“Mommy, mommy!” Seven kids rushed into the room led by my daughter. Breathless she ran, tiny shoes tapping against the hard wood floor, and threw her arms around me, trembling.
“What’s wrong, Nadya?”
“I didn’t mean to!” She wailed. I could feel hot tears soaking into my blouse.
“Don’t cry honey, it’s your birthday. Now, what didn’t you mean to do?”
I went on instant alert and looked over the rest of the kids. Sure enough, the face of my only son was missing from the crowd of subdued children.
Gently I untangled myself, and knelt so we were eye to eye.
“What happened to Charlie?” I kept my voice level.
“The man took him!”
“The Forest Man. He asked me what I wanted for my birthday and-” She sniffed. “And I said a new brother because Charlie was being a butt. The man said ‘amen’ like we do in church. Then he took Charlie!”
I pushed past Nadya, who began bawling again, and ran to the backyard. There was no sign of Charlie anywhere.
Cursing, I stepped into the forest.