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December 2010

Book 10 in the Foxglove Corner Mysteries

Excerpt

Chapter One

Still, still, still.  One can hear the falling snow…

Snowflakes swirled through the air in the lightest of winds.  They settled on the graceful curves of woodland that edged the lake.  It was so quiet that if I listened carefully, I could almost hear them hit the graveled road, even over the Christmas carols playing softly on the radio.

I turned on the windshield wipers.  The glass cleared instantly, giving me a view of frozen water under an ice-blue sky.  The lake had an unusual shape, forming a wide figure eight.  Framed by lean, thinly-spaced woods, the water lay still, as quiet and peaceful as the surrounding landscape.

A high school English teacher longs for a time of quiet and peace at the end of a hectic December week, and everyone needs loveliness.  I slowed down to admire the view.

All of Foxglove Corners was lovely this winter, each wooded acre, covered bridge, and body of water as rare and glittering as a Christmas card.  This scene was animated.

Through the falling snow, a skater glided out from the far side of the lake.  She was a slender blonde girl in a beige jacket lavishly trimmed in ermine.  The red, white, and green stripes of her scarf were bright in the swirls of snow.  She skimmed the lake’s surface, her long yellow hair streaming out behind her.

Like a snow queen, I thought.

Candy cane colors.  Skater on a woodland lake.  Here was another charming Christmas card picture.  I glanced away from the road to watch her.  Just for a moment.

As the scene shifted.

A sharp crack shattered the deep country silence.  A scream tore through the air, and the skater toppled forward.  The stripes of her scarf blended into strands of yellow hair as she dropped down into the widening fissure and disappeared.  Just in a moment.

The country silence came back, but the scream’s echo continued.

Horrified, I turned off the road, pushed the gear into park, and grabbed my cell phone.

Hurry!  Before it’s too late.  

Nine one one.  Three numbers only, but my fingers froze as they tapped them, and my heart raced while I waited long seconds for an answer.  Finally it came.

“A girl fell through the ice,” I said.  “A few minutes ago.  I was driving by and saw her.”

“Where is this?” The dispatcher asked.

“On…”  I realized that I wasn’t sure of my location as the route was unfamiliar to me.  I’d driven to the small city of Lakeville after school to buy Christmas presents in a new antique shop.  I knew the way home but not the name of this particular road.

But I’d passed a horse farm; that name I remembered.

“About three miles north of Victory Creek Stables,” I said.  “There’s a small lake, all frozen over.”

“You’re on Sunset Road,” the dispatcher said.  “That’s Sunset Lake.  Somebody will be there right away.”

Snapping the cell phone shut, I slipped it back in my shoulder bag.  Right away might be too late.  I had to do something now.  But what?

I turned off the engine, silencing the Christmas carol in mid-stanza, and yanked the hood of my parka over my hair.  Throwing the key in my pocket, I pushed open the door.  It cut through the deep, unrelenting snow.

The drifts were higher than they had appeared from inside the car.  Treading heavily through their crusted top, I stamped to the edge of the lake, as far as I could go, and looked for the break in the ice.

It was snowing harder now, severely reducing visibility, but the break should be straight ahead.  I couldn’t see it but recalled a tall, scrawny spruce that grew at the water’s edge, listing to one side.  The girl had gone down approximately three yards from the tree.

As I stepped warily onto the lake, the heel of my boot began to slide.  Quickly I moved back.  Beneath a powdered-sugar layer, the surface was frozen solid, but I didn’t dare venture out any farther.  How many people had lost their lives in a vain attempt to save a person who fell through the ice?

Don’t be a coward, Jennet, I scolded myself.  If you don’t help her, she’ll die. 

But I thought of Crane, my husband of only seven months.  And of Halley, Candy, and Sky, my other dear ones.  Risking my life would be selfish.  Wouldn’t it?  Because walking on thin ice would be suicide.

So this one time I’d be a coward.  And maybe, in spite of the delay, the skater could be saved.

I shivered.  The wind was colder than I’d thought, and stronger.  It seemed as if I could still hear the girl’s scream.  Or its echo.

How long could a person live in frigid water?  Probably not long, but I didn’t know.

Still, if only I could do something besides wait.  If I made my way through the woods, I’d reach the leaning spruce and be close enough to call out to the skater, to tell her that help was on the way.  That was something I could do.

As I started walking through pristine country stillness that had suddenly turned deadly, a low growl rumbled on my right.

Like the skater, the dog appeared out of the snow.  It surveyed me coldly with lips curled high to expose a set of lethal teeth.  Incredibly the creature looked like a collie, a small, thin, unattractive one with chestnut fur under a thin coat of snow.

Apparently sensing that I didn’t pose a threat, it bounded past me to the shoreline where it stood barking frantically.  Its whole body trembling with the effort.

Could it be the skater’s dog?

But the dog didn’t rush to her rescue.  It tested the ice cautiously with one paw and backed up to safe ground, barking louder.  A wind gust blew frosty snow in my face and yanked my hood back. 

Hurry, I thought.  Please, please hurry.

It seemed as if the scream’s echo still lingered in the snowy air.

~*~

The first responder was a young state trooper with a new-minted air of authority and a haughty take-charge manner which he wore like a second jacket.  It seemed that I was always encountering his type.

As I dashed toward him, I let my vague guilt slip away.  I was the reason he was here, the one who had made the call.

“What happened?” he demanded.

“A girl was skating, and the ice broke,” I said.  “Over by that second circle.”

He looked at me and scanned the lake.  “Second circle?”

“Where the top part of the figure eight starts,” I said, pointing.

I wasn’t making myself clear.  “Three or four yards from that listing blue spruce.  I’ll show you.  But aren’t you going to call for back-up?”

His voice was clipped and as icy as the lake but reassuring.  “I already did.”

“Over here then.”  I led the way along the path of deep boot prints that I’d made earlier, a waving trail through sparse woods and winter-dead vegetation.

The trooper didn’t speak but strode ahead of me, plowing through the blowing snow as if he’d come this way before.  I ran to catch up to him, breathing hard as the wind tried to push me back.

When we reached the landmark tree, he surveyed the lake grimly, sweeping the expanse with eyes as cold as his voice.

“I don’t see anything,” he said at last.

The wind had picked up, once again snatching my hood from my head.  Impatiently I brushed my hair out of my eyes, looking for the place where the girl had disappeared.  East of the crooked spruce tree.  It had to be here, but I didn’t see anything unusual.  Only a stretch of mirror-smooth ice with a light snow cover.  

“I don’t hear anything either,” he added.

Well, no, he wouldn’t.  It was quiet, oppressively so, except for an eerie wail that could only be the wind.  I couldn’t disagree with him.  There was nothing to see or hear now.  But there had been. 

“She must be here,” I said.  “Down in the lake, I mean.  I saw her the exact moment she fell through the ice.”

His cold blue eyes mirrored doubt.  “Three or four yards from this fir, you say?”

I nodded.  “About that.”

He walked boldly out onto the ice, stopping approximately four yards from the spruce and looking in every direction.  He was tall, with a muscular build and apparently oblivious of danger.  Under his weight, the ice was as substantial as silvered rock.  It wouldn’t dare break. 

I waited to hear another ominous crack, another cry.  What I heard was a faint note of condescension in his voice.

“There’s no hole in the ice.  There’s nothing.”  He walked back to stand next to me.  His eyes searched mine.  I fought the urge to look away.

“That can’t be,” I said.

I felt as though I had stumbled into a nightmare, trying to convince the officer of a reality he couldn’t perceive.

And trying to convince myself?

“The wind,” I said.  “It must have blown snow over the depression.  But the girl is down there somewhere.  We can’t leave her in the lake to die.”

“Don’t worry; that won’t happen,” he said and stamped back to the cruiser.  Obviously he’d reached his verdict, accomplished his mission.

I followed him.  “But I saw her.  Please believe me.  She had a long scarf.  It was red and white with narrow green stripes.  Like a candy cane.”

Hand poised on the door of his patrol car, the trooper said, “You saw the colors from the road?  Even though it was snowing?”

“I have excellent eyesight,” I said. 

He didn’t believe me.  I could tell.  In a few minutes, I wouldn’t believe myself.  But I had seen the skater.  Beige jacket.  Ermine trim.  Red, white, and green stripes.  Long blonde hair.  I’d seen all of this.  I couldn’t possibly imagine these details.

“And it only started to snow hard after the ice broke,” I added.

He opened the cruiser door.  “Sometimes blowing snow plays tricks on us,” he said in a kinder tone.  “Trees and shadows look like people.  This piece of wood…”  He picked up a long thin branch and shook the snow off it.  “It looks kind of like a rifle, doesn’t it?  I’m sure you thought you saw something.”

“I did.  A skater falling through the ice.”

“Then ask yourself this,” he said.  “Why would a girl invite danger by skating alone on an isolated lake?  It doesn’t make sense.”

I had no ready answer for him.

“So I won’t cite you for turning in a false alarm this time,” he continued, “but don’t let it happen again, Miss…”

“Mrs. Ferguson.  Jennet Ferguson.”

“It’s a serious matter to tie up an officer’s time.  Somebody else might be in danger right now while we’re standing here in the snow talking about nothing.”

I heard another siren and remembered that he’d called for back-up.  Oh, great.  More skeptical men or women to convince that there was an emergency while a girl lay dying or already dead beneath the ice.  What could I say to make them believe me? 

“There’s the dog,” I said, remembering the collie with the chestnut coat.  “It could be the girl’s pet.  He knew something was wrong.  He was barking.”

“What dog?  I don’t see a dog.”

I looked for the chestnut colored collie, but the officer was right.  No curious canine padded behind me or lay observing us from a nearby snow bank.  In truth, I’d forgotten him and didn’t know when he’d left the area.  Now there was no sign of life on the ground, not even a lowly squirrel.  Only a flock of black birds flying low over the lake. 

“Your siren must have scared him,” I said. “He ran away when he saw you.”

“Yes.  That’s what must have happened.  You’d better go on home now, Mrs. Ferguson,” he said.  “Drive carefully.  The roads are getting slippery.”

~*~

And stay in the real world.

The state trooper might as well have added that admonition.  He’d had a brief exchange with two policemen who had arrived with sirens screeching and an excess of attendant noise.  I’d tried to read their expressions, knowing I wouldn’t be pleased if I could hear what they were saying.  A few words drifted my way.

False alarm.

…thought she saw a girl fall through the ice.

No.  No one.  I’m positive.

Well for…

The rescuers had all gone now, and they had the last word.  I was alone and feeling deflated and chastened.  Not an alert citizen but a deluded woman who saw a tree in a snowfall and mistook it for a skater in peril on the ice.

            I couldn’t deny the truth of what the trooper had said.  Sunset Lake spread out in front of me in all of its crystalline splendor, unmarred by a crack in the ice.  Probably unmarked by the scratch of a bird’s claw. 

The wind still blew, and no one, not even a person with a fine-tuned imagination like myself could hear a scream in its keening.

Neither could I deny the skater, or the colors of her scarf, or the moment when the ice broke open to swallow her whole. 

Where then did that leave me?

In a place I’d been before and never wanted to go again.  For a brief moment snatched out of another time, I had seen a ghost.

 

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Reviews

 

Could a collie cold-bloodedly plan and carry out the murder of her owner?  The nasty rumor spreading through Foxglove Corners says beautiful Gemini did just that.  Jennet Ferguson, with three collies of her own, knows the idea is ridiculous.  Who would want to frame a collie for murder?  Why not accept the woman's tragic death as the accident it must have been?
            Besides her anger at the collie rumor, Jennet hasn't quite got over the fright of seeing a skater fall through the ice of Sunset Lake.  Who is the girl?  Where is she?
            Jennet's preparations for Christmas and a family wedding on New Year's Eve are haunted by her desire to identify the skater and to clear Gemini from such an atrocious accusation.  Then somebody mentions murder.  Will Jennet live to celebrate either of the joyful family occasions she and her husband, Crane, have planned?

            I always look forward to returning to Foxglove Corners and another visit with Jennet, Crane, their collies, friends and family.  Spirit of the Season is Ms. Bodoin's tenth Foxglove Corners book.  If you've been with Jennet since book #1, settle in for another great read.  If not, it's time!  Ms. Bodoin's excellent writing and the residents of Foxglove Corners will pull you so deeply into the Spirit of the Season that you won't want to stop reading even when you've reached the end.

Highly recommended for all readers.

--Donna (D.H.) Parker
http://donnaparker.w4aw.org

 

     Grab a coffee, turn off your phone and don’t answer the door. Curl up on your couch in front of the fireplace. It’s time for a Dorothy Bodoin fix.
     Spirit of the Season is the newest and tenth book in Ms. Bodoin’s delightful Foxglove Corner series. Readers will be thrilled to be back in the lives of Jennet, Crane and their beautiful collies, as well as with their friends and family. This book is another masterpiece delivered by an extremely talented author.
     In Spirit of the Season, it’s Christmas time in Foxglove Corners. Ms. Bodoin’s descriptions of this joyful season will make you feel that you’re right there, enjoying every second. Snow falling, tree decorating, touring homes covered in Christmas decorations, and baking, will make you wish it were Christmas now, even in the midst of summer. Her words are so real, you will find yourself trying to reach out to hold the falling snowflakes in your hands.
     In the first chapter, Ms. Bodoin immediately draws you in, with Jennet viewing what she later discovers is an apparition of a young girl skating on a frozen lake. The ice cracks open and the girl falls from sight.  Ghostly visions of this young woman, along with a mysterious chestnut colored collie running loose, will haunt the reader as much as they haunt Jennet. The plot also thickens with the mysterious accusation that a dog stands accused of killing her owner. How shocking is that?
     Jennet is also keeping busy by not only solving mysteries, but still teaching full time. She also joins a group to rescue abandoned collies. Much to my delight, there is a wedding. Sweet Camille, who lives across the road from Jennet, will be married on New Year’s Eve, with Jennet as her maid of honor. Let’s not forget the love triangle between Julie, Jennet’s sister, and Leonora, Jennet’s colleague and friend, guaranteed to keep you barreling on to the end to find out what happens.
     Spirit of the Season is a must read, as it is action packed with mysteries of the murder kind, the paranormal kind, and the romantic kind. This book will stand alone as a cozy mystery but will leave you wanting more. Don’t worry. You can order the previous nine books in the series and there is an eleventh one already in the works. Good job, Ms. Bodoin.

--Suzanne Hurley

   
 

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