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Backwoods

BOOK: Backwoods
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BACKWOODS

by Sara Reinke

Published by Sara Reinke

Copyright 2010 Sara Reinke

 

Names, characters and incidents depicted in
this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales,
organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental
and beyond the intent of the author. No part of this book may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic
or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any
information storage and retrieval system, without permission in
writing from the author.

 

Smashwords Edition,
License Notes

This ebook is
licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be
re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share
this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy
for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not
purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please
return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for
respecting the hard work of this author.

 

CHAPTER ONE

“Hey, McGillis, you know that twenty percent
chance of storms you said the National Weather Service predicted
for today?” Andrew Braddock called into his hand-held radio as from
overhead, a crooked lash of lightning slapped across the underbelly
of thick, low-lying rain clouds. “I’m going to go out on a limb
here and say they were a little off. Over.”

The only response that came back was a low,
ominous grumble of thunder and a garble of static through the
Motorola Talkabout. Not that Andrew had expected anything else. A
good forty miles from anything and at least half that deep into the
dense forests of the rugged Appalachian foot hills, he hadn’t been
able to raise either Ted McGillis or Dean Allcott, the pair of
forestry technicians he was working with, for the better part of
the last two hours.

The thunderheads that been distant fixtures
all day long, smoke-colored peaks rising among those of the
Appalachian foothills, had finally filled the sky like a heavy,
steel-grey shroud. Andrew could smell the rain, crisp and almost
metallic, even before the first fat droplets plopped down through
the pine boughs and tree crowns, spattering against the plastic
dome of his hard hat, a bright orange thing that matched the mesh
day-glo vest he wore. They were hideous, but necessary if he hoped
to distinguish himself from a deer or elk through the sights of a
poacher’s rifle. And in the particular corner of southeastern
Kentucky in which he currently stood, poachers were more than just
a potential threat, they were pretty much a guarantee.

“Out in those backwoods, you’re in God’s
country—His and the drug dealers,” McGillis had told him, laughing
at Andrew’s subsequent surprise. “Oh, yeah. They’re up there
growing marijuana by the acre. The
acre.
With guards posted
and everything, armed with machine guns and machetes, I’ve heard.
Not to mention booby traps and tripwires.”

To counter this possibility, the trio had
left their hotel in Pikeville in separate company Jeeps, each
equipped with a .22-caliber rifle. All three had been trained to
handle them, and trekked through their respective acres with the
guns strapped to their backs.

“Hey, I’m going to close up shop here, meet
you back at the hotel,” Andrew called into his walkie-talkie as the
raindrops fell faster. “You guys copy me on that? Over.”

Still no reply. But neither McGillis nor
Allcott were morons, so Andrew figured if it got wet enough, they’d
head back to town, too. He clipped the radio back onto his belt,
then leveled his angle gauge out in front of him, panning it
quickly through the last few trees left in his survey plot.

By the time he made it back to the company
Jeep, a late-model Liberty 4x4 with a fat blue
W
stenciled
onto the door, the occasional plump raindrop had turned into a
downpour. He leaped inside, tossing his rifle into the rear
compartment, then slammed the door shut and yanked the hard hat
from his head. His hair was soaked beneath, a drenched and dripping
mess that clung to his forehead and cheeks and sent a network of
interlacing rivulets of icy water sliding past the collar of his
shirt and down his back.

When he started the car, the dash vents
belched a thick, moist haze against the inside of the windshield,
promptly obliterating any hope of a view ahead of him. He switched
the system over to defrost and sat hunched in his seat, sopping and
shivering, waiting for the fog to clear.

It had taken him a half an hour to get from
Highway 460 to the entrance of the expansive property he’d been
hired to survey, and from there, another hour at least spent
bouncing and jostling along the steep, cragged terrain to reach his
first site. As he used his hand to smear the lingering film of
moisture away from the interior glass, he realized he still
couldn’t see for shit and that it would probably take him at least
twice as long to make his way down from the mountains again with
the weather against him.

Terrific.
He buckled his seatbelt, put
the Jeep in gear and maneuvered it in a tight semi-circle, feeling
the deep treads of the tires grinding for slippery purchase in the
mud beneath him. Already, he could see rain forming shallow but
expanding ponds along the rutted trail he’d followed.

By the time Andrew reached the highway, the
windshield wipers were having trouble keeping pace with the
torrential sheets pelting against the glass, even at top speed. The
windshield started to fog again and Andrew glanced down, taking his
hand off the gearshift long enough to reach for the temperature
control, to swing it from the mid-level cool zone all of the way to
bright red hot. A sudden blur of motion out of the corner of his
eye snapped his gaze back to the windshield and the world
immediately beyond it and he had less than a second to see
something pinned by the stark white glare of the Jeep’s
headlamps—bipedal, upright and what appeared to be naked, it looked
like a man, except its back was hunched in a sharp hook like a
question mark, its arms and legs hideously elongated. There was
nothing discernable to its face but its mouth; wide open and
gaping, it shrieked at the oncoming Jeep.

“Holy shit!” Andrew shrieked back, because
there was no way he would miss the thing, whatever it was.

Another vehicle whipped around a sharp bend
in the road almost immediately ahead of him, a very large truck
that dwarfed the Jeep at least once over, with bright headlights
that punched through the cab, impaling the creature between them in
sudden, blinding glow.


Holy shit!”
Andrew slammed his boot
hard enough against the brake pedal to nearly raise his hips out of
the driver’s seat. The wheels lost their tenuous grasp against the
rain-slick pavement and the back end of the truck began to swing,
skidding wide in a broad, wild arc.

He struck the thing that had darted out into
the road in front of him, hearing a solid, heavy
THUMP
as
the hood buckled with the forceful impact. The airbag deployed with
a loud, startling
BANG
, mashing his lips against his teeth,
snapping his head back and stunning the senses from him.

The Liberty rolled, crashing first onto its
side and then over again onto its top. Again and again, the Jeep
traded its ass for its fenders, rolling down a steep hillside,
smashing into trees, battering across rocky outcroppings, gaining
momentum with every rotation. Snapped to and fro like a rag doll in
a clothes dryer by the tether of his seatbelt, Andrew’s head
slammed into the passenger side window once, then twice. Three
times was apparently the charm, because on the third blow, he heard
the tinkling of splintered glass, stunning the senses from him.

The sound of rushing water brought him to,
close enough and loud enough to rouse him from murky
unconsciousness. For a long, groggy, hurting moment, he struggled
to get his bearings.

The Jeep had come to a rest on its roof at
the bottom of the hill, apparently landing in a rain-swollen creek.
That torrential current, fueled to flash flood capacity, had
engulfed the Jeep and streamed through cracks and holes in the
broken windows.

Andrew tilted his head back, trying to peer
around the airbag. Enough water had entered the Jeep to cover the
interior roof, which was now, for all intents and purposes, the
floor. The shallow depth was rapidly rising. A nearby skittering
sound as a spider web of cracks in the window began to widen with
the water’s force let him know it was about the get a lot
deeper.

“Shit.” Blindly, he groped for his seat
belt.

Plink!

The glass in the Jeep was tempered, designed
to break in hundreds of tiny shards that were, in theory, to be of
less potential destructiveness than any gigantic, jagged fragments.
But now those miniscule pieces were beginning to pop out, shoved
out of place by the rushing current, allowing a steadily increasing
series of fountains to pour into the cab, narrow streams of muddy
water that splattered against his face and quickly raised the water
level to the crown of his head.

Plink! Plink plink!

More and more of them began to go, like
popcorn in a pan atop a heated stove, and Andrew gritted his teeth,
fumbling with the buckle to release the seatbelt. Just as his
fingertips brushed the belt release button, the glass crumpled,
spilling in a sudden torrent of water almost directly into his
face. He didn’t even have time to suck in a startled breath before
silt-filled water rushed down his throat, his nose. He thrashed in
his seat, his hands slapping helplessly as the water quickly
swallowed his face and head, enveloping his torso.

Seconds felt like excruciating hours, his
lungs burning with the desperate need for air, his fingers pawing
uselessly at the strap of his shoulder harness. He opened his eyes
but there was nothing to see but a dizzying mess of air bubbles
suspended and whirling inside a frothy mess of brown water. When
his eyes rolled back in his skull, he watched the world seem to
upturn. His body fell limp, his struggles waning. His mind faded
and his throat relaxed, water coursing down into his gut in an
unabated flood. He felt an arm reach across his chest, someone
leaning past him to jerk the buckle of the seat belt loose of its
moorings and free him, and thought he was dreaming.

“I’ve got you.”

That was the next thing Andrew was fully
aware of, a woman’s voice, barely audible over the roll of thunder,
the steady backbeat of rain. He felt strong hands clasping his
shoulders and the muddy but solid surface of the ground beneath him
as the woman lay him back. For a moment, he blinked dazedly up,
watching rain spill down directly into his face, and then his belly
heaved and he writhed with a gulp, vomiting the dirty water he’d
swallowed.

“Easy, now,” the woman said, rolling Andrew
onto his side. When lightning flashed overhead, Andrew caught a
bleary glimpse of her, her shadow-draped face and rain-soaked
clothes, a mottled combat uniform with patches sewn onto the
breast.
U.S. ARMY,
the left one said, while on the right, a
name stenciled in heavy black letters:
SANTORO
. “You’re safe
now.”

CHAPTER TWO

Andrew rode shotgun in the military Humvee,
while the woman, Santoro, handled the broad steering wheel and gear
shift with white-knuckled proficiency. The rain continued to pour,
thundering against the truck roof, and the windshield wipers swept
a furious cadence, peeling back the water in sheets.

“What was that back there?” he groaned,
pressing his fingertips to his sore temple. Upon helping him up
into the transport’s cab, the woman had rifled through a metal
first aid kit long enough to find a large gauze pad. Andrew had
lacerated his scalp along his hairline, and the pad, which remained
over the wound, was soaked through.

“What was what?” She’d long since turned the
Humvee off the paved two-lane highway in favor of a steep, rutted
dirt path through the forest. They’d passed through a razor-wire
lined chain link fence, one with a key pad entry to the towering
gate and a large sign posted:
Property of U S. Government. No
trespassing. Violators will be prosecuted.
Although Santoro had
tried several times, her motions furious as she’d jabbed in a
sequence of numbers, the gate hadn’t opened. At last, grumbling and
scowling, she’d climbed out of the cab, leaving the big truck’s
engine rumbling, and had crossed the broad swaths of headlight
beams to manually wrestle open the gate.

Andrew had struggled ever since to remember
if he’d noticed anything like an Army base on any of his area maps.
The area they’d been contracted to survey consisted of slightly
less than ten thousand forested acres, but surrounding these had
been another forty thousand belonging to private owners. To the
best of his recollection, he hadn’t seen any labeled as federal
lands. There was no way to check now. The maps, like his Jeep,
remained behind them somewhere at the bottom of the rain-flooded
ditch.

BOOK: Backwoods
9.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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