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The Case of the Vanishing Boy

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The Case of the Vanishing Boy

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Author: Alexander Key
Publisher: Pocket Books, 1979

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Human Development
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Intriguing science fiction story about a boy who can teleport, the blind telepathic girl he befriends, and the evil scientist who wants them for his own.



Jan sat motionless in his seat, staring blankly in front of him while the train, loaded with returning commuters from the city, sped impatiently through the deepening twilight. At the moment he had no idea why he happened to be on board, nor was he even aware of the small girl who had taken a seat beside him.

"Is something wrong?" she said finally in a low, quiet voice. "You're not sick, are you?"

It was several seconds before her questions penetrated the curious void in which he was momentarily lost. Then he jerked around, startled, and blinked at her uncertainly. She was a frail little blonde person, neatly dressed in faded but fashionable jeans covered with em­broidery. Curving around and hiding a good portion of her sensitive freckled face was the largest pair of dark glasses he had ever seen.

One slender hand clung firmly to the top of a white cane.

"No, I'm not sick," he muttered, wondering about the cane.

"But something's wrong," she insisted. "You're in some sort of trouble."

"Don't be so nosey." The gruff words came out before he could stop them. The possibili­ties of the void seemed far better than the cold­ness of reality.

Rebuffed, she looked away and did not speak until the train had discharged some of its passengers at the next station and was hurrying forward again.

"I'm sorry," she said finally. "I don't want to be nosey, but you are in trouble. I can feel it. Have you friends in Westlake?"

"I—why do you ask?"

"You bought a ticket for Westlake when you got on at Glendale. I know, 'cause you were right behind me when I bought mine, and I heard what you said to the ticket agent. I had a funny feeling at the time that you didn't know where you wanted to go, and that the only rea­son you said Westlake was because you'd heard me say it."


"Am I right?"


" 'Course I'm right. That's why I decided I'd better sit down by you, 'cause you might need help." She paused a moment, then asked, "What's your name?"

He swallowed and searched wildly through his memory. "Bill," he said at last.

She shook her head. "Bill doesn't seem to fit. You've forgotten your name, but maybe I can sort of remember it for you." Her cool, slender band closed over his wrist. "Now, don't think of anything. Just let your mind go blank. And—and please, I know I'm being no­sey, but it's not because I'm really that way. I—I simply want to help."

"It's all right," he admitted. "I'm sorry I said what I did. But I don't think you can do much for me."

Resentment of her passed. He looked at her with rising interest and curiosity, and was sud­denly jolted by the discovery that her glasses were too dark to see through. If he couldn't see through them, then neither could she. She carried a white cane, and her eyes had always been closed whenever he'd caught a narrow glimpse of them from the side.

"Yes," she said, as if easily picking up his thoughts. "I'm blind, sort of. But stop thinking of me. Don't think of anything."

He tried to make his mind a blank, but it was very difficult under the circumstances. He was sure he had never known such a remarkable person.

"You've got a name that begins with a sound like mine," she said presently. "Mine's Ginny. Ginny Rhodes. Yours starts with a G. No, it must be a J. It's a short name, but it isn't Jim or Joe. It must be. . Jan. Of course, it is Jan. But I can't get the last. It's all mixed up and fuzzy, as if there were several names and they didn't really belong to you. Why don't you look through your pockets and see if you can find a letter or something that would give us a clue."

He searched through the pockets of his jeans and found only a pearl-handled knife, a ban­dana handkerchief, some small change and twelve dollars in bills. It wasn't much to go on.

"Is this all you ever carry in your pockets?" Ginny asked, surprised. "Just a knife, a hand­kerchief and some money?"

"Why, I—I dunno. It does seem like I ought to have at least a billfold."

"My brother Otis is only five, but the stuff that comes out of his pockets would fill a wheelbarrow." She fingered the handkerchief and held it before her eyes a moment. "A blue bandana, and it's clean. I never knew Otis to have a clean one more than five minutes."

"How can you tell the color?"

"Oh, I can tell, even in the dark."

"The dark!"

"I can get along in the dark much better than in the light. Daylight hurts. That's why I wear these special glasses."

"But—but you seem to see, even with your eyes closed. I—I don't understand."

"Neither does anyone else, though Pops is making a study of it. But let's talk about you, not me. Why were you in Glendale?"

"I—I don't know."

"You must have been in a hurry to leave it 'cause you'd been running when you cameinto the station behind me. You were breathing hard, and I could feel how scared you were."

She paused, then asked, "Don't you remem­ber any of that?"

"All I can remember is buying the ticket to Westlake. That and being afraid I wouldn't catch the first train that came by."

"Are you still scared?"

He swallowed. "I must be, because I feel all wound up tight, like something was going to happen."

"But surely if there was any danger, you must have left it behind. Just thank goodness my ticket book ran out when it did, so that I had to buy a ticket home. If that hadn't hap­pened I wouldn't have gone into the station, and we wouldn't have met."

She frowned, and said, "It's almost dark. What would you have done if you had managed to get to a strange place, and dark had come, and there wasn't a soul you knew and you didn't know where to go?"

He shrugged. "I'd have managed some­how—and I will in Westlake,"

"Honest? The thought doesn't scare you?"

"Not half as much as—as—"

"As what?"

"I—I don't know. What were you doing in Glendale?"

"I go there every Wednesday and Friday afternoon to study piano with the best music teacher in the world. Oh, I just love the piano! But let's get back to you. A stranger can't go wandering around a place like Westlake without being noticed and watched. But there's no need for you to wander around. Pops always meets me at the station with his car, so you're going home with us."

"But—but you can't do that! He doesn't know me, and you don't either. You don't even know what I look like."

"I know exactly what you look like. You're not very big, 'cause you're only four inches taller than I am, and almost as skinny except that you're awfully strong. And you've got black hair and high cheekbones like an Indian, only you're too pale for an Indian, so you must be Irish or French or something."

He gaped at her. "I don't know how you do it with your eyes closed, but you sure hit it on the button."

"As for your character, I trust you com­pletely—and I'm never wrong about that, as Pops can tell you. And that's not all," she hur­ried on, before he could open his mouth again. "You've got a secret ability that's crazier than mine. It's terrific! I mean, it's really terrific! Why, Pops would give anything to study you."

A sudden chill went through him. "No!" he gasped.

"Oh, dear," she breathed. "Did I say some­thing I shouldn't? I know you have an ability, a very strange one. I can feel it in you. But I don't know what it is yet, and I won't try to find out if you don't want me to."

"I don't want to be studied," he said grimly.

She was silent a moment, looking at him. "Jan?"


"Have people tried to study you before?"

"I—I dunno. I just don't want to be studied, that's all."

"Oh, very well. I won't say a word about it to Pops without your permission. But you are coming home with us."

"I don't think I'd better."

"Jan, you've got to! If you're alone the police at Westlake will know right away you don't belong there. They're sure to ask questions. What's going to happen when you can't answer them?" Without waiting for a reply she went on eagerly, "Pops dotes on puzzling people like you and me, and he'll love to help you. I won't give you away to him, though, if you'll promise not to give me away to anyone else. Understand?"

"No. What do you mean?"

"The only people who know about my eyes are you, Aunt Hecuba, and Pops and Otis. Everyone else, even my music teacher and our tenant farmer and his family, all think of me as the poor little blind Rhodes girl, and say I ought to have a Seeing Eye dog, which I don't need. Anyway, they and the police and the conductors on the train all sort of watch out for me and I do need help at times, for I haven't any depth perception at all. Not a smidgen."

He wasn't quite sure what she meant by depth perception, and before he could ask she was explaining, "We have to keep it quiet about my eyes, because if it ever got out I'd really be in the news. And that wouldn't be good at all, because Pops is Heron Rhodes, and we'd lose all our privacy and be plagued to death by reporters, and all kinds of kooks and connivers out for money. Pops—he's my grandfather—says it's much better to be poor and unknown than a rich celebrity who is al­ways in danger."

The train, as she was speaking, had begun to slow. Now he saw that the remaining passengers in the car were rising and moving to the front. The gloom beyond the window was suddenly replaced by a brightly lighted plat­form.

"Here we are," said Ginny, getting to her feet.

All at once he felt trapped. Uneasiness crept through him. Peering out, he could see cars parked around the station and two policemen moving determinedly across the platform. Just beyond them was a van where men in white jackets stood waiting expectantly. A chill gripped him.

"Come on," said Ginny, tugging at his sleeve.


"But you can't stay here! This is the end of the line. The train will be going back to the city."

He stumbled into the aisle. But instead of following her he turned abruptly and fled blindly to the rear of the car. His only thought was to escape into the night.


It was an electric train with two cars, and he was in the second car—facts he was not aware of until he burst into the compartment at the rear and saw the empty track with its third rail beyond the window. The only way out was through the sliding doors on either side. Both were closed.

He tugged frantically at the one on the right, which was away from the station platform. It would not budge. Whirling, he threw his weight on the other door. It slid back easily and he leaped out upon the end of the platform and sped down the steps that led to the track.

Surprised voices and a sudden shout behind him gave wings to his heels. He raced between the rails, searching for an opening in the steel fences that rose high on either side. Dimly ahead he made out a low place on the right where the wire did not meet a dip in the ground. He reached it just as a moving figure took form in the gloom beyond it.

A light flashed in his face. A voice heavy with authority challenged, "Hey, you! What are you doing here?"

Jan dropped down in a panic, scrambled un­der the wire, and clawed onward in the utter blackness of weeds and brush until he was halted by a tree. He got up, trembling, and went stumbling blindly through a tangle of brush and woods. "I won't be caught!" he gasped to himself. "I'll never let them catch me!"

Another tree on a downward slope stopped him with a jolt and he fell to his knees, his head ringing. When his head cleared and he had got his breath, he managed to stand again, but in­stead of going on he stood still for a while, listening. No one seemed to be following him. Deciding he was safe for the moment, he slumped weakly to the base of the tree to take stock of himself.

What's the matter with me? he wondered.

What am I running from? I'm afraid of something—but what?

Had he done anything against the law? Were the police after him? Was he a wanted criminal trying to escape? It didn't seem likely, for there was nothing in his pockets that he couldn't claim as his own, unless it was the twelve dol­lars he'd found in them. Where had the money come from, anyhow?

Remembering Ginny, he began to wonder if he hadn't been foolish in running away merely because he'd seen two policemen crossing the platform. Or had it been the men by the van?

None of it made sense. All he knew for cer­tain wasthat his name was Jan, and that he was hungry. He must not have had anything to eat for some time, for his stomach was growl­ing and he felt weak and a little dizzy.

The sudden flash and crack of lightning jerked him to his feet in alarm and drove him down the slope in a search for shelter. He could hear traffic ahead. Presently he found himself hurrying along a gravel path, with dis­tant street lights and sudden bursts of lightning showing the way. The path took him to an alley behind a building. He reached the street be­yond just as the rain began.

Jan lowered his head and dashed for the first sheltered entrance he could make out. In the slashing downpour he did not realize it was a small church until the door slowly opened and light spilled upon him. He shook the water from his jeans and faced the smiling scrutiny of a portly priest.

"Well, bless us both! I didn't know anyone was out here. Unless you were born a duck, come on in where it's dry!"

Jan entered hesitantly.

"You're scratched up a bit," the priest went on. "I assume you had a fall, though not a bad one. Are you all right?"

"I-I'm okay, sir."

"I don't believe we've met before. I'm Father Dancy."

"I'm Jan," he replied, taking the priest's outstretched hand. "Jan—Jan Riggs." The last name slid almost naturally from his tongue, coming so easily that he wondered if it reallycould be his own. For some reason he didn't like it at all and wished he'd thought of some­thing else.

"Riggs," said Father Dancy. "Are you a newcomer in town?"

"Just passing through, sir. I—I got out to take a look around, and the rain caught me. Er, do you know where Heron Rhodes lives?"

"Rhodes? Rhodes? Oh, you must mean that Dr. Rhodes. He's a psychologist, I believe. He has a farm about five miles out of town."

"How can I find it from here?"

"Well, this street in front of the church runs straight into the highway going west. The Rhodes property borders the highway. It has a stone wall running the entire length of the place." The priest paused, eyeing him intently. "Do you know any of the family?"

"Just Ginny."

"Ginny? Oh, the little blind girl. She's really and truly quite-" Father Dancy stopped abruptly, his attention caught by something in the rain beyond the open door. "Now what can Sergeant Bricker be wanting? I'm sure he isn't coming to confess anything."

Jan glanced quickly through the door, and chilled as he made out a figure in a raincoat coming around the side of a police car at the curb. He managed to control an impulse to dash madly through the church in the hope of finding some way of escape at the rear. Instead he forced himself to say quietly, "Father, I'd like to use the washroom, if you have one here."

"Oh, yes. Of course. Down at the end of the aisle here you'll see a door on the right. The washroom is the second door on the other side."

Jan sped down the aisle, and made it to a small door just as Father Dancy stepped forward to meet Sergeant Bricker. He caught a glimpse of the two as he eased the door shut behind him, then he leaped down the dimly lighted hall and jerked open the first door he saw, to a tiny office lined with bookshelves. Behind the desk was a window, and to the left of it a narrow door obviously used as a private exit.

In seconds he was in an alley outside, staring in dismay at the building in front of him and the high wall to the left that prevented him from reaching the area behind the church. The only avenue of escape was to the street. It meant going directly past Sergeant Bricker's car, which he could see through the lessening rain.

He swallowed and ran cautiously to the mouth of the alley, then flattened against the side of the church when he heard voices around the comer. The entrance, where he had stood hardly a minute ago, was only a few, feet away.

"Are you sure?" Father Dancy was saying.

"No question of it! It has to he the Riggs boy.

"Riggs, did you say? May the good Lord help him! He did tell me his name was Riggs, but it meant nothing for I hadn't heard of him. Honestly, I can hardly believe-"

"You can't go by looks these days. I've seen some angel faces whose deeds would make your skin crawl. Now, stay well away from me, Father, when I go after him. I understand he has a knife, and I don't want you too close if he turns violent. .

Shock held Jan motionless. Something told him he ought to run, that his very life might depend upon it, but for long seconds he was incapable of movement. Then the rippling flash of lightning restored him to his senses and spurred him to flight.

It had been his intention to locate Ginny in the hope that her family could help him. But how could he do that now if he was a wanted criminal?

He put Ginny out of his mind and concentrated on escape. The rain helped, for there was very little traffic on the streets at the moment and the sidewalks were almost empty. The few people passing on foot paid no attention to him, for who looks at a running boy in the rain? But cars were another matter.

Several times in the next half hour he recognized the approach of a police car by the way it crept along and made use of a spotlight. He evaded each by hiding behind trees or shrubbery, or by slipping into an alley and hurrying to the next street.

Presently the houses thinned and the street lights were left behind. Then he was on a winding dirt road, moving uncertainly through the dripping dark while his eyes searched a little desperately for shelter. The patched blackness around him was formless, but parts of it seemed blacker than other parts, and instinctively he headed for the blackest patch of all for it made him think of a cave.

It was a cave of sorts, for entering it took him miraculously out of the rain. Then a final, feeble display of lightning showed him that he was in a shed housing farm machinery.

He sank down in. a corner in his sodden clothes, as miserable, it seemed, as he had ever been in his life. Then he thought, No, I've been in a worse spot than this. Much worse.

A thousand times worse. But where?

His memory carried him back only to the Glendale station. Ginny said he'd been run­ning, but he was unable to recall that part of it. Instead his mind leaped on to their arrival at the Westlake station, and he had a sharp vision of the two determined policemen cross­ing the platform to the train. He hadn't the least doubt now that they'd been looking for him.

But how had they known that Jan Riggs—if that was his name—would be on that particular train? He hadn't known it himself until a minute or two before he went on board.

Of course, someone could have spotted him at the Glendale station and told the police, and it would have taken only a quick phone call to tell the Westlake police to be on the watch for him. But that sounded too easy. And what of the men in white jackets by the van? His capture must be very important to somebody, to judge by all the effort being made to find him.

Suddenly his wet clothing felt icy and he be­gan to shake with a chill. It was a dreadful feeling, made all the worse by the knowledge that there was something frightening in his life that was beyond his power to remember.

The headlights of a car swept through the rain and touched the front of the shed. They wavered on the unevenness of the road, then steadied and came directly for the shed's square opening. Jan stared at them, knowing all at once how it felt to be a trapped animal. The car stopped, and abruptly he leaped to his feet and darted behind one of the pieces of machinery.

Someone got out of the car, and he was as­tounded to hear a familiar voice call his name. It was Ginny.

"Jan!" she repeated. "Jan! I know you are here. Please come out—Pops and I have come to take you home?"

It was like a sequence in a dream. He hardly believed it, even when he stumbled from the shed, teeth chattering so that he could not speak, and glimpsed her in a rain cape with the car lights behind her. He was so glad to see her he almost cried. Then in the next breath a tall elderly man was throwing a blanket about him and helping him into the rear of the car, where a small boy sat watching owlishly.

They were well away from the shed before Jan managed to stammer, "How—how d-did you ever find me?"

"Promise you won't tell," said Ginny.

"I p-promise."

She gave a happy little laugh. "We'd have found you sooner, only we had to go home first and get Otis. Otis can find anything."

Copyright © 1979 by Alexander Key


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