“Good evening. I have your son.“
I don’t remember the phone ringing. I don’t remember pulling it off the night stand next to my bed. I don’t remember the day of the week, what we ate for dinner, or anything else from the night before those six words set my entire world on fire.
“You need to be writing this down.“
“W-what do you want?“
“You need to be writing this down.“
My wife stirred out of sleep. Evelyn had a sixth sense for these things. She must have known something was wrong by the look on my face, because she stood up and padded over to me sleepily. She yawned noisily and asked me to walk the dog. When the digitally altered voice barked it’s next instructions through my cell, her gaze turned from concern to fear.
“Are you both listening to me, now?“
“It’s nothing, Ev, go back to sleep.“
“IT’S NOT FUCKING NOTHING, EV, I HAVE YOUR CHILD. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?“
My wife perked up like a jackrabbit when she heard the word ‘child’. She darted for his bedroom. She searched the house in a frenzy. Frantic cries of Michael!! echoed down the hallways while I waited on the floor with my back up against the wall and head in my hands. Nobody answered. Eventually, my wife shuffled back into the bedroom with sleep and tears commingled in her panicked blue eyes.
“He’s not here.“
The voice laughed and coughed as I turned the conversation to speaker phone.
“That’s right, folks, I’ve got Mike. Now, tell me that you are writing this down.“
Evelyn pulled a pen and paper out of the night stand.
“I am writing this down.“
“Good. Meet me at the middle school. Fifteen minutes. Any police and he dies. Any help and he dies. If you’re late, he dies.“
“Understood,” I said stupidly.
“Turn left at the bottom of the parking lot. Then right. Then walk towards the woods. Fifty thousand dollars in a bag. No tricks. I’ll be the only wolf in the woods tonight.“
“I don’t… I don’t have that…“
“Oh come ON, now, Mr. Johnson! I know you keep all that cash in that big blue safe of yours. I could come get it, if you like? But isn’t this so much more fun?“
Vile built up in my throat like a virus. I wanted to vomit. I wanted to chuck the phone across the room and tell my hysterical wife that it was all just a stupid prank. But the adrenaline of the situation overwhelmed every other emotion, including sense. We had no time. I gestured for Ev to get the money and go outside and tried to tell the man we could pay him just fine.
But he dropped from the line.
The new few moments were critical. I knew that. We locked the doors behind us. We sprinted out of the house. I thought I forgot the keys. That cost us a minute before I realized they were still inside my coat pocket. I fumbled for the lock. All the while the clock of my son’s life tick fucking tocked in my mind.
Evelyn screamed constantly in my ear as a reminder.
“Go, go, go we have to go!“
I swerved out of our suburban driveway so quickly that we almost caught the bumper of a neighbor’s car. The middle school entrance sat only five minutes away from our house. Nobody was on the road at three in the morning. But stop signs and few stray drivers slowed us down. I honked the horn, swerved, and flipped a lot of birds before we made it to the middle school with two minutes to spare.
“Okay, okay, what did he say?” Evelyn read her notes aloud as we hit the parking lot. “Go to the bottom and turn left. Then right. Then walk towards woods.“
We followed his instructions exactly.
We found ourselves standing in an open field at exactly 3:16 in the morning. One minute late. Rain dripped lazily down from the tips of oak trees as the sun tried to make up its mind about peaking through the horizon. I watched and waited while waves of misty water covered my drenched, beautiful wife and I. She looked scared. I tried to hold her.
I don’t remember the bullet entering her head.
I don’t remember the direction.
The shock of impact pushed us both to the wet floor of the grassy field. I remember blood leaking from Evelyn’s neck onto my face. I remember not being able to scream. I remember a stinging in my shoulder, and most of all, I remember the sopping sound of someone else’s boots approaching from the edge of the woods.
He looked at us for a while. I hid my cries underneath the gaze of Evelyn’s lifeless blue eyes. I opened mine just as the gunman walked away.
The apparent success of the attack seemed to excite my wife’s murderer. I can remember the gate in his step as he started to run. I can remember the gravel in his voice as he called out to his partner. I can remember the corny tattoo on his lower calf, and most of all, I can remember the blue sweatshirt always left on his bedroom floor.
So, son, if you’re reading this…
You can keep the money. Please come home.
I never told anyone.
But I remember you.