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It’s the summer of 1954, and the residents of Cottonwood, California, are dying. At the center of it all is six-year-old Danny McCray, a strange and silent child the townspeople regard with fear and superstition, and who appears to bring illness and ruin to those around him. Even his own mother is plagued by a disease that is slowly consuming her.
Sheriff Jim Kent, increasingly aware of the whispers and rumors surrounding the boy, has watched the people of his town suffer—and he worries someone might take drastic action to protect their loved ones. Then a stranger arrives, and Danny and his ten-year-old brother, Sean, go missing. In the search that follows, everyone is a suspect, and the consequences of finding the two brothers may be worse than not finding them at all.
Michael McCray squinted into the low-hanging sun as he swung the liberty blue Mercury four-door into the Century Grocery parking lot off Gas Point Road. At 7:45 p.m., the last of the August daylight still lingered, not yet willing to surrender the town of Cottonwood, California, to the custody of the night. Throughout the surrounding neighborhood, shadows spilled out from the bases of homes and businesses, dim expanding pools that merged to cover the quiet streets, the suburban yards strewn with forgotten playthings. On the radio, Kitty Kallen’s honey-flecked voice finished singing “Little Things Mean a Lot,” and Michael leaned forward and turned the knob to the left, clicking it off. He could feel warm air drifting through the open windows, the oppressive heat of the day finally slipping away with the reluctance of a child heading in for an evening bath.
The churn of the Mercury’s whitewall tires across the gravel lot—now all but empty except for the hunkered yellow presence of the proprietor’s 1952 Chevy Bel Air—ground to a halt as Michael nosed his car into a spot in the second row. He placed the vehicle in Park and turned off the engine. In the backseat, his two boys sat silently, gazing through the open windows at the parking lot beyond. It was Monday—a school night for ten-year-old Sean and six-year-old Danny—but Kate had been feeling unusually well this evening, her dark brown eyes engaged with her family instead of trapped beneath the hazy effect of her medication. “We should celebrate,” Michael had suggested. “How do you and the boys feel about ice cream from the market?”
Kate had nodded, smiling up at him from the living room La-Z-Boy, her expression both foreign and familiar, reminding him of how she’d looked at him twelve years before as he’d leaned in for their first kiss—awkward and wonderful—at the top of that Ferris wheel in Redding. It was the summer after he finished his master’s degree in chemistry at UC Davis, the road trip north made on a whim, Michael thinking he’d spend some time in the mountains, maybe cross into Oregon and hit Portland before turning back. He’d made it as far as the small community of Cottonwood before encountering Kate at the late-night check-in desk at the Travelers Motel on the north end of town. It was her summer job between college semesters. By the end of that first conversation, Michael had asked her to the carnival the following night. By the end of August, they were married.
“I’ll take Danny with me,” he’d told her this evening before heading out.
“I wanna come too,” Sean had protested, jumping up from the couch.
“Stay with your mother.”
“Please, Dad. Please,” Sean persisted, wrapping his hands around his father’s forearm.
“It’s okay. Let him go,” Kate had said, the latest issue of Cosmopolitan magazine resting in her lap. “I’ll be fine here by myself for a few minutes.”
Michael paused, uncertain, his palm on the doorknob.
“I’ll be fine,” Kate assured him once again. Then, glancing at Sean, “He wants to go.”
AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE: https://www.amazon.com/John-Burley/e/B00E5V4BSM
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