CHILDREN of the FOG
©2007 Cheryl Kaye Tardif
May 14th, 2006
She was ready to die.
She sat at the kitchen table--a nearly empty bottle of Philip’s precious red wine in one hand, a loaded gun in the other. Staring at the foreign chunk of metal, she willed it to vanish. But it didn’t.
Sadie checked the gun and noted the single bullet.
“One’s all you need.”
If she did it right.
She placed the gun on the table and glanced at a pewter-framed photograph that hung off-kilter above the mantle of the fireplace. It was illuminated by a vanilla scented candle, one of many that threw flickering shadows over the rough wood walls of the log cabin.
Sam’s sweet face stared back at her, smiling.
From where she sat, she could see the small chip in his right front tooth, the result of an impatient father raising the training wheels too early. But there was no point in blaming Philip--not when they’d both lost so much.
Not when it’s all my fault.
Her gaze swept over the mantle. There were three objects on it besides the candle. Two envelopes, one addressed to Leah and one to Philip, and the portfolio case containing the illustrations and manuscript on disc for Sam’s book.
She had finished it, just like she had promised.
“And promises can’t be broken. Right, Sam?”
A single tear burned a path down her cheek.
Sam was gone.
What reason do I have for living now?
She gulped back the last pungent mouthful of Cabernet and dropped the empty bottle. It rolled under the chair, unbroken, rocking on the hardwood floor. Then all was silent, except the antique grandfather clock in the far corner. Its ticking reminded her of the clown’s shoe. The one with the tack in it.
Tick, tick, tick…
The clock belched out an ominous gong.
It was almost midnight .
She drew an infinity symbol in the dust on the table.
“Sadie and Sam. For all eternity.”
She swallowed hard as tears flooded her eyes. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save you, baby. I tried to. Oh God, I tried. Forgive me, Sam.” Her words ended in a gut-wrenching moan.
Something scraped the window beside her.
She pressed her face to the frosted glass, then jerked back with a gasp. “Go away!”
They stood motionless--six children that drifted from the swirling miasma of night air, haunting her nights and every waking moment. Surrounded by the moonlit fog, they began to chant. “ One fine day, in the middle of the night…”
“You’re not real,” she whispered.
“Two dead boys got up to fight.”
A small, pale hand splayed against the exterior of the window. Below it, droplets of condensation slid like tears down the glass.
She reached out, matching her hand to the child’s. Shivering, she pulled away. “You don’t exist.”
The clock continued its morbid countdown.
As the alcohol and drug potpourri kicked in, the room began to spin and her stomach heaved. She inhaled deeply. She couldn’t afford to get sick. Sam was waiting for her.
Tears spilled down her cheeks. “I’m ready.”
Without hesitation, she raised the gun to her temple.
“Don’t!” the children shrieked.
She pressed the gun against her flesh. The tip of the barrel was cold. Like her hands, her feet...her heart.
A sob erupted from the back of her throat.
The clock let out a final gong. Then it was deathly silent.
It was midnight .
Her eyes found Sam’s face again.
“Happy Mother’s Day, Sadie.”
She took a steadying breath, pushed the gun hard against her skin and clamped her eyes shut.
“Mommy’s coming, Sam.”
She squeezed the trigger.
March 30th, 2006
Sadie O’Connell let out a groan as she stared at the price tag on the toy in her hand. “What did they stuff this with--laundered money?” She tossed the bunny back into the bin, then turned to the tall, leggy woman beside her. “What are you getting Sam for his birthday?”
Her best friend gave her a cocky grin. “What should I get him? Your kid’s got everything already.”
“Don’t even go there, my friend.”
But Leah was right. Sadie and Philip spoiled Sam silly. Why shouldn’t they? They had waited a long time for a baby. Or at least, she had. After two miscarriages, Sam’s birth had been nothing short of a miracle. A miracle that deserved to be spoiled.
Leah groaned loudly. “Christ, it’s a goddamn zoo in here.”
Toyz & Twirlz in West Edmonton Mall was crawling with overzealous customers. The first major sale of the Easter season always brought people out in droves. Frazzled parents swarmed the toy store, swatting their wayward brood occasionally--the way you’d swat a pesky yellow-jacket at a barbecue. One distressed father hunted the aisles for his son who had apparently taken off on him as soon as his back was turned. In every aisle, parents shouted at their kids, threatening, cajoling, pleading and then predictably giving in.
“So who let the animals out?” Sadie said, surveying the store.
The screeching wheels of shopping carts and the constant whining of overtired toddlers were giving her a headache. She wished to God she’d stayed home.
A plump woman with frizzy, over-bleached hair gave Sadie an apologetic look. She navigated past them, pushing a stroller occupied by a miniature screaming alien. A few feet away, she stopped, bent down and wiped something that looked like curdled rice pudding from the corner of the child’s mouth.
Sadie turned to Leah. “ Thank God Sam’s past that stage.”
At five years old--soon to be six--her son was the apple of her eye. In fact, he was the whole darned tree. A lanky imp of a boy with tousled black hair, sapphire-blue eyes and perfect bow lips, Sam was the spitting image of his mother and the exact opposite of his father in temperament. While Sam was sweet natured, gentle and loving, Philip was impatient and distant. So distant that he rarely said I love you anymore.
She stared at her wedding ring. What happened to us?
But she knew what had happened. Philip’s status as a trial lawyer had grown, more money had poured in and fame had gone to his head. He had changed. The man she had fallen in love with, the dreamer, had gone. In his place was someone she barely knew, a stranger who had decided too late that he didn’t want kids.
Or a wife.
“How about this?” Leah said, nudging her.
Sadie stared at the yellow dump truck loaded with jumbo Lego, then pursed her lips. “Fill it with a stuffed bat and Sam will think it’s awesome.”
Her son’s fascination with bats was almost comical. The television was always tuned in to the Discovery Channel while her son searched endlessly for any show on the furry animals.
“What did Phil the Pill get him?” Leah asked dryly.
“A new Leap Frog module.”
“I still can’t believe the things that kid can do.”
Sadie grinned. “Me neither.”
Sam’s mind was a sponge. He absorbed information so fast that he only had to be shown once. His powers of observation were so keen that he had learned how to unlock the door just by watching Sadie do it, so Philip had to add an extra deadbolt at the top. By the time Sam was three, he had figured out the remote control and the DVD player. Sadie still had problems turning on the TV.
Sam…my sweet, wonderful, little genius.
“Maybe I’ll get him a movie,” Leah said. “How about Batman Begins?”
“He’s turning six, not sixteen.”
“Well, what do I know? I don’t have kids.”
At thirty-four, Leah Winters was an attractive, willowy brunette with wild multi-colored streaks, thick-lashed hazel eyes, a flirty smile and a penchant for younger men. While Sadie’s pale face had a scattering of tiny freckles across the bridge of her nose and cheekbones, Leah’s complexion was tanned and clear.
She’d been Sadie’s best friend for eight years--soul sistahs. Ever since the day she had emailed Sadie out of the blue to ask questions about writing and publishing. They’d met at Book Ends, a popular Edmonton bookstore, for what Leah had expected would be a quick coffee. Their connection was so strong and so immediate that they talked for almost five hours. They still joked about it, about how Leah had thought Sadie was some hotshot writer who wouldn’t give her the time of day. Yet Sadie had given her more. She’d given Leah a piece of her heart.
A rugged, handsome Colin Farrell look-alike passed them in the aisle, and Leah stared after him, eyes glittering.
“I’ll take one of those,” she said with a soft growl. “To go.”
“You won’t find Mr. Right in a toy store,” Sadie said dryly. “They’re usually all taken. And somehow I don’t think you’re gonna find him at Karma either.”
Klub Karma was a popular nightclub on Whyte Avenue . It boasted the best ladies’ night in Edmonton , complete with steroid-muscled male strippers. Leah was a regular.
“And why not?”
Sadie rolled her eyes. “Because Karma is packed with sweaty, young puppies who are only interested in one thing.”
Leah gave her a blank look.
“Getting laid,” Sadie added. “Honestly, I don’t know what you see in that place.”
“What, are you daft?” Leah arched her brow and grinned devilishly. “I’m chalking it up to my civil duty. Someone’s gotta show these young guys how it’s done.”
“Someone should show Philip,” Sadie muttered.
“Why--can’t he get it up?”
“Well? Fess up.”
“Later maybe. When we stop for coffee.”
Leah glanced at her watch. “We going to our usual place?”
“Of course. Do you think Victor would forgive us if we went to any other coffee shop?”
Leah chuckled. “No. He’d start skimping on the whipped cream if we turned traitor.”
They continued down the aisle, both searching for something for the sweetest boy they knew. When Sadie spotted the one thing she was sure Sam would love, she let out a hoot.
“This is perfect. Since his birthday is actually Monday, I’ll give it to him then. He’ll get enough things from his friends at his party on Sunday anyway.”
Little did she know that Sam wouldn’t see his gift.
He wouldn’t be around to get it.
∞ ∞ ∞
“Haven’t seen you two all week,” Victor Guan said. “Another day and I would’ve called nine-one-one.”
“It’s been a busy week,” Sadie replied, plopping her purse on the counter. “How’s business, Victor?”
“Picking up again with this cold snap.”
The young Chinese man owned the Cuppa Cappuccino a few blocks from Sadie’s house. The coffee shop had a gas fireplace, a relaxed ambiance and often featured local musicians like Jessy Green and Alexia Melnychuk. Not only did Victor serve the best homemade soups and feta Caesar salad, the mocha lattés were absolutely sinful.
Leah made a beeline for the washroom. “You know what I want.”
Sadie ordered a Chai and a mocha.
“You see that fog this morning?” Victor asked.
“Yeah, I drove Sam to school in it. I could barely see the car in front of me.”
She shivered and Victor gave her a concerned look.
“Cat walk over your grave or something?” he asked.
“No, I’m just tired of winter.”
She grabbed a newspaper from the rack and headed for the upper level. The sofa by the fireplace was unoccupied, so she sat down and tossed the newspaper on the table.
The headline on the front page made her gasp.
The Fog Strikes Again!
Her breath felt constricted. “Oh God. Not another one.”
A photograph of a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl sitting on concrete steps dominated the front page. Eight-year-old Cortnie Bornyk, from the north side of Edmonton , was missing. According to the newspaper, the girl had disappeared in the middle of the night. No sign of forced entry and no evidence as to who had taken her, but investigators were sure it was the same man who had taken the others.
Sadie opened the newspaper to page three, where the story continued. She empathized with the girl’s father, a single dad who had left Ontario to find construction work in Edmonton . Matthew Bornyk had moved here to make a better life. Not a bad decision, considering that the housing market was booming. But now he was pleading for the safe return of his daughter.
“Here you go,” Victor said, setting two mugs on the table.
“Thanks,” she said, without looking up.
Her eyes were glued to the smaller photo of Bornyk and his daughter. The man had a smile plastered across his face, while his daughter was frozen in a silly pose, tongue hanging out the side of her mouth.
Daddy’s little girl, Sadie thought sadly.
Leah flopped into an armchair beside her. “Who’s the hunk?”
“His daughter was abducted last night.”
“Yeah,” Sadie said, taking a tentative sip from her mug.
“Did anyone see anything?”
“Nothing.” She locked eyes on Leah. “Except the fog.”
“Do they think it’s him?”
Sadie skimmed the article. “There are no ransom demands yet. Sounds like him.”
“Shit. That makes, what--six kids?”
“Seven. Three boys, four girls.”
“One more boy to go.” Leah’s voice dripped with dread.
The Fog, as the kidnapper was known, crept in during the dead of night or early morning, under the cloak of a dense fog. He wrapped himself around his prey and like a fog, he disappeared without a trace, capturing the souls of children and stealing the hopes and dreams of parents. One boy, one girl. Every spring. For the last four years.
Sadie flipped the newspaper over. “Let’s change the subject.”
Her eyes drifted across the room, taking in the diversity of Victor’s customers. In one corner of the upper level, three teenaged boys played poker, while a fourth watched and hooted every time one of his friends won. Across from Sadie, a redheaded woman wearing a mauve sweatshirt plunked away on a laptop, stopping every now and then to cast the noisy boys a frustrated look. On the lower level, one of the regulars--Old Ralph--was reading every newspaper from front to back. He sipped his black coffee when he finished each page.
“So…” Leah drawled as she crossed her long legs. “What’s going on with Phil the Pill?”
Sadie scowled. “That’s what I’d like to know. He says he’s working long nights at the firm.”
“And you’re thinking, what? That he’s screwing around?”
Leah never was one to beat around the bush--about anything.
“Maybe he’s just working hard,” her friend suggested.
Sadie shook her head. “He got home at two this morning, reeking of perfume and booze.”
“Isn’t his firm working on that oil spill case? I bet all the partners are pulling late nights on that one.”
Sadie snorted. “Including Brigitte Moreau.”
Brigitte was her husband’s right-hand-woman, as he’d made a point of telling her often. Apparently, the new addition to Fleming Warner Law Offices was indispensable . The slender, blond lawyer, with a pair of breasts she’d obviously paid for, never left Philip’s side.
Sadie wondered what Brigitte did when she had to pee.
Probably drags Philip in with her.
“It could be perfectly innocent,” Leah suggested.
“Yeah, right. I was at the conference after-party. I saw them together, and there was nothing innocent about them. Brigitte was holding onto Philip’s arm as if she owned him. And he was laughing, whispering in her ear.” She pursed her lips. “His co-workers were looking at me with sympathetic eyes, pitying me. I could see it in their faces. Even they knew.”
Leah winced. “Did you call him on it?”
“I asked him if he was messing around again.”
Just before Sam was born, Philip had admitted to two other affairs. Both office flings, according to him. “Both meant nothing,” he had said, before blaming his infidelities on her swollen belly and her lack of sexual interest.
“What’d he say?” Leah prodded, with the determination of a pit-bull slobbering over a t-bone steak.
“Nothing. He just stormed out of the house. He called me from work just before you came over. Said I was being ridiculous, that my accusations were hurtful and unfair.” She lowered her voice. “He asked me if I was drinking again.”
“Bastard. And you wonder why I’m still single.”
Sadie said nothing. Instead, she thought about her marriage.
They’d been happy--once. Before her downward spiral into alcoholism. In the early years of their marriage, Philip had been attentive and caring, supporting her decision to focus on her writing. It wasn’t until she started talking about having a family that things had changed.
She flicked a look at Leah, grateful for her loyal companionship and understanding. Leah had gone above and beyond the duty of friendship, dropping everything in a blink if she called. Leah was her life support, especially on the days and nights when the bottle called her. She’d even attended a few AA meetings with Sadie.
And where was Philip? Probably with Brigitte.
“Come on, my friend,” Leah said, grinning. “I know you really want to swear. Let it out.”
“You know I don’t use language like that.”
“You’re such a prude. Philip’s an ass, a bastard. Let me hear you say it. Bas…tard.”
“I’ll let you be the foul-mouthed one,” Sadie said sweetly.
“Fuckin’ right. Swearing is liberating.” Leah took a careful sip of tea. “So how’s the book coming?”
Sadie smiled. “I finished the text yesterday. Tomorrow I’ll start on the illustrations. I’m so excited about it.”
“Got a title yet?”
“ Going Batty .”
Leah’s pencil-thin brow arched. “Hmm…how appropriate.”
Sadie gave her a playful slap on the arm. “It’s about a little bat who can’t find his way home because his radar gets screwed up. At first, he thinks he’s picking up radio signals, but then he realizes he’s picking up other creature’s thoughts.”
“That’s perfect. Sam’ll love it.”
“I know. I can’t believe I waited so long to write something special for him.”
A few months ago, Sadie decided to take a break from writing another Lexa Caine mystery, especially since her agent had secured her a deal for two children’s picture books.
“It’s been a welcome break,” she admitted. “Lexa needed a year off. A holiday.”
“Some break,” Leah said. “I’ve hardly seen you. You’ve been working day and night on Sam’s book.”
“It’s been worth it.”
“Is it harder than writing mysteries?”
“Other than the artwork, I think it’s easier,” Sadie said, somewhat surprised by her own answer. “But then, Sam inspires me. He’s my muse. Kids see things so differently.”
“Wish I had one.”
Sadie’s jaw dropped. “A kid?”
“A muse, idiot.”
Sadie grinned. “How’s the steamy romance novel going?”
“I’m stumped. I’ve got Clara trapped below deck on the pirate ship, locked in the cargo hold with no way out.”
Since the success of her debut novel, Sweet Destiny, Leah had found her niche and was working on her second historical romance.
“What’s in the room?”
Leah gave her a wry grin. “Cases of Bermuda rum.”
“Well, she’s not going to drink it, so what else can she do?”
“I don’t know. She can’t get the crew drunk, if that’s what you’re thinking. ”
“What if the ship caught on fire?”
Excitement percolated in Leah’s eyes. “Yeah. A fire could really heat things up. Pun intended.”
They were silent for a moment, lost in their own thoughts.
“Hey,” Sadie said finally. “I’ve been tempted to cut my hair. What do you think?”
Leah stared at her. “You want to get rid of all that beautiful hair? Jesus, Sadie, it’s past your bra strap.” In a thick Irish accent, she said, “Have ye lost your Irish mind just a wee bit, lassie?”
“It’s too much work,” Sadie said with a pout.
“What does Philip think?”
“He’d be happy if I kept it long,” she replied, scowling. “Maybe that’s one reason why I want to cut it.”
Leah laughed. “Then you go, girl.”
Half an hour later, they parted ways--with Leah eager to get back to the innocent Clara and her handsome, sword-wielding pirate, and Sadie not so thrilled to be going back to an empty house. As she climbed into her sporty Mazda3, she smiled, relieved as always that she had chosen practical over the flashy and pretentious Mercedes that Philip drove.
She glanced at the clock and heaved a sigh of relief. It was almost time to pick Sam up from school.
Her heart skipped a beat.
Maybe there’s been some progress today...