Two best friends in 1978 Alaska discover the world can be a very scary place
Thank you admitone for the pretty write ribbon!
"They're after me," Shannen whispered. "I saw what they did, and now they're after me."
Shannen and I were best friends. It was the summer of '78. We were twelve years old and gearing up to start middle school in the fall. Shannen was a tomboy, and she could climb a tree faster than any boy I knew. We spent our days fishing, catching crickets, and building forts. No one worried about us. They knew we were together and that we were safe.
Things were different back then.
I don't remember how the game started or whose idea it was. I just remember that once we started playing, we played it all the time. We'd meet at the fort, and whoever's turn it was that day would start the game.
I arrived at the fort and announced in the deepest voice I could muster, "My name is Cameron Duncan, and you are my sidekick, Shannen Montague. We are world famous explorers, like Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler from Wild Kingdom. We're on an African safari, and I brought along my slingshot and bow just in case a lion decides to eat us for breakfast."
The game was on! It lasted all day. Some days our game continued well after dark, and the next day we'd start all over again.
Shannen wanted to be a police officer, so when it was her turn our games always had an air of intrigue. We'd spend our days writing down license plate numbers, hiding behind bushes, watching and interviewing people, and peeking through windows, so it didn't surprise me when Shannen started the game that day by whispering, "They're after me. I saw what they did, and now they're after me."
"Cool," I said. "What did you see?"
"I saw them grab a boy and a girl off the sidewalk. The boy was older, like fourteen. The girl looked about our age." Shannen wrote in her notebook as she spoke:
Girl--blonde ponytail, skinny, bellbottoms, red shirt, barefoot.
Boy--wavy brown hair, skinny, bellbottoms, comb in pocket, black Pink Floyd t-shirt (triangle/rainbow), white Chuck Taylor All-Stars.
"They kinda looked alike," she continued. "Maybe they are brother and sister."
She really is gonna make a good cop, I thought. "Did you recognize the kids?"
"No, I've never seen them before, and the bad thing is ... I don't know where they live, either, so I can't go to their house to warn their parents."
"We could go to the cops and tell them what you saw. Did you get a license plate number?"
"No, but they were driving one of those Pinto Cruising Wagons with the bubble window on the side. It was silver with orange and red stripes. It had Alaska plates."
I was impressed. "How the heck do you know what a Pinto Cruising Wagon looks like?"
"My mom wants one. We looked at some last weekend. Should we go to the police with what we know?"
"After you, Angie Dickinson."
It really was a beautiful Alaskan summer day--73°, sunny, and not a cloud in the sky. The Fireweed was in full bloom, and fields of the stuff cast a pink hue across the landscape. Soon Mom would be bringing home grocery bags full to make Fireweed salad. It was pretty good, really.
We ducked under branches and swatted away mosquitoes in silence as we headed for the police station. Uncle Terry was working, and he always humored us on those little excursions. I was sure that day would be no different. Although he had two kids of his own, neither of them were interested in law enforcement. I think Uncle Terry liked the idea that we were, and to show his appreciation he usually had cookies and milk waiting for us.
"You're awful quiet today," I observed.
"Lot on my mind, Cam. Look. There's your uncle," Shannen said, pointing at my Uncle Terry who was standing outside the police station smoking a cigarette.
"Hey, Unc!" I called. "You got a minute for your two favorite deputies?"
He snuffed out his smoke and opened the door for us. "You know I do. And I got oatmeal raisin cookies and chocolate milk today."
We followed him into his office and sat down. I grabbed two cookies and stuffed them into my mouth before my butt hit the seat. Uncle Terry laughed and handed me a tall glass of chocolate milk.
"So, what you got for me today?" he asked.
Shannen pulled out her notepad and started talking so fast I could barely understand her. "A silver car pulled up and this guy jumped out from the passenger side and forced these two kids into the car. They tried to fight, but he had them in the car in like two seconds and the driver peeled outta there so fast I didn't get a chance to see the license plates but I know what kind of car it was and what the guys looked like and what the kids were wearing and--"
Uncle Terry raised his hands. "Whoa, whoa. Slow down there, little lady. Now, I can appreciate these little games you two play, but you really shouldn't come in here and report a phony kidnapping--"
"It's not phony! It really happened, Officer Duncan. I saw it all this morning on my way to the fort," Shannen whispered, her hands beginning to shake
"What!" I was incredulous. "Are you kidding me? You never said it was real!" I said, more than a little hurt that I'd found out the same way my uncle did. Why hadn't she told me?
Uncle Terry sighed. "Okay. Start from the beginning, and be as detailed as you can."
"Okay," Shannen said. She took a deep breath and began. "I was on my way to the fort this morning when I saw a silver Ford Pinto Cruising Wagon with orange and red stripes pull over to the side of the road. The guy in the passenger seat jumped out and started pulling these two kids--they were walking down the street--he pulled them into the car. The girl looked like she was eleven or twelve. She had blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, a red t-shirt, and bellbottom jeans. She was barefoot, too. The boy looked older ... maybe fourteen. He was wearing one of those black Pink Floyd t-shirts with the pyramid and a rainbow, you know? The one from The Dark Side of the Moon album. Anyway, he had bellbottoms on, too, and a white pair of Chuck Taylor's. There was a comb in his right rear pocket. He had wavy brown hair down to his shoulders. They kinda looked alike. The kids, I mean. Maybe they are brother and sister."
Uncle Terry looked at her for the longest time. Finally, he took a notebook from his desk drawer and began to write. "About what time was this, Shannen?"
"Geez, I don't know. Maybe an hour ago?"
"So eight a.m. Strange. I haven't had any missing persons reports or witnesses saying they saw a kidnapping in progress."
"Well, maybe their parents are at work and don't know yet," Shannen offered.
Uncle Terry stood up and grabbed his keys. "You two are coming with me. I'm taking you home until we get this thing figured out."
Shannen reached out and grabbed his arm. "They saw me, though. They know I know. You don't think they'll come back for me, do you?"
"Now you listen to me. I'm not gonna let anything happen to you, you hear me? I'm taking you home, and I'm gonna call your parents to let 'em know what's going on. I want the both of you to stay in your houses until I tell you otherwise, capiche?"
I sat with Shannen until 10:00 that night when Uncle Terry showed up to drive me home. He said the kids were Billy and Bonnie Chesterfield. They were fourteen and twelve-year-old siblings whom the parents reported missing when they'd come home to find them gone.
"We'll find 'em, kiddo," Uncle Terry said. "This kinda stuff doesn't happen around here, and it ain't gonna start now. You sit tight. We'll get 'em."
Neither of us spoke a word on the drive home. I didn't realize it at the time, but I lost my innocence that day. Everything I believed to be good and right with the world was nothing more than smoke and mirrors. The world wasn't a safe place after all. I'd lived a sheltered, insulated existence that, up until that day, gave me the illusion of safety and security, but it was all a lie.
They never did find the kids or the people who took them, and Shannen was right: they did know that she knew, and they were after her. I found out the following day that she'd left her house at 8:00 a.m., as usual, to meet me at the fort for another round of The Game, but none of us ever saw her again.
Stupid girl! Didn't Uncle Terry say to stay home until he told her otherwise? Why didn't she listen?
It's been twenty-nine years since that fateful day, and I find myself thinking of her often. What happened? What did they do to her? Did she suffer? Did she wonder why I didn't meet her that morning? Did she blame me for not protecting her?
These questions torment me. Nighttime provides my only relief. Sometimes--after I've cried every tear and am too exhausted to do anything but sleep--I dream of her. We're playing hide and seek in a pink field of Fireweed. The mosquitoes buzz and flit around our heads, but I don't care. Shannen's there, and she's smiling.
It's my turn now, and she runs to hide from me. I count to 100 and say, "Ready or not, here I come!"
I never find her.
© Shannon Chapel, March 12, 2007
A little background. I wrote this story for March 2007 "Short Shots: Official WDC Contest" [ASR] Every month a picture is provided, and you are challenged to write a story about it.
When I first saw the picture, the girl reminded me of a young Shannen Doherty (inspiring the character name "Shannen") and the boy reminded me of the boy from the movie Godsend ( actor Cameron Bright played Adam Duncan in the film, resulting in my character's name "Cameron Duncan").
I was born and raised in Alaska. When I was approximately eight years old a young brother and sister (I think they were 14 and 7 respectively) were kidnapped. They lived across the street from us, and in the small town of Sterling, Alaska, that kind of thing just didn't happen.
My Uncle Terry was an ex-cop, and I've always wondered if he had the inside scoop--if he knew what happened to them. Of course, no one talked about it in front of us (my brothers and me). Things were different back then. There was no such thing as "stranger danger" or teaching children about how ugly the world can be. We played outside from sunup to sundown, and I don't remember ever being afraid of "bad guys" ... not until this happened, anyway. I don't believe they ever found the siblings or caught the kidnappers/killers. I don't remember what their names were, but I do remember they had a big, gorgeous yellow dog (Golden Retriever?) named Chester (thus my character's last name "Chesterfield").
That experience has haunted me for nearly four decades. They were our playmates, our neighbors, our friends, and I think of them often.
This story is for them.
After featuring this real-life story in "The Horror" I couldn't get it out of my head. On a whim, I Googled "brother and sister disappear Sterling Alaska 70s". As if I'd been punched in the gut, the breath was literally knocked from my lungs when a list of links featuring my childhood playmates and the mystery surrounding their disappearance popped up. The very first link told me their names: Scott and Amy Fandel--names I haven't heard in 39 years and couldn't remember despite my efforts. It also listed their disappearance date: September 5, 1978. I was 10 at the time, not 8 as I'd guessed. Scott was 13 and Amy 8 when they disappeared (I was pretty close: I'd guessed 14 and 7). I searched around a little more until I found a page with photos--ghosts from the past whose features have haunted me most of my life. They look exactly how I remember them, and seeing them again leaves me profoundly sad.
I have no idea why the idea of googling them never occurred to me before today. I wrote this story in 2007; perhaps featuring it in the newsletter brought it once again to the forefront of my mind, but this time it wouldn't let me go.
According to the articles I've read so far, their disappearance was never solved. Of course, my Uncle Terry (the ex-cop) has passed away since I wrote the story.
RIP, Scott and Amy. It's nice to be able to call you by name after all these years.