When I was twelve years old, a girl from my neighborhood disappeared on her way home from school. I didn’t know her—she went to the other middle school—but she was my age, she was a well-behaved kid with a good family life, she had lots of friends, and she had no problems at school. She was just like me. She wasn’t the type to run away, and she couldn’t have gotten lost between her school and her house. The only thing left to assume was that someone had kidnapped her. I knew about stranger danger and all that, but it was the first time I realized that something like this could actually happen in my neighborhood, to a girl like me.
I watched the local news every night and read the local paper every morning for developments. Our parents drove us to school and picked us up. They didn’t let us outside unsupervised. My friend’s mother was a teacher at the school the girl attended, and I asked her if she knew anything. She did not. No one knew anything.
The police finally found the girl a few days later, tied up in a dark corner of the crawl space of a man’s house not too far from her own. Alive. In my memory, she was missing for three weeks, and the man was old. But when I researched the news articles for this post, I learned that my memories were inaccurate. She was missing for “only” three days–which must have seemed like forever when you’re living that nightmare; and the man was in his late twenties—which is old, when you’re twelve. But one thing I do remember accurately: the man had terrified the girl so much that the first time police searched the crawlspace, she was too scared to call out for help, and they left without seeing her. Thank God they searched the crawlspace again, and that time, she found the courage to cry out.
The girl and her family moved away almost immediately after that. I never knew what became of her, but I thought of her often throughout my life. Did she recover from that horrible experience? HOW did she recover? How did it impact the rest of her life? What about her parents and siblings – how did that experience change them?
Because I couldn’t ask her personally, I made up the answers on my own. Thirty years later, those answers became AFTERMATH, my next book. AFTERMATH is not that girl’s story—that’s for her to tell, should she ever want to. In AFTERMATH, the girl is named Charlotte, and her kidnapper holds her captive in his attic for four years. The book begins with Charlotte’s escape/rescue. When she returns home, she discovers that her family has fallen apart in her absence. To put her broken family back together, and to find the body of her captor’s first victim, the traumatized girl must first heal herself.
To the girl from my neighborhood: I hope you’re doing well. I care about you.
AFTERMATH releases November 15, 2016 from Merit Press. It’s a book about hope, healing, and triumph over tragedy for fans of ROOM and THE LOVELY BONES. You can pre-order it now from your favorite bookseller, or online at the following retailers: