The Twelve Days of Christmas:
A Christmastide Tale in Twelve Instalments. With Elves.
The Fourth Day of Christmas
I couldn’t get through to Tom. None of my texts got a response. I had to go back to work on the 28th, so I didn’t have time to go running around looking for him. I’d stopped in at the police station on the way home from Mary-Lou’s to at least ask what it takes to file a missing persons report, but they’d already shut up shop for the weekend.
And besides, Tom was supposed to be at work in the mine, right? I tried to call Herb, the foreman, but couldn’t get a hold of him. I told myself that the fact that he hadn’t called back about Tom not showing up was a good sign. But just on the off-chance that Lilian had heard something, I dropped by her place in the afternoon when I got off work.
“Bohemian waxwings!” she greeted me by the door. “Just imagine!”
I was a little taken aback. Bohemian what?
“At my feeder!” Lilian gushed. “This morning!”
Oh. More birds.
“That’s nice,” I said. “Have you heard from Tom?”
“No, why?” She didn’t even pause for me to answer. “If I don’t get Birder of the Month for this… They were sitting there, one on either side of the feeder, calling to each other! That’s what tipped me off; they sound really different from, say, the Cedar waxwings! Here, look—” She picked up her little point-and-shoot digital camera. “I took a video!”
She brought up her picture gallery and booted up the video. It showed a couple of sleek, taupe-coloured birds with blush-red faces, bars of black streaking back from the beaks over their eyes to the funny little crests on the tops of their heads. They flapped their black-and-yellow-tipped wings at each other and chirped, hopping back and forth.
“They were right here!” Lilian said, pulling me by the sleeve over to the patio door. “See, there—” She gave a little scream. “They’re here again! Look, just look! There’s four now! I’ve never, never…” She was practically hyperventilating.
It was pretty cool, I had to admit. The birds were even more beautiful in real life than on her little video, and she was right, they sat there calling out to each other, almost like they were having a conversation. I took a quick picture on my phone, and caught them just as they took flight. Yes, I’d got them all in the frame.
But there had been something… “Could I see your video again for a minute?”
“Sure. Aren’t they gorgeous?” Lilian handed me her camera.
There! That’s what it was—there was a person in the background of her little movie! Kind of blurry and small, just visible through the slats of her patio railing—it looked like a woman with long blonde hair. I didn’t recognize her, but she was staring at the house with a strange expression on her face. Greedy.
“Who’s this?” I rewound the video clip a bit and set it playing again. “There, that person in the background?”
Lilian took the camera out of my hand and peered at the screen at arm’s length. “Can’t say I… Wait a moment!” She picked up her reading glasses, which hung on a chain around her neck, and perched them on her nose. “Ah! Kind of hard to see, but that’s that lady Tom was talking to a couple of days ago. You know, the one from out at—”
“—at Carson’s Landing, yes, I remember.” Maybe it was time to contact this woman, after all. She was the last person I knew for a fact had talked to Tom. And that look on her face, in spite of the blurriness of the image, sent a shiver down my spine.
To be continued…