Sam parked his car in front of the school so Jenny only needed to cross the street to walk onto school grounds. He could have parked a little further away, but Sam wasn’t taking any chances. Something sinister was going on in Hatchetfield, and he wouldn’t let his daughter get involved.
“Here you go,” he said. Jenny unbuckled her seatbelt, grabbed her bag, and stepped out of the car. She looked at her father one last time.
“Thanks, dad.” Before she walked away, however, Sam wanted to tell her one more thing.
“Jenny?” he said. She waited to close the door and looked at him. “I’ll be picking you up, today. Or your mother—”
“If you’re too busy. I know,” Jenny said. She smiled at him, but something about it seemed forced. Sam decided not to mention it.
“Bye, dad!” she called out as she closed the car door.
“See you tonight,” he said, though he doubted she heard it.
He waited by the side. He watched her cross the street and walk through the gate on school property. Only then could Sam breathe in relief, because Jenny made it to school safely. Tonight, the same hopefully happened. So long as they did not find who kidnapped Tim and Deb, Jenny would be accompanied to school for her own safety.
Before Sam drove off, he looked at his daughter again. Jenny hugged her friend, Alice. They didn’t let go of one another for a while. Deb had been a good friend of theirs, after all.
Sam was happy Jenny had a friend at school, to have someone close to her who could support her and guide her through these rough times.
Sam went to work. It was time to see what he could find on the wildlife camera he took from the forest.
Jane stayed until Tom woke up.
She wasn’t going to school. Not after what happened to her son. She could not bear the sight of children around her at the moment – she’d see Tim’s face in the crowd, on the faces of many, and she did not want to do that to herself.
Tom had come home late. he had fallen asleep next to her, on Tim’s bed. She had woken up before him. He still wore his clothes. He lay down beside her and fell asleep. He even still wore his shoes.
Jane did not disturb him. Tom needed the sleep. If he was awake, he would not get back to sleep again. Jane knew how bad things were going for him. For them. For the entire family. If sleep was the one thing that gave Tom some peace, Jane wasn’t waking him up.
She did sit on Tim’s chair and looked at her husband. It was more an excuse to stay in Tim’s room than anything else, but it was nice to see him sleep, not overworking himself and thinking the worst.
Then he woke up. He looked at her with sleepy eyes, and yet his mind was already sharp.
“What time is it?” he asked. Light already poured in through the window. Jane was dressed, too. She heard the silent question he wanted to ask but answered the one he vocalized.
“A little over ten in the morning,” she answered. You haven’t lost that much time. The colleagues would understand if you arrived late. Stay, have breakfast. Comfort me.
She said nothing, even as Tom stood up from the bed and left the room. She stayed in her seat and heard him barge down the stairs, heard the front door fall into the lock, heard the car drive out of their driveway, to the police station, or worse.
Jane sighed. This was going to be the death of him.
This was going to be the end of their relationship.
Sam arrived at the police station. The receptionist watched him with more interest than other days – Sam carried a bag with two highly unusual items, after all. One was the confiscated wildlife camera, which hopefully cleared up if any cars drove on the road. The second item, however, was not something Sam could get information from.
But the coroner could.
Before he walked to his office, he passed by the coroner, who did not have any work to do at the moment. Sam was lucky – he still hoped the coroner could do something with a dead bird that Charlotte saw falling from the sky. It rained birds, Charlotte called it.
Sam only witnessed part of it. Charlotte saw it from beginning to end.
Dana was in her office. She was surprised Sam came to visit her, while no other running cases required a coroner.
“I brought you something,” Sam told her. From his bag, he lifted the bird. He had wrapped it in a towel, so Sam didn’t directly touch the creepy dead bird. He normally wasn’t so squeamish, but the circumstances were enough to spook him.
The coroner took the towel-wrapped present after she’d put on some gloves and she unwrapped it. A frown appeared on her face.
“I’m sure you’ve heard it on the news,” Sam said. “They dropped dead, out of nothing. That’s not normal. I’d like to know what happened.”
It wasn’t your usual case, but they needed something different to hold on to, something that could make them forget about the children for a second. Sam also really wanted to know what happened. It could have been an accident.
Dana nodded and looked at the bird. “I’m not an expert, but I’ll try.” The mystery intrigued her as well. She hadn’t wanted to bring a dead bird to work, so this gift was welcome. She quickly inspected the bird’s exterior.
“I can already say I haven’t seen those white flecks on this species of birds before.”
Sam nodded. It was a start. Maybe those white flecks were a major clue. Maybe.
“Thanks for looking into it,” Sam said. The coroner nodded.
“If you bring this to me, it must be important,” Dana said. She looked up from the dead bird. “Have you seen this happen before? The mass falling?”
Sam shook his head. “No, I haven’t. my wife, Charlotte, told me birds also dropped dead thirty-three years ago.
As he spoke, some sort of revelation came to him. His mind took him back to Hatchetfield in the summer of 1987, the year he came to this sleepy town. He remembered everything Charlotte told him about what had happened. Thousands of birds fell to their deaths. Power outages were still unexplained to this day. Thirty-three years ago, a boy also disappeared – Max Houston.
Charlotte believed there was a connection. He’d brushed it off, but maybe there was some truth in her words. Maybe there really was a connection.
“I’ll be in touch,” the coroner said.
“Sam nodded. “Okay.” He walked out of Dana’s workplace. He found it hard to take his mind off of the parallels and to think about what he should do with the wildlife camera.
Even in the hallway, Sam was still shocked. Was it really true? A connection between now and then, thirty-three years apart. What was a common cause? What was the reason the birds fell, the power went out, those kids went missing?
Either way, he figured that dead boy whose eyes were burned away, may not have disappeared recently before he was found. He had died sixteen hours after being found, but how long had he lived? How long had he been missing?
He walked past Xander Lee – just the person he needed right now.
“Xander!” Sam said. Xander had already passed him but turned around when he heard his name. He wasn’t doing anything that required his immediate attention, anyway.
“Yeah, what’s up?”
“I’d like you to look into older missing cases,” Sam told his colleague. “For the dead boy. Broaden the window by ten to fifteen years or so. I have a feeling this kid might have disappeared years ago.”
And if he did, he might have to contact those poor parents who had waited years for the return of their son, only to learn he’s not only dead but badly mutilated. They’d have to identify the body.
Xander nodded. It was a logical step since they’ve exhausted all missing cases from the last few years. He’d been toying with the thought this kid went missing years ago as well but hadn’t mentioned it yet.
“I’ll let the others know,” Xander said.
Sam nodded. “Good.
“I’ve also got an update on the red dirt,” Xander said before Sam could continue the walk to his office.
“We can’t find it anywhere,” Xander broke the bad news. It wasn’t a lack of officers or even a disinterest, but they hadn’t found it. They’d looked everywhere in the city and the forest. The investigation was still running, but the chances of finding something were slim.
Still, Sam believed he had seen that kind of red dirt somewhere before. In his past, maybe. If only he could figure it out or remember it.
“There has to be someplace—”
“If there is, we haven’t found it yet,” Xander said. “So far, that’s a dead end.”
Another dead end in a case which only had dead ends. Sam wasn’t even surprised to hear it anymore, but it did deal a blow to his morale.
He still had one ace of up his sleeve. He had the wildlife camera. With a bit of luck, it contained a clue that could lead to something useful.
“I’ll see if I can think of more places,” Sam said. I’ll see if I can’t find where I think I’ve seen it before.
Xander nodded. Before he could leave, Sam had one last question for his colleague.
“Say, have you seen Tom yet?”
“No.” Xander shrugged. “Maybe he’s finally taking a day off.”
Definitely not. Sam had no idea where Tom was, but if he wasn’t at the office, he must be somewhere else. Sam feared that, whatever Tom was doing, was something he shouldn’t be doing.
Sam hoped against all hopes that Tom indeed decided to take a break. God knows he needed one.