Sylvia Meisner has been missing for two weeks. She lives alone in Maple Valley. Alone, but not alone. As it is with so many small towns, everyone knows everyone in Maple Valley, and there are plenty of folks who make it their business to know the business of everyone else.
It is challenging enough living in a small town, but many of the residents are related in one way or another. Sylvia Meisner is in her mid-thirties. She’s never been married but she has enjoyed the company of several men over the years. Sylvia is the niece-in-law of Mayor Alvin Thrashborn. Alvin has been mayor since the thirty-seven full time residents of Maple Township voted to become a town and changed the name to Maple Valley. Thrashborn’s second wife, Gwendalyn, is the sister of Arleta Forner, who owned Forner’s Drugstore until it burned down fourteen years ago. Arleta is Sylvia’s mother.
There was talk around town that Alvin had a “thing” for Sylvia. Oh, no one ever saw anything, really, but Alvin did seem to brighten when Sylvia walked into a room. Everyone knows what that means. And in Maple Valley, everyone notices when someone brightens.
Sylvia is an artist of sorts. Many of the signs around Maple Valley were created by Sylvia. She has a small studio behind her house where she paints. Oddly enough, Sylvia makes signs for businesses that don’t exist. They are shops she believes should be real, so she paints signs for them. For example, “Tom’s Used Blenders & Other Interesting Items” was one of her first. There has never been a used blender store. Anywhere, ever. No one complains because the signs add color to the neighborhood.
For whatever reason, Sylvia is gone. No one has seen her for two weeks. There wasn’t any concern at first. In fact, it was several days before someone said, “Have you seen Sylvia lately?” When the answer was, “No, I haven’t, come to think of it” the phones started ringing. And, believe it or not, there is no cell service in Maple Valley, so it happens to be the only town within five hundred miles that still has telephones hanging on walls. They ring the old-fashioned way, obnoxiously loud.
Everyone continued about their daily activities but concern about Sylvia grew. Last Tuesday morning, something happened no one has been able to explain. Two people were walking along the tracks near three tower bridge and found a car. The car, or, what’s left of it, is smashed and burned. At this point, there are no answers. No one knows where it came from or how it got there. Monday night, nothing. Tuesday morning, a burned car.
It wasn’t until officials looked more closely someone said, “That looks like Sylvia Meisner’s car.”
Sure enough. After a quick search, the car was confirmed to be Sylvia’s. There was no sign of Sylvia. Nothing remained in the car except charred seats and a melted steering wheel.
The two who discovered the car, Tom Swagmon and Patty Philers were questioned almost as if they were suspects.
“How could we have moved the car there?!” Tom hollered at Sheriff Terkinberry.
“When was the last time you saw Sylvia Meisner?” asked the Sheriff.
“Pete!” (Terkinberry’s first name. He and Tom Swagmon were best friends in high school.) “It’s me! Pete! You idiot! We have no idea where Sylvia is!” That was the end of the questions.
Sylvia doesn’t have any family outside Maple Valley. She went to school here. She stayed here. The farthest distance she has ever travelled out of Maple Valley was to Hamshover, Missouri, where she attended the “Young High-Minded Individuals” national convention. No one ever thought of Sylvia as being high-minded, but evidently someone did. She was invited as a delegate.
Sheriff Terkinberry is suggesting a door-to-door search for Sylvia. Since no one has seen or heard from her in two weeks, it’s hard to imagine a search like that is going to do anything but make a lot of people uncomfortable. After all, it’s very hard to burn a vehicle in a small town without someone noticing, and no one did. The car was destroyed somewhere else and moved back to Maple Valley. But why would someone do that? Is it meant to convey a message? And where is Sylvia?
Maybe the answers are close by. Maybe not. If something happened to Sylvia, something terrible, we may never know. But that doesn’t dismiss us from the responsibility of finding out as much as we can.
The problem with Maple Valley, especially with troubling circumstances like this, is that folks are better at making things up and calling them facts than really finding the truth. These days, truth is tougher to uncover in Maple Valley.