Seeing his daughter’s name on the incoming phone call brought an immediate smile to Marcus unshaven face. Things had been rough lately. An argument led to hurt feelings, awkward silences, and an uncomfortable home. For a week the two had shared little more than a passing hello. Her call could only mean one of two things, she needed something or she was finally getting over the argument.
“Dad?” Marcus smiled again. Who else did she expect to answer his phone?
“Yep, what’s up, kiddo?”
“Where are you?”
“I just stopped at the grocery store.”
“Oh.” There was something about that oh. Disappointment. Marcus hadn’t thought it possible but his smile grew even more. His daughter missed him.
“Everything ok, baby?”
“Someone is in the woods behind the house.”
The smile was gone. “Why do you think that?”
“I saw flashlights out my window.”
“Lock the doors, I will be right there.”
Marcus put his key in the lock, pushed the door open, stepped inside, and called out to his daughter as he made his way upstairs to her room. When no reply met his calls, he ran. When he didn’t find her in her room, he checked his room, forgetting any notion of privacy he burst into the bathroom, room by room he search now yelling her name, opening the cabinets in the kitchen, the hall closet, every inch of the house.
His chest was tight and he was shaking. She wasn’t there. The closest neighbor was a mile away. Even at 17, his daughter would have been too scared to try to make it to the neighbor’s house. She would not have left the home and she certainly wouldn’t have locked the door if she was that scared. She’d have run and not looked back, likely leaving the door wide open.
Marcus reached into his pocket for his phone. Shit, he’d left it in the car. Opening the front door and stepped out, he was suddenly aware of how dark it was. The porch light was out. Was it out when he pulled up? Reaching back into the house he flipped the switch up and down. Nothing. He’d have to replace it later, the car was only 40 feet away.
The car door swung open more violently than Marcus had meant it to. He ducked in to grab his phone off the passenger’s seat where he always laid it while driving. The seat was empty. The searched the backseat, the floor, and even the glove box though he could never remember ever putting it in there. It wasn’t in the car. He must have dropped it in his haste to get into the house. Marcus looked at the ground, the walkway between the driveway and house was painted with dead leaves
Dropping to his knees, Marcus began frantically feeling around along the path between the house and driveway. He had searched about half the distance when he heard it, the ringtone he set for his daughter’s calls. It was distant, coming from the far side of the house. Slowly rising to his feet and then forcing himself to step forward, Marcus made his way toward the sound.
Marcus leaned as far as he could to peak around the dark corner of the house as the ringtone stopped. He held his breath as he took a tentative step around the corner. No one was there.
The ringtone came again, this time from the back of the house. Willing himself to follow the sound, inch by inch Marcus moved toward the backyard. Again, just as he reached the corner, the sound stopped. With his heart pounding harder than he ever remembered it beating, Marcus leaned around the corner and peered into the shadows behind his home.
He stared into the darkness waiting for the phone to ring again suddenly very aware of how unarmed he was. He didn’t own a gun but he did have a baseball bat. Sprinting to the front door he grabbed the door handle and found it locked. The phone rang again, this time from right behind him, no more than 10 feet.
Marcus froze. He wanted to turn around. He wanted to confront whoever was taunting him, to find his daughter, to save her and himself. He couldn’t move. The horrors running through his mind paralyzed him.
The song stopped, the rhythmic beat replaced by the unmistakable sound of his daughter’s laughter.