Chris Mooney

The Killing House

He ne’er is crown’d with immortality

Who fears to follow where

Airy voices lead.

— John Keats

You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a thing of horror to them.

— Psalm 88


The Resurrection Men


Theresa Herrera stumbled out of her bedroom, fighting to keep the scream caged in her throat. Screaming wasn’t allowed; that was one of the rules. The first rule she’d been told. The most important one.

Oh my God, dear Jesus in heaven, this isn’t happening.

A phone rang. Not the familiar ring of the house phone or the chiming bells of her cell but a new and completely different ringtone — a constant, high-pitched chirp bordering on a screech. She forced her attention away from the bedroom, away from what had happened to her husband, and started running down the long, brightly lit hall, heading for the bedroom off the top of the stairs — her son’s bedroom.


The bedroom door was open, always, and everything inside was just the way Rico had left it — the posters of Batman and a futuristic soldier called Master Chief hanging on the walls, the shelves crammed with assembled Lego Star Wars ships, books and thick encyclopedias containing the histories of superheroes and popular sci-fi characters from movies and video games. The hamper was still full of his dirty clothes, his desk was still crammed with his drawings, and his bureau was still packed with his scruffy and broken toys. Not a single thing had been moved. Missing did not mean dead. There was always a chance. Always.


Theresa raced into the bedroom, her attention locked on the red Spiderman quilt. There it was, just as she’d been told: the disposable cell phone. She picked it up, nearly dropping it in her shaking hands. In the strong light coming from the hall she found the TALK button. She punched it with her thumb and brought the phone up, her mind and body swimming with a dizzying mix of excitement and pure terror.

‘Rico? Rico, baby, is that you?’

There was no answer. Could he really be alive, or was this some sort of cruel trick? Four years ago, Rico had been asleep right here in this bed while she attended an awards dinner with her husband. As Barry was being showered with praise for providing free psychiatric care to troubled children and teens, someone had used the aluminium ladder he’d left outside to paint the porch, climbed up to the first-floor window, cut the window screen and abducted her sleeping ten-year-old son from his bed. The babysitter, downstairs watching TV and talking to her boyfriend on her brand new iPhone, hadn’t seen or heard a thing.

‘Rico, it’s me. It’s Mom.’

No answer. Theresa pressed the TALK button again. Spoke his name again. Then she realized there was no one on the other end of the line. It was dead.

He’ll call back, she told herself. Beads of sweat rolled down her face and the small of her back, her heart was beating fast — much too fast. She was terrified, short of breath and on the verge of throwing up her Big Mac combo dinner. The only thing keeping the food down was hope.

Before Rico’s abduction, Theresa had developed a love of true-crime programmes. The Discovery Channel played them around the clock, the cases narrated by veteran detectives and FBI experts. When it came to child abductions, they all gave the same frightening statistic: if a child wasn’t found within the first forty-eight hours, the chance of their being found alive dropped to zero.

Hope came from the real-life case of Elizabeth Smart, a fourteen-year-old girl from Salt Lake City, who, like Rico, had been abducted from her bedroom. The Utah teenager was found nine months later — alive. Theresa’s nasty, pragmatic side liked to remind her, too much and too often, that nine months wasn’t the same as four years. Still, nine months was an incredibly long time to hold out hope, and Elizabeth Smart’s parents had never given up. Theresa had drawn courage and strength from their example, and now, after all these long and painful years, her faith was finally about to be rewarded… maybe. Possibly.

The phone rang again.


Ragged breathing on the other end of the line, and then: ‘Mom?’

The voice was slightly older, slightly deeper. Rico would be fourteen now; he would be going through puberty.

‘Mom, is that really you?’

It was Rico’s voice, no question. The nasal tone was still there, along with the slight lisp. She was talking to her son, her baby.

Theresa felt the sting of tears as that nasty, pragmatic side chimed in: You need proof.

The photograph, she thought. She’d been shown a photograph of Rico.

And it could have easily been Photoshopped. You need to be sure, Terry, one hundred per cent sure.

How? How can I -

Ask him something only he would know.

Theresa’s eyes squeezed shut. She spoke a moment later.

‘Rico, honey, when you were six, we had your birthday party at the Build-a-Bear at the mall. We built a bear together. Remember? You dressed it a certain way.’

‘Sergeant-General. That’s what I called him. Sergeant-General.’

‘What did he look like?’

‘He wore army fatigues and a military cap. We recorded a message. When you pressed the paw, the recording said, “I’m an army general, ten-hut.” ’

Theresa covered her mouth to stifle her cry.

‘You recorded the message, Mom. Not me.’

It’s him. My baby. The tears came, a floodgate of them, raining down her cheeks.

‘Are you okay? Tell me you’re okay.’

Rico didn’t answer. On the other end of the line she thought she heard someone speaking in the background but couldn’t be sure.

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