Upgrade to a better browser, please.

Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Books

The Disappearance

Added By: gallyangel
Last Updated: Administrator

The Disappearance

Purchase this book through Purchase this book from Purchase this book from
Author: Bentley Little
Publisher: Berkley Books, 2022
Signet, 2010

This book does not appear to be part of a series. If this is incorrect, and you know the name of the series to which it belongs, please let us know.

Submit Series Details

Book Type: Novel
Genre: Horror
Sub-Genre Tags:
Avg Member Rating:
(0 reads / 0 ratings)


The perfect getaway turns into a nightmare when a girl vanishes without a trace...

Gary, his girlfriend, Joan, and their friends intend to make the most of their three day vacation from UCLA partying at Burning Man. But soon after they arrive at the festival in the remote desert, Joan disappears. Calls to her parents' home yield only dead air. Her school records are gone. And there's no evidence that Joan, or even her roommate, ever existed. Most disturbing of all is what they do find.

Among Joan's belongings is a prayer written on a small scroll. It's a safeguard--and a warning--from something called The Outsiders. For Gary and his friends it's the only clue. Now, if they want to find out exactly what happened to Joan, they must follow it. But they may not like what they uncover....



The desert stretched out before them, a tan plain dotted by occasional brown brush and bordered at the far edges by small mountains painted purple by the rising sun. Aside from Reyn, who was driving, Gary was the only one in the car still awake, and he shifted slightly in the middle of the backseat, both to relieve some of the pressure that Joan's elbow was putting on his midsection and to move away from Brian's leg, which was pressing uncomfortably close. From the passenger seat in front, Stacy stirred, letting out a muffled sound that was half snore, half snort.

"That's why I love her," Reyn whispered back.

Gary smiled.

They'd been driving since midnight, when Brian had gotten off work at Del Taco, and were now out of California and well into Nevada. If Brian had been awake, he would have insisted they stick to their planned itinerary and stop off in Vegas for a few hours, but luckily for the rest of them he had been out like a light since San Bernardino, and they had decided on the spur of the moment, in the middle of the darkness, in the middle of the desert, to skip Las Vegas and had turned onto a state highway at Baker.

They were on their way to Burning Man, the tribal gathering held each summer in the Black Rock Desert. Gary knew next to nothing about the festival, only that it had something to do with a big effigy that got set on fire each year like the straw figure in The Wicker Man. Stacy had been before, and it was she who'd initially suggested they make this trek. They'd had fun at Coachella together, she'd said. This would be even better.

Indeed, they had all gone to Coachella together-all of them except Joan-and while that had been fun and there'd been no problems, it had also been only a two-hour drive from UCLA, with Palm Springs, Indio and a host of sprawling, newly developed desert cities in the immediate surrounding area.

This was totally different.

For one thing, Burning Man was ten hours away, out in the middle of nowhere and lasted a week. For another, it was not a well-planned commercial endeavor but a hippieish "event" where participants were supposed to create a temporary community dedicated to "art, self-expression and self-reliance."

Two days at Coachella had been fine, but Gary wasn't sure the five of them could spend a week together without ending up at one another's throats, and he was glad that their respective work schedules had precluded them from attending all save these climactic three days. Unfortunately, it was also Labor Day weekend, which meant that they were going to be stuck in endless lines of traffic when they tried to return to Southern California.

Joan stirred awake, opening her eyes and smiling at him. She kissed his cheek and wrapped an arm around his midsection. Even here in the car, hair tangled and face groggy, she looked absolutely beautiful, and as always, he was astounded by the fact that she was going out with him. Although he'd seen her around campus before-and noticed her-they had met only last semester in a music appreciation class they had together. He could not remember now how or why they had started talking. He seemed to recall that either she had asked him for a pencil or he had asked her for one, but the memory of that first meeting was vague and hazy. He'd been dating someone else at the time-Meg Wells, a hyperefficient advertising major whose life was so well organized that even the specifics of her leisure activities were accounted for on her PDA-but he'd found himself thinking more and more about Joan, looking for her in the crowd outside the music building before class, going out of his way to walk with her after class, although nothing had happened between them. It wasn't until earlier this summer, after Meg had landed a summer internship at a high-powered advertising agency and abruptly dumped him, that Gary had run into Joan at a party and had gathered up enough courage to ask her out on an official date. It turned out that she was just as interested in him as he was in her-and had been all the past semester-and they moved seamlessly from casual acquaintances to friends to... more than friends. Boyfriend and girlfriend, he would have said, but she didn't like those terms. Lover was out, too, as was the perennially unpopular significant other.

Whatever they were, they were together, and he was humbled by the fact that he was with someone so clearly out of his league.

There was another snort from the front seat.

Stacy and Reyn, on the other hand, were a perfect match.

Bright white light burst through the passenger windows as the sun surmounted whatever obstacle on the eastern horizon had kept its rays from shining on the highway. There was a chorus of groans and complaints as Stacy and Brian were jolted awake.

"About time," Gary told them.

"Where are we?" Stacy wanted to know.

"Past the nuclear test range," Reyn said.

"Are you serious?" Brian asked.

"Yeah. There was a fence about twenty miles long."

"I don't like that." Brian glanced back out the rear windshield. "Can we go home another way?"

"People drive past here all the time."

"Yeah, and look at the incidence of cancer in this country."

"It's not coming from the Nevada desert," Reyn said patiently.

"I don't want to take chances," Brian said. "You can gamble with your sperm count, but I didn't sign up for that."

They stopped for a late lunch at an Arby's in the small town of Fallon and reached the two-lane road leading into the Black Rock Desert by midafternoon. The traffic was bumper to bumper, and it took them more than an hour to get to a spot where they could drive off the road and onto the playa.

The festival had been going on for five days now, and what Stacy called "Black Rock City" had sprouted from the flat ground like a recycled shantytown in a postapocalyptic world. They could see brightly painted retro shacks and white futuristic domes spread out before them, an assortment of curious flags flying from makeshift towers. People were milling about, gathered in groups, walking alone, working on sculptures, playing instruments, lecturing, listening, dancing. Smoke rose from various bonfires, though the temperature was well over one hundred degrees. A stick-figure effigy atop a high wooden platform-the Burning Man himself-overlooked it all.

"Seems cool," Reyn said unconvincingly.

"Find a place to set up camp," Stacy told him.

They drove around the outskirts of the activity until they found a section of open space between what appeared to be an oversized Lego building (meredith's candy house, according to a hand-painted sign) and a black, graffiti-covered block of wood, bigger than their car, whose torn sheet of a flag announced joe strummer lives! Reyn pulled to a stop, and they all got out. It felt good to be able to stretch, and Gary jogged in place for a moment while Joan performed a few quick jumping jacks beside him. The air was heavy and hot, and smelled of smoke and garbage, paint and pot.

Reyn opened the trunk. They'd brought a big ice chest filled with food and drink, as well as three sacks of snacks from Trader Joe's. Gary and Joan had packed a tent for the two of them to share, as had Reyn and Stacy, but Brian had only his sleeping bag. "I'm staying on the ground," he said. "Under the stars. I don't want some advanced polymer coming between me and Mother Nature. That's against everything Burning Man stands for." He grinned. "Unless, of course, I meet a comely young lass who asks me to share her domicile for the evening."

Brian unrolled his sleeping bag on the dirt directly in front of the car, then sat on top of it, listening to his iPod while the two couples each put up their respective tents. Gary and Joan's was the simpler of the two, and they were set up and ready to go before Reyn and Stacy had finished arguing over where to pound in their stakes. Gary walked over to the open trunk and grabbed a bag of spiced pita chips. "Why don't you put everything in the backseat?" Reyn said. "It's cooler."

"What about the ice chest? Should I-?"

"Just put it on the seat. If any of us wants anything, we can open the door and get it." Two bearded, shirtless guys about their age ran by, squirting each other with Super Soakers. "Besides, I don't want anyone else stealing our stuff."

Gary moved the ice chest and snack sacks to the backseat of the car; then he, Joan and Brian ate chips while Reyn and Stacy finished putting up their tent.

"I guess we're done," Reyn said, stepping away from the tent to look at it.

Brian held up the empty pita chip bag. "We are, too."

"So, what's the plan?" Gary asked.

They all looked at Stacy. She was the one who'd been here before, who'd convinced them to come in the first place, and if there was any sort of program, schedule or timetable, she would know.

"Why don't we just... explore?" she suggested. She waved her hand toward the motley collection of structures in front of them. "Within Black Rock City there are many villages, and they all have their own artwork, manifestos and music. That's the best thing about being here."

"Aren't we going to be in trouble because we're not building something?" Joan asked.

Gary smiled. "We could dig a latrine."

Stacy sighed. "That's the spirit."

A gray-dreadlocked man in a loincloth danced by, blue zodiac symbols painted on his hairy chest and arms. Behind the Joe Strummer cube, in front of a tie-dyed Bedouin tent, a group of young women in colorful gauzy dresses stood in a circle with their eyes closed, holding hands and chanting.

Brian rubbed his hands in a parody of greed. "Just point me toward the E."

Reyn and Stacy laughed.

Gary looked meaningfully over at Joan. The two of them were the weekend's sober chaperones, the in-place equivalent of designated drivers. Although Gary liked an occasional beer, he was deathly afraid of drugs, and Joan came from a strict religious background and did not even drink. So it was their responsibility to make sure the rest of them did not overindulge or get involved in potentially dangerous activities.

"Oh," Brian said in a tone of exaggerated simplicity. "I almost forgot. I have my own." He reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a wrinkled plastic sandwich bag filled with pills. "Ta-da!"

Gary's heart lurched in his chest. "Where did you get that?" he demanded.

"Don't worry about it, Mr. Clean."

"What if we'd gotten pulled over? What if a cop found that on you? We'd all be in jail right now!"

Brian grinned. "This will all be gone by Sunday. The car will be totally clean on the way back."

Gary was furious. "You stupid asshole!"

"I'll punish him," Reyn promised. "I'll make sure we drive past that test range on the way home."

"Hey, I wasn't joking about that!"

"It's my car," Reyn reminded him.

"Then I'll catch a ride with someone else."

"Let him," Gary said. He reached for Joan's hand and turned away, pulling her with him as the two of them headed through the crowd toward some of the villages and artwork. The festival had an overall theme, as it did each year, but he'd forgotten it and could not tell what it was from the installations around them. Behind a long white wall, onto which were tacked photographs of isolated smiles, he heard the sounds of acoustic guitar and flute. Joan pulled him in that direction, and he allowed himself to be led. "Can you believe that asshole? Carrying drugs?"

"You knew this was going to happen," Joan pointed out. "What did you think they were going to do when they got here?"

"I didn't think there'd be drugs in the car with me."

"Just because they're into that doesn't mean that you have to be. As I understand it, that's what Burning Man is all about: letting everyone celebrate in their own way."

"You're very nonjudgmental," he said.

She performed a small curtsy. "It's one of my most attractive qualities."

Smiling, Gary kissed her. "You're good for me," he said.

They walked around the side of the wall and saw a bald woman and a long-haired man seated in folding chairs atop a provisional stage. The woman was playing flute, the man guitar, and they were performing for a group of twenty-odd people sitting cross-legged on the bare dirt. Gary and Joan moved to the back of the crowd and stood there, listening. But the duo did only two more songs before vacating the stage for an angry poet who started shouting his work into a child's Mr. Microphone toy.

Gary and Joan wandered away.

"So, did you tell your parents you were coming here?" Gary asked.

Joan looked shocked. "Of course not!" There was a pause. "You?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said. "Sort of. I mean, my parents aren't the hippest people on the planet, and I don't think they'd ever heard of Burning Man before, so I didn't tell them details about it. But they know I'm here."

"I'm jealous," she said. "I wish I had that sort of relationship with my parents."

"You're jealous of my relationship with my parents?" He shook his head. "Your envy is sadly misplaced, young lady."

The sun was getting low, but the air was still hot, and they went through an intricate maze made out of palm fronds before taking refuge beneath a giant umbrella spraying mist on those below it. Finally they made their way back to their own camp. The ice chest was out of the trunk and on the ground, and over it Reyn had fashioned a type of awning to provide shade, raiding the box of black trash bags they'd brought and clamping the ends of three bags between the tops of the car's passenger doors while affixing the other ends to some sticks he'd found and stuck in the ground. Reyn's little hibachi was set up next to the tents, and Stacy was cooking hot dogs over charcoal. She grinned. "Want a wiener?" she asked.

"Already have one," Gary told her.

"I can vouch for that," Joan added.

The others laughed. Stacy used a fork to pick up the hot dogs that were finished grilling. She piled them on a plate, then put on two more for Gary and Joan.

Brian looked apologetic. "Sorry, man. I should've told you I was carrying. I just didn't think about it. Honest."

Copyright © 2010 by Bentley Little


There are currently no reviews for this novel. Be the first to submit one! You must be logged in to submit a review in the BookTrackr section above.


No alternate cover images currently exist for this novel.