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by Ray Garton
Description: Children disappear all the time. It's in the news every day. Where do they go? What happens to them? Who has taken them? While covering a story for his tabloid newspaper, reporter Bentley Noble accidentally stumbles onto something else entirely...a story about something so unspeakable, he doesn't know if anyone will believe it...a story that pulls him down into the depths of evil and depravity and threatens his very life. With the help of a bestselling true-crime writer, Noble descends into the dark world of human trafficking, where fear and pain are tools of control and innocence is sold to the highest bidder. As a handful of good and decent people try to combat a monstrously powerful and all too real evil, some lives will be shattered, others will be ended...but none will be the same. Ray Garton's SHACKLED has been traumatizing readers for 15 years. Here are what some of them have to say about it: "I almost couldn't bear to continue; but the story was so gripping I knew I would have to....It is so frightening that it doesn't seem there is any further way for the story to intensify....The finale is virtuosic, and the plot twists up more and more, exponentially so, to a climax which is nothing short of vertiginous." -- Michael Edwards http://www.foxall.com.au/users/mje/Shackled.htm "Read it if you can. But I warn you, you might not be able to. And that is the highest recommendation it is possible to give horror fiction." -- Richard Wright "There were several occasions when I had to put to the book down, take a deep breath and say, 'I can't believe that happened to that character!' If you want to be shocked, if you have a strong stomach or if you just want to find out how terrible the world can be--highly recommend SHACKLED. Just don't expect it to be a pleasant ride." -- Eoghain O'Keefe
eBook Publisher: E-Reads/E-Reads,
eBookwise Release Date: July 2011
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [861 KB]
Reading time: 575-805 min.
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It was a cold and rainy autumn day in the second week of September, and seven-year-old Samuel Walker rested his elbows on the sill of the living-room window. He nearly pressed his dark, round face to the glass, and watched as the raindrops pattered playfully against the pane. It almost seemed as if they were tapping on the window to get his attention, to ask him to come out and play with them.
His chin was cradled in both palms and his dark chocolate fingers were curled over the line of his jaw as he smiled out at the rain.
Behind him, his three-year-old sister Anice was crying about something or other and his mother was trying to comfort her from the other end of the house, Samuel could hear the muffled rat-a-tat-tat of his dad's typewriter as he worked on this weekend's sermon.
The house was warm. Flames crackled quietly in the living room's tiny fireplace and the rich smell of the dinner stew cooking in the kitchen moved through the house like a comforting ghost. Everything around him was comfortable and cozy and, most of all, dry. And yet, Samuel wanted nothing more than to go outside in the rain.
A few minutes ago Samuel had been lying on the floor reading a bible storybook. He'd been rereading his favorite bible story, the one about Daniel in the lion's den. His dad read him that story often as Samuel lay in bed, but the boy never tired of it. The heavy rain outside, however, reminded him of another bible story, another of his favorites: the story of Noah and the ark.
Samuel had closed the book and raced to the window to watch as the rain fell hard. In the story, no one had believed Noah when he told them a rain would come that would flood everything, when he told them that all of them were about to die in the flood sent by a god who was upset by their unrepentant bad behavior and horrible treatment of one another. No one believed then ...
But as Samuel looked out the window now at the downpour, he decided he would have believed.
The rain was falling in staggered sheets from the dark sky, forming huge puddles everywhere and sending dirty water gushing along the curbs.
Yes, Samuel loved the rain. He loved the sound of it on the roof. He loved the smell of it outside. And, most of all, he liked to go out into it without an umbrella and splash through the puddles with his rubber boots.
In fact, as he watched it through that window, he wanted to go out there right now and enjoy it, play in it, dance and stomp in the puddles it brought.
"Mom?" he called, turning away from the window to his mother, who was on the sofa, embracing Anice and patting her back, murmuring into her ear to make her feel better.
"What, honey?" she called back, smiling across the room at him.
"Can I go outside?"
"But it's rainin', sweetie."
"I know. That's why I wanna go out! I'll wrap up, I promise."
"Mmmm ... I don't know. You go ask Dad. See what he says."
Samuel hurried away from the window, left the room, and headed down the hall to the tiny room Dad called his study, where the sound of typing rattled with machine-gun speed. Samuel stood in the open doorway silently -- Dad's study was always left open -- until the typing stopped and Dad leaned back in his squeaky office chair with a sigh, locking his hands behind his head, elbows jutting out at each side.
"Dad?" Samuel said quietly.
Pastor Ethan Walker spun around in his chair immediately and smiled, saying loudly "Hey, chummo, whatcha doin'?" He held out a big hand and Samuel moved forward quickly, taking the hand and moving close to his dad.
He liked the smell of his dad's aftershave; it was comforting and always made him feel better, no matter what was wrong. Even though nothing was wrong now, it made him feel good.
"Can I go out and play in the rain?" Samuel asked, smiling. "Mom said I should ask you first."
"Oh, she did, did she?" He picked the boy up and planted him on one knee. "Know what I used to do when I was your age? I used to put on my boots when it rained, go out, and run through all the puddles like I was stampin' 'em with my approval," he said, then laughed his deep, rolling laugh.
Samuel grinned. "That's what I do. I like to stomp 'em."
"Yeah, yeah," Dad said, nodding enthusiastically. "I used to go through every single puddle, stomp it with my foot, and I wouldn't stop till I ran out of puddles!"
Samuel laughed his small, staccato laugh.
"That what you were gonna do?" his dad asked.
"Well, then, you bundle up, put on your boots, and go out and do it. And you know what? In just a few minutes -- it won't be long, just a few minutes -- I'll be out there doin' it right along with you, stompin' those puddles and splashin' that water. Whatta you say to that?"
"Really?" Samuel cried, his eyebrows shooting up high.
Dad frowned comically. "You think I don't like stompin' puddles anymore just 'cause I'm a grown-up?"
"I'm almost done here. It'll just take me a few more minutes and I'll be out there with you, okay?"
Samuel nodded furiously as he slid off his dad's knee. "You gonna splash through 'em, too?"
"We'll see who can make the biggest splashes," Dad said, cocking a brow and narrowing his eyes mischievously.
"Awright!" Samuel cried, shooting a little fist into the air. He turned and hurried to the foyer closet, where he bundled up for the cold, wet weather outside.
"And exactly where are you going?" his mom asked.
"Dad said it was okay to go outside and play!"
"Well, stay out of the mud!" she said with a laugh, but Samuel barely heard her, because he was already out the door, which he pulled closed behind him.
The rain pattered against the hood that covered his head and it sounded like applause from an approving audience, just like on the TV shows. He laughed at the thought as he went down the front walk and made his way along the sidewalk in front of all the other houses.
He walked along the edge of the curb, keeping one foot on the sidewalk and stomping the other into the puddles that had gathered on the pavement along the curb. Water splashed up around his leg each time, dampening his jeans above the rubber boots he wore.
Samuel was looking, forward to seeing his dad join him in puddle-splashing. In fact, he couldn't wait.
But for the moment, the splashing was all that was on his mind. He headed farther and farther down the sidewalk along Brodley Street until he came to the end of the block. But there were still more puddles. They were spread out from one block to the other.
Samuel made sure he looked from side to side again and again to see if any cars were coming. There were none in sight. So he crossed the street, continuing down Brodley, hopping from one puddle to another to see how much water he could send splashing into the air.
He couldn't wait until his dad came out to join him; he couldn't imagine his dad enjoying puddle-hopping, but he'd said he did, right?
Once he reached the next block, he decided to change the strategy with which he'd been attacking the puddles. Rather than using just one foot to stomp the puddles of water, he decided to hop.
He walked along the sidewalk until he found a series of puddles, then he pressed his legs together, hopped with both feet into one puddle, then back onto the sidewalk, then into the next puddle, then again, and again.
The heel of Samuel's boot caught on the curb. He fell, and he fell hard. His right knee hit the edge of the curb and he cried out in pain as sharp needles shot up his leg. Then, much to his shame, he began to cry. He cried hard because it hurt bad. It felt -- for the moment, anyway -- as if his kneecap had been ripped off, and rain pelted his face as his cries cut through the gray day like razors.
Samuel was lying beside the curb, holding his knee and crying when the car drove up.
It was a big black car, with no shine to it. Lots of dents -- some little, some pretty good-sized -- and little scratches. It had two doors. There was only one man in the car, sitting behind the wheel and grinning through the passenger's window at Samuel. He leaned over, popped the latch, and threw the passenger door open. "You okay, son?" he asked.
Teeth clenched in pain, Samuel looked up at the grinning, skinny man behind the wheel. "I fell," he said.
"Yeah, I can see that. An' it looks like it hurts like the dickens, too." The man got out on the driver's side and came around the car to Samuel. He wore a long gray coat, unbuttoned. He bent down and put a hand on Samuel's shoulder. "Jumping in the puddles, weren't you?" he asked with a smile.
Wincing from the pain, trying to hold back any further tears, Samuel nodded.
"I used to do the same thing when I was your age. I'd slam into those puddles like, a giant meteor landing in the ocean. But you missed the mark, didn't you?"
Samuel gave another nod.
"Where do you live?"
"Just a few houses down there," Samuel said, jerking his head toward his house.
The man's eyebrows lifted. "Oh, you're the pastor's boy, aren't you?"
"Well, how about that. I know your dad, known him for years."
"Yeah, sure, we go way back. I did some carpentry work in his church. In fact, last time I saw you, well, you were just a tiny little baby. You've sure grown into a handsome young fella."
Out of politeness, Samuel tried to smile at his dad's friend, but it was difficult because of the pain.
"But you won't be growing much more if we don't get you out of this rain and take care of you. Why don'tcha let me give you a ride? You don't look like you can walk back, tha's for sure."
Samuel's parents had always told him never to take rides from strangers. But this man wasn't a stranger -- at least not to Samuel's dad. And besides, Samuel had fallen, he was in pain, bad pain. Dad would probably like to see his friend, anyway. Samuel decided that this particular situation was different from the other situations his parents had warned him about.
"Yeah," Samuel said, trying to get up.
"No, no, let me help you."
The man hooked a hand under Samuel's arm, lifted him to a standing position, hefted him into the car, and closed the door. He walked around the car and slid behind the wheel, slamming the door behind him.
"Now," the man said, "let's get you taken care of."
He put the car in gear and drove away from the curb. But instead of turning around to head back toward Samuel's house, he went straight ahead and drove out of the neighborhood ...
Pastor Walker left the house bundled in warm clothes and gloves and a pair of rubber boots, a warm smile decorating his face as he anticipated meeting up with his son to attack some puddles in the rain with their rubbered feet.
He started down the front walk, looking for Samuel, turning his head this way and that. The boy was nowhere in sight.
Must've gone down the block, stomping puddles along the curb, just like I used to do, he thought.
He stopped on the sidewalk and looked first to his left, then to his right, up and down Brodley, wondering which direction the boy had gone. But he saw no sign of him on either side.
Pastor Walker planted his hands on his hips for a moment, looking from side to side, trying to decide which way to go to find his son. He knew the boy could not have gotten far because it hadn't been that long since he'd left the house -- ten, maybe fifteen minutes at most.
He decided to go to the right. He had no idea, of course, that he'd gone in the very direction his son had gone just a few minutes earlier.
But Samuel was nowhere in sight.
He walked one block ... two blocks ... three, and then four, quickening his pace with each block ... and still, he did not find Samuel.
Finally, soaked by the rain, Pastor Walker turned around and started back, thinking that perhaps he'd taken the wrong direction, going the other way to search for him. But once again, he covered block after block and still did not find his son. His stomach began to curdle. His breath began to come in short little gasps as he realized that in the short time that had passed since he'd last seen Samuel, the boy could not have gotten this far in either direction ... and yet he could not find him.
Pastor Walker crossed the street and covered block after block. He even knocked on doors and asked if anyone had seen his son. Everyone he talked to was friendly, even concerned, but none of them had seen Samuel.
After a while, the rain began to fall harder, splashing to the ground in great drenching sheets. But Pastor Walker hardly-noticed. He walked up and down the sidewalks on either side of the street, his short, black, tightly kinked hair growing soggier and soggier, sparkling with moisture as he searched the neighborhood for his son.
But Samuel was gone.
He was just ... gone.
Pastor Walker began to walk very quickly along the sidewalk. Then, after a few moments, he began to jog. It wasn't long before he was running through the rain toward his house, the corners of his mouth pulled downward in a stern, trembling frown, his boots making wet slapping sounds on the sidewalk as he got closer and closer, until he burst into the house, shot down the hall and into the bedroom, where he swiped his keys from the dresser.
"What?" his wife Loraina gasped, rushing into the bedroom after him, a pink and white hand towel dangling from her right hand. "What's the matter?"
"I'm takin' a ride. You just keep an eye out for Samuel, hear?"
"Keep an eye out for him?" she cried, following him back down the hall. "Where did he go? What's happened to him?"
Pastor Walker spun around at the door and held his wife's shoulders, smiling. "Look, honey, he's just gone farther than he should've, that's all. I'm just gonna go dig him up and give him a little lecture. But if he should happen to show up before I get back, I want you to call him into the house, that's all."
"Oh," Loraina sighed. "Well, okay. Sure, I'll do that."
Pastor Walker leaned forward, placed a hand on her cheek, and said, very quietly, with a smile, "The pretty lady is on guard." Then he gave her a big, cheerful kiss and went out the front door.
It wasn't until he reached the car that he realized he was trembling. Once he'd gotten in, it took a few clickety tries before he got the key into the ignition. He started the car, backed into the road, and began to drive down Brodley.
Pastor Walker drove slowly, his head moving back and forth, looking down each and every side street as he prayed silently, prayed that he was just overreacting, that he'd just seen so many of those smeared and splotchy faces of missing children on milk cartons and grocery bags that he'd gotten paranoid. He prayed that the sick feeling in his gut was just wrong, plain and simple.
That feeling in his gut said that what he'd told his wife was a lie. That feeling wasn't often wrong and he was worried. In fact, he was terrified. He knew what could happen. He knew how easily and quickly it could happen. He'd heard the stories. In fact, it had happened to a family in his own congregation. Children disappeared.
They simply disappeared, right out from under parents' noses, sometimes right out in front of their own houses. They disappeared the way car keys disappeared in the house, the way the pen by the telephone just dropped out of sight, the way one sock disappeared from a pair, never to be seen again. But rather than leaving an empty space on a dresser corner or a lone sock without a match, a child disappeared and tore a ragged, gaping hole in a family.
So he was looking ... looking. He left Bradley and drove up and down the streets of the neighborhood. He drove up and down them again and again, until he realized that his son was on none of these streets ... until he realize that his son had visited none of those blocks ... until he realized that his son was ...
He parked the car and walked through the rain, knocking on the doors of houses that Samuel might have gone to visit, houses where friends and acquaintances lived, some with children who were Samuel's age, children with whom Samuel had played often. The men and women who answered the doors were friendly at first, then concerned when they saw the look on his face.
Samuel had visited none of them.
No one had seen him outside on the sidewalk.
Pastor Walker drove around some more. After a while it began to rain so hard that he couldn't see through the windshield even with the wipers on high. Then he realized that it wasn't raining hard at all; tears were blurring his vision and trickling hotly down his cheeks.
An odd thought occurred to him that made him feel as if this were his fault: What am I going to tell Loraina?
He kept looking ...