She was running late. Dan Brown looked at the lengthening shadows in the backyard, and leaned on the back fence. “Abbie!” he called into the trees, and then listened for the telltale sounds of Sammy, her high energy dog, or for his daughter’s voice calling after the pup.
After a moment the birds began to sing again after being startled by his call, and Dan narrowed his green eyes, his hand on the gate. Abbie was usually home when he asked her to be.
“Is something wrong?”
Dan looked over his shoulder to where Fiona, his wife, stood at the back door to their two story house and smiled. “She’s just a little late.”
“I wish you wouldn’t let her run wild like that,” she fussed, stepping out into the sunlight and crossing the grass. “How late is she?” Fiona worked her hands through her long blond hair as she spoke, pulling it into a low ponytail.
“Just a little bit.” He pulled her close and kissed her cheek while she finished fussing with her hair, and she laughed.
“I hate that I have to go into work now,” she said, pushing him away with a grin. “You’ll call me if she - oh, there she is.”
“Being on call is surely the worst invention of mankind,” agreed Dan, turning to look where Fiona was pointing. Abbie waved, walking down the path toward them between the trees, and he waved back.
“Babies only come on their own schedules,” she said, straightening her button up shirt and slacks. “I’ll call you later, I’m expecting an uncomplicated delivery. Hey sweetie,” she added, scooping Abbie up into a hug as the girl opened the gate. “One of my patients is going into labor, so it’s going to be a late night. I love you, and I’ll see you later, okay?”
“Okay Mom,” said Abbie, hugging her mother tightly.
Dan smiled at the sight, and then looked with concern back into the forest. “Where’s Sammy?”
Fiona put Abbie down, rubbing her nose to her daughter’s. “Be good for your Dad.”
“Always,” grinned Abbie, clinging to Fiona a little longer. “I wish you didn’t have to go!”
“Abbie, where is Sammy?” asked Dan, a little more urgently.
“He was right behind me,” replied Abbie, looking back. Her little brow creased with concern. “Sammy!”
“Oh dear,” grimaced Fiona. “You’ve got this, right?”
“Of course,” said Dan. “Have a good night.” She gave him a quick peck on the lips and hurried back into the house to grab her things, and he returned his attention to his daughter. “Where was he when you last saw him?”
“It was just a little while ago!” Abbie’s brown eyes were welling up with tears. “Where is he?”
“It’ll be fine,” Dan said, “Sammy probably just followed an interesting smell and wandered off. Let’s go look for him.”
“O-okay,” she sniffled, putting her little hand in his. Walking through the gate back into the green space, Dan gave her fingers a squeeze, which she reciprocated.
“Do you think he’s lost?” Abbie asked, her voice still quavering as she tried not to cry.
“Sammy is a smart dog,” Dan reassured her, while he looked around over her head with concern, resisting the parental urge to ask why she hadn’t paid more attention to her dog. “He just likes to chase squirrels. Where were you walking today?”
“Just out where we usually are,” she said, clutching his hand. Abbie wasn’t usually this clingy, and Sammy certainly was never this quiet. Dan whistled loudly, but no happy barks came in reply.
After retracing her steps through the fir trees, he finally made the tough decision to go home. “We’ll make some posters,” Dan said, hugging Abbie close. “One of the neighbors will see him. It’ll be okay.”
Dinner was a quiet affair, Abbie staring at her plate with red-rimmed eyes and pushing her broccoli around with her fork. He didn’t press her into finishing, silently cursing Sammy and his accursed need for freedom that was causing his daughter so much pain. When she asked to be excused he let her get down from the table, and she ran upstairs while he gathered up their plates and the silverware.
He found her later in her bed, covers pulled up to her chin. “Are you okay, Abbie?” Dan put his hand on her hair, then moved it to her forehead. A little warm, but she was tucked in pretty tightly for a summer night. He pulled on the comforter, loosening it up around her. “Worried about Sammy?”
“Yes,” she said after a moment, looking into his eyes. “But pretty tired too, Daddy.”
“I thought we could do a poster to put up in the neighborhood,” he said, and she looked away toward the wall. “It’s not your bedtime yet, if you want to help me?” He adjusted the covers some more, frowned, and pulled them down. “Why are you wearing your dirty clothes in your bed?”
Abbie sat up, looking down at herself. “I… don’t know.” She swung her legs out of bed, and then stood up, standing there for a minute while he brushed her sheets with his hand to make sure they were clean.
“Come on, let’s get your teeth brushed, and pajamas on.” Dan pushed himself off the floor and went to her dresser, and she quickly followed him, taking his hand and resting her head on his arm. He gave her a strange look, detached her from his hand, and pulled her pajamas from the top drawer, helping her into them.
Once Abbie was back into her bed, he went through the motions of making a Lost Dog poster, carefully hand lettering it and picking a few photographs of Sammy for Abbie to choose from for the final product. He found himself looking up at the ceiling a few times, up where he knew Abbie was sleeping in her Tinkerbell nightgown. He’d felt something, when she’d hugged his hand… something strange.
Dan fell asleep while reading a book in bed, futilely trying to stay awake until Fiona got back from the hospital. He woke up hours later, his wife curled up with her back to him, her blond hair arrayed on her pillow like a fan. Sitting up and putting his book on the nightstand, he leaned over to give her a kiss - and saw Abbie snuggled in her mother’s arms, sleeping soundly. He straightened up before his lips touched her, and hesitantly put his hand on Fiona’s shoulder before withdrawing like he’d stuck his finger in the electrical socket. Dan gave Abbie’s unconscious form a sharp look, and carefully climbed out of bed, padding out of the room and down the stairs barefoot.
In the kitchen he picked up the phone, cradling the receiver against his ear while he dialed a number he’d memorized long ago, and hoped to never use. While he waited for the call to connect, he looked at the time. Could he expect someone to actually answer at three in the morning?
“State your business.” The male voice on the other end sounded like he’d pounded two espressos right before picking up the phone.
Dan took a deep breath. “I need to speak to the Cat.”
There was a long silence, long enough for Dan to wonder if he’d been hung up on, and then the man said, “Credentials?”
“Tell her it’s Wodan.” He paused, looking up at the ceiling with worry in his eyes. “I think I’ve got an incursion.”