The air was damp and suffocating, pressing against her body. The terror of being paralyzed coursed through her veins. The beady dark eyes set in a fair, pock-marked face looked at her with a devilish half smile. She was half asleep when she felt the prick of a needle on her arm. Megan woke up stifling a scream, trying to call out to her Mama. She was sweating, and her heart thumped furiously. Shivering, she buried her head under the covers, as sobs racked her body.
Megan sat up wondering if she would ever be able to leave this recurring nightmare behind. Her silky blond hair tumbled over her forehead, and the rims of her attractive blue-green eyes held unshed tears as if they were unwilling to let go of her pain. Little threads of memories wafted in and out of her young mind.
The azure waves splashed gently while a group of children swam in the calm bay and the adults lazed, watching them. She remembered a baby carrier with two babies. An image of her lying on a big bed in a room with white walls flashed into her mind’s eye. She could still visualize the picture of an owl on the wall that scared her.
Megan covered her ears with her palms but could not shut out the haunting footsteps and the ominous creaking of the floor. She could almost feel the prickling sensation on her arm that woke her up. A large shape loomed in front of her and she was being carried away on the shoulders of a stranger. The memory of the smell of stale sweat and the fear of a terrorized child stuck inside her throat, struggling like a trapped bird trying to make its escape.
Megan sat up. “Mama?” She whimpered. Her mind blurred again.
The door flew open and her mother rushed in to hug Megan. “Oh sweetie, is it the nightmare again?” Megan hugged her mother and nestled in her arms until she fell asleep again. Her dad walked in and sat quietly beside her, stroking her head. “Hush little one, you are safe!” He whispered.
The sunlight streamed in. It was a beautiful summer day.
“Good morning, love!”
“Good morning, Mama. I am sorry I scared you again last night.” Megan sounded broken.
Her mother kissed her and held her tight.
Megan’s startling eyes considered her mother’s. Her pert little nose and soft lips added lustre to her perfectly proportioned oval face. The prominent little strip on the iris of her right eye gave her a pixyish look.
“Tell me again about how you brought me home, Mama,” Megan pleaded.
Mama smiled. “You were at the centre for just a month. You would curl up in a corner and refuse to speak to anyone. When we walked in and I called out to you, you looked up for the first time in many days, straight into our eyes. We went home together a few days later after the paperwork.”
“Come down for breakfast Sweetie,” her mother called, rushing out.
Megan sighed. She opened her cupboard and pulled out the well-thumbed folder for the umpteenth time. It had several clippings about the little girl who went missing from a holiday resort in Praia de Luz in Algarve. The sleepy little village hugged the western coastline of Portugal. She had seen these pictures so often they were entrenched in her mind. Megan looked at herself in the mirror. The similarity was striking.
She looked at several photographs of the distraught parents over the last few years. She wrinkled her brow, trying to recall her childhood. The memories floated in and out, opaque as always. She closed her eyes tightly against the prickling hot tears.
Megan tried to shut out the memories, but the beady eyes appeared again. The dark forests, the deserted yellow house, and being locked into a room. She shivered though it was a warm summer day. She saw him more clearly now. He was naked and the angry scar on his thigh stared back at her like a bleeding eye. He came closer, towering menacingly over her little body. She remembered nothing but the terror and pain after that. She woke up to the screams of a man and a woman. The man banged the door and she did not hear him again.
She was in a speeding vehicle, terrified of the dark. She drifted in and out of sleep and her body cried out in pain during her waking moments. She heard a woman’s faint voice as she fell with a thud.
When she opened her eyes, a woman in white and black, with a headdress was holding her and she was in a big room with many children around her. “You are safe,” said the woman gently. She remembered being petrified of the gaze of curious children studying her. She turned towards the wall and curled into a ball.
Her next memory was of a gentle woman with a man beside her, bending down on their knees and talking to her in a soft and reassuring tone. For a moment she thought her mother had found her. The woman reached out to her and she allowed herself to be carried to her new life.
Megan took out her drawing book. Sketching had a calming effect on her mind. Looking at the paper cut-outs, she sketched the couple and their twins and then tried to sketch herself into the picture. It was all wrong. She crumpled the picture and tossed it away. They were strangers to her and this was her home.
The conflict in her mind refused to subside.
Megan did her customary search online for the latest news on the case of the missing girl. No missing person story had garnered this kind of cross-border interest.
She perked up. “A strong suspect has been identified in the case of the missing toddler M”, the German News Channel reported.
“M’s case is now being investigated as a murder. The child is most likely dead.” Reported the Daily Mail from the UK.
The Portuguese media reported that the suspect has been officially declared an “Arguido”, a formal suspect in the case after all these years. The picture of the suspect appeared alongside the little girl. Megan felt numb. The beady eyes stared back at her, red at the corners. She wondered if the blood of all his little victims had accumulated in his body and was seeping out of his eyes.
She knew it was him.
She forced herself to read the article that covered a rape case in which he was a suspect.
The article mentioned an angry scar on his thigh. Searing anger coursed through her. She wanted to kill him and every man and woman on earth who violated and treated children as a commodity.
She thought of her parents. They had stood by her like a rock from the day they adopted her. She was grateful for their unconditional love that anchored her as she battled her demons. They had never tried to draw her away from her obsession with this case.
Megan went down to breakfast and kissed her parents. She looked at her mother’s beautiful garden blooming with flowers. Their idyllic home in Zaragoza, the folklores that abounded in this quaint town and the beautiful cathedrals had a soothing effect on her troubled mind.
Megan thought of all the versions of the story of the missing girl that she had been reading with an insatiable hunger. A wave of anger overwhelmed her as she thought of parents leaving the sleeping children alone. She couldn’t help wondering how different the child’s life would have been if she had not been kidnapped. The anger always gave way to deep compassion for the parents whose lives had changed forever and left them with a lifetime of culpability.
Megan walked back to her room. She knew the new suspect was a German paedophile and the media was pursuing the story again. She browsed the news channels. The cameras moved to Praia da Luz where the parents of M and their twins were staying for a week to mark the 19th birthday of their lost daughter. They refused to talk to the press and asked for privacy. “We desperately need closure and hope the new evidence tells us what happened to our little girl,” the couple implored as they walked together to the village church.
She could hear her parents talking softly downstairs, lingering over a cup of tea before heading to work. Her father was with the Police Nacional and her mother a nurse at a local hospital.
“I would like to travel to Praia da Luz,” Megan announced quietly.
Her parents looked worried, but they knew she had to do this. “Do you want us to accompany you? Her mother asked.
“I need to do this alone Ma,” Megan replied, hugging her mother. Her parents had been putting aside some money from the day she was adopted, and they had gifted her the generous amount on her eighteenth birthday.
She checked flights and found one from Madrid to Faro, the capital city of the Algarve. She could take a train from Faro to Lagos and a bus onwards to Praia de Luz.
It was the 8th of May 2022. She was nervous as she boarded the flight from Madrid to Faro. Arriving at midnight, she checked into a hotel for the night.
Megan boarded an early morning train from Faro to Lagos. The landscape was elysian, and Megan watched little townships passing by. She thought about the people living there and wondered if they ever thought about the missing child. She wondered where all the missing children of the world were and how many had died violent deaths.
Disembarking at the busy town of Lagos, she found the bus station and was glad to see that a bus was scheduled to depart in ten minutes.
The picturesque town of Praia da Luz appeared as her bus drove in and the beauty took her breath away. Her nerves tingled with excitement and fear as she reached the Ocean Club Resort Complex. She had a reservation for a week. After checking in, she walked around the luxury facility and came to apartment 5A. It was sealed off as a permanent crime scene. Megan was overwhelmed. Was this where her life changed forever?
She heard voices. It was them. They stood outside the door of 5A holding hands. She moved away. She could see the suffering and silent loss of hope in their eyes.
The twins wandered away. Megan heard one of them say, “I wish we at least knew she was dead. “They can move on.”
The young girl noticed Megan and waved out to her. Megan waved back with a small smile.
Megan enjoyed the seaside and the bay during the day, but her nightmares haunted her even more here. Waking up from a violent dream, she turned on the television.
“Chris Baker named a prime suspect in the case of the missing girl. Chris is already serving a seven-year imprisonment term for the rape of an elderly American woman.”
The news report continued, “The German Prosecutor said that he had reasons to strongly believe that Chris was responsible for the case of the missing girl.”
Upon being questioned, the prosecutor conceded that without evidence, Baker may have to be released shortly.
Megan’s phone buzzed. It was a strange number.
“Hello?” Said the voice.
“Yes?” Megan responded, wondering who it was.
“I am Nickie. I must meet you. I know you are in Praia da Luz.” Her voice had a desperate urgency.
“Why, and who are you?” Asked Megan feeling a chill run down her spine. “How do you have my number?”
“Meet me at the bay in front of Cafe Summers around the corner in ten minutes.”
“How will I know you? Asked Megan.
Nickie had disconnected.
Megan was curious but nervous. She walked to the cafe.
She found a spot overlooking the bay and waited. A woman probably in her late thirties walked straight to her. Her face was hardly visible. She wore goggles, a mask, and a headscarf covering most of her face.
“Megan.” It was a statement. “Let us walk.” She spoke with an accent Megan was unable to identify.
“Have you heard of Chris Baker? She asked without preamble.
Megan was silent.
“I was seventeen when I first met him and became his girlfriend. I was with him when the case of the missing girl happened here”, she said her hands pointing lightly towards the apartment complex.
Megan felt sick. She wanted to throw up.
The woman removed her goggles. Her light eyes had a manic look in them.
“He brought the little girl to his deserted yellow house up in the woods. He sexually abused her. He was a paedophile and supplied pre-pubescent children to a paedophile gang.”
She stopped and looked around suspiciously for a moment, putting her goggles on again.
Megan opened her mouth, but no sound would come out. Her throat was dry, and her legs felt like jelly. She collapsed on the sand.
The woman sat down but made no move to touch her.
“I had discovered child pornography on his computer and we had a huge fight that day. He attacked me savagely and left the house.” Nickie’s eyes were far away.
“I opened the room, picked up the unconscious child, and drove off in his old van with a false number plate that he kept for his nefarious activities. I was terrified of being stopped but strangely no borders checked my vehicle. I was no saint, but I could not watch mutely as he picked up children. I was escaping from the devil too. Upon entering Spain in the wee hours of the morning, I quietly left the child outside the door of a church. I came to know later that the Church has an orphanage too.
I was young and scared. I wanted nothing to do with the case. I just wanted to rebuild a decent life.”
She paused, and her voice was raspy.
“I had a daughter four years ago and I have been unable to shake off the nightmares and the guilt of abandoning the child Chris kidnapped. It has taken me two years of cautious investigation to find you, Megan. You are the little missing girl the world seeks.”
“I am a Jehovah’s Witness member and my belief demands that I confess and make amends to you.”
Megan looked up. “Nickie, Chris is being released from jail today for lack of evidence. The world does not know that I am alive. Can you help me kill him?” Her voice was calm.
“He will come after me!” Nickie whispered.
“Chris must be killed painfully as he comes out of jail on the 12th of May. He must suffer.” Megan whispered.
“He is dangerous. I no longer have such connections,” said Nickie.
Megan turned to walk away.
“Listen, Megan, it will cost you a lot of money,” Nickie said.
“I can pay,” replied Megan.
Megan turned back suddenly. “Did he have a scar on his thigh?”
Nickie nodded mutely.
It was Megan’s nineteenth birthday. She walked around apartment 5A and found the parents of the missing girl watching her.
She knew they would walk to the church, so she went ahead. The priest said a special prayer for their missing daughter.
The couple joined the twins outside and walked into the cafe for lunch. Megan found a corner table for herself where she couldn’t be seen by the family.
The television aired the latest news.
“Chris Baker who was freed this morning was found murdered on a deserted roadside in Lower Saxony, Germany. He was found clutching a picture of the missing child and a USB with a video confession that he had killed the child after sexually abusing her. He gave no details of where the body was hidden.”
Megan’s eyes turned to the couple and their twins. The couple clutched each other and wept. The twins hugged their parents.
Megan wiped her tears and watched as the family rushed to their apartment, trying to push away the cameras and microphones thrust in their face.
A public-address system blared, “The Church welcomes all to the special prayer service this afternoon for little M who went missing nineteen years ago from this village.”
For a moment she wanted to run up and tell them the truth. The moment passed.
Meeting her now would disrupt many lives and perhaps create more anguish. She let the sea breeze carry a silent goodbye to them as they walked away.
Her thoughts drifted to her wonderful parents and her mother’s flower garden.
She missed them terribly and made a call.
“Mama? She whispered.
“We saw the news angel, your dad is here too,” said her mom.
“Come home love,” her dad chimed in.
Her eyes glistened. She looked up at the screen.
“The mystery deepens!” screamed the headlines.
“A woman in her thirties and an ex-girlfriend of Chris Baker was found dead in Spain!”
Megan said, “I am on my way home, Dad. I can’t wait to see you both.”
She walked to the bus station for the next bus to Lagos, browsing websites for a flight ticket.
She was going home where she belonged, leaving her nightmares in this seaside town. Or so she hoped.
Prompt: Base your story around any mysterious disappearance in History.
Prompt proposed by Team Punz N’ Prosez for Team Mystical Musings
My search for Madeleine – Jon Clarice
Madeleine – Kate McCann
Picture Credit – Tomas Jasovsky, Unsplash.com.