Foxglove Home Meet Dorothy  





Book 6 in the Foxglove Corner Mysteries

By: Chris M.  
  Copyright ©2005

When an ice storm forces Jennet Greenway off her usual route home, she finds herself involved in murder and the mysteries that surround a strange, off-the-beaten-path antique shop. A haunted painting, a puzzling apparition, a creature that prowls through the woods of Foxglove Corners, and a second murder – the mysteries pile up with the snow, until Jennet finds herself trapped in a nightmare from which there is no apparent escape.

Excerpt follows.

Chapter 1

The first raindrops froze, battering the windshield with ominous tappings as my view of the Spruce Road exit blurred behind a thin crust of ice. The wipers swept back and forth with a soothing swish, and the cleared arcs widened, bringing the right lane back into focus. For the moment. A freezing rain advisory covered all of Lapeer County this afternoon. Driving conditions could only worsen, and I was still a half hour from home.

Braking lightly, I followed the winding ramp to the road, where a green light shone faintly in mid-air. So far, so good. I wouldn’t have to make a stop. One more minute, and I would be traveling on a quiet country thoroughfare, safe from the threat of a multi-car pile-up on the expressway.

I turned right and slowed to twenty-five miles, letting the occasional traffic pass me. Dark brooding woods bordered the road, and a layer of snow blanketed its surface. The winter wonderland was exquisite but deceptive. Ice could be lurking beneath the ground cover. Almost certainly it was, and a spin-out would send me careening into the trees.

If I drove carefully, if I were fortunate, I should be all right; and with a little extra good luck, the sleet would end as quickly as it had begun.

Sometimes managing the hour-long commute from Marston High School in Oakpoint to Foxglove Corners was as nerve wracking as trying to control my wayward fourth hour class. Both hid ever-present danger beneath a smooth veneer.

What a melodramatic comparison, Jennet! I scolded myself. Concentrate on driving. Listen to your Christmas tape.

But the heavy splatter of frozen precipitation on glass grew louder, muting the familiar Yuletide melody. I hated it when the world turned to ice and stole my sense of control. I hated ice.

But “Ice is nice/ And would suffice.”

So said the poet Robert Frost, who never had to navigate a car in an ice storm.

I left the woods behind and passed the tiny village of Willowside and Cygnet Lake, a low-lying frosty pond fringed at its northern edge by blue spruce forest. A "Deer Crossing" sign seemed to leap out of the rain wall. I glanced quickly to my left and right. The way was clear. No deer were on the move. Nothing lay ahead except a narrow expanse of pristine white, glistening in my headlights.

Poetry was the wrong choice for a rowdy group of teenagers whose minds were already focused on Christmas vacation. Maybe I should change my lesson plan and have both of my Literature classes read Great Expectations. That would mean a double dose of Charles Dickens for me every morning. It would also mean fewer students in rebellion and possibly an hour of harmony. I’d do it and return to Frost and Company in the spring.

Without warning, the car skidded on an icy patch and veered toward the edge of the road where the land dipped sharply and tree tops rose up to meet the ground. I held the wheel in a death grip, feeling as if I were trapped on a nightmare roller coaster. The next second, I and my car would plunge down to the forest floor.

Not if I could help it.

Pumping the brake lightly, I let the Taurus ride with the spin, grip the surface, and straighten itself, while my heart jumped back to its proper place. I swallowed, but the dryness in my throat increased. The outside cold seeped in through the closed windows. Feeling chilled, I turned the heater fan a notch higher.

This stretch of Spruce Road could be deadly with its curves and sheer drops. I’d let my speed creep up to thirty-five while my mind wandered back to school. That was an invitation to disaster. I slowed again and glided past the Eversleigh Horse Farm, its barns barely visible in the fall of ice. For the next fifteen minutes I would be traversing a wooded section again with only my bright lights to guide me through the storm.

Unimpaired vision was essential. I checked the rear window. The defroster was doing its job well enough, but the windshield wipers in front were no match for the rain slanting in from the east. They needed help.

I steered carefully toward a wide verge, came to a stop, and turned off the windshield wipers, grateful that I was no longer on the expressway. Pulling my hood over my head, I grabbed the scraper from the back seat.

Sharp needles of sleet jabbed my face as I stood outside on the slick ground and chipped the ice away. My right arm ached, but now the window was clear again. That should take me through another mile or two.

Giving the window a final sweep, I flung the scraper onto the back seat, just as a sharp cracking sound exploded in the air above me. An ice-laden branch as large as a tree landed several inches from my feet. Its cover of frozen particles glittered in the light streaming out of the car. If I’d stopped a little farther, I’d have been in its path.

Suddenly the snapping sounds filled the air. Like rifle reports, they communicated danger. I’d better be on my way.

Back behind the wheel, I drove away from the breaking wood. Once again I could see, but the view was cheerless: Sentinal confiers draped in frosted snow, the first of the most hazardous curves on Spruce Road just ahead, and another sheer drop. One more chance to slide down to the earth’s core.

The ice melt in my bangs trickled down my face like tears. Wiping impatiently at my eyes, I drove, listened to the music, and prayed that no more traps awaited me.

In treacherous weather like this, I should have stayed overnight in Oakpoint with my friend, Leonora, instead of attempting to drive back to Foxglove Corners. But in Oakpoint at four o’clock, the skies had been gray and sullen, with freezing rain expected after midnight. Besides, at the end of the school day, I longed to relax in my own house. In any event, I couldn’t undo a past decision. I was halfway home and no longer alone on the road.

A circle of light materialized in my rearview mirror. It turned into a red truck traveling at a high speed. The driver blew his horn as he passed my slow-moving vehicle, apparently unafraid of black ice. I wished him well.

One day soon, I needed to think seriously about my choices. Was living so far from Marston worth the hassle of an hour drive twice day?

On an afternoon like this, no.

Still, I loved my green Victorian farmhouse on Jonquil Lane. The ten acres of land for my collie, Halley, to roam and the rooms I’d furnished with antiques were dear to me; and Deputy Sheriff Crane Ferguson with his handsome face and frosty gray eyes, was my love. Foxglove Corners had given me Crane and the diamond engagement ring on my finger.

It was my home, and yes, well worth the high price I’d paid for it. Truly perilous commutes were infrequent, and music kept me company as I drove over the long miles—usually the classical station, but now that Thanksgiving had come and gone, my collection of Christmas tapes.

“The Cherry Tree Carol”, beginning now, was one of my favorites:

“When Joseph was an old man, and an old man was he/ He married Virgin Mary in the land of Gallilee . . .”

Please, let me reach my home safely, I thought. Mary, Joseph . . .

The pounding of freezing rain on my windows mixed with the cracking of falling branches. They littered the road. If a tree toppled down on my car, I could be killed, the victim of a freak accident in a wild storm.

Why create the worst scenario imaginable? I would be out of this thickly wooded stretch and driving through farmland in another five miles. I glanced at the dashboard. The hands on the clock appeared to have frozen along with the world.

Listen to the song. Mary’s desire for cherries. Joseph’s mistake. His unkind words. His remorse.

“What have I done, Lord?/ Have mercy on me.”

I drove on, watching the road, looking for deer, always ready to let the Taurus follow the skid and not step on the brake in panic. The music made me feel calmer, if not in charge.

Something with lights loomed in the cavernous space in front of me. Two deafening horn blasts fractured the air as a truck whizzed by, heading west. Before I had time to wonder if this was the same driver who had just passed me or another reckless fool, I saw a black barrier rearing up in my path. Braking lightly, I brought the car to a stop.

A downed tree lay across the road. Its bulk filled both lanes, halting my homeward journey. I couldn’t drive around this wall of wood the way I could plow through freezing rain.

This was what those two angry blasts had been telling me. What now?

Make a U-turn, as the truck obviously had and return to the last road I’d passed. Then I could reconnect with Spruce as soon as possible, approaching my house in a roundabout way. The unanticipated detour would add precious time to my drive, but this was my only option.

I turned the Taurus around, promptly swerved on ice, and slid across the opposite lane into the verge, smashing down low shrubs. Then I was on the road again, going back the way I’d come, in firm control my car, with the sleet beating on the rear window. Doomsday thoughts marched through my mind.

I could have been under that tree when it fell, crushed under a ton of wood. Someone was taking care of me today and of the speeding truck driver as well.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep.” Frost said that, too.

Dark . . . The hands on the dashboard clock were moving after all. An hour had passed since I’d left Marston. I would never be home before dark, but as long as I lived through this deadly commute, I’d be happy.

I turned left at Lost Lake Road, a narrow, unpaved trail that meandered through woods and country estates built far back on their hilly acres. In October, this had been one of the most scenic routes in Foxglove Corners, offering a breathtaking view of changing leaves and cool, blue lakes.

In the last week of November, the scarlet and gold shades of autumn were long gone, and the freezing rain had whipped the color out of the landscape and turned the area into a skating rink. The mansions were encased in damp mist, the Deer X-ing signs were plentiful, and the way was interminable.

Where was the road that ran parallel to Spruce? Every mile took me farther from Jonquil Lane. The tape reached its end with a handbell version of “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” and rewound to the beginning. I stopped again to clear the windows and took the time to unwrap a roll of hard candy before starting on my way again.

The caramel drop dissolved slowly, leaving a cloying aftertaste in my mouth. Meager sustenance and balm for my throat and no end in sight. A "Horses on the Road" sign and “The Cherry Tree Carol” for the third time.

My throat had gone beyond dry. I tried to swallow the soreness away. This was the certain beginning of a cold. I was weary of battling the weather, tired of listening to Christmas carols and wanted desperately to reach the parallel road.

It didn’t happen. The freezing rain tapered off, only to reappear in the form of light snow, and I was still on Lost Lake Road, still dodging ice patches. It seemed that an entire day had passed since I’d begun my long trip home.

A sudden movement in the woods on my right caught my attention. Pieces of the snowy landscape seemed to break apart, taking graceful leaping forms.

Deer! I tensed, bracing for collision as the image imprinted itself on my mind.

Three animals dashed into the road and froze, their eyes fixed on my headlights. They weren’t deer but dogs, gorgeous adult collies with fluffy white coats and golden sable heads. As if posed for a show ring photograph, they stood in a row, blocking my passage as effectively as the fallen tree had done.

I pressed on the horn and felt the car begin to slide. The dogs didn’t move. They stood as still as marble statues on the road while I blew the horn again.

I couldn’t stop! I was going to hit them!

Forgetting one of the cardinal rules of road safety in a Michigan winter, I stepped down on the brake. The car slid dizzily across the road, collided with something hard, and crashed into a sapling, sending my books and shoulder bag flying to the floor. The loud thud echoing in the sudden silence reached my stunned consciousness.

I had run into a tree.

The seat belt held me firmly in place, but a sharp pain knifed across my forehead. I touched my skin, expecting to find my fingers covered with blood, but there was only a warm sensation and a throbbing above my right eye. I must have struck my head but couldn’t remember doing it.

Realization dealt me a second blow. I had hit something besides the sapling.

Not one of the dogs!

Dear Lord, what had I done?

Shaking and cold, I looked back to the road, trying desperately to see through the falling snow. The beautiful white collies were gone, vanished as if by sorcery into the forest.

I had hit a dog, a collie like Halley, in the whole canine race, one of the breed I loved the most.

Flinging open the door, I stepped out onto the ground. My boots crushed down the light glaze that topped the snow as I scanned the immediate area. All I could see were woods. On the right, lean black trunks rose on their hill. On my left, a small lake shone dully behind a line of thinner woods. I waited, willing the dogs to return. The air thickened with cold flying flakes, the sky turned darker by the minute, and the road was empty.

Maybe I had struck something else, and the three dogs had fled in terror back to the shelter of the trees, but I couldn’t count on that. If a wounded canine lay somewhere in this wilderness, unable to move, I had to help him, if it wasn’t too late. First I had to find him.

“Where are you?” I steadied my voice, trying to sound light and playful. “Come.”

I squinted through falling snow, searching for a sign of the collie, trying to hear some giveaway sound—a rustle of dead leaves and twigs as an animal stirred, a faint answering whine, anything to lead me to the wounded dog.

“Are you all right?” I asked.

His coat had been white, a fluffy marshmallow color with golden head markings. How could I see a white dog in failing light with the landscape draped in folds of snow? The impossibility of the task overwhelmed me.

The dog had to be dead.

“I’m so sorry.” My voice broke over the words, and my eyes filled with tears. I had forgotten to cover my head, and I was trembling. I couldn’t stay alone on an isolated country road indefinitely with night approaching. Neither could I leave. If I did, I’d be no better than those heartless hunters who wound their prey and leave it to die alone and in pain.

I explored the edge of the woods on the far side of the road, climbing as high as I dared into the tangle of trees. Then I crossed to the other side and walked to the lake and back. No creature came out of hiding, no fellow traveler drove by to offer help, and I didn’t see anything that had once lived and run and been beautiful. I might have been the only living soul in Lapeer County, an eerie feeling reinforced by the silence that surrounded me.

All I could hear was the Christmas music drifting out of my idled car. The jaunty strains of “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” mocked the tears streaming down my face. Even if I stayed in this place until morning, I’d never be able to find the body of the dog I’d killed.

Defeated and miserable, I got behind the wheel and maneuvered the car back into the road. The snow still fell, my destination still lay somewhere beyond my sight, and a weight had come out of the night to sit heavily on my heart. Home might as well be a hundred miles away.



The haunting of a crime scene by three white collies is only the beginning of The Snow Dogs of Lost Lake's magical appeal. Ms Bodoin brings us a beguiling mystery all wrapped up in the hazards and beauty of winter and Christmas. And as if that weren't enough, in and through it all she spins a yarn of romance so heart warming that you'll want to trade places with either of the tale's sleuths, Jennet Greenway and Sheriff Crane Ferguson. So find your easy chair and get ready for the enchanting mysterious world of Foxglove Corners.
S.E. Schenkel, author of the Acey Tapp Mysteries


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