Chapter One from Book One - The Snowman Killer
Sarah Garland stared at the peppermint candy cane sticking out of the mouth of a grotesque snowman. Shielding her eyes against the icy wind, she cautiously pushed her way through ankle deep snow, which was filled with dark shadows emanating from the tall trees looming overhead like white and green icicles frozen in time. The snowman stood waiting, designed with an ugly sneer and devious eyes carved from burnt wood, dressed in a black leather jacket with stick arms protruding through the sleeves. Stopping two feet away from the snowman, Sarah focused on the peppermint candy cane as fear gripped her heart. “No,” she snapped at herself as anger replaced her fear, “I won't believe this... I refuse to believe...”
Turning her back to the snowman, Sarah focused on her warm, small wooden cabin. Inside the cabin, a cozy fire was singing in a stone fireplace, sending smoke up through the chimney toward a snowy sky. The cabin sat four miles from town on two acres of private land, surrounded by beautiful, natural forest that was currently covered with the whispers of winter. The cabin was Sarah's escape from the world—a private island that no man or woman could trespass on. But someone had trespassed on her island today, leaving a hideous snowman as a message to her. “Most likely it was just children,” Sarah whispered aloud, in an effort to calm herself. She pulled the long, white coat she was wearing tighter against her body as the wind grabbed at her blond ponytail.
She looked toward the green Subaru parked in her driveway and wondered how long it would take her to run to it and escape to town if an intruder suddenly appeared. “Stop scaring yourself,” she scolded. Turning back toward the snowman, Sarah studied the ground and began searching for boot prints. The snow was smooth. “Someone built this snowman in the dark, hours ago.”
The thought of a strange figure standing in her front yard in a snowstorm building a hideous snowman as she slept, unaware, inside her cabin, made Sarah's heart begin to race. “Stop it,” she scolded herself again—only this time, her voice held no true conviction. Sarah backed away from the snowman and made her way back toward the cabin. As she did, a snowball flew past her head and crashed against the passenger's side of the Subaru.
“Hey lady, nice day for a snowball fight, isn't it?” a creepy voice laughed and then vanished into the wind.
Frozen in fear, Sarah stared into the snow-covered forest running her eyes from tree to tree, searching for the voice. “Oh dear,” she said and ran to her cabin. Throwing open the front door, she dashed inside, slammed the door shut, and locked it. “Oh dear...my novel...someone is playing the part of the 'Snowman Killer'... and I'm his target.”
Outside, a man wearing a black leather jacket grinned at the cabin and slithered away into the snow, tossing a frozen snowball up and down in his right hand. “Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful...and since we've no place to go...let it snow,” the man began to sing.
Sarah lifted her fingers up and away from the white keyboard sitting on her old wooden writing desk that her parents had bought her when she was sixteen years old. The desk was sitting under an oval window in the guest bedroom in her cabin, which she had transformed into a writing room. Outside the window, a hard wind was screaming and whining as it searched for a way into the cabin. The sound of the wind was chilling, but Sarah attempted to not let it bother her. At the age of forty-one, she knew better than to let the sound of a scary wind spook her mind. Still, she thought, running her hands through her short blond hair, there was something about a howling wind that could make a grown man cringe in fear. “You're a silly twit,” Sarah told herself, and rolled her pale blue eyes at the wind. “Scream on, my friend.”
Sarah stood and stretched her sore back. She examined the old blue robe she was wearing. Standing here, in a room lined with priceless hardwood flooring, walls painted soft blue and filled with beautiful art, an antique bookshelf consumed with wonderful volumes, and a smiling, warm fireplace, Sarah knew that her old robe was surely out of place. “It doesn't matter,” she said aloud in a sad voice. “Who’s here to see me wearing my old robe? I'm a forty-one-year-old divorced woman with no children. I'm also a retired detective hiding away in Alaska, writing silly books and running a coffee shop... Sure, bachelors are lining up at my door and begging to have a cup of coffee with me.” She grinned wryly.
Sarah looked down at the computer sitting on the writing desk. The black words stood out in sharp contrast to the glowing white screen, telling of a strange, dangerous mystery. The books Sarah wrote had become a splash, and she had created a large following of readers that generously supplied her bank account with more money than she had ever dreamed of having. She had assumed she would waste her forties away working as a street detective in Los Angeles until retirement. Sarah was secretly thrilled when her publisher handed her a check with six digits and promised her more to come. Recently divorced and heartbroken, Sarah decided to take her money, retire early, and relocate to the small town she had visited with her sister the previous year. “I’m not so sure about the pen name I chose to write under, though,” Sarah cautioned herself. “I've made too many enemies back in Los Angeles. And maybe it would be a good idea to take my real name out of the story and replace it with a fake one...silly me.”
Realizing that she was talking to herself while standing in a lonely room, Sarah sighed. “Coffee time,” she said and left her writing room.
Sarah walked into her small, cozy kitchen featuring a creamy green floor and light brown walls and paused. Her eyes went to the wooden bird clock hanging over the circular kitchen table covered with a pink-and-white tablecloth. “Not even ten in the morning,” Sarah spoke into the empty kitchen. “Insomnia isn't a fair weather friend.”
After making a pot of coffee, she plopped herself down at the kitchen table and tossed her eyes toward the square window standing over the kitchen sink. A heavy snow was falling, preventing any attempts to travel into town. “Plows will be by later...maybe then I'll go into town and check on the coffee shop?” Sarah said to herself. She liked her coffee shop. She liked the idea that not only was she a successful writer, but also an independent businesswoman running a successful coffee shop—well, a mediocre coffee shop. The shop was housed in an old bakery sitting at the end of a snowy street that wasn't even mentioned on most street maps. Still, it was hers, and the locals seemed to like it. “Maybe a trip into town will be nice,” Sarah said, trying to escape the loneliness she was feeling.
Suddenly she was overwhelmed by a wave of memories of her ex-husband, and she had to fight back tears. “Why?” she asked heartbrokenly. Sarah recalled, as she had so many times before, the man she had been married to for twenty years walking into their home in Los Angeles and announcing that he wanted a divorce. She had been sitting in the kitchen reading a case file when he delivered this news. Shocked and unable to respond, she watched her husband walk away without saying a word—and walk right out of their marriage.
The white telephone began to ring from the living room, interrupting her thoughts. Sarah quickly wiped at a tear and stood up. She hurried into the warm, comfortable living room with walls made of old logs and a beautiful hardwood floor, sat down on the dark tan leather couch and grabbed the phone. “Hello?”
“Hey, Los Angeles,” a cheery voice said, “what are you doing today?”
“Oh, hey June Bug,” Sarah said. It was her friend, Amanda Funnel. Amanda had recently relocated from London to Alaska with her husband. They wanted to be close to their son, who lived in Fairbanks, forty miles south of Snow Falls.
“You're sad,” Amanda said in a quick voice. “Thinking of Harry again?”
“Trying not to would be the correct response,” Sarah admitted. Drawing in a deep breath, she looked at the stone fireplace across the living room. A gentle fire was nestled in the fireplace, giving off a delicate heat that warmed the room. Sitting on the mantle was a photo of Sarah and her former husband, holding hands, standing on the beach back in California. “It takes time.”
“That creep isn't worth your time,” Amanda told Sarah in a stern tone. “That bloke divorced you to marry a rich woman, leaving you to fend for yourself.”
“I know...I know,” Sarah said, fighting back more tears. “Harry left me to marry his client. I guess it's true...all lawyers are crooks.” She scoffed.
“Listen,” Amanda said, “I'm calling because my dear husband is flying back to London today. Lionel has become ill and Simon needs to tend to him. So, since I'm going to be alone for a week, I thought I might come and stay with you.”
“You're not flying out with Simon?” Sarah asked, surprised.
“Let's just say that my father-in-law and I...were never close,” Amanda admitted. “Anyway, the plows are running on my side of town. As soon as they get to you, give me a call and I'll drive over and take a holiday at your flat...just us girls...popcorn...fingernail polish...”
Sarah smiled. She loved her friend, even though she had known the woman less than a year. “Sure,” she said. “No, wait, meet me in town at the coffee shop. I want to open up for a few hours and try to bring in a few bucks.”
“Well, the snow is supposed to fly over us by noon. Sure, why not,” Amanda agreed.
Sarah smiled again. “In this town, a woman has to open her store when the weather permits. Yesterday I got snowed in out here. If I don't open up for a few hours today, the folks in town might think I'm closing my business.”
“The blokes in town will tar and feather you if you dared to try,” Amanda laughed. “Now, put on a brave smile and go take a hot shower. And,” she added, “get out of that old, ratty robe you're no doubt wearing at this very moment.”
Sarah glanced down at her robe. “Maybe I'll change into something more appropriate,” she giggled sweetly. “I'll see you in town, June Bug.”
“I'll be there, Los Angeles. You just make sure that you don't stand me up,” Amanda said in an affectionate voice.
Feeling better from the phone call, Sarah wandered back to the kitchen and drank a cup of coffee. By the time she had showered and changed into a thick, green sweater and jeans, she felt ready to take on the world again. “I'll tend to my coffee shop, have a bite to eat with June Bug, come back home and write some and...oh dear,” Sarah hurried to her writing room. “With Amanda sleeping over, I won't have time to write, and my book is due in two months...” Biting her thumbnail, she focused on the computer sitting on her writing desk. The computer was still on. “One step at a time,” she told herself and closed the door to her writing room.
She threw on a clumsy but very warm brown winter parka, then grabbed her green backpack hanging on the wooden coat rack next to the front door and slung it over her shoulder. Next, she grabbed her Subaru keys hanging from the hook next to the coat rack and braced herself to battle the icy wind and thick snow as she headed outside. Sarah spotted a large red snowplow pushing its way down her snow-covered road. She waved at the driver and then studied her driveway. “Let's get to it,” she said with a deep sigh and struggled to her Subaru. After placing her backpack on the passenger's seat, she forced her way through the snow to a small utility shed on the north side of her cabin and retrieved a snow shovel. “Oh, the weather outside is tiring...so so tiring...and since I have someplace to go...let me shovel, let me shovel, let me shovel...” Sarah began singing as she started the difficult task of shoveling out her driveway.
Shovelful by shovelful, Sarah worked to clear her driveway as the icy winds clawed at her. At least the snow was letting up and the skies were turning blue, even though the temperature was well below twenty degrees. “Thanks a lot, Harry,” Sarah complained after clearing her driveway and putting the snow shovel back in the utility shed. “I hope you're enjoying living in sunny California without me.”
Refusing to become upset, Sarah walked to her Subaru, climbed into the driver's seat, and cautiously drove into the small town of Snow Falls. “Snow tires, don't fail me now.” As she maneuvered down her snowy road, she admired the cabins that sat at comfortable distances from one another—each cabin was covered with snow and had smoke coming from its chimney. “A girl could really create some stories about this place,” Sarah said. “I think I'm going to be okay in Snow Falls.”
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