Vanished

Book Cover_Audible-2020

Life in Prestonsburg Kentucky was simple and safe until Vanessa “Nessa” Holbrook vanished 20 years ago. Now her childhood best friend, Sheriff Carter Link, must solve the vanishing of another little girl. Is it a copycat or could Carter finally bring the person who took Nessa to justice?

Published by: New Legend Books & Comics
All rights reserved
Copyright © 2016 by New Legend Books & Comics
Cover Art © 2017 by New Legend Books & Comics
This book is a work of fiction. Names character, places, and incidents either are of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
ISBN: 9781983224140

Chapter 1: Where are you

At nearly nine p.m. on October 15th, Floyd County Sheriff Tom Link paced back and forth in front of John, Melissa, and Vanessa Holbrook’s home. His six-foot-tall 200-pound frame cast a long shadow in the harsh light of the nearest streetlight. Despite being forty-five years of age the sheriff moved with the effortless athletic gait of someone at least twenty years his junior. If not for his salt and peppered hair, which seemed to be growing grayer by the minute, it would’ve been easy to mistake him for a much younger man.

Tom had an uncharacteristic look of worry on his usually expressionless face though it went unnoticed by all except for those who knew him best. To everyone else, he seemed to be in complete control of the situation. After all, most things that happened in the Southeastern Kentucky town of Prestonsburg were easily handled by a man of his intellect, skills, and experience. What he wasn’t able to deduce with his mind the sheriff normally pushed through with sheer determination and force of will. This case, however, wasn’t going to be an easy one to solve, and it took less than 18 hours for the seasoned lawman to come to that conclusion.

The sheriff had received a call from Mrs. Holbrook at just past three a.m. that morning. Her daughter, Vanessa, who was more commonly known by her nickname, “Nessa”, had vanished from her room without a trace. Melissa told Tom that she’d woken up to use the bathroom at about 2:15 a.m. On the way back to the room she shared with her husband, the doting mother decided to check on the girl and discovered her bed not only empty but also neatly made.

Neither of those things added up. Nessa had gone to her room exhausted no more than four hours earlier, likely to sleep in until at least nine or ten the next morning if left undisturbed. She also never made her bed without being threatened by a grounding or some other punishment equally heinous to a 12-year-old. There wasn’t any way she would’ve done it on her own in the middle of the night.

After frantically looking in Nessa’s closet, behind the dresser, and under the bed Melissa immediately checked every other room before waking John and telling him their daughter was nowhere to be found. The couple then combed through the house together, calling out the girl’s name repeatedly, before going out in the yard and looking behind every tree and bush. After forty minutes of a fruitless search, Melissa ran back inside and grabbed the phone, dialing sheriff Link’s home number from memory.

Tom groggily answered just before the fourth ring, “Hello?”

“Sheriff, this is Melissa Holbrook. Have you seen Nessa in the past couple hours? She isn’t in her bed and John and I can’t find her anywhere.”

“No,” Tom replied as he glanced across the room at the glowing red letters of the alarm clock sitting on the dresser, “I haven’t seen her since we left your house around ten o’clock last night. We were all asleep by ten thirty. You say you’ve checked everywhere?”

“Yes,” Melissa answered, “We’ve even looked outside. The only thing I can think of is maybe she and your son cooked up a plan for her to sneak out and go to your house or something. That’s not likely because they’re both aware of the kind of trouble they’d be in for pulling off such a stunt, but it’s the only thing that comes to mind. Those two are crazy about each other you know. I almost wouldn’t put it past them.”

“Yeah, they’re definitely fond of one another but I doubt they’d come up with a scheme like that. I’m sure she’s somewhere close by.” Tom found himself smiling despite Melissa’s frightened tone and the urgency of the situation. His son Carter and the Holbrook’s daughter were the best of friends and had been inseparable since the family moved to the area five years prior when both kids were seven.

Nessa was a beautiful girl of average height with blonde hair and fair skin who’d caught Carter’s attention right away, even though he continued to claim that girls were gross and infested with cooties. He’d already managed to get into more than one fight with the other boys because they picked on her so much. Of course, most of these altercations resulted in him getting beat up but the young man thought it was worth it to defend his friend.

Unlike Carter, who was reserved and somewhat shy, Nessa was a bit of a wild child. She always got the boy in trouble and had a way of persuading him to do things he knew he wasn’t supposed to although they weren’t ever overly bad offenses. The two were constantly on the move and would often sneak off to swim in nearby Abbott Creek or disappear into the woods for hours at a time even though both sets of parents had warned the kids they should always stay close by. Overall, however, the Links and Holbrooks were pleased with their children’s relationship, especially since neither had siblings.

“…come over? We’re worried about Nessa”, asked Melissa, oblivious to the fact that Tom’s mind had wandered off and that he didn’t hear most of what she’d said in the past ten seconds.

“I’ll be right there,” he replied, figuring it was the most suitable response based on the bits and pieces he’d caught. “Tell John I’ll find Nessa soon and everything will be okay.” The sheriff ended the conversation by putting the phone back in its cradle on the nightstand. He then rolled over and realized for the first time his wife wasn’t in bed with him. That wasn’t at all unusual because she often had trouble sleeping. Most times after waking up in the middle of the night she didn’t try to go back to bed right away. Instead, she’d get up, make a pot of chamomile tea, grab a book, and head straight for her favorite chair in the living room intending to read until she got tired.

Kristie Link had always been an avid reader who consumed books like a chain smoker goes through cigarettes, one right after the other. Tom didn’t understand how anyone had the ability to sit there staring at pieces of paper for countless hours on end. To him, reading was by far the most boring activity a person could spend their time doing. He was lucky to get through all the police reports and various law enforcement manuals he did, and that was only because he had no choice.

The sheriff got out of bed and stood up, still thinking about his wife’s reading habit. He rolled his eyes and shook his head as he walked toward the closet to put on his uniform and shoes. Once dressed Tom grabbed his service pistol and holster off the nightstand, then attached them to his belt as he headed out of the bedroom and into the hall, already trying to think of places Nessa might be. Before passing his son’s room he cracked the door a few inches and looked inside to find the boy sound asleep. ‘Well,’ he thought to himself as he closed the door, ‘at least I know they didn’t sneak off together.’ He then continued down the hall and through the kitchen.

As Tom suspected, Kristie was sitting in the living room with her nose buried in her latest conquest, a paperback entitled ‘Dead or Alive: The Reaper’s Redemption’. She’d insisted on running down to the local bookstore the previous day to get it while the family headed to Food City on a mission to grab burgers and chips for a cookout the Holbrook’s were hosting. They were already running late and her detour would add at least fifteen minutes to their time, but Tom knew better than to argue with his wife when she wanted a new book.

The two families had grown close over the past few years. They’d first become acquainted because of Carter and Nessa’s relationship but it hadn’t taken long before both sets of parent’s realized they enjoyed each other’s company. During the summer it wasn’t uncommon for them to have several get-togethers. Even though it was early October, the weather had been unseasonably warm and dry, with the daytime highs still hovering in the upper 80s. Both Tom and John figured it would be a great idea to have one last cookout before the cold set in.

“Guess What?”, Kristie asked without even taking her eyes from the page she was reading, “The main character in this book reminds me a lot of you. Well, your personality anyway. He’s a hitman who happens to also be a member of a rough and tough motorcycle club. I know you’d never be involved with either of those things but you do act a lot like the guy.”

She then looked up for the first time since he’d walked into the room and furrowed her eyebrows as she glanced over at the clock sitting on the mantle. “Tom, what are you doing up and dressed for work so early?”

“I got a call from Melissa Holbrook,” he replied with a sigh, “She and John woke up a little while ago and discovered that Nessa is missing. They’ve looked all over the house and yard and can’t find any sign of her. It’s like she vanished without a trace.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!” Kristie exclaimed as she put the book facedown on the coffee table and leaned forward in the chair, giving her husband her undivided attention. “That poor girl! Surely she’s around there somewhere and they’ve just overlooked her. I almost wouldn’t be surprised if Nessa was hiding. That child does have a bit of a mischevious streak ya know.”

“I wish that were the case,” said Tom, “The Holbrooks searched for an hour themselves with no luck. I’m going to run over and see if I can find any clues or signs of foul play.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Kristie asked. Before Tom answered her eyes widened, and she shot up out of the chair, “What about Carter? Is he okay?”

“He’s still in bed sound asleep,” Tom replied as he put his hand on his wife’s shoulder, “and no, there isn’t anything you can do. I’m hoping to be back here soon, anyway. Nessa might even turn up before I make it over there.”

“You’re probably right,” said Kristie as she looked up into her husband’s eyes, “Please be careful. I don’t like it when you go out this late.”

He let a small smile play across his face then said, “Technically it’s not late at all. As a matter of fact, it’s actually pretty early in the morning.”

“Oh, whatever,” said Kristie as she shook her head, “Why don’t you get out of here and go find that poor girl?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Tom replied as he bent down and kissed his wife on the forehead. “I’ll keep you posted if there are any further developments.”

“Please do. I’ll most likely stay in here another hour before I even try to go back to sleep,” said Kristie as she sat back down in the chair and picked up the book. “My chamomile tea is already working on me. I’m hoping Nessa will turn up and you’ll be home sooner than later.”

“That would be great, wouldn’t it?” Tom replied as he turned around, picked up his keys from the wooden bowl sitting on the shelf next to the front entryway, grabbed the tan Stetson hat he always wore, put it on his head, and unlocked the door. He then swung the door open and walked out onto their large covered front porch, closing and re-locking the door behind him. Without hesitation, he took one long stride off the porch, passing over the two concrete steps, and headed down the flagstone pathway that connected the house to the parking pad at the end of their long gravel driveway.

A few seconds later the sheriff opened the driver’s side door of his Floyd County patrol car. Once inside the vehicle, he started the engine and coasted down the narrow drive that wound through the heavily wooded holler for a half mile before meeting Abbott Creek Road. When he reached the edge of the pavement Tom looked both ways to make sure no one was approaching from either direction, then turned left.

After traveling less than three-quarters of a mile, right before he made it to the road the Holbrooks lived on, he saw the bright flash of oncoming headlights. He hugged the right side of the lane as tightly as he could to give the approaching vehicle extra room to pass. Abbott Creek Road was nearly as narrow as his driveway despite being both heavily trafficked and residential. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t uncommon to see the side mirrors of full-sized pickup trucks folded back to prevent them from being knocked off while passing other vehicles on the road.

Two seconds later Tom saw a familiar beat-up old station wagon coming around the curve in front of him. It was driven by Lester Chaffins, a local middle-aged fellow who’d been delivering the Floyd County Times for as long as he could remember. Lester waved, and the sheriff tipped his hat though he couldn’t help but peer in the car’s windows to make sure that the older man was alone. All he saw were bundles and bundles of newspapers. Tom hadn’t expected anything different, and still thought Nessa was most likely around her house somewhere, but one couldn’t be too cautious in a situation like this.

When he again had the road to himself Tom continued around the curve and drove another quarter mile until he came upon Abbott Road on his left, which was a short and sparsely populated dead-end lane about two-and-a-half miles from HWY 23. He stopped for a moment to make sure no one was coming then turned and headed down Abbott. Less than one minute later he saw the Holbrook’s red-brick ranch-style house through the trees to his right. From his current vantage point, it appeared that every light in the house had been turned on. When he reached their driveway, he followed it until his cruiser was just behind John’s late model 4x4 pickup.

Tom took a deep breath then exhaled it as he killed the engine, opened the door, got out of the vehicle, and walked up the sidewalk toward the Holbrook’s home. Before he’d even traveled ten feet from the car, the front door of the house burst open and both parents frantically ran out to meet him, each already firing off questions a mile a minute.

“Okay guys,” Tom said as he held up his right hand, “Slow down. I can’t make sense of what you’re saying with the both of you talking like this.” He paused for a moment, giving the couple a chance to calm down before crossing his arms and continuing, “Melissa since you were the one who discovered Nessa missing would you tell me again everything that happened after you woke up this morning?”

The sheriff listened as first Melissa then John Holbrook told him from their perspective what had transpired in the last hour or so since she’d woken up. Both stories were nearly identical, with no obvious inconsistencies. Tom didn’t doubt for a second that either of them was telling the truth. He’d also studied the surrounding area as they spoke and didn’t find anything that struck him as being off. ‘Where have you gone, Nessa?’, the sheriff thought to himself as he uncrossed his arms and put his hands in his pockets. Aloud he said, “Okay, here’s the plan. I’m going to start by going around the house and checking for signs of disturbance or forced entry. At this point, we aren’t sure if Nessa walked out on her own or what…”

“Are you saying Nessa may have been taken?”, Melissa interjected.

Tom regarded her with a slight smile on his face, trying hard not to show his annoyance at being interrupted. “As of right now, I don’t actually know what happened. That’s what I’m here to figure out.”

John raised his hand as if he were a student asking for permission to speak. After the sheriff nodded he said, “Tom, is there anything we can do to help?”

“The most helpful thing you can do is to stay out here and remain calm. I’ll fill you in if I find anything pertinent to your daughter’s disappearance,” with that said Tom abruptly turned around, got out his flashlight, and walked toward the outside wall of the house, his gaze moving from side to side as he looked for anything unusual.

After 30 minutes the sheriff had examined the entire exterior of the home and most of the yard, especially the area nearest to Nessa’s bedroom, without finding so much as a blade of grass out of place. Even so, this did nothing to deter him. He was confident that a clue would eventually turn up to shine some light on the case and give further direction. He simply needed to stay patient and keep searching until it did. With that thought in mind, Tom walked back to where the Holbrooks were leaning against the front bumper of John’s truck.

When he was within five feet of the couple John asked, “Are you having any luck so far, Tom?”

“Nothing has caught my attention yet, but I’ve only just begun. I’ll keep investigating until something turns up. It always does. My next step is to search the house.”

“I haven’t had a chance to tidy up from last night,” interjected Melissa, “it’s still a mess in there.”

“That’s alright,” Tom replied, “You’ve had a lot going on in the past few hours. Believe it or not, it’s actually better that you haven’t cleaned. The likelihood of unintentionally destroying evidence grows the more things are disturbed.”

With those words still hanging in the air, the sheriff turned and strode down the concrete walkway, up the two small steps and across the porch to the front door. Once inside he inspected the entire place, starting in the living room and systematically working his way throughout the rest of the home, intentionally leaving Nessa’s room for last. Everything looked as it did when he and his family left mere hours before. The dishes were in the sink and the board games they’d been playing were sitting on the coffee table as if waiting for someone to make the next move. Nothing looked in the least bit unusual.

Undaunted by the apparent lack of clues Tom headed for Nessa’s room, confident he’d eventually see something that would give further direction. He knew it was impossible for a person to truly vanish into thin air. As soon as he passed through the doorway and flipped on the light, his gaze was drawn to the girl’s bed. It had been made, just as Melissa mentioned during their phone conversation, though the method used went well beyond what the young girl or her mother would have been capable of accomplishing. The lawman hadn’t seen anything quite like it since his days in the Army years before.

The bottom of the sheet and blanket were tucked under the mattress at the footboard while both sides had been pulled tight and tucked under as well, creating 45 degree angled hospital corners where the sides and footboard came together. The cover had been neatly pulled over the pillow, with the top edge of it running parallel to the headboard at a distance of exactly six inches. The final result was a very smooth and wrinkle-free bed worthy of an early morning boot camp barracks inspection. Tom didn’t doubt for a second that he’d be able to bounce a quarter off of it.

“Someone besides the Holbrooks has been in here, and they don’t seem to care who knows about it,” he muttered to himself under his breath as he walked closer to the bed, “How did they get in and out without being seen?” He quickly scanned the rest of the room, his eyes widening as something occurred to him. He immediately made his way to the window to put his hunch to the test. As the sheriff suspected, he found Nessa’s window unlocked, unlike the others in the house. In less than ten seconds this case had escalated from a possible missing person to a probable kidnapping.

He reached for his belt radio to tell the station about Nessa’s disappearance, but before he got his hands on it the voice of Josh Dunes, the sheriff department’s newest deputy from Lexington, came out of the small speaker, “Sheriff Link? Sheriff Link? Are you there? Over.”

“Yes, I’m here,” Tom responded as he held the radio to his mouth, “What can I help you with? Over.”

“Well,” said Josh, “Kristie called the station in a panic. She needs you to come home right away though she wouldn’t say why. Over.”

AudiobooksNow - Digital Audiobooks for Less

Tom furrowed his eyebrows as he looked at his watch and saw the time was 4:35 a.m. He’d left the house over an hour ago. What might have happened since then to get his wife so worked up? He shrugged his shoulder, sighed, and spoke into the radio, “Call her back and tell her I’ll be on my way soon. I also need you to gather a couple deputies and head over to John and Melissa Holbrook’s on Abbott Road with the siren and lights off. Their daughter Nessa vanished during the night. I searched the house and have found a couple things in the girl’s bedroom that make me believe someone has taken her. I think it would be a good idea to get a few more pairs of eyes on the place. Over.”

“Are you serious?” came Josh’s reply over the radio, “I love that little girl. Okay, first I’ll call your wife, then I’ll grab the crime scene investigation kit and hop in the cruiser with a couple fellas and head to the Holbrook’s. We should be there in 15 minutes. Over.”

“Sounds good,” answered the sheriff, “I haven’t spoken to John or Melissa since I’ve been in the house. They’re standing outside right now. I will tell them I found something of interest and that it would best if we had a few other guys here to check it out. Make sure they stay calm and don’t tell them anything else about the case. It might be a good idea for them to sit in the back of the patrol car until I’ve taken care of whatever is happening at home and make it back. Over.”

With the radio silent once again Tom exited Nessa’s room, walked through the house, and stepped out onto the front porch. The sky remained black as night since the sun was still a good distance beyond the eastern horizon. He knew there were several places that wouldn’t see much light until well after sunrise because they sat in the shadow of the mountains. He had no doubt the young girl must be terrified and wished there was a way he could offer her his protection. “I’ll find you, Nessa,” he whispered to himself, “if it’s the last thing I do I will find you.”

The lawman walked the rest of the way across the porch, down the steps and over to where John and Melissa still stood next to the truck. He raised his hand as he approached so the distraught couple would stay silent, allowing him to speak first, “I examined the house and saw a few things that might shine enough light to help us figure out where Nessa is. I think it would be a good idea to have fresh eyes on the case so I’ve requested that Josh and some other deputies come over from the station to have a look. They should be here in about ten minutes.”

“Do you think she’s okay?” asked John as he wrapped his arms around his wife. Tom saw the fear and desperation in both of their eyes and wished he knew something he could do or say to comfort his friends. He was unsure of Nessa’s location and her condition. She’d been missing for at least two hours, if not longer. In that time the girl might still be in the county or somewhere miles away. Based on what he’d seen in the bedroom he feared the latter to be more likely than the former.

As the sheriff, it was his job to keep order and stability in all situations, regardless if he had a personal interest in the matter or not. With a straight face, he regarded them for a moment before he spoke, “It’s too early to jump to conclusions or make assumptions. I can tell you the sheriff’s department and I will do everything in our power to find your daughter. With that said, it would be best if you guys stayed out of the house for now. When the deputies arrive I suggest you have a seat in the back of the cruiser.

I need to leave for a few minutes, but I’ll be back as soon as I can. Kristie called the station and requested that I come home as soon as possible though she didn’t say why.”

“What do you mean you need to leave for a few minutes?” asked Melissa as she looked at Tom, her face losing some of its usual composure, “You haven’t found my daughter yet. I don’t think you should go anywhere.”

“Melissa,” said Tom, “I know you’re scared. If I were in your shoes, I’m sure I’d be in a panic too. I promise to do everything in my power to find Nessa. Whatever’s going on at my house may be related to her disappearance so it’s in all of our best interest for me to figure out what Kristie called about as soon as possible.

Also, even though I’m leaving, it doesn’t mean we are putting the search for your daughter on hold. There are some capable young men on the way right now who’s input can help locate Nessa much faster than me looking alone. I’ll be gone long enough to figure out what’s happening back home. Once that’s settled I’ll return as soon as possible. Try to stay calm.”

With that said and before she or John responded, the sheriff walked around the truck, got in the cruiser, started the engine, then backed down the drive and out onto Abbott Road. A few minutes later he turned right off of Abbott Creek Road and onto his own driveway. As he neared the house, he noticed that all the lights were on there also. That was an unusual sight at five o’clock in the morning. He felt a tinge of uneasiness as he put the vehicle in park, killed the engine, and got out of the car.

Tom involuntarily transferred his keys to his left hand and put his right hand on the butt of his service pistol as he approached the porch. It wasn’t until he stood in front of the locked door that he realized, with a touch of embarrassment, what he’d done. This was his own home. Why would he be going in ready to draw his weapon? He shook his head as he took his hand off of the gun, unlocked the front door, and walked into the living room.

What he saw after stepping further into the room and closing the door did more to confuse him than settle his uneasiness. Kristie and Carter were sitting at the kitchen table huddled over a small object. Before Tom had the chance to wonder why his son was up at this hour, he got a better look at what the boy had in his hand and realized it was a long-range walkie-talkie. Carter appeared to be using it to have a serious conversation with someone. ‘What the…’ he thought to himself as his wife got up from the table and approached him.

“What’s going on?” the sheriff asked as soon as she was within whispering range.

Kristie replied with a rather odd story, “Well, I had planned to go back to sleep shortly after you left but couldn’t bring myself to do it because I was worried about Nessa. I figured I’d just end up lying in bed staring at the ceiling so I sat in the chair and planned to keep reading until you got back. My mind wasn’t in it though and all I ended up doing was blankly scanning the pages as I turned them. Then, about 45 minutes after you drove to the Holbrook’s, the doorbell rang five or six times in a row.

I got up as quick as I could to see who might be out there at four o’clock in the morning, at the same time hoping the racket they were making wouldn't wake Carter. By the time I reached the front door and opened it, there wasn't anyone out there. As I was about to write the whole thing off to hooligans playing a childish prank, I saw a medium-sized shoebox sitting at the edge of the porch that looked kinda like the one your old combat boots came in.

Next, I turned around, headed to the pantry, grabbed a broom, then went back to the door and out onto the porch holding the broom in front of me like it was a sword or something. I’m sure I looked a fool but all I could think of was how whoever rang the bell was still out there prowling around and that I might need to protect myself. I picked up the box and ran back into the house as fast as my legs would take me.

After the door was closed and locked again, I saw Carter shuffling down the hallway like a zombie. In a very slurred and sleepy voice, he asked what I had in my hands. I leaned the broom against the wall and told him I wasn’t sure yet but I was about to find out. As I sat the box on the kitchen table I realized for the first time that there was a note on it. Someone had cut individual letters from a newspaper and glued them to the lid, creating the message: CARTER OPEN ME QUICK IT’S IMPORTANT! Once the box was opened, we discovered the walkie-talkie and another note that read: TURN ME ON TO CHANNEL THREE AND SAY HELLO.

“So,” Kristie said as she finished telling her husband what happened, “we turned the thing on, set it to channel three, then Carter pushed the button on the side and whispered hello. Two seconds later we heard the voice of a young girl coming through the speaker. It was Nessa! Carter is talking to her right now. She says she’s terrified and has no clue where she is.”

Tom immediately sidestepped his wife and headed straight toward his son. As he got closer to the boy, he heard the two talking to each other. Nessa seemed frightened, and it was obvious from the sound of her voice she’d been crying. “Nessa,” Carter was saying into the walkie-talkie, “Don’t worry. Dad’s here now. He’ll find you.”

Tom asked Carter to hand him the walkie-talkie. As he raised it close to his mouth, he pushed the button and spoke to the frightened girl, “Nessa, this is sheriff Link. Are you okay Darlin… are you hurt?”

“I’m not hurt,” she replied, “but it’s dark in here and I’m so scared. Please find me.”

“We’re gonna find you, Darlin. You try to stay calm and tell me everything you can about where you are.”

There was silence on the other end for nearly twenty seconds, then Nessa talked again, obviously trying hard to fight back tears. As she spoke Tom handed the walkie-talkie back to his son, grabbed him by his other hand, and headed straight for the front door.

“Where are you taking Carter?” asked Kristie as they hurried past. She couldn’t help but notice her husband now had a slight but unmistakable bounce to his step that hadn’t been there a moment ago.

“To find Nessa, of course,” Tom replied, the tone of his voice hopeful for the first time since he’d woken up. “Giving our son a connection to his missing friend is someone’s idea of a sick game. They were smart enough not to write on anything but the very act of playing was a stupid mistake and I intend to make them pay.”

“Well, you can at least take his jacket,” Kristie said with a look of mock disapproval on her face. She then walked over to the coat closet, pulled Carter’s jacket off its hanger, and carried it back to where they were standing near the front door. As her son put the garment on she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before looking up at her husband, “In all seriousness, I hope you find Nessa soon. That poor girl has to be scared to death. You two better be careful out there, you hear me?”

“Yes ma’am!” they said in unison before stepping through the doorway and out into the early morning air.

Sixteen hours had passed since then and Nessa wasn’t any closer to being found. The sheriff paced back and forth in front of the Holbrook’s residence, thinking about how high his hopes were when he and Carter first left their house that morning. As he walked in circles Tom reflected on the events of the day. The sun had shone brightly, and the temperature was once again unseasonably warm and dry for mid-October.

Shortly after they arrived at John and Melissa’s house the girl described her surroundings. She mentioned being in a cool damp place full of pipes that smelled like a burnt match. A few hours later she said that she hadn’t once seen any light the entire time they’d been talking. Tom knew any place so cool and dark despite the current weather had to be sealed up pretty tightly. Because of this, he feared Nessa might soon be in danger of running out of breathable air. As he racked his brain to figure out where in the world she was he realized she might be describing some sort of old industrial building, possibly one containing a boiler room.

Midway through the afternoon, Tom mobilized half the town into four groups, putting three deputies in charge of all but the last which he took command of. The sheriff gave each team a specific set of buildings and locations to search. They spent the rest of the day beating the bushes looking for places that even remotely matched the criteria but as the sun faded over the horizon it was obvious that no one was turning up anything useful. The sheriff reluctantly called off the search and returned to the Holbrook’s with his deputies to regroup. Not long after arriving back at the family’s home Nessa told Carter she was so tired she could barely stay awake. This was unusual because it wasn’t yet nine o’clock and the girl was normally a night owl.

Tom was convinced she was losing consciousness due to a lack of oxygen. He instructed his son to keep her alert but less than a half hour later Nessa mumbled something about needing to rest her eyes. After that, there was silence on her end for several minutes. The boy kept trying to get ahold of her but she’d stopped responding to his transmissions. The sheriff’s department spent the rest of the night brainstorming places she might be. They knew the specific model of walkie talkie the kids were using had a range of up to twelve miles. Since they were able to communicate she was within that radius. As soon as the sun came up Tom and the deputies hit the streets once again, hoping against increasingly unfavorable odds to find the girl before it was too late.