THE BOY WOULD be famous around the world one day, but there was no way he could imagine that now. What little kid could predict the future, or begin to understand it? Seven-year-old Ned Sinclair reached out in the darkness, his hand blindly feeling for the wall as he stepped outside his bedroom. He didn’t dare turn on a light in the hall. He didn’t dare make a sound. Not even a peep. Not yet.
Slowly, Ned tiptoed down the long, narrow hallway, the chill of the hardwood floor in the dead of an Albany winter reaching right up through his footed Superman pajamas. He was shaking, ice cold, his teeth on the verge of chattering.
Searching for the railing at the top of the stairs, Ned’s arm waved back and forth like a delicate branch caught in the wind. He felt nothing…still nothing…then—yes, there it was—the smooth curve of the lacquered pine against his fingertips.
He gripped the railing, white-knuckled, all the way down to the first floor, one quiet step at a time.
Earlier that day, Ned almost forgot how terrified he was of the night. His big sister, Nora, had taken him to see the new movie in town, a sequel, Back to the Future Part II. He’d been too young to see the original four years earlier.
Sitting in the dark theater with a big bucket of buttered popcorn in his lap and an RC Cola, Ned was completely and wonderfully transfixed by the film, especially that DeLorean car.
If only I could travel through time, he wished afterward. I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t like it here.
He wouldn’t care where he went, just so long as it was away from his house—and the terrible bogeyman who haunted it late at night. He and Nora would make their great escape and live happily ever after. A new town. A new house. And in the garden of the new house? Nothing but yellow lilies, Nora’s favorite.
He loved his sister so much. Whenever the other kids on the block made fun of his stutter—Ne-Ne-Ne-Ned, they would cruelly tease—Nora always stood up for him. She had even fought for him. Nora was as tough as any boy. Maybe wherever they went it would be okay to marry your sister.
But for now, he was still stuck in his house. A prisoner. Trapped. Lying awake each horrible night waiting for the sound he prayed would never come…but always did.
Always, always, always.
NED TURNED RIGHT at the bottom of the stairs, his hands still guiding him in the darkness as he made his way through the dining room and den, covered in beige shag carpeting, before stopping at the door to his father’s library, where he wasn’t allowed inside, not ever.
He froze as the baseboard heating gurgled and then clanked a few times, as if it were being hit hard and fast with a hammer. The noise was followed by the sound of a river of water rushing through the old, rusty pipes. But nothing more than that. There were no other footsteps, no voices in the house. Just his own heart pounding madly against his chest.
Go back to bed. You can’t fight the bogeyman now. Maybe when you’re bigger. Please, please, please, go back to bed.
Except Ned no longer wanted to listen to that voice inside his head. There was another voice talking to him now, a much stronger one. Bolder. Fearless. It told him to keep going. Don’t be afraid! Don’t be a scaredy-cat!
Ned walked into the library. By the window was a mahogany desk. It was lit by the hazy glow of a small electric clock, the kind with those flip-style numbers that turned like those on an old-fashioned scoreboard.
The desk was big, too big for the room. It had three large drawers on the left side of the base.
The only drawer that mattered, though, was the bottom one. It was always kept locked.
Reaching across the desk with both hands, Ned gripped an old coffee mug that was used to hold pencils and pens, erasers and paper clips. After a deep breath, almost as if he were counting to three, he lifted up the mug.
There it was. The key. Just as he’d found it weeks before. Because curious seven-year-old boys can find most anything, especially when they’re not supposed to.
Ned took the key in his hand, pinching it between his thumb and forefinger before easing it into the lock on the bottom drawer.
He gave the key a slight twist clockwise until he heard