Excerpt from

The Girls Are Missing

Two young girls have been found murdered near the suburban home where Joyce lives with her family. Joyce must keep a tight rein on her own young daughter and her visiting stepdaughter, Mary Ellen. She has just overheard the two, with her daughter's friend Anita, plotting something clandestine and is afraid they will put themselves in harm's way.

She found the plunger and went back upstairs. They were grouped around the kitchen table like three statues, waiting for her to get out of earshot.

She stopped and confronted them. A ridiculous confrontation, with the plunger in her hand.

"Now listen. Nobody'd better do anything funny, understand? This is serious. If you have to disobey your parents, choose some way where you won't get hurt. Just remember, once you're dead, you're dead forever."

She stood for a moment, watching them. They stared back at her. Perhaps she had guessed wrong. But they weren't laughing, so maybe she hadn't. With a nod like an exclamation point, she left them and continued upstairs. At least they would know she was keeping an eye on them.

Mary Ellen came flitting up after her, to help with Adam's bath. Neither mentioned the scene in the kitchen. Joyce did not want to destroy the false impression that she had known what they were talking about.

In the middle of the bath, the telephone rang.

"Deja vu!" exclaimed Mary Ellen. "I hope it's not my mother again."

It was Sheila. "Oh, God, Joyce, is Anita over there? Please say she is. No, I mean tell the truth if she isn't."

"She really is," said Joyce. "And she walked around by the road, if that's any consolation."

"Oh, thank God. Just keep her there, will you? I don't even want her going on the road by herself. She might accept a ride from somebody, and we don't know who it is. It could be somebody from around here. Someone she'd know."

"Sheila, I'm in the middle of giving Adam his bath."

"Oh, my God, you're not going to let him drown!"

"No, Mary Ellen's there. I'll keep—""

"Do you know there's another girl gone? That's the third already. Do you wonder I'm jumpy? My cousin Herb, on the police force, he says people have actually been threatening them."

"Threatening the police?"

"Because they haven't found the guy. Well, I told him I don't wonder. Here I am with three daughters—"

"What good does it do to threaten the police?"

"Oh, you know. I didn't say it made sense, I just said—Joyce, how can you be so calm? You're right in the middle of it. So close to the woods. Actually I guess we are, too, except there're some houses between us and it. All you have is that meadow."

"Sheila, I've got to get back to Adam. I'll keep an eye on Anita. She's still around, I can hear her voice."

She returned to the bathroom to find that Mary Ellen had finished rinsing Adam, had wrapped him in a towel, and was sitting on the edge of the bathtub, crooning to him.

Joyce felt strangely hollow. Or perhaps as though she were split in two, one of her with the surface calm that Sheila had noted, and the other with a strange, not quite physical pounding deep inside. As if something were knocking to come in. Something unspeakable, which she could not admit. She remembered that her grandmother had sometimes had premonitions.

Instantly she closed her mind to it. As though, by denying, she could keep it from happening.

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