I grew up in the era of missing children on milk cartons. I grew up in the era of Stranger Danger and bad guys snatching children from the streets of big cities by drawing them over with offers of candy. I grew up in the era of windowless vans sitting silent in parking lots, their drivers stalking young prey.
When I was 12, a little boy was supposedly snatched from a carnival in my hometown. I'd been at that carnival the night before the snatching, wandering around the park with my friends, and the scariest thing facing me that night was the floor dropping out from the walls of the Gravitron.
The following night the little boy disappeared. He was only five, seven years my junior and thus far more vulnerable than I. But still. A little boy disappeared! From my hometown! He was snatched! Just like all those kids on the milk cartons.
The whole town shut down, it seemed, while searching for him. We spoke of little other than the little boy for ages.
Where was he? Was he still alive? Who snatched him?
Rumors abounded, of course. There were men with knives and nefarious intent. There were accusations that it was his mother, that she'd done something to him and hid it with a false kidnapping story.
But no. That couldn't have been the case, right? Not to us, children with mothers who'd have died to protect us. Not in our hometown.
The following year, the boy's remains were found in a town twenty minutes away.
A little boy was dead, and someone was to blame. We just didn't know whom.
His face vanished from the milk cartons, and soon from our memories.
It all came flooding back last night when I saw the first report that, twenty years after the fact, his mother has been charged with his murder. A Grand Jury indicted her, and she was yanked from her Florida home to answer for her crimes.
Thank God there's no Statute of Limitations on murder.
It all came back, as soon as I saw his name. Timothy Wiltsey. The terror I felt as a child. The "what if it had been me instead?" The feeling as though the floor had dropped out from me on the Gravitron but it had ceased its spinning and I was falling, falling through an endless hole.
How had I forgotten that?
How had his name disappeared from my psyche?
No matter. It's back. And I remember those long nights, wondering how close I came to being the one snatched that night at the carnival as I wandered about with my friends? How close had I come to being the dead child?
Nowhere near as close as I once feared, it seems now. But real life? It's so scary sometimes. Can you imagine that little boy's last moments, as his mother allegedly bore down on him to kill him?
I can't. But I imagine I'll spend some time in the future, writing something about it. Trying to tell his side of the story in some other way. I imagine little Timothy will find a place, masked perhaps but still there, in some future piece of fiction by me.
Because once someone is there in your life, infiltrating your dreams, there's only one way to purge them. At least when you're a writer.
Poor little guy. I hope he found some peace after his death. If I ever try to tell a story like his, I'll make sure he does.