Leah Donahue stared at her local paper's headline from her porch stoop. In capital letters, it proclaimed, " Third Dawn's Landing child missing- what is happening to our children?" Underneath the headline was a large yearbook picture of a boy around Leah's age, maybe slightly older. He was a nice-looking boy, though the camera had caught him with his head at an odd angle and a slightly smirky look on his face. Underneath was the boy's name- Christopher Tracey, age 16.
Leah couldn't believe it, and yet simultaneously, she could. After all, the boy, Christopher, was not the first, or even the second kid who had disappeared in the past month from Dawn's Landing, the neighborhood near Willow Lake, where she lived and her friend Jinx Deaver once had. And Leah feared he wouldn't be the last.
No, another thing about the disappearances in her neighborhood that seemed odd, even scary to Leah, was that all the kids who had disappeared so far had not only lived near her, but had also been aquainted with Leah in some way. Jinx Deaver, the first child to disappear, had been Leah's best friend. One day, while out for a walk, she had never returned home. The police had shrugged it off as a runaway, but Leah knew better. Jinx had not been impulsive. If she had been planning to run away, she would have told Leah. Leah was sure she wouldn't have wanted to run away anyway, but if she had, Leah would have known.
No, Leah believed that Jinx had been taken by a pervert, someone who had lusted after her. Jinx, whose real name was Jean, but " that's so fortyish," as she said, had been beautiful, with her long, thick black hair and unusual green eyes. Leah remembered how all the boys had salivated over her, to Jinx's amusement and sometimes discomfort. It took no imagination at all for her to see someone stalking her. Jinx had been gone for 3 weeks now, and Leah greatly missed her.
The second child to disappear had been Cassandra Leaven, an 8-year- old little girl who had lived near Jinx and Leah. Leah had not really known Cassandra except for passing her playing outside and waving occasionally, but the fact she had seen her and known her name scared Leah.
And now that boy. Chris Tracey had been Jinx's cousin. Jinx had even introduced Leah to him once. Like Cassandra, Leah had not really known Chris very well. He had gone to a private school, while Jinx and Leah had gone to a public one, and Jinx had not seen him often, despite living so close-something about their mothers not getting along too well.
Although Leah really did miss Jinx and worry about her and Cassandra's safety, she sometimes thought the main reason she was so upset was she feared she would be the next child to disappear.
Now another disappearance had occurred...
Leah closed her eyes. She didn't want to even read the article. She didn't want to know about the evil kidnapper lurking somewhere in her neighborhood, disguised as one of her friendly neighbors. As far as she knew, it could be any of them.
She trudged inside the house, still thinking of Chris. There would be even more panic to add to the extremely high level in her household. There would be more news reports, more gossip at school, more "we have no leads" from the police . What good were they if they couldn't keep anyone safe, Leah wanted to know.
Leah knew her mother would freak. Ever since she had become a single parent to Leah and her 17- year- old brother Noah after the divorce, she had been very protective. Jinx's and Cassandra's disappearances had merely tightened her leash.
Leah shuffled into the kitchen, coming across Noah, eating some Pop Tarts and reading a comic book. At 17, he still loved Superman and Spiderman, just a little immature in 15 year old Leah's eyes.
"'Sup," he said, barely looking up as Leah entered.
" Look at this," Leah said, shoving the newspaper under his nose. He recoiled, first from surprise at having the paper shoved at him, then from surprise at the headline.
" Whoa," he said. " Chris Tracey, huh? I saw him around sometimes."
Leah nodded. For some reason, her throat felt tight.
" Yeah, that's weird," Noah said- and that was all. He began eating his Pop Tart again.
Leah was disgusted. Had he no empathy at all?
" Excuse me,'' she said icily. " Is that all your thoughts on this?"
Noah looked up again.
" What's with you, Leah? You sound mad or something."
Leah rolled her eyes. Noah was sooo dense. And unfeeling too!
" Noah, someone has disappeared. Again! For the third time! In OUR neighborhood! He was Jinx's cousin for God's sake. And all you say is that's weird?"
" Well it is weird," Noah said defensively. " I thought whoever's taking them only takes girls. Why would he take Chris? Hey, was Chris really Jinx's cousin? I didn't know that."
Leah was getting angry. It was one thing to be slow. That was typical of Noah. But didn't he see anything DANGEROUS, sinister, about so many disppearances in such a short time? One of them had been her best friend!
" Noah, you're hopeless," she huffed. " You're not concerned? You just don't care, do you. You just want to read your comic and eat your Pop Tart and as long as you're okay and nothing affects you personally you're fine. Well it affects me personally. It's my best friend who's gone, Noah! I bet you wouldn't care if I went missing!"
With that, she flounced out of the kitchen and upstairs. She could hear her mother coming into the kitchen and stopped to listen.
" What's all that noise?" Mara Donahue asked Noah.
" Just Leah having a spaz attack," Noah replied in a bored tone.
Leah's mother sighed.
" Noah, leave her alone," she said wearily. " She's having a hard time."
" I didn't say anything to her," he protested. " She's just freaking out because another kid disappeared. Chris Tracey. A guy this time."
Leah heard her mother gasp.
" Another kid disappeared? Oh no!"
"Yeah, that's what Leah said," Noah replied, unmoved.
In the week that followed, Leah's neighborhood was panic-stricken. The kids had been disapppearing at a rate of one a week. A question they all had was, who was taking them, but the biggest question plaguing everyone's mind was, who would be next?
Frightened parents ordered their children to stay home, playing inside, at all times. Children who had once walked to school were now driven by their parents, even if it made their parents late for work. Teens weren't allowed to date or hang out at Willow Lake with their friends. They weren't allowed to be unaccompanied by an adult.
The police and media were in also in a frenzy. New theories about the disappearances appeared daily. Most of them pointed out that all the missing children had lived on the same street, and that Jinx and Chris had been cousins. Therefore, they asserted, the kidnapper must live on or near Dawn's Landing.
Although Leah too, of course, was anxious and upset, all the protectiveness was beginning to get to her. Her mom was as uptight as the other parents. Leah wasn't allowed to go outside without her mother following her, much less spend the night with a friend or go to the movies. She craved some time alone, away from her house, which felt suffocating.
Especially now. Her mom had just left to go grocery shopping. Usually she would take Leah and Noah with her, but today, both had refused to go. Noah was embarrassed to be seen tagging along with his mom, and Leah just plain didn't want to. After a twenty minute debate, their mom had left them alone, instructing them to lock the doors and stay inside.
Leah and Noah had agreed, exasperated, both sick of the same warnings over and over. Then Noah had went to his room and shut the door. Soon after Leah had heard him playing his guitar.
Now Leah was bored. She had absolutely nothing she wanted to do except hang out with Jinx, but that, of course, wasn't an option.
Suddenly she felt an urge to go outside, to walk around. She had been cooped up inside her house and school for what seemed like ages to her. But she was afraid to walk around her neighborhood alone and, maddeningly, even if she wasn't, she wasn't allowed to.
As Leah thought about it, she came up with a plan. She didn't have to walk around the whole neighborhood. She could just go out the back of her house to her family's dock over the lake. She could pace the dock and look at the water. It was her backyard, so surely she'd be safe. It was close enough to her house that when her mother came home, she would hear her car pull in in time to come back inside.
Smiling, Leah casually walked to the back door of their house. Noah was still in his room. No, he wouldn't rat on her, he probably wouldn't even know she had gone. He was probably still lost in his fantasy (delusion, in Leah's opinion) that he was a talented, sexy rock star.
Leah unlocked the back door adn slipped outside. Strolling quickly toward the steps leading to her family's dock, she looked around furtively, a little embarrassed at herself. Who would tell on her if they saw her, after all? She wasn't being bad,just sneaky. Besides, everyone else was under house arrest too. No one was AROUND to see her.
Upon reaching the dock, Leah stopped, gazing into the water. It was fall now, and she hadn't swam since the last day of summer vacation. She and Jinx had spent the day in the lake, swimming and sunbathing. Remembering that,Leah felt a wave of sadness sweep over her. Where was Jinx? What was she doing now? Was she even alive?
At the same moment she thought this, she felt a strong, icy hand on her back, and with a hard shove, Leah was flying into the air. With no time to scream, or make a sound, Leah was plunging into the lake.