Maggie Neely woke up to the sound of her mother screaming.
She’d gone to bed as usual, with Jake the Great Dane sprawled heavily across her feet and the three cats jockeying for position around her head. Her cheek was resting on her open geometry book; there were homework papers scattered among the blankets, along with fragments of potato chips and an empty bag. She was wearing her jeans and a flowered pajama top plus the only two socks she’d been able to find last night: one red velveteen anklet and one blue cotton slouch sock.
Those particular socks would eventually mean the difference between life and death for her, but at the moment Maggie had no idea of that.
She was simply startled and disoriented from being wakened suddenly. She’d never heard this kind of screaming
before, and she wondered how she could be so certain it was her mother doing it.
Something . . . really bad is happening, Maggie realized slowly. The worst.
The clock on her nightstand said 2:11 a.m.
And then before she even realized she was moving, she was lurching across her bedroom floor, with piles of dirty clothes and sports equipment trying to trip her up. She banged her shin on a wastebasket in the middle of the room and plowed right on through. The hallway was dim, but the living room at the end was blazing with light and the screams were coming from there.
Jake trotted along beside her. When they got to the foyer by the living room he gave a half growl, half bark.
Maggie took in the whole scene in a glance. It was one of those moments when everything changes forever.
The front door was open, letting in the cold air of a November night in Washington. Maggie’s father was wearing a short bathrobe and holding her mother, who was pulling and tearing at him as if she were trying to get away, screaming breathlessly all the while. And in the doorway four people were standing: two sheriffs, a National Park ranger, and Sylvia Weald.
Sylvia. Her brother Miles’s girlfriend.
And knowledge hit her quick and hard as a hammer blow.
My brother is dead, Maggie thought.