(If you missed last week’s first chapter, check it out online at newrichlandstar.com
Pam Steinbauer glanced at the clock on the wall. She had long since put her daughter, Cecelia, to bed and now sat on the couch in the family room reading the newspaper from that morning. She was distracted, however, as she saw the clock tick toward 10:00 P.M.
Her husband, Martin, was usually home by 9:30 on game nights. If something, such as overtime, caused a basketball game to run long, he would normally shoot her a text. But tonight, nothing. That was unlike Martin, thought Pam. She turned her attention to the picture window looking out on the woods surrounding their home. The snow that had started almost an hour earlier was now falling thicker and faster.
Pam came to a decision. She didn’t want to be the worried wife, but Martin not appearing by this time was worrisome. Besides, she figured, as soon as she dialed his cell, his headlights would appear down the long driveway. Pam hit the call button on her phone and put it to her ear, hoping to hear her husband’s voice on the other end.
Nothing. Not a dial tone, no direct path to Martin’s voice mail, nothing. That seemed odd. Pam hit redial, but encountered the same results. Even if Martin had his phone off for some reason, she’d at least get his voice mail. Could the snow be affecting cell service? She called the athletic director at the school to test the theory and to see if there was some legitimate reason Martin wasn’t home yet.
Maury McGirk answered on the third ring. After the first ring, Pam’s heart had started to thud a little quicker, knowing that the problem was not with the cell towers. When Pam asked if the game was over, Maury told her it had ended over half an hour before. In fact, he had seen Martin head out the doors about 9:20. Sensing something was wrong, he suggested that he’d drive out to the Steinbauer place in case Martin had ended up in the ditch in that two-mile interval. As she hung up, Pam sank back into the couch to resume her growing panic.
Ten minutes later, Maury pulled up the Steinbauer driveway. Pam hastened to the front door to meet him. “Grab your coat and boots,” he told her.
“But what about Cecelia?” asked Pam.
Beverly McGirk appeared from behind her husband. “I’ll keep watch,” she told the distraught mother.
As Pam climbed in the car, her mouth overflowed with questions. “I’ve already called the police, so just calm down,” was all she was told. It didn’t take long to drive the mile and a half to where Martin’s crossover was pulled over to the side of the road, the driver’s side door still ajar. A police car had pulled up behind the vacant vehicle. Pam hurried across the highway to see Officer Jacob Cubit checking out a line of footprints heading back toward town. Jacob had been on the varsity basketball team when Martin started his announcing career. His muscular six foot frame was hard to miss, as was his dark hair protruding from under his hat.
Jacob glanced up at Pam’s approach and went to meet her. “I don’t know what to tell you, Pam,” he said. “Take a look at this.” Pam walked with him back to the footprints. The pair followed them about 100 yards until the prints just stopped. There was no return set and nothing that indicated a divergence from the straight path along the side of the highway. There was, however, a bright patch of iciness at the end of the trail.
“It’s as if something heated up the snow that had fallen and then quick froze again,” commented Jacob.
“But where’s Martin?” asked Pam.
Jacob looked at her sympathetically. “I wish I knew,” he responded.
Martin Steinbauer opened his eyes and was greeted by a pair of eyes looking down a long snout back at him. He started and slid backwards along the leaf-strewn ground on which he was sitting.
Wait, leaves? Hadn’t it just been snowing? And it certainly wasn’t the first snowfall of the year, so why was he sitting on leaves? And, for that reason, it was night so why could he see the pink sun shining through the canopy of trees? Hold on, pink?
As Martin shook his head in confusion, he decided to return his attention to the creature that was before him. It was a strange amalgam of a deer, a rabbit, and a sheep. The long face and searching eyes screamed deer, the floppy ears and puffy tail shouted rabbit, and the wool adorning the body suggested sheep.
The hugger-mugger surrounding Martin was such that he wondered if he’d hit his head somewhere and was imagining everything. Wait, imagining? That was it; he knew things here looked familiar. But how was it possible?
To be continued!
Word of the Week: This week’s word is hugger-mugger, which means confusion or secrecy, as in, “The hugger-mugger in his face when all his friends jumped out to surprise him was soon replaced by happiness at his birthday celebration.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!