A note from the author: My original intention had been to complete this particular holiday story and release it as a free short story on Smashwords on Christmas. Unfortunately, due to time constraints I was not able to create a cover or do most of the usual more serious editing that I wanted. So instead, I'm presenting this tale in installments, that will continue until Christmas Day where the last part of the story will be told.
I will do another in this style for next Christmas as well, thus starting my own tradition for you my readers. But I will also be re-releasing this story in full as either a very small novella/short story on Smashwords complete with full editing, a proper cover, AND... hopefully some pen and ink illustrations to accompany the tale.
I do hope you'll enjoy this tale of the season which includes my first crossover. What I mean by that is that this is the first time Nathaniel will be meeting some of the established characters from my first published novel "The Bridge". Those familiar with that novel will see some familiar faces here, but set sixteen years in the past before the events of the novel. Will we see these characters and my vampyre Nathaniel meet again? We'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, please enjoy this story. The next installment will be up tomorrow followed by more each day until Christmas. Enjoy...
A LOST GIRL
New Swindon, Connecticut, December 23rd, 1999
“She’s only been missing for eight hours, Sarge,” said the patrolman, shifting his feet uneasily. His superior had her back to him as she stared out the window, not moving. Even the looser strands of red hair, sticking out of her ponytail seemed unnaturally still. This made him uneasy.
Ever since the summer she’d become solemn and hard. She could also be more unpredictable than a volcano. “Technically, it’s not a missing person case until twenty-four hours have passed,” he added nervously.
Finally she broke her silence and replied in a quiet voice “The temperature is already dropping and it’s starting to snow.”
“Everyone’s keeping an eye out for her already, Sarge,” he pointed out and immediately regretted it.
Sergeant Ross spun around so fast that her pony tail wound up slapping her in the face, which did not seem to improve her mood. “Keeping an eye out isn’t the same as actively searching for her!” she snapped. “We’ve already got one girl missing with no leads. I… we don’t want another.”
The patrolman took a step back. He’d heard that red-heads could have a fierce temper, but up until now he’d never believed it. A part of him silently began praying for some kind of diversion that would allow him to leave the room as quickly as possible.
Just then another voice joined the conversation.
“No we don’t, Sergeant.”
‘Note to self,’ he thought breathing a sigh of relief, ‘Stop by the local church and drop a few extra dollars in the donation box.’ Then he turned his head ever so slightly and watched their boss enter the room.
The man’s craggy features made him look like he was always scowling, so you always had to watch his manner and tone of voice. But even then he could prove quite disarming and trip you up before you realized what had happened. More than one suspect had fallen into that trap which was what had led to his appointment as head of the New Swindon Police Department seven years ago.
Since his arrival, Chief Petersen had made a number of improvements in their department. They had doubled the number of officers and would soon be moving to a new and much larger facility. For now they were still located in the town’s original station which was located in the middle of downtown. He’d also brought in Sergeant Ross to act as his second-in-command, two years ago.
Unlike their boss she had a manner that could be quite disarming, which had been a big help in dealing with the local youths. In fact she’d proven to be one of the most effective officers in helping the more troublesome offenders.
But ever since the night that girl disappeared from the Graham estate, she’d become harder and less patient, even with her subordinates.
Just then, Petersen turned to him and said, “Why don’t you round up as many volunteers as you can to start looking for little Julie, Jenkins?” their boss told him.
“Don’t you mean men, Chief?”
“Women too,” his boss replied, “Remember we’re dealing with a little girl. According to her Uncle Jason, she was pretty upset and might respond better to a woman being around.”
“In that case I’ll head out as well,” Sergeant Ross announced, “Where was she last seen?”
Petersen held up his hand to stop her before he answered. “She was heading off into the woods to the east of the Cyrus Graham’s home.”
Jenkins noted the look that passed between his two superiors and quickly left.
He moved quickly down the hallway thinking, ‘Great, that place again. We’re going to need a lot more people, the grounds there are huge.’
Leaving the station, he headed for the local tavern just a block away. There was always a good crowd there at this hour. And most of clientele would have just gotten off work and would only be on their first or second drink. He should be able to round up a good number of volunteers there, plus he could use a quick shot himself. He’d also grab a little brandy to take with him just in case they needed it for the girl when and if they found her…
“I can handle going out there, Roy,” Veronica told her boss evenly. They were alone, so she knew it was okay to call him by his first name. He had been her first partner back in New York City, ten years ago. And in spite of the fifteen year difference in their ages, they’d become the best of friends. So when he left to become chief of police way up here in northern Connecticut, she’d felt as if a part of herself had gone away. Of course she’d had other partners, but it had never been the same. Plus, the city seemed to become meaner over time.
So when Roy came back to visit her two years ago, she was more than ready to accept his offer to become his second-in-command, in this this rural community of twenty-five thousand. She’d been able to do so much good since coming here, but she’d also suffered some failures…
“Are you sure?” her old partner asked gently, interrupting her reverie.
Looking up at him, she nodded.
Unfortunately, he didn’t seem convinced. “I know you, Ronnie. You’re still upset about what became of that girl who disappeared the night Cyrus Graham had that heart attack that put him in a coma.”
“Yes, I am,” she admitted in a controlled voice. “And I’m still hoping he’ll come out of it one day soon and be able to tell us what happened to Rachel. But right now we have another girl missing out that way and she needs to be found before it gets too dark out. The snow is already falling and we’re wasting time.”
Roy studied her for a moment and nodded. “All right, get over to Jason’s place. It’s located on the grounds of Cyrus’ estate near that old stone bridge. That’s where the girl took off from.”
As she started for the door, he added, “Be careful out there, Rookie. I don’t want you getting lost in the snow.”
That made her smile. Even after ten years, she still found the nickname amusing. “I’ll be careful,” she assured him and left.
Halfway down the hall she could feel his eyes watching her. So she decided to give him some of his own medicine.
Upon reaching the front doors she called over her shoulder, “Don’t wait up for me, Oldtimer!”
She barely caught the words, “Who are you calling old, you snot-nosed…?” as the door closed behind her.
* * * * *
Parked off to the side of the road at a rest stop, sat an old station wagon, with a box-like travel trailer attached. A picnic table with benches stood nearby. Both table and seats were covered in a layer of snow at least four inches deep. But this was old snow which had lost some of its white luster. Another layer was already building, giving both bench and table and icy layered cake effect. Beyond the table a gradual slope rose up a dozen feet or so, before sinking downwards and disappearing among the trees.
However, the driver of the vehicle was taking little notice of the wintery scene around him. Instead, he was standing near the edge of the road where the asphalt ended and frozen ground began. He was an older man, with curly greying hair, and a matching beard and moustache. Standing up, he placed his hands on his slightly pronounced abdomen. “Yes, most curious,” he said to himself in a heavy German accent.
“Find something, Otto?” came a voice from the vicinity of his vehicle.
Turning the driver smiled at the sandy-blonde young man who was stepping from the travel-trailer. He had a slender build and was dressed in a heavy winter parka that stretched all the way down to the ground. Although he had just emerged from the warm compartment, his face seemed awfully pink.
“The sun is still up, albeit behind the clouds,” the older man called Otto remarked. “I didn’t expect you to be up until after it had set. Is something the matter, Nathan?”
“I’m not sure,” the young man replied scanning their surroundings with his eyes. “I… I felt a presence.”
“Blonde, brunette or red-head?” Otto teased.
But his friend didn’t answer. Instead, he found Nathan staring into the open field across the road. A barbed wire fence had been erected to keep interlopers out of the rows of corn that normally grew there. On this day however, the field hosted only a wide expanse of snow that ended at the line of woods that bordered it on three sides. The uniformity of the treetops was interrupted by the occasional sloping of a hill, where some pines rose above their brethren and silently stood watch over the open field.
“What do you see?” Otto asked after several moments had passed.
"Nothing, but I smell something,” Nathan replied and quickly made his way across the road. Once there he started to examine the barbed wire carefully.
From what Otto could see there was nothing unusual or odd about the fence, no wait. One section seemed newer than the rest. It was hard to notice at first, because the wire had built up a layer of rust over the years, but the posts it was attached to were fresher by comparison to the others.
Suddenly Nathan stopped and knelt down in front of one section of the fence. Reaching a hand out he touched one of the barbs and that’s when Otto saw it, a red glistening stain on one of the metal points.
He barely remembered to check if the road was clear of oncoming traffic, before running over to join his friend.
Emerging from among the trees a lone wolf slowly padded down the slope and stopped near the picnic table. Its fur was snow white, which allowed the animal to blend in with his surroundings. Watching the two strangers intently it slowly made its way over to where the station wagon and travel trailer stood. Keeping behind the vehicles so as not to be noticed, the great beast began sniffing around.
Both men’s scents were unlike anything it had encountered before, yet there was also something familiar about their smells. Remembering its mission, the wolf began sniffing around the area. In particular is spent a lot of time around the trailer where the younger man had emerged. Besides his odd scent, the beast also detected another familiar smell, human blood.
Just then the breeze picked up and began to come from across the road. Immediately, the animal raised its head. Its delicate nose had detected another scent, one the animal knew very well.
The wolf eyed the two men suspiciously and was about to approach them when its sensitive ears detected the approach of a vehicle. Looking up, the beast saw the car in question had red and blue lights on top. Without hesitation, the snow-white animal quickly made its way back up and over the slope.
A few seconds later, a new figure appeared. It was a man, with long black hair, and high strong cheekbones. Without hesitation he made his way down the steep incline with all the sure-footedness of a deer.
He reached the bottom just as the patrol pulled up behind the travel trailer. As soon as the driver began to emerge from the vehicle, he immediately recognized the flame-red pony-tail trailing down her back. Delighted, he was about to call out to her when he noticed one of the two men across the road do something, disturbing.
TO BE CONTINUED...