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THE DEAD PLACE

Prologue

No one thinks of death on a sunny day. The sky was the rich, translucent blue of the Caribbean Sea and Lily Slocum looked up into its warmth and closed her eyes for a moment, thinking how great it would be to go to the beach. She was four blocks from the university and six blocks from home and the messenger bag filled with textbooks was digging into her shoulder and rubbing against her hip.

She didn’t notice the car idling at the stop sign up ahead. She couldn’t see the driver looking in the rearview mirror and even if she could she wouldn’t have thought it meant anything more than an admiring glance from a stranger.

Lily Slocum will be described as pretty. Reporters will list the description her roommate gave the police: White, medium-height, wheat-blonde hair worn long and pulled back in a ponytail, brown eyes. Last seen walking just past midday on Bates Street, brown t-shirt and tan shorts, orange messenger bag slung over her right shoulder, green flip-flops slapping the concrete under her feet.

No one will mention the car that drove slowly past before circling back to follow her. No one will be able to give a description of its make or model or speculate as to the identity of the driver. No one will notice.

Certainly not Lily, who thought she might actually tan on such a sunny day and checked her arms to see if they were getting any color, the tiny bells on her silver bracelet tinkling. A bracelet will be mentioned and her roommate will say, yes, yes, she always wore a silver bracelet. She will also provide a description of her earrings and the small turquoise ring Lily wears on the third finger of her right hand.
A cell phone will also be mentioned. This one small detail will make it all the more remarkable. She had a cell phone. She was talking on a cell phone. So how did she disappear somewhere between Bates and McPherson, the street with the rundown student apartments where her boyfriend waited to celebrate an end-of-year lunch?

He called her as she traipsed along and she had to pause to dig the cell phone out of her bag. “Hey,” she said. “I’m on my way. You got lunch ready?” She walked a little more slowly as she talked and if she felt something at her back she didn’t mention it. They were living together and their parents didn’t know.

He will rerun their conversation many times in his head. He will be forced to replay it for their parents and the police. He will repeat her last words to hundreds of strangers watching on TV, the camera zooming in so they can see tears overwhelming him: “See you in a minute, babe.”

He will describe her as a sweet, friendly girl. Her parents will add kind. Lily was so kind. When the car pulled up to the curb, Lily smiled at the man who asked for her help. “Sure,” she said, stepping closer to the car, shielding her eyes so she could see the map he was holding.

The weather will be talked about. It was a hot day. Unseasonably warm for May, the town overflowing with people because graduation was only a few days away. Lily had told her roommate she wished she were graduating now instead of a year from now. She wanted to be free of this small town. She didn’t know that the man smiling up at her from the car lived to grant her wish.

People don’t just vanish. They aren’t there one minute, walking along a sidewalk in the sunshine, whole and sentient, only to disappear the next. Only sometimes they do. Ask Lily.