“Miller!” I exclaimed as I opened his door. I stared at the messed bed, the cold television screen, stunned that he wasn’t here. Feeling a shiver of foreboding, I went to Taylor’s room and, without knocking, opened the door. The lights were off and the curtains drawn, but I could make out his sleeping form on the bed. I scanned the room. Thor wasn’t there.
Now I knew a moment of fear. Wasn’t Taylor looking for Thor earlier in the morning? That was hours ago. Something was off. I could feel it. I hurried downstairs, made a quick tour of the house. The rooms were ominously empty without Miller or Thor. Feeling tension mount, I went directly to the coatrack by the back door. Sure enough, Miller’s coat was gone, and so were his boots. Thor’s leash was also missing from the hook. Where could he have gone? I wondered. And with a huge dog? An idea came to mind. Pursing my lips, I went directly to the phone and dialed a number I knew well.
Dill answered the phone on the third ring. “Hello?”
“Hi, Dill, this is Mrs. McClellan. Is Miller there?”
“Was he there earlier?”
“No, I haven’t seen him all day.”
“Okay. Listen, will you call me if he comes by? I’m looking for him. Thanks. Bye.”
My hand rested on the phone as I tried to piece together all that I’d seen and done since I had awakened. I remembered it was late when I went to the kitchen, a little past nine o’clock. Now that I thought about it, I’d seen an empty bowl in the sink and a spoon. So Miller must’ve awakened and helped himself to breakfast. What time would that have been? I felt a flush of shame. I didn’t know because I wasn’t up, as I normally was. As I should have been.
I ran my hand through my hair, recalling Taylor’s coming in—was it ten o’clock? He was looking for Thor, which meant Miller and the dog would’ve been out for at least an hour already. Likely more. I glanced at my watch. It was nearly twelve thirty. No dog walk lasted that long. My gaze wildly scanned the room as panic filled my chest. Where could Miller have gone?
I ran to my bedroom now and pushed open the door and turned on the overhead lights. Alistair stirred in the bed, placing his hand over his eyes.
“Alistair!” I called. I went to gruffly shake his shoulder.
“Huh?” he answered groggily.
“Alistair, wake up,” I said sharply, straightening. “Wake up! Miller’s gone.”
His hand slipped from his face and he blinked hard, his gaze sharp as the words permeated the fog in his brain. “Gone?” His morning voice was gruff. “What do you mean, gone?”
“I mean gone! I haven’t seen him yet this morning. I just assumed he was in his room. But when I went up just now to check his room, he wasn’t there. And Thor’s gone, too.”
“Probably took him for a walk.”
“That’s what we all thought, but for four hours? I called Dill and he’s not there, either. I don’t know where he is.” My voice rose with panic.
Alistair coughed, then sat up, grimacing with the effort. After a moment he said, “No need to panic. He’s probably out with some friends.”
“With Thor?” I asked doubtfully.
“Maybe a pickup game or something.” Alistair spoke calmly, but he was already rising from bed. “When did you last see him?”
“I didn’t. He was already gone when I went downstairs.”
Alistair didn’t reply. He turned to look at the alarm clock on the bedside table. He walked to the window and looked out, checking the temperature gauge he’d affixed to the window frame. “It’s not too bad out there.” He rubbed his stubbled jaw. “Near forty.”
I felt some reassurance knowing that.
“But there’s no sun. And I don’t like the looks of those clouds.” Alistair’s fingers began undoing his pajama buttons as he walked to the bathroom. “Bring me a cup of coffee, will you? I’m getting dressed.”
By one thirty in the afternoon we’d contacted everyone we knew, gone to the school, checked the ball field, and even gone to T.W. Graham’s, but no one had seen Miller or Thor. Everywhere people were bustling, doing last-minute shopping, and Christmas music was playing. For the first time the merry music grated on my nerves. By two, Alistair felt there was nothing left but to notify the sheriff’s office.
Sheriff Cable was a handsome, likable man, tall and pink-cheeked, whose kindly demeanor masked a razor-sharp mind. His blue eyes were always twinkling with a smile, but if you knew him well, you also knew those eyes could flash with warning. Cable was near seventy, but no one in the county was fool enough to run against him. He knew most all by name, their history and whereabouts. Whenever someone was sick or needed a helping hand, Sheriff Cable was the first one there. He arrived promptly at the McClellans’ house, accepted my offer of a cup of coffee, and began asking routine questions.
“Do you have any idea where he might have gone?”
I shook my head. “We went to all his usual places. Called his friends. All I know is he went out with Thor before nine a.m. and he hasn’t been seen since.”
The sheriff made a few notations in his pad. “Notice anything missing? His bike, maybe?”
I was dumbfounded. “I hadn’t thought of that!” Alistair and I led the way to the garage. The old wood-frame structure, full of sand and spiders, was big enough for one car, Alistair’s fishing boat, and his tools. Miller’s bike was still there.
“The wagon is gone.” I pointed to the empty space beside the wall.
“And so is my ax.” Alistair pointed to the empty hook on the peg wall.
I looked at Alistair and we both had the same thought.
“I know where he went!” Relief rang in my voice. “He went to get a Christmas tree.”
Sheriff Cable seemed amused. “You mean to cut one down?”
I nodded. “Yes. It’s a family tradition. We were meant to go today but . . .” I cast a hooded glance at Alistair, who stood with his arms crossed and a frown of worry.
“Where would he go?” Sheriff Cable asked. “I can’t think of a tree farm nearby.”
“I told him about a place in the forest where my parents used go when I was a child,” I explained. “I bet he tried to find it.”
“In the Marion National Forest?” the sheriff asked incredulously.