It’s always stung, being Drew Barrington’s daughter.
On February 12th, 1993, veterinary resident Drew Barrington left work with party favors - bottles of Phenobarbital and Telazol, which he ground up and blended with milk and chocolate ice cream, poured into sippy cups, and handed to his three children. At two o’clock the next morning, Drew’s wife Carolyn woke to adjust the heater and tripped over the body of her younger son.
The paramedics arrived to find 3-year-old Lee dead on the living room floor, 5-year-old Andy stiff and lifeless in his bed, Carolyn hyperventilating in the baby’s room, and the baby - me, barely one - limp and cyanotic, breathing shallow breaths in a puddle of my own vomit. My fragile gag reflex saved my life that night. I spent three days in the PICU hooked up to a respirator with a tube down my throat, but I survived, and I suffered no lingering effects of my father’s attempt on my life.
As for Drew Barrington, the cops located his ’85 Celica six hours later, parked in a dirt bank alongside the 5 South. They found my father slouched over the wheel, a revolver in his right hand and the contents of his skull splattered across the back seats. According to the coroner’s report, his death preceded his sons’ by about two hours.
There was no ready explanation for my father’s crime and ultimate despair. Because, as my mother insisted and my parents’ friends enthusiastically corroborated, my family’s life had been nearly postcard-perfect. Money, while not plentiful, was sufficient. My father’s resident’s stipend and my mom’s teacher’s salary kept us fed and clothed and living indoors. Neither party had been unfaithful, and there was no evidence of abuse or drug use or conflict beyond typical marital quarrels. My father had had a tragic childhood, but he’d shown no previous signs of insanity or incapacity.
The police only ever found one clue, and it obscured, rather than clarified, his motives. “Clue” may not even be the right term - it wasn’t like the cops had to look that hard. Before he’d climbed out of bed, taken his revolver, and driven south on the interstate, my father left a short, hand-written note on his bedside table for my mom to find. It read:
“Caro I’m sorry. Know it’s gone with us.”
Fuck, I wish my dad had been schizophrenic. I wish he was screwing the nanny. I wish he’d been an alcoholic or a nymphomaniac or in debt to the Russian mob, because if any of those things were true, I’d be able to despise his memory in peace. I wouldn’t have to wonder why.
My mom says she’s made her peace with it, but I seriously doubt that. Poor Mom. She did the best she could. She sold the house and found a job in her hometown of Pasadena, California; put hundreds of miles between us and Eugene and everyone who knew her as that chick whose husband murdered their children.
Mom was always a sad woman. To her credit, she made an effort to smile for my sake. She let me have a carefree childhood, then finally told me about my father and my brothers when I was thirteen, at which point she deemed it better I learned from her than from the internet.
She let me look through photos of them, ask what they were like, calculate how old my murdered brothers would be if they’d lived. But, she insisted, I was not to tell my friends and I was not to dwell. It was in the past. No one knew why Dad did it, and obsessing would accomplish nothing.
Poor Mom. All she wanted was for me to be happy. And I was, even after this revelation. I had her, and I had my grandparents and aunts and cousins and a lot of friends at school. I don’t even remember being particularly angry or distressed when she told me. I was just curious. When I was bored at school or sitting in the car with Mom or lying in bed at night, I’d think about my dad and my dead brothers, Lee and Andy. Why had he killed them? Why had he tried to kill me?
That unresolved curiosity festered into exasperation, and I realized the truth of my mom’s warning - obsession was useless. I’d never know why. And that exasperation sharpened into a resentful sting. I was Drew Barrington’s daughter. I was the last little piece of him left in this world. His blood flowed through my veins. Encoded in my DNA were the answers to all my queries.
In my most self-indulgent, self-pitying moments, I imagined my mother wished I’d died with my brothers. That I was some kind of loose end she couldn't pluck. She married again when I was nineteen; moved to Phoenix with Dan and my two little half-sisters. I’m happy for her. Dan’s a good guy, and I adore the girls. But it’s for the best there’s a state line between us. My mom needs to be somewhere she doesn’t have to see my face every day. She says I have my father’s eyes.
My story starts this past January, a dozen years after I learned about my father and his crimes. I had a decent job at a marketing startup and a one-bedroom apartment in Echo Park. My status as Drew Barrington’s daughter still inspired the occasional bout of maddening frustration, but those gangrenous mental sores had nearly scarred over. I’d go days, sometimes, without my father even crossing my mind.
Then, I got the package from my aunt.
“Aunt” is pushing it. Gina was briefly married to my father’s brother, Luke. But Luke died years before I was born, Gina married again and had kids, and her family lived in Atlanta. I’d never met them.
Luke and my father were once very close. Apparently, some of my father’s old belongings from their shared childhood ended up at Luke’s house, stuffed in cardboard boxes and stacked in the attic and forgotten about. Now that her kids had left for college and the nest was empty, Gina finally had time to clear the attic of all but the most sentimental bits of the past. She found my mom’s number in a little black book. Through her, she got in touch with me.
“It’s nothing really,” she’d told me during our one awkward phone conversation. “Just some old records, his college year books, and a couple shirts. I was going to toss it all, but I feel you have the right to do with your father’s property what you will.”
I murmured a thank you. Honestly, I’d wished she’d tossed it.
“The records might be worth something,” she continued. “And, um, there’s one thing I should probably explain. It’s a key, wrapped in some foil stuff. He mailed it to me just a couple weeks before he… well… you know.”
A couple weeks before he tried to poison me with chemicals used to put down animals.
“It’s for a storage unit. No idea why he sent it here; the storage place is in Visalia, California. I threw it in the box with the rest of his stuff and forgot about it.”
I thanked Gina again and bid her a half-assed farewell. Three days later, the FedEx man dropped off a duct-taped package. It was, as Gina had stated, old records and clothes, yearbooks from 1979 and 1980, and one envelope containing a key wrapped in something resembling foil.
A key wrapped in fireproof packaging. I recognized it from work. This seemed an odd choice. Had my dad thought the key would spontaneously burst into flames?
I dumped it all in a Salvation Army drop box. Even the yearbooks, though I doubted anyone would want a yearbook they’re not in. But I kept the key. My curiosity about my homicidal father still hovered around me like an insistent bug, and the potential for even a scrap of clarity was too tantalizing to pass up.
I got lucky, I suppose. EZ Vault Storage was still in business, and my father’s cheap unit remained untouched. The man I spoke to said I was welcome to whatever was in it. The unit had been rented - and prepaid for 10 years - when his uncle still ran the facility. The old man had died since then, and no one noticed as the cheap unit sat occupied for fifteen extra years.
I made the drive to Visalia on my next day off. My father had picked the smallest storage space - yet it still seemed too big for its contents. There was a single box, maybe two feet by one foot by a foot and a half, wrapped in the same fireproof material that encased the key. I loaded the box into my car and drove home, resisting the urge to peek until I was back in Los Angeles, sitting on my bedroom floor. I took a deep breath, pried off the lid, and braced myself for the big reveal.
Newspapers. Lots of newspapers. Newspapers, and nothing but newspapers. I sighed. What had I been expecting to find? A manuscript entitled “Exactly Why, In Excruciating Detail, I Murdered My Children And Committed Suicide?”
Fighting back a fresh wave of exasperation, I unloaded the contents. There were five stacks, each tied together with twine. My father had jotted notes on the margins of some of the papers.
The first stack was thin and extremely old. As I unfolded the first article, I saw it was from the Richmond Dispatch - August 5th, 1884. Along the top margin, my father had written a single word - CHAMBERLAIN.
“Son of Congressman Abducted!” The title read.
In the late hours of August 3rd, 1884, the five-year-old son of Representative Samuel Chamberlain disappeared from his bedroom. His parents were out at a party; his nanny was asleep in the servant’s quarters just down the hall. There had been no reports of a disturbance at the family’s mansion that night, and the police had no suspects. Included was a black-and-white photograph of little Arthur - an adorable child with big eyes and ice-blond hair. He’d last been seen wearing blue overalls and a red shirt.
Two subsequent reports detailed the exhaustive, ultimately fruitless search for Arthur Chamberlain. The only lead the police ever received came via the nanny, an Irish immigrant named Eleanor Connor. She claimed Arthur had been letting a little negro boy into the house, a child who called himself Ezekiel. However, no one else had laid eyes on this Ezekiel, and the cops finally concluded Eleanor was either mad or lying.
The final article in the stack was dated August 13th, 1884, and it was of an entirely different nature. Representative Samuel Chamberlain was dead, as were his wife, two daughters, parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and a number of household servants. The family had gathered at the Chamberlains’ mansion to assist in the search for Arthur. Somehow, the house caught fire, and all inside perished. The entire extended Chamberlain clan had been wiped out.
A label reading “Property of the Richmond Public Library” told me from where my father had stolen these papers. But I had no idea why this particular tragedy caught his interest. He’d underlined a couple passages, including the description of Arthur Chamberlain’s mysterious playmate Ezekiel.
I pulled out and untied the second pile of papers, nearly as old. The Atlanta Journal, circa December 18th, 1915. The top margin was labeled HARDING.
“Atlanta Boy Missing!”
Another lost kid. This boy was the fourteen-year-old son of a prominent physician, seemingly vanished - like Arthur - from his own home. The police were inclined to believe young Robert Harding had simply run away. His parents stated he’d been acting uncharacteristically aloof as of late, and spent all his time in the family’s barn.
Then, the next article: “Family Dead in Massive Fire.”
The extended Harding family gathered at the home of Robert Harding, Sr. for Christmastide. Again, a house fire of mysterious origin had ignited. Again, there were no survivors.
This stack was thicker. The third article was from 1932, published by the Cincinnati Enquirer, and profiled a third missing child. Seven-year-old Katherine Fogel this time. Her mother, Sarah, insisted the little girl was in her room on the second floor of their townhouse - she had heard Katie’s laugh through the door. Then, the laughing stopped. Sarah went to check on her daughter. The girl was nowhere to be found. This was particularly troubling because Sarah hadn’t heard Katie’s door creak, nor her footsteps on the stairs, nor her window open.
She did, however, note to investigators that her daughter had recently picked up a peculiar new playmate - a boy named Artie, who Katie found alone on the doorstep one day.
Artie. Arthur? Arthur, the little blonde assemblyman’s son, vanished without a trace and never found? A little uneasy, I moved on to the next yellowing newspaper, dated a week later.
Apparently, Sarah Fogel was a professional artist. She’d drawn a portrait of Katie’s mysterious friend Artie, which the Cincinnati Enquirer printed. It depicted a little blonde boy with large eyes and a puppy-dog smile. I flipped back through the pages I’d read and found the photograph of Arthur Chamberlain.
The resemblance was more than uncanny. The resemblance was exact.
Knowing and fearing what came next, I opened the next successive article. Of course. Another devastating fire, at the home of Clara Harding Fogel, Katie’s grandmother. The devout old lady held a prayer vigil for her little angel, attended by - well - every surviving Harding not in attendance at Robert Harding’s Christmas party twenty years before. It was believed that one of the faithful knocked over a candle. Another family completely wiped out.
The final article in the HARDING pile served as closure. Sarah Fogel, who had not accompanied her husband to his mother’s vigil, was arrested and tried for the murder of her daughter. As she was a Jew married into a Protestant family, it was unlikely she was afforded a fair trial, even though Katherine Fogel’s body had never been recovered. It was subtly suggested that she was also responsible for the fire that killed her husband and his family. Sarah was executed in 1933.
My uneasiness had crescendoed to nervousness. This was getting freaky. Three missing kids Three massive fires. Two entire families destroyed.
The third stack of papers was the largest. My father had labeled this one WOODS.
You get where I'm going with this.
January 14th, 1944. Jill Woods, aged 10, kidnapped from her family’s Jackson, Mississippi manor. Jill’s grandmother and guardian, Abigail Woods, insisted the police investigate a child named Katie, who had formed an exceptionally tight friendship with Jill in the month before her vanishing. Katie was never identified. Jill was never found.
January 30th, 1944. Twenty-four members of Abigail Woods’ family were killed in a fire that broke out at the Jackson mansion. No survivors.
November 27th, 1958. A fire at the Raleigh home of Frank Peretti and his wife, Marlene Woods Peretti, killed twenty-six people gathered for Thanksgiving dinner. There were no missing children attached to this tragedy. But the article related that the Perettis recently took in an orphan who went by Robert, believed to be among the dead.
August 3rd, 1972. Eight-year-old Bryan Martin, abducted from his father’s vacation home on Myrtle Beach. He’d been in his room, playing with a little beach friend named Jill, when his father stepped out. When Ken Martin returned, both Bryan and Jill had disappeared. “Jill” confused the police. Because no one in the neighborhood could identify Jill, and her family had not been located. According to Ken, Jill told Bryan she was his cousin.
Neither Ken Martin nor his ex-wife, Lisa Woods, were related to anyone named Jill. The vanished daughter of Lisa’s long-dead great-uncle had been a Jill, but that Jill - if by some miracle she was still alive - would be nearly forty.
August 10th, 1972. A Myrtle Beach motel burned to the ground. Lisa Woods and her family, all in town to assist in the search for Bryan, had been staying at that motel. In all, thirty-two people were dead.
This time, however, the building had been saved by the fire department. And there were survivors - two maids and a front desk clerk. One maid was “extremely traumatized” by the event, the article stated. She’d run to the paramedics screaming about “that monster” and “that abomination” that had “killed them all.”
Little attention was paid to her. But a later article reported some members of the Woods family had been dead before the fire even started. Three of the bodies were in good enough condition for autopsies, and it was determined that all three had been killed by massive blood loss. One was missing a leg, one’s throat had been violently slashed, and the third was found sans head.
The police maintained that a serial killer finished off the Woods family and set the fire. Two weeks later, they arrested a local transient and insisted he was their culprit.
The fourth pile of newspapers stopped me cold. “BARRINGTON.”
June 21st, 1911. Fire at the home of Irving Barrington II. Twenty-three people dead in all, including Barrington, his wife, four children, two sisters and their families. The event was described as “the latest in a string of tragedies to afflict the prominent family;” one of the Barrington sons had been killed in a streetcar accident just weeks before, and a grandparent succumbed to a heart attack. The only survivor within the Barrington clan was Irving’s youngest brother, Bartholomew, safely boarded at Harvard.
I turned the page. The previous articles chilled my blood; this one froze it solid.
August 7th, 1980. 13-year-old Zoe Barrington of Tuscaloosa, Alabama was missing. A large photograph of Zoe accompanied the article. She was a pretty girl, pale and red-headed, with big blue eyes. She looked a lot like the pictures I’d seen of my father. She looked a little bit like me.
Zoe’s parents were out of town for a few days, visiting their oldest son Luke and his new wife. They’d left her and her older brother, Andrew, alone on their half-acre property. Around 10 pm on August 5th, a neighbor lady went to their house to check on the siblings, as she'd promised their parents she’d do.
She found 15-year-old Andrew curled in the fetal position on the sitting room floor, delirious and sobbing. The expensive Polaroid camera his parents had given him for his birthday was smashed to bits at his feet. Zoe was nowhere to be found.
The neighbor, the police, and finally his parents tried to coax out of Andrew what he had seen. But all he could manage was “find Robby” and “he’s not human.”
“Robby” was a specter. Zoe’s best friend told the police she had talked about her crush on a teen-aged neighbor with that name, but her parents never heard of him, and an extensive search came up empty-handed. Drew, the brother, was incapable of providing any further assistance, and his parents had him admitted to a mental hospital.
I braced myself. I knew what was coming next.
“38 Perish in Fiery Crash.”
The entire extended Barrington clan, scattered across the East Coast, mobilized to assist in the search for Zoe. Lucy Barrington, Zoe’s mother, planned on accommodating some family members at their estate; others would be put up in a hotel. They all met at the Atlanta airport, where Lucy and her husband Peter picked them up with a rented tour bus.
While crossing a bridge, the driver somehow lost control of the bus. The vehicle mangled the guardrail and took a swan dive into a rocky canyon. At the point of impact, the gas tank exploded. The mighty fireball was seen a mile away. There were no survivors.
The sole Barrington spared was teen-aged Andrew, still held in the institution.
Every hair on my body was standing on end. I’d known my father lost his family at an early age, but my mother had spared me all these grisly details. The massive crash. The missing sister. His stay in a psych ward.
I was ready to drop the entire box in a dumpster and go out for many, many drinks. But there was one tied bundle of papers left, and curiosity proved stronger than fear.
This one seemed thick, but when I untied it and shook out the individual papers, a small brown book fell out. I nudged it aside for the time being.
The final series of articles wasn’t labeled. These were the most recent, from The Miami Herald.
December 12th, 1985. Child Found Dead in Family Basement.
On the night of December 10th, a woman named Bonnie Ibanez called the Miami Police in a panic, screaming that her five-year-old son, Shane, had been stolen. The police arrived to find the house a mess - Bonnie had torn it apart looking for her son - but bearing no signs of a break-in.
Bonnie, through tears and shrieks, managed to communicate to the cops that Shane had been in his room, playing with a neighbor kid, when she went to check out a noise in the basement. Upon returning upstairs, both boys were gone. Shane and his little friend Artie.
I shuddered. Artie, again?
I flipped to the next page, then the next. There it was. A sketch artist’s rendition of Artie. Arthur Chamberlain, the little blonde boy who vanished in 1884 then turned up again, un-aged and unchanged, fifty years later. Back for a third round. The caption below the picture stated he wore blue overalls and a red shirt.
I should have been terrified, but I was beyond that point. I read on. This one ended differently. The kid was dead, not missing.
Indeed. The next morning, Shane’s father - James Ibanez, a pilot - came home. The cops watching the Ibanez house allowed him to go inside. Thirty minutes later, they went to find him, and found two bodies - James, dead on the couch, wrists slit to the bone; and little Shane, badly hidden under a blanket in the basement. Little Shane, sans head.
The cops’ theory, and the theory the article writer seemed to endorse, was that the mother had something do do with the kid’s death. Mostly since she kept insisting this “Artie” child was some sort of kindergartener Charles Manson. The next article, and the next, and the next, followed the cops’ continuing hunt for both Artie and evidence to nail Bonnie Ibanez. Neither was successful.
Then, a few days later, the investigation suffered a fatal blow. The Ibanez house burned down. No one was hurt, but the crime scene - and any incriminating evidence - was, literally, up in smoke. The final article stated the police had been forced to drop all charges against Bonnie, who’d been tossed into a padded cell after a complete mental breakdown. The cause of the fire was never determined.
I turned back a few pages to a picture of the Ibanez family, smiling happily in front of Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World. James, a tall, handsome black man of about thirty, held his son up to the camera. His wife, Bonnie, was a foot shorter than him; petite and milky-white, with curly mouse-brown hair. Little Shane, an adorable square-jawed child with dark curls, big eyes, and coffee-colored skin, waved gleefully from his father’s arms.
Bonnie and James. Was one of them a long-lost relative of the Chamberlains? The Hardings? Were they my long-lost cousins? My dad seemed to think that was a possibility.
I reached over and picked up the little brown book I’d tossed aside. I opened it. On the first page was written, in loopy cursive:
My Diary. Property of Zoe Amelia Barrington.
My vanished aunt’s diary. I moved to the couch, reclined on my stomach, and turned to a dog-eared, time-faded entry.
April 12th, 1980
I met a cute boy!
My parents were really mad about the pre-algebra test I failed, and I had to get out of the house, so I took a walk, out in the trees at the back end of the yard where nobody ever goes. I found him there, sitting outside the old shed that’s a pile of useless rust.
His name is Robby. He’s really cute. He’s got dark brown hair and dreamy eyes and he dresses all cool and old-fashioned. And he was a really good listener! I told him all about school and math and my parents, and he told me I was a beautiful and nice girl and that it would all get better.
He’s an orphan. He said he needs my help. He ran away from his abusive foster parents. I felt really sorry for him. So I told him he could hide in the shed. No one will ever know, I don’t even think my parents know it's back there. It’s kind of cool. I have a secret friend, or maybe even (crossing my fingers) a secret boyfriend!
I flinched. I dropped the diary on the couch like it was diseased. Reading the whimsical fantasies of a vanished girl, etched by her own hand in lovestruck ecstasy, suddenly felt nauseatingly voyeuristic.
Robby, who dressed all cool and old-fashioned. Robby, who wasn’t human. Robert Harding, the runaway.
There was a cracking sound from my kitchen. I shot back to the present. I listened for a few seconds then, hearing nothing further, opened Zoe’s diary again.
May 1st, 1980
I can’t stop smiling!
Robby says I can’t tell anyone, since he’s a runaway and he’s scared the cops will catch up with him and force him to go back. But it’s so hard! Stupid Karen Ross keeps on yakking about how Larry and she snuck into see American Gigolo and made out. And when I told her that Larry’s pimples are gross and I’d never let him touch me with his sweaty, slimy fish hands, she said that I’m just jealous because nobody’s asked me out on a date.
And it was so tempting to tell her that the most handsomest, nicest, most grown-up boy in the world lives in my backyard. I think about him all the time. Lucy and Rita keep on asking me why I’m so happy.
As soon as I get out of school, I run into the trees and out to the shed to see him. I’ve been sneaking him sandwiches and milk from the house. We take walks, and we talk about stuff, and today he picked a daisy and gave it to me!
I feel really, really sorry for him. He said his parents and his brothers and sisters were all murdered when he was a little boy. After that the police came and took him away, and he’s lived in nasty orphanages and foster homes with parents that beat him up.
I asked him if they caught the guys who killed his family, and he said no. His family was different, and the cops didn’t care if they got killed. I asked him why. He said he’s not ready to tell…
I smelled burning. I looked up.
WHEE! WHEE! WHEE!
The fire alarm was going off. The air around me was ashy-grey. Smoke wafted into the living room from my kitchen. I jumped to my feet and ran towards the source, and nearly fell to the ground as I inhaled a lungful of smoke. My curtains and cabinets were on fire. Angry red flames, spreading quickly to the walls and ceiling.
Coughing wildly, I retreated to the living room. The smoke grew thicker, I could barely see three feet in front of me through the opaque sea of choked air. Half-thinking, I scooped up the little brown diary and ran.
I ran up and down the open-air hallway, knocking on every door and screaming FIRE at the top of my lungs, fishing in my purse for my phone, dialing 911, and spitting information at the dispatcher.
Then I was running for the street in a pack with my neighbors; then I heard the sirens; then LAFD was battering my door and and uncoiling their hose; then black smoke billowed out my ruined door, writhing like a shapeless organism; and then I started to think again.
Ignoring the firemen’s cries, I ran back towards my apartment. Everything I owned was in there. My laptop, all my books, photos of my family and friends, the angel blanket my late grandmother hand-stitched for me. I got as far as the window before one of the paramedics grabbed me and pulled me back.
“You kidding me, honey?” he snapped. “If you got a death wish, pills are less painful.”
I think I shrugged. I’d forgotten about my stuff, and the danger, and the fire.
Because when I’d looked through the window, I saw someone looking back at me. She’d reached up and pressed a pale hand to the glass.
It was a girl in her early teens. A redhead with freckles, dressed in a black V-neck top. Her big blue eyes cried out to me like a puppy in a dirty cage, betraying unfathomable terror. Her mouth was moving. She was trying to tell me something.
I didn’t tell the firefighters. They couldn’t save her. I knew who she was, and I knew she’d met her doom long ago. I’d stared into those pretty eyes not even an hour before, looking back at me from a photo on the cover of the Tuscaloosa News, circa 1980. I held her diary in my hand.
Zoe. Zoe Barrington.
See what happens next here.
Written by NickyXX