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It was a Saturday, normally Corey’s day to shop with her girlfriends at the mall, when Delia drove off in search of her daughter.
Just like Corey, who had run away exactly a year ago that day, Delia didn’t tell anyone she was leaving. But unlike her daughter, she called from a gas stop along the way, explaining to a friend she could no longer wait.
For months Delia had nursed the hope that the police and private investigators would discover a lead on Corey’s whereabouts. But despite their words of assurance, she knew the case had fallen to the backburner and would soon fall off that too. She also knew she couldn’t survive another winter staring with wistful desperation at the empty driveway and jumping with quickening pulse at every ringing phone.
As for the farm, it made no difference whether she stayed or went. Her fields lay fallow. The bulk of the corn had remained unharvested last winter, though she’d offered her crop up to anyone in the community. She’d spent countless hours wandering amidst the blackened ears and squawking crows, an image of singular grief. Her cornfield nightmares had now also seeped into her waking life.
Delia had no doubt that the man Corey had been video chatting with that night was responsible. Encryption experts had futilely tried to recover identifying information from her computer’s hard drive but, whoever that man was, he possessed the technical knowledge to scramble any information leading back to him. Corey’s email and online chat accounts had also mysteriously and irretrievably vanished.
The one thing, however, that the hooded man could not delete record of was his face. His expression, especially his eyes, had been permanently seared into Delia’s mind. She occasionally saw him in her nightmares. In the last dream, his face stared up at her mockingly out of the ground, only his eyeballs visible through the dirt. She cried and dove down at him but he had vanished, leaving her there, clawing at the earth alone.
Sketch artists had spent hours with her but the images never came out right. This seemed to her an augury that she was the one who’d have to track him down. The odds were stacked terrifically against her, but if she stayed on the farm, there were no odds at all.
After interviews with local bus drivers, police determined that Corey had traveled to Kutztown. Initially, they mistakenly assumed she was hiding out in town and delayed investigating Kutztown as a potential transit point. Later, three Greyhound bus drivers who’d been shown photos of Corey said they recalled a passenger traveling alone during that period resembling her, although none were sure of it. The destinations were Providence, Burlington, and Raleigh.
Though Corey could just as easily have hitchhiked out of town or taken another bus, Delia intended to start with those three destinations and then work her away around the country if need be. The first stop: Raleigh.