Prologue: Friday

There was a young man who never wanted to leave his room. In the room, with him, were two things: a computer, and a safe full of guns.

The side panel of the computer was open. He had taken the hard drive out, removed its tray cover, smashed the disc inside with a 5lb dumbbell, and gouged its surface with a set of keys. The drive’s data would be impossible to access, even for the FBI.

The safe was unlocked. He chose a gun.

With a movement of his hand, the rifle’s ejection port opened, and a single bullet arced through the air, unfired, its lead tip still attached as it tumbled to a rest on room’s white-carpet floor. A wasted round; that was okay. Ammunition was not going to be a problem for him. Certainty was what he really needed; the round ejecting eliminated any doubt that the magazine was inserted properly, which in turn meant that when he pulled the trigger, the gun would do what he needed it to do. He had to be sure this rifle wouldn’t jam. If it did, all of his plans would be ruined.

He left the computer room carrying the rifle, and crept down the hall to his mother’s bedroom.

The door was unlocked.

Nancy was asleep in her bed, the covers pulled up to her chest. Her head was resting on a striped bath towel, which she had left draped over her pillow after her shower the night before. Her reading glasses were on the nightstand, and on the floor next to her were her black satin slippers, and her bedtime reading: a worn copy of the self-help book Train Your Brain to Get Happy.

Nancy kept childhood photos of him all around her bedroom, perched on the luxury furniture that lined the walls: on the dresser, framed in porcelain, there was a portrait of him as toddler. She had dressed him in a red “choo-choo” train sweater that day. Then, further down, a photo taken sometime in her son’s elementary school years: he stands next to a canoe on a rocky shore, wearing trunks and a life preserver, and holding an oar like a walking stick that is twice his own height. He grins wide, and squints up into the summer sun.

Standing over his mother now, his own eyes looked back at him from these moments, anchored in happier times. Before the fear came.

If Nancy woke up just then, she would have seen him standing there, next to the beach photo: the same boy, now fully grown, but gaunt, dressed in black, and pointing a rifle at her face.

He pulled the trigger. One.

The sound of the explosion echoed through the house and beyond, out into the neighborhood’s quiet morning air. He had planned for that: the rifle in his hands was not the most powerful gun in the safe, but it was the quietest, the most inconspicuous. It sounded just like the shots the neighbors heard coming from the surrounding woods every year, during hunting season.

He grasped the bolt handle and wrenched it back, ejecting a single, empty brass cylinder onto the bedroom floor. Pushing the bolt back into position, the next round chambered. He took aim. Two.

Later that day, Nancy’s DNA would be found in droplets on the nightstand, and on the headboard, and on the wall, and soaked into the towel over her pillow, and stuck to the ceiling high overhead. She felt no pain.

He grasped the bolt handle again, chambered another round, and aimed into the open wound. Three.

If a person knew nothing about Nancy, and they were to look just at the photos arranged around her bedroom, they would probably come away with the impression that her son was much younger than he really was. The same was true all over the house: the pictures showed an age progression that stopped abruptly just after elementary school, as if the boy in the picture frame never grew up, or had simply disappeared.

Four.

He was now certain that his mother was dead, and so the first phase of his plan was complete. A success.

He left the rifle on the floor, with the fourth empty cartridge still in the chamber, next to Nancy’s black slippers and her carefully bookmarked copy of Train Your Brain to Get Happy. He returned to his end of the upstairs hall — to the computer room, and the unlocked safe within.

A few minutes later, he went down the stairs, carrying the rest of what he would need. There was the sound of a car starting, and then the automatic garage door closing after it. He turned left out of the driveway, onto Yogananda Street, and then headed west. He never came back.

* * *

Thirty minutes later, a fuel truck was backing up the driveway. The delivery driver was making his regular rounds, and Nancy’s house was one of the stops on his route, so — totally oblivious to the scene upstairs — he got out and connected the truck’s hose to the intake nozzle next to the garage, and began pumping heating oil into the 275-gallon tank in the home’s basement. He would recall that on this frigid morning, the garage doors at 36 Yogananda were closed, the lights in the house were turned off, and he hadn’t noticed any activity at all inside. Then again, he had been making deliveries to that big yellow house with the forest-green shutters for the last five years, and never once had he seen anyone inside.

Most of the neighbors knew there was a middle-aged woman who lived there, up in the yellow house. A few had faint memories of another resident: a young man, thin and pale, who never spoke. It seemed like no one had seen him in years.

The driver completed his delivery, and headed back the way he came, pausing to leave an invoice in the mailbox at the bottom of the driveway. He signed it, and scribbled the date: 12-14-12

* * *

For the next two hours, Nancy’s body lay undisturbed — still tucked under the covers, as if sleeping in her bed. All was still in the house, and all was quiet. Periodically, the silence was broken by the sound of police sirens passing by in the distance, in the town at the bottom of the hill. Once, a helicopter passed low overhead, traveling west.

At 11:47am, the phone in the downstairs study rang. The machine picked up, and Nancy’s friendly voice answered: “Hi, you’ve reached the Lanza residence. Please leave a message, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.” *BEEP*

Through the answering machine’s speaker, a man’s voice filled the empty house. He identified himself as a Lieutenant Brown with the Newtown Police Department, and advised that if there were anyone inside, they should pick up the phone.

The house went silent again. Then the SWAT team broke through the front door with a battering ram.