Chapter no 3

A Flicker in the Dark

There are so many subtle ways we women subconsciously protect ourselves throughout the day; protect ourselves from shadows, from unseen predators. From cautionary tales and urban legends. So subtle, in fact, that we hardly even realize we’re doing them.

Leave work before dark. Clutch our purses to our chest with one hand, hold our keys between our fingers in the other, like a weapon, as we shuffle toward our car, strategically parked beneath a streetlight in case we weren’t able to leave work before dark. Approach our car, glance in the back seat before unlocking the front. Grip our phone tight, pointer finger just a swipe away from 9-1-1. Step inside. Lock it again. Do not idle. Drive away quickly.

I turn out of the parking lot adjacent to my office building and away from town. I stop at a red light and glance in my rearview mirror—habit, I suppose—wincing at the reflection. I look rough. It’s muggy outside, so muggy that my skin is slick with grease; my usually limp brown hair has a bit of a curl at the tips, a frizziness that only the Louisiana summer can achieve.

Louisiana summer.

Such a loaded phrase. I grew up here. Well, not here. Not in Baton Rouge. In Louisiana, though. A tiny little town called Breaux Bridge—the Crawfish Capital of the World. It’s a distinction we’re proud of, for some reason. The same way Cawker City, Kansas, must be proud of their five-thousand-pound ball of twine. It brings superficial meaning to an otherwise meaningless place.

Breaux Bridge also has a population of less than ten thousand, which means that everybody knows everybody. And more specifically, everybody knows me.

When I was young, I used to live for the summer. The swampy memories are so abundant: spotting gators in Lake Martin, screaming when I caught a glimpse of their beady eyes lurking beneath a carpet of algae. My

brother laughing as we sprinted in the opposite direction, screaming See ya later, alligator! Making wigs out of the Spanish moss hanging in our multi-acre backyard then picking chiggers out of my hair in the days that followed, dabbing clear nail polish on the itchy red welts. Twisting the tail off a freshly boiled crawfish and sucking the head dry.

But memories of summer also bring memories of fear.

I was twelve when the girls started to go missing. Girls not much older than me. It was July of 1999, and it was shaping up to be just another hot, humid Louisiana summer.

Until one day, it wasn’t.

I remember walking into the kitchen one morning, early, rubbing the sleep from my eyes, dragging my mint-green blanket across the linoleum floor. I had slept with that blanket ever since I was a baby, loved the edges raw. I remember twisting the fabric between my fingers, a nervous tic, when I saw my parents huddled in front of the TV, worried. Whispering.

“What’s going on?”

They turned around, their eyes wide at the sight of me, turning it off before I could see the screen.

Before they thought I could see the screen.

“Oh, honey,” my father said, walking toward me, holding me tighter than normal. “It’s nothing, sweetheart.”

But it wasn’t nothing. Even then, I knew it wasn’t nothing. The way my father was holding me, the way my mother’s lip quivered as she turned toward the window—the same way Lacey’s lip quivered this afternoon as she forced herself to process the realization she had known all along. The realization she had been trying to push out, trying to pretend wasn’t true. My eyes had caught a glimpse of that bright red headline stamped across the bottom of the screen; it had already been seared into my psyche, a collection of words that would forever alter life as I knew it.


At twelve years old, GIRL GOES MISSING doesn’t have the same sinister implications as it does when you’re older. Your mind doesn’t automatically flicker to all those horrible places: kidnapping, rape, murder. I

remember thinking: Missing where? I thought maybe she had gotten lost. My family’s home was situated on more than ten acres of land; I had gotten lost plenty of times catching toads in the swamp or exploring uncharted patches of woods, scratching my name in the bark of an unmarked tree or constructing forts out of moss-soaked sticks. I had even gotten stuck in a small cave once, the home of some kind of animal, its puckered entrance somehow both frightening and enticing at the exact same time. I remember my brother tying a piece of old rope to my ankle as I lay flat on my belly, wriggling myself into the cold, dark void, holding a flashlight keychain tight between my lips. Letting the darkness swallow me whole as I crawled deeper and deeper—and, finally, the sheer terror that ensued once I realized that I couldn’t pull myself back out. So when I saw clips of the search party scouring through overgrown foliage and wading through bogs, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if I ever went “missing” myself, if people would come for me the same way they were coming for her.

She’ll turn up, I thought. And when she does, I bet she’ll feel silly for

causing such a fuss.

But she didn’t turn up. And three weeks later, another girl went missing.

Four weeks after that, another.

By the end of the summer, six girls had disappeared. One day they were there, and the next—gone. Vanished without a trace.

Now, six missing girls will always be six too many, but in a town like Breaux Bridge, a town so tiny that there’s a noticeable gap in a classroom when one child drops out or a quietness to a neighborhood when a single family moves away, six girls was a weight almost too heavy to bear. Their goneness was impossible to ignore; it was an evil that had settled over the sky the way an impending storm can make your bones throb. You could feel it, taste it, see it in the eyes of every person you met. An inherent distrust had captivated a town that was once so trusting; a suspicion had taken hold that was impossible to shake. One single, unspoken question lingered among us all.

Who’s next?

Curfews were put into place; stores and restaurants closed at dusk. I, like every other girl in town, was forbidden to be outside after dark. Even in the daytime, I felt the evil lurking just behind every corner. The anticipation that it would be me—that would be next—was always there, always present, always suffocating.

“You’ll be fine, Chloe. You don’t have anything to worry about.”

I remember my brother hoisting on his backpack one morning before summer camp; I was crying, again, too afraid to leave the house.

“She does have something to worry about, Cooper. This is serious.”

“She’s too young,” he said. “She’s only twelve. He likes teenagers, remember?”

“Cooper, please.”

My mother crouched down to the floor, positioned herself at eye level, tucked a strand of hair behind my ear.

“This is serious, honey, but just be careful. Be vigilant.”

“Don’t get into a car with strangers,” Cooper said, sighing. “Don’t walk down dark alleys alone. It’s all pretty obvious, Chlo. Just don’t be stupid.”

“Those girls weren’t stupid,” my mother snapped, her voice quiet but sharp. “They were unlucky. In the wrong place at the wrong time.”

I turn in to the CVS parking lot now and pull through the pharmacy drive-through. There’s a man standing behind the sliding glass window, busying himself with stapling various bottles into paper bags. He slides the window open and doesn’t bother to look up.


“Daniel Briggs.”

He glances at me, clearly not a Daniel. He taps a few keys on the computer before him and speaks again.

“Date of birth?” “May 2, 1982.”

He turns around, shuffles through the basket. I watch him grab a paper bag and walk toward me again, my hands gripped tightly on the wheel to stop them from fidgeting. He aims his scanner at the bar code and I hear a beep.

“Do you have any questions about the prescription?” “Nope,” I say, smiling. “All good.”

He pushes the bag through his window and into mine; I snatch it, push it deep into my purse, and roll the window up again, pulling away without so much as a goodbye.

I drive for a few more minutes, my purse on the passenger seat radiating from the mere presence of the pills inside. It used to baffle me how easy it was to pick up prescriptions for other people; as long as you know the birthday that matches the name on file, most pharmacists never even ask for a driver’s license. And if they do, simple explanations usually work.

Oh, shoot, it’s in my other purse.

I’m actually his fiancée—do you need me to provide the address on


I turn in to my Garden District neighborhood and start the journey

down a mile-long stretch of road that always leaves me disoriented, the way I imagine scuba divers feel when they find themselves completely enveloped in darkness, a darkness so dark even their own hand placed inches from their face would get lost.

All sense of direction—gone. All sense of control—gone.

Without any houses to illuminate the roadway or floodlights to reveal the twisting arms of the trees that line the street, when the sun goes down, this road gives the illusion of driving straight into a pool of ink, disappearing into a vast nothingness, falling endlessly into a bottomless hole.

I hold my breath, push my foot down on the gas just a little bit harder.

Finally, I can sense my turn approaching. I flick on my blinker, even though there’s nobody behind me, just more black, and veer right into our cul-de-sac, releasing my breath when I pass the first streetlight revealing the road toward home.


That, too, is a loaded phrase. A home isn’t just a house, a collection of bricks and boards held together by concrete and nails. It’s more emotional

than that. A home is safety, security. The place you go back to when the curfew clock strikes nine.

But what if your home isn’t safe? Isn’t secure?

What if the outstretched arms you collapse into on your porch steps are the same arms you should be running from? The same arms that grabbed those girls, squeezed their necks, and buried their bodies before washing their own hands clean?

What if your home is where it all started: the epicenter of the earthquake that shook your town to the core? The eye of the hurricane that ripped apart families, lives, you? Everything you had ever known?

What then?

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