- 2012 EPIC Book Awards WINNER Best Paranormal
- 2011 Eric Hoffer Book Award, WINNER Best Book in Commercial Fiction
- 2011 Finalist for Allbooks Review Editor's Choice
- 2011 Winner of Carolyn Howard Johnson's 9th Annual Noble (not Noble!) Prize for Literature
- 2011 Finalists for Global Ebook Awards
Fifty years ago, Sam Moore’s little brother Billy vanished without a trace—leaving Sam with guilt that haunts him to this day.
Fifty years with no body, no leads, and no answers. Until now.
When Sam unearths a mysterious green marble buried in his garden, he’s shocked to find himself transported back in time—to Billy. Whisked between past and present with no warning, and receiving only glimpses of their childhood, he struggles to unlock the secret of his brother’s fate.
But the marble isn’t the only secret the ground holds. Further digging uncovers human remains—the legacy of a serial killer who’s been targeting one boy every five years since Billy vanished. The next five-year mark is coming up fast. And now, Sam’s grandson may be in the killer’s sights.
Can Sam tie the past with the present and unravel the mystery of his brother’s disappearance—before the killer strikes again?
From Chapter 2
"The little boy who slept in the bottom bunk, who breathed hot, sweet breath on his face when they hid in the closet beneath the stairs, who offered his sticky hand during scary movies, and who mysteriously disappeared on his eleventh birthday—would be sixty-one today."
"Aaron Lazar is a master storyteller. The sense of intrigue never dims in this book. As we look over Sam Moore’s shoulder into the fire of the green marble, we are drawn with him into an experience of the paranormal, seeing into the unseen worlds he unearths, never to rest until we know the whole truth about what happened to his brother Billy—and to the others." -Natalie Neal Whitefield
"Opening the pages of Healey’s Cave releases a delightfully diabolical mystery with a chilling paranormal plot. Exceptionally written, this book will capture readers with a unique chase for a murderer that transcends time and space."-Joyce Handzo, In The Library Reviews
Sam Moore was free. Free from the tether of the alarm clock, pushy pharmaceutical reps, runny noses, and waiting rooms packed with patients. On the first day of retirement, at the age of sixty-two, he was ready for a change.
He stood behind the barn and looked toward the garden. It lured him with a peculiar intensity he’d never been able to explain to Rachel. The pull was visceral, infused with a strong lust for the land. Cirrus clouds skated across the sky, racing eastward and the cool May breeze ruffled his hair, caressing him.
He should be happy. But a familiar sense of melancholy washed through him. It was always there, ever present. It retreated occasionally, when he was busy caring for patients. But as soon as he stopped—to take a breath, to look out the window, or to eat his lunch—that undercurrent of sadness, born of loss, returned.
It had been this way for fifty years. Fifty years of longing for the truth, of missing his baby brother.
Where are you, buddy?
A flurry of starlings swooped past him. Their trickling waterfall calls resonated, frightening the goldfinches feasting at the thistle feeder. He watched the birds settle on the branches of the black walnut tree. Their blue-black plumage glistened in the sunlight.
The breeze rose, stirring the leaves in the cottonwoods.
Is it a sign?
Sam shot a glance toward the house, embarrassed to have such thoughts. He was glad Rachel couldn’t hear the crazy ideas that populated his mind.
Was Billy dead or alive? Snuffed out on his eleventh birthday, or whisked away by a kidnapper? Was he living somewhere? In Alaska? Canada? Forced to change his name as a child, brainwashed to forget his life as a Moore? Did he have grandchildren, like Sam? Or…
Sam’s heart blackened. He hated this part.
If Billy were kidnapped, he would’ve tried to come home once he gained access to a car. He had been old enough when he disappeared to remember what town he grew up in. So…if he hadn’t returned, he must be gone. Gone for good.
Sam sighed again and pushed back his thick gray hair. Two starlings lit on the birdfeeder and pecked at the seeds. The wooden feeder held suet holders on each end, and Sam’s hands were greasy from the peanut-flavored cakes he’d slid into the receptacles earlier. A woodpecker hung upside down, poking at the treat.
As he watched the birds, he realized it would be harder now to ignore the questions plaguing him about Billy’s fate. He’d have time on his hands. Lots of time. Aside from tending to Rachel’s needs and babysitting the boys, he’d have hours to imagine the best and the worst.
He sighed and put one hand in his pocket, jingling his keys.
I’ll just have to keep busy.
Squaring his shoulders, he walked into the barn and yanked on the starter cord of the rototiller. It coughed, belched black smoke, and stalled. He nudged the choke back and tried again. The engine roared to life. Sliding the choke all the way down, he shifted the tiller into reverse and backed out of the barn.
Sam guided the tiller toward the garden. The wet grass needed mowing, though it had been cut four days ago. May had been festooned with rainstorms, a real record breaker. The tiller’s knobby tires dug into the ground, drawing him past the bearded iris bed planted behind the wooden fence that bordered the cutting garden. Saffron, cranberry, pristine white, and pale lavender-blue petals clamored for attention beside the Japanese Kerria, whose tiny orange flowers glowed on the branches.
His mind drifted to patients and the young doctor who’d taken over his practice.
I wonder how Garcia’s doing?
He'd dreamed about retirement for the past forty years. And here he was, on his first day of freedom, about to embark on a full day of gardening until he dropped into the lovely sleep born of physical exhaustion—and his first thought was about Garcia.
Doctor Andrea Garcia had worked by his side since she graduated from the University of Rochester Medical School. She was good. She’d take excellent care of his patients.
But would she remember to test Jenny Boyd for strep?
The annoying voice hissed inside his head.
Forget about it. It’s not your job. Not anymore.
It was hard to sever himself from a practice that flourished for forty years. Forty years of growing this “limb” that became such a part of him, and everyone expected him to simply chop it off. Just like that! It wasn’t going to be easy.
He stopped and looked at the cloudless sky. The strong sun shone through pure azure, although it was just eight in the morning. Leaves rustled in the whispery willows and sugar maples that dotted the grounds. He smiled, drank in the scent of honeysuckle perfuming the air, and propelled the tiller forward.
The jungle grew to his left. He’d hacked away at the bamboo-like shoots for weeks. The official name of the weed was Japanese knotweed, a rapid-spreading invader that killed everything in its shadow. Last year's stalks were dry and crisp. They towered twelve feet high, crackling in the breeze. He imagined them taunting him, calling to him.
You can’t stop us. We’re taking over.
In the past few weeks, he'd removed half the patch that stretched over five thousand square feet, but there was a lot left to clear. Yesterday's bonfire had been impressive. Fueled with dried knotweed, dead apple tree limbs, and bundles of crispy weeds, it roared into an inferno, inciting stares from passersby. The coals were still warm when Sam added more branches to the pile that morning.
He reached the vegetable garden near the above ground pool and set the tiller in motion between the wide rows of sugar snap peas and asparagus. Rachel and he had feasted on purple-tipped asparagus for the past few weeks.
Asparagus on buttered toast. Mmmm.
His stomach growled. He’d skipped breakfast and bolted outdoors before the sun had crested over the hill.
Sam muscled the machine around the row of peas and started on the other side. The soil churned like butter. Baby beets grew thick within the long row. He smiled again, pleased with the result. He’d defied Upstate New York conventions and had boldly planted the beets at the same time as the peas. It was on March 27th, a rare, eighty-degree day, perfect for the first till.
Normally, the beets went in during the first week in May. This year, he pushed it ahead and hit pay dirt when they flourished in the cold, wet weather of April. The thick greens were five inches tall now. He and Rachel would enjoy sweet buttered beets by the fourth of July.
Sam reached the end of the row and followed the expanse of the Swiss chard, lettuce, and dill. A few volunteer potato plants from last season pushed through the dirt. They towered over the others, ungainly and unexpected. He considered yanking them in the interest of neatness, but couldn’t do it. They’d survived the winter. They’d earned the right to grow.
Lila trotted out of the woods. Her sleek, white body moved with feline fluidity. She meowed twice, raising her tail in greeting.
Sam switched off the tiller and leaned down to pat her. She pushed her head against his hand and turned in small circles as he made a fuss over her.
“Whatsa matter, Lila? Are you hungry? Where’d you go last night, girl?”
She purred and placed her delicate paws on his knees as he crouched beside her. He stroked the smooth fur on her neck and scrubbed his fingers behind her ears.
“That's a good girl. Good kitty.”
When Lila was satisfied, she abruptly terminated the liaison and trotted toward the house. Sam restarted the tiller, finished working the soil between the corn and potatoes, and headed over to the knotweed patch.
He was ready to dig today. Although the job of clearing wasn’t yet complete, he ached to set tine to soil and stir it up. It would allow him to smooth out the area, rake it, and eventually mow the knotweed to death.
He maneuvered the tiller over the lawn to the knotweed jungle and slowly worked the soil. The weed colony was founded when he and Rachel owned horses, years ago. When her multiple sclerosis worsened and she needed the wheelchair, the animals were sold, and the knotweed multiplied, infesting the edge of the woods. By the time Sam retired, it had grown expansively, creating “the jungle.” Sam was obsessed with ridding the landscape of the infectious weeds. Listed first on his retirement list, he planned to turn the area into a lush lawn, opening it to the line of heirloom apple trees that edged the woods.
Something sparkled from the earth. Sam leaned down and poked at the soil, uncovering a clear glass bottle. He brushed off the dirt. “Bayer Aspirin” ran down the side of the tiny vessel in raised letters. He pocketed it. Rachel would want to clean it and add it to her collection. Such treasures frequently popped out of the earth around the house and barn. Long ago, it was common practice to bury trash before the introduction of garbage trucks. Since the house was built in 1815, Sam anticipated an abundance of finds.
He continued tilling until he connected with the woody root of a knotweed plant. The tiller bounced as it tried to unearth the root. Eventually, after coming at it from several directions, it popped out of the ground. The offender was ten inches long, knobby, and misshapen. It resembled a piece of wood. Pink shoots of baby knotweed sprouted from the chunk. He threw it into the wheelbarrow. After letting it dry in the sun for a few days, he'd burn it.
Another object flashed from the dirt. Sam backed up the tiller and dug until his fingers closed around a small marble. He picked it up, rubbed it on his jeans, and held it to the light.
The sphere was small and partially opaque. A cat’s eye. He turned it in his fingers. Light sparkled through glass the color of lichen; muted, pale green overlaid swirls of deeper green within. He smiled, put it in his pocket, and continued until hunger drove him in for lunch with Rachel.