As mom and I drove out of the red brick house neighborhood and made our way down the winding roads, my heart was filled with anxiety. I didn’t know Wendy. The red house, Christmas tree, and way my mother was behaving was all weird. As uneasy as I felt, I tried to feel comfortable and reason with myself that it was all okay. As we rounded a sharp corner in the road. The tinge of anxiety that currently plagued me skyrocketed to sheer panic as I observed a massive green truck speeding toward us at a steady pace with no intention of stopping. I had hoped mom would see him, but as we drew nearer, it seemed as though neither driver was aware of the collision that was soon to ensue. My lungs managed to push out a terrifying shriek as we came within inches of him. Mom flung her arm in front of me as if to act as a human seat belt.
Screeching tires and the smell of burnt rubber filled the air as mom slammed on her brakes, spinning out her SUV. Spinning and spinning around, almost as if in slow motion, my life began to flash before my eyes. In that tiny snippet between life and death, I regretted not spending more time with my children. I remembered the way Jameson would hold his head back when he laughed and the way Noah would cuddle in bed with me before bedtime. These small hours and moments in our lives that we take for granted were the last images in my mind before my demise. It had nothing to do with having a companion to spend time making love to me. It was my children who I thought of. When the spinning ceased, we found ourselves pointed in the opposite direction than we had originally been going. We were safe without a single solitary scratch or dent. I looked around, but the green truck was nowhere in sight.
“Are you okay Liza?” mom asked.
“Yes, I’m okay,” I replied. “Now where is that son-of-a-bitch who nearly just killed us?”
“Well, okay. What should we do? There’s no damage. The collision was avoided,” she said. I found it odd that she was so easy going about this. At this point, I was totally shaken up, panicked, and downright scared. I just wanted my boys. I wasn’t even sure they were dropped off at the correct house.
“Go back to Wendy’s house,” I pleaded. “Go back right now! I’m getting the boys. It was the wrong house. It was the wrong house.”
I began to sob.
“No, sweetie they’re fine, but we can go back if you want to, but I’m sure they’re okay.”
“Yes, I want to. Go back right now!” my voice shook.
I looked down at my hands while we drove, wringing my sweaty palms together. I could feel a heightened adrenaline rush through my veins. My neck bulged as the inside of it swelled. My throat tightened all the way down to my clenching stomach. I could tell my mom was shaken up too. Her knuckles were white as snow as she gripped the steering wheel. We made our way back to the peculiar red house neighborhood, twisting, turning, and trying to decipher which house was which.
“Red house, red house, red house...” I repeated.
“Liza calm down,” my mom said as she stroked the back of my head. My hands were wet and slippery. I continued rubbing them together.
“Red house, red house, red house,” I continued.
“See there honey? It’s the Christmas tree. I’m sure the boys are in there safe and sound,” she assured me.
I tore off my seat belt, flung open the car door, and hurried for the house. I could hear moms footsteps behind me as she tried to keep up. I had one goal and one alone, to get into this damn red house with the damn Christmas tree. I banged on the door, ringing the doorbell over and over again. I’m sure under any normal circumstances I would have been embarrassed by my neurotic behavior, but at that moment I could not have cared less. No answer; not a sound.
“Liza, my love. Give her time. She has a baby. Just give it a second,” she said.
All I could see in my mind’s eye was their little eyes looking up at the Christmas tree. I remember watching their expression through the window as we drove away. Why had they been holding hands? Maybe they knew something bad was about to happen. Did they know they would never come back? I would hold that memory forever.
“God damn it, Wendy. Open this fucking door!” I screamed.
My mom’s eyes widened. She shifted from one foot to another, peering out from beneath her sunglasses. She tilted to one side trying to get a look through the window. My feet beneath me were steady as I approached the back of the house. I noticed the back door was slightly ajar. I pulled the door open and stuck my head in to get a look around. The house was quiet. I could hear mom behind me, shifting her feet from side to side.
“Wendy?” My mom yelled out. “Jameson? Noah?”
We let ourselves through the back door which, opened up to a long hallway with several doors on the right-hand side and one at the end. I opened the first door, it was a bedroom with nothing to report. I opened the second door. It was a bedroom again. I continued to the last door which, was located all the way at the end of the hallway and opened it up. There was a small bed with blue sheets on it. There was a small dresser with an old-fashioned rotary phone and television sitting on top of it.
There was an old woman sitting in a rocking chair in the far corner of the room. Her silver hair fell down around her shoulders. She was wearing a blue nightgown and fuzzy pink slippers. Her zombie-like eyes were glued to the scratchy image on the television screen. I could only make out the outline of a sultry man. He was the image of a shadow with no face empty and soulless. There was something appealing about his image, although undefined. The woman’s head nodded as her eyes remained fixated on the screen.
“Hello?” I yelled at her. No response.
“Hello?” I yelled again. No response. I got right in front of her face to where our noses were almost nearly touching.
“Hello!!?? Where are my children?! Where are my boys??”
The old lady didn’t respond. Her eyes still entranced, never moved. She looked right through me, rocking in her chair. My stomach clenched. This insanity had to stop. Someone had my children and this old lady was simply taking up space, not doing anyone any good at all. I grasped my cell phone out of my pocket to call the police, but the battery immediately died upon its retrieval. I could see my mom out of the corner of my eye pacing back and forth. The house was quiet. What could I do?
“Okay Liza,” my mom started. “Let’s think, don’t jump to any harsh conclusions.”
“What the fuck, mother?” I shouted in her face. “This old lady doesn’t know or even care that we are here. We dropped off the children at the wrong house and my fucking phone is dead as a doornail. I’m calling the police and that’s it!”
I remembered the old rotary phone on the dresser. I picked up the receiver. There was a dial tone. I hooked my finger into the nine slot and turned the dial all the way to the metal.
I hooked my finger to the one slot turning the dial again.
This is the last one. I thought.
“Hello 9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” said a happy voice at the other end.
“Yes, I would like to report two missing children who are possibly kidnapped. You see, I dropped them off with the babysitter and they aren’t here! They aren’t here!” I exclaimed.
“Oh Liza, you poor thing. They weren’t kidnapped and they aren’t missing. Well... not really missing.”
“Excuse me? How do you know my name? What do you know about my children?”
“Oh, I know a lot of things,” she said in an upbeat voice. “We’re going to need you to come back to the house tonight. You and your mother. We left an invitation on your car while you were harassing the old lady.”
“Whoa now! Harassing? Who the fuck are you? What have you done with my kids?”
“I know a lot of things,” she giggled. “We’ll see you tonight Liza!”
I banged the receiver down on its base then picked it up again. There was no dial tone. I clicked it on and off several times then finally slammed the receiver down as hard as I could.
“Goddammit!” I exclaimed.
My mom was still pacing back and forth with her hand on her head. She sighed out loud as she held her arms crossed in front of her. I wasn’t sure what had happened. Did I really call the police? I had to get my kids back. I grabbed mom by the arm, pulling her as we walked back to the car. There on the windshield, plain as day, was the invitation. Who were these people?
“I don’t know if we should open this or not Liza. This is sick. What did that woman on the phone say to you?” mom asked.
“She said she knows a lot of things. She knew about the old lady. She said we had to come back tonight and that the invitation was on the car.” I replied.
My eyes blinked as I stared off into the clouds. What should I do? What could I do? I thought. My mom grabbed my face, looking me square in the eyes.
“Liza, you mean to tell me you called the police and they said to come back to the house for a damn Christmas party?” I was silent as tears welled in my eyes. Her hands were firm on my cheeks.
“Liza, answer me. What’s going on? What should we do?”
Without a word, I picked up the invitation card off the windshield. My hands were shaking as I slipped open the seal and pulled out the card. It was off-white with gold lettering. It read:
You’re Invited to a Dinner Party
Invited by: Blane
Tonight at 7 pm
The dress is Formal.
P.S. The kids are safe and happy. I’ll explain when you get here. No Police or you’ll regret it.
I threw the invitation down on the ground and began to stomp upon it. I screamed at the top of my lungs, shaking my fists in the air. I must have looked like a crazy woman to the red house neighbors, but I didn’t care. Someone had my children and they had invited me to a damn dinner party. I had called the police and instead of help, I got some strange woman who told me to come back to the house and to bring my mother. I was nearly at the end of my rope here, but yet, I knew I had such a long way to go. Who was Blane anyway? There were so many questions and no answers. My mom was there with me, but she felt so far away at the same time. I felt alone in this decision to try to retrieve my children. Do I play this sick game or do I drive to the police station? The card said I would regret it if I went to the police. These people seem far more organized and advanced than your average kidnappers. My mind was spinning in a million different directions. I walked over to the car and propped my hands against it, looking down at the ground and began to hyperventilate. I was losing it now along with all my senses and my marbles.
“Liza!” my mother shouted. “Liza, please! Please pull yourself together you have to for the boys. Tell me what you want to do and we’ll do it, but I’m not in much of a mood for a dinner party.”
“I don’t know mom. Just let me think. I don’t know what to do. I’m scared. I’m so scared.”
“I know you are sweetheart, but the police can help us. We’ll figure this out.” She picked up her cell phone, but she got the same result I did when attempting to use the phone.
“That’s odd. I just charged my cell phone. Let me plug it in the car. We are going to call the police and put all this behind us.”
My mom plugged in the phone, pressing the button on the home screen. The screen remained black. She shook it once or twice. She unplugged and replugged. The phone would not take a charge.
I stood there against the car, head in hands. I could see a person from the corner of my eye. When I turned to look, I jumped from being startled at the vision of the old woman standing there. She was staring at me in the same fashion that she regarded her TV screen before. Her very posture was eerie in the way she stood with her long nightgown. Her silver hair cascaded over her shoulders. Every wrinkle and vein bulged with an impolite disposition. The uncomfortable exchange was nothing compared to the disquieting feeling that came over us when she spoke.
“Who knows where the children go? Are they up high or down below? They go to a place that’s near, but far. Where you can’t get them, but you know where they are. There’s only one who knows. He sees what comes and goes. He’ll make you tremble from your head to your toes. He’s crazy but sane. Your heart he’ll claim and chain. He finds your desire and takes your pain. Your world will change to where you can’t complain. You’ll love him. You’ll hate him. His name is Blane.”
And there was that name again, Blane. His name resounded in my head like the echo of a loud voice in a deep cavern. It’s the name that troubled me but comforted me at the same time. He was my only hope of finding my children. He knew where they were, but I wasn’t so certain he wasn’t the guy who had taken them. The lady had said I’d love him and I’d hate him. How can I have both love and hate in the same heart? This heart of mine could bear little else at this point in time. The old lady resumed her zombie-like demeanor as she shuffled back to the house. Her words were like a delicious poison that festered in my veins. I had an answer, but the answer itself was leading me into a dangerous trap. What choice did I have? It seemed as if there was a power looming over us and we had to bend to its will or else we’d regret it.
“Liza, we have to go to the police. We have a name, a house, and a woman who obviously knows something,” my mom started.
“No, Mother!” I yelled. “Obviously something very odd is going on here. I don’t know who Blane is, but I plan to face him head on and get my children back. I will do whatever it is that I have to do. We are accepting the invitation.”
It was not often I was so stern with her, but this was very serious. My mom was always “by the book,” but this was no ordinary situation. There was something very, very strange happening here and we had to abide by the instructions. I folded up the invitation and shoved it down into my pocket. I was beside myself with anger, grief, and an immense amount of fear surrounding the recent turn of events. I slumped into the seat of the car and began to sob with my head in my hands. Mom soon joined in, as large salty tears began to roll down her cheeks.
We sat in the car together for a while, crying and trying to hug and comfort one another. I didn’t understand why anyone would take my children in such a manner. I had nothing to offer anyone. There was no ransom I could pay. None that I was aware of anyway. Why were my children targeted for such a crime? We had never done anything to hurt anyone before.
As we pulled away from the red house neighborhood, there was a dark cloud hanging over me. My stomach was in knots thinking of all the different possibilities. We twisted and turned down the road of doom once again and made our way back to my tiny apartment over the shoe store. What was supposed to be a normal Saturday shopping at a flea market turned into my worst nightmare. My will to live was slowly dissolving, but for my children, I knew I had to face this Blane. That son- of-a-bitch would be sorry he had met me. As God as my witness, I will not let him take my family down.