explosives.

Not for the first time since entering the house, I swallowed back hot bile from the pit of my stomach.

I closed the bedroom door, thinking then to wipe my fingerprints from the knob, then moved along to the master bedroom where I saw a similar scene. Both Mr. and Mrs. Francis were lying in bed, except their heads had been removed from their bodies and replaced with a similar arc of blood and gray matter painting the pillows, walls and headboard.

After that, I’d seen what I needed to and left the house in a haze. Once the door behind me was closed, I lost the battle with my stomach and lurched violently in the overgrown rose bushes that were planted a few feet away from the back door.

How long ago had it been since the Francis family allegedly moved? I wasn’t sure - it had definitely been over a year, probably closer to two.

I racked my brain as I made my way further down the street toward the Ryan house trying to remember every detail I could about how the information had traveled to Hannah about the families having moved - she’d been the one to tell me on both accounts. She had said she got the information from Tammy Howell, the woman next door who had little better to do than talk on the phone and look out the window. Why would Tammy lie about the Francis family moving? Or had she honestly thought that’s what had happened, in similar fashion to how Preston’s own father seemed to honestly think he’d never had a son?

The Ryan house looked better kept from the outside, although not by much. Weeds had overtaken the lawn and one of the windows had been broken, presumably by a rock thrown from the street. I again attempted to peer through the windows, but after a few fruitless endeavors, I let myself into the backyard to try my luck with the back door.

Again, it opened without a problem.

The stench that hit my nose was far less potent than the one lingering in the Francis household, but equally as unnerving. Even still, I expected to find the similar signs of abandonment that I’d found in the other house, but when I flipped on my phone’s light, I was surprised to see a somewhat clean, empty house.

A layer of dust and dirt covered most of the surfaces, but there was no furniture, no pictures, nothing to indicate that the house was being lived in. It seemed that the house really HAD been vacated.

Except for that smell.

I followed the smell to a bedroom and opened the door. Again I had to choke back the urge to evacuate whatever was left in my stomach. My eyes watered as I lifted the light to illuminate the boy’s bedroom. This time, instead of the whole room being painted with blood, only half of it was. Lying in the bed were the remains of Kenny Ryan. His left half was perfectly intact, his gray skin taught and dry against his skeleton, while his right half was completely missing; it looked as if he had fallen sideways into a wood chipper.

Unlike the rest of the house, this room seemed completely untouched. There were no signs of any intention of packing up Kenny’s possessions for the upcoming move. In fact, it seemed as if the family had simply forgotten him.

It was with this thought that my heart dropped even further.

They really HAD forgotten about Kenny. He hadn’t disappeared like Preston, but he may as well have in the hearts and minds of his family. Is that what Sarah had been trying to do to the Ryan family the year before? There was no way to know for sure - I had no intention of asking her - but that seemed to fit in a morbid sort of way.

After spending another few weeks fully processing what I’d found, I shared my discovery with Hannah. I was a bit nervous to pull her deeper into the problem - she had always struggled with keeping things from Sarah - but I felt like the secret would devour me if I kept it any longer.

The start of the school year was fast approaching, and Hannah and I were obsessing over the decision whether or not to allow Sarah to enroll for another year. We were terrified that something else would happen, especially given what I’d found out about the Ryan and Francis families, but we also wanted to maintain some semblance of normalcy for Sarah. And if I’m being honest, Hannah and I needed a break from the constant buzz of danger and unease that followed our daughter and had now coated every surface of our house.

We hadn’t yet made our decision, but decided it was best for Sarah to go to orientation at least. We decided I would go with her to see how she did - if anyone came up to her to ask how her summer was, or to find out if there were others like Preston Jarvis on Sarah’s chopping block.

Nobody approached her, but there was also no bullying either. All things considered, I took it as a win. When we arrived home, Hannah was gone. She’d left a note telling us she’d gotten a call from the neighbor who needed help with something and would be back late.

This struck me as odd, but I did my best to not think about that just in case Sarah was listening in from her bedroom, which she’d made a bee-line to the moment we arrived home.

Later that night, I received a text from Hannah asking if Sarah was asleep. I told her she was and Hannah walked in the front door, face red and eyes swollen.

“I…” she started, then began sobbing.

I held her and let her tears soak into my shirt until eventually she calmed down enough to speak.

“I’m so scared,” she finally whispered.

“Scared of what?” I asked, knowing damn well what she was afraid of - I was afraid too.

“I found something,” Hannah said, pulling away from me.

She swallowed, and I could see her throat bob up and down as she searched for the words.

“When you and Sarah left for orientation, I went through her bedroom. I didn’t want to say anything about it because I hated when my parents would go through my room, and I had hoped I wouldn’t find anything.”

She paused for a long moment.

“But…” I said, filling the silence and searching her eyes for the answer. “What did you find?”

She shook her head, unable to speak, then pulled out her phone and handed it to me.

On the screen was a picture she’d taken of an old, stained shoebox. Inside was a collection of tails from a variety of small animals, some of them very old and brittle, others fairly fresh with meat and sinew still clinging on from where they were torn off. This pile of tails sat in a nest composed of dozens of blood-stained collars and pet tags.

I looked up in shock and disbelief.

“I found that in her closet,” Hannah said. “Go to the next picture.”

I swiped to the left and saw the image of an open book. It took me a moment, but I recognized it as a journal Sarah had received from one of her grandmothers last Christmas.

Pasted inside the journal were photographs, each with a large “X” scratched across their faces. I zoomed in and recognized immediately the face of Preston Jarvis. Like this picture, many of them appeared to have been cut out from the school yearbook. I recognized the face of Sarah’s science teacher that had requested she be transferred out of her class, and another girl I’d seen just a few weeks before hopping along on crutches at the 4th of July parade.

I swiped again and saw another page filled with photos, another swipe, and still more photos. More yearbook images of children, of teachers, family photos of Kenny Ryan and Austin Francis presumably stolen off the walls of their now vacant homes, pictures of therapists who had mysteriously stopped returning our calls.

I looked up at Hannah, my face now completely void of color.

We didn’t exchange words, we didn’t need to, because we both understood at that moment that our daughter had been doing these things for far longer than we knew, and had kept them a secret for just as long.

For years, while we thought we were getting through to her, keeping her talents at bay and teaching her right from wrong, Sarah had been torturing, killing, and erasing dozens of people and pets throughout the neighborhood.

While I’ve been so engrossed in explaining what happened all those years ago, things have been going on these past few weeks that have both Hannah and myself even more on edge than we were before, starting with what happened at the Red Trailer Truck Stop. Below is a news article I read this morning:

May 4, 2022

It’s been just over three weeks now since Esteban Gutierrez arrived at the Red Trailer Truck Stop where he worked as a line cook to discover the nine bodies of his friends, patrons and coworkers, and still authorities are baffled.

Mr. Gutierrez told police he arrived at approximately 5:45 AM for his morning shift in the kitchen when he first discovered the body of Emma Fitzgerald by the employee entrance. He noticed an injury on Emma’s forehead, which the county coroner determined was likely caused by a fall very near the time of death. All eight other bodies showed signs of trauma similar to what Mr. Gutierrez described, although the coroner report shows that none of the injuries were enough to be fatal.

As reported previously, the preliminary investigation reported no signs of violence or theft, nor was there anything indicating signs of a gas leak in the truck stop.

Authorities have now completed the final autopsies on the individuals and are now reporting that these deaths do not appear to have been caused by poison or infection.

Police and city medical professionals continue to be baffled by this peculiar case, but assure us there does not appear to be any danger to the community at this time.

Check back here for the most up to date information on this baffling case.


I can’t say for certain when the idea of killing Sarah first crossed my mind. It could have been that night Hannah showed me pictures of Sarah’s journal, it could have been the night Preston Jarvis disappeared, it could have been during the hellish weeks that followed while we walked on eggshells around our own house praying to any God that would listen to deliver us from the nightmare we had found ourselves in.

For a while, nothing seemed real.

Could Sarah, MY Sarah, kill people? No way. Never.

But she had.

Pictures of her from school, smiling happily back at us from in front of a painted woodland background hung in the hallway. I would pass them, seeing her bright eyes, and ask myself if I truly believed that little girl was capable of the atrocities we accused her of. It was simply not possible.

But it was.

The idea sat in the back of my head, festering like an infected boil for weeks until it suddenly burst, spreading its contents all over my mind. I hated myself for thinking it, for even allowing the thoughts to come into my mind so clearly as that, but I hated myself even more for failing to see another option.

There was no psychologist, no corrections officer, no court that could contain her. If Sarah wanted to be free to do what she wished, then it was just a matter of willing it so. Perhaps if there was a correct dosage of some drug we could give her that could dampen these abilities then maybe there was a chance to reason with her, but if we got it wrong it would cost the lives of everyone involved and countless others.

The only way to ensure everyone’s safety was to remove Sarah from the board altogether. She was too powerful, too psychotic, to be able to live a happy, healthy life. She had always been a scourge on the neighborhood, no matter how much love we had shown her. And for 13 years we had been proven time and time again that the rest of the world would shut her out and fear and hate her.

Perhaps that fate would be the best for her as well.

I knew that wasn’t true, but that was the lie I told myself to get myself to sleep.

When I brought this idea up to Hannah, I think a part of me wanted her to hate me for it. I wanted her to slap me across the face and tell me how awful I was for even suggesting such a thing. But she would give me no such satisfaction.

I had taken her to dinner under the guise of wanting a romantic evening out of the house. After we’d ordered our entrees however, Hannah called me out.

“What is it?” she asked, a note of concern and dread in her voice.

I frowned.

“Don’t give me that look,” she said, a bit more harshly than I think she intended. “You got us out of the house so we could talk about Sarah, didn’t you? Has something else happened?”

“No, no,” I said, shaking my head. “Nothing like that.”

She took a sip of her water. “But it is something about Sarah, isn’t it?”

I collected myself for a minute, drinking about half my glass of ice water as I did so, then told Hannah my idea.

My heart felt like it was going to beat right out of my chest and onto the plate of alfredo I’d ordered. Hannah didn’t speak for several long minutes.

I tried to eat my meal, but at that moment it seemed like the least appetizing thing in the world.

When she did speak, her voice was low, quiet, and bubbling over with regret. “I think you’re right.”

I wasn’t sure if I was going to laugh or sob. The two balanced each other out, and instead I sat there stoically.

“Did you hear me?” Hannah asked. Tears were welling in her eyes and the corners of her mouth were twitching downward.

I nodded, still unable to speak. My throat was burning.

We sat for hours in that restaurant, eventually found our stomachs after some time and were able to put at least a little food down. It was there that we began to hatch our plan.

The first part of the plan was to get our neighbors on board - at least Bob from across the street and Tammy next door, they were the most likely of anyone to see or notice anything suspicious. We told ourselves that if either Bob or Tammy refused to help us, or at least corroborate the story we would craft, then we would call the whole thing off.

I rehearsed what I would say dozens of times before I found myself on Bob’s front porch with a plate of cookies Hannah had made. Bob smiled when he opened the door and saw the cookies, but when he met my eyes, his smile collapsed.

“Come on in,” Bob said. “You look like you’ve got something to talk about.”

He led me in and around the corner where he had two maroon recliners. The house smelled of roses.

“Can I get you a drink?” Bob asked, but already he was shuffling to the kitchen.

“Sure,” I answered, knowing well that if I had declined his offer, Bob would still come out with two beers anyway.

I heard the tinkling of glass and the familiar sound of the cap being removed, then Bob came back around the corner. He handed me a bottle, then sat down in the adjacent recliner, sighing.

“Now, what’s on your mind son?”

I tried to swallow, but my mouth was too dry. I took a sip of beer, and began.

“Sarah’s not well,” I said.

Bob raised his eyebrows. “Is it the cancer?”

“No, nothing like that,” I said. “She’s got something wrong with her mind. I’m sure you’ve noticed that she’s different from the other children and that she makes people feel… well… uncomfortable.”

Bob nodded.

I swallowed another sip of beer. “Hannah and I have done what we can to help her, but things have gotten past a point where we can offer help, where anyone can offer help.”

I paused, searching Bob’s face. What I was about to say next would condemn me.

“Do you remember that day Bear got hit by that U-Haul? That was Sarah. She’s able to do things like that, but also much more terrible things. I think that’s why people feel the way they do when they’re around her - they can sense that she’s different, that she’s dangerous.

“A few things have happened, I’d rather not get into the details but I will if you need me to, that have brought Hannah and myself to the conclusion that -”

Bob held up a hand.

My stomach twisted around like a coiled snake.

“Did I ever tell you about my time in the service?”

I shook my head, so taken aback by this sudden change in topic that I momentarily lost my voice.

“I was stationed near Khe Sanh in ‘68 and saw more bloodshed than any man should see in his life. Thousands of people died that year. Many nights I would fall asleep to the sounds of gunfire in the distance, and wake up to the sounds of men screaming.

“I can’t say I didn’t take lives. God help me, I took far more than I care to say, but there were others…”

He trailed off, and for a moment I wondered if he would continue his story. When he spoke again his voice was rough and his eyes were misted by tears of the past.

“I first met Paul when we were in boot camp together, and he was my only lasting friend throughout the entire nightmare. When the killing started, I didn’t think I could be more terrified, but when I looked at Paul, I saw something that scared me even more than the thought of losing my life to the enemy.

“I could see pleasure in Paul’s eyes every time he fired his weapon at another man. He enjoyed it, he loved it. He told stories of his exploits, his murders, as if they were were hunting tales. He’d talk about how many guerillas he killed like they were nothing but a few low-point bucks, and with every word he spoke, his self-satisfaction grew. As the days became weeks and the weeks became months, that look in his eyes stayed, the stories he told became more horrendous, and the man that he once was seemed to be lost forever. I saw him open fire on men, women, and children, relishing every final breath he took for his own. I saw him commit atrocities that I will never speak of.

“We got our transfer papers one night, and where most men would feel joy and excitement to finally leave the bloodshed, I felt horror. Horror for those that would cross paths with my once dear friend, for I had no doubt in my mind that the killing may have stopped for me, but for Paul it had only just begun. It was a game to him now, and he would continue to play.

“The last life I ever took was that of my best friend in the jungle of Vietnam on the day before we were set to transfer. We had stumbled across a family of travelers along the road, and where I saw people - men, women, children - Paul saw nothing but lambs for the slaughter. He brought his rifle up to his shoulder, and I shot him in the back of the head.

“I don’t wonder if I did the right thing, but if I’d done the right thing sooner how many innocent lives would have been saved.”

Bob held the bottle to his lips and finished his beer, then stood up and went to the kitchen for another.

“I love that little girl of yours,” he called from the kitchen. The note of pain that had developed in his voice now seemed to seep through the walls. “I too want what’s best for her. I won’t hear the question you came here to ask, such things are better left unsaid, but I think you’ll find I’ve answered it nonetheless.”

Indeed he had.

Hannah and I have both been avoiding watching the news in the house since Sarah arrived home, nervous that something like the news of the Red Trailer Truck stop would come on and our thoughts would betray us. All it took was one glimpse of that truck stop and I knew we wouldn’t be able to help immediately thinking about that night. It was like having a gun to my head and watching a documentary about lions and trying not to think about a lion, even for a moment, lest the trigger be pulled.

The truth is that we had passed that truck stop two times that night - once with our little girl buckled up in the back seat, her lifeless head lolling around as the car hit bumps in the road, and once with nothing but silence and a queer sense of relief filling the car. It was the closest sign of civilization from where we had left Sarah, and would have been the first place anyone would stop if they had a teenage hitchhiker in the passenger seat with no memory of how she got there.

The morning of the day Sarah showed up on our doorstep was when that short-order cook had discovered a truck stop full of bodies - that was no coincidence. Sarah had been there, but what had caused her to kill those people? Had she been attacked? It’s possible, but I don’t think so. There were no signs of violence at all, at least according to the news, and I would imagine if someone had attacked her there would either be no body at all, or their body would be smeared across the walls.

I really think that it boils down to two scenarios. Either Sarah had no control of what happened, or she had complete control and simply didn’t care - like a child stomping on an ant hill.

Regardless of which way that door swings, it still leads to a room with a nuclear missile, and I’ve been sleeping right next door.

I’d been debating with myself for a while about whether to bring the news of the Red Trailer Truck Stop up with Hannah. The secret feels as if it will consume me, but I fear it will be too much for Hannah to take. She was never as good at keeping things from Sarah as I was, and she’s already been trying to keep an enormous one from breaking down the barriers in her mind, but if something is to be done about Sarah being around, and equally as dangerous as before, then I’m not sure I’m capable of carrying that burden alone.

The answer, as it so happens, came to me this morning in the form of the newspaper. We don’t subscribe to the newspaper, so when Hannah slid it across the breakfast table, I was a bit perplexed.

“Found some pretty great coupons in here,” she said, uncharacteristically. “You should give them a look at work later and we can make a shopping list.

Sarah was still in bed, but even still it was wise to continue to keep up the charade.

“You got it,” I said, finishing my coffee in two gulps then grabbing my bag. “I’m gonna head out now.”

I kissed Hannah and left the house quickly, knowing that the longer I stayed there the more likely my curiosity would seep through the thin veneer of my thoughts about work and what to do for lunch later.

I drove down the street and parked in a gas station a few blocks away. I had a half hour before I needed to be at work, so there was plenty of time to read whatever Hannah was trying to get me to read. I was about to look for the coupon section, thinking she’d given me a clue, but as it turns out, what I needed to read was on the front page.


Many have long suspected a connection between the recent series of unexplained deaths, starting with those individuals at the Red Trailer Truck Stop, and most recently occurring yesterday in the case of Robert Sullivan, but it wasn’t until yesterday evening that representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation officially announced that they are researching possible connection between these deaths.

Including the eight victims of the Red Trailer Truck Stop, there have been over twenty deaths that have baffled both police and medical examiners. “If there had been any identified cause of death” FBI representative Todd Hull states “we would have entertained the possibility of a mentally ill individual, or a group of ill individuals, harming the public. Right now we are researching the possible and likely connection between these deaths, and urge the public to contact local medical professionals immediately with any unexplained changes in mood, activity level, awareness level, diet, and so forth. This does not appear to be related to the drinking water, nor an airborne contaminant, but I assure you we are exploring every possible avenue.”

Hull further urges the public to be vigilant and to pay close attention to loved ones. “Probably the most baffling part of this whole case is the lack of public engagement,” Hull says. “Not a single victim has been reported to police by close friends or family for several days. I cannot stress enough that vigilance is key to ensuring the safety of ourselves and our loved ones.”

Hull, of course, is referring to the fact that each death has been reported only by neighbors or passersby. Authorities have reported family and close friends acting shocked by the news of the death of their loved ones, even though those loved ones may have been in plain sight for several days prior to a wellness check by police.

As I read this article, it felt as if my head was floating underwater. Sarah hadn’t stopped at the truck stop and it now seemed as if her reach was even further than it was three years ago. Robert Sullivan, Bob as I knew him, lived ten miles away on the other side of town.

There, sitting in the gas station parking lot with the newspaper sitting across my lap and steering wheel, I began to cry. 


The night we killed our daughter is one that would be forever branded in my mind. Each night afterward, as I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep, I would replay those events over and over, reliving the darkest, most shameful moment of my life. I would remember the weight of Sarah’s lifeless body in my arms, the weight of my own heart as I carried her from the car, and I would silently weep.

Hannah and I needed months of careful planning before we could make our move, which proved especially difficult because we couldn’t even think about what we were going to do lest Sarah discover our secrets. Every morning as I drove to work, I would finally get the chance to think about how I would take my daughter’s life. Every evening as I drove home I would work to push those thoughts from my brain and replace them with thoughts of how work went and whatever songs were on the radio.

It was especially difficult to plan with Hannah, because she was around Sarah more and I knew she struggled more than I did when it came to keeping secrets from her. We couldn’t talk about it unless we were out of the house together, which happened very seldom for fear of what Sarah might do if left to her own devices.

It was around that time that Hannah started singing. She always hummed to herself while she did the dishes or folded the laundry, but lately it had seemed like every breath she took was one of song. It was beginning to get annoying, because she always sang the same three songs. Over and over it was either “What I Like About You,” “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” or “Talk Dirty to Me.” It got to a point where I found myself singing these songs too whenever I was in the shower or driving in the car.

It was during one of these morning commutes, singing about a cowboy’s “sad sad song” that I just couldn’t get out of my head when it finally hit me.


One of the most surefire ways Hannah had been able to keep Sarah out of her mind was by keeping a song stuck in her head. I’d assumed that had been why she had started singing more, but I hadn’t noticed until that moment that all three songs were by an 80’s band called Poison, a group I knew Hannah didn’t listen to.

That night when I got home, I put my theory to the test by singing a Lou Rawlins song my mother used to play: “We Understand Each Other.” Hannah didn’t know the song, but the moment I got to the chorus, her eyes snapped up so quickly I thought she had certainly given herself away.

I quickly glanced at Sarah, careful to keep my mind on the song. She was sitting quietly on the couch, staring through the window into the night sky. She did that more and more often those days, like she was somewhere else entirely. She would spend hours in such a position, staring at nothing but the blank space between her face and the window. I’d often wondered how cognizant she really was of her surroundings, but didn’t dare allow myself to think she was anything less than completely aware.

It was through that method that Hannah and I hatched our plan.

It was early spring. The days had finally begun to get longer, but that day felt like the longest of all. I went to work, Sarah to school, and Hannah spent the day running errands.

Hannah and I met for lunch at a diner around the corner from my office. I ordered the tomato soup and BLT, and Hannah had the tuna melt. We talked about the grocery list and Sarah’s upcoming math test, putting on a show for anyone that might remember us later, although there were very few people in the diner that afternoon, and fewer still that might be within earshot. That was partially why I’d chosen that diner.

The other part was because I knew the security camera in the corner wasn’t working, so there would be no record of Hannah carefully sliding a small envelope across the table, concealed by her palm. The envelope contained a white powder I understood to be Midazolam - a potent sedative.

As it turned out, the neighbor Hannah had gone to see while I spoke with Bob, Tammy Howell, had a nurse friend with low morals who had been able to procure a pill here and there for Tammy when she asked. It had only taken a phone call and a couple weeks before the drug was in our possession. I’d been hoping for something stronger, but was assured that this should do the trick, especially since this powder had once been in the form of ten whole pills prior to Hannah crushing them up - far more than would ever be used for a single dose. With that kind of dosage I imagined any sedative would do the job.

A few hours later I was parked in the garage. Next to me sat two greasy paper bags and a cardboard carrier with three milkshakes. Under normal circumstances one of the bags would have been opened and half the fries gone, but that night they sat untouched. What little I had eaten during lunch had all come up a few hours later, and the thought of eating anything sickened me.

Inside the bags were three burgers, each wrapped in foil and held together by a label to identify contents. I had the bacon jalapeno burger, Hannah had the chicken sandwich, and Sarah had her favorite bacon cheeseburger with extra pickles. The sticker had made things a bit more difficult than I’d hoped, but with patience I had been successful in peeling it back enough to slide the sandwich free and sprinkle about half of the envelope's contents in the middle. The rest had gone into her chocolate shake.

Of course, I couldn’t think about these things though as I sat in the garage. Just about how rough work had been and wondering if I was coming down from something or if I just had acid reflux (which would give me an excuse later if I couldn’t keep dinner down). I put on a smile and carried the food in as I walked through the door.

Hannah met me at the door, kissed my cheek, and thanked me for picking up dinner.

Hannah set the table and began dividing up the contents of the bags while I approached Sarah’s bedroom. I rapped on the door three times, as always.

“Hey hon, dinner’s here,” I said.

Nothing but silence answered me.

I had been expecting this - Sarah seldom joined us for meals anymore. For weeks we really only ever saw her just before and just after school as she made a bee-line between her bedroom and the front door. Every other moment was spent locked in her room, presumably reading. (I hadn’t allowed myself to think for a moment Sarah was doing anything else for fear I might be right).

What I hadn’t been expecting was the sound of the door opening behind me after I turned and started back toward the kitchen, resigned to leave her food in front of her bedroom door like always.

Silhouetted in the darkness - Sarah’s bedroom light was never on - stood my daughter. She looked thin, pale, and her hair hung in thick, greasy ropes. She looked like nothing but an empty husk now, and for a brief moment I felt better about what would soon transpire. This thing in Sarah’s body wasn’t my daughter; she was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

“Hey kiddo,” I said. “Glad you decided to join us. I got your favorite - complete with a chocolate shake - ‘cause I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a helluva week.”

Sarah didn’t respond with more than an empty stare.

We ate in the most poignant silence of my life. Sarah didn’t look up at either of us, just ate the food in front of her with her head hovering closely over the plate.

I wasn’t sure when the last time I saw her eat was, but watching it now gave me chills. God, she ate like an animal.

Her head snapped up at me as that thought slipped through the cracks in my mind. Grease and salt and condiments were smeared across her face and hands, hatred shot from her eyes like bullets.

“Do you want a napkin?” I asked, attempting to sound casual but knowing I had failed even as the words came out. I was staring into the face of a hideous beast - the longer she stared at me the less human she seemed. Her pupils had completely overtaken the irises, leaving nothing but black pools of tar amidst a sea of white. Her jaw jutted forward a bit in an unnatural way, and it wasn’t until she smiled at me that I understood why - her teeth were flat and shallow from months of being constantly ground together. The teeth alone were enough to send chills down my spine, but the way her mouth worked as she smiled, the muscles in her cheeks and jaw tightening, the veins in her neck and forehead pushing against her skin like worms below the surface, that was enough to make me want to run.

I passed her a napkin, tapped the corner of my mouth to show her where she needed to wipe the ketchup from, and returned to finish my meal.

The moment her food was gone, Sarah returned to her bedroom. Hannah and I exchanged the quickest of looks, then began to clean up.

I had read that Midazolam takes somewhere around a half hour to take effect, but we elected to give it an hour.

As the hour passed, the strangest feeling of calm began to slowly trickle into the house. It was so foreign to me that I’d wondered for a moment if I’d eaten the wrong burger and was now feeling the sedative take effect, but knew in an instant that wasn’t possible.

The calm we were feeling wasn’t calm at all, not really, but the sense of danger being lifted from the house. We’d spent so many years under this dark blanket of doom and depression and fear that I’d forgotten what it felt like to feel safe in my own home.

It would seem that the drug had done its job.

At the very minute the hour passed, Hannah and I were knocking on Sarah’s door.

“Sarah?” I called.

No answer. Not that there would have been one anyway. But this time, there was no shuffling sound, no footsteps, nothing at all.

I clenched my jaw, met Hannah’s hopeful and horrified gaze, then opened the door.

Our daughter sat on the floor, leaning limply against the wall. I thought about turning the light on, but thought better of it - it was best I saw as little as possible.

In her lap sat the open shoebox Hannah had discovered, and between her lifeless fingers was the orange tail of a cat - it looked fresh.

I knelt down and called her name again. “Sarah, Sarah can you hear me? It’s your dad.”


I felt her neck for a pulse.


I laid her down and put my head over her mouth and nose, looking for the sound or feel of breath.


Finally, Hannah retrieved a stethoscope Tammy had lent her and I used it to listen for a heartbeat - we needed to be sure.

I stood up and sighed. And with that sigh came over a decade’s worth of tears. Tears for the pets Sarah had taken, tears for the families Sarah had ruined, but mostly tears for the little girl who had once brought me my oil filter wrench when she heard in my mind that I needed it. The little girl who had SO much potential, but had been born into a world that would shun her and fear her and hate her for what she could do. None of this had been her fault, but she’d had to bear it nonetheless.

It wasn’t fair - it had never been fair.

I sobbed for a long time, holding my daughter’s body in an embrace I hadn’t dared while her heart still beat. Hannah sat next to me, sobbing into the nape of my neck. We cried until the wells ran dry and there were no more tears left to express the depression, fear, regret and relief we felt. The wells would fill again though, and the tears would be back, but it was best that they had left us at least for the next few hours.

We still had work to do.

Hannah carried Sarah to the car - she was disturbingly light - and I went to work on the window frame with the crowbar from the shed. Once I’d gotten the window pried open, I cleaned the wood and paint from the end of the crowbar and returned it to the shed. Behind me, Bob’s grave face watched from the window. He met my eye as I went back to examine my handiwork, and I gave him the slightest nod of confirmation. He wiped a palm across his face, presumably to catch a falling tear, then closed the curtain.

Hannah was already waiting in the car. Behind her, buckled in with a blanket draped across her lap, sat Sarah’s lifeless body.

This had been something we’d thought about at length and had been the topic of conversation several times when we’d found ourselves able to actually speak plainly without fear of Sarah overhearing. We had no idea how the medication would affect Sarah, nor did we know if killing her was even possible, so Hannah had the idea of buckling Sarah in the back seat. If she suddenly woke up, we would have a better story to tell her than if she awoke in a locked trunk.

We drove in silence for two hours, passing the Red Trailer Truck Stop along the way, before we reached the point where roads became trails, then another hour as we forged our own trail through the desert. We drove until we finally found what we had been looking for - a distant mineshaft that hadn’t been used in nearly half a century after a cave-in took the lives of a dozen men. This wasn’t the main shaft that usually saw its fair share of graffiti artists and ghost hunters, but one on the other side of the former compound that was seldom used because of how small it was. It was only large enough to shuttle equipment from the mine to the surface, but if a person was small enough they could slide themselves down and never see daylight again.

We hiked the distance from the car to the mineshaft, taking turns carrying Sarah in our arms and passing her back and forth as we climbed the few chain-link fences marked with “NO TRESPASSING” signs.

When we arrived, I took a final moment to say goodbye to Sarah and to tell her how sorry I was for everything that had happened to her. Hannah had already begun crying again, but was able to choke out a heartfelt “Goodbye baby girl. I’ll always love you.”

I kissed Sarah on the forehead, Hannah did the same, and with that we bid farewell to our little girl forever.

Or so we thought.

The news of Bob’s death weighed heavy on my mind since I first learned of it. Equally as heavy was the news of Tamara “Tammy” Howell that I learned of a few days later. I recognized several of the other names in the news, including Mark Jarvis - Preston’s father, Lawrence Marshall - Sarah’s former math teacher, and Evelyn Gates - the mother of a girl who had suffered two broken legs after she stuck gum in Sarah’s hair during lunch.

If there was any doubt that Sarah was involved in these deaths, it was dashed last night.

Hannah and I had just sat down to dinner when there was a knock at the door.

I stood from where I sat at the table wondering who it could be, while Hannah sat quietly in the kitchen. Sarah was in her room where she’d been for most of the afternoon, a plate of food just outside her bedroom door.

I opened the front door and saw the nervous face of David Peterson, my neighbor from across the street. He was a slight man, not elderly but approaching his twilight years, who had made a living for the past two decades as a business accountant. Complete with thick-rimmed glasses and a pen in his breast pocket, Dave couldn’t look the part better if he tried.

“Hey Dave,” I said, a bit bemused. “Everything alright?”

“I actually came over to ask you that,” he answered. There was a tremble in his voice I’d never heard before.

“Sure, what’s going on?”

He swallowed, searching for the right words. “Well, I’ve been meaning to come over and make sure you and Hannah were doing alright.” He held up a plate of brownies I hadn’t noticed until just then. “Nancy made these for you. Thought it might help with whatever you’re going through.”

I frowned. “I’m sorry Dave, I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.”

He held up a hand apologetically. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to pry. We’ve just seen you and Hannah a bit less than usual, and when we do see you, we can tell that there’s something troubling you. We’ve tried to wave a few times, but I think you've been so wound up in your own world to notice, which is just fine” he added quickly. “We don’t take any offense. We just wanted to let you know we’re here for you both if ever the need arises.”

I was touched, nearly to the point of tears. “Thank you, Dave,” I told him. “That’s very kind.”

I took the plate and was just about to shut the door when he stopped me.

“There’s something else I wanted to talk to you about,” he said in a low conspiratory voice. Behind me I heard the faintest creak of a door opening down the hallway.

I matched Dave’s low tone. “What is it?”

“This is going to sound a bit crazy, so please know that I wouldn’t say this if I hadn’t seen it for myself, but sometimes Nancy and I think we can see a woman standing in your upstairs window.”

I could feel the moisture leave my throat. “I’m sorry?”

“I don’t think it’s Hannah - this woman is rail thin, very unhealthy. You don’t have anyone else living here, do you?”

I shook my head. “No.”

“I was afraid of that,” Dave said. He looked around, feeling the same sense of growing danger that I felt. “Now, here’s the crazy part, and please know this comes from a place of love for you and your wife, but I don’t think that woman we’ve seen in your window is human. She just… she doesn’t seem right.”

It was then that Dave’s neck snapped, tilting in an unnatural, jagged angle, and the plate of brownies fell to the pavement and shattered.

I heard nothing at first, just the fast beating of my heart and the high-pitched hum of blood in my ears, then all at once I heard the screaming. It came in stereo - from both behind me and from across the street.

Nancy Peterson had watched the scene from her doorstep, and Hannah, it seemed, from behind me.

I slammed the door shut and whirled around. Hannah had indeed been standing behind me, and behind her, wearing the same Cheshire grin I’d seen the second night she’d stayed with us, stood Sarah. Her hair fell in her face in twisted knots and although her mouth was shaped in a crescent moon of lunatic joy, her eyes were like that of a corpse.

“He shouldn’t have thought those things,” Sarah said tonelessly. “They always think those things.”

Hannah continued screaming, her arms and hands shaking, she looked at Sarah, then at me, and that look told me far more than it should have. It told me she was helplessly remembering that night and every night leading up to it, which would be her demise.

The screaming stopped abruptly, or at least the sound had. Hannah’s throat still flexed and her veins still stood out in her neck, but no sound escaped her throat.

“Sarah,” I began, but I suddenly lost my own voice as well, and all I could choke out was a dry wheeze.

“She was never as good at the game as you were, was she?” Sarah asked me in the same toneless voice. “She would sing songs, trying to keep me out, but eventually her thoughts would trickle through. And her dreams…”

“What are you talking about?” I thought to Sarah, still unable to speak but knowing she could hear me.

“Don’t pretend, daddy. She told you everything. She poisoned my food that night, dumped me in the desert and left me to rot, and told everyone that I’d simply gone missing. Everyone but you, that is. You helped her do it. You helped her carry me to the desert and leave me there to rot.”

Sarah closed her eyes, and for a moment her hold on Hannah’s throat waned and my wife was allowed a final, earsplitting cry, then she was gone.

Just like Preston Jarvis, Hannah, my wife and Sarah’s mother, had been erased from existence.

I fell to my knees and began to sob.

Sarah approached me slowly, then knelt down and pressed her lips to my ear. Her breath was hot and putrid - the scent of rotting meat that I would later find in the form of a half-eaten bird in her bedroom. “I won’t take her away for you like I did Preston’s parents - you don’t deserve that. Instead, I’ll leave her in your mind, but only just enough to know you’ve forgotten.”

I looked up and met her eyes for the last time, seeing nothing but two black, hateful pupils, and then Sarah was gone as well, and I was alone.

I didn’t allow myself to think about it then, and wouldn't allow myself until long after the feeling of dread had been lifted from the house, but when it had, I felt a wave of regret and love crash into me like a freight train. My wife hadn’t been able to keep Sarah out, and she’d known it. She couldn’t keep Sarah from finding out the truth, but she could keep her from finding out the whole truth. She’d twisted things around enough to give me a chance for mercy, to allow Sarah to believe that Hannah had been the instigator and had only involved me after it was too late, which I know I don’t deserve.

The police did come eventually to collect Dave’s body from my porch - a passing jogger had seen his corpse lying on my porch and had called 9-1-1. Even though his wife had seen what happened, had screamed his name as he fell to the ground, she told the police the last thing she remembered was having her husband take brownies over to the neighbors and that she’d been unaware of the fact that he lay dead in plain view right across the street. I’m inclined to believe her story, because I’ve seen what Sarah can do, and perhaps that’s Sarah's way of granting mercy.

With every breath I take I can feel a little more of my wife’s memory slip away. I know it’s still there, somewhere deep in my mind, but trying to recall things about her is becoming harder and harder - like trying to recall a dream after waking up. The features of her face are becoming distorted, blurry, and the memories we shared - our first kiss, our first date, our wedding night - are being blanketed by a haze I know will never be lifted.

Sarah isn’t gone, not like the others. I can still feel her presence, however distant, and I know it’s only a matter of time until she returns home again.

So if you find yourself suddenly unable to recall the face of a loved one; if you feel a prickling sensation on the nape of your neck while you sit alone in your bedroom; if you find yourself awake in the middle of the night with a sense of dread hanging over you, know that it may be Sarah, and keep your thoughts guarded.

She’ll be listening.






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