December 19, 7:06 AM Eastern
Fayetteville, North Carolina
Helen dropped her keys and purse on the counter next to the kitchen door as she walked back into her house. The drive to school with her son had been less than pleasant, and she had fretted about the argument with Casey during the drive home. A cup of cocoa and some TV would do her good, and that was exactly what she planned on doing before she had to get ready to go to work on post at noon.
“Got to get that boy’s head right,” she mused as she warmed up milk on the stove. Casey had been having trouble in school for several months, and his behavior had become more and more obstinate, even at home, as the Christmas holiday approached. “I’ll tell your father!” had become a daily utterance as reports from school led to shouting at home. Helen hated to use that one, but the only people Casey seemed to listen to were his grandfather, who was back in Colorado minding the family farm, and his father, who was overseas again. Rick was almost halfway through his latest deployment, and she hoped he would be able to come home on leave in January or February. In the meantime, the daily jousting with her teenage son was dragging both of them into a very dark place.
A few minutes later, Helen blew the steam from the top of a cup of hot milk and chocolate syrup and took a sip. She closed her eyes as the hot, rich liquid fought back some of the chill she had felt all morning.
It’ll be OK if we can just get through today, she thought, Christmas break will let him reset and get his mind right for the last semester before graduation.
A knock on the door broke her reverie. George, the little mutt her husband had brought home a few months before he left, barked and growled from his perch on the couch.
“Shut up, Georgie!” Helen called as she walked to the front door and peered through the peephole. The distorted figures of two young men in dark suits and ties, one of them carrying a bike helmet and wearing a backpack, showed through the fisheye lens. Behind her, Georgie laid back down on his pillow, but low growls continued to emit from behind his overbite.
Huh, missionaries, she thought as she undid the dead bolt and opened the door, haven’t seen them in a while.
“Good morning, guys,” she said with a smile, “have y’all had breakfast yet?” She remembered meeting Rick on his mission in Louisiana, and she had worked hard to be a good LDS wife and mother ever since their quiet conversations on the porch of her grandmother’s house had turned into something more.
The taller of the two smiled nervously at her. “Good morning, ma’am. Not really.” he replied. His voice was even, with a slight midwestern twang.
“Come on in,” Helen said, holding the door open for them, “I’ll get us something to eat and you can get in from the wet.”
“I’m making some hot chocolate. You want some?” she said, turning her back on the men and walking toward the kitchen. She heard them come in and shut the door, then felt a sting on her neck, followed by confusion as the kitchen in front of her tilted, then became blurry. The last thing she heard was Georgie barking and growling like a miniature bear before everything went black.