Authors: P.J. Night
At first, all she felt was the cold.
Each crystal of snow pierced her bare skin, stinging like an electric volt. A sensation so violent, so torturous. Frigid wetness seeped through the fabric of her pretty red dress. Her body tried to double into itself, to search for what little internal warmth lingered in this coffin of cold.
Then the coldness was gone. In its place a heaviness, a numbness remained.
She tried desperately to move but couldn't. The wet snow pressed on her body. Forcing her down. Pushing her on all sides. Unseen hands dragging her away, away from the light, from the air, from life.
Fight. She had to fight.
This can't be the end,
her brain screamed.
Desperately she tried to force open her ice-crusted eyelids, but the weight of the snow had created a mask, encasing her face, her head, and her body.
She concentrated on her fingers. It took every ounce of energy to connect her brain with her right hand, to will her knuckles to bend ever so slightly. She had to free herself. She forced her hand to move, to scrape at the icy blanket smothering her. But each little movement caused the avalanche of snow to press down harder. To bury her deeper.
She moaned, though she knew no one could hear her. Why had she come? Why had she listened?
It seemed impossible that across the yard, people were still drinking steaming mugs of hot cocoa, singing carols, and eating dainty cookies cut into precious holiday shapes. Only minutes ago she had been in the warmth of the house, part of her aunt's party, accepted, included.
Unfair. It was all so unfair.
She scraped her fingernails violently against the snow that encased her. Eyes sealed shut, she could visualize her red polished nails clawing at the bright white snow. Someone would pay, she decided. Someone would have to.
“Miss Mary? Is that you, Miss Mary?”
She shuddered as the voice on the phone echoed in her head. Why had she answered? She should have known that any call this far from home was trouble. She should have refused the kindly old woman who'd handed the receiver to her.
Just by the way her name was said, she should have known. She never should have followed the directions. Never should have left the party. Never should have strayed from the house decorated with candy canes.
Darkness pressed on her. Her thoughts became fuzzy. She could sense that her hand was still reaching, still scratching though the snow, but she felt disconnected from her arm. Disconnected from the world. Deep in the darkness.
In the haze of snow and cold, her brain grasped at a sudden sensation, a smell that invaded her muddled thoughts. Peppermint. The spicy aroma surrounded her just as the snow did. The smell came from the necklace of mints she wore around her neck. A string of peppermints meant as a garland for the tree that, earlier in the evening, she had strung around herself instead. A festive gesture of a young, carefree girl. A girl full of life and promise.
She relaxed her frigid muscles. The smell seemed otherworldly. As if telling her that everything would be all right. That there would be justice. That someone would pay for her misery.
I will not be forgotten,
“They're not coming back,” Ryan Garcia announced.
“What?” Kelly demanded. Gray slush from her boots fell in clumps onto the woven mat by the front door, leaving behind small pools of water. The warmth of the house felt good. The bus was like a freezer on wheels, and she was starving. Friday was Taco Day at school. So totally beyond disgusting, and of course, her mom hadn't packed her any lunch. For the last hour, she'd been thinking of nothing but the package of chocolate cookies waiting in the pantry.
“Mom and Dad,” Ryan added.
Kelly kicked off her boots, and Ryan followed her across the front hall and into the kitchen. Her fuzzy blue socks slipped on the worn wooden floor. She dumped
her backpack and hunter-green parka on one of the mismatched chairs, then turned to stare at her little brother. “What are you talking about?”
At ten years old, Ryan delighted in taunting her with secrets. His days were spent scheming to possess more information, as if it made him smarter or more grownup. He still hadn't clued in: She didn't really care. Usually.
Ryan watched her open the pantry and grab the foil package. She slid out four cookies. They were the oversize, hockey-puck kind.
Four seems like the right number to make up for lunch,
Kelly reasoned. She ate the first one and let him wait. She knew he wanted her to ask again. To beg for more information. Ryan fidgeted, trying so hard not to tell her anything until she asked.
She ate the second cookie, chewing slowly. “So?” she finally said.
“SoÂ .Â .Â . we're all alone,” Ryan reported. He looked unsure.
“Meaning Mom and Dad aren't coming back. Just like I told you.”
Kelly studied her brother's face. He wasn't smiling or smirking. Had something bad really happened? Her
mind raced through the possibilities. Car accident. Plane crash. She grabbed his arm. “Ryan, come on. Tell me what's going on.”
“Snowstorm,” Ryan said, swatting her hand off his sweatshirt. “They're staying in Philly.”
Kelly took a deep breath, annoyed that her brother had almost scared her. It was only for a second, but still.
Everyone knows that I'm the best at scaring people.
“When did they call?” Kelly asked, biting into another cookie.
“About ten minutes ago.” Ryan grabbed a cookie from the package too. The elementary school bus got home before her middle school bus. Mom and Dad must have called just as Ryan let himself into the house. “There's a blizzard or something. They're going to call back.”
And just at that moment, the phone rang.
“Guess that's them.” Kelly hurried to the phone on her mother's desk in the far corner of the kitchen. Her mom referred to her desk as “Command Central.” In the middle sat a huge calendar with all their activities, and scattered about were school directories, recipes printed from the Internet, magazines she hadn't yet read, and
a whole mess of other papers. Kelly never understood what gave her mother the right to be on her case about cleaning her room when her desk was such a disaster.
“Hi,” Kelly said, sitting on the wooden desk chair.
“Kelly, honey, I'm so glad you're home,” her mother panted. She sounded strangely out of breath.
“Of course I'm home. Got to get ready for my party. Lots to do,” Kelly reminded her.
“Oh, Kels.” Her mother sighed. “Listen, about that. Daddy and I are stuck in Philadelphia.”
“Ryan told me.” She glanced above the desk at the enormous bulletin board covered with articles and downloads. Her mom, among a million other things, wrote a column for their weekly town paper called It Happened Here. It was about all the unimportant things masquerading as history that had happened in their little Vermont town since the French trappers first arrived. Kelly kept telling her mom no one cared. But the editors kept asking for columns. She guessed it gave the newspaper a reason to exist, because there was certainly no real news going on in her town. The bulletin board was like a mini history lesson, if anyone cared to read the columns, which she didn't. Kelly usually just read the captions to the photos while she was on the phone.
“It's snowing like crazy here. They canceled all flights out of the airport.” Her mom sounded tired. She'd been up since dawn.
“What are you going to do?”
“We thought about renting a car, but the weather report says the storm is heading up the East Coast. A big nor'easter. Should be in Vermont by nightfall. The roads will be a mess.” Kelly could hear her dad in the background, trying to tell her mom something. “The only sensible thing for us to do is to spend the night in a hotel here.”
“Oh. Okay.” Kelly had never stayed alone in the house overnight. She felt fine with it, though. She had babysat for little kids down the street, and that was no big deal. She could totally handle Ryan. Between the TV and his video games, he'd stay out of her way. Besides, Paige and June were sleeping over tonight. An early birthday celebration. She'd have company.
“Daddy and I will leave first thing in the morning to get back home,” her mom promised. Kelly could hear the worry in her voice. “What, Dave? How can they not have rooms? Look, the meeting wasn't my brilliant idea. It's fineÂ .Â .Â . whateverÂ .Â .Â . anywhereÂ .Â .Â .” Her mom
argued with her dad in the background. They had a company together, Authentic Vermont Blankets. Supposedly there was something about the sheep in their state that made superior wool for blanketsâor at least, that was what her parents advertised. They had flown to Philadelphia this morning to try to convince some big store to sell their wool blankets instead of Amish quilts.
Kelly peered at a photocopy of a news clipping on the bulletin board about a woman named Mary Owens. She had never noticed this one before. The picture showed a young woman wearing a mod 1960s minidress and tall white patent-leather boots. A one-of-a-kind homemade necklace was draped about her neck. She sat serenely on a sofa, a playful smile on her thin lips. A Christmas tree decorated with candy canes filled the space behind her.
Her mom sighed. “Your dad could only find us a room in some ramshackle motel.” Kelly could hear other voices and the muffled reverberations of loudspeaker announcements. She guessed they were still at the airport. “Kel, listen. I need you and Ryan to stay put. No going outside. And lock the doors.”