Hillary J. Penrose sat alone in her large bedroom, as she often did, that cold and blustery winter morning. A powerful North Eastern storm shook the panes of her bedroom windows. It was typical Boston weather for December. Hillary felt warm and cozy under her down-filled duvet. She gazed ahead at the flickering flames from the fireplace. Her bedroom was a little different from those of other girls her age. Then again, most things about Hillary were a little different. There weren’t any movie of rock star posters adorning her walls. Instead, she had very specifically chosen the design of her bedroom. The ceiling of her room had been carefully painted to look like a perfect summer sky, with fine little fluffy clouds against a deep azure background. A magnificent medieval castle, replete with high turrets, a moat and a drawbridge had been painted on the far wall by her window. The wall by her bed had been painted to resemble an endless three-dimensional green hedge maze. In the corner of her room a massive, ornately carved mirror stood imposingly. Hillary was also lucky to own an extensive collection of interesting stuffed animals. There was a huge, imposing brown kangaroo, a smooth roan colour stallion, a black and silver Gryphon, and many more. One of more would often accompany her on one of her many adventures. She also never traveled far without her pocket princess doll, and of course Digby, who followed her everywhere.
Hillary was quite often told how beautiful she was, and would one day become.
The compliment meant very little to her. Her mother, Carolyn Penrose was much more receptive to this sort of praise. The socially conscious and ambitious woman has once tried to enter her in a beauty pageant, but Hillary would have none of it. Now by contrast, if there had been a reading contest for young girls, then she surely would have entered.
Books were a vital part of Hillary’s life. She had learned to read at an unusually young age. Her mother never failed to mention this to her relatives and strangers they might meet. It was not a matter of showing off for her; it was just that reading came very easily to Hillary. Her passion for words had lately become all encompassing. It was surely her father that played some part in this aspect of Hillary’s character. He was determined that his daughter surpass in intelligence all of her peers. She was very early on impressed with the need for knowledge. Alphabetic flashcards and the latest “young genius” electronic gizmos were her principal playthings.
It was not unexpected that her father, Charles Penrose should have been so keenly determined to push his daughter to scholastic aptitude. He was decided that his daughter would not be thwarted in this regard as her had been. Though born into an affluent Boston family, Charles’ father was not a believer in excessive book knowledge. The elder patriarch was a classic self-made man that had made his fortune with his hands, not the 3
capricious mind. Certainly some of this prejudice had been passed onto Charles. His attitude then was complicated, and he wondered if he had pushed his daughter excessively. He wondered if his unrelenting persistence was the cause of Hillary’s reliance upon her ever-present imaginary friend.
Hillary did not make friends easily. Other children her own age seemed rather silly to her way of thinking. Their loud, expensive toys and trendy clothes did not interest her in the least. She had tried her hand at a few video games, but had found them generally uninteresting. She most of all preferred to stay in her room reading an engrossing book.
Her favourite book by far was the wondrous “Peter Pan”, by J.M. Barrie. Hillary had read it countless times. From a very early age, her mother had begun to notice her near obsession with the characters in the story. After the umpteenth bedtime reading of the fantastical tale, her mother had permanently taken the book away from Hillary. It was considered unhealthy to fixate so completely upon one particular book. Still, though she was denied the printed pages, she was still allowed to muse upon the Peter Pan character every night with her mobile. Above her bed the characters from the incredible story drifted in lazy circles, tethered to this world by the thinnest of wires. Such was Hillary’s connection to the world around her.
Hillary never felt as though she exactly belonged in this peculiar world. Her own inner world, the world of her imagination always seemed much more real by comparison.
She had not yet abandoned her fancy. Her young malleable mind remained wild and unconquered. Indeed, five is an odd and very special age to be, and not just for Hillary.
Five is the in-between age, lying still very near the insular world of childhood imaginative reality, and not quite reaching the adult outer world of practical reality.
Hillary experienced this difficult transitional state much more acutely than most other children did. Many had no imagination to speak of; and as such the loss of this realm went unnoticed by them. Yet Hillary felt the pain and angst all too well, especially for one so young. Her inner world was being threatened with extinction from all around.
Annie had attempted to ease her pain, having also experienced the very same ordeal herself at that age.
Books had always been Hillary’s ultimate defense and her safe haven. In addition to Peter Pan, there was also one very unusual book in particular that fascinated the young girl. Her beloved grandmother Annie had given her a very strange storybook the previous year for her birthday. The volume was elaborately adorned with Egyptian hieroglyphics and gilded pages. The wise old woman had told her that the book was indeed magical and special; and that only the two of them possessed the imaginative power to comprehend its contents. For this reason, Hillary kept it well hidden from both her parents. It lay safely 5
taped up inside her bed’s box spring. The volume was indeed both perplexing and unique in respect to its magical properties. It was Hillary’s single most prized possession, one that she would risk all to safeguard.
The next day Hillary’s mother came into her room and announced that it was time to do some shopping. They left the house that cold morning and drove downtown. Hillary loved the busy stores and the bright twinkling Christmas displays. They arrived at the hectic shopping mall and searched for a parking spot. Hillary held on tightly to her mother’s warm hand, as they walked towards the mall. The huge downtown Boston department store was bustling with activity. The air was bristling with the anticipation and excitement of the Holiday season. Brightly coloured lights and cheery faces illuminated the space. Christmas was not that many days away. Her busy mother had nearly finished the gift shopping for the family. The intoxicating wonder of Christmas and Santa Claus was very strong within Hillary. The previous Christmas, she was adamant that she had actually seen the jolly old soul sailing across the wintry night sky.
Hillary wore only the very finest traditional clothes. Her mother was insistent that Hillary always look her best. A long pleated red and yellow dress adorned her small frame. A matching red cape fell gracefully from her small white neck. Completing the 6
outfit was a plaid Scottish bonnet propped up precariously upon her bountiful dark blonde hair.
Hillary was a deeply thoughtful, almost contemplative child. She entertained the sort of thoughts that one would associate with one much more mature. Indeed, her trenchant observations and world-weary quips caused her parents much unease. Hillary was not content to be an ordinary, frivolous child. She possessed an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and understanding. She looked up at her beautiful proud mother and, completely out of the blue, said “Mama, are the people in my imagination dead or alive?” Her mother was distracted by her conversation with a young sales girl; and did not hear the question. “Do these gloves come in a smaller size?” The bored teenage clerk merely sniffed in utter disinterest. “Uh…we only got whatever you see on the table.” The woman with the lustrous auburn hair pushed the issue. “Well can’t you go out back and check for me? It’s important! My husband wants these gloves!” After a moments consideration, the bored girl left to speak with her supervisor. “Please wait here Ma’am.
I’ll see what I can do.” Carolyn Penrose was a women accustomed to getting her own way in most situations. She wore a chocolate brown cashmere overcoat over a long flowing black dress. Only a string of fine pearls spanning her white throat served as adornment. Her fine featured face was impeccably made-up with a subtle flair.
Hillary had watched the animated exchange in her usual quiet, reserved manner. The uninteresting, mundane conversations of adults made little sense to her still impressionable young mind. She tugged hard at the dress of her mother to grab her attention away from the gloves. As the salesgirl left to fetch her superior, her mother gazed down beneficently upon her offspring. “Yes dear, can’t you see that Mommy is busy?” Hillary persisted as she repeated her initial query. Carolyn relented and listened to the odd question. She was not at all unfamiliar with such bizarre, almost metaphysical conundrums being posed by her daughter. For a moment she was puzzled. “What a silly question, Hillary. Your imagination is just for pretend. It’s not real. Hillary listened carefully to the response and furrowed her small brow in an expression of puzzlement. “What about Peter Pan and Wendy and Michael…they’re real aren’t they Mama?” Carolyn shook her head and smiled. “Whatever would make you think that, Hillary? Those are just characters from stories your father and I read to you at night. What is it with you and that book? You haven’t been reading it again have you? Now be a good girl and be quiet while I talk to this man.” The young girl was hardly impressed by the half-hearted answer. She thought her mother a little dim. Of course they were real, if she could think of them, she thought. Hillary looked up to see her mother fervently arguing with the supervisor.
“Well your flyer clearly stated that these gloves were on sale. Now it’s not my fault if you ran out of stock is it? Furthermore, your salesgirl was not at all polite.” With her tirade completed for the moment, Carolyn folded her slender arms across her spare chest. She gazed at the man imperiously as she awaited his response. The comments were directed to a middle aged balding man in his late forties. He seemed begrudgingly resigned to his unpleasant status in life. He feigned an ingratiating smile as he provided his dutiful answer. “Ma’am with all due respect, we cannot be expected to anticipate every eventuality. We have an excellent selection of other gloves to choose from. Let me show you these.” Carolyn merely sniffed in the air with contempt and gathered herself to leave. She looked down to grab hold of Hillary’s hand. The child had vanished.
Hillary had grown tired of listening to the boring conversation. She had surreptitiously slipped away as her mother had let go of her hand. It was not that Hillary was exactly in the habit of disobeying her mother. She knew quite well that is was improper of her to wander away in the busy store. Hillary possessed a deep sense of curiosity. She could not stand to be bored for more than a few moments. It was almost as if a constant battle between right and wrong raged inside her. On this particular occasion, the latter force had won out. The store was loud and exciting, but also a little frightening to the young girl. Adults dressed in heavy winter coats 9
were all rushing hither and thither. Pleasant Christmas jingles filled the air with cheer. Hillary sniffed and smelled the delicious scent of fresh baked sugar cookies.
Hillary was a serious fan of cookies and made her way in the direction of the inviting scent. Shopping concerns filled the mind of every man and woman who walked quickly by her. Barely noticing the unattended child, Hillary was able to slip away quite a distance from her mother. The appealing, warm aroma of baked goodness continued to draw her away. Hillary was unusually courageous and very little would cause her to relent when she had a goal in mind. Finally she was lead by her nose down a flight of escalators. Usually Hillary might have been frightened to go down them herself. On this occasion however, she felt unusually bold. When frightened, Hillary tried to imagine what her hero Wendy Darling might do in the same situation.
Carolyn Penrose gasped as she noticed that her daughter was no longer at her side. She first looked around the immediate vicinity and then at the man with whom she had spoken. “What happened to my daughter? She was right here beside me. Did you see her?” The assistant manager was frankly pleased with the change of subject. He adopted his most avuncular, conciliatory manner as he spoke.
“Why…no Ma’am…but she must be somewhere.” The casual remark did nothing but anger the already perturbed mother. “Well I realize that she is somewhere, you 10
idiot! Now can’t you make some kind of announcement? Do something for God’s sake!” The gentleman was hurt, but attempted to remain calm. “There is no need for name-calling. Now you go look for your daughter while I contact security.” With that, Carolyn turned from the clerk to search for her daughter. She called out with a loud and tremulous voice. “Hillary! Hillary, where are you?” The assistant manager was speaking into his cell-phone. Carolyn rushed headlong through the vast sea of people searching for her precious daughter. Passersby barely looked up at the clearly distraught woman.
Hillary Penrose finally succeeded in discovering the aromatic treasure. The source of the wonderful cookie smell was found at last. Gazing up rapturously at the seemingly endless display of baked goods, her pert nose stuck up against the glass of the counter. A pleasant and contented looking salesgirl stared down amusedly at the young admirer of her wares. “May I help you young lady?” Hillary was at first taken aback by the pointed inquiry. She had recalled her mother’s admonishment to never speak with strangers. However, she was also clever enough, at the age of five, to realize there were always exceptions to this rule. For instance, she knew that it was permitted to speak with police officers.
The status of cookie-girl within this complex hierarchy of strangers seemed a gray area to her young mind. She decided in a fairly arbitrary manner to trust the 11
kind looking face of the blond girl staring down expectantly at her. “Could I have some cookies please?” Hillary’s high clear voice was full of anticipation. The counter girl smiled down at her and answered, “you seem a little young to be all alone in this big store. Where are your mother and father?” Hillary’s quick mind was ready with a plausible response. “My father is away on business in Cambodia.
My mother is busy shopping and told me to buy some cookies. We’re having a party later and we will need some treats.” The bakery attendant was impressed by the young girls command of the language and herself. She relented and inquired as to her preferences. “Well…okay, as long as your mother gave you some money to pay for the cookies.” Hillary quickly processed the implications of the remark. She at once realized that her mother had earlier provided her with a twenty dollar bill for Christmas gifts. She casually felt in her coat pocket to ensure that the funds were still there. Pulling out the crumpled bill, she thrust the currency towards the salesgirl. The receptive older girl saw this as a reasonable test for the veracity of the young girl’s claims. Hillary quickly pointed into the wide display case of bakery goodies. As each selection was made, the girl would reach out with a pair of tongs and place the cookie gently into paper bag. The cookie sack had nearly reached maximum capacity. “Are you sure you want any more? That’s a lot of cookies you have now.” Hillary inquired as to the compensation required. “Is that enough money I gave you? Can I get any more with it?” 12
“Did your mother want you to spend the entire amount?” Hillary nodded brightly and urged that her on. Finally the entire twenty dollars was spent. Hillary had managed to spend her whole Christmas gift fund on two dozen cookies. She reached up to grasp three bags filled with the most wonderful smelling cookies ever . Immediately she dove her small hand into one bag for a sample. A soft, warm, white chocolate and macadamia nut delight emerged. Hillary eagerly bit into the treat as she walked away from the store bakery. She was getting rather tired and looked for a quiet place to take a short nap. She walked quickly away from the bakery area with her cookie sacks in tow.
Carolyn Penrose ran frantically through the store searching for her daughter.
The assistant manager with whom she had earlier spoke caught up with her. “There you are. I’ve got everyone on the security team working on finding your daughter.
Do you have a picture of her I could use?” The highly perturbed woman rummaged quickly through her purse and fished out a photo. It was a picture of Hillary in a bright yellow sundress, smiling happily on the beach. “Here, take this one. Do you think she could have left the store and gone into the mall?” The mature store employee nodded and shrugged his shoulders apologetically.
“Anything is possible Mrs. Penrose. Let me assure you that this is our only 13
priority. Don’t worry…we will find her.” Carolyn’s face was etched with dismay.
She rushed across the store like a whirlwind. The floor was now swarming with security staff. An announcement could be heard loudly over the store intercom.
The normally cheery mood caused by the constant Christmas carols had ceased.
“Attention all staff…code yellow…Could Hillary Penrose please come to the information desk. If anyone has seen a young girl alone in the store, could you please contact security staff at once.”
Hillary wandered casually over to the furniture department. At home, one of her favourite hiding places for hide-and-go-seek was under the kitchen cupboard.
She walked through the throng of bustling Christmas shoppers and finally found a suitable large wooden cabinet. In the background noise, she thought she heard her name being called. Imagining a hide-and-seek game right then, she quickly climbed into the cabinet and shut the oak door. Inside it was dark and warm and quiet.
Hillary had her cookies, and her pocket princess doll to keep her company. Her small hand reached into one of the cookie sacks and pulled out an unknown sort of cookie. Biting happily into its centre, she discovered a multitude of luscious still-warm chocolate chips. She was well satisfied and curled up for a nap. She removed her long red cape and bonnet and bunched them together to create a 14
pillow. Outside the comforting seclusion of the oak cabinet, the sound of security staff calling her name grew louder. Hillary had fallen into a light sleep.
Carolyn Penrose had made her way down to the lower level of the store.
She was now frantically stopping every passerby and waving the picture of her daughter at them. Only a stony silence or peeved indifference followed her desperate pleas. The security staff fanned out through the entire store. They began questioning all store employees, including the bakery staff. The girl working there responded immediately to the inquires. Carolyn Penrose was ushered quickly over to the young sales girl. She shoved the picture of her daughter into the clerk’s face. “Have you seen this girl today?” The girl nodded her pretty blond head rapidly. “Yes….yes I saw her. She actually bought a whole bunch of cookies.” Carolyn’s expression was exasperated and confrontational. “Why did you not immediately alert staff to the appearance of an unattended child? And why would you sell her cookies?” The young girl was sheepish and apologetic. “I….I’m sorry…she told me that she had your permission…she seemed so…independent…and she really, really wanted the cookies.” The anguished mother simply drummed her hands across the counter. “Okay…do you at least remember where she went after she bought the cookies?” The girl nodded. “Oh yes…she went in the direction of the escalators…those ones that head outside to 15
the rest of the mall.” Carolyn whirled around quickly and ran towards the escalators. The rest of the security staff followed quickly.
Charles Penrose was sitting in first class on a flight back from Cambodia. He worked for a major International telecommunications firm and had just succeeded in developing an important new partnership on behalf of his company. His latest achievement would certainly stand him in good stead with his so-called superiors.
Charles was a vice-president, and the promotion to the very highest echelon was only a matter of time, or rather, life and death. The president of the company was the man responsible in large part for it’s success. Unfortunately for Mr. Sitchin, he was nearing eighty with a heart condition. It had now become a matter of patience for Charles. He was still a vigorous and confident man in his early forties. There were few men more ruthlessly ambitious than Charles. His best years were still to come, within his way of thinking. Certainly his relationship with his family had seriously suffered due to his long hours at the office. The news of Hillary’s mysterious disappearance would have to wait until his arrival back in Boston.
The contented man relaxed in his first class seat, enjoying a single-malt scotch. He gazed down from his window at the comforting white blanket of ever-shifting clouds below.
Hillary’s small tummy was full of cookies. She had dozed off, but was awakened by the sound of loud adults calling her name. She wondered what to do next. It sounded like the voices were angry, and her mother was terrible and frightening when she was cross. In times of indecision or fear Hillary always turned to her imaginary friend named Digby. Digby was two feet tall and seemed to follow Hillary everywhere. He first appeared a few years ago, and had been a good friend ever since. He was a little boy with thick, wavy red hair, a freckled face and a perpetual happy grin. Digby always wore a dark green sweater over his blue jeans overalls. His small feet were dressed in blue socks and brown leather shoes. He usually carried a lantern wherever he went, always in his left hand. He stared hard at Hillary in the darkness and offered this advice. “Don’t listen to them. They’re only trying to get you in trouble. Anyway, if your mother finds you now, she’ll only take away your cookies. She’ll be very mad at you.” Hillary took a moment to digest the remarks. She realized that Digby was usually correct in these situations. “Digby, what if I get in more trouble by staying in here? What if they never find me?” He shook his head vehemently. “Haven’t I always watched out for you? Just think of it as a game of hide and seek! If you can wait in here long enough, you’ll win the game!” Hillary saw the truth in his suggestions. She covered her ears and set her head down to continue her nap.
Carolyn Penrose had rushed over to the set of escalators where Hillary had been last seen, or so she had been told. She rushed furiously up them, pushing away the line of shoppers in her way. The escalator led to a central entrance with several doors leading out to the street. The assistant manager was following close behind her. He gently touched the anguished woman’s shoulder. “If she came up these escalators, then she could have gone anywhere. She could have gone back into the store, back out into the mall, or gone out onto the street.” Carolyn whirled around and grabbed the man firmly by the shoulders. “Don’t you think I know that?
I need to know where she is, not where she could be.” The downcast clerk merely nodded politely. “I’m trying to help you…I really am. Maybe it’s time to call in the police on this. I don’t think I can help you anymore.” The proud woman realized her mistake and gently patted the man’s shoulder. “I understand that this is not your fault... you’re right. Could you call them for me?” The gentleman assented and immediately pulled out his cell phone. He began to explain the situation to the voice at the other end. Carolyn began to question those around her as to the whereabouts of her daughter. She flashed the picture of her beautiful daughter at every person that passed by, but as before there was no assistance offered. The steady droning of cheerful Christmas carols continued throughout the mall. The enforced atmosphere of happiness seemed only to mock her growing unease. She continued her desperate search.
The plane carrying Hillary’s father touched down at Boston Logan International airport at six in the evening. After disembarking from the plane and collecting his luggage from the conveyor belt, Charles made his way out of the airport. He hailed a limousine and sat down in the back to call his wife. It was an overcast Saturday night. A light drizzle of freezing rain had begun to fall. Charles looked out at the passing city buildings as he dialed Carolyn’s number. “Hi Honey…” His words were immediately cut short by the frantic voice of his wife.
“Charles, where are you? It’s Hillary…she’s…missing…” The last words trailed off mournfully. The confused husband shot back. “Slow down, Carol. What are you talking about?”
“I don’t know where to begin. We were shopping…Christmas shopping…at Macy’s at Downtown Crossing, and suddenly she disappeared. She was right beside me, then she was gone. I’m home now with the police.” Charles was dumbfounded by the torrent of startling information. He struggled hard to digest and process the horrible news. Neither he nor his wife were accustomed to unpleasantness of any kind. “All right Carol, just stay put. I’ll be home within a half hour. Just take it easy.” Carolyn sobbed quietly into the phone. “Please hurry…I can’t do this alone…” Charles flipped his phone shut and reached up to the driver. He handed him a hundred dollar bill. “I need to get home as fast as 19
possible!” The vehicle lurched into a new gear as it sped quickly through busy traffic.