First, it was cats duct taped to light posts and mailboxes. Not the cats themselves, of course, but the missing cat signs. Jagged phone numbers hand-printed in thick marker, many written by some child’s hand. Faded colour printouts, photos rain-smeared, numbers illegible. Lost: one-eared tabby. Answers to Roddy. Lost: calico kitten named Persephone, no claws, blue collar.
Coyotes, of course. They’d shown up when the rabbits came in the summer. They skulked through the ravines and performed loud, yipping mating rituals in the butterfly garden at the community centre, keeping us all awake at night.
Then, in the fall, not long after the coyotes silenced the neighbourhood dogs— Missing: Scruffy, white cockapoo, Reward, 50 dollars; Lost: Becky, brown and black Collie, like a family member, no reward; and
Lost: Jonesy, St. Bernard— we put up the first missing boy poster.
Kenton Schmidt, age 14, last seen at the Husky in a pair of jeans, red Converse and a green and black full-zip-over-the-head Minecraft hoodie— the kind we all bought our boys last Christmas.
We at the Belle Acres Community Association didn’t get involved right away. Why would we? We all thought it was a one-time thing. Kenton was known as a bit of a troublemaker—swearing, drinking in the ravine, smoking in the train tunnels that joined us to the city of Carmichael. Kenton often followed our girls through the deserted soccer fields on the way home from the train station after school. We all know there are worse things than a little booze, some smoking, a little teasing. Still, he was not a nice boy. Not a huge loss, some of us thought. Probably ran away. Who knew?
Then the second boy went missing. Bodhi Jones was a good kid, the kind of kid every one of us mothers would die to have. Flaxen-haired, polite, handsome and blue-eyed, Bodhi consistently got the best marks at the high school in Carmichael, and all the scholarships and opportunities that went with the honour.
Belle Acres’ tiny police department of one was concerned, but not enough to add a patrol or two. Constable Louis said he’d leave it to Carmichael’s larger police force. More of a security guard than a cop,
Constable Louis spent most of his time investigating the break-ins afflicting the mansions that hugged the river that marked the edge of town. As though thefts of a few rolls of duct tape, shovels, and rope were more important than the loss of our best and brightest. The Carmichael police were more than capable of running the investigation, the constable told us on numerous occasions.
If only that were true.
Billy Yakowski, Francisco Santorini, and John Toro. Paul Rankin. Callum McKnight. So many boys, so few mailboxes. With no assistance from the authorities, and with our husbands always working such late hours, we took it upon ourselves to find out where our missing sons had gone. We set up these meetings at the Belle Acres Community Hall. Beth Johnson made the appetizers—green spinach-flavoured tortilla wraps spread with cream cheese and layered with ham and turkey— the ones with the asparagus in the middle. Beth was probably the best cook of all of us. Helen Schultz offered to make punch, but this wasn’t a social event. Kathy Lavoie always drinks too much and needs to be picked up by one of her sons, and we just couldn’t take the chance of losing another boy.
We went to the high school ourselves and spoke with teachers and friends and girlfriends. Billy was last seen at a local diner with a couple of cheerleaders from Belle Acres. Janet Vronsky’s daughter Carla was very helpful and offered up that she had seen John Toro at the record store in town the Saturday he went missing. The other boys had left school after various activities, caught the 5:40 train to Belle Acres—the ticket scans showed that much—and were never seen again.
Callum and Francisco had both spent their last evenings at home. When their moms went to get them up for school, each boy’s bed was as perfect as they were when their mothers made them the day before. No patterns. No clues. No bodies. No blood.
Mary Jane Feller quizzed Callum McKnight’s girlfriend, Rosie Osborne. “There’s something not right there,” Mary Jane told us at the next week’s meeting. “She knows something.”
We laughed, as much as we dared laugh, what with Callum’s mom sitting at the back of the hall like she was. Oh, Mary Jane, we said. Rosie is such a good girl. In fact, with Bodhi Jones gone, Rosie had moved into the top academic spot at the high school.
It was clear that it was only the boys who were going missing. The Belle Acres’ girls were untouched.
By Christmas, we had to move our meetings to Tuesdays. The girls started having meetings of their own, and the Thursday timeslot worked better for them. Soon, they started bringing suggestions of help to us.
“We could build a trap,” said Rosie Osborne’s sister Cheyanne. “Catch whatever it is before it can strike.” Jo-Ellen Thorp suggested that maybe the boys should wear black, to make themselves less of a target. Sarah Frank, promoted to first chair violin when John Carson was taken, suggested sending out packs of girls with guns to escort the boys to and from school and their extracurricular activities.
In the end it just seemed wiser and safer to keep the boys at home, where no one could hurt them.
It was Bonnie Thornton, Philip’s mom, who brought the paper to us. A list, of all our boys, some with carefully drawn purple stars next to their names, some—the lost boys—with messy checkmarks. She’d found the list tucked into her daughter’s copy of Valley of the Dolls. What could it mean, we wondered.
Last Thursday night we showed up at the girls’ meeting. Rosie Osborne sat on the raised stage, tapping her gavel against her leg as we spoke. Tables sagged under the weight of the snacks: chips and dip, two cheeseballs, and a good mix of gluten-free crackers. In the centre of the table sat a big bowl of punch. Tamara Williams went to get herself a glass just to make sure it wasn’t spiked. Teenagers can get into trouble sometimes. Jamie Sanders, newly-minted head of the yearbook committee, reached over and took the ladle from Tamara, telling her it was for the girls only.
We received no satisfaction on the question of the list.
“Perhaps you all should reconsider your involvement,” said Rosie with a dismissive wave of her hand.
“We have the situation well in hand,” said Jennifer Ducharme, Carmichael High’s freshly-minted athlete of the month. “Not to worry.” “Next item,” called out Rosie.
She smacked her gavel down hard and we were dismissed.
At the next meeting of the Belle Acres Community Association, we drank lavender lemonade with gin and ate matrimonial squares made
by Beth and reminisced about the good old days. Told stories of our boys, and of our girls.
Then we took a head count.
We put up the first missing mother poster on the mailboxes the next day.
What else could we do?