Segment 1 of Danger Comes Close by Nikki Walker
Jayde stood looking through the window as the white snow seemed to fall like sifted flour over the mountain contours surrounding her log cottage. The snow started with gentle flakes the morning before, continued non-stop and overnight had become a wintry mix, now taking on blizzard like conditions.
The ranger—the attractive six foot bronze complexioned ranger-she corrected mentally, had come by the day before to persuade her to come down off the mountain and take a hotel room in town. She declined. That had been hard because his voice was like velvet over rocks; gritty in just the right places, doing things to her insides she hadn’t felt in years. Staring in his clear cognac colored eyes nearly had her mesmerized. But none of that changed the inside of her wallet. She didn’t want to tell him her money was extremely limited and what she had left for the month wasn’t enough to be caught down the mountain with an obligation to pay for an unknown number of nights in a hotel room. His main concern was there weren’t many cottages in walking distance and of those that were, they’d been boarded up for the season. The majority of owners only used the cottages as seasonal homes. To him this meant there would be no one around to help her. It concerned her as well. However, the best she could do was go down the mountain behind him and pick up some items from the grocery store.
Besides, her uncle always kept the cottage well stocked with emergency supplies. She had more than enough battery operated lanterns and she’d ordered some extra loads of wood should her electricity go out. The funny thing was, now that her choice to engage with others seemed taken from her, she found cabin fever beginning to set in. She’d been content in her solitude for weeks, but the idea of being stranded made her begin to feel slightly desperate. And she couldn’t help but wonder if the ranger had left the mountain or if he’d stayed. Suddenly that thought began to take on some significance in her comfort level. ~*~*~*~ Jason Carter had been tracking the four men for hours. He’d gotten a B.O.L.O. on four escaped convicts that might be hiding in the area of the Catskills he patrolled. The weather was a blessing. The few out of season visitors heeded his door-to-door warning and had promptly packed up and left. There was only one straggler, the woman in Mr. Jenkins cottage–the beautiful 5 inch something caramel package with wavy brown hair and green eyes to be exact. Because of her, he started tracking in her area. It unnerved him to see evidence of several footprints within a 5 mile radius of her cottage. Coming across some blood not long after heightened his senses. One of them was wounded. That meant they would seek shelter. Pivoting, he moved quickly in the direction of her cottage. He only hoped he got to her before they did. ~*~*~*~ “I told you to stop!” Manny, the tall, husky man wheezed while bearing the weight of his brother, Kyle.
“How was I to know it was a bear trap?” The younger man whined.
“All you had to do was stop when I said stop. Now I have to drag your sorry behind all over God’s wilderness—in a snow storm no less.”
“At least I’m thin.”
“You think that matters after a couple of hours when it’s nearly dead weight!”
“Well leave me then! I’d rather that than to hear you continue to complain!” Kyle said softly.
Manny used his arm that supported him around his waist to squeeze him tighter. He whispered gruffly, “You’re my brother. I would never leave you—do you understand?”
Kyle nodded and stifled the sob that gathered in the back of his throat.
“Shut up the both of ya!” Jack, the gray bearded older man walking beside them snapped. He was cold and hungry and had been listening to them go back and forth for hours. It started as soon as they’d cleared the correctional facility and it made him wish he escaped alone. They got on his nerves but they weren’t the ones that kept him alert. He saved all of that for Norm, the stocky red headed man among them that shot a store clerk in cold blood after the man cooperated. He’d agreed to let them take a change of clothes and as much food as they wanted. He’d even volunteered his car keys—anything to get them out of the store as quickly as possible. Just as they were walking through the glass door, Norm turned around and shot the clerk. They hadn’t waited around to see if the man was dead. It was hours later that they heard on the radio they’d snatched that the man lived and given a description of each of them. Now the police had a target area to search; something they were hoping to avoid at least for another day.
“We need to find some shelter soon. Between this snow and the waning light, we won’t be able to continue,” Jack finally said sidling up beside Norm.
For a minute Jack wasn’t sure if he would respond and after a moment he did in a voice that sounded strained—as if it hurt him to speak.
“Yeah, I know. Even the tents in the backpacks won’t be enough to keep us through the night. I thought I saw fire from a chimney in the distance. Hopefully we will get there within the next thirty minutes.”
Jack tilted his head over his shoulder at the two straggling behind them. “I hope so. I don’t think those two will be able to make it much longer than that.”
Norm’s face remained impassive. “That only means more money for me.”
Jack felt a chill, different from what the cold weather was causing. He had no idea this was a cold blooded killer and now he was rethinking the idea to follow him in search of the money hidden in some obscure cave nearly ten years ago. For all he knew they’d end up with that cave being their grave. He made a mental note to get a hold of his own gun as soon as possible.
The scent of onions and spices wafted through the air. Bending down she peered through the oven window at the meatloaf cooking within. The red glaze and chunks of carrots, celery and potatoes adorned it. The mere sight had her stomach doing back flips. She leaned down and with her oven mitts anchored at both ends, lifted the Pyrex dish and placed it on top of the stove. She’d poured bottled water in the tea kettle only a few minutes before. Its shrill whine pierced the air startling her. She walked over to the cabinet, reached for her large mug and placed her favorite brand of green tea inside. It calmed her to pour the boiling water over the bag. She sighed anticipating sipping her tea while reading her latest mystery novel. The wind was picking up, whistling against her windows. Her head snapped up at the sudden bang against her front door. Now who could that be?
Segment 2: by Cassandra Baker Durham
Jayde could feel the chill of the night air as she got closer towards the banging sound on the front door of the cabin. Attempting to shake off overwhelming feelings of isolation and apprehension, she squared her shoulders and asked “Whose there?” flabbergasted that someone was at the door.
The howling wind filled every crevice of the door silencing anyone or anything on the other side.
“Who is it,” she quipped.
The door knob made a creaking noise as it turned first to the left then to the right.
Jayde thought of all the horrible things that could happen to a woman trapped in a blizzard inside a cabin. She had a gnawing sense of uneasiness all day every since Jason left. She wished now that she would have just told him the truth about her finances.
The blustery wind rattled and scratched at the windows and shutters. Her heart began to pump violently as fear began to settle within her. Her pulse raised, her heart thumped, little beads of sweat formed on her upper lip as well as in between her eyebrows.
She began to back away from the door- knowing full well there was little she could do to stop anyone desperate enough to stray out in this weather.
Outside the night air had settled itself around the cabin like an old familiar coat. The surrounding trees groaned and grunted under the increasing weight of the now blistery frozen snow. The sounds of icicles falling hitting the already hardened snow ricochet through the woods like the sounds of fireworks.
Jayde had an eerie feeling of danger, a foreshadowing that something was drawing closer, bearing down on her.
She hastily made her way back into the kitchen to cut off the stove and grabbed a knife ( just in case someone was actually at the door this time) she chuckled within herself. Silly girl no one is at the door, it’s just the wind she reasoned.
She tiptoed over to the front door and pressed an ear against it, straining to hear a sound as the hairs on the back of her neck rose. The whirling sound of the wind deadened the sense of sound to the voices outside of the door. She inhaled a deep breath curtailing her overactive imagination.
“Hurry up,” the heavy masculine voice sounded muffled against the blustery, frozen tundra of the wilderness. Mr. Jenkins stretched his back and stood at full attention listening again for the tell-tale sounds of a novice vacationer crunching down into the now frozen ground.
Silently he prayed she was all right. She did not look well the last time he laid eyes on her. She wore a simple, understated dress as if she was hiding in it. Her long brown wavy hair was twisted in a knot, reminding him of an old school spinster. Hideous black spectacle like glasses hid her beautiful green eyes. She looked thinner, spoke softer and looked as if she had been defeated in battle. He understood everyone had their tests, trials and crosses to bear. But she did not deserve all the things that happened to her. She thought he did not know, except everybody did.
They made their way up and across the mountain. The sound of the tree limbs cracking and popping in the distance did nothing to curtail the deep foreboding of trepidation. The wind was beginning to infiltrate their coats.
This is ridiculous, he chided himself. She is a grown woman. She makes her own choices and her own decisions. The last thing she needs is someone keeping a check on her to be sure she is all right. He took a deep breath inhaling pieces of the small slivers of ice nested in his moustache. He pushed his close to frozen hands deeper down into his pocket as he turned to look at the person beside him. “You all right he asked?”
“Yes, babe, just keep going”, the soft melodic sounds of an angel filled the night time sky. He could not see it, but he knew she was smiling at him. The brightness of her eyes gave it away. Why they were up there was sort of a mystery to him. It was her. She pushed, begged and pleaded until he finally got off of the couch and made preparations to bring her here. Her sister had been lost years ago in a storm like this. She knew how dangerous it was to be in a storm of this magnitude. Her brother Jason was out and about somewhere tracking down the four escaped convicts in the area. From all reports they were dangerous. He kept the cabin stocked with not only food but with plenty of weapons too. His papa didn’t raise “no” fool. He knew how to defend his territory, his woman and his niece if the need should arise. He placed his hand on the gun in his coat as he went over thoroughly the last time he broke it down, cleaned it and put fresh bullets in it.
The sounds of rapidly crunching snow raised his heckles just a bit as a deer shot off in the clearing of the woods near the edge of his property. Umm that’s strange he thought to himself. It wasn’t the fact the deer was running that unnerved him. It was the fact the deer was running like something had put the fear of God in it. Mr. Jenkins and his guest quickly closed the distance to the front door of the house. They made it to the front door earlier knocked on it, Then leaving once they realized he was keyless. realizing he was keyless. They then walked over to the storage building at the other end of the property to retrieve an additional set he kept for safe keeping. He helped his friend up the steps and recognized the small drops of blood on the front porch.
Jayde leaned closer into the door trying to separate out what would be noises from the crackling snow, the whirling wind and the blustery conditions outside her cabin. The knife trembled in her pale hand. She hoped it was nothing but the hairs standing on the back of her neck told her otherwise despite her minds feeble attempts at dismissal. Were those muffled voices she heard? Jayde strained, closing her eyes attempting to focus.
The force of the door swinging in on Jayde knocked her off her feet. She fell clumsily to the ground hitting her head against the thick wooden base of the dining table. The knife dropped from her hand landing inches out of her reach. The tea kettle screamed loudly in the background.
“What the hell you’d go and do that for?” Jack yelled, seeing the young woman splayed across the floor.
“Would you rather I knock?” Norman called back stepping over the seemingly unconscious woman with blatant disregard. Kicking in the door was the right thing to do. It’s not like I had a key, he thought to himself. He proceeded to scope out the cabin as Kyle and Manny hobbled their way in.
“Anyone within eye shot will see the door damn near dangling off its hinges numb nuts,” Jack gruffed pushing pass the hobbling Kyle and attending to the door. Working quickly against the cold of the outside Jack righted the door. Fortunately the door knob and jam were still in tact. It would just have to do considering. Jack didn’t see the crimson red leavings from Kyle’s injured leg that dotted the porch.
Manny dumped Kyle onto the worn plaid couch and flopped down next to him. Kyle screamed in pain trying his best to adjust his leg to the most comfortable position. Exhausted and breathing heavy, Manny allowed his head to fall back on the couch; the sweat on his brow quickly warming under the heat from the cozy cabin. Norman investigated the cabin. The whine from the teakettle irritated him. He knocked it back from the eye and turned the fire down. Reaching into a drawer, Norman found a knife and cut a huge chunk from the still warm meatloaf on top of the stove, his hunger getting the best of him. He continued to check out the other drawers while eating the glazed beef concoction with his bare hand.
Scant movement from the floor got Jack’s attention. The girl looked to be coming to. He had to think fast. What a surprise she was in for with four strange runaway cons making themselves comfortable in her place. Jack bent down next to her. The young woman’s breathing was shallow, her eyes still closed, although there was movement within them.
“Norm,” Jack called out. There was no response. “Norm! See if you can find me some rope or something.”
Norm heard the old geezer. Finishing up the meatloaf and wiping his stained hands on his shirt, Norm rutted around in a few more drawers. He found some twine and tossed it in Jack’s direction. At the very back of the drawer, Norm wrapped his hands around the butt of a gun.
“Manny, give me some help here,” Jack called out, reaching underneath the young woman and lifting her off the floor. Cascading waves of hair fell back as he teetered to his feet. Kyle maneuvered his hands in between Jack’s and lifted the woman from his arms. Jack crossed the room and retrieved an upright chair. It would make for a temporary open-air cage for the nearly conscious woman. After sitting her down, Kyle helped Jack tie down their new prisoners’ hands and feet to the arms and legs of the chair. She whimpered.
Jason pulled his skullcap further down on his ears fighting back the biting cold wind. He didn’t like what he was seeing and knew he needed to quicken the pace in getting to Jayde. The distinctive sound of closing metal jaws jarred his senses. Jason drudged the few hundred yards fully expecting to find the wounded bear. The spent bear trap was the first indication the escaped prisoners were indeed within striking distance. There was blood. Reaching down Jason found the maroon staining to be slightly congealed, almost fresh. He followed the blood trail and overlapping footprints the snow and howling wind tried to conceal. Traversing at a faster clip with the knee high snow attempting to sabotage his every step, Jason moved with intention growing ever closer to the lonesome cabin.
Mr. Jenkins grabbed his female companion by the wrist stopping her forward motion toward the cabin. Something he heard didn’t sit right with him. There shouldn’t be that much activity given Jayde was supposed to be in the cabin alone.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, somewhat oblivious to the noise that startled him. She was too busy trying to stay warm to pay attention to too much else.
“I’m not sure but I don’t like it. Get behind me and stay close.” Mr. Jenkins warned, directing her into his shadow.
“But what is…”
“Shhh, stay quiet and keep your head low,” he warned.
The steps creaked under their combined weight and as he scanned the porch, he noticed red droplets he hadn’t paid attention to before. Heavier voices than any woman’s he’d ever known lay on the other side of the door. Jayde was not alone. Mr. Jenkins tried to determine how many voices there were- one, two…it was hard to tell as they bled indiscriminately into each other. His first inclination was to bust the door open and charge inside. But he was outnumbered; his only companion a beautiful but dainty woman. He could use the key but surely they would hear the clink of the mechanism and pounce before he could get the door opened.
It was time out for thinking. Jayde was in there and given the blood on the stoop, she wasn’t in there alone. Pulling his companion closer to him, Mr. Jenkins slowly pushed the key in the lock. Closing his eyes and whispering a little prayer, he turned they key. Click…
“What the hell?” Mr. Jenkins murmured, when the lock didn’t respond. Taking a breath, he tried to steady his hand to keep the old metal knob from jingling and alerting anyone within of his presence. Using one hand, he held the woman behind him, and with the other he tried the key again, asserting a bit more pressure this time. To no avail.
It was pretty clear that his niece, Jayde, was not inside the cabin alone. In fact, he couldn’t hear her at all, just a muffled male voice, and the soft whimpering sound of jazz being played from the radio. What the hell was going on in there? Why hadn’t his niece let him know she wouldn’t be alone, and where the hell was she? The questions scurried around in his mind, worry and concern clouding his judgment.
“Baby, get back,” he whispered, urging the woman a few steps back. She merely nodded as she stepped away. When she was back a safe distance, he lifted a foot and kicked the door as hard as he could, but it bounced back at him, rattling but remaining on its hinges.
A few seconds later, the door was thrust open, and a gray haired man stood on the threshold, his eyes filled with alarm. “What’s going on out here?” His voice was shrill, jarring!
Mr. Jenkins stared in disbelief. He’d known Fred since he was a boy, and had spent almost every summer in these hills with him, hunting, fishing, and chasing girls down by the river. And then reality came crashing down on him, making it crystal clear what had happened. Where he’d made the mistake.
He’d taken the left path at the big split oak tree, leading to Fred’s cabin and not his own, as so many times he’d done over the years, as if his muscles had had their own memory. “Fred, I’m sorry, man.” He shook his head, then turned to the woman to usher her inside and out of the falling snow. “My niece is at my cabin, and I meant to be checking on her. Ha, somehow I ended up here.”
Fred laughed. “You scared the crap out of me banging on the door like that? Your niece in any danger?”
“Not sure. You heard about those escaped convicts? Jayde is staying in the cabin right now and I just wanted to make sure she was okay.” Both Mr. Jenkins and the woman moved toward the black kettle woodstove, rubbing their hands together as
Fred closed the door behind them. “You’ve got blood up the steps, so I panicked.”
Fred smirked. “Got me a rabbit earlier.” He turned down his small radio, letting the jazz fade away. “Man, do you see this weather. Damned near a blizzard. No way those fools made it all the way up here. More than likely, they got their asses caught up in the storm and are froze to death someplace.” He headed to the small corner of the cabin used as a kitchen. “Coffee?”
“Yes, please,” the woman answered softly.
Fred nodded and began to fill a couple of cups. “Tell you what, stay here tonight. As soon as there’s a break in the weather, I’ll go with you over to your cabin and check things out.”
Mr. Jenkins inhaled, then held the breath in his lungs. His lifelong friend was probably right, and Jayde was perfectly fine. With the snow falling so rapidly, nearly blinding his vision along the trail, it really wasn’t safe for him to be trudging around the forest. He’d be no good to Jayde if he was a popsicle. “Sounds like the only thing we can do. We’ll head over as soon as the weather breaks.”
Kyle let his head fall back against the back of the couch, keeping his eyes closed against the pain in his leg. Small beads of sweat formed on his brow and upper lip. He steadied his breathing, slowing it down as if he’d fallen asleep. Despite the agonizing pain, he had to keep his head about him, had to gather his thoughts and figure out how he could get himself out of this mess.
Lifting his lids to small slits, than scanned the room. Norm and Jack were in the small kitchen area, gobbling down the rest of the meal the woman had prepared, and his brother Manny had moved to a small wooden table and sat with his head hung over a steaming mug of something that smelled like herbal tea.
Careful to keep his motion from being noticed, he turned his gaze toward the woman whose cabin they’d invaded. Those animals had tied her to a chair, as if the little bit of thing would be any danger to them, unconscious and alone. She wouldn’t have stood a chance of fighting back, and there was little chance she’d tried to escape into the snow. Not if she hoped to survive. Hatred churned low in his gut, already seething with anger.
Poor woman. Poor gorgeous woman, he thought, allowing his regard to dance across her features. Her eyes were closed, sending long shadows of her lashes across her cheeks, her skin a luscious mocha color, supple and smooth. Her lips were plump, pink, and turned down into a small frown, as if she could sense her situation from the dark reaches of her mind.
Lower, his gaze moved along the slope of her neck and was relieved to see the steady rhythm of her pulse. Her knitted off white sweater drooped from one shoulder, exposing the creamy skin and a thin lacy bra strap. Damn, if he could, he’d reach over and adjust her clothing so these other fools wouldn’t get a view. Instead, he remained motionless, both in a battle to manage the pain radiating from his ankle and trying to formulate a plan.
With the woman here and in danger, everything had changed now. There was no way he could just remain undercover and go along with whatever these men would do next. Already a store clerk had lost his life for no sensible reason and he just couldn’t imagine living with himself if something equally bad, or disgustingly worse, happened to this woman.
Because of that damned bear trap, he was already compromised, but injured or not, there was no way in hell he’d let anything happen to her. He’d die first. Or better yet, these good for nothing, thieving, murdering thugs would die first. Even his career criminal older brother.
Someone upstairs had been looking out for him when that bear trap had snapped on around his leg. Kyle bit back a growl at the irony, that there could have been anything good about his injury, but it could have been the other leg where he had the Twenty-two caliber pistol was strapped around his ankle. Revelation of that gun would’ve been a game changer. They were supposed to be all escaped convicts, and convicts don’t carry guns into jail.
Now the cold steel pressed against his flesh were so much more important. Now, it wasn’t just for his protection, but for the woman tied to the chair. The woman he silently vowed to lay down his life for.
Segment 5 by Sabrina Scott
Kyle continued to feign sleep for a couple of hours after they’d arrived at the cabin. He’d spent that time listening and waiting for the activity in the cabin to quiet down. He was content for now to keep a covert watch for any stirrings from the beautiful hostage. Earlier, Manny was able to find a first aid kit and helped him clean and wrap his injury from the bear trap. He took a handful of tylenol, the medicine helping to bring his pain level from an 11 to something manageable. Once accomplished, he now could plot with a little more clarity, knew it was imperative that he gain some perspective about how exactly he was going to bring this situation to a close. He watched Norm open the door leading downstairs and heard him tinkering around in the basement, wondering exactly what he was up to. Jack took that opportunity to get up from his chair and announce he was going to check out the rest of the cabin in search of any weapons he could add to their arsenal. Within a few minutes Kyle was a captivated witness to the beautiful woman finally opening her eyes, closing them again and got lost in the myriad of emotions that displayed across her beautiful face. Not wanting to alarm her, he sat quietly observing her from his drooped eyelids. He sat just next to the chair they’d tied her to, and though he knew that by all appearances he appeared to be the scary escaped convict she probably thought he was, he needed to take advantage of her proximity, needed her to know that he wouldn’t hurt her, and though things looked bad, he would do his best to make sure that she’d come out of this situation alive.
In a quiet, soothing whisper, Kyle began talking to her. “Miss, just keep your eyes closed for the next few minutes and listen to me. Nobody should know you’re awake – your safety depends on it. My name is Kyle Harris and I’m an undercover agent. My brother Manny, is here too, he doesn’t know that about me – so I don’t want you to let even him know that you’re awake. I’m going out on a limb here with you, I plan to get us out of here, but I need to know that I can trust you and can count on you to do exactly what I say. If you can hear me and understand, can you whisper your name to me?” Kyle continued to look around, assured that he hadn’t drawn any attention, his breath hitched in anticipation of her response – With a slight nod of her head she whispered “Jayde”.
Kyle weakly called out to Manny “Bro, I haven’t eaten since this morning you think you can heat up some soup or something? I’m starving and I know we both gonna need to build up energy for whatever’s coming”. Manny looked at his little brother and nodded “Fine,” “I’ll rustle up something – let me go see if there is any of that meatloaf leftover.” Manny looked around the room before stooping down on his haunches. His eyes continued to scan the room and then focused his attention on Kyle when he was assured the coast was clear. Looking at his younger brother he half whispered, half hissed “I’ve got a bad feeling about Norm – Lil’ bro do whatever you need to do to regain your strength cause I think he may try to start eliminating us – the less people he has to share that money with, I’m sure the happier he will be.”
Looking over at Jayde she still appeared to be knocked out. Manny walked closer to to the chair he nodded toward her “think she’s hurt bad? We can’t afford to have another body added to the count – has she even moved since they tied her up? Damn Bro! I’m not going back to tha joint with 2 bodies added to my numbers” Kyle detected the beginning of panic in his brother’s voice. Leaning closer toward Manny, he said “Look at me Big Bro” he looked his brother in the eye and said ” You need to take some deep breaths and relax – she’s okay -she still breathing and as long as she doesn’t draw Norm or Jack’s attention, that shouldn’t change. Go on and get that food” Kyle had seen Jayde open her eyes and close them again quickly as soon as she realized how close Manny was to her. “I’m still hungry bro – was there any meatloaf left? – If not, I’ll take whatever you can heat up.” Manny walked to the kitchen and resumed occupying himself with putting together a meal.
Luke Jenkins and Jenny Carter had been friends for years but their romantic relationship had developed as a result of Luke spending time with Jenny when her sister Stella was found dead in her car after missing one of the curves coming down the mountain during a particularly bad storm a couple of years ago. Fred spoke as he filled and passed the steaming cups of to each of his guests and motioned toward the small diner style table. “Please excuse my mess. Cream and sugar is right there.” Fred had been in the process of chopping vegetables before their arrival. “I hope you two aren’t starving yet – I’m making stew with today’s “catch of the day” It should be ready in about an hour or so.” Fred gathered his cutting board and uncovered the pot adding the vegetables and herbs to sautee with the browning pieces of meat that were sizzling in the fragrant garlic rosemary infused oil. He stirred a in heaping spoon of dijon mustard, poured in a little white wine, covered the pot and lowered the heat to simmer. He turned, washed and dried his hands and sat at the table with the couple he’d known for decades. How you been Jenny? Haven’t seen you ’round here since…” his voice faltered a little and continued. “Does Jason know you’re here?” Jenny’s eyes met Fred’s and lowered as she sipped the warming brew. “No, but knowing Jayde was up here in this storm – well, I just felt that Luke and I had no other choice but to come here and make sure that she was safe. She’s had a bad enough time as it is and this storm…Well, it’s too much like when Stella…” Jenny’s voice dropped off as she fought the emotional reaction, she blew out a long cleansing breath to counteract the tears that were trying to make their way to the surface. She was able to stave them off by taking a deep breath and using it to blow her coffee and take a deep swig.
Luke interrupted, “Fred, do you think I could use your phone?” Fred pointed toward his office -“Follow the cord Man, cause I’m pretty sure I left it in my office. You know you don’t even have to ask.” Luke walked toward the office and thanked his host, office stopping briefly to add a log and stoke the receding fire to life. ” ‘preciate it” Once in the office, Luke picked up the phone and dialed the landline number for his cabin but only got a recording saying the number wasn’t available. He then dialed 911 – knowing he would reach Nona – the afternoon dispatcher for the mountain. With less than 100 cabins in this area, this close knit area had only 3 dispatchers and 4 Rangers to serve the entire community. Everyone knew everyone on the upper reaches of the mountain because most of the cabins were never sold – the properties were simply passsed from generation to generation. “Nona? Yes, Jenny’s here too” in response to Nona’s query if Jenny had made the trip with him. How’re Max and the girls doin’? Listen I’m up here at Fred Hale’s and I was wondering if you could transfer me to Jason? Sure, I’ll hold.” While waiting for the connection, Luke glanced down at the notebook that was sitting on the table next to Fred’s desk. He picked it up, and absently started reading the names. All of the names looked somewhat familiar but one name in particular gave him pause and made his heart skip a beat: “Crazy Norm” aka Norman Planchon. Nona’s voice came on the line “Luke? I’m connecting your call” Clearing his throat and taking a deep breath his sentence came out in an unintentional rush laced with panic: “Jason, it’s Luke Jenkins, I’m at Fred Hale’s and I need you as fast as you can get here.”
The earlier hard packed snow accumulated from storms of weeks past, now covered with the newer powdery, soft pack. As the non-stop snowfall of this storm combined with the blustery wind, it slowed Jason’s pace considerably. He wasn’t by any means a novice at traversing weather this extreme, but he knew that trying to rush through this ground cover, no matter how desperate he was to reach his destination and despite the niggling, prickling hyper- awareness of danger would only cause stress and the rubbery burning sensation that came with that type of exertion. He needed to make it back to his vehicle as quickly as possible while conserving the energy that he knew would ultimately be an integral part of implementing the plan he’d been formulating with each step. Jason’s entire body on alert, he moved with the singular thought focusing Mr. Jenkins’ cabin. The challenge of getting there without alerting the convicts, should they have made it there -left him in a connundrum. He prayed that he’d arrive at the cabin before the escapees; but knew because of the proximity that the only reasonable conclusion was that they were already there.
He knew with every fiber of his being that he would kill them all should they touch her -that beautiful but stubborn mocha – silk skinned waif of a woman, intent on standing her ground. He remembered liking her even as a young boy, He was saddened when she told him she was never interested in him in that way. Said that she saw him as a “brother”. He remembered this because she said it with the same defiance in her stance and demeanor that she had shown him yesterday when he’d gone to warn her about the storm. Same funky attitude, with the slight upward tilt of her chin when she refused to leave her uncle’s cabin for a hotel room at the base of the mountain … and those eyes…beautiful green eyes – he just -just coudn’t shake the impression she’d left on him. To himself, he reasoned that his reaction from that encounter was “bordering on crazy”. “Get it together Dude!” He knew that Jayde wasn’t just any civillian but the beacon that helped propel his journey, he couldn’t get her out of his mind, still had the same crush he’d had since the day he’d met her as a kid. Regretfully, even as a teenager, she declined his advances and reiterated that she could never see him as anything other than a brotherly figure. She may not want him the way he wanted her, but he was driven with an unexplainable intensity to protect her and hunt for what he now considered his prey – the escaped convicts that were now probably even more dangerous because at least one of them was surely injured. The discovery of the bear trap and subsequent blood trail, were game changers as far as he was concerned and the earlier BOLO notification obviously needed updating.
When Jason finally reached his truck, he started it and while he waited for the engine to warm suffiiciently enough to for the heater to kick in, he poured himself the last cup of coffee from his thermos. He picked up the handset to connect with Nona, the dispatcher to connect him with the one person he was sure was still in the area that would be able to give him more information and perhaps, the advantage of a psychological profile on some – if not all of the escaped convicts. The unassuming gentleman had always claimed to be a government employee, yet was never specific about his actual position. Very few people knew that Fred Hale, was a powerfully connected and brilliant former trainer and later a recruiter for profilers for the FBI. Given his knowledge of this long time friendship with this particular resident of the mountain, he knew without a doubt he’d help not only to work this case, but assure any additional manpower needed to supplement the Rangers would be made available without fail. “Ranger Jason Carter to base” he announced. “Ranger Carter, I have a call for you” Nona replied.
Segment 6 by Nikki Walker
Jayde knew something about fear. Fear was why she’d picked up her life and left New Jersey for the refuge of the Catskill Mountains to live in a one bedroom cabin that until she’d asked, had only served to store her uncle’s old furniture. Three months ago, this very cabin had become her full-time home. It had taken all of that time for her to transform it into the semblance of a home. The quaint cabin had been simplistic in design, and once Jayde had scrubbed years of dirt and muck from it, that became its beauty. While the Forest Preserve managed a lot of the mountain range, her uncle’s cabin was located outside of the tourist attractions, surrounded by nearly 3 acres of wilderness that gave one the impression of being all alone.
She spruced up the odds and end furniture with pillows and vibrant coverings that she’d crocheted, to cover the wear of the arms and backs of the chairs. After purchasing a new bed, she celebrated by hanging Japanese lanterns from the rafters with ribbon. Every morning when she opened her eyes and saw the hanging orbs, she smiled before turning over to one of the most spectacular views of trees now covered in ice crystals.
Now what had become her solace, her place of peace, was now a place of fear. The very thing she had run from had somehow sought her out and found her in the middle of a snowstorm no less. Just not in the form she’d expected.
When she left with the clothes on her back in the middle of one frigid November night, she hadn’t known what life would present. She just knew she no longer wanted to be her husband’s punching bag. For nearly two years, she’d kept secret the marks and bruises he was always careful to inflict in places no one would see. In all that time, she’d let her mother and sister believe she was living a fairytale with a man, that on the surface, seemed he was what dreams were made of.
She met him when she was a flight attendant and he’d been the lone person in first class. She had to train herself to not be intimidated by the persons that sat in her section. It took a while but she soon came to learn she performed a service they needed—she served to make sure they were comfortable during their flight. She loved her job, she loved the idea she could please someone. Jayde, for the most part, instinctively knew what the person wanted. If they wanted conversation to ease their fears, if they wanted to be served and left alone—it began to be second nature to her. Although at the end of a twelve-hour day, she thought the bronze complexioned man with the short wavy curls would have been satisfied with his whiskey drink and meal. He didn’t appear mean but rather as a person that enjoyed his solitude. She would have welcomed that because this man had intimidated her. She could sense he was a man with immense power and prestige. While she’d learned to overcome her fear of people who were used to so much more than she ever had in her life, she hadn’t been able to shake that with him. He’d request something; she’d deliver it and run. But after things quieted down in Coach, he’d called to her and began making small talk. Slowly, like a flower unfurling he got her to open up, smile and laugh with him.
At the end of the flight he’d asked her was she free for dinner, but she’d declined, though obviously flattered. He reached into the pocket of his gray suit that set off his green eyes and pulled out a business card. He told her he would be in town for a week and invited her to call him if she had a free evening.
Jayde actually had the entire week off but she didn’t tell him that. He was so smooth, she imagined he did that wherever he went. So despite his smile, that was quite persuasive in and of itself, Jayde decided to let the invitation fall to the side like so many others she received.
Two evenings later, Jayde was curled up on her sofa painting her fingernails, when her doorbell rang. She opened the door surprised at the huge arrangement of flowers that was before her, so huge the delivery person was all but hidden from her. The voice from behind the arrangement asked if Jayde Jenkins resided there. In shock, she confirmed and allowed the delivery person inside her home to place the arrangement on her coffee table. She knew she couldn’t carry it. She signed for the arrangement and offered to tip him. He smiled, declined and left. Excited, Jayde rushed back over to the arrangement and pulled out the card. She saw the name, Carlos Renada with a short silly message attached. She of course was obligated to call and thank him.
“How did you get my address?” She asked.
He replied, “I did not get to be a successful business man without learning to go after what I want. I wanted to know where you lived and so I proceeded to take the necessary measures to find out.”
That seemed so romantic at the time, nothing hinting at the dark compulsive obsession that ruled him. She wished she really listened to what he told her that fateful night, because that phone call was only the beginning in a slow dance to win her heart—and then break her mentally, physically and emotionally. In the end the very smile that seduced her evoked only feelings of repulsion. Still Jayde loved him. That was the sickness of it she supposed. That love made her believe he would somehow miraculously change for the better. It was just about that time Jayde realized she had to leave. She accepted he wouldn’t be better for her. But in the time she lived with him as his wife, she learned how to truly listen to her instincts. Right now, her instincts told her she was in the worse kind of danger —-again. This time, there wasn’t a chance of survival if she stood idle and waited. No, she had to act.
The wounded man near her had confided he was actually an undercover cop. For now, she would have to go with that until he could get her away from this. She turned her head slightly to the left and was shocked to see him looking at her. He shook his head so slight she nearly didn’t trust what she saw. But his expression was solid. This wasn’t the time to try to discuss a plan. He reached his hand to the sugar bowl and tipped it. Cussing aloud for show, he looked around to see if anyone was near. He pushed his finger in the sugar and formed the word later, before he straightened his hand and swiped the spilled sugar into the palm of his hand using his hand like a spout to drizzle the sugar back into the bowl.
Jayde almost retched thinking about the sugar in his greasy hand and made a mental note to refill the bowl with some fresh sugar from the canister. For now, she was going to have to sit and wait and bide her time.
Kyle slid his sugar coated hand down the side of the bloody jeans in an effort to get the dusty sweetness off his fingers. He wordlessly prayed that the raven haired beauty would indeed wait until later to make a move to escape. He reclined back against the arm of the couch trying to formulate a plan to get them both out of there alive. Jason listened at the words that Mr. Jenkins said to him the static filled snap, and popping of the radio was making it difficult to understand. All he could unquestionably make out was convicts, escapees and dangerous. He smoothed his finger around the trigger of his gun mentally preparing for the worst, yet praying for the best. Norm rubbed his distended belly as he attempted to scoot the chair back from the table. Small drops and driblets of roast, carrots and potatoes lined the cheap plastic place mat where he had been earlier feasting. Now that he had gotten his hairy engorged belly full, he was ready to put his plan into motion. He considered all the ways that he could kill the others in the cabin subtly. He didn’t want to arose anyone’s suspicion or give anyone a heads up as to what was going to occur. Oh yes, the money would be split but the less divisions the better. First he would begin with Kyle, since he was already “weak,” although he has praying that the bear trap injury would have finished him off by now. Who ever heard of a slow bleeder anyway? He shook his head at the thought. Then Jack would be on the list. He was an older-grey headed man but the fact that killing disturbed him, made him come up next on the chopping block. Norm stared off into the distance thinking about the stunned look on Jack’s face when he shot the store clerk. He supposed for a moment that Jack was going to die of a heart attack. “Hey, now there’s a thought, perhaps somehow he could induce Jack a heart attack” he beamed at his own brilliance. Um-mm……. he rubbed his hefty calloused hands across his face. That just leaves the other two, well one really….. The girl was coming with him. He had serious fun times planned for them. “Manny, Manny, Manny what to do about Manny?” he strummed his fingers on the large oak table. “Oh I know, I’ll make him help me, then I will kill him last”. Norm chuckled while his heart began to pound in his chest his well thought out plan began to materialize in his mind. He needed to get all the pieces in the right place. It was not guaranteed that he would not get a second chance. ******* A sense of uneasiness settled around the cabin. Mr. Jenkins, Fred and Jenny huddled close together at the crest of the boulder near the end of the property. Fred, “based upon the way that cabin is lit up, I know that Jade is not in there alone.” “You’re right,” Fred added. “I noticed the added sets of foot prints, the good thing sis, one of them is injured. Looks like he was dragging one of his legs.” “Good for him.” Jenny said ardently. “I hope he stepped into one the traps and it pulled his foot off.” “Shhhhhhh listen. I hear something.” The crunch of snow and ice under boots made them temporarily pause. Mr. Jenkins grabbed his pistol that was tucked in his waist band as he looked around the perimeter. Fred and Jenny ducked down not wanting anyone to accidently see them. The crunching sound came closer and Jason began to let loose the sounds of an owl to signal that it was him. Jason hope that they found Jayde still alive. Since he agreed to meet the three Musketeers here he had an opportunity to do some research on the escaped and convicts. The dossier of one of the men by the name of Kyle stuck out to him. If he did not know any better he would contemplate that was “The Kyle’ from the bureau. The man was legendary in his undercover work for the F.B.I. He was the type of man that others aspired to be. He was so smooth he could assimilate in just about anybody culture. White, Black, Hispanic, gangs, drug dealing, weapons smuggling, you name it and he’s been there. He walked with a new urgency to get in that house and make sure Jayde was not hurt. Yet more so to really see if by any chance his idol could be in there. There was a long moment of silence as each of them started up at the house. Each one had a definitive idea of how to get in the house, but what would occur once they got in was anybody’s guess. Each of them came prepared to not make it out of this alive. With their plan to storm the cabin uniquely rehearsed by each of them all of them looked at one another steady and set off in three different directions. Mr. Jenkins and Jenny would take the left side of the wrap around porch. Jenny would wait until Mr. Jenkins was out of sight before beating on the cabin door, screaming and crying for help. Fred would attend to the back side of the house nailing anyone dead in their tracks with his steely resolve and gold plated monogrammed, “I Love Jesus” 357 magnum. Jason would cover the right side of the porch. As soon as someone opened the door they were going to rush it, like a defensive lineman going after the quarterback on Sunday morning. They were going to create a group shove knocking whoever answer the door utterly off their tail. Jenny was shook. No doubt about it. She swallowed with an intent look on her face. Suddenly, she sprang forward, screaming, “help me, help me. Oh God somebody help me.” She balled her hands into tight fist and began banging on the frozen door. Jenny glanced back over her shoulder at the sound of a low grade growl. She released a blood curdling scream, as she recognized the bear lazily walking around in the yard behind her.
Everybody heard it. What was once an act to entice the inhabitants of the cabin to respond was now a real cry for help. The bears lazy strut took on new purpose as Jenny’s scream alerted it to her presence. The bear stopped and turned his head toward the noise that unnaturally pierced the winter landscape. The dribbles of blood had originally drawn him there but now there was fresh kill ready to be devoured. He growled low baring pointed K9’s in Jenny’s direction. His lazy gape took on new purpose as he moved decisively in her direction.
She saw the hairy monster coming and heart wrenching panic set in. Jenny knew the guys were close but were they close enough to get between her and the bear? She banged on the door again. Adrenaline comingled with intense fear coursed through her veins. She wanted to scream, to let them know she was in real trouble but her heightened angst forced her heart in her throat and stifled her cry for help.
The wind whistled behind the house. Fred positioned at the back of the house heard what he thought to be a scream crescendoing just over the wind’s pitch. Did that come from inside? He didn’t know. Fred could hear increased movement inside the cabin. Whispering a silent word of prayer, Fred clutched his beloved Come to Jesus 357 and braced for anyone darkening the back door. Mr. Jenkins was ready, ready as he could ever be. His heart lurched when he heard Jenny screaming. The previously dormant shadows inside the cabin sprang to life. He could just see Jenny on the porch and she was urgently banging on the door. She would get a response. He hoped he was ready. He had to be, he had to get to Jayde. Jason bristled hearing the sincerity in Jenny’s scream. He knew she was in real trouble and no longer pretending. He’d heard the growling bear as well, being familiar with the mountains and everything that came with it. The worst thing Jenny could do was panic and Jason knew she was panicking. Jason inched closer to the right front of the porch. He needed to get a visual on the natural predator.
“What the bloody hell?”Old man Jack shouted standing to his feet.
“Dammit man! We got trouble!” Manny cried out unnerved.
“Shut the hell up Manny! Scared little punk,” Norm scolded dismissively. Norm pushed noisily back from the table, grumbling loudly and balancing his palm on his revolver. He moved decisively forward. He had to protect his investment whether she was conscious or not. Regardless of the situation, Norm would use it to his advantage. Manny fell in behind Norm, not the least bit embarrassed from Norm’s chastisement, the noise at the door startling him just as much as it had everyone in the cabin. If there was going to be trouble Manny wanted to be on the side of Norm. Kyle’s first thought was of the girl. Despite the pain in his leg he had to protect her without blowing his cover. There were some hotheads in the group and the situation could turn bad real quick. Kyle looked to Jayde to see if she’d instinctively responded to the noise outside the door. Reacting could prove fatal for her especially since no one in the cabin knew she was conscious except him.
When the banging and screaming started Jayde resisted the urge to react immediately. The bad guys were in the room with her so whoever was on the other side of the door had to be a good guy… they just had to be… Jayde needed them to be. True the undercover guy was near her but he was sorely outnumbered. Jayde couldn’t count on him to save her. She dared open her eyes the slightest bit, mindful to keep the rest of her body absolutely still. There was another scream and the guys in the cabin were on high alert. She could just see legs moving toward her unsure as to whether she was his destination. When he placed a large harsh hand on her shoulder, Jayde shut her eyes tight. Kyle’s worst fear was realized. The girl was Norm’s target. The wheels of his mind started to spin wildly calculating what his next move would be. He had to get through Norm to get to the girl.
Old Man Jack moved towards the fireplace and grabbed the fire poker for protection. He then moved stealthily towards the door. It was a woman’s voice true enough but she might not be alone. Jack leaned back just enough to peek out of the window. From his vantage point he couldn’t see anyone; the light from the cabin failing to penetrate the blanketed darkness past the porch.
Jenny slammed on the door again. Why won’t they help me she thought to herself. He was still moving, still coming toward her.
“OH MY GOD SOMEBODY PLEASE!!”
Jason got a bead on the bear less than a hundred feet from the porch. The beast could cross that distance in just a few seconds. If he was going to move he had to move now. Fred and Mr. Jenkins were still in place just in case the door opened but he had to do something about the bear.
“Hey!” Jason stood up and moved forward. He knew it was risky but there were few options. The bear continued to move toward the screaming Jenny. Jason scrambled, kicking at the snow causing it to splay trying to draw the monsters attention.
“Hey!” He yelled louder moving even closer. The bear stopped short turning in Jason’s direction. Jason continued his antics to draw the beasts’ attention, fishing for anything he could throw at the monster. The bear advanced first moving on all fours and then raising his full height standing directly in front of Jason, the girth of his body casting an imposing shadow. This time when he growled, his mouth fully agape, the ferocious sound bounced and echoed through the mountain.
Jenny, seeing her opportunity banged mercilessly on the door again and again refusing to be denied.
Suddenly, the cabin door opened…
Segment 9 by Reina Noir
Jayde awoke with a start; almost throwing herself and the chair she’d been “assigned” to with rope in the process. She looked around the room, trying to get her bearings. She mumbled to no one in particular “that was one heck of a dream.” To the naked eye, she seemed simply seemed slightly disoriented. The staccato beat of her heart gave her breathing a barely discernible amplification; she took quiet deep breaths, working hard to get her pulse rate down and her breathing back to a normal cadence. She looked around and realized that all movement – even breathing in the cabin had ceased, no one stirred. Jayde knew that she’d been asleep – and apparently in the clutches of a nightmare. That must have been what woke her. There were no bears roaming the mountainside in the middle of winter in a snowstorm. She was pretty sure that insomnia was a human trait – not one that affected bears in the middle of their long, mandatory winter’s nap.
Then she heard what apparently all of the men had heard, the reason that there had been a knock! Had her dream been a premonition? She looked at Kyle and with a slight, barely perceptible shake of his head; she knew that now was not the time to “look alert”. Jayde leaned with her head lolled back and tried to maintain the look of a prisoner, while she resumed working on the knots behind her back. Kyle grabbed the gun from his ankle holster while everyone’s attention was on the knock. Norm motioned for Jack to go to the door with crazy hand gestures with his gun in hand while the other hand held a finger to his still greasy from dinner lips. “Shhh” – Norm whispered and gestured again to Jack telling him to look through the peephole. Jack again shook his head and in a forceful whisper, brashly responded “Oh HELL NO!” The next sound was the click of Norm’s gun as he cocked and aimed. Now that the gun was locked and loaded, he motioned to Jack again with his gun. Through clenched teeth, he hissed “Answer the GOT DAMNED DOOR!” Jack, looked around helplessly at Manny, and Kyle.
Jack walked slowly to the door, not wanting to approach it much less actually answer it; he knew that there could only be either bad news or another complication to the already complicated math he was trying to calculate in his head if he were caught now. Besides, the door though repaired from the forceful intrusion into the cabin the night before, wasn’t as sturdily hung and definitely not reinforced as it had been in its pristine state. His trepidation, coupled with the fact that he hadn’t had time to grab a weapon made the walk on shaky legs a slow and laborious trip. “Who’s there?” He croaked, as he looked through the peephole. He saw that there wasn’t anyone standing on the cabin’s porch. He turned to Norm, and upon seeing his loaded gun was still trained on him; looked again, trying to see who had knocked. “Norm, nobody’s th- –. Before he could get the word “there” out, A deafening boom sounded throughout the cabin. Chaos ensued with Manny running toward the back of the cabin into a bedroom, Norm running toward the kitchen and Kyle hopping off of the couch onto the floor, grabbing Jayde, her chair and bindings with him. The blast had knocked Jack across the room and he lay motionless, face up, one eye open, where the other eye had been, there was a gaping hole.
Segment 10 by Nikki Walker
Kyle knew despite the odds against them, that they would never get another opportunity like the present. At the sound of the gun, he dove to the floor toppling the table over them before he realized what was happening. Another shot had Norm on the floor but not dead. Kyle quickly reached inside his jean jacket pocket and pulled out his Swiss army knife, which he now used to slice at the binds on Jayde’s wrists and feet. He gestured with his finger to his lips and he waited to see who was on the other side of the gun that killed Jack and wounded Norm. Feverish sweat had his hair plastered to his forehead resulting from the onset of infection in his leg. He was weaker, but used what was left of his wiry strength to secure Jayde. The cabin was in dense darkness with the exception of the low flames dancing in the fireplace, which cast long shadows but lit little else. An eerie quiet settled on the room as everyone waited in expectation of what would occur next.
The back door slammed open and Jason peeked around the doorway. Shining his flashlight inside spotting Kyle, he instantly raised his gun. Kyle quickly put his hands in clear sight and hoped that Jason understood sign language as he tried to sign agent. He wasn’t sure if he had seen or understood.
“Listen out! I am Forest Ranger Jason Carter. Things will go much better on you if you at least let the woman go.” Jason yelled into the house.
Kyle had in mind to find a way to let Jayde go, but he couldn’t see where Norm was and hadn’t heard anything from Manny since he’d run up the steps. He eased back and whispered to Jayde to stay low and be ready to run. Despite the pain throbbing in his leg, he raised himself into a crouch; his hands were still in plain sight as he readied himself should Norm make it to the kitchen to prevent Jayde from her escape. He whispered to Jayde, “On three run. One, two…”
A deafening thud quashed the count as he looked out the door only to see by the waning twilight, his brother wrestling with the ranger. Before he could even move, Manny had managed to get the gun away from the ranger and now pointing it at him, walked him inside.
“This is not going to help your case,” Jason said as he attempted to reason with Manny. He made a point of looking squarely at Kyle as he walked past.
“Shut up.” Manny sneered before hitting him on the side of the head with the gun.
Now holding the side of his quickly bruising head he continued, “There are others out there armed. They won’t be leaving and my backup is coming.”
“The storm may have let up, but I don’t think anyone will be attempting to climb this mountain before daybreak,” Manny glared as he pulled a chair upright before him. “Sit down!”
Kyle realized he still hadn’t noticed that Jayde was loose. It didn’t matter that Manny had the ranger, he still needed to get Jayde out of there safely. The soft skid of Norm’s foot dragging across the floor, became apparent. Manny showed no outward sign of noticing, something Kyle considered in his favor.
“Hey Manny, go check on Norm—I’ll hold the gun on him.” He said nodding at the ranger.
Manny seemed to focus on his brother for the first time since re-entering the cabin. In the complete trust only a brother could have, he shrugged and handed the gun to Kyle. By the time he realized that Jayde was free it was already too late. Kyle quick as lightning leaned up and shot the gun out of Norm’s hand just as he stumbled to the kitchen.
Screaming expletives, Norm held onto his wounded hand and fell against the wall.
He raised his gun on his brother and motioned him to let the ranger up out of the chair.
“You wouldn’t shoot your brother.” Manny said as he leveled a gaze at his brother.
“Please don’t force that choice today. Besides Manny, the ranger and this woman don’t have nothing to do with what we all set out to do. Nobody said nothing about murder and kidnapping and in less than a day Norm done both. I’m setting them free.” Kyle was still reluctant to disclose his identity. He knew he would be no good to them on foot. They would be forced to leave him or slow themselves down trying to keep him with them. Staying in the cabin, out of the weather would definitely be better.
Jason eased past Kyle and grabbed Jayde. As they cleared the door, Jason tried to coerce Kyle into coming with them. “You may as well come. Staying you’re as good as dead and you know it.”
“How far would you get with me? Before you get to the front of the house, they will have a gun trained on us. Let’s face it, for now, holding this gun, I’m allowing you to get her out safe. You need to go. Now!”
Jason hesitated a moment more before pulling Jayde along as they ran for the thick of the woods. He knew his truck wasn’t far and now he spoke into his radio. “Continue to stay where I instructed. I’m heading toward you in my truck and I’ll be there soon to pick you up. Anymore word on backup?”
It was just as Manny had said and as he had known. No one could do anything until dawn. The darkness and treacherous conditions wouldn’t be helpful to anyone trying to climb the mountain. He just hoped that the undercover agent would manage to stay alive until then. What he did was gutsy but it went beyond that. He was going to be responsible for putting his brother away for many years. Not many would want that responsibility.
Once Kyle could see they’d made it to the woods, he closed the back door and had gestured for Norm to move toward the chair in the living room. He held the gun on his brother and motioned him forward. Beads of sweat popped on his forehead as the adrenaline began to wane and the pain from the weight of leaning on his injured leg began to blur his vision. “Manny you know this guy was only going to pick us off one by one. He hasn’t done one thing he said he would since we escaped.”
“What do you want to do Kyle? If it wasn’t for Norm we wouldn’t be free.” Manny looked at him and then at Norm. His eyebrows knit together as he began to bite into his thumbnail. He’d never seen his brother Kyle be decisive before. Actually due to the years they had been out of contact, he had to admit he didn’t really know his brother anymore. When he would catch up with him, he always looked shady, frankly, like he was into worse stuff than he was. Despite that, it had surprised Manny when he crossed paths with his brother. Before then, Manny had wanted no parts of him, but when they were thrown together he couldn’t leave him behind. Now he was wondering if that had been a mistake.
In that moment of indecisiveness, Norm rose up and ran into Manny, head first, knocking the wind out of him. From his peripheral vision, he could see Norm going for the gun that hadn’t been picked up off the floor which now lay only a couple of feet away. If Norm got it first, Kyle would be dead. There were no two ways about it. No matter what his brother was, he wasn’t going to be dead on his watch. He reached his hand out and grabbed Norm’s pant leg…
“The air cracked and popped from the static blurring through on the radio airwaves. Jason desperately clawed his way towards the truck dragging Jade behind him. Jade coughed and gasped as the frigid night air filled her lungs. “Just a few more steps just a few more steps,” she encouraged herself. She imaged that she must look like the tin-man in the Wizard of Oz movie the heaviness of her legs pressed down crushing her ankles.
Jason reached the side of the truck, the trapped heat felt like Palm Spring on their freezing skin.
“Get in,” he grunted as her body slowly melted as she slid across the leather seat.
“Come on, come on,” she cried. Her finger ignited a slow burn starting on his thigh, when she touched him.
“Put your seat belt on.” His eyes focused straight ahead.
“Hurry, please,” she began to cry.
The deafening silence on the mountain was eerily loud. Each of them glancing backwards to be sure they were not being followed as they began their treacherous descent down the mountain. Although steadily warming, Jayde wrapped her arms about her body, attempting to quell the tremors. She’d looked danger in the eyes once more and once again, she’d found a way to escape, to survive. As they churned through the packed snow, her frantic mind began to calm and she relaxed a measure, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. Her solitude, her peace had been forever shattered but in light of what could’ve happened, she felt blessed.
“Are you okay?” Jason’s gentle query caught Jayde off guard and she reacted, jumping slightly and opening her eyes. Turning toward him, she silently studied Jason, the words she wanted to say dying on her tongue. Instead, she fought to contain her raging emotions, realizing that it was the last thing that either one of them needed. Despite her valiant effort, a tear escaped and she hastily reached to swipe it away, the cool tips of her fingers glancing across her cheek. She’d survived Carlos, survived his violent tendencies and was growing stronger. Now, after what she’d just experienced, she felt as if she’d been slammed back into the dark vortex of fear and trepidation.
She most certainly was not okay.
“The quicker we get away from the cabin , the better I’ll be,” Jayde answered adroitly. She focused on the dark road ahead of them, the heavy flurries illuminated by the truck’s head lights. A strained silence descended between them and Jayde replayed the events of the evening in her head, chastising her stubborn ways. If she’d listened, if she trusted those who were only trying to help, she would have never met her intruders, never been so close to danger once more. She would have never felt compelled to trust a stranger, a man who arrived with the motley crew of convicts under the guise of being one of them.
He was there, alone and injured, facing certain death.
And he needed help.
“We have to go back,” Jayde announced her voice surprisingly steady. The strength in that declaration confounded her but she knew she couldn’t turn a blind eye to someone in need. She’d been that person before, the one who suffered silently under a ruthless hand, holding only a glimmer of hope that someone would come and rescue her. Although she’d seen and recognized the familiar resignation in Kyle’s eyes, that didn’t dissuade her in the least bit. She had to do something to save him. Only one obstacle appeared in front of her.
And just as she suspected, he’d cut his eyes at her, his own expression mixed with surprise and indignation, “You’re kidding , right? Jayde, I just snatched you from the grips of certain death and you want to go back?”
“We can’t leave him there Jason. They’re going to kill him,” Jayde explained as she turned to face him fully. The heat in the cab had done its job and she’d felt somewhat invigorated by its warmth caress. She stared Jason down as she continued, “He’s an undercover agent, Jason. If they find out, they’ll kill him for sure.”
“I know,” Jason answered as he refocused on the road ahead of them, “I know all about Kyle Harris but that doesn’t change a damn thing, Jayden. He knows what he’s doing, he’s a professional at this sort of thing. He can handle himself.”
“He’s injured, Jason!”
“He instructed me to get you as far away as I could from the cabin, Jayde. He was adamant about that. We’re not going back.” Jason’s voice took on a soft tone but that steadfast determination that she’d grown accustomed to surface and she knew the issue was dead in the water.
Kyle watched through feverish eyes as Manny struggled to hold Norm at bay, willing his body to cooperate. Manny with his criminal tendencies had all heart but not the conviction it took to take on a man like Norm. Kyle knew this and knew for certain that Manny would catch the bullet before he did, simply because he dared to fight back. Kyle could see the cold, murderous glint in Norm’s eyes and knew he’d been dead on the money about the man. He wasn’t interested in sharing a damn thing; he , Manny , and the now deceased Jack had simply been a means to an end. Even though Norm’s plan had gone to hell in a hand basket, that hadn’t been enough to stop him. He was now intending to take care of the loose ends.
All at once, the scuffle ended and Kyle blinked away the sweat that had dropped into his eyes, unsure of what he was seeing. Two bodies lay prone on the floor and for a second, neither one of them moved. It wasn’t until Norm showed signs of life that Kyle understood what had happened. As Norm approached, Kyle kept his eyes on his brother’s body, his eyes affixed to the growing red stain on his chest.
“Well, it looks like it’s just you and me, little brother,” Norm slurred as he wiped his hand across his lips. Kyle finally pulled his attention to the towering man and felt the rage build as he stopped just a few inches from his face. The stench of his body odor and the food he’d ingested sickened Kyle but his gaze never faltered. He stared right into Norm’s vacant eyes as the man snickered, “I’m going to make short work of you , kid. This won’t take long at all, I guarantee you that.”
When Jason advanced on the back door to enter the cabin, Fred manned the back ready to pull the trigger at any second just in case Jason needed some help. He watched as Jason got control of the situation; staying just out of sight in the event things hadn’t turned out the way the forest ranger intended. He kept his eyes peeled, the cabin being so dimly lit. When Jayde and Jason moved past him on their way to safety, Fred breathed a huge sigh of relief and thanked the almighty God for favor once again. Backing up, keeping his eye on the opened cabin door, Fred made his way around the front to make sure the rest of his group was okay.
Jenny had more than done what she was supposed to do. When that door opened, Mr. Jenkins sprung into action; ducking when the shots were fired and grabbing Jenny up before anyone on the inside of the house could get a hold to her. Mr. Jenkins hustled Jenny off to safety ducking back behind the rocks that initially provide them cover. But Mr. Jenkins was familiar with the mountain too. He kept his eyes wide open; not just for the two legged monsters but for the four legged ones too. Jenny was visibly shaken but more than relieved when the person that grabbed her was familiar. From their vantage point they could scarcely make out movement from behind the cabinet. Grabbing Jenkins shirt for reassurance, Jenny hunkered down peaking not sure if she really wanted to see what jostled through the snow.
There were still sounds, muffled sounds coming from within the cabin but the sounds immediately before them took control of Jenkins and Jenny’s senses. Whatever it was was moving away from then and Jenkins was grateful for that. By the sound of the snow he could tell that. The moon cast off just enough light for the two to get a glimpse of two people hauling toward the ranger’s truck.
“It’s Jayde! It’s Jayde,” Jenkins whispered loudly over his shoulder. This time when Jenny grabbed him it was from excitement and not fear. She was more than relieved and excited to hear that their rescue mission had been successful. Hearing the truck engine rev and move away from the cabin, Mr. Jenkins took the next step in their journey by getting Jenny as far away from there as possible.
Was his brother really dead? The ever increasing crimson circle of life giving blood seemed to suggest it did but Kyle had more pressing matters on hand. Norm had singled him out, well, actually, everyone else was either dead or dying and Kyle was the only one standing between Norm and the treasure they initially set out on as a group. The stench rising from Norm’s grotesque body was enough to choke him. The fury on the inside for what he’d done to Manny, what he wanted to do to Jayde was enough to literally blind Kyle with rage, blighting out the rest of his senses. Kyle’s fury temporarily dulled his fever and took the sting out of his wounded leg.
Kyle knew in his weakened state he’d never be able to completely overpower Norm. He would have to rely on steel to act as the equalizer in this situation. But Norm, psychotic or not, criminally minded or not, didn’t seem too bothered by the fact that Kyle was armed. As the two men stared at each other, sizing each other up, there was a glint of something in Norm’s eye that may possibly level the playing field. Norm was injured too and just for a millisecond, Kyle could read pain in his otherwise vacant eyes. The synapses in Kyle’s brain started to fire quickly as he leaned on his years of training in assessing the best course of action.
Mid thought, Norm made his move reaching out his fatty, sweaty, blood stained hand and wrapping it around Kyle’s unexpected neck. Norm’s thick pale fingers pressed deeply into Kyle’s reluctant neck. Norm showed his strength by lifting Kyle slowly but purposely off the floor. Kyle strained against the force tiptoeing to keep himself grounded. The tension between the two men was palatable as they offered the death stare to each other.
There was a stir. Neither man could tell where it came from and neither was willing to relinquish their gaze to investigate further. A second much louder noise and Norm was the first to break slightly diverting his eyes from his prey giving Kyle a chance to act. Kyle whipped the gun around and put the muzzle to Norm’s grimy forehead. The cool of the steel brought Norm back to his present circumstance.
Still finding it difficult to speak, Kyle did the best he could but the gun gave him the necessary leverage.
“Put me down.” It came out as a raspy whisper but the bulge in Norm’s eyes let Kyle know the message got through. Norm was slow to response and Kyle was intolerant of his insolence. With a shaking thumb, he cocked the hammer. Norm could see the intention in his eye no matter how much he tried to deny it. Slowly and methodically he began to lower Kyle back down to the plank tiled floor. Kyle made the adjustment with the gun to keep it poised against Norm’s forehead. More noise but Kyle dared not relinquish his advantage by venturing a gaze in that direction. Norm still held Kyle by the neck although more tentative but Kyle was not satisfied.
“Let me go.” It was easier for him to breath but Kyle wanted absolute freedom. Norm started to say something but Kyle pushed the muzzle further in leaving a visible imprint. Norm had little choice but to do as he had been told. When the pinch on his neck finally waned Kyle sucked in the “Norm tainted air” as though it were fresh. He resisted the urge to double over to fill his lungs faster. The noise was closer but still undefined.
Kyle watched Norm as the sounds came closer and tightened his grip on the butt of the gun, wary of shifting his attention. Norm may have been filthy and somewhat dimwitted but what he lacked in intelligence was made up for in determination and money was definitely his sole motivator. The maniacal glint in his eyes had dimmed but never disappeared and Kyle knew he’d have to keep his eyes trained on the convict. His survival predicated on maintaining the advantage and although he’d strengthened that edge, his wound was taking its toll. Already, he’d felt the tremors, the onset of fever beginning to ravage his body. It had been a foolhardy move to pit himself against Norm but it was necessary; with Jayde as a distraction, Norm would have manipulated the situation and gained the upper hand. Kyle tried not to think of the horrors the older man would visit upon the lovely young woman and as he shifted his weight, he’d began to reconcile that even if he did meet his demise this cold, wintry night, he would have saved the young woman’s life. That in itself was enough for him.
The dull pain in his leg roared to life and he blinked rapidly as his arm faltered slightly, his grip lessening. Quickly, he shook off the momentary lull, knowing that Norm would exploit any perceived weaknesses. Steadying his aim once more, he took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, attempting to focus on Norm’s greasy smile. There was a hint of something dwelling in those dark orbs and Kyle could feel the tension rippling in the air between them. Norm was going to make a final push, one more try to topple the scales of power.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Kyle hissed as the pain coursed through his body, “you see me, you see my leg and you’re thinking that you can take me.” Gaining a second wind, Kyle steadied the gun in his hand, “Let me dissuade you of any misconceptions. I’m an expert marksman; you’d be on the floor with a bullet between your eyes quicker than you can spit.”
Norm grunted and shook his head, raising his hands in supplication, “You’re the boss, kid. Right now, you’re standing tall but I give you another hour before that fucked up leg of yours starts to give you some problems.”
As if on cue, Kyle’s leg began to throb and he reached for it with his free hand, grimacing as the wave of pain seemed to drown him almost instantly. He was in trouble and as he lifted his eyes to train them back on Norm, he saw the recognition in his smug expression as he slowly reached back and pulled up a chair. Kyle followed every movement with his eyes, his aim never wavering. Norm was biding his time, lying in wait for the moment that Kyle succumbed.
“Looks like I may have been off by a few minutes. Thirty minutes and you’ll be too far gone to even put up a decent fight.” Norm leaned down and placed his elbows on his knees, concentrating his beady glare on the younger man, “Your brother got it easy. I’m going to make it real hard for you, sonny. Your hero act threw a serious kink in my plan.”
“Let me guess,” Kyle responded breathlessly, “you were going to kill us all, take the girl and ride into the sunset in search of your treasure, right?”
“Bingo! That pretty young thang would’ve made life on the run so much more interesting- if I’d let her live that long.” Norm sat back and grinned deviously, “She would’ve been good for only a couple hours, I’d say. Get my fill of that luscious body.” He narrowed his eyes and licked his lips, “Yeah, that honey would’ve been the perfect night cap. Maybe I’ll go lookin’ for her once I take care of you. They couldn’t have gotten far in this shitty weather.”
“Well, it’s up to me to keep you occupied then.” Kyle hoped that they’d made good time but as he listened to the wind howling just beyond the door, he would wager that they wouldn’t have put much distance between them and the cabin.
It was up to him to neutralize Norm, by any means necessary.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Jason muttered as he gripped the wheel tightly. He glanced at Jayde and sighed heavily , wondering just what it was about her that had him questioning even his own logic. She’d been at the forefront of his dreams since they were little and even after she’d given him the just friends spiel, he couldn’t just let go. He loved her dearly, and as evidenced by his inability to say no to her, he would do anything to make her happy. And apparently, that included returning to the hell hole that he’d snatched her from under the guise of rescuing Harris. Sure, he’d been adamant about why they couldn’t go back but the moment he’d seen those pleading eyes, he groaned in concession. He would do her bidding but he had a concession of his own: she would have to stay in the truck while he retrieved Harris. At first, she wasn’t nearly as accommodating as Jason had been but he stressed the fact that he had a weapon and she didn’t. Logic dictated that he would be the one to extract the wounded man.
Jason focused on the road ahead and shook his head, “You know, he could already be dead and we’d be walking into a trap.”
“Yes, that’s true, he could be dead. But what if he’s not; what if he’s alive, Jason?” Jayde cast her gaze out into the inky darkness, the eerie glow of the snow around them making her shiver. She wasn’t a fan of returning to the cabin but she wasn’t about to let an innocent man die. She had to do something As they crested a snow drift, she peered ahead and saw the faint outline of the cabin before them, the sight of it causing her heart to pound in her chest. Yes, she was petrified but her conscious wouldn’t let her leave a man out here to die.
Jayde steadied her gaze on the cabin ahead. She silently prayed that they were not too late. Her hands reflexively formed into fist as nervous energy pulsed through her veins. Her mind began to drift to the tall sexy stranger that saved her life. Was he single? Was he married? Was he gay? Did he have a wife and kids somewhere out there waiting for him? She looked over the crest of the mountainside terrain in which they were driving. She imagines a woman out there, staring into a star filled sky, longing, and praying for the safe return of her husband. Telling her children at the end of their nightly bedtime story, “daddy will be home soon.” The forward lunching motion of the jeep shook her out of her daydream.
She clutched the dashboard of the jeep and sent a fiery glance at Jason
“Sorry, but you do remember that we are in the mountains in the middle of a snow storm, going back to our possible deaths.” He grumbled.
Jayde feeling more at ease softened her expression. She reached over placing her hand on his forearm and summoned her womanly wiles, looked him squarely in the face and said. “Jason, I’ll make it worth your while.”
His name on her lips lit a slow burning flame that settled within the pit of his stomach. He coughed and sputtered while trying to swallow. The heat slowly made its way down his powerfully built thighs, down his hard calves and to his feet.
“You, umm,” he stammered, “We have to live through this first” he released a frustrated breath.
She looked over at him and blushed, “slow down cowboy, I was talking about making you dinner or something,” she grinned. Her smile was an outward symbol of her inner turmoil.
He tightened his grip on the steering wheel hoping to concentrate on getting them back to the cabin safely without rising the suspicious of its inhabitants.
Jayde knew that Kyle had been in love with her since forever. ” Where in the heck did that thought come from.”
“Here I am struck in the middle of a robbery /homicide and flirty with Jason of all people.” Deep inside she knew it was just her anxieties about what was happening just manifesting itself, she knew all too well how trauma would do.”
” Jason’s not so bad,” she mused. She knew that with him , at least she would have had a good life. It would have been on this mountain, but a good life non the less. She felt the pangs of regret knowing that he would have never used and abused her the way that her husband had. She shook her head to clear out the countless images of him standing over her with a belt and buckle in hand, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. She unconsciously slid closer to Kyle while tremors of fear quaked within her. The flashbacks were getting easier to deal with now. She hoped that in then fear future they would be a part of her distant memory instead of her daily musings.
“Get up, Get up, right now you whore.” She could still hear the bass in his voice right before he would hit her and knock her down again. No matter how many time he’s knocked her down she refused to get up, unless he pulled her to her feet and made her stand. Apart of her said what’s the use, if he was only going to knock her down again.
Once he hit her so hard that her jaw remained sore for two months. She tightly wound her arms around her body and rocked forward slightly reminding her self that those days are over now.
Kyle looked down at his bloodied leg and could his consciousness beginning to wane, “faith don’t fail me now,” he muttered. The robust throbbing of his leg matched his heartbeat. He tightened his grip on the gun that he had aimed at Norm. “Don’t even think about it” he grimaced. He looked around in search of a chair to get the extra weight off of his leg.
Norm could feel his chances of picking up his riches slowly slipping away with each additional moment that Kyle was alive. He tried to formulate a plan in his mind to escape the madness he now found himself in. All of this could have been avoided if that “punk “would have just kept his end of the bargain.
Segment 15 of Danger Comes Close is by Nikki Walker
Jayde shivered. The storm had calmed to gentle flakes that seemed barely there in the darkness of the evening. She and Jason were crouched now less than thirty yards from the cabin. It was dark, there were no lights on inside and from the thin sliver of smoke, very little fire in the fireplace. She looked at Jason and tried to anticipate what he would do. For the past seven minutes he’d been in this position, his eyes squinted, his eyebrows furrowed. She was about to tug his jacket to remind him she was still beside him when he turned his head and connected gazes with her.
“You are to wait here. Under no circumstances are you to come to the cabin. Are we clear?”
“I’m not really understanding that. I mean I do, but clearly you need me.” She retorted.
He slapped his thick gloves together, his face impassive. She already knew he had no intention on budging in his stance. However, she was going to have her say. She reached up and grabbed his forearm. “Listen,” she said barely above a whisper, “I need to go just to make sure Kyle as well as you are okay.”
“Jayde, I get that. But once you enter the cabin, my mind is going to be distracted. Kyle and I have taken an oath to get rid of guys like Norm, but you are just a civilian. Norm will use you to leverage against either of us and if something happened to you…listen. I need to know that you are safe up here on this ridge. I need your word.”
Jayde lowered her head. He wanted her word, something she clearly could not give him. How was it possible to do so? How could he expect her to sit up here in the dark, cold and worrying? She felt his thick glove on her chin, pulling her face back toward him. His dark eyes seemed to bare the depths of her soul. “You’re hard headed and I know you won’t tell me what I want to hear. It will be either that you will say it and not do it, or not say it at all. So if you come Jayde, you have to do what I say. Are we at least clear on that?”
She couldn’t keep the smile from spreading across her face. “Yes,” she said in a hoarse whisper, “That I can do.”
He looked at her cynically. He knew that the odds of Jayde actually doing what he said were slim to none. Maybe if he could keep an eye on her they might all go home safe tonight. Yet he struggled. “One more other thing,” he said.
She looked expectantly at him. “What? I said I would listen. I prom—“ The rest of her sentence was crushed in a kiss–A rather desperate one at that. Even as she melted while relishing the nuances of what his mouth was doing to hers she thought about the many cheesy scenes in movies where the couple’s life was on the line and yet they would stop for that last kiss. Now she understood it. In the face of death, one needed to be reminded of life. His kiss was certainly giving her something to live for. He slowly pulled her toward him as he deepened the kiss. He reached for her hand and then she felt the tug of his handcuffs locking her to one of the thick branches of the bush beside them. She immediately began tugging at her arm. “Let me go!” she growled between clenched teeth. Even the look of kind regret reflecting on his face did nothing to calm her anger over the fact that he’d duped her.
“Jayde, please forgive me but I have a job to do. If you come, my heart and soul will be divided. It would absolutely destroy me if something happened to you. I’ll be back as soon as I can, but I have to go babe.” He paused to look at her once again, ignoring her expletives while he crept down the hill hoping that he would live if for nothing else but to finish where they left off with that kiss.
Sweat was literally pouring off Kyle now. He didn’t have much strength left. Between the fever and the new injuries sustained earlier, he was almost done. He kept hoping that somehow the cavalry would ride in to save the day. He held little hope of personally being saved. Right now, he figured he was just a breathing dead man. But he hoped they could get a hold of Norm before he committed more damage. From what he’d come to know about this man, he felt certain that wherever he ended up, death would soon follow. Some men were like that. You tracked them by the stench of the bodies they heaped along the way. He could see from his peripheral vision that the cabin would soon be in complete darkness as soon as the last of the embers in the fireplace died. He figured that had to be soon since the temperature within the cabin had definitely dropped in the near hour since Jayde and Jason had made their escape. A slight sound of crunch across the snow outside caught his attention. His heart lit with hope. Was it possible that Jason had made it back or was he beginning to have auditory hallucinations? Then he heard it again. A cautious step in the cold snow, this time much closer to the cabin. He squinted his eyes in an attempt to perceive if Norm had heard it as well. Norm wasn’t moving. He was good, the old dog. Kyle had seen very few men with the stamina of this old man, but maybe it was the evil in him that kept him alive. “You’re awfully quiet over there you old goat.” Kyle said, taunting him.
Norm kept still, with his beady eye intent on him. He is so determined to unnerve me, thought Kyle. He isn’t even blinking. “Oh you want to show me whose boss huh? Is this a stare down now Norm? Don’t worry, Jason and his men are here. They are about to take you down. Are you ready for that? Are you ready to see how it will feel to be back in that cage where you belong? Are you looking forward to finding out how the FBI got wind of your breakout plans? Well if you are thinking about torturing that poor soul, he’s no longer there. See, we plead him down just to get a hold of you. That’s how I ended up there in the first place.”
His heart felt heavy now, as he remembered the decision he made to have to take his brother down as well. But a part of him felt he may have stood a chance of saving Manny as long as he was with him. In the end, it had not made a bit of difference and now he dreaded having to tell their mother of his brother’s demise. At least he could be at peace knowing Norm would be back in prison where he belonged. He looked smugly at Norm then, confident that justice would finally be served. He almost wanted to smile, but that even felt like it would be too much effort and then Norm moved. Just as Kyle braced to defend himself, Norm fell to the floor. Kyle cautiously dragged his wounded leg over to him, but he could already tell he was dead. No sense in taking any chances, he thought. He kicked him and even the excruciating pain that resulted dimmed in a small bit of satisfaction. He wanted to kick him again. How dare he die before giving him the satisfaction of putting his hands back in cuffs? He looked over at the legs of his brother, the only part of him that he could make out in the darkness. Tears slid down his face and he hurriedly wiped at them. The back door creaked as Jason eased it open. “Come on in ranger. It’s over. The old goat is dead.”
“I can’t…believe…he did …this!” Jayde exclaimed as she pulled on her restrained wrist. The frigid air coupled with her blistering ire motivated her to find a way to gain freedom. With each pull, each stitch of pain she saw Jason’s face in her mind’s eye, her fury competing with the utter disbelief of his parting kiss. As much as she wanted to remain angry with him for confining her to the tree- in the middle of a blizzard for that matter- the memory of his sweet yet desperate kiss kept her from going nuclear. Even as she struggled against the unyielding branch, even as tears of frustration began to roll down her cheeks, she couldn’t forget the moment that they shared, the warmth transferred between them. Years she’d known him, known of his feelings for her but the kiss had still taken her by surprise. For a brief moment, she contemplated what this meant what he’d said to her without speaking any words and realized that she’d been unconsciously saying the same thing. For as long as she could remember, Jason had been there in her corner, silently supporting her and her decisions. Even when she had come to the mountain, he’d told her, in so many words, that he’d be just a phone call away if she ever needed him. Of course, at the time, she’d been too wrapped up in her own internal drama to really understand what he was saying but now that all pretenses had been dropped and the cards were on the table, it was becoming clearer to her. Love and acceptance had been there waiting for her and she’d dismissed it in a foolhardy attempt to find that love somewhere else while it had been in her face all along. Jayde stopped pulling and relaxed her body slightly, allowing herself a moment to relive that kiss once more. She could still feel his lips on hers, how he pressed against them just enough to let her know that there was something real between them. Even now she felt the familiar stirrings and smiled faintly at the thought of the possibilities. She was still a bit hesitant to put her full trust in anyone but Jason had the potential to bring her walls tumbling down. That is, if she didn’t kill him first. “You’ve got a lot of making up to do, Mister,” Jayde said aloud as she readied herself once more. Just as she was about to pull on the branch once again, she heard the familiar sounds of the underbrush snapping just a few feet ahead of her. She paused briefly, her eyes focused straight forward, listening intently to the world around her. The blizzard had lessened in intensity but the winds still blew and the snow still cascaded around her adding to her anxiety. It could’ve been a deer or a rabbit but her mind seized on what else existed just outside her cozy cabin door. Although she’d not seen one for herself, she knew that the bears had called this mountain home long before she had. Snap. Even through the curtain of snow, she could see something moving in the shadows, its slow lumbering body meandering through the woods as if it knew that their quarry wasn’t going anywhere. Jayde began to pull frantically at her restraint, her heart pounding violently against her chest. She was trapped and the branch that held her captive wasn’t giving at all. Jayde grit her teeth together and closed her eyes as she summoned all of her strength to pull just once more, willing it to snap in two. A sense of impending doom descended upon her and she whimpered quietly as the chill that had been previously warded off by her anger toward Jason slowly crept in, making her shiver almost uncontrollably. Her teeth clattered against each other as she moved slowly against the tree and pushed her knees up to her chest, wrapping her freed arm around them. She rested her head against the tree and closed her eyes as she trembled with equal parts of fear and cold. If she remained still, she rationalized; the querying creature would simply pass by her. She could only hope. ~*~ Jason stared at the prone body before him and then cast his gaze about the room, the dying embers painting a macabre scene of corpses and disarray. The heavy stench of blood hung in the rapidly cooling air and the unfortunate odor that seemed to emanate from Norm only made matters worse. Jason moved about the room, careful not to disturb the potential evidence. Once the skies cleared and the sun broke the eastern horizon, Jason figured that the area would quickly become inundated with every manner of law enforcement. But for now, he had the scene and he perused it quietly, walking deliberately around the bodies before coming to rest near Kyle. “This is probably a stupid question but…did you kill the old man?” Jason stared at Norm’s body before lifting his eyes to see Kyle staring into nothingness. Jason took a hesitant step forward, careful not to make the mistake of moving too quickly, “hey man, are you okay?” “Yeah,” Kyle answered shallowly as he shifted his weight more to favor his good leg, “I’ll make it, I suppose. What are you doing here?” “Believe it or not, Jayde wanted to come back and save you,” Jason responded as he kept his eyes on the younger man. He could see the toll that his injuries were taking on him; his body was now hunched over and his skin had taken on a sickly grey pallor and slickened with perspiration. Jason figured that he had less than an hour to live. Moving to help, he shook his head, “You’re not going to make it much longer, man. We need to get going.” “Wait a minute,” Kyle said as he used what little strength he had left to stop the ranger, “you said that Jayde wanted to come back? Where is she?” When he didn’t get an answer, he asked again, his voice taking on a deadly tone, “Where is she?” “You don’t understand, she was a distraction,” Jason responded. He hated how weak his explanation sounded but he continued, “She’s safer where she is at the moment.” “What did you do?” Kyle grunted. Although agonizing, he brought himself to his full height and looked Jason in the eye, “Where did you leave her?” Just as Jason was about to answer, a blood curdling scream rent the night air. It sounded as if a predator had just taken down its prey.
For the briefest moment Kyle and Jason stared at each other, verbally unresponsive to what they heard but both men responded physically, internally, praying their ears deceived them. Kyle was the first to move. He broke the stare and broke for the door, his hurt and crumbling body fighting against him. Jason, like a deer in headlights, took a second longer to respond. The bloodied scene in front of him began to blur. The stench of all things death began to fade as the possibility of something happening to Jayde resonated in his mind. The decision he made to leave Jayde, well not just leave her but trap her, seemed the right decision at the moment but hearing that blood curdling scream made him more than second guess what he’d done. Jason’s feet finally moved and he darted out of the cottage door, steps behind Kyle. It was cold and the blistering temperature assaulted Jason’s body; having being temporarily deceived by the warmth the cabin offered. The snow was deep and even though the rate of snowfall lessened it still posed difficulty. Yes, the snow was blinding but Jason was blinded by something else – the desire to get to Jayde. The beat of his heart echoed loudly in his ears as he tromped through the snow, rounding the back side of the cabin and moving toward where he’d left her. His steps multiplied and he knew Kyle was not far in front him. Whether Kyle would be a help or a hindrance Jason was not sure. What he was sure of is that nothing and no one would stand in the way of him getting to his Jayde. He remembered the moments they’d shared together before entering the cabin. Her stubbornness, insistence and then… the kiss. She was so cute when she was angry and trying to get a point across but the kiss came almost as much of a surprise to him as it did to her. He wanted to kiss her, without question but he hadn’t thought it through. He reacted; reacted to the pout of her lips and the intonation in her voice. Jason didn’t regret kissing Jayde. He’d wanted to for a long time. All he could hope is that the last time he placed his lips on hers wouldn’t be the last time. Jason was more determined than ever to bridge the distance between himself and who he knew to be the love of his life. Despite the cold, he trudged on. He was getting closer. Just hold on Jayde… I’m on my way… just hold on… Kyle’s anger and frustration fueled him, pass the physical hurt. He was hobbled but he refused to let that stop him. How could Jason be so damn careless? He heard Jason’s steps behind him and for a moment he considered turning around and halting Jason’s forward movement with a stiff upper cut to the lip. But that wouldn’t solve the problem. Jayde was in trouble and it was up to him to make things right. Jason had done enough. As he drew closer he could hear something…Kyle wasn’t sure what it was but it caused the uneasiness he already felt to surge. His feet began to move more quickly despite the snow. “Oh my God, oh my God… oh my God…” Jayde couldn’t believe her eyes. She knew better than to scream but her reaction to seeing the mass too close to her was instinctual not intellectual. All she could hope is that someone heard her and could help her. Jayde fought against the bindings that kept her from breaking free. She despised Jason in that moment despite the kiss. He’d left her… handicapped… unable to fend for herself…and now this… She watched through the shadows, praying against what her eyes were seeing as the monstrosity moved deliberately in her direction. The bindings burned and tore as she pulled violently against them, willing the ties to break but to no avail. The rate of her heart quickened as she contemplated what would surely be her fate. The growl she heard was low and menacing… becoming more terrifying as the sound from the hungry animal rose with intensity. All the warnings she’d heard about being at the cabin alone rushed back to her remembrance. Had she’d only listened she wouldn’t have found herself in such a deleterious position. But there was no time for self blaming and should of, would of, could of… Jayde had to do something and something fast! The beast moved closer to her, its nose sniffing the air, honing in on her. The growl continued sending shivers up Jayde’s spine. She was so caught up in her own plight she was unable to hear her would be rescuers moving in her direction. The scene stated to play out for Kyle as he moved in closer. He could see Jayde, through the trees, unable to get out of the way of what lay in wait for her. Then his eyes fell on the blackness of the predator. There was no panic for Kyle, only thoughts of saving the woman he had grown so very fond of. The rustling and movement turned the beasts’ attention temporarily away from his intended. Kyle, still a distance away began to yell and scream as the bear came into full view. His thoughts weren’t clear – what he would do if the beast charged or how he would defend himself. All he could think was getting the animal away from Jayde. Jason, having closed the gap between he and Kyle made a bee line for Jayde. He knew exactly where she was and how he’d left her. He only hoped and prayed he’d get to her before the beast struck.
“HEY! HEY! HEY! Come on, come here!” Kyle waved his arm frantically in the air as he saw Jason’s shadowed body pushing through the compacted snow toward Jayde. With the bear focused on him and solely him, he hoped that Jason would act fast extracting Jayde and getting her to safety. In hindsight, he didn’t think this through but now that their roundabout plan was put into play, he had no choice but to see it through. The bear meandered toward him lazily as if assessing the situation and Kyle couldn’t help but wonder if his bloody leg was adding fuel to this rapidly growing fire. There was no way he could outrun a bear, even if his leg wasn’t mangled beyond belief but he had to try. He was on the last vestiges of his strength and his body was quickly failing him. As he saw it, if he died on this mountain, it wouldn’t be in vain and it sure as hell wouldn’t be at a man’s mercy. Kyle trudged through the blinding snow, hearing the bear advance on him, praying that he would lead the beast as far away as possible from Jayde and Jason. It was the least he could do for bringing such terror and chaos to the sleepy mountain. His teeth chattered as the winds howled around him but gratefully, he couldn’t really feel the blistering cold. He attributed that to the substantial blood he’d lost in the cabin; his body was succumbing but the adrenaline coursing through his body wouldn’t allow him to give up, not yet. Kyle glanced over his shoulder, able to see more of the hulking mass that was now hot on his trail. Memories of his brother, their childhood flooded his thoughts and even though most of it had been shitty, he still smiled; glad for the moments he was given. The images seemed to come at will now, the brief wisps of respite and happiness suddenly overwhelming the hell his live had been. If he’d thought about it, long enough, he realized that his life hadn’t been that bad; sure he’d had his shares of ups and downs, but who hadn’t. What mattered is that he’d done his best to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. He’d done his job. He could hear the heavy breath of the beast nearly at his neck and pushed further. Ahead of him was a wide expanse of unmolested snow with no sight of an escape. It wouldn’t be long before his leg finally gave out on him and oddly, it seemed as if the bear knew it as well. He would keep going until his last breath. The memory of Jayde’s luminous eyes burned through his thoughts and he pushed himself even harder. To save her, he would offer his life a million times over. ~*~ Jason scurried through the snow, hearing Kyle shouting at the bear, thankful for distraction. Without the threat of the bear hovering over him, he could think clearer. The biting cold was already eating away at his strength but he wouldn’t stop until he’d freed Jayde, even though he was certain he’d be staring down the barrel of her impetuous anger. He was already on the bubble for kissing her, an act he hadn’t regretted in the least bit. For years, he watched and waited for the right time to reveal his feelings for her and somehow, facing certain danger and eminent death seemed to be the perfect catalyst. It was also the source of his foolhardy plan to keep Jayde out of harm’s way. Instead, she’d come within a hair of her own demise and he’d put her square in fate’s sights. Yes, he was going to have to do some serious groveling but it would be worth it. Finally reaching her, he slipped his hand in his pocket and grasped the tiny key, unlocking the cuffs quickly. When they fell away, Jason eyed Jayde with trepidation, waiting for her to explode. The sudden flood of warmth and her intoxicating scent filled his senses and with more relief than a little bit, he embraced her heartily, clutching her close to his body. She shivered in his arms and he could hear her tiny sniffles as she struggled to gather herself. After a while, she stopped sniffling and pulled away from him, her eyes searching his. Her brow furrowed and that was the only sign of trouble he got before she’d shoved him to the ground, hard. “What the hell is your problem, Jason? What were you thinking to cuff me to a tree?” Jayde asked as straddled him and swung her arms in his direction. Jason, to his credit attempted to deflect her blows by holding up his arms but he was no match for her fury. “You….you asshole, I should kill you! You kiss me then you trap me? What kind of shit is that? “ “I thought I was doing you a favor,” Jason responded as he shielded himself from her blows. He grabbed her arms and held them at bay, staring into her wild eyes, “Would you stop for just a moment, Jayde? The bear’s gone, you’re safe.” Jason’s words caused her to pause for a second and lift her eyes toward the icy fields. In the distance, she could see the beast trotting away as if it were merely on a stroll. Exhaling heavily, she knocked Jason on his head before standing up, kicking him on the side. She was pissed at him for deceiving her but grateful that he’d been the one to save her. Glancing in the direction of the cabin, she then turned to Jason and asked, “I thought I heard Kyle. Where is he, Jason?” Jason shifted his gaze toward the blanket of snow and the disappearing bear, his shoulders sagging slightly. Jayde noticed and started to walk off only to have Jason grasp at her wrist. Even though she was giving him the death stare, he shook his head, “Don’t, Jayde. There’s nothing we can do for him now. When we get to the truck, I’ll use the radio and see if we can get a search party out to look for him.” Staring out in the darkness, Jason was remorseful that he couldn’t help Kyle. As Jayde wrapped her arms around his waist, he exhaled wearily and watched as the bear faded into the night. He could only pray that a miracle had befallen the courageous man. Epilogue Jayde sat at the edge of the bed, staring out into nothingness as the images of her most recent nightmare cascaded through her mind. She shivered slightly as she closed her eyes, willing the tears to remain at bay as she fought for a sliver of peace. After escaping the clutches of an abusive husband, she’d fallen neatly into the path of another dangerous situation. If not for Jason and the now missing in action agent, she knew she would be on a cold slab instead of about to be discharged from the hospital. Life had its way of twisting the vines of decisions and she was grateful for the decisions that Kyle had made to keep her safe. While he’d been a complete stranger to her, she couldn’t help but feel some sort of camaraderie with the fallen agent; he’d risked his life to save hers. That was something she couldn’t take so lightly. She’d waited for word of the agent’s whereabouts but as the nights bled into the days, she realized with a heavy heart that it was likely that Kyle hadn’t survived. It was with that thought that she finally allowed the tears to fall, only after vowing that they would be the last tears to be shed in lieu of a loss. Taking in a deep breath and letting it out slowly, she wiped away the tears just as the door opened . She lifted her eyes and attempted a smile as Jason entered with a vibrant bouquet of flowers. A small chuckle erupted from her lips when he extended his arm first before approaching. Running her hand through her hair, she asked, “What are you doing, Jason?” Jason smiled and shrugged, “I thought I would employ a preemptive countermeasure, just in case you still feel the need to beat my ass.” Jayde frowned and reached for the pillow, tossing it in his direction, barely missing him, “Damn right I’m still pissed at you, Jason. That bear could’ve killed me! I’m still struggling to understand what the hell you were thinking.” Jason groaned and rolled his eyes as he smirked widely. They’d been through this a million times since she’d been admitted for observation and even now on the millionth and one explanation, he could barely school his expression. The one thing he knew about Jayde, despite her massive temper, was that she loathed deceivers and while he’d take serious flack for years to come, he welcomed it gratefully if it meant that Jayde would be with him. Thus far, she hadn’t spoken on the moment they’d shared but he figured she was still in the throes of her ordeal to make sense of what had happened between them. Just as Jason was about to approach, he heard the door open behind him and turned to see Kyle sitting in a wheelchair, his leg bandaged and his arm in a sling. Jason stared at him as Jayde rushed by him toward the agent, engulfing him in a tight embrace. Jason watched with interest as Jayde took her time in releasing him, her eyes searching Kyle’s as if she were ascertaining if he were real. There was something in her gaze, something that unnerved Jason and he frowned as he cleared his throat roughly. “How in the world did you survive, man? We were sure that the bear got you,” Jason said as he moved toward them. Jayde was still holding on to the agent, her smile growing by the second. He had to sever this sudden bind between them and do it quickly. “We sent a search party out for you. They said that they didn’t find anything.” Kyle stared at Jayde and grinned, his brow arching slightly. Captivated by her bright eyes, he sighed, “Apparently, I had something to live for.” Jason didn’t miss the connotation of his words, catching and holding his gaze, “You must have some story to tell, agent.” Kyle smiled more and shifted his gaze to Jayde, “Man, you don’t know the half of it.”
Thanks to all of our regular followers of this serial. We all really enjoyed writing it and I’m glad you stuck with us to the end!