December 19, 2008
In the vast openness of the snowmobile trails, solar-powered Christmas lights danced across pine needles on the branches I separated while the lanky silhouette of the serial predator tossed shovelfuls of dirty snow on a mound. Was he digging a fresh grave? My calf muscles jumping-jacked beneath my skin, begging me to run. But I couldn’t. Not yet.
A row of thin birch trees bowed over the makeshift grave, thin branches curled like the skeletal fingers of a demon protecting its prey. The overcast sky blurred the hazy moon into non-compliance, its glow hastened by gathering storm clouds.
Who did he plan to bury here? My gloved hand clawed at my throat.
Sweet Jesus, please tell me Noah’s still with Mrs. Falanga. All the saliva in my mouth dried to dust, my insides squirming, screaming for release. What if Childs left his post long enough for the serial predator to sneak past him? What if he murdered everyone in the house? What if he abducted my child after Mrs. Falanga tucked him in bed? She might not realize he was missing till dawn.
Beyond the tree, a flashlight balanced on its end, a smoldering yellow glow pointed toward the heavens. Cigarette smoke billowed through the haze. Hot ash tumbled into the darkness when he flicked the filter into the arctic December air.
I backed away from the tree.
My right heel froze on the pinecone.
The serial predator slung his portable spade over one shoulder and stalked toward me. “Hello?”
Male voice. Almost familiar. Where had I heard it before? Holding my breath, cramps squeezed my calf muscle as I crouched behind the conifer, flames tunneling down my sciatic nerve to my partially-raised foot, bent at such an angle mind-numbing pain riddled the whole right side of my leg.
The serial predator hustled back to the shallow grave, and I lowered my wet boot to the snow. The moment he turned his back, I nosedived toward the base of the tree trunk, slithering beneath the branches like a frightened garter snake. The snow piled around the bottom helped shield the top half of my body. I pulled my legs out of view. A glacial breeze swept across my wet hair, and I could not stop shivering, the icy snow soaking through my jeans and wool coat.
With one smooth motion, he swiped his flashlight off the snow and aimed the beam toward the pine tree. “Hello?”
After the blinding light struck my eyes, I would never be able to describe his face or any distinguishable features, the black hoodie masking his identity. He could be anyone. Or no one.
With both gloves covering my nose and mouth, I held back icy breath that threatened to reveal my hiding spot.
“Is someone there?”
A cylindrical sphere lasered through the pine needles, and I ducked, my bare cheek trembling against a clustered mass of icicles. Snow boots clomped around the tree, then stopped—inches from my face.
Dear God, don’t let him find me.