Each and every day I am thankful for a lot. This Thanksgiving I have added to my list of thing that I give thanks for. One of those are the books I put out this year but more importantly the readers who picked up those books. I have said it before, I never thought I would EVER write a book, let alone several but I enjoy it and as long as that stays true I will keep writing them.
I have been working on finishing out The Cove story and have part 1 complete and ready for edits. Annnnnddddd because I am so excited about this book I want to share with you the prolog thru Chapter 4. These pages have been through the first round of edits and I would love to hear your thoughts or suggestions.
Somewhere in the world, a man flips through fifty-two news channels beamed straight into his home from satellites in orbit around the Earth.
“Thank you Charles, as you can see, the fires continue to rage in central Colorado.”
“We’ll keep an eye on these cells as they near our eastern seaboard. As I said before Danielle, at the moment they appear to be minor tropical storms. However, they could potentially become full force hurricanes once they reach our coast.”
“In order to ensure the safety of our park visitors, we are closing the park until further notice.” A cacophony of questions and flashes light up the face of the man who is speaking, “All I can say at this moment is the detection of significant seismic activity surrounding Yellowstone prompted our decision.”
The man continues to change the channel, now scanning foreign news broadcasts. They played similar stories of unexpected weather, epidemics, and unrest in broadcasts from England, Italy, and France through Russia all the way to China.
The man stands from with dirty, well-worn recliner and exits the dark room entering the pristine kitchen with state-of-the-art appliances. He fills a clear glass with ice and filtered water from the door of his stainless finished refrigerator. His eyes took in the view out his window where he can see a storm brewing to the north. As he raises the glass to his lips, he pauses as a voice speaks from behind him. “You can’t let him do this.”
The man takes the drinks from his glass, “Are you going to tell him to stop? You saw what he did to the people in his own organization.” He tilted his head toward the room he had just left, “How hard would it be now for him to send a bolt of lightning and take us out?”
“You can’t possibly agree with what he is doing. Do you?”
The man mindlessly studied the ice in his glass before answering, “He chose me, and I accepted. If I turned him in it would be suicide. Get your wife and kids together and get out of the country. I placed a call to move all of my cattle to a ranch in Mexico and Martin is doing the same.” He never made eye contact with his brother. He feared he would see the disappointment and regret etched in his brothers eyes he felt in his heart.
“Max, good God. You aren’t just a random guy off the street. You have the power to stop this.”
Max threw the glass across the room causing it to shatter into a million pieces, “If I believed I could stop it now, I would. Did you see the reports? They have already put it into motion. What you are seeing are tests, the real storm is yet to come. Stopping him or his machine now would be near impossible. Thomas is under the misguided belief Carson is operating out of Alaska but he isn’t. He hasn’t outright said where he is, but I guarantee it’s not in Alaska.”
“Are you feeding him information? If he doesn’t kill you Thomas will.”
“I give him enough to appease him. However, he knows the information before I utter a word.” He gave a slight shiver, “It’s like someone else is telling him the information before we even know ourselves.”
“Maybe he has someone else on the payroll?”
“I thought that too. I gave him information from a conversation between only Thomas and myself.” He held up his hand to stop his younger brothers’ comments, “We were in a private, undisclosed location alone. No one overheard unless they have a microchip on one of us that can record and send the information.”
“What are you going to do? Are you sending Emma and the kids to Mexico too?”
Max looked to his brother through tired troubled eyes, “Why don’t you suggest that to Emma? She and the kids should join you on a vacation. At least they would be out of the reach of that… monster.”
Malcolm studied his brother, “You’re scared. What is this guy planning?”
Max’s eyes finally met his brother’s, “Complete and utter global destruction.”
Malcolm’s eyes went wide, “Then what, if he destroys it all, then what will he have?”
Max chuckled, but it was cold and emotionless, “This man has resources, including human beings, stashed in the deep recesses for safe keeping. When the time comes, he will be the saving grace and restore Earth to the heavenly orb it should have been from the beginning.”
Malcolm pointed to the Northwest, “If that thing blows, scientist have said the North American continent would be uninhabitable for decades to follow. Not to mention, a seismic event that large could set off a chain reaction of the fault lines across the globe.”
“He won’t let it blow. He is just hitting it with enough energy to cause a panic in the United States. No one else on the planet is paying any mind to it.”
“Probably because they all have their own issues to figure out. The only people paying attention to everything is NOAA and Bill has said under no circumstances are we to discuss it with uncleared personnel as it might cause quote undue panic amongst preppers and conspiracy nut jobs end quote. Is Bill in on it?”
Max scoffed, “No, Bill is just a pencil pushing leech wanting a raise, a promotion, and an office in the White House. Honestly, he probably isn’t smart enough to see the bigger picture. No one, not even meteorologist in the path, are paying much mind to the massive winter storm brewing in Alaska. They are all waiting for the possible historical eruption of the Super Volcano.”
“Well, based on our earlier discussions I applied for all my paid vacation time and so did Kathy. I think… I think we may go further south on to Argentina. Mexico may be too close to the storm.”
“That’d probably be a good idea.” Max held out his hand to his brother.
Malcolm shook it but pulled his brother into a hug. “Be careful, I’ll pray for you and God protection for all humanity.”
“Pray hard. We are all going to need it.”
Dr. Bartholomew Carson 5 years earlier
Standing in the shadows of the dank, dark alley, Doctor Bartholomew Carson waited patiently for his former professor to materialize from the side door of the lecture hall. The icy night air of March bit into his skin like a thousand tiny needles, but his focus fell to the heavy grey door. The sounds of rodents scurrying up and down the paved street looking for their next meal echoed in the dark, but the doctor never broke from his intense stare at that door. Doctor Theodore Reed, a geophysicist and his wife Constance Reed with a Ph.D. in meteorology and climate change should have ended their lecture forty-five minutes ago, but knowing Theodore Reed as Carson did, he was sure the long-winded man was chatting up the crowd. The pair was quite something to be sure, modern day hippies, who were geniuses. They led research in advancements in technologies that would change our world forever. Part of that technological research, the very man who awaited their appearance wanted with great fervor.
Unlike the good doctor’s inside, Doctor Bartholomew Carson believed from an early age he held great intelligence and one day be bound for greatness. He finished high school while his peers began middle school. At twenty-one and freshly graduated from the doctoral program at Stanford, a prestigious and secretive organization recruited Carson. The Covenant Cove Community and Church led the globe, if not the universe, in research and development in a large array of fields. His specialty, mechanical and technological engineering, appealed to the leadership of The Cove community as they wanted to conquer the world of weather. If man controlled weather patterns, he could increase the productivity of farming communities and bring farming to otherwise barren lands. This effort would have the potential to end world hunger and, in Carson’s eyes, put The Cove Community into the position to dominate the globe. With the machine Carson designed, they would hold the potential to give life or take it away from anyone in any area of the world.
Five years back, Carson had brought this topic up with the Reed’s, who surprised him, by shutting down any further discussion claiming, to control the weather would be acting like God. The Cove, and Carson didn’t view it as playing God. They viewed it as God giving them the knowledge and ability to create such dramatic shifts in climate to make the world a better place, for everyone. The Reed’s claimed it wouldn’t make the world a better place, but a more dangerous one, putting such power in the hands of men could be catastrophic and weaponized. Of course, they also had to mind their opinions in public. Their son, a prominent senator in Nevada, had been laying plans to make a run for the Presidency. In fact, within the next four years, it was looking very likely that Senator Reed’s goal may become a reality. His parent’s shady history already placed a black mark on his otherwise clean image, so it was imperative they kept their mouths shut and their opinions to themselves.
Tonight though, that would change. There would no longer be a choice in the matter. The choice was theirs, either come peacefully or by force. If they still refused to help, Doctor Bartholomew Carson put into motion a secondary plan that most assuredly would twist their arms. For a split second, he moved his eyes away from the door to the black van sitting a few feet away in the shadows. As he moved his eyes back to the door, he sneered in disgust at the speck of glowing fire behind the windshield. Phillip had smoked at least half a pack of cigarettes on their way here, filling the cab with the putrid smell of smoke. Bartholomew wished another driver would have been suitable for this mission, but alas, Phillip’s record proved he was the only choice for this particular job.
The sound of voices pricked his ears just before the exit door swung open and the targeted couple stepped out into the night. A loud metal on metal sound tore through the darkness as the door slammed shut, signaling Bartholomew to make his approach. The couple, moving to their parked car, chatted with amusement filled voices, oblivious to the man coming out of the shadows. “Theodore. Constance.” He greeted and felt a spark of amusement as their bodies jerked to awareness. “Could I have a moment of your time?”
“Carson. If this is about that project you and your community are working on, my wife and I are not interested.” The way he said community grated on Bartholomew’s increasing ire with these people. Two people, with the most brilliant minds in the world, who could not see or grasp the great work the Cove provided for the globe.
“It is. I have built the machine; however, I haven’t been able to stabilize the reactions. I need your expertise to ensure the project is a success.” Theodore about to protest, but Bartholomew beat him to it, “Covenant Cove will make it worth your while.”
“I am sure they would. We are not interested in playing God to the world or having any part of helping it happen.”
Bartholomew smiled with wicked intent and looked down the street to the waiting black van. He lifted his hand ever so slightly, motioning with the tips of his fingers for Phillip to approach. He turned back to the couple. We figured that is what your response would be. Without warning, the darkness filled with blinding headlights and the roar of an engine. Before either doctor could utter another word, Phillip slid the van up behind them, used the auto open feature on the back-sliding doors and shot them both with a tranquilizer dart. Within two heartbeats the good Doctors were incapacitated and locked into the cargo hold of the van. “Head for the docks.” Bartholomew called out as he slammed the side door shut and climbed into the passenger seat next to Phillip, who lit another cigarette as he gassed the engine and took off into the night.
Forty-five minutes later and with the help of four other men, the Doctor’s Theodore and Constance Reed were in a makeshift holding room in a cargo van heading for a privately owned compound in a remote part of central Missouri.
Theodore Reed stirred from his drug-induced sleep but didn’t open his eyes. Instead, he took in his surroundings with his senses. He could smell the light scent of his wife’s perfume and knew she must be close. At least they hadn’t harmed her, he hoped. He did not know how long he had been out but understood they weren’t where they had started. He heard the thrum of an engine in the distance, but nothing else. “Last I checked they were both still out.” A muffled voice stated right before the sound of hinges creaking pierced the otherwise silent room.
Theo didn’t move as footsteps approached. He listened intently as Carson snorted, “For two intelligent people, you aren’t very smart. You should’ve known we wouldn’t stop. Now, you will pay the price.”
Theo lifted his head to see his wife Connie staring daggers at the man who stood before them. “How will we pay?” Theo asked with a touch of anger to his voice.
“You can either agree to help us complete our machine or…” he pulled a remote out of his jacket pocket, pressing a button. A screen lit up, and the doctors looked in horror as someone, filmed their daughter and her fiancé walking along a partially lit street. “Your children will suffer the consequences. Thomas isn’t easy to get to, but it is possible. Your daughter, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to carry the same protection as he does. I would think a man in his position would have a team on his entire family. But lucky for me, he doesn’t.” He removed his jacket and took his time adjusting the cuffs of his shirt.
“So, if we don’t agree to help you… what, you will hurt our children?” Connie said in defiance. She knew she and her husband agreed, under no circumstances would they help the Cove or any other organization in developing a machine that held the ramifications this one did.
“We will not only hurt your children, but we will kill them while you watch. In the scheme of things, one life is but a speck in the fishbowl of our globe. What we are trying to do will undoubtedly increase the quality of life for every single individual on this planet and make our world what God intended it to be in the first place before man ran amuck.” The coldness in his tone was alarming, but Theo didn’t believe for a minute the Cove would kill anyone for their mission to better society.
“We will not help you and I don’t believe your community would allow the harming of innocence to advance your research. That is just absurd.”
Doctor Bartholomew Carson shrugged as if the decision held little meaning to him. He pulled his phone from his trouser pants pocket and sent a text. Within seconds the words he sent appeared on the monitor the Reeds viewed their daughter on. “Show them we are serious.”
Connie screamed out as they stared in horror as their daughter and her fiancé suffered a brutal attack. Brian, Skyler’s fiancé, tried to defend her, but fell to the ground in a heap as one of the four attackers slit his throat. Sound did not accompany the images on the screen, but Theodore could feel his daughter’s cries and pleas as three of the men repeatedly stabbed her. The words, “Enough,” appeared on the screen and the men walked away as if nothing had happened. The screen went blank and a mournful cry erupted from Connie. They had just witnessed the brutal murder of their only daughter and if they didn’t cooperate, their only son would be next.
Thump… thump… thump was all I could hear. The erratic beat slowing as the puddle of blood I laid in grew even wider. I couldn’t move, I should have closed my eyes, but couldn’t turn away from Brian’s lifeless glaze staring at me, his face etched with horror and pain. The cold desert night took me over, but all I felt was numbness. The sound of boots running toward me broke the drum beat sound of my heart, but I didn’t flinch. One of them had returned. To make sure death took me, I was sure. I prayed for a painless death. “Lady, Lady. Jesus! I am so so sorry. I didn’t know what they planned. I thought we were just supposed to scare you and make it look real. If I would have known… My God. Hold on, please for the love of God hold on! I called 911. I gave those other guys the slip and made the call. Just please hold on! I promise on my grandmother’s grave, as soon as EMS and the police get here, I will turn myself in and I will tell them who did this to you. Please, just hang on!” I didn’t want to hang on, I wanted to let go, shut down and forget it all.
Within minutes I could hear the high-pitched screaming sound of sirens approaching as neighborhood dogs howled. In a matter of seconds, a man in black BDU pants and combat boots knelt in front of me, “We got a weak pulse here. Does she have identification? Hey, ask him if he knows who she is.” The telltale sound of handcuffs clinking echoed as the man who returned after the attack sobbed, retelling the tragic events that took place. “Ma’am? Stay with me. My name is Officer Doug Maxwell. Can you tell me your name?” I couldn’t say a thing. Every time I tried, my mouth would fill with the coppery taste of blood, which made me gag. I fought with all I had left, determined not to die in a pool of my blood in this filthy alley. I may die but it would not be here.
“Holy Sh… Max! We have a problem! I think she may be Senator Reed’s sister.” A woman’s alto voice proclaims.
“Please tell me you don’t mean the Senator Reed that is planning on running for President.” A deep male voice begged. They exchanged words, but I couldn’t make them out. The male voice responded, “I’ll make the call.” Then I was being manhandled onto a stretcher.
Officer Maxwell’s voice whispered in my ear, “Hold on Skyler. We’re gonna get you help, and my buddy is calling your brother.” As soon as I knew I help arrived, I let go. Nothing else penetrated my hearing.
Throughout my life, I heard the old cliché, ‘It is darkest before the dawn.’ I always thought it as a literal saying. I witnessed a great deal of morning sunrises and never understood this sentiment. Until that night. Those words finally made sense to me. When people said it, they didn’t mean it in a literal sense at all, they meant you are at the bottom of the barrel looking out waiting for the sun to light your way, for the light to guide you up out of the darkness and bring you back to life. I had been there. Not at the bottom of a barrel, but in a dark alley knocking on death’s door. Left for dead, lying in a pile of trash and staring into the cold lifeless eyes of my fiancé. The four men who attacked us believed I was dead or figured I would bleed out of one of the thirty-two stab wounds they inflicted me with. They were sadly mistaken. I fought to stay alive though some days I don’t know why. Two months in a hospital bed and when I finally walked back into the light, back to life, I made my ultimate decision. The filth of this world touch wouldn’t touch me again. I would find a remote location and isolate myself from the evil that permeated every street, house, and office space in these overpopulated cities. They would take nothing away from me again. I knew not every person held the evil I feared, but sometimes, it was hard to tell the good from the bad. For me, I would simply leave the lot behind.
Six Months Later
I stood on the front porch of my brand-new hideaway as the last supply truck exited the temporary drive made of skids that stretched five miles out to the county road. “Sky are you sure this is a good idea? There isn’t anyone or anything for miles. What if you have trouble?” My brother wanted me to come live with him and his family, but I just couldn’t imagine it. Not to mention the twenty-four-hour, seven days a week security detail I would have following my every move. I need my solace.
“Tommy,” using the voice my Mother had to persuade him when he was being difficult. “I feel safe here. I’ll be alone and the security system I designed will ensure my safety. I promised to keep the SAT phone and check in every week.” a weighted sigh left my chest, “Besides, this will give me the opportunity to perform live operational checks and work out any bugs with the development project.”
His face took on a pinched facade before he finally caved, “You’re as hard-headed as our old man.”
I laughed, “You mean as hard-headed as you.” I jabbed my finger into his bicep.
“Ouch. That could land you in federal prison, you know.” His stupid cocky grin graced his face.
Tommy, ten years older than my twenty years was the best big brother a girl could ever ask for. Our parents, Theodore and Constance Reed, were highly respected scientist, at one time had been free loving modern hippies. My mom at seventeen and dad at nineteen held wild and free plans for their lives. Which all changed when Thomas Storm Reed surprised them. He put a dent in their plans to travel across the country on my dad’s Harley. Instead, they bought an RV and took off two months after he was born. When Tommy turned two, our dad, at twenty-one enrolled in college. In less than five years, he achieved a doctorate in geophysics. After he graduated Mom decided she needed a degree as well and did just as good as dad, receiving a doctorate in meteorological science. My parents for all their faults were probably the two smartest people on the planet, but if you met them on the street, you would never know it.
Unlike my brother, our parents planned for me and every opportunity that arose, I took it to rub in Tommy’s face. Which usually backfired when he pulled out his big gun. He had gotten away with a kooky middle name, not me. I was born Starry Sky Reed. I often wondered if my parents got high on occasion because nobody in their right mind would name their child Starry. As a home-schooled kid, I didn’t realize the oddity of my name; it was just… my name. Until I turned fifteen and got my driver’s permit. The woman behind the counter gave me a pitying look and then took in my father with his long hair, John Lennon glasses, and The Doors t-shirt. The lady never said a word, but I could see the questions brewing beneath her gray eyes. Entering college early at seventeen, I begged the administrator to let me put Skyler Reed on my identification card. With sympathy in his eyes, the approval was granted. Most people shortened their first name, I extended mine to Skyler. It wasn’t a common name, but some used it far more than Sky. From that day forward, I would never be known as Starry again and took great pains to ensure I never had to tell anyone. Except for my brother, who used it as a bargaining chip.
Tommy broke into my reminiscing, “Please engage CIP when you go to bed. No! You keep CIP on all the time. While you’re out here, maybe you can make her into a personal assistant who can answer your calls or tell me your location any time I want to know.”
Bouncing on the balls of my feet like an excited five-year-old, “Ooh… ooh… ooh, I could design a communications device, like on Star Trek. I will just pat my emblem and give orders. Beam me up, Tommy.” He grabbed me putting me into a headlock. “Security! Security!” He let me go and I glared at his goon squad, “Really? You just turn the other cheek when he assaults someone. Bet if I did it to him you would take me down in a heartbeat.” The lead security guru, Marty Wilkins, just shook his head and looked the other way.
“All right. I guess I will leave you here against my better judgment. Just be safe and call me.” Tommy gave me a hug. “I love you, baby spit.”
“I love you too, big toad. Have a safe flight.” Firmly squeezing him in my embrace for a second longer before I let him return to his priorities.
As he climbed into the back of his black SUV, Wilkins approached me. “You sure about this kiddo?” Marty, just two years older than Tommy, always played a fatherly role with me. He had been with Tommy since his first Senate election and he became part of our family.
“Yeah, Marty. You look after him, he is a bigger target than I will ever be.” He gave a single nod, patted my shoulder, and climbed into the front passenger seat of my brother’s SUV. As soon as the entourages tail lights left my sight, I inhaled a deep cleansing breath and let it out. The scenic view from my front porch looked marred by the skids that made up the road leading out, but the crew would be in tomorrow to remove that eyesore and I couldn’t wait. I closed my eyes hearing… nothing. Some people might find the lack of noise maddening. I found it refreshing and a miracle. Places like this were few and far between. It was easy to find rural homes but even harder to find rural homes or land that didn’t have power lines running through it or neighbors who had livestock or farmed clear up to the fence row. I had no clue who my neighbor was and hoped he never showed. However, if he did, I highly doubted he would traverse his twenty-five-hundred-acre plot to trouble me.
Chapter 2 Skyler
One year later
The summer was ending and the fall foliage of mid-September turned my forest home into an array of brilliant yellows, oranges, and reds. I poured myself a supersize mug of coffee and headed out to watch the sunrise off my back porch. The woods where I built my little retreat were quiet, except for a few squirrels chattering back and forth as they jumped from tree to tree. Over a year ago, after a most horrific attack, rather than rejoin a society I no longer trusted, I bought a fifteen-hundred-acre tract of land in the most rural, most unpopulated area of central Missouri I could find. The property sat thirty-five miles from the nearest town and well over a hundred miles from the nearest city. I built my safe-haven on the backside of the acreage close to an uninhabited piece of land. According to the county land maps, that parcel was around two thousand five hundred acres. The owner had died about ten years ago and leaving the acreage to his grandson. A grandson, no one seemed to know or how to get in touch with.
I wanted to purchase that land. Not out of greed, mostly because I didn’t want to chance another living soul impeding on my sanctuary. Most wouldn’t do well in isolation. I even saw a preview a few years back for a reality show where individuals tried to survive in isolation, unsuccessfully. Not me, I thrive on it. After my parent’s accident, my brother and his daughter were my only remaining family, and the only people I kept in direct contact. I talked to Tommy once a week via satellite phone, per his request, mainly to appease his fears. He understood my need to be away from people. The lack of trust I felt. However, he insisted that he could protect me beyond measure. Out here, I guaranteed my safety. Around other people, I had to depend on others and history proved that others would not help.
As I enjoyed my peaceful morning and picturing the future views of winter snow a… ping… ping… ping rudely interrupted my quiet. “Is that a truck backing up?” I asked a squirrel scampering away. It is close, closer than it should be. Listening intently now, I hear what sounds like a gear grinding and something mechanical being moved. The sound is coming from the adjoining property. The fence line is only about a hundred yards away. If the leaves had fallen, I would more than likely have a full view of the activity taking place. However, it was not quite fall yet. I set my mug down, slip back into my house and retrieve my Glock nine-millimeter and found out what, or rather who was impeding on my solace at six in the morning.
As I approached the line, I could see a large bright red flatbed truck with a crane lift jutting out. The door on the side proclaimed it to be from ‘Tiny Homes, LLC.’ Attached to the crane were several heavy-duty straps. The truck driver, lifted, positioned, and then lowered what appeared to be one of those tiny houses on a gravel pad. The driver spoke to a large hairy man, had him sign several papers on a clipboard. They shook hands and the driver left. “Who the heck do you think you are?” I muttered to myself. I chose my spot because it was away from people and because it appeared that the new owner would never return to the land. Peeking through the trees, I could see this man had set up a tent, a work table, and had what looked like a John Deere Gator on a trailer attached to a four-wheel-drive truck. Further inspection and I could see a fire pit with a cast-iron pot on a tripod. How had I not heard him move in, not a hundred yards from my back porch?
I studied the man for several long minutes. He went to his fire pit and dunked a cup into the pot. He sat down on a five-gallon bucket and emptied a little packet into his mug. Coffee, he was sitting in my woods, drinking coffee, and enjoying my solace. Taking in a deep breath, I decide to confront this… this… yeti and ask him to move his house somewhere else. Yeti was the only way to describe him. He had to be at least six foot six and two hundred and fifty pounds. His scraggly hair was a dark brown that hung limply around his shoulders. He had so much hair that it was hard from this distance to tell where it ended, and his beard began. He definitely looked like a roughian, but his body language gave me the impression that he was approachable. Pointing the barrel toward the ground I made my way out of the thicket of trees and scrub brush on light feet. When I was about twenty feet away, he noticed me. He smiled and raised his hand to wave but stopped short when he saw my weapon. He slowly stood up, keeping his hands where I could see them, lowered his right hand with the coffee mug to set the cup on the bucket. “Good morning?” He called with a touch of hesitancy.
“Morning. Who are you? And, what are you doing on this property?” There was no time for pleasantries. I wanted answers.
He looked around, hands still in the air, “You must be the crazy lady they told me about in town.” Amusement laced his tone.
The nearest town was about thirty-five miles away and only had a population of about two thousand people. They were nosy and full of questions. I never gave them answers; therefore, I was the ‘crazy lady in the woods.’ “I asked, who you are and what you are doing? This is private property.”
He looked around, still smiling, “Yes, yes it is private property. And if I am not mistaken, you are the one who crossed the fence. Therefore it is you who is on private property, not that I am keeping score.”
This man was ticking me off. “Look, dude, I see I amuse you and yes, I agree that I crossed the border fence. However, the last time I checked, this property was not on the market and I check often. So, if you would please answer my questions, I would appreciate it.”
He sighed, “My name is Tracker Hicks, I inherited this property from my grandfather ten years ago. I recently separated from the Army and settled here on this land.”
“Bullshit!” I really wanted to clap my hand over my mouth, however, the weapon in my hand prevented the movement. I was not prone to outbursts, and it was rare a curse word would pass my lips. However, my level of irritation was rapidly rising. The man before me looked nothing like a military man, from any branch of our military, and I had spent a few years working with the military, so I knew. “What was your MOS?”
“Combat Field Medic attached to a Special Forces Unit.”
That was the most generic answer I had ever heard. Everyone was a medic or truck driver. “Where were you stationed?”
“Fort Carson, Colorado.”
“What was your rank at discharge?”
“Sergeant First Class.”
“Were you honorably discharged?” Doubt had crept in. He may have been military but not the good kind.
“Yes. With several honors, including a Purple Heart.” The jerk smiled at me again.
“What was your grandfather’s name?”
“What kind of name is Tracker?” I huffed as I was losing steam.
“Tracker is what my family called me around the age of five and it stuck. Real name is Jackson, Jackson Hicks, for my grandpa.”
Well, he seemed to be on the up and up. I slid my weapon back into my holster and as I looked back up I noticed, he had pulled a weapon of similar style to mine. Then he began his inquisition. “Who are you?”
I rolled my eyes, “I am Skyler Reed. I own the property joining yours.”
“Are you crazy?”
I snorted, “I supposed to the locals I am. I have only been in town twice.”
“How long have you lived in these woods?”
I thought about that, “This is my second winter here.”
“How did you know what questions to ask?”
How to answer this without giving too much away, “I worked at Nellis Air Base for ten years.”
He looked a little shocked, “In what capacity were you employed by the Air Force?”
“The Air Force did not employ me, the US government did for my specialty in research, design, and engineering of military and civilian safety devices. I cannot tell you more than that as most everything in entailed is Top Secret classified at the highest level.”
“What is your classification level?”
He slid his weapon into his thigh holster and gaped at me, definitely former military, “Son of a… Yankee White? That is Presidential level.” He studied me for a few seconds before going on, “I plan on living here, so maybe we could be a little neighborly? Not pull weapons on each other and crap like that?” He motioned his hands indicating the two of us.
I looked at him. The last thing I want is a neighbor. “Mr. Hicks, my cabin is approximately one hundred yards to the west. I would appreciate it if you stayed on your side of the fence. I am not out here to be neighborly.”
“Are you out here alone?”
I paused in my attempt to remove myself from this situation before I gave away too much information, “I am alone, but do not think for one second that I cannot or will not defend myself.”
He threw his hands in the air in surrender, “Look, Ms. Reed, Skyler, I just want to know if I would run into anyone else out here. I mean you know harm. I am out here to get away from… well, everybody. I have no intention of harming you or your property. Nor will I be showing up at three in the afternoon looking to borrow a cup of sugar.”
Even though he added in his little quip at the end of his statement, he seemed to be sincere, which required no reply, so I turned my back to him and marched to my tree line for home. “It was nice meeting you.” He called as I retreated to my home.
As soon as I walked through my back door I called out, “CIP, engage all locks.”
I heard the telltale sound of the deadbolts clicking into place before CIP announced, “All locks engaged.” I grabbed the SAT phone Tommy had left me, from the bread box. Well, to most it appeared to be a breadbox, with a loaf of bread in it. What the box really was, was a vacuum-tube system, like they have at banks. In case of an emergency, it would shoot the phone down to a room in the basement storage area that functioned as a safe room.
I made haste and dialed the number. Two rings and Tommy answered, “Is there a problem? You’re a day early.”
“No. There is no problem. I don’t think.” I chewed my lower lip. I didn’t want Tommy sending out a search and destroy team, but I wanted him to be aware all the same. “I wanted to let you know that I have a neighbor. The grandson evidently has moved to his property.”
“Sis, there isn’t anything I can do about that.” Tommy sounded regretful in his words.
“Oh, I don’t want you to do anything with him. I just wanted you to know I wasn’t alone out here… should… should something happen.”
“Did he scare you?” Anger lit his tone.
“No. Actually, he was quite friendly, other than he looks like a yeti, he seemed to be on the up and up.”
“Give me his deets.” He sounded all big brotherly, then broke out in laughter, “A yeti?”
I let out a heavy sigh, “Yeah, you know, big, lots of hair, a yeti. He said his name in Jackson Hicks, but everyone calls him Tracker. He claims to have just left the Special Forces Unit from Fort Carson with a Purple Heart. I didn’t know Fort Carson had a Special Forces Unit.”
Tommy was silent a few beats before saying one word, “NORAD.”
“Oh, well, that makes sense.”
“Okay. engage CIP and I will see what I can find out.”
“Already did.” I forced reassurance into my tone.
“The name doesn’t sound familiar, but if he is a former military man, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”
“I’m not worried Tommy, really. You said if anything ever changed out here to let you know. I let you know.”
“All right. Anything else.”
“Nope. Consider this your once a week and tell Lizzie I’ll video chat with her on our regular day.”
“Yeah, she has been really down since Cam is out on that mission. You’re the only other person she can talk to about that, besides me. And, she doesn’t seem to want to confide in dear old dad.”
I laughed, “I wonder why.”
“Okay, Sky, I have to get to my meeting. I’ll talk to you next week.” We hung up, and I went about my morning, trying to forget the man next door. Four thousand acres in the middle of nowhere and he had to move a hundred yards from my back door. At least I did my homework before choosing my building site. It was the fifteenth of the month, time to do my status checks and make sure everything was a go in case of an attack. That was my job, research, design, and now data recording. The lives of thousands of people depend on my research and I wasn’t about to lose one, because some…yeti, moved next door.
Chapter 3 Tracker
Well, I ain’t too sure what the folks in town saw from this woman, but crazy she was not. A Yankee White clearance meant she was in direct communication with the President at some point, maybe she still was. It also meant she went through an intense background check. I shook my head as I watched her walk away. It seemed like she was a lot like, well, me. Tired of the crap the world dumped on us, so we left civilization for a back to lander style of living. Although, she really didn’t look like a woman who had been living in the wilderness roughing it for the past five years. Skyler Reed was a classically beautiful woman, with a very pale complexion, which caused the scar that ran from her temple to her chin to stand out. Her outward was clean and well-kept in appearance, which is why I found it so odd that she had been out here for so long. I looked down at myself. I had been up for about two hours before the truck arrived and I looked as if I had been rolling around in the dirt. I reached up, running an open hand over my bearded face. It was hot, itchy, and I really didn’t much care for it, but it hid the physical scars that clothing didn’t. As long as I kept myself in check, the emotional damage that simmered below the surface never showed. After I settled in my new home, I would shave the mess off or at the very least trim it, so I didn’t appear homeless. Skyler didn’t seem conscientious with her scars, maybe I shouldn’t concern myself with mine.
At dusk, I would do a recon mission through the woods to see exactly where her cabin was in relation to mine and see how she was doing this back to lander thing. I guess I should have done that first before having my cabin delivered. But hell, who would have thought, with all this acreage that we would set up homesteads less than a mile away from each other. Walking in the front door of my new twelve by thirty foot home, I took it all in. The woodsy clean smell of the cedar warmed my spirit. All one open room with a sleeping loft on the far end and a small wood stove by the front door. Underneath the sleeping loft, was for all intents and purposes, a kitchen. But with no power or running water, it was more likely to be a food prep and storage area. The one luxury I allowed myself, the closet-sized bathroom with a composting toilet. Having spent time in Colorado during the winter, I knew there was no way in hell I was walking outside every time I needed to use the facilities.
Having had wasted enough time glorying in my new home, it was time to get to work. I moved my supplies from my tent to their rightful place inside. As I folded my two-man tent up I looked out through the trees as four whitetail deer made their way to the creek bank, a creek I hoped had fish in it. When I first learned grandpa Jackson had left me this land, I never would have thought I would be here. I considered selling the property at first. The military was my life, and I was a military man, loyal to the core. My plans included retirement or die serving my country. Never, did it crossed my mind they would discharge me for medical reasons and leave me out in the cold. Well, that wasn’t all true. I could have stayed if I went through the months of psychological evaluations they wanted to put me through. “Sergeant Hicks, we would want nothing more than to keep you on in an active capacity. However, unless you comply with the therapy and medications, we will have no choice but to medically discharged you.”
I chose the latter. I didn’t want to be doped up, nor did I want to listen to some guy who had never been to the sandpit tell me how to deal with my issues. I didn’t have issues. Maybe nightmares and an inability to trust anyone. But I hadn’t hurt myself or anyone else, didn’t have plans for either, I hadn’t gone off the rails. I had been in these woods a week and already felt more like myself than I had in the months of post-incident debriefing the military had put me through. They had decimated my team, and I was the sole survivor of that attack, there was nothing to go back to. Even if I did do their treatments, they would reassign me to a new team and I couldn’t, wouldn’t do that. I was glad that I had never sold this slice of heaven grandpa left me as it gave me somewhere to go, to call home.
After I had all my tools and gear stowed away, I went to the creek to wash up then went to my cabin to prepare an MRE for supper. You would think after years of eating that crap, I wouldn’t want the stuff, but they weren’t that bad, in a pinch, when you got to choose which one you ate. Plus, they were loaded with the calories I would need in the next few days of getting set up. Once that task was underhand, I would hunt and fish for my meals. As I sat on my makeshift chair, a five-gallon bucket, I thought about my neighbor. She wasn’t a bad looking woman, even with the scar. Maybe in her early thirties and definitely fit, standing about five foot six and not more than a hundred pounds. I found it hard to believe that she had been out here that long and rarely went into town for supplies. I looked around at the items I had brought in with me. I would have to make a trip in at least once a month the way I figured it, I might make it two. “Wonder if you will share your secrets of survival success with me, Skyler Reed.” I mused aloud to the empty room.
As the light of day turned into complete darkness, I trekked my way through the forest using my night vision goggles to see my way. It wasn’t long before I found a spot where she had been cutting wood. Chunks of bark littered the ground and… reaching down scooping up a hand full of light-colored matter, sawdust. She had a chainsaw? It was then I caught the distinct smell of smoke from a fire burning. Like a ghost, I whispered through the forest on light feet until I came to a slight clearing and there in the middle stood… I pulled my goggles up on my forehead and blinked several times, sure I wasn’t seeing this. She didn’t have a cabin at all. I had a cabin. This was a freaking house, not a tiny house, but a full sized, at least a thousand square foot home with a wrap-around porch. It looked like something you would see on a Christmas card, cozy, warm, inviting, with smoke rolling out of the flue pipe. I moved to the front of the house where I could see a light shining out of a window. From this distance, I could see she was sitting by the fire, drinking a hot beverage, and reading a book. I wasn’t close enough to see what book but could see it held her attention. I moved around and peered in a side window that was dark. I pulled down my night vision goggles and could see it was her bedroom with a large, likely, king sized four poster bed made of what appeared to be cedar logs. I lifted my goggles and moved to the next window. A small, but functional kitchen. To the right, I could see a small door and it looked like a staircase going up to the attic space. I saw a shadow of movement from the front room, so I backed away from the window. She came in the kitchen, rinsed her mug in the sink and walked out. I decided before this excursion crossed the line in to pervert territory, I would head back to camp.
Back in my cabin, I shook my head. My idea of a cabin was one large room, no partitions, no indoor plumbing, no lights. She must have solar collectors and a water well. That had to cost a pretty penny. I wasn’t broke by any means, but I couldn’t afford to shell out the cash to have someone drive in here and dig a well. My plan was to use the creek and rain collection barrels. I had considered putting one solar panel up just so I could run a radio or charge a handheld gaming device. I couldn’t image the system she had to generate enough power to have lights, running water, and an actual kitchen, complete with refrigerator and stove. Not to mention building an actual house. Hell, I paid thirty thousand for my little box. I didn’t ask her what she did for our government, but whatever it was must have paid her well.
I shook thoughts of Skyler Reed out of my mind and shucked off my gear. It was time to turn in if I were going to be up at sunrise to get myself set up before the winter hit. My first priority, cutting wood. There were a lot of things in this world I hated, being cold was one. Even after spending five years in the sandpits of Iraq in a hundred and twenty-five-degree temperatures, in full battle gear, I still preferred to be hot opposed to cold. I stripped down to my boxers and stretched out on my cot. “I try not to ask for too much from you, because you have pulled me out of a lot of trouble, but please grant me some peace and solace here in these woods. Take away the nightmare’s and help me recover.” Lifting the silver cross I wore around my neck, I kissed it and promptly fell asleep.
Chapter 4 The Singleton Family
Holly finished wiping down the counter of their new cabin as Mark walked back in to get the last bag. “The kids don’t want to leave.” He said to his wife as he came up behind her, wrapping her in his arms.
“I told you they would like it. We should have put this in a few years ago. Are they in the gator?”
“Nope, they wanted to go to the creek one last time. I told them that would be okay. I want to check the locked room while they aren’t around.”
Holly pulled out of his embrace and went to the front door locking it. Mark opened the door to the little room that housed the toilet, flipping the switch the door frame hid. A metal click sounded in the stillness and Mark slid the panel open. To the naked eye, the rear wall of their tiny cabin appeared normal. From the outside, it looked like the rear of the cabin sat flush against a bluff. In fact, behind a fake wall was a six by six concrete room with a hatch in the floor. Underneath their tiny woodland cabin lay a ten by fifty-foot survival bunker. Mark never concerned with the state of the world until he had children of his own. The constant stream of threats and violence that came across the nightly news prompted him to bring it up with Holly.
They had saved up for three years before her father passed leaving her a hefty inheritance. A portion of that inheritance went into building this little peace of mind for the future of their family. Mark had inherited a five hundred acre farm when his Mother passed where he ran cattle. Given he hauled cattle for a living and had his own operation, limited their family’s time for vacations. To their kids, the little cabin in the woods was a perfect vacation. Holly’s fifteen-year-old daughter from her previous marriage didn’t think so, but Mark chalked that up to her teenage attitude. Within fifteen minutes, Mark had checked the operating system of the bunker and re-secured the hatch.
“Everything look okay?” Holly asked.
“Looks good. I hope to hell we never have to take our kids down there, but I am sure glad we have it, just in case.”
“Me too. On the Blakely Hour the other night they were talking about tensions brewing in North Korea again. The host said the American people aren’t being given the whole story. It scares me to think what would happen to us, our kids if war broke out on a global scale.”
“Just make sure you update the duffle bags. If something should ever happen, we’ll be halfway prepared.” Following the advice of a survivalist website they had come across, Mark and Holly had packed a duffle bag for each child, including Holly’s teen daughter who only came to stay with them one weekend every couple of months. “Did you tell Kayla anything?”
“No, I worry she would turn it all around and tell her father we are prepping for the end of the world. Then he wouldn’t let her come over here at all. Not to mention she could tell her friends. I haven’t told anyone to be honest.”
“Me neither. I think it is for the best.” Mark re-engaged the locks and grabbed the box of perishable foods they planned on taking back to the house with them. He walked out the door as Holly took one more look around the small twelve by thirty-foot space before following her husband out to their gator.
“Boys, let’s go!” Mark called out toward the creek. A few minutes passed before three dark headed boys came running through the trees. Zachary, the oldest at ten in the lead, followed by eight-year-old twins Jacob and Joshua.
They piled into the bench seat of the ATV before Mark and Holly heard the twins whispering to their older brother, “Ask them, ask them.”
“Ask us what?” Mark turned in the driver seat to peer at them.
“Can we stay one more night?” Zachary asked followed by a trio of, “Pleeeeeaaassseeee.”
Holly covered her mouth to hide the smile. “Maybe we can come back next weekend if all goes well. But we have to head back today, you guys have to go to school in the morning.” Mark answered first.
“And don’t you boys miss your game systems and computers?” Holly added.
“No.” They all answered.
Zachary, the spokesman of the three explained, “Winter will be here soon and we can play on them then. We really liked playing at the creek and being outside.”
“You know, we can come over here during Thanksgiving break and Christmas break too? Anytime we want to get away together. That’s why your mom and I bought it.”
“Will Santa know where to find us if we are over here for Christmas?” Jacob asked, his missing front teeth causing his speech to sound slurred.
“Santa knows where you are all the time. Remember he knows when you are sleeping, awake if you have been bad or good… you all know how the song goes.” Holly cut off before they all ended up sing Christmas songs before Halloween arrived.
Mark started the engine then they headed back across the creek to their small three-bedroom home. The boys chatting away in the backseat the entire three-mile ride home. They took a detour through the pastures to check the cattle and take in the serene views of their country home before finally pulling into the drive.
Thirty minutes later Holly started a load of laundry and made school lunches for the next day. “Back to the old routine.” She said to her husband over the drone of YouTube and steady beeping from one of the gaming systems.
“Well, it was nice while it lasted. We should try to go over there a couple times a month, to get away.” Holly nodded in agreement as the sound of a horn blared from the front drive. “Junior must be out and about.” He turned to go out the door to talk to his friend.
Pointing a butter knife at her husband, “Under no circumstances do you ever tell Junior about our hideaway.”
Mark chuckled holding three fingers in the air, “Scouts honor my love. I will never tell him anything.”
Holly sighed with heavy emotion. Their life seemed to be a constant state of chaos. However, the past few days proved to be what their little family needed. She wished Kayla would spend more time with them rather than stick her nose up at living in the country. Her daughter lived in a larger town about sixty miles away and Kayla insisted her social life and being able to see her friends was important. However, when Holly observed her with her friends, she noticed they never actually spoke to one another, but always had their faces glued to their cell phones. Holly had spoken to her ex, Erik about it several times, but he didn’t seem to understand. Of course, with his law practice, his nose was usually stuck in his phone as well.
Later that night after the boys were asleep Mark brought up the reason for Junior’s Sunday afternoon visit. “Seems George Jackson grandson showed up in town last week. Junior says he put a cabin on the backside of his property.”
“Really?” Did he know where at?
“No, but we drove out there to introduce ourselves, being neighborly. I remember Tracker spending a couple of summers here with his grand-dad and the man I met resembles nothing of the boy from way back when.”
Holly patted her husband’s stomach, “You don’t look much like the young man from way back when either.”
Mark chuckled, “Nah, I suppose I don’t. Anyway, he seemed nice enough. He put in a little cabin like ours about two miles up the creek from us. Before you ask, I didn’t mention our cabin, but I mentioned that the creek ran through us.”
“Has he met that crazy woman that moved up there a year ago?”
Mark nodded his head, “He says she is quite nice although he doesn’t think she is real thrilled to have a neighbor. We didn’t stay long, but he seemed all right”
“Well if you think he’s all right I won’t worry.”
Mark kissed his wife good night and shut the lights out.