by David Bell
On an average day in an average Ohio town, every parent’s worst nightmare becomes reality for Tom and Abby Stuart: their twelve-year old daughter, Caitlin, goes missing while out walking the family dog at a local park. The dog makes his way home, but no sign of Caitlin turns up. After four years, the strain of the trauma has taken a toll on Tom and Abby’s marriage; she has seemingly moved on, becoming romantically involved with her pastor, who seems to have some kind of weird hold on Abby and who has convinced her to presume her daughter dead and to accordingly hold a memorial service and have a grave marker placed for Caitlin. Tom, meanwhile, still hasn’t given up hope that his daughter is alive, and is determined to follow every lead, no matter how unlikely or sordid.
And one day, miracle of miracles, Caitlin shows up. Alive. However, four years have passed since she disappeared, and in that time, she has lived a very different life. She is not the same girl who left them four years earlier.
“I tried to understand how I’d come to be in the place I was. The wheel of fortune had spun, and the arrow had landed on me: I’d been the guy whose daughter was taken. And then the wheel spun again, and even more unusual, and perhaps crueler fate: I’d also been the guy to get his daughter back. Was it a mark of my confusion that I still couldn’t decide which was the worse fate to suffer?”
This fictional story explores what most people who hope and pray for the return of lost loved ones don’t allow themselves to wonder about: what would things be like if that child came back a long time later? People – especially bystanders on the outside – rarely imagine beyond a happy, tear-filled reunion.
Now the Stuarts are left to grapple with the daughter who has returned to them as a hostile stranger, and with the knowledge that the life she led while away from them was stuff of a parent’s nightmares.
There were a few things that could have been improved upon in the story: some of the characters were never really fleshed out, and a confrontation with Caitlin’s abductor seemed highly unrealistic, but the story, all in all, was well-written and kept me turning pages