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Authors: Marla Josephs

Alexander Ranch

BOOK: Alexander Ranch
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Alexander Ranch

 

 

 

By Marla Josephs

Cover by Amado Temporal

 

©
Tempfield Press and Beverly Fields 2013

 

Thank you to my dear husband for all of your support.

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

The day was absolutely beautiful. I completely loved being out in the heart of nature on this warm spring day. It was just perfect. Not too hot, not too cool, just perfect. The camping areas and cabins weren’t all filled up yet either, so the area wasn’t overrun with vacationers. I hadn’t seen another person out here all day. It was a couple of weeks before the Memorial Day Holiday and everyone was too busy with last minute school, work or other duties to be out and about yet. So, it was just me, myself and the great outdoors.

I walked a trail that followed the river. I’d packed food and water, of course, and had stopped to read in the shade for a while once a found a nice spot. I felt
, for this short period of time, like the only person on the planet and it felt great. I normally only got to read in snatches. I was either too busy or too tired. I mused over my satisfying, yet all-consuming, position at Hanley’s Pet Care Services.

Work had been crazy busy. We’d recently had to let some people go over a major liability infraction
. Now, the time I wasn’t actively working with the animals I was hiring and training. Our company provided every pet service one could imagine from veterinary care to day care to training. We didn’t, however, provide all of these services in one location. This was another reason work had been so busy. I was constantly bouncing from one facility to another.

Still, I loved my job. I much preferred working with animals than working with people. The people I worked with were an ok bunch for the most part.
Considering that I was the company director, I only hired people that leaned towards work and not drama. Office politics is not my thing. Still, I tended to keep to myself. The fact that I was always working in a different capacity and moving from facility to facility made sticking to myself easy.

Even though I loved my job, lately I’d been longing for some free time, or me time.
I was starting to actually agree with my boss, the owner, when he said, “Lela, you need to take some time off. We don’t want you burning yourself out.”

“And, leave all this, John?” I’d tease back.

However the grueling hours I’d been working were starting to catch up with me. Because I was also a certified vet tech, some days I would help out in the vet clinic. Though John had made me the Director of Operations, I couldn’t stay away from working directly with the animals. I didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk all day pushing paper. So, when the clinic got busy I would step in and help out. The techs and other vets were always surprised to see me donning scrubs and seeing to our fury patients. Or, if we had a difficult client with behavioral issues, sometimes I would take over the training to do one on one with the recalcitrant or over active critter. This freed the trainers to do their jobs more easily in a group. But, today I had no one to worry about but myself.

The day seemed to go by so fast. The
relaxing, lazy day had been refreshing but not nearly long enough. I hadn’t intended to go for a long hike. The day’s agenda started out as just going for a long drive and maybe a short walk. A little over two hours after I’d left my home, I was at the river near the camp grounds. From there the call of nature lured me to walk, explore and enjoy the solitude. Now, I glanced at my phone to check the time and sighed. It was time to head back. If I started now, I would make it back to my car near sunset. At least the hike back was mostly downhill.

The thought of watching the sunset over the river gave me a little spunk. I had a long week ahead of me. But after today, I would start using some o
f that vacation I had due. John was always telling me I needed to take more time off. I decided he was right. I stood, stretched, picked up my pack, and slung my hat over my head. Letting out a long breath, I headed back in the direction of my car.

I had only walked around a half mile when a sudden feeling made me stumble.
I’d been mentally planning my next days off and hadn’t been paying much attention to my surroundings. I hadn’t seen a person all day and hadn’t felt the need to keep my senses tightly closed. I opened them wide now and the wave of evil that hit me was staggering. I quickly shut them down.

I walked slowly now, listening. In the distance I heard voices
, but I was too far away to hear what they were saying. Still, I could feel the sinister intent behind them. I didn’t dare try to hear the minds of the people talking. I was too terrified to do that. I needed to get out of this wooded area and to safety, not become frozen with fear. From the direction of the voices they were directly in my path blocking me from my way to my car. My need to get away from there as fast as I could was driving me to run, but I didn’t want to be discovered. If I moved quietly and cautiously, I could make my way around them without being detected and run like the wind once I got far enough away. Luckily the path was worn by animals and probably hikers, so I didn’t have to worry about too many crunching leaves or foliage. I just stepped over the few leaves or debris in my path.

“Did you really think you could hide from us?” I heard one of the men saying. There was no reply.

I looked in the direction the voice had come from and noticed that the path would lead me directly to the right of them. Unfortunately I would also be in clear view of them. They were in a partial clearing that the path went right through. I would have to make my way to the left and closer to the river. Here the brush was thicker, but the rushing water would hopefully muffle any sounds I made crushing fauna underfoot. I turned and made my way off the path and into the low brush. I would have to be careful and stay low as I passed. The trees here were not as dense and I ran an even higher risk of being seen. As I made my way into the brush, three men came clearly into my view. I ducked down and noticed two of the men were holding another at gunpoint. Suddenly one of the men swung his fist and sent the man being held at gunpoint sprawling to his knees. I stifled a gasp. My breath hitched and my heart began to thunder. I let my breath out slowly and willed my breath and heart to calm before pressing forward. These men were dangerous.

I tried not to look at the men so that I could focus on keeping my movements silent
. I certainly did not want to be detected. It was impossible, however, to keep my eyes completely off the terrifying drama unfolding before me. I was certain they planned to kill the man and I had no way of helping him. The best I could do was get to safety and call the police. I had slunk my way to the left of them and was right alongside the river now. I crept along keeping a wary eye on the men. They were still talking, but I forced myself not to concentrate on what they were saying. I was too busy cringing at how much noise I was making walking through the dry leaves and debris on the ground and praying they would not hear it. The sound was so loud to my ears.

T
he man not holding the gun cocked his arm back to strike the man, who was still on his knees, a second time. This time, however, the man spun, doing a side kick and sent the man sprawling. The man with the gun reacted instantly raising the gun towards the man’s head.

I don’t know whether I gasped, screamed
, or made a sudden movement, but suddenly both sets of eyes of the evil men turned towards me just as the shot sounded. At the same time, the man on his knees was flung to the side with incredible speed and force, but I wasn’t sure if it was from the impact of the bullet hitting him or in anticipation of the shot. All I could see was the barrel of the gun swing in my direction.

“Hey!” One man
shouted.

“What the hell? Shoot her
!” The other man roared. As I turned to run, I saw the man on the ground kick out again, followed by a load crack and a searing pain in my left side. I bent and grabbed my side, but I did not stop running.

A
s the pain grew more unbearable, I knew I couldn’t keep the pace. I was lurching forward and could hear someone quickly gaining on me. Soon they would be upon me, or worse, they would simply shoot me. I did the only thing I could think of. I ran as fast as I could, ignoring the ripping pain in my side, and jumped off the edge into the rushing water below. With any luck the rushing water would carry me away.

Luckily the edge hadn’t been too high because the water was not overly deep here. Still
, I landed with a jarring thud and hit the bottom of the river bed on my right hip. I could hear the boom of missiles hitting the water all around me and vaguely realized they were bullets. I could do nothing but hold my breath and allow the rushing current to take me away. I didn’t even try to reach the surface for air for fear that my head would be blown off as soon as I surfaced. Thankfully, the water was moving swiftly.

I held my breath until I thought my lungs would
burst. When I finally dared to try and surface, I had to fight with the current that was tossing me around mercilessly in the water. When I surfaced, I greedily gulped in air before I was pulled back under. In that moment at the surface of the river, I saw a glimpse of the men who’d been chasing me standing on the ledge looking down where I’d fallen into the water. I was quite a ways downstream now. Fortunately they hadn’t seen me surface. I resisted fighting and forced myself to relax and allowed the water to take me under again. I was washed around a bend and when I again came up for air I thankfully couldn’t see the ledge where I’d jumped in anymore. I was gasping for air at this point and fighting to get as much as I could. I was getting light headed, my lungs were burning, and I’d swallowed a few mouthfuls of water at this point. I knew I still needed to put distance between me and the men however, so I fought the water just enough to breath.

My side burned, my lungs ached and my legs and hip were
screaming in pain where I’d hit and scrapped the river bottom upon entering the water, but I kept fighting until I couldn’t anymore. Then, I drifted. I really don’t know how long I drifted. I’d found a sort of floating rhythm that allowed me to breath and still let the current carry me away. The water had to be moving faster than the men could follow. I knew in my battered condition the water was my best bet for transportation. I began to lose track of time and become light headed. The water was so very cold and was making me icy and stiff.

After a time
I began to slow down and bump painfully along the bottom. The river was even less deep here. I began to move my hands and arms, trying to maneuver myself towards the riverbank. My movements were jerky and uncoordinated. The current wasn’t moving as fast now and those homicidal men might still be after me. I couldn’t take any chances and decided it would be safer now to be under the cover of the trees, and not in the open, as I made my way down the river.

How far had I travelled? I
couldn’t be too far from the beach area where the cabins were and I had left my car, could I? Travelling over land would have taken me away from the river and then back to it, but surely the speed of the current made up some of that time.

Abruptly
I bumped up against the bank jarring my bones. There were lots of tree branches and limbs overhanging the river’s edge. I lay there for a moment unable to move. I was numb and the parts of me that weren’t numb were screeching in pain.

Move!
I yelled to myself in my head. I had to keep moving if I were going to stay alive. I crawled to my knees while the water slapped against me making me sway. Then I pulled myself up and began putting one foot in front of the other. I must have looked like a zombie walking, but I didn’t care. The river bank was high here. I clung to the bank pushing myself along and keeping my ears alert for any sound of pursuit. Just how far had I gone from the campsite where I’d left my car? Even as I felt I couldn’t keep going I forced myself to keep walking and imagined myself emerging into the clearing. From there I only needed to get to my car.

My phone!
I still had my pack and stopped abruptly to pull out my cell phone. Of course, it was waterlogged and completely dead. What was I thinking? Obviously a cell phone can’t withstand an extended dunk in the river. I wasn’t sure what made me think it could, but I was afraid to waste precious brain energy on analyzing this breech of common sense. I stumbled on.

I tripped and pitched forward
, almost landing face first in the water several times. I grabbed along the river bank wall to right myself and realized that the slope of the river bank was getting smaller. I didn’t know how long I’d been walking. It was as though I’d been sleep walking. Just as I began to worry that maybe I’d let the river carry me too far and passed the campground the river bank began to descend.

I must be near the clearing now
. The steep hill of the river bank was starting to descend rapidly. The beach area near the camp grounds had to be coming up. I lurched forward with new determination. After what seemed like forever, I could see the beach front ahead and the tops of some of the cabins through the trees. I slowed and tried to focus to see if there was anyone on the beach. Once I stepped from behind the cover of the trees, I would be out in the open and vulnerable. I would need to get to my car as fast as possible and drive to safety and help. I paused for a moment, gathering my strength. I could do this. I took one last look and didn’t see anyone. I made my move. I walked out of the trees at as fast a pace as I could manage and started up the beach. I hadn’t even made it out of the water when I froze. There was a man, just calmly sitting there, waiting for me on the beach. My legs gave way, the beach rushed up to greet my tumbling body and darkness descended.

BOOK: Alexander Ranch
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