It was the silence that struck the first wrong note, the utter absence of sound that gave the Foxglove Corners Animal Shelter an alien ambience. The shelter, housed in an old white Victorian on Park Street, was never quiet. This morning its yard was empty except for the shade and the shadows. No curious canine faces appeared at the windows of the house, noses pressed to the glass.
Most telling of all, the chain and lock were missing from the gate. It was merely closed.
Where were the dogs? And where were Lila and Letty Woodville, the elderly sisters who ran the animal shelter? Their car was gone, but they usually took turns going out so that someone was always home watching over the animals.
Stunned by the contrast of the happy noise drifting over from the children playing in the park across the street, I struggled to accept this anomaly.
Still, hoping to hear at least one answering yelp, I rapped on the door.
Nothing. Silence. I felt as if I had stepped into another dimension.
There had to be an explanation. I've learned there usually is, even if it originates in the Twilight Zone. Maybe Henry McCullough, the sisters' neighbor and their close friend, would know where they were.
I cut across the shelter's lawn to Henry's house, built around the turn of the century in the same style as the sisters' Victorian, with bay windows and a gingerbread-trimmed front porch.
Henry's car, a gleaming white Chevy, sat in the driveway where it spent most of its time as Henry rarely drove these days.
Something was wrong here, too, though. The silence again. Henry's old collie, Luke, likes to bark at anything that moves on the sidewalk. Surely he would sound the alarm when someone ventured onto his porch.
But it seemed that Luke was one more dog who wasn't where he should be, and apparently Henry was gone, too.
I knocked on the door, not really expecting a response.
There was one more place to look, not for the people but for answers.
The library on the other side of the shelter was another old white Victorian situated on a double lot at one of the town's four corners. The house had been the family home of the librarian, Miss Elizabeth Eidt, until she donated it to the town and accepted the position of chief and only librarian. From her desk, she managed to know all of the local news and gossip. Heartened at the prospect of enlightenment, I turned to face the street.
In the park, children clustered around the slides and swings, some pushing, some riding high. Up to the sky or down a slippery slope. Others ran in and out of the dark woods that bordered one side of the park brandishing water pistols. Their bright colored clothing and excited screams created an illusion of summer morning normalcy.
Clutching the bag of rawhide treats I'd brought for the shelter foundlings, I set out at a brisk pace for the library. The sooner I solved this little mystery, the better.
The strangeness continued.
Enveloped in cool air and tranquility, I stood in the doorway and stared at the stranger who sat in Miss Eidt's place at the main desk. With her neat silver chignon and lacy lavender blouse, she was a woman of Miss Eidt's generation, stately and a little fussy in appearance. She wore a long strand of pearls, as Miss Eidt often did, and knotted it continuously as she turned the pages of a magazine.
Where was Debby, Miss Eidt's young assistant?
As I approached, the woman at the desk looked up and smiled. "May I help you find something?"
I felt lost, adrift in an uncertain sea. "I'm looking for Miss Eidt."
"She's in her office," the woman said and raised her voice. "Elizabeth? Somebody to see you."