Leave No Trace

A Novel

Formats and Prices





This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 4, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

“Dark and atmospheric, with palpably vivid details and complex characters harboring plenty of secrets” (Kimberly Belle, internationally bestselling author of The Marriage Lie), this riveting and suspenseful thriller–by the author of the critically acclaimed Everything You Want Me to Be–follows the mysterious disappearance of a boy and his stunning return ten years later.

There is a place in Minnesota with hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago, a man and his son trekked into this wilderness and never returned.

Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were presumed dead until a decade later…the son reappears. Discovered while ransacking an outfitter store, he is violent and uncommunicative and is sent to a psychiatric facility. Maya Stark, the assistant language therapist, is charged with making a connection with the high-profile patient. No matter how hard she tries, he refuses to answer questions about his father or the last ten years of his life.

But Maya, who was abandoned by her own mother, has secrets, too. And as she’s drawn closer to this enigmatic boy who is no longer a boy, she’ll risk everything to reunite him with his father who has disappeared from the known world.

With breathless pacing and edge-of-your-seat twists and turns, “Leave No Trace is as thrilling as whitewater rapids and as dark as the Minnesotan wilderness itself” (Amy Gentry, internationally bestselling author of Good as Gone).



BY THE TIME the boy in ward four attacked me, I'd already nicknamed him The Lost One in my head. He'd been admitted a week ago, transferred from police to orderlies while dozens of reporters swarmed the entrance, overwhelming security in their struggle to get a clear shot of our newest, involuntary patient. Inside, he'd put up such a fight that three men had to hold him down while they administered sedatives and brought him straight into isolation. The boy who came back from the dead, the newscasters called him. The picture they flashed, the only one they'd gotten before he'd become a violent blur, showed a sunburned, lean face and dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. His eyes were a ghostly blue, the kind of eyes songs get written about.

Ward four wasn't on my rotation so I didn't see him after that, but I heard about him everywhere. Cashiers at the gas station chewed on their theories. Newspaper editorialists speculated on worst case scenarios, calling him a savage and a murderer. The fascination bled into the Internet, where social media accounts popped up overnight. A fake Twitter handle had already gotten ten thousand followers, someone on Snapchat made him a Bitmoji avatar, and countless people on Facebook filled his timeline with unanswered questions. The entire city of Duluth was obsessed with him; I could practically feel thousands of eyes gazing up the hill toward Congdon Psychiatric Facility, trying to peer inside these old, brick walls.

A few days after his admission Dr. Mehta called me into her office. I was the assistant speech therapist on staff, my shiny, new title after earning my graduate degree from the University of Minnesota and getting promoted from orderly. It still hadn't sunk in, even five months later. Every time I put a note on a patient's record, my signature line popped up, startling me, like I was impersonating someone whose comments mattered. Me, Maya Stark, the recalcitrant kid who was suspended from high school, a professional therapist? I looked like I belonged on the opposite side of the couch. I was the maroon-haired punk girl who ran her German shepherd along the lake walk, making all the tourists snatch their kids out of harm's way. Yet here I was. Twenty-three years old and called in by the head psychiatrist to work with the most famous patient we'd ever had.

"I can't tell if he understands us or not," Dr. Mehta said, pacing behind her desk in a swirl of sari fabric. For a shrink, she rarely sat down. She also lint-rolled herself a lot because her wife fostered cats, like an illegal amount of them. "Understands the diction, that is. He knows perfectly well we're trying to communicate with him and he wants nothing to do with us."

Dr. Mehta was young, at least for being the senior psychiatrist in charge of an entire mental health facility. She'd made a name for herself authoring papers and conducting studies on the harmful effects of physical restraints and isolation on patients. The key to recovery, she proposed, was enabling the patient's sense of autonomy within a group dynamic. Treating them like humans. Imagine that.

"Are flashcards okay?" I figured I'd start slow.

Dr. Mehta nodded and sighed, pausing to stare at the blanks in the record on her computer. "We're looking for any response at this point. Anything at all."

I waited until after the dinner rounds were finished, when stomachs were full and the wind murmured invitations against the dark windows. This was the loneliest time of day, when you let yourself wish there was someone to talk to.

A veteran orderly named Stan admitted me into the locked outer doors of ward four and walked me down the linoleum hallway lined with isolation rooms on either side. A few patients stared at us through the windows. One was banging his fist dully on the glass, but the rest sat on their beds or paced. I counted eight in total, eight patients who weighed more than they knew. All of them pressed on Dr. Mehta's conscience until she could get them safely reintegrated into the common wards.

"I don't think you're gonna have any luck with him," Stan said, keys jingling at his hip. "He's completely ignored everyone who's gone in there except Carol."

Carol Kelley was the seventy-year-old kitchen attendant who brought meals to all the isolation patients. She clipped herbs from her own garden to garnish the mush and served it like she was having Sunday dinner with friends around her kitchen table. Everybody loved Carol, even the sociopaths.

"What does he do?"

"Examines things—his clothes, the mattress. Feels the walls. Likes to drag the bed over to the window so he can see out. Stands there pressing the glass. Sometimes it looks like he's trying to break the whole damn thing."

"Does he eat?"


"Any response to his name?"

"Huh. Like a wall, that one. You could call him Tarzan and he wouldn't care."

Lucas was his name. Lucas Blackthorn. He'd been arrested for breaking and entering at an outfitter's store, attempted robbery of the store, and two counts of aggravated assault on the owners who'd caught him in the act.

Stan paused outside the room. "I'll be right here at the window."

"I can take care of myself."

"That's why I'm standing outside the door, and not between you and Tarzan."

Some of the orderlies resented my promotion, my leap from a blue-collar hourly wage into the hallowed ranks of the salaried, but not Stan. He gave me a grin, unlocked the door with a metal creak, and waved me inside. I stepped in and waited for it to shut behind me before looking up.

The patient faced the back of the room with his hands on the cement block wall in a push-up position. From the way he stood with his shoulders tensed and legs braced it looked like he was trying to move the entire wall. I took a step closer and noticed his hospital shirt was torn at the bottom and he'd used the missing strip to tie his hair back.

"Hello, Lucas."

He remained still for a second, but then surprised me by turning his head. I saw his face in person for the first time.

He wasn't a boy.

My brain stuttered on that one thought for what felt like a stupidly long time as our eyes met and held. Why did all the media keep calling him a boy? Lucas Blackthorn looked at least as old as me and stood a foot taller. His cheeks were hollow and shaded with the beginning of a beard. His skin was a deep reddish tan, not the pasty white of most of our long-term patients, and his eyes conveyed things that no first session speech therapy could have drawn out: intelligence and caution mixed with undisguised curiosity.

Moving slowly and deliberately, I walked to the bare mattress between us. There was no table, so we'd have to start the flashcards on the bed. He watched my progress, studying my hair. The short, pixie-cut combined with its dyed color grabbed a lot of patients' attention. One of the men in ward two, a lifer named Big George with a traumatic brain injury, even liked to touch the ends of it that swished in front of my ears. I made sure he stuck to the left side so he didn't get distracted by the tiny silver hoop earrings along my right ear. Lucas noticed those, too. I watched him catalog every part of me, absorbing the appearance of this outsider to his room, like someone would analyze a newly discovered insect. His gaze paused on the blue fabric bag I carried, his expression unreadable now.

I put a hand on my chest and waited until his attention snapped back to my face.

"I'm Maya." Three syllables. Slow rate, distinct pronunciation. I didn't smile. I'd never trusted strangers who smiled at me—they always wanted something.

Patting the place where my pulse beat too fast, I nodded and said it again. "Maya."

He swiveled back toward the wall, dismissing the insect. I glanced behind me where Stan was shaking his head through the lead glass. Shrugging, I started to pull out the flashcards when suddenly Stan's face changed. His eyes widened and his mouth opened in a warning I couldn't hear.

I hesitated and before I could turn around, a giant force threw me into the wall and something was being looped around my neck. The metal door shrieked as Stan wrenched it open and I was pulled back, my body turned into a human shield. The thing around my neck tightened and I panicked, unable to breathe. Lucas had my arms locked behind me in an impossibly strong grip. I fought against it, desperate to free myself.

"Keys," he said in a hoarse voice. I bowed my body against his, trying to find some slack in the cord around my throat, but met only a column of unyielding muscle. If anything, the cord grew tighter.

My vision started to contract, black creeping in at the edges. I kicked viciously, striking his shins so hard they should have snapped in half, and used the rest of my oxygen in the process. The last thing I saw before everything went dark was Stan's hand, holding out his ring of keys.

I came to on the floor in a gasping, head-pounding mess. Stan lay next to the door, unconscious, and Lucas Blackthorn was gone.

"Agghhh." I grabbed my head and waited for the air to work its way back through my body. When I could get up, I crawled over to check Stan's pulse and saw blood trickling down from his hairline. He was alive.

A noise came from the hallway. Lots of noises, as my ears started registering them.

I peeked out and saw patients at their isolation windows, banging and shouting. Farther down the hall, it became obvious what they were excited about: Lucas Blackthorn, trying to find the right key to get through the second set of doors.

Without any conscious thought, I slipped Stan's baton from his belt and darted down the hallway with Lucas's back the only thing in focus, my progress muffled by the noise from the other patients. At Stan's station I tripped the emergency security button and lifted the baton. Lucas was only a few feet away now, punching key after key into the old locks, oblivious to the electronic security square mounted above.

I waited, willing myself to breathe quietly while eyeing his upper arms, his thighs, the major muscle groups I could aim for without causing unnecessary injury. He couldn't have more than twenty pounds on me. Thirty, tops. My fingers flexed over the baton while I mentally traced the route from the front desk to this ward, counting the seconds until backup arrived. Then he flipped the keys over and found the badge, Stan's security badge, which he stared at for a split second before pressing it to the door, making it beep and flash green. I didn't hesitate this time. As soon as I heard the locks disengage, I swung the baton into his leg.

He stumbled into the outer hallway, still on his feet, and started to run for the exit at the end of the corridor. I launched myself at him, jumping on his back and sending us both crashing into the wall and rolling to the floor.

He scrambled to get up and I didn't care how famous he was, I didn't care if he was lost; there was no way this guy was escaping on my watch. I hooked my legs around his and locked the baton across his chest, trying to pin his arms. Shaking my hold, he flipped us both to our backs, crushing me underneath him, and grabbed for the baton.

Voices and footfalls thundered toward us.

"A little help," I yelled and immediately regretted it. The words were like fire racing through my bruised throat, and I couldn't help the moan that followed them. At my sound of pain, he released his grip on the baton and fell inexplicably still. We both paused in that crazy position—like a piggy-back ride tipped on its back—before his weight disappeared, lifted off me by the cavalry of orderlies and security staff.

"Stan!" I waved some of them toward the ward entrance, before being seized by a fit of coughing.

Automatically I covered my throat with my hands, trying to stop the convulsions while the team clamored around, practically tripping over me to secure our wayward patient. Their boots braced and stomped inches from my head, sending vibrations through the linoleum and into my skull, which felt as fragile as an egg on concrete. No one offered to help me up. Their voices sounded far away, eclipsed by the pull and drag of air in my throat, the unsteady rise and fall of my chest. Only the tremor in the floor, the possibility of being trampled, made me turn my head to the side and that's when I saw him watching me.

They'd flipped him on his stomach and pulled his arms behind him. He was putting up no resistance and barely seemed aware of their efforts to subdue him. For a strange, endless moment, our stillness separated us from the rush of legs flooding the corridor, from the shouts and determination swarming above. We stared at each other, our faces both resting on the cold, flecked tiles less than three feet apart.

Then a needle flashed in the fluorescent lights, the men picked him up, and Lucas Blackthorn was gone.


I SHOULD HAVE stayed on site to write up the incident report, but I figured a full body assault earned me a little sick time and the idea of writing it at my kitchen table sounded infinitely more appealing than the desk I shared with the exercise therapist. I almost made it out of the building before Nurse Valerie caught me and dragged me back to the medical ward. As soon as my butt hit the bed, two more nurses appeared, raptor style, and they started tearing into me about the boy who came back from the dead.

"He's not a boy," was all I could say as they rubbed ointment on my neck. It was hard to swallow.

"He doesn't look like a teenager, that's for sure," Valerie replied, trying to give me a pill that I repeatedly rejected. Painkillers and I didn't mix. "He must have had to grow up fast out there in the woods, but they only show pictures of him as an adorable kid on the news."

"How do you think he survived all those years?" another asked and they started tossing out theories from the media. Reporters were falling all over themselves to cover every known moment of Lucas Blackthorn's life and mysterious reappearance. Hikers gave interviews about stories that had only been campfire yarns before, tales of strange sightings in the wilderness, noises and shadows that had sparked Bigfoot rumors, and every conversation ended with the same question: Where was his father?

Josiah Blackthorn had taken his son camping in the Boundary Waters ten years earlier and neither had been seen since, not until now, when Lucas had emerged from the wild—violent, uncommunicative, and alone. I'd wondered about the Blackthorns, too. Right now, though, the only thing that interested me was the distance between my head and my pillow. As they traded tidbits various journalists had dug up, I slipped my backpack over my shoulder and slunk away.

It was dark as I coasted down the hill from Congdon toward the giant shadow of Lake Superior. The entire city of Duluth, Minnesota, clung to the side of an ancient basalt ridge, fighting the slope toward the water, and you knew you were getting close to my neighborhood when the pavement started buckling like waves on a high wind. Paint peeled off crooked porches where old couches and lawn chairs faced the giant warehouses lining the docks. Lincoln Park was a hop, skip, and a world away from Canal Park, where tourists snapped pictures of the lift bridge, took their sightseeing cruises, and ate their fennel and watermelon salads. We didn't get a lot of fennel south of Piedmont.

When I pulled up in front of the house, I was surprised to see the lights on and Jasper out in the yard.

"How's my boy?" I opened the gate and a battering ram of slobbery muscle knocked into my legs.

Jasper barked and nosed into me, demanding attention.

"I could've used you today, Jazz." I bent down and he immediately flipped over to present his belly. For a German shepherd who prided himself on guarding our house from the dangers of everything from thieves to seagulls, belly scratches turned him into a grateful pile of ooze.

I obliged him for a while and let my bag slide to the ground. Even though the nights were still warm—practically mid-October and I couldn't even see my breath—I wasn't up for our usual evening walk today. Extra petting would have to suffice.

"Dr. Mehta—you remember her? She smelled like cats? Anyway, she asked me to go see a new patient."

Lucas Blackthorn's face swam in front of my gaze with that enigmatic expression that seemed oblivious to being pressed to the floor by a half dozen guards and orderlies. He'd been focused only on me and he seemed . . . stunned. Maybe he'd been upset that a girl had thwarted his escape. Maybe he'd been slapped by a moment of lucidity. It was hard to see an expression like that and avoid judgment or assigning meaning where there might be none, or at least none that readily translated outside the labyrinth of a patient's mind. I shook my head, forcing the image away.

"Look." I tugged down the collar of my hoodie. "Look at my neck."

Jasper obediently smelled my throat, licked the skin, and then snorted abruptly. Apparently the nurse's ointment wasn't tasty.

Laughing, I let us inside the house. As soon as the door opened, Jasper flattened me against the jamb, raced through the entryway, and sent up a torrent of barks from the kitchen. I followed in time to see him prancing in front of the table, tail wagging, as a man jumped up and backed around the wall, half behind my father. They could've been brothers, the two men both wide-jawed, sun baked, and too big to fit comfortably on the kitchen chairs, but even with one look you knew who was in charge.

"For Christ sake, Butch. He can't lick you to death," Dad said, picking up his beer for another swig.

"Come here, Jasper." I called the dog to me and patted his neck before telling him to go lie down.

"How many times do I have to come here before he leaves me alone?" Butch Nelson crossed his menacing, tattoo covered arms, the tough guy pose at odds with the boyish rose of his perpetually wind-burned cheeks. As the first mate on my dad's salvage tug, he wasn't easily disturbed, but he'd been attacked by a stray when he was a kid and refused to see the point of any canine life since. He sat back down, careful to face the kitchen door where the dog waited with hopeful eyes.

"Jasper became anxiously-attached as a puppy. He has confidence issues." Dropping my backpack near the table, I glanced at the depth map covering the spot where I'd planned to write up my incident report with a ramen noodle and Oreo cookie dinner and the house to myself. Today was obviously not the day for plans. "What are you guys up to? I thought you were heading to Thunder Bay."

"Grant money came through." Butch grinned.

"You got it?"

Dad glanced up from the table, nodding, and I adjusted the hoodie to make sure it covered my neck. A hint of a smile passed over his face, but the logistics of the trip were already crowding it out. He was planning, navigating, submerged in the details.

"So which ship is it? The Madeira? The Vienna? The Fitzgerald?"

"The Bannockburn."

Our eyes met before he turned back to the map, leaving a sudden silence in his wake.

The Bannockburn. The ghost ship. I moved to the kitchen on autopilot and started looking through the cupboards, not sure at all if I had the stomach to eat.

My dad had spent most of his life on the water. His boat provided tugging and towing services in the summer and icebreaking in the winter, plowing the way for the thousand-foot lakers that lumbered in and out of the Duluth and Superior harbors, which—contrary to Minnesota's seemingly landlocked geography—was the largest freshwater port in the world. No matter how many ships he guided to safety, though, it was what lay underneath the surface that called to him. No one knew exactly how many ships Superior had taken. Most of the official crashes had been documented in the last hundred years, but add in the unregistered boats, the rum-runners during Prohibition, and all the countless vessels sailing before modern navigation or lighthouses and you might as well be looking at something the size of a mass grave and guessing how many bodies it could hold. Dad was just a kid when his father explained to him about the cold temperature of Superior, how the icy water pulled bodies down and kept them there, and he'd been fascinated by the cemetery at the bottom of the lake ever since. Salvage work came rarely because there wasn't any money in it, so Dad and Butch recently started applying for grants based on the historical and cultural value of the lost ships. Someone must have agreed, giving them a chance to steal back what Superior had swallowed.

They began murmuring, drawing routes and pointing out hazards while I found a brick of ramen noodles and popped it in the microwave. I watched the bowl spin until Dad's voice cut through my reverie. He'd gotten up for another beer and caught a glimpse of my neck.

"What the hell happened to you?"

I tugged the zipper on the hoodie higher, trying to cover as much skin as possible. If it looked half as bad as it felt, my neck must have been one solid bruise. "It's nothing."

"Maya." A two-syllable warning that wasn't going to tolerate any bullshit.

I sighed. "A patient tried to escape tonight. I was in his way."

"He strangled you?" Butch craned his head to try to see the evidence.

Refusing to make eye contact with either of them, I relayed the fight briefly in the most generic terms possible.

Butch started to ask another question, but I waved him off, telling him I couldn't discuss a patient's case. Dad's eyes shifted from my neck to the depth map, and he took a long drink.

"We're not going anywhere. We'll shelve the trip until spring." He cut off Butch's objections. "It'll give us more time to plan."

"Dad, no."

Ignoring the beep of the microwave, I followed him and planted my hands on the table when he would have folded up the map. "You're going."

"Look at your neck, Maya. That's unacceptable. I'm going to talk to Dr. Mehta—"

"No, you're not. I'm twenty-three years old and this is what I do. I got the job done tonight, and I'm going back to work tomorrow, and the day after that. Dr. Mehta knows what I'm capable of."


"We talked about this when I agreed to stay here," I reminded him.

My fingers spread over the shoals and dug into the dark basins. All their notes and arcs of possible routes had turned the lake into a biology class dissection of something still alive. "Dad, it's the Bannockburn. I wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for the Bannockburn."

He drew back. We hadn't talked about her in years and even then it had been about endings, not beginnings. His hand dropped to the western edge of the lake and brushed over the cliffs and towering pine forests where he'd met my mother.

She'd told me the story, one of the few she shared. A geology student at UMD, she'd been studying how ice formed in the cracks of the North Shore's basalt face and caused rock slides over time. It was why the world's largest lake was getting even larger; it ate the land around it. She needed to document the cliffs from the water and hired Brian Stark, a young salvage tug captain, to pilot her along the shore. He asked her out every time they sailed, as determined as the lake breaking against the rocks, but she didn't agree until he told her the story of the Bannockburn.

In 1902, a young crew set out on Lake Superior in the S.S. Bannockburn with 85,000 bushels of wheat in her hold. They didn't know the gales were coming, or maybe they did, but they didn't know enough to be afraid. Every November the lake turned gray, the water churned and raged against the coming winter, and hurricane-force winds whipped the waves into forty-foot crests. The lake became hungry.

The Bannockburn was downbound that day and spotted by two other ships also fighting their way through the storm. Then she vanished. A single life jacket printed with the boat's name washed up onshore three weeks later. A few other clues surfaced, fragments here and there, but the lake didn't give up any secrets. Countless ships had disappeared on Superior, but the Bannockburn was the only one sighted after she was lost. Tales of glimpsing the Bannockburn's profile on the horizon of the water spread through the Great Lakes. It sailed as a ghost ship on the waves, warning other boats of impending danger before disappearing into the wind.

Something about that had appealed to my mother, something my dad couldn't have predicted at the time, but it got him a date and—a few years later—a marriage and baby, too. My earliest memories were on Dad's tugboat, squealing at the empty horizon and claiming I'd seen a phantom ship as we sped into the endless blue. The Bannockburn was one of the great mysteries of Superior, and now Dad and Butch were going to chase it down.

"Don't worry about me." Ignoring the discomfort in my throat, I smiled at Butch. "I'll have Jasper for company."

Butch gave the dog a dirty look and grunted.

"And I still have the bathroom to finish. I was thinking about new hardware, because I don't like how—"

"Maya," Dad scanned me up and down, still searching for hidden wounds. "Someone just tried to kill you."

"He wasn't trying to kill me." And then, before I could stop it. "Trust me, I know the difference."

Pain glanced over Dad's face and suddenly neither of us knew what to say. There were too many ghosts in the room, and none of them had sunk with the Bannockburn. After a minute I mumbled goodnight, slung the backpack over my shoulder, and left the kitchen, forgetting my noodles in the microwave until I found them the next morning, a cold, tightly coiled lump that had lost any chance for salvage.

Jasper followed me into the bathroom, where I splashed water on my face and avoided looking at the angry, red line bisecting my neck, instead staring glassy-eyed at the handles of the knotty pine cabinet I'd installed last year. Nickel. Maybe brushed nickel. My throat ached and my head began to pound, but it wasn't until Jasper nudged me that I flipped the light off and crawled under my duvet.

On Sale
Sep 4, 2018
Page Count
336 pages