By John Thomas Tuft

Does the wind ever stop here? Those were the only words written on the last page of her diary. It’s a miracle that anything survived the fire, especially a child’s homemade book of blank pages awaiting the squiggles and hearts of her thoughts and deepest secrets. The folks in town debated what those words meant. Was she complaining about the constant wind? The ceaseless howling, tearing at leaves and grass, hair and clothes? Always billowing up dust to drive it through any crack in the walls, around the windows and doors, coating everything? Or was it something more ethereal? Does the wind ever stop here, like she was waiting for it, hoping for the wind to come, pick her up like catching a ride on a train, and whisking her away to somewhere else? Or even perhaps something more ephemeral? Would the wind ever stop here, pay a visit, enjoy a cup of tea and some cookies and answer her heartfelt questions and whisper secrets of its own just for her? The detective set out to solve this mystery.

Jake Trotter was his name. He came highly recommended. He arrived in town in his beat-up VW Beetle, with his faithful partner, Ellie, a golden retriever who had trouble minding her manners. But Jake put up with this lack of manners because Ellie had the gift for sniffing out the truth. It was truly uncanny how she could tell when a human was lying. She had been raised by a woman in a cabin up in the mountains with too many cats. Neither Jake nor Ellie could remember exactly who found who, but now they were a good team—as long as they didn’t talk about cats. The two of them immediately went to the ruins of the burned home to nose around. They carefully examined the ashes, the charred beams, the remnants of the lives lived there. It was Ellie who sniffed out the charm bracelet, almost completely buried in what remained of the girl’s bedroom. Ellie alerted near the remains of the nightstand, pawing at the fine ash until Jake came over and dug out the charm. He dusted it off, a jagged fragment of metal shaped like half a heart. He turned it over and found these words engraved: IF’N I’M FORGOTTEN.

Those words gnawed at Jake’s heart. Who was this winsome little girl, who wondered about the wind’s travels and made plans to be forgotten? No one in town could remember seeing her since the fire. In fact, no one could give Jake and Ellie a good description of the girl. “I think she had red hair,” offered one of the teachers in the school. “No, it was brown, dark brown,” insisted the principal. “She was just a child, with a gap in her front teeth,” said the local minister. “Sorry, but she was a young woman, and she had perfect teeth,” said the butcher. Ellie did her best to sniff out the truth, but people aren’t lying, except to themselves, if they aren’t noticing, not paying attention. “She was always so quiet,” said a girl who insisted she was the best friend. “I told her people would like her if she smiled more,” said the handsome quarterback for the high school.  “What really concerns us,” pontificated the mayor, “is the answer to the mystery, does the wind ever stop here? That’s what we hired you to find out. If she is still around, she should show herself.”

Jake did what he always did when faced with a tough case: he took Ellie for a long, long walk. Ellie would nip at his heels or try to chew on his hands, when she wasn’t trying to get underfoot as he walked because, well, minding manners and such. As they walked, he noticed that the wind was growing stronger, picking up leaves and dancing them around the trees. Eventually it grew so strong that even the birds were giving up on flying and settling into shelter. Dark clouds rode the wind and swept over the woods and town. Then, as Jake and Ellie watched in amazement, a funnel cloud formed and touched down to the earth. Where it touched a brilliant light appeared in the distance. Jake and Ellie started running to see if this was the wind stopping here.

They burst through the trees into a small clearing. There sat the girl, smiling as she held her hands out to the swirling cloud, forming a light all around her. From her wrist hung a bracelet, a gold chain from which hung a charm, the other half of the broken heart Jake and Ellie found in the ashes. Ellie barked and ran to the girl to cover her face with puppy kisses. And just like that, the wind was gone. Jake approached in the stillness and silence. The girl held out her wrist for him to examine. He took the broken heart charm in his hand and in the light made out the words: I HOPE YOU’RE NOT LONELY WITHOUT ME. And she left with Jake and Ellie that day, riding away in the old VW Beetle, off to solve the next case, not talking about cats…leaving the broken heart for the town to mend.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.