Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Blood Brothers in Christ

EXCERPT, Warrior's Journey
Sean's eyes flicked to the watch on his wrist, then rose and met hers. "Going to the top of the falls is the best way to the summit. We can bushwhack to the peak and hit the marked trail. I've got it covered, Mom. I got us here, didn't I?"

Wherever here is. The words looped through her brain while they rested. Sean's eager chatter and contentment battled her common sense. She had this moment reconnecting with her son, but what good was it if they never made it back home?

As they picked their way up the ledges, the water's roar fueled her anxiety. The misty droplets spiraling off the falls no longer held a rainbow's promise. In the afternoon shadows, their chill seeped into her. Sean rocketed ahead, swinging from boulder to root like a monkey. Molly grasped a root mostly fastened to a rock and leaned back, arching her neck, stretching the knotted muscles. She closed her eyes. The sun glinted off the head of the falls and pooled golden behind her lids. A few more feet to the top and they'd see the peak and find the trail. Maybe.

A sound bounced over her, garbled by the falling stream. She opened her eyes and blinked into the glare of light. The shine eclipsed as the dark shadow of a man stood above her. The silhouette moved and the sun blinded her once more. She squinted and pulled her eyes down to the rocks directly ahead of her. Sean scrabbled up the remaining ledge to the top. The dazzling beams haloed both outlines. The figures wavered in the brightness and were gone.

"Wait!" she screamed, her fingers and knees tearing at the rocks.

EXCERPT, Arrow that Flies

Rand sprinted after him and spotted a flicker of movement far ahead before it disappeared in the forest gloom. "It's a whitetail, Brad," he called. "Probably the beggar deer."

He turned and trudged back to Jackie. Tree spiking -- an old trick but still effective against Brad's small chainsaw-driven outfit. The bark would eventually slough off at the wound, grow back and cover the gash. Encapsulated within the rings of growth, the tree would carry the spike as a souvenir of war for a lifetime. Jackie bent over to retrieve her dropped paint can. A whine vibrated in his ears and he caught the wink of yellow in his peripheral vision. The fiberglass missile thwacked into the tree inches from Jackie's head, spraying bark shrapnel over her cheek.

Jackie snapped her head up just as RJ crashed toward her. "Stay down!" he shouted. He grabbed her arm and forced her into a crouch, molding his body against hers.

She angled her head and pushed her jaw against his protective shoulder. "It's an arrow," she said.

"Be still," he muttered and looked up at the quivering shaft of a hunter's arrow embedded in the tree bole just above her. "Are you alright?" he asked. He gently touched her cheek.

Jackie flinched and he released her and stood. He put the tree between them as she wiped her knuckles across the wound, smearing blood across her cheek. "I'm fine," she croaked, and turned away, but not before he spotted tears welling up in her eyes. He held his arms stiff at his sides and fought the urge to comfort her.

Brad strode up, tweaked Jackie's chin up, stared her in the face, and let her go. The action lasted only an instant.

"Did you see who it was?" RJ asked, angry at Brad for putting his thoughts into action.

"Naw," Brad returned. "Probably some weasel out-of-stater thinking he knows how to bow hunt and using us for target practice before the season starts. They give any fool a license and turn them loose up here." He tweaked on the arrow. "High powered, nice and sharp."

"You shouldn't touch that," Jackie cautioned. "The sheriff ought to have a look at it."

"Oh, no. You're not getting the law involved in this," Brad exploded. He turned on RJ. "This is your doing, isn't it?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," RJ spluttered.

"Sure you don't! I wouldn't be surprised if you set up this little stunt just so you could tie up my operation in a bunch of red tape," Brad accused. "We're not saying anything about this incident."

"It doesn't matter," Jackie interrupted. "We've got spikers. We don't know how many trees they hit."

"Don't matter. I can get my hands on equipment that'll handle it," Brad said.

"No," Jackie said. "I ought to talk to the office before we get in over our heads."

"One thing's for sure, I'll find out who did this, mark my words." The lumberman flung his gear together and glared at Rand. "Far as I know only three people knew we were coming here today. You, me, and Jackie. That makes one of us a traitor or a spiker, both the same in my book." In typical Brad Stanley style, he strode through the pines, muttering, "No sense marking any more trees. It'd just give them a bull's eye to ram the spike into."

RJ tuned out the rant and watched his friend stomp away and disappear where the trail curved around the pond.

Jackie tapped him on the shoulder. "What do you know about this?" she asked. He turned and faced her. The blood still oozed from her cheek and her dark brows crinkled over accusing brown eyes.

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