November 9

            The world hasn’t ended because I wake up and it’s still there. I’m groggy and know I’ll be getting to the “office” a bit later this morning. When I get to the kitchen to make coffee, I see another note waiting for me. It’s a list of some kind, one I didn’t write. I can barely read the writing. 

            1. Strange characters

            2. Serial killer

            3. Darkness exposed

            Well, I know this isn’t my shopping list for the day. 

            What the hell. 

            Did Jack give this to me? There’s no way I could have written this, not with that scribble. 

            “Serial killer,” I say out loud. 

            Is this someone’s final thoughts on the election? I have no idea. 

            When I leave my apartment later that morning, I take the list with me, hoping this isn’t some sort of precursor of a To Do list that awaits. 

**

            I’m walking down the brick road to HH when I see a young man approaching. He’s probably early twenties and well-dressed as if he might work downtown Chicago. As I pass, I smile and nod as if to say “good morning” without actually saying it. His expression grows from blank to a bit hostile. He moves past me but I want to stop and turn around and ask him what’s up. 

            Then I realize something. 

            The election. 

            This guy is probably blaming me. And not that I had any say in it—I live in Illinois and there’s only one way this state is going—but still. I’m a white suburbanite. This guy is a young, professional, African American. 

            Oh, I didn’t mention his color, right? Because it’s not an issue and I shouldn’t. Except it is an issue because it’s in the news every day. Black lives matter. Wait, don’t all lives matter? But all lives aren’t being shot down by police every day. But are there statistics that say why this is happening? How dare you even talk to yourself about such issues. 

            Crap. What is going on? 

            Suddenly everything is becoming an agenda-driven issue. 

            Get on track. 

            Whatever that track might be. 

**

            There’s a flyer wedged in the front door of the bookstore. I think being on a main street in town gives people permission to put all sorts of things at your doorstep. This parcel is from a local church I’ve never heard of. 

            SUNDAY BRUNCH! 

            Join Pastor Kent Marks and the community at Riverside Bible Church this Sunday morning for a special brunch. All are invited! Bring a friend and an appetite. 

            There are a few pictures of people on the flyer. One is a family, another an older couple, another a group of kids. 

            Hits all demographics. But what about the single suburban guy? 

            As I step inside HH and turn on the lights and see the books surrounding me, I wonder when I grew so cynical. So cold. So humorless. 

            I toss the church brochure and pull out the three items on the list. 

            1. Strange characters

            2. Serial killer

            3. Darkness exposed

            It sounds like a suspense writer’s daily To Do list. 

            Have a kooky character come out of nowhere and think he’s a killer but it’s really the nice guy going to the Bible church and your job is to expose him. 

            There’s that other note I got from “a friend.”

            Solve the mystery. Figure it out. Don’t give up. Your very life depends on it. 

            The shop doesn’t open for another couple hours and I’m on my own for at least half of that time. I put on a pot of coffee and start the songs on one of my latest playlists and then settle down to think for a few moments about this so-called “mystery” that I’m supposed to figure out. Or at least to concentrate and discover who the hell is sending me all these notes. 

**

            So I meditate on mysteries. Well, maybe meditate isn’t the right word, but it doesn’t work for alliteration purposes. 

            I marvel at the past month with the Cubs winning and Trump being elected to office. I’m not sure which is more miraculous. 

            I wonder why my memory has been so sketchy lately. Long nights and stress about bills and drinking too much . . . Sure. But still. There’s gotta be something else. 

            There’s the woman I met who left me in a state of awe. Who prompted me to go all the way downtown to meet her. Lexi, this lady I still don’t really remember meeting.

            In my mind I had a glorious time with her. 

            So my bad memory, and my lost memory of Lexi. Then there’s these notes. 

            And Jack. Don’t forget about Jack. 

            Jack and his warehouse. I went there and saw a big oven, but maybe it’s just used for cooking pizzas. Right? 

            Right?

            None of these really constitute some big mystery. If I was a detective, I’d be stuck without a case to investigate. 

            On a hunch, I decide to Google news around Appleton. I type in “Appleton Illinois murder death missing.” 

            Sure enough, a long list of the latest story headline pops up as if I magically created it myself. 

            Missing Suburban Teen

            The search is on in the western suburbs of Chicago for Sofia Thomas, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Trevor and Charissa Thomas who reside in Appleton. Sofia has been missing for over a day with her vehicle discovered abandoned with her phone inside it. 

            There are more details but I just stare at the picture of the pretty teen. The other articles all say the same thing and all have the same photograph. The parents are distraught and are reaching out to anybody who might be able to help. 

            Then I realize something chilling. 

            This isn’t the first teen to go missing around here. 

            I search a little more and then one bit of memory comes rushing back in. Ah, yes. Those kids that were killed back in 2014. I search around St. Charles and find one name: Kim Barawski from St. Charles. Then another named Artie Duncan who was found floating around the Fox River. Then the teen from Appleton named Devon Teed. 

            Is this what the serial killer refers to? 

            But the killer in those cases was found. 

            Does Sofie Thomas have anything to do with this? 

            I print out a large, color photograph of Sofie and post it on the front of my door. There’s the mystery to solve, and it has nothing to do with me. 

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