The Burning Island

The Burning Island

by Hester Young

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Overview

The newest haunting mystery from the beloved author of The Gates of Evangeline, featuring Charlie Cates, a headstrong heroine who must confront her unwanted supernatural gift and bring dark secrets to light if she ever wants to leave the Big Island . . .

Journalist Charlie Cates has always believed in facts, in what can be proved—her career depends on it. Which is why she has never truly accepted the supernatural visions that guide her to children in danger. After her work on a high-profile missing-child case brings unwanted fame, she reluctantly flees to the lush Big Island of Hawaii with her best friend, Rae. Determined to avoid her disturbing visions, Charlie begins writing what seems to be a harmless interview of a prominent volcanologist, Victor Nakagawa. But her hopes for a peaceful vacation are soon dashed by haunting dreams of a local girl who went missing six weeks earlier.

In the small and sleepy town of Kalo Valley, Charlie and Rae come to realize that even paradise has its ugly secrets, and the Nakagawa family is no exception. In order to find the missing teenager and stop a dangerous predator from striking again, Charlie is forced to embrace the gift she has always tried to conceal. Meanwhile, someone is watching her every move, and the closer Charlie gets to the truth, the more distant her chances of ever leaving the island alive.

With a deliciously eerie and fast-paced story told in vivid prose, all with an overlay of supernatural suspense, The Burning Island is a pulse-pounding mystery perfect for fans of Jennifer McMahon and Kate Atkinson.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399174025
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/12/2019
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 438,521
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Hester Young is the author of The Gates of Evangeline and The Shimmering Road. She holds a master's degree in English with a creative writing concentration from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and her work has been published in literary magazines such as The Hawaii Review. Before turning to writing full-time, she worked as a teacher in Arizona and New Hampshire. Young lives with her husband and two children in New Jersey.

Read an Excerpt

one

We gotta turn around, Charlie."

I jog ahead, pretending not to hear Noah, although I know he's right. I know from the chilly air, the canyon's lengthening shadows, and the beleaguered glances he keeps casting me that we can't go on much longer. The dark is coming.

I take a sip from my canteen and feign optimism. "This looks familiar," I call, although the rocks and scraggly trees around us look like all the other rocks and scraggly trees we've seen today. "I think we're getting close."

Behind me, Noah groans and wipes his forehead. His dark hair is getting long, edging toward his eyes, and the man needs a shave.

I wait, listening for the slow trudge of cowboy boots through rock and dirt. When it comes, I can't help but smile. My fingers go reflexively to the engagement ring he gave me three years ago.

This man would follow you anywhere, I think. You guys should really get around to making this official.

One glance at the sky, and my smile fades. The sun hangs low over the canyon, a glowing orange period that moves ever closer to the end of an irrevocable sentence. Soon, I will have to admit defeat. I dart uphill to get a more commanding view and begin to scan the land below me.

"We gotta get back to the trail before dark," Noah says, and his Texas twang suits the rugged landscape. "Last thing we need is to get lost out here."

I squint down at the ravine. "I just need a few more minutes."

"We don't have a few more minutes," Noah tells me. "It's almost dusk. That's huntin' time for cougars. If we had any goddamn sense, we woulda left an hour ago."

I can't argue with Noah's logic. If we had any sense, we wouldn't be here at all. Sabino Canyon has been closed to visitors for a week now after aggressive behavior from the local mountain lion population. Normally, that would be quite enough to dissuade me from setting foot on any piece of land. I have a healthy respect for authority and zero interest in a mountain lion confrontation.

But there's Alex to consider.

Twelve-year-old Alex Roc’o, missing four days, his face splashed all over the Tucson news. Last seen biking furiously from his home after a fight with his parents. A runaway, authorities thought. Just trying to scare Mom and Dad. But when he didn't come back, the possibilities began to darken. Ominous words began appearing in the newscasts.

Kidnapping.

Abduction.

Conventional wisdom says Alex Roc’o shouldn't be anywhere near Sabino Canyon, a full ten miles from his house in Casas Adobes.

But I know what I saw last night.

I dreamed of these familiar rocky gorges, these desert foothills, recognized them from half a dozen hikes I've taken in the park. I dreamed of a boy's bicycle lying abandoned in a ditch, an orange Mongoose Ledge, just like in the newscast. I dreamed of his Nikes, blood-red against the mountains' muted greens and browns.

I felt his fever. I felt his thirst. And after years of seeing and feeling things with unsettling accuracy, I could not dismiss this dream.

It's Saturday, and Noah and I have plenty to do without traipsing illegally around a cougar-infested park. We have two girls at home, a household to manage, and strange new professional paths to navigate. Noah's missing a board meeting tonight for Desert Garden, the nonprofit he founded last year to bring urban farming to low-income kids. And I need to get started on my next article for Outdoor Adventures magazine, to prove I'm worthy of my recent upgrade to contributing editor.

You want an outdoor adventure? I think, gazing out at the mountains. I'll show you an outdoor adventure.

But I can't write about this. The twisted paths my dreams lead me down-this is not a side of myself that I want the world to know.

I don't want to be clambering around this canyon any more than Noah does, but I can't return to the trail, not without Alex. Not after we discovered his orange mountain bike a couple of miles back, its front tire blown out. Whatever doubts I had about our slapdash search party evaporated in that instant.

There's no one else coming for him. We're all this boy's got.

I peer down at the ravine, my eyes suddenly drawn by a brief, flickering motion.

"There. Did you see that?" I point to a trio of trees about a hundred yards off. "Something moved."

Noah's hand goes to his side, feeling for his nine-millimeter. "Could be a cougar," he says grimly. "We need to get outta here. Now."

"No, wait." I crouch down, trying to escape the sun's glare. "Right there. Look."

Though it's hard to tell with the encroaching shadows, I think there's a spot of red down in the brush. Two spots of red, in fact, like a couple of cactus fruits growing out of season.

"I don't see anything." Noah's already consulting his compass, trying to determine the quickest way back to the trail.

The temperature is dropping as fast as the sun. I shiver. My hand drifts to Noah's sleeve, and I think about our girls, safe at home right now with our friend Pam. "There," I say, pointing again. "Use your binoculars. That half-dead tree in the middle. Look just below it."

Noah sighs and holds up the small pair of field binoculars that dangle from his neck. "What am I even looking for?" he begins irritably. And then stops.

"The Nikes," I say. "Those are the red Nikes, right?"

He releases a breath. "Not just the Nikes, Charlie." His voice has gone hoarse. "The boy's still wearin' 'em."

That's all I need to know. I take off, ignoring Noah's warnings to be on the lookout for cougars. I have to get to Alex, have to take advantage of the sunlight while we still have it. The only question that remains in my mind is what state I'll find him in.

A living, breathing twelve-year-old boy? Or a body? That movement I saw beneath the tree could've been a scavenger.

Only one way to find out.

My feet are nimble and steady as I scramble across the craggy earth. Adrenaline kicks in, erasing whatever exhaustion I might feel after a day spent trekking around the canyon. Bounding over the rocky terrain, I realize I am not the New Yorker I once was, a woman who jogged for fifteen minutes along the paved roads of Central Park and found herself winded. Three years of living in the desert-shaking your shoes each morning for scorpions, braving temperatures of 115 degrees-will toughen up even the softest of city girls.

That doesn't mean I'm tough enough for whatever's waiting.

Please be alive, Alex, I think. Please be alive.

I have two young daughters. Less than five years ago, I buried a son. I know what it means to lose a child. I don't want Mama and Papa Roc’o to learn.

As I draw closer, I get a better look at the red shoes. Black laces. A stripe that identifies them as Nikes. And somewhere, barely visible through the trees, a flash of jeans against the ground. A gray sweatshirt. My pulse quickens.

Did Alex crawl under the tree seeking shade? Or was he dragged there? Was he abducted by some sick stranger and left for dead? Mauled by a mountain lion? What gruesome sight is waiting for me?

"Alex?" I shout. "Alex, can you hear me?"

There's no reply, but his foot twitches.

I break into a run.

When I arrive, he's curled up on the ground, huddled in the shadow of an ash tree. I scan the surrounding dirt but find no signs of a water bottle. If it were a summer month, he'd already be dead. Southern Arizona has no pity. Even in early November, his face and neck are pink with sunburn, his lips cracked and bloody. Dehydration has left him delirious and barely coherent, and the crisp desert nights haven't done him any favors, either.

"I saw one," he mumbles as I lift him up. "I saw a mountain lion take down a deer. You have to tell my friends."

I unclip my canteen and remove the cap. Press it to his lips. "Short sips, okay? You don't want to choke."

He drinks like an animal, his swollen tongue probing for water. I try not to think about how much longer he would've survived out here, try instead to think of his parents, how their boy will grow to be a man. Still in rescue mode, I search the kid for any signs of injury-dried blood, an arm or leg bent at a wrong angle, anything the medics might need to know about.

Noah appears behind me, having finally slogged through all the rocks and ground cover. At the sight of Alex slurping greedily from my bottle, his broad shoulders slump with relief. "Thank God." He watches the boy drink, touches the kid's greasy hair, and turns to me with the kind of expression some people reserve for prayer. "You found him," he says. "You were right."

I don't know why, at this stage of the game, Noah's still so awestruck. We've seen it plenty of times these past few years: messages about children that come to me in waking dreams. Sometimes, under their guidance, I can make the difference. I can stop the little girl in Walmart from leaving with a hovering older man. I can break a window and call police when I find the toddler crying in a hot car. I can show up at a teenage boy's house, pretending to represent a local youth group, before he ends his life over a breakup. Those are the good days.

But sometimes my dreams are not enough. One night a boy took my hand and led me through the wreckage of a car accident, wordless and frightened. I knew the intersection-it was less than a mile from my house-and when I awoke, I went running off into the night trying to prevent the crash. It was too late. Emergency responders had long since cordoned off the site, and the two vehicles involved had already been towed. I learned later that the boy was pronounced dead at the scene. There was never any way for me to save him, and yet as I stared at the twisted metal that littered the street, watched the road glitter with broken glass and the flashing lights of a police cruiser, I felt myself a failure.

Those are the hardest dreams, the ones that leave me powerless to change a brutal outcome.

My vision of Alex, thankfully, has proven itself to be the good kind. I've won this round, solved this puzzle, and my actions have real-world consequences. I'm glad the day has turned out as well as it has, although the boy is in bad shape.

Concerned by the glazed look in his eyes, I transfer Alex from my arms to Noah's. The kid needs medical attention, sooner rather than later. I dig out my cell phone, see a stream of texts from my friend Rae and a photo Pam sent of our girls. Grateful for the strong signal and the pure desert air, I dial 911.

The Forest Service has plenty of questions for us. What were you doing in Sabino Canyon? DonÕt you know the parkÕs closed? There were reports of mountain lions stalking visitors! Why did you veer off the trail?

With Alex off receiving medical care, I deflect these inquiries with vague answers and questions of my own. "We were just out hiking," I say, speaking to a point somewhere above the ranger's left ear. "We found the bike and thought we'd better have a look around. Is the kid going to be okay?"

Noah says nothing, but I can tell from his shuffling feet and the constipated look he keeps giving me that he disapproves of my attempts at subterfuge. He's the kind of misguided sweetheart who really believes that honesty is the best policy, that you can look a law enforcement officer in the eye and say, "Alex Roc’o came to me in my dreams, sir," without any ill effects.

Later, when the Pima County sheriff's department steps in and we're asked to provide a statement, I know our situation has taken a more serious turn. This is not my first rodeo when it comes to facing the bureaucratic aftermath of a missing child, but there's something in the female deputy's face that I don't like-an undercurrent of distrust beneath the polite veneer. The small white room she's got us in, bare except for a metal table and two chairs, looks suspiciously like an interrogation room.

Her sergeant, a middle-aged fellow with bushy eyebrows, quickly moves to get Noah alone. "You come on with me." He taps Noah on the shoulder. "We'll take your statement while your memory's still fresh."

"Can't I do that here?" Noah glances at me, nervous about answering questions on his own.

If they're hoping to tease out the discrepancies in our accounts, they won't have to try hard. Noah and I should've spent more time getting our story straight, eliminating any bizarre psychic elements from the telling. Not that it would save us. The truth is all but burning a hole in Noah's tongue. In some inexplicable way, he's proud of me. He wants to tell people about my freakish abilities. He doesn't understand the damage these dreams would to do my credibility as a journalist.

The sergeant scratches his head. "Memory's a funny thing," he tells us. "People remember different details about the same incident, and you never know which ones are gonna matter." He leans against the door and regards us with a yawn that feels intentionally casual. "We always keep folks separate when they give their statements. Who knows? Maybe something you give us will help us figure out what happened to that boy you found."

I stare at the metal table, only just starting to absorb the full extent of how screwed I am.

It's clear this department believes Alex Roc’o was abducted and we were somehow involved. And I get it. Our story sounds shady as hell. Who goes for a stroll in a park that's been closed for mountain lions? They must know we haven't exactly been paragons of candor. Noah is a god-awful liar, and I'm only slightly better. Any detective worth his or her salt could tell we're hiding something.

I should've realized what we were getting into. I was so intent on helping Alex, I never stopped to think about the repercussions.

If the sheriff's department would just talk to Alex, this whole mess could be cleared up. Whatever happened out there, that kid must know we had nothing to do with it. But Alex is at a hospital now getting medical treatment, only half-conscious. They probably won't chat with him until tomorrow. And tomorrow is too late. I know Noah. The man's best and most endearing qualities are also his greatest liabilities. All it would take to elicit the whole truth and nothing but the truth from Noah is a "please."

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Burning Island"
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Copyright © 2019 Hester Young.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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