Don't Look for Me: A Novel
"Don't Look for Me is truly spine-tingling!"
A parent's worst nightmare is losing a child, but imagine if you as a parent caused your child's death? Molly Clarke, loving wife to John and mother to oldest daughter, Nicole, son Evan, and youngest Annie couldn't be happier. Residing in a small town in southern Connecticut, Molly works as a middle-school science teacher—that is until that fateful day when nine-year-old Annie dies. Nicole, (Nic for short), watching her little sister, misses her slipping out for the ice cream truck, and living on a road with a blind driveway, Molly does not notice her youngest until too late. The last she sees of Annie is her sailing over the car then lying in the street in a pool of blood. This is when life changed forever for the Clarke family.
Molly, consumed with guilt and remorse quits her job, no longer able to be around children and withdraws into a shell. Nic becomes hostile toward her, and John makes himself absent, making Molly suspecting he is having an affair. Evan, no longer witness to his mother’s day-to-day sorrow, is recruited as a freshman to play football at a Massachusetts boarding school.
Though this horrendous incident happens, Molly loves her family and wishes she could win Nic and John back. Once close, Nic now only displays disdain and disgust for Molly, though little Annie's death wasn't intentional. And Molly makes the eight-hour round-trip to Evan's school twice a month to watch his games. As she leaves again to visit him—though he clearly shows he does not want her there—she wonders what would happen if she decided to disappear. Would anyone even miss her?
Evan knowing Molly is there ignores her and walks right by her as she waits for him. Hurt and disappointed, she heads for home. All the way, her mind churns over her argument with Nic and how her daughter screamed her hatred of her. About an hour from home, she realizes her gauge shows empty, and with a category-four hurricane threatening, she must stop and fill the tank.
Her car stalls about 30 feet from a Gas ’n’ Go in the small town of Hastings Pass. As she rushes out of the car, hoping to get help, the heavens open and she gets soaked. To her dismay, the station is boarded up, presumably anticipating the bad weather. What can she do now? With no choice, she walks toward town hoping to find shelter.
"The rain comes suddenly. The blanket covering the sky is now a broken dam. It's dark but I can still see the writing on a cardboard sign. Closed for the storm!
"I stop and let the rain wash over me as I stare at these words.
"Evan, Nicole, John. I am a burden to them now because they don't love me. Because they can't love me.
"It's been five years to this very day that they stopped.
"Five years since Annie died.
"Five years since she ran into the road.
"Five years since I struck her with my car. Since I killed her.
"Tears, rain, wind. I walk a few paces to the intersection, to the pavement and dirt riding over hills, and the deal with cornstalks in fields that go on and no. Not another car in sight.
"The hurricane is a category four. That's what they said on the radio. I remember the voices now. I remember the name of this town. Hastings. I have driven into the eye of the storm. I hear the mantra in my head. Don't give up. I feel the weight of my guilt like a rock I hold above my head. How I fight to keep it from falling. I think now that maybe it's time. Maybe I can just let it fall.
"Maybe I can just walk away.
"These words bring a sudden, jarring euphoria.
"Walk away. Just walk away."
And this is what she does. As she walks toward what she hopes is the center of town, a truck comes behind her, which she flags down. A man with a little blonde girl (blonde, like Annie and about the same age) stops to pick her up. Relieved, she hops into the cab and out of the torrential rain.
The man tells her everything is shut down due to the storm and as they drive, Molly sees a sign for the Hastings Inn, thinking he'll let her off there, but he informs her it, too, is closed like everything else in town. Getting a little spooked, she wonders if she can trust this man. She introduces herself, but he doesn’t respond. The child says her name is Alice and laughs, saying the man, whom Molly presumes is her dad, is Mickey Mouse. The man again does not respond.
Molly considers jumping out of the moving truck, mistrusting him, but the doors are child-proof locked. After many twists and turns, they head up a long driveway into the forest, and Alice proclaims they're home. What will happen to her now?
It is disconcerting when they come upon a locked gate, and Molly notices a barbed-wire fence surrounding the property. The man states the power is out, yet he appears friendly as he escorts her to a guest room offering towels and a bed for the night along with some clothing she perceives must belong to his wife or an ex-wife. Molly panics, discovering she left her phone in her car. She wants to call John to come for her. The man says cell service is sketchy in the woods then he assures her he'll take her into town in the morning. With no other choice, she prepares to spend the night.
When Molly does not arrive home, John and Nic go to Hastings to search for her, and learn Molly allegedly left a note on hotel stationery stating:
"My beloved family, I am so very sorry. I couldn't make it home, and then I thought maybe you are better off without me. I pray you don't look for me. I pray for your happiness. Signed, Molly Clarke"
They cannot believe she would leave them; and after several days, Nic goes back to Hastings. Though John hires a private investigator, Nic refuses to sit around doing nothing. Her life upended with Annie's death and now with Molly unaccounted for, she feels guilty. Loathing Molly for her little sister's death, Nic let her schoolwork suffer, and she started drinking and sleeping around. Her well-planned future went on the skids, and after the horrid things she said to her mother before she left, she desperately needs to find her and make amends.
Days pass as Nic chases down leads. No one gives her answers, and she questions everyone, even a woman reported to have seen her. Then she hears about a woman who went missing years ago. Could there be a link between them?
Nic hooks up with police office Jared Reyes, who offers to help her. She stays at the local inn and spots a nearby property surrounded by barbed-wire fencing. Reyes informs her it used to belong to a cooperation and had planned to turn it into a mental hospital, but the place is vacant. Believing Molly is still alive, Nic wants to search it, though he says the utilities were shut off long ago, dissuading her from her from going there.
Meanwhile, "Mickey Mouse" who Molly calls Mick, sequesters her in this rundown house. Trying to escape causes her to be locked in her room. She befriends Alice, asking questions the child won't answer. Is she this man's daughter or did he kidnap her, too?
Chapters segue between Molly and Nic, describing their hair-raising events: Molly trapped by what she feels is a madman who's playing with her before he will kill her, and Nic chasing through leads not knowing who to trust, yet getting caught in a sinister web. The suspense and unexplained answers cause hackles to rise prompting up to the unexpected and shocking conclusion. Don't Look for Me is truly spine-tingling!