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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Write in the MYSTERY genre (04/05/07)

TITLE: Hot Pursuit
By Beth Muehlhausen


Hot Pursuit

When the temperature soared above ninety-five, I sent my barefoot, scantily clad kids outside our brick-oven-of-a-house to play in the creek. Every few seconds I grabbed the hem of my apron to wipe rivers of sweat from my neck while mason canning jars submerged in a massive pot of boiling water bubbled in a mad frenzy, clinking against each other with a mesmerizing rat-a-tat-tat. My head spun in dizzy circles from the heat while the aroma of spiced applesauce hung thick and humid in the darkened kitchen as an aphrodisiac.

“Momma! We can’t … find Katie!” My eight-year-old daughter peered through the screen door with her hands cupped around her eyes, panting. Her voice cut through the steamy kitchen like an arrow, piercing my heart.

“What? You can’t find her?”

“We were … playing in the shallows … looking for minnows … and … she was following us around … and … then all of a sudden none of us knew … where she was.”

Her shoulders shrugged with despair as fear danced in her eyes. “I’m sorry Momma … she was right there …”

I flipped the stove burner to “off” and ran outside, slamming the screen door behind me.

“How long? How long has it been since you saw her?”

“I don’t know, Momma …”

“Where did you see her last?”

“By the stump … or maybe that tall grass closer to the road.” She swept her hand in a large arc.

Newspaper headlines from the week before flashed through my mind: “Men Escape from State Mental Hospital.” “Child Kidnapped along County Road.”

The state mental hospital was only about five miles from our farm. No one knew if there might be a correlation between the escape of the three men and the disappearance of a neighbor child, but the local farming community held its collective breath as authorities continued to investigate.

“Kaaatie!” I yelled at the top of my lungs, but then turned to face the terrified faces before me. “You kids split up. You … you comb the sides of the creek. You … you check out the shed and the barn. And you … you look down by the road and under all the bushes.”

I envisioned three-year-old Katie, perhaps lured by a lollipop, zooming away in a strange car. Dread pressed hard, suffocating my heart.

The noonday sun baked my head; I choked on my own panic and could hardly speak or think. I scurried with Katie’s three siblings here and there, searching, searching … calling her name. “Katie! Katie! Kaaaaatie!” Minutes dragged on; none of us uncovered a single trace or clue.

Should I call the police?

I trotted back toward the kitchen’s screen door where cinnamon-apple aromatherapy seemed to slap me in the face. “Not yet – don’t call, not yet.” I turned and panned the back yard slowly, left to right, as my apron flopped in an unexpected but welcome breeze. My eyes scanned the shed, maple tree, chicken coop, juniper bush – all the places we’d already searched. I held my apron down with my left hand and shaded my forehead with my right, then did a re-run. Shed, dog house, maple tree, chicken coop, juniper bush … wait, the doghouse!

Our outdoor farm dog, Sally, regularly dragged dead rabbits, squirrels, and other small game animals to her doghouse – either road kill or the victims of her own hunting. For this reason, we all stayed clear to avoid the repulsive odor of rotting carcasses.

“Hey!” I shouted. “Did any of you check the doghouse?” My words wafted up toward the white-hot sun, unheard, as frantic child-voices continued to shout, “KATIE-KATIE-KATIE!”

I surged toward the white doghouse with its steep-pitched roof as if drawn by a magnet, then crouched down and brushed aside a tangle of cobwebs and a few creepy crawly spiders. The darkness forced me to squint; my body shook with each heartbeat.

Musty, acid smells gagged me; I instinctively held my breath. My bare knees splintered tiny, dead sticks – or were they bones? – as I leaned deeper through the door and peered into a back corner.

“Heeee-hee, you found me, Momma! I play hide and seek!”

Katie’s cherubic face leaned toward mine until our noses touched. “I hide-ed, Momma.”

I kissed the sweaty, golden hair glued to Katie’s nose and took a gulp of stale, putrid air. “And I would never have stopped searching – no matter how long it took - until I found you, Katie.”

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This article has been read 1201 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Janice Fitzpatrick04/12/07
This had me on the edge of my seat until the very end. As a mom my heart panicked with the searching mom of Katie. I have had this happen with our youngest child, our daughter, and it is an awful feeling when they decide to wander and you don't have a clue where they would be. Great job, love your style. Keep up the wonderful work!:0)Janice+-
Jan Ackerson 04/12/07
Great job with suspense, and with the wonderful lesson in the last sentence.
Sara Harricharan 04/12/07
A few long sentences left me pausing for a breath, but the suspense was good. Nice mystery.
Kevin Kindrick04/12/07
Well done. You've tapped the frantic - and joyful - moments children bring perfectly.
Thanks, and God bless,

Michelle Burkhardt04/13/07
I think I was holding my breath the whole time. Nice job.
Val Clark04/14/07
Definitely edge of the seat writing. Well done. Yeggy
Verna Cole Mitchell 04/15/07
Wonderful descriptions--hold-your-breath suspense--perfect ending! My mother-heart was frantically searching with you.
Joanne Sher 04/15/07
My heart skipped several beats in this one. You definitely captured the frantic pace of this story.
Dixie Phillips04/16/07
My heart is still racing. I was breathless by the time you took us to the doghouse. I was so thankful for the way you ended it. Intense applause!
Jacquelyn Horne04/16/07
Been there. Done that. Kids can hide in the funniest places. They put you through torture, then laugh, because they really don't know the impact it has on you. Good story.
Patricia Casey04/17/07
I loved your story. Great writing throughout and suspenseful to the funny ending. In Jesus' Name, Patricia
Rita Garcia04/18/07
Thanks for the happy ending, now I can breathe again! Great writing!
Julie Arduini04/18/07
Wow. You captured a mama's panicked heart to a T because my son did basically the exact thing---and it led to one amazing talk and his salvation, at 4! Great memories you gave me, but a wonderful mystery all the same.
Laurie Glass 04/18/07
It's like I couldn't read fast enough to see what happened and you had me right there with you. Great suspense and descriptions and love the last line.
Marty Wellington 04/18/07
Captivating, breathtaking. Wonderful writing. Only thing I would change is the length of sentence in the first paragraph. Otherwise, bravo!
Catrina Bradley 04/18/07
I was completely distraught right along with mom. Wonderful job putting us "there". I think "Mason" should be capitalized, but I have nothing else but praise for this article. Great!