'Gone Without A Trace' Is A Chilling Missing Persons Story With A Twist — EXCERPT
What would you do if the love of your life disappeared without a trace? That's what Hannah is faced with in Gone Without a Trace, the creepy new thriller from Mary Torjussen out on April 18. I've got an exclusive excerpt for you to read today — and I guarantee it will make you want to sprint to the bookstore to find out the rest of the story.
The novel opens with Hannah returning home to the house she shares with her boyfriend Matt, only to find that something is very wrong. In the following chapters, which you can read below, she discovers that Matt has taken his things and left without a word. He's taken all the photos of them together; he's taken his records and his DVDs, and put all of Hannah's old books back in their place. But there's something even more sinister at play here: he's also deleted his number from Hannah's phone, and erased all of his text messages and call history. It's as if he never existed.
Has he simply left and doesn't want Hannah to contact him? Is this just extreme ghosting? Or is the truth more shocking than that? Read two suspenseful chapters right now — and just try to tell me you haven't got goosebumps.
For the last four years I’ve had pictures on the hallway walls that Matt brought with him when he moved in. They’re huge photos of jazz musicians in heavy black frames. Ella Fitzgerald usually faced the front door, her eyes half‑closed in a shy, ecstatic smile. Now there was nothing but the smooth cream paint we’d used when we painted the hallway last summer.
I dropped my coat and bags on the polished oak floor and on automatic pilot stooped to steady the bottles as they tilted to the ground. I stepped forward and stared again. There was nothing on the wall. I turned and looked at the wall alongside the staircase. Charlie Parker was usually there, bathed in a golden light and facing Miles Davis. It had always looked as though they were playing together. Both were gone.
I looked around in disbelief. Had we been burgled? But why had they taken the pictures? The walnut cabinet I’d bought from Heal’s was worth a lot and that was still there. On it, alongside the landline and a lamp, sat the silver and enamel Tiffany bowl that my parents had bought me when I graduated. Surely a burglar would have taken that?
I put my hand on the door to the living room, then hesitated.
What if someone’s still here? What if they’ve only just got here? Quietly I took my handbag and backed out of the front door. On the path, safely away from the house, I took out my phone, uncertain whether to call the police or to wait for Matt. I stared at the house. Apart from the hallway, it was in darkness. The house attached to mine was dark, too; Sheila and Ray, our neighbors, had told me they’d be away until Sunday. The house on the other side had sold a month or two ago and its owners had long gone. A new couple would be moving in soon, but it didn’t look as though anyone was there yet; the rooms were empty and there were no curtains at the windows. Opposite us was the wide entrance to another road; the houses there were bigger, set well back with high hedges to stop them from having to view the rest of the estate.
There didn’t seem to be any movement in our house. Slowly I walked across the lawn to the living room window and looked through into the darkened room.
At first I thought the television had gone. That would definitely be burglars. Then I froze. The television had gone; that was true. Matt had bought a massive flat‑screen when he moved in. It had surround sound and a huge fancy black glass table, and to be honest, it took up half the room. All of it had gone.
Now in its place was the old coffee table I’d had for years, which I’d brought with me from my parents’ house when I left home. On it was my old television, a great big useless thing that used to shine blue and flicker if there was a storm. It had been in the spare room all this time, waiting until we had the energy to chuck it out. I’d hardly noticed it in all the time it had been up there.
My face was so close to the living room window that I could see the mist of my breath on it.
A car braked sharply in the distance and I jumped and turned, thinking it was Matt. I don’t know why I thought that.
My skin suddenly felt very cold, though the evening was warm and still. I took a deep breath and pulled my jacket tightly around me. I went back into the house, shutting the door quietly. In the living room, I put the overhead light on, then quickly went to the window to draw the curtains, even though it was still light outside. I didn’t want an audience. I stood with my back to the window and looked at the room. Above the mantelpiece was a huge silver mirror and I could see my face, pale and shocked, reflected in it. I moved away so that I didn’t have to look at myself.
On either side of the fireplace, white‑painted shelves filled the alcoves. Our DVDs and books and CDs had been on them. On the big lower shelves Matt had kept his vinyl, hundreds of albums, all in alphabetical order by band, the more obscure the better. I remembered the day he moved in, how I’d taken dozens of my books from the shelves and put them in boxes in the spare room so he’d have space for his records.
Those books were now back there, looking as though they’d never been away. Most of the DVDs and CDs had gone. All of the vinyl was gone.
I turned to the other corner. His record player was no longer there; neither was his iPod dock. My old stereo was back; his had gone. Gone, too, were the headphones he’d bought when I’d complained I couldn’t watch television because of his music.
I felt as though my legs were about to give way. I sat down on the sofa and looked at the room. My stomach was clenched so tightly I almost doubled over.
I didn’t dare go into the rest of the house.
I took my mobile from my bag. I knew I shouldn’t call Matt — what was the point? He’d sent me the clearest message he could. At that moment, though, I had no pride. I wanted to talk to him, to ask him what was happening. I knew, though. I knew exactly what had happened. What he’d done.
There were no missed calls, no new messages, no new emails. Suddenly furious — he might at least have had the decency to let me know — I clicked on Recent Calls and scrolled down to find his name so that I could call him. I frowned. I knew I’d called him a few nights ago. I’d been in the car, just about to leave work; my friend Katie had sent a message saying that she and her boyfriend, James, might come round and I’d phoned Matt to check we had some drinks in. There was no record of that call on my phone. I scrolled down further. Months of calls flashed by. None of them was to him or from him.
I closed my eyes for a second and tried to take a deep breath, but I couldn’t. I felt as though I was going to faint and had to put my head down on my knees. After a few minutes, I looked back at the screen, clicked on Contacts and typed M for Matt, but nothing came up. Panicking, I typed S for his surname, Stone. His name wasn’t there.
My fingers were suddenly hot and damp, slipping on the screen as I scrolled down the list of text conversations. Again, there were none to him and none from him, though we had sent a few each week. We tended to do that rather than call lately. There were still messages to friends and to my parents and to Sam at work, but nothing to Matt. I’d bought that phone at Christmas with my bonus. I sent him a message then, though he was only in the kitchen, asking him to bring a bottle of prosecco into the living room. I could hear him laugh when he read the message and he brought it in with some more chocolate mousse. I was lying comatose; the agreement had been that I’d cook Christmas lunch for his mother and us, but wouldn’t have to do anything else for the rest of the day.
I double‑checked now and looked at my texts to Katie. It took a while to scroll through them, as we sent several a week — several a day at times — but eventually I found the first one, wishing her a happy Christmas and telling her that Matt had bought me a Mulberry bag. She’d acted amazed, but I knew he’d asked her advice on it. I don’t know how she’d kept it a secret.
My mind whirled. What had happened to Matt’s texts and calls? I switched the phone off and on again, hoping that might do something. There were text messages from Katie, sent yesterday afternoon, asking me about my trip to Oxford today. She’d phoned me just before the training started this morning, too, to wish me luck, knowing how much the day meant to me. I’d spent a few minutes talking to her in the car park before I had to go in. There were texts to and from Sam, my friend at work, and Lucy, my assistant, as well as some from my mum and a few from my dad, including those exchanged in Oxford just hours ago. There were also messages from Fran and Jenny, old friends who I run with sometimes, and some from university friends that I still saw occasionally. There wasn’t anything from Matt at all.
Of course I knew what was going to happen when I opened my emails. No new messages, but that wasn’t a surprise. I tried to think of the last time Matt had emailed me; usually he’d text. Back when we first met we’d email several times a day; we both used to have our private emails open on our computers while we were working, so we could chat to each other throughout the day. You’d think that would have made us less productive but the opposite happened and we found we were firing on all cylinders, working fast and furious and making great decisions. We were so fired up we both got promotions and it was only when Matt’s company started logging network accounts after some idiot was found to be looking at porn all day that we had to stop. My heart sank now as I looked at the folders; the one with all his emails in it was missing. I opened a new message and entered “Matt” into the address bar. Nothing came up, not even his email address.
I could hear myself breathing, short, shallow breaths. There was the beginning of a red mist around my eyes and I could feel myself starting to hyperventilate.
I had no way of contacting him.
For a while I couldn’t move. I sat on the edge of the sofa, holding my stomach as though I was in labor. My mind raced and my palms were tingling. When the lights of a car came to our end of the street and shone through a gap in the curtains, I jumped up and before I knew it I was flat against the wall next to the window, pulling the curtains slightly to one side.
If it was Matt, I wanted to be ready for him.
Someone had come to the empty house next door. Car doors opened and slammed; I heard a man say something and a woman laugh in response. I looked through the gap in the curtains and saw a young couple standing at the boot of their car. I watched unnoticed as they unloaded suitcases and boxes and took them into the house. They must have just left them in the hall, as within a minute they were back in their car and driving off down the road. My new neighbors, I assumed. I looked at my watch. It was after eight o’clock. It seemed an odd time to move in, but then I remembered my other neighbor, Sheila, saying that it was a local couple who had bought the house; maybe they were moving their things themselves.
I gathered up my courage and made my way through to the kitchen. I pushed the door open and pressed the light switch. When the light blazed on, I saw a flash of the room and closed my eyes.
He’d done the same thing here.
Gone was the maroon Rothko print, which had glowed above the oak fireplace. Gone, too, was the white metal candelabra that Matt had brought with him and lit on the night he’d moved in. I remembered him blowing out the candles before taking my hand and leading me upstairs to our bedroom. He’d smiled at me, that easy grin that had always made me smile back, and pulled me toward him in the darkened room, whispering in my ear, “Let’s go to bed.” My heart had melted and I’d hugged him, right where I was standing now.
The back of the house was one room, with a large marble island dividing the kitchen and dining areas. French doors led out onto the patio and large windows sat on either side, with potted plants and photos on their deep sills. Of course, the photos of Matt had vanished. There were still photos of Katie and me with our arms around each other at parties and one of us that I loved where we were wearing Santa hats and holding hands, aged five. There was one of my mum and dad that I’d taken on their wedding anniversary and another of them with me at my graduation, their faces full of pride and relief. Photos of my friends from university, shiny faced and bright eyed in bars and clubs, were still there and one of me finishing my first half marathon, holding hands with Jenny and Fran as we crossed the finish line, but all the photos of Matt had gone. It was impossible now to see where they’d been.
I sat at the island with my head in my hands and looked out at the room. A square glass vase of purple tulips sat on the dining table, just where I’d put it a few days before. I’d stopped at Tesco for some milk and had seen them by the entrance, their tight buds and dewy leaves a reminder that summer was on its way. The room was clean and tidy, just as it usually was, but it seemed tarnished now, somehow, like a nightclub in daylight.
There were fewer glasses on the cabinet shelves by the door. When Matt had moved in he’d brought with him some heavy crystal wine‑glasses his grandmother had given him and placed them in the cabinet. I hadn’t liked them, had thought they were old‑fashioned and doubted they were nice even when they were in fashion, so their disappearance now was no great loss. My Vera Wang glasses were still there, lined up and ready to party. Ready to party in an empty room.
My stomach rumbled and I went over to the fridge, though I couldn’t face eating. The contents of the fridge seemed the same as they’d been at six that morning, when I’d left for Oxford. A supermarket delivery had arrived last night, ready for the weekend ahead, and everything was still there. There was twice as much as I’d need now. I’d ordered the food while I was at work and Matt had unpacked it with me, without a word to suggest he wouldn’t be there to eat it. I slammed the fridge door shut and stood with my back to it, breathing heavily, my eyes squeezed tight. When my breathing slowed I opened my eyes and saw the gaps on the magnetic strip above the hob where he’d lovingly placed his Sabatier knives. Below was a space where his French press had stood.
I steeled myself and opened the cupboards.
His packets of coffee beans were gone, the grinder, too. If I leaned forward I could smell the faint aroma of coffee and wondered how long it would last. That was one thing he couldn’t erase. I slammed the cabinet door shut. My head throbbed as I opened the lower cupboard and saw the space where his juicer usually stood. In another cupboard I saw his mugs had gone, the huge, ugly ones with logos. He’d carried them with him from university to bedsit and on to his London house and then to our home — my home — and I wished he’d left them so that I could smash them now.
I opened the fridge again and checked the compartments in the door this time. The bottle of ketchup that I never touched — gone. His jar of Marmite — gone. No great loss, as I disliked both of them, but why take them? I checked the kitchen bin and they weren’t there. All my bottles and jars had been redistributed along the shelves, so it looked as though nothing was missing.
I pulled a chilled bottle of white wine from the fridge and one of my glasses from the cabinet and sat back at the island. I poured a full glass and drank it down, almost in one gulp, then poured another. I kept looking at my phone to check that his number had actually gone. My mind whirred. He’d been fine the night before; in fact, he’d been in a great mood. I’d got up early that morning to shower and get ready for my trip to Oxford. I’d left at dawn, terrified of getting caught up in the morning traffic. I’d panicked the whole journey in case I was late.
I’d leaned over before I left and kissed him softly on his cheek. His eyes were closed and his breathing steady. His face had been warm and still against my mouth. He was asleep, or at least I’d thought he was. Maybe he was awake, waiting for me to go? Maybe his eyes had snapped open the moment he heard my car drive off and he’d jumped up to start packing.
I started to cry then, at the thought of that. We’d been together for four years — how could he just walk out without an explanation? And to put all my things back in their old places; it was as though he’d never been here!
I drank most of the next glass down, too, and that made me cry again. I loved Matt. I’d always loved him, right from the start. He knew how much he meant to me; I’d told him so many times. We spent all our time together and the thought of being without him made my stomach gallop with panic. I reached out for my phone, wanting to talk to someone, but put it down again. I was filled with shame at being left, humiliated at the way he’d gone. How could I tell anyone what he’d done?
I took the bottle and my glass upstairs with me. I needed oblivion tonight and this was the quickest way there.
When I got to my bedroom door I knew what to expect, but still, the sight of the quilt cover, fresh and clean, upset me again. I’d changed the bed linen the Sunday before and just by chance had put on the burgundy cover he’d brought with him when he moved in. That was gone now; the quilt cover and pillowcases on our bed were embroidered white cotton, mine from long before I’d met him.
I steeled myself and opened his wardrobe doors. Of course it was empty. Wire hangers hung on the rail and there wasn’t even the faintest smell of his cologne. There didn’t seem much point in checking the drawers, but I did anyway. I opened each one and they were as empty as the day I bought them.
I took off my clothes and dropped them in the empty laundry basket in the bathroom, found my oldest and softest cotton pajamas and put them on, all the while avoiding my reflection in the mirror over my chest of drawers. I was too mortified to see my own face.
In bed as the night grew dark, with just the light from the landing coming through to the room, I poured glass after glass of wine and drank it without tasting it. I reached into the bottom drawer of my bedside dresser and found my headphones. They were the kind that canceled noise, just what I needed tonight, when I didn’t want to hear anything, not even my own thoughts. In the darkness of the room, I could feel my head buzzing and my cheeks tightening as the alcohol entered my bloodstream. I took the pillow from Matt’s side of the bed and curled into it. It smelled clean and fresh; there was no trace of him there. Tears ran down my face and no matter how many times I dried it, within seconds it was drenched again. When I thought of him packing up everything and leaving me without a word, without a hint that he was going, I felt like a fist was clenching my heart, squeezing it tight. I could hardly breathe.
Where was he?
Reprinted with permission from GONE WITHOUT A TRACE by Mary Torjussen from Berkley Books, copyright 2017.