Fifty-one years. That’s how long he and his wife grieved for their lost daughter. Although all this time had passed, the pain had never quite ebbed.
But now, five decades later, one of his old-time friends had told him something crucial about his neighbors. The dad snuck into their house, his heart pounding as he entered their basement. What he found made him scream in agony.
But seventy-six-year-old Peter Goldlum had never thought exploring his neighbor’s house would lead him to make such a heartbreaking discovery.
Although his neighbors had always struck him as odd, he’d never once thought they’d do something like this to him. Fists clenched, he fished out his phone to call the authorities. He had no idea that his life was already in danger.
It had been a quiet week for Peter and his wife, Ally. He sat on the porch of his home, a slight breeze blowing over the South Carolina fields before him. It had been fifty-one long years since he lost his daughter, Kira, the pain never fading.
Ally sat beside him with her hand over his, a silent show of unwavering support that had been his anchor through this darkness. But everything would soon change.
In the early years, the two parents had searched tirelessly for their daughter. They had done everything, from putting up missing person posters to visiting police stations up and down the East Coast.
They had pleaded for anyone with any information to contact them. But none of their efforts bore any fruit. It was like their little girl had ceased to exist, snuffed from the face of the earth by some malevolent force.
Golden Sun Rays
The void her disappearance left had been like nothing Peter had ever felt. It was even worse that he hadn’t been around when she disappeared.
Golden sun rays cast a warm glow on his wrinkled face, a face that had faced many adversities and overcome them. Although he hated reliving memories, his mind walked back through time, taking him to the moment he learned of his little angel’s disappearance.
Back In Time
Peter closed his eyes, and the memories flooded his mind, returning him to that fateful day. The humid Vietnam air had melded with the stench of gunpowder, the sounds of war blaring around him.
Peter was a young marine fighting for his country, valiantly trying to survive so he could return home to his loving wife, Ally, and their beautiful two-year-old daughter. If only he knew what was about to happen.
But fate and destiny had conspired against him, weaving a plan that would leave him distraught. Amid the chaos of war, a letter arrived from home, its contents more than shattering Peter.
He recognized Ally’s hand the moment he opened it. There were also tear stains all over the paper. She’d written in a panicked tone, describing the worst thing a father could think of.
Taken From Them
Their precious baby girl had disappeared from their front yard, stolen by some faceless assailant. It had already been twenty-four hours since the incident when Ally wrote the letter.
The thief had left no trail behind, only a heart-wrenching void that would slowly fester as the years passed. But Ally had no idea that even as she was penning her letter, her neighbor’s eyes were already keen on her.
Determined to survive the war and find his daughter, Peter soldiered on. He fought like he had never before. He spent each moment with his battle brothers devising plans to find Kira when he returned home.
His heart never stopped aching, his mind clinging to a dwindling hope. Finally, the day came when he stepped on American soil again. If only he knew the terrors awaiting him there.
Peter was weary when he returned home. The war changed him, his spirit weary from all he’d endured. Yet, his resolve had never burned brighter.
He embarked on a relentless search for Kira, combing town after town as he and Ally searched for her. The days turned into months, the months into years. He had no idea that he was looking in the wrong place.
Check Your Neighbor’s House
Throughout those painful years of searching, Peter and Ally never lost hope. The pain had become a part of their lives now, and they had accepted it fully.
But in their search, they had missed one place. They had turned the East Coast upside down, looking for Kira, not knowing that the answers they so desperately needed were right next door.
Their immediate neighbors, the Kinsleys, had always been a peculiar lot. Their house was the largest in the neighborhood, encased in a tall wall of wrought iron and well-kept hedges.
Though the house was bright colored and lively on the outside, no one knew what terrible secrets it held. The Kinsleys were among the friendliest neighbors on the block, always eager to help whenever someone was in trouble. Peter should have known they were covering up something.
Are They Good Folk?
Despite their peculiar nature, the Kinsleys appeared like good folk. They came to town meetings, donated to fundraisers, and even brought pastries to the annual bake sale.
No one could have thought that they were involved in something dark, something that had resulted in the disappearance of Kira all those years ago.
Peter and Ally had been to the Kinsleys a few times over the years. As their immediate neighbors, they usually shared food during holidays and even attended each other’s celebrations.
The Kinsleys had even been at the forefront of helpful neighbors when Peter and Ally searched for Kira. An influential family, they had been the ones liaising with the authorities to find Kira.
They even funded the long trips up and down the coast from New York to Miami, paying for any expenses Peter and Ally accrued. But they were doing all this for a very dark reason.
Mr. and Mrs. Kinsley were an enigmatic couple. But although they seemed eager to help and always held conversations with a smile, they maintained a mysterious aura around them.
Over the years, Peter had noticed the strange parties the two usually hosted in the dead of night. These parties were shrouded in secrecy, constantly fueling his suspicion. But he was so consumed by his own grief that he paid little attention to the peculiar happenings next door.
One summer evening, as the sun was setting, Peter realized the Kinsleys were having a particularly extravagant party. He’d been seated on the porch with Ally, watching twilight devour the horizon.
Expensive cars rolled up the street, each more alluring than the next, painted black with tinted windows. What was happening?
Peter didn’t pay them any attention. How many times had he seen the same individuals come to the Kinsleys for their nightly gatherings?
Yet today, something felt terribly off. The cars came one by one, each dropping off an attendee before driving away. But this wasn’t what struck Peter as odd.
The Sun Is Still Up
In fifty decades, Peter had never seen the Kinsleys have their mysterious friends over while the sun was still up. These people usually showed up well after midnight, lighting up the Kinsley home with numerous lanterns and the faint sounds of chanting.
Why was tonight different? Why did they decide to show up while the sun was still setting and in full view of the entire neighborhood?
Not Ordinary People
Peter glanced at Ally, the curiosity evident in his eyes. He stood up, watching car after car drop well-dressed individuals into the Kinsley compound.
By now, Peter was sure that Mr. and Mrs. Kinsley were not ordinary people. He suspected they belonged to a clandestine organization with deep connections. But he could never have guessed that the two had something to do with Kira’s disappearance all those years ago.
A Familiar Face
He watched the vehicles enter and leave his neighbor’s shrouded compound. But out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a man walking from one of the cars toward his property.
He looked as old as Peter and wore a bespoke two-piece suit. A tall, well-built, younger-looking gentleman quietly followed him, gauging the man’s surroundings with a keen eye. It was then that Peter recognized the man.
Old War Buddies
“Elvis?” he called as he stood up, surprised at this blast from the past. “Peter!” the man exclaimed. “I thought that was you!” The two had served in the same platoon in Vietnam, forming a bond that not even time could have eroded.
They embraced, and Peter introduced Elvis to Ally, calling her his rock in this tumultuous journey we call life. “And your daughter?” Elvis asked enthusiastically. The man behind him had been quiet all this time.
We Never Found Her
Peter’s face fell as sadness burst through his veins. He remembered Elvis being there when he opened Ally’s letter in Vietnam. Trying to force a smile, he said, “We never found her, brother.”
“My apologies,” Elvis said. But in a bid to lighten the mood, Peter asked him in for a quick drink. He was surprised when Elvis accepted, not knowing this was fate’s way of leading him to the truth.
Asking his associate to wait outside, Elvis followed Peter and Ally into the house, and Peter asked Ally to break out an old bottle of whiskey he’d been saving for years.
He’d only hoped to open and taste it on special occasions. Meeting a close friend that he’d survived a war with five decades past was more than special. But this simple act of kindness would result in more trouble than he’d ever faced.
Ally brought the glasses and drink, and Peter opened the bottle, pouring Elvis some. He toasted to the times they’d shared behind enemy lines, the bonds they’d built along the way.
Elvis thanked Peter for the numerous times he’d saved his life, even sharing that he’d named one of his companies after him as an honor. He opened up about his life after the war: how he found love, started a family, and even became rich.
It was in the pursuit of the latter that a friend had introduced him to the Kinsleys. The conversation was cut short by his associate outside, who reminded him they had a party to attend. Then, Elvis made an odd request, one that would ultimately blow this case wide open.
“Is there a shrine or memorial for your Kira?” he asked. “I must pay my respects before I leave, old friend.” Peter led him to a room that he’d meant for Kira. Inside were pictures of the little girl through the months until she turned one.
He watched as his old friend studied each one with sad eyes, silently taking in this heartrending moment. But his brows furrowed, and he took a step back.
“Are you okay?” Peter asked, concerned. “Ah, yes,” Elvis answered, stepping toward the photos again. “This is Kira,” he mumbled before turning abruptly.
“I must leave, my friend.” With that, he hurried out of the room and into the living room before disappearing into the darkness outside.
Peter didn’t know how to process what had happened. He spent the entire night thinking it through, wondering if he’d ever see Elvis again. But as the sunrise came, his phone started ringing.
Find Your Heart’s Desire
It was a young woman calling in place of a former associate of Peter’s. Peter knew immediately that she was talking about Elvis. The woman left a few instructions, asking Peter to go to the Kinsley house at noon and look for a red door in the basement.
Although the place would be empty, he’d need to be quick as cleaners would show up in an hour. Peter didn’t know what all this was about until the woman said, “Do this, my friend, and you will find your heart’s desire.”
Into Their House
Peter knew those were Elvis’s words. He’d heard them numerous times in Vietnam. He woke Ally up, explaining everything. He waited until noon, watching Mr. and Mrs. Kinsley leave the house, and walked over nonchalantly the way he usually did when visiting.
The gate was open, so he slipped in, heading for the backyard door. He found himself in the basement in no time, with a large red door that he’d never seen before staring down at him.
Peter placed a hand on the cold red metal, and the door gave way. His eyes adjusted to the darkness, and a scream drummed out of his chest. Before him were pictures of several children at different stages of their lives. And the first one his eyes landed on was Kira.
Peter turned on his heels. He almost called the authorities but knew the Kinsleys had a degree of control over them. There was only one person he could reach, and he hoped he’d help him get to the bottom of this mystery.
Kira was alive. Peter had seen her pictures, witnessing how she’d grown from a baby into a woman. As he left the Kinsley compound, his phone rang, and he didn’t hesitate to pick it up. It was Elvis. He asked Peter if he’d found what his heart desired the most. He gave him an address, asking to see him immediately.
It was there that he explained everything. Haunted by guilt, he disclosed the true identity and motives of the Kinsleys. They were part of a dangerous and equally secret cult that operated under the guise of a private organization. In their early days, they’d taken young children and raised them with the organization’s beliefs, intending to mold them into loyal followers.
But years after they’d taken Kira, she’d escaped, nearly bringing the public’s attention to the organization. Now in her fifties, she’d settled in a distant town under a different name, although the organization was keen on punishing her for her actions. Peter knew he had to get to her first.
Disclaimer: To protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblances to actual events, places, or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.