I had a story idea in my head. Not a funny one either. It's very rough, needs a good editors comb and whatnot but this seems like as good a place as any to store it for now. Took me about an hour and a half to type it out.
When I woke up my wife was screaming. It took me a little while to figure out what she was actually screaming. Because she wasn't just screaming - she was crying and almost hysterical. Eventually I pieced together what she was saying - she couldn't find our son. John was 15 months old and slept in our bed with us every night. We'd given up trying to have him sleep in what was supposed to be his own room simply because he woke up so often to nurse or just to find someone. Co-sleeping meant we all got to sleep - mostly - in one space. There had been the odd occasion during that time of course when he'd either fallen out of bed (once) or actually climbed down and had cried to get back up (again, once) but barely.
I got up, and tried to be as pragmatic as possible. "Honey, he's got to be upstairs - the gate is still up so he can't have gone anywhere." I knew I had to be right - kids don't just disappear. Add that it seemed every time my wife said she couldn't find something I always found it within 90 seconds of looking - usually where she should have looked in the first place. But that involved toenail clippers, or a screwdriver - not our child. Carol insisted that she had looked in every room. I thought quickly about where John could be stuck - under a bed, behind a dresser - and quickly walked around the upstairs of our three-bedroom house. All the time I did so my wife became more and more hysterical.
I walked past the gate in the hallway - it was still locked in place. I checked his room - he certainly wasn't in there. It had a bed but the mattress was on the ground so that when we did take John in the room he could climb up onto it. Other than that it had a dresser that was snugly against the wall and a clothes bin for dirty laundry. Pretty much all we did in this room was keep his clothes and change him in and out of his clothes for the day. We didn't even keep toys in there yet. I walked across the hallway into the bathroom. Nobody could hide in there if they wanted to, let alone be stuck in there. The toilet sat at the end of the bathroom and the bath ran lengthways along the all. The shower curtain was pulled back with the shower mat pressed firmly against the tile-wall by it's suckers to keep it from sitting wet in the tub and molding. John's toys were mostly collected in a small red basket next to the bath except for a rubber whale that he filled with water and squirted into my mouth every time we took a bath. I opened the small cupboard doors under the sink to find a half-used packet of toilet paper, a toilet-snake and an unopened bottle of vanilla bath-creme.
I flicked the light on in the hallway I glanced down the stairs. While very unlikely that he'd climbed over that gate it was worth checking. The pool-towels were still piled neatly on the bottom step ready for me to bring upstairs. The living room door still had it's own gate firmly in place. He most certainly had not climbed over both.
I rushed into the spare bedroom and looked under the bed. Nothing. There was an old computer desk that we kept some board games we didn't use on it, and an ironing board that my wife had left open to get her clothes ready for work. The room was small with a storage closet that you couldn't open with a great deal of effort. I yanked it open regardless and turned on the light switch. I knew he wasn't in there but needed to rule it out before I walked back into our bedroom and Carol saw my expression that said that John was either in our room or he was definitely missing. I briefly thought this over and walked back into our bedroom.
Carol had turned the main light on now and was sat crying on the bed. The pillows and covers had been thrown off near the window on my side of the bed, and Carol had pulled her dresser away from the wall. I started for the closet but it was already open with the light on inside it, and I could see before I even entered into it that John wasn't there.
"He has to be here." I meant it when I said it. I asked her if she had been downstairs and she shook her head. I climbed the gate without taking it down and headed down. As soon as I entered the living room I could feel that no-one had been in here since we'd left it. The lights were out and the curtains shut. The couches were pushed firmly against their own walls - one under the window looking out onto the street and the other along the fireplace wall. We'd picked up most of his toys and the only thing in the center of the rug was John's push-cart that he used to pile books in wheel around the room. The kitchen door was at the far end and was closed. I quickly ran in and turned the light on. The tile floor was cold even at this point in July, and clearly no-one was in there. All the cabinet doors had child-locks that I barely could open with two hands, let alone John.
I tracked back through the living-room into the family room and checked under my computer desk. Carol had come down and was just stood confused in the doorway. "He's not here Dan. Why isn't he here?" I didn't dare make eye contact and walked through mud-room into the downstairs bathroom. I knew before this point that he wasn't here. But I had to look. Carol was now stood behind me just saying over and over again and growing more hysterical, "Dan - I don't know what to do. Where's John?"
It'd been three months since I'd finally called the police. It'd taken them just five minutes to come over. They searched the house. They brought in more police and searched the backyard and the neighbors property. An officer from the nearest city had come and spoken with us - first together and then later individually. I knew what they must think in situations like this. No matter how sullen and broken I was I knew what he thought. There had been no signs of entry into the house. Nothing suggested that anyone other than my wife and I had been inside. No-one could explain how a child sleeping between two parents could just disappear. Nothing was missing. Just John.
I didn't ever once think Carol had done anything. She was too destroyed by it all. And other than the obvious moment when she had to address it, she had never once even asked me if I knew where John was. Not even just to cross it off. Officer Bradbury had been surprisingly empathetic in the end. I had expected him to run through a pre-conceived routine to determine what had happened. I'd assumed - from television - that once it was clear that nobody had obviously broken in and taken John that he would turn on us. And then turn us on each other. But he didn't. I owe him a huge debt that he seemed to sense from very early on that we had nothing to do with this. He was dry and professional toward Carol. Any emotional response would have wrecked her. She had begged him to find John. He told her he was sorry and that he was doing all he could. Alone I had asked him the horrible question - would we see our son again. He didn't bullshit me at all - the police had no idea where to even begin looking for John, but he wouldn't string me along. If he couldn't find any kind of lead in three months, then he would tell us that Iit was almost a certainty that we would never find out what happened to John.
I got the call around one o'clock that afternoon.
Fall had arrived early this year. The leaves had turned rusty in late September after a long wet Summer and had already fallen en-masse from the walnut trees around the house by the first week of October. I had raked the front and back yards and collected the leaves in piles a few weeks ago but had left them unmoved since. I knew John would have liked jumping in them. In truth it had only taken me two hours to rake them up, but Carol had grown suffocating to be with. I had broken down the first week John was gone. By the second week I could barely get through to lunchtime before the exhaustion of it all gripped me and I need to just lie in bed and cry to sleep. After three weeks my head hurt so badly from the weight of misery that it physically hurt to be awake. Around a month after John disappeared I managed to just bottle it all in. I knew that if I was to keep on going that I had to be stronger and ensure we didn't both fall apart.
Two months on an Carol still lay in bed all day crying. Three months passed she had managed to come into the living-room where she would lie on the couch for most of the day. She didn't want the television on. She didn't talk to friends or family. She just wanted to sit in silence and wait for something to happen. After Officer Bradbury called earlier in the week she had stopped going upstairs to bed and was just falling asleep on the couch. She wanted me to sit with her in the room. Not to talk or touch her. Each time I asked her if she wanted a drink or something to eat she would weakly nod and cry a little more. I had started telling her I needed to do jobs around the house to keep us going. We had long-since passed the first frost of the year so I told Carol I needed to move and then burn the leaf-piles, take the screens out of the windows and brush the dead branches and leaves off the corners of the roof before the snow started to stick.
I piled the leaves near the fire-pit in the backyard. Then I went inside and told Carol I was going up on the roof to sweep. I dragged the twenty-five foot ladder out of the basement and grabbed the old stiff-bristled broom from the mudroom. Before I went up I went into the kitchen and poured the last of the coffee into my thermos-mug and grabbed a handful of Sun Chips. I was on my way back through toward the living-room when I got a call from Officer Bradbury. A body of a young boy had been found 95 miles away. He kept repeating that this was not a strong lead - but that he had to contact us to come and confirm if any of the items found were or were not John's. The body was still at the scene and would be transported to the county medical hospital overnight and that he wanted me to meet him there first thing. He told me upon being asked that the boy had been strangled and dumped in the woods. He would not say anything more and it was unclear how much he did know.
I did not break. I just stood in the kitchen and pretended the call was ordinary. I had thought often about what would happen when and if anything would happen, and I imagined that it will all come ripping out. But I couldn't let it. Officer Bradbury had been forceful - it was unlikely to be our son. But we had to rule it out. When he told me the boy had been strangled I could feel it well up inside me. The possibility that my son had been terrorized with fear and pain nearly burst through me. But something held it back. Tears gathered in my eyes but the incredible weight I had felt those first few weeks stayed back.
Carol would not react the same way. This could destroy her. She would rip herself into pieces at the knowing both that her helpless son may have been brutally murdered, and that this may not be John at all. I hung up my cell-phone and chugged my coffee. I calmly told Carol that I was going up and would be down from the roof in twenty minutes at most. I tried not to let the thoughts swirl around my mind on the way up the ladder about what I might face the following morning. I tried thinking about what I would tell Carol about where I was going. Or whether not telling her what was happening was the right thing to do. Not telling her would be an act of betrayal. I would know where John was and she would not.
No. The fact remained that this could be any boy. Until I know with certainty that this boy was or was not my son then I could not do this to Carol. I should wait.
And that was when I found the body of my son on the roof of my house.