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Dead Days

By Allison Rose Warn

Mystery

Prologue: Lost and Found

Carlie's breath twinkled in clouds and fogged up her glasses as she walked across campus. They always said that snowstorms in Las Vegas were a once-in-a-blue-moon event. Tonight, at least, that was true - a freak cold weather system had blown in from Canada in the wee hours of the morning, blanketing the Las Vegas area in seven inches of heavy wet slush, canceling local schools, and grinding traffic on the strip to a screeching halt. Now, though, the snow was petering off, drifting down in slow gentle flakes, and a bona fide blue moon was beginning to break through the clouds. A junior chemistry and astronomy major, Carlie had had to laugh at the few students milling outside on this Friday night, griping that the moon was not, in fact, blue.

Children had gleefully spent the day off playing in the snow, for many the first time they'd ever seen it, while adults either rejoiced over the impromptu three day weekend, groused over the cold and the house full of hyper children, or cursed the snowy streets because they did not have the snow day off. Carlie... whistled happily as she made her way back to her dorm. She was originally from Michigan's upper peninsula - she didn't mind snow, and she had seen cold; tonight's 28 degrees Fahrenheit didn't even come close, in her opinion.

"What's that noise?" There didn't seem to be anyone there, and the snow muffled sound, but Carlie thought she heard someone crying. "Anybody there?" Stepping off the sidewalk, she trudged through the snow to where she thought the sound had come from. Stepping around the bushes, she came into the glow of a street lamp, where she found a sobbing young girl, maybe six years old at a guess, shivering in rain boots over footed pj's and a windbreaker far too light for the temperature outside. She was pulling a little red wagon with, presumably, her baby brother. There was no adult in sight. "Well, hello there - are you okay, kiddo?" Carlie asked, squatting down to the child's eye level.

"No... Can... Can you help us?" Mommy had said not to talk to strangers, but surely, this must be an exception?

"Definitely," Carlie assured her, setting her hand on the girl's shoulder. "First, we need to get you inside - you're not dressed to be out in this slop. Why don't you climb in the wagon, and I'll give you a ride. It's not far."

"Thank you." She paused. "Is where we're going safe? There aren't any bad guys, are there?" she asked as she got in the wagon and set the baby in her lap.

That question set Carlie's mind to racing as she pulled the wagon down the sidewalk to her dorm, considering what could possibly have these two children out alone late on a cold night. "Definitely no bad guys - in fact, no one can even get in without one of these cards," she assured the child as she pulled out her student ID and waved it over the proximity reader to open the door.

"That's good."

Heading to the elevator, Carlie escorted the two kids up to her room and unlocked the door. "Here we go," she said cheerfully, not bothering to take off her rose and silver parka as she grabbed the quilt off her bed and wrapped it around the girl's shoulders, then grabbed a heavy sweatshirt from her closet to get the baby warmed up - he looked about six months old, and under the circumstances, she was relieved to see him responsive enough to be fussy. "My name is Carlie - what are your names?"

"I'm Millie Pratchett, and this is my brother, Max."

"Do you like hot cocoa, Millie?" Carlie asked, starting the electric water boiler going. She was concerned about hypothermia, and wanted to get some warm fluids into her new friends.

"My favorite! Mommy and Daddy say Max is too little, though."

"Yep, he is. Does he like apple juice?"

Millie nodded. "Max loves apple juice." She paused. "Carlie... I think there are bad guys at my house..."

"Do you know your address, Millie?" Carlie asked, shifting Max to her hip and grabbing the cordless phone from its cradle.

Millie nodded. "768 Sassafrass Lane."

"Thanks." She dialed a four digit extension, then cradled the phone to her ear with her shoulder while she retrieved a bottle of apple juice from the mini-fridge, poured some into a mug, and put it in the microwave for twenty seconds.

"Hello, CAPC Campus Security - Kirk Carlyle speaking."

"Kirk - thank God you're on duty tonight. I promise I got the weirdest emergency you'll see all weekend."

"Carlie - you okay? What happened?"

"I'm fine - I just found two kids alone out in the snow; sister's early elementary, brother's an infant. Millie tells me there are bad guys at home - I need you to get LVPD to 768 Sassafrass Lane, pronto. Better get paramedics and Social Services up to my room too; I don't think they're hypothermic, but I don't want to chance it."

"Carlie, anyone else, and I'd be asking if you were drunk. We'll have emergency personnel at both locations in five minutes. What's your dorm room?"

"Olsen 409."

"Got it - see you in a few."

"Thanks, Kirk - you rock." Hanging up the phone, she poured boiling water into a small ceramic teapot and added cocoa mix. Filling two mismatched mugs two-thirds full, she topped them off with cold milk to bring them down to drinkable temperature, then added marshmallows. "Here you go, Millie," she grinned, pulling out a bag of Oreos as well before sitting down to try and get some warm juice into Max from a mug he hadn't learned to drink from yet.

"Who was that, Carlie?" Millie asked taking a cookie.

"That was a friend of mine in Security - they're kinda like the college's own little police. He said he'd send the police to your house to make sure everything's okay. And they'll get some people up here to make sure you and Max didn't get too cold out there." She shifted Max in the crook of her arm. "Come on, little guy - sorry, I don't have a bottle. There you go, that's it."

"Wow - I didn't think Max knew how to drink from a big kid cup," Millie mused, watching over the rim of her cocoa mug.

"I don't think he knew he did either," Carlie laughed. "But I want to get something warm into him, and apple juice is the only thing I have in here that a baby can have. And all my cups are tea mugs." No sooner had Carlie and Max mostly mastered the art of the mug, there came a knock at the door.

"Carlie? It's us."

"Come in, Kirk," the college student called back, looking up.

Kirk stepped in followed by a paramedic, and a Las Vegas police officer.

The officer glanced at Kirk. "Dang, Kirk – until we stepped in, I still wasn't sure someone hadn't been pulling your leg."

Kirk shook his head. "Not Carlie – she wouldn't give me the run-around over something like this." He grinned at her. "I think some introductions are in order, Carlie."

"Definitely," Carlie agreed. "This is Millie Pratchett," she said, nodding to the girl. "And this is her little brother, Max. I saw them out in the snow, and figured they needed to get warmed up. Millie, this is my friend Kirk – he's way awesome, and makes sure everyone around here is safe."

"And these are my friends Officer Davis, and Jeff," Kirk grinned.

Jeff knelt down to Millie's level. "Okay, Millie," he smiled. "I'm just going to take your temperature, okay?" As Millie nodded, Jeff glanced up at Carlie. "Good call on the cocoa, by the way. What's that you're giving Max?"

"Just some warmed-up pasteurized apple juice – real juice, none of that corn syrup crap. I'm originally from Michigan – I know a thing or two about the cold."

Millie smiled, managing to keep her squirming to a minimum as Jeff stuck a thermometer in her ear. "Would you like some cocoa? Carlie makes the best!"

"Maybe in a bit, sweetie," Kirk smiled.

Just then, Officer Davis's radio crackled, and he excused himself outside the room. "Roger that. Call CSI out to both locations."


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