The Promise Of A Lifetime

© 2004 All Rights Reserved
by B. S. Raven
Disclaimer see Chapter 1


Chapter 13


The brewing coffee filtered its way across the small room to the sleeping woman. Slowly her eyelids flickered, and then finally opened. Finley stretched and she wiped a hand across her lips. Coffee smells good. To bad I can’t even boil water properly or I’d make her coffee some mornings. I wonder if Burley would teach me how to make a small pot, instead of a large urn? She looked around the room as she sat up, but didn’t see Fletcher.

A none too eager hand reached for her robe on the floor beside the sofa bed. Although the room was relatively warm, she shivered for some reason. Her eyes went to the window above the sink, and she began a smile. Fletcher had opened the shutters and a hazy light drifted in through the panes. “It isn’t snowing,” the declaration turning her little smile into a full grin. “We’ll be able to go to the site,” she said to the frosty glass.

As she pulled on her robe, her thoughts wondered back to the night before. However, she quickly forced her mind to let that thinking and those feelings stay tucked away until she could digest them and see if Fletcher was as moved by them as she had been. We have a lot to work through, Fletcher, but we have certainly put a dent into the distance between us I believe, she sighed.

Shaking her head to clear the thoughts, Finley hastily went towards the bedroom, but stopped at the doorway and looked all around the floor for uninvited guest before she entered the room and dressed. A few minutes later, she returned to find Fletcher entering the cabin. “Morning.”

The Park Director smiled. “And a good morning to you, Miss Sleepy Head.” She unzipped her coat and laid it on the boxes next to the front door. “I’ve serviced the snowmobile and it’s ready to roll. The generator is full, and will keep the cabin warm.” She went to the sink and washed up before she went to the oven and removed a pan of Danishes and sat them on the table. “No bacon and eggs this morning, but Burley sent half a dozen sweet rolls for breakfast. You want coffee?”

“Yes, please. I’ll get the saucers for the rolls, and I think I’ll have cream in my coffee this morning.” She went to the shelf and removed two saucers and sat them on the table.

“Burley only brought powdered creamer, will that do?” Fletcher asked as she removed the small jar from the food shelf and sat it on the table.

“That’s fine.”

“Snow and sleet let up about four this morning, but there are huge banks all over the place. Took me ten minutes to get the snow and tarp off the snowmobile,” she said as she sat the two mugs on the table and sat down.

“Will we be able to get to the site with that much snow banking the trail?”

“Yeah, we’ll go the way Jamison came back last night. Will take us a few minutes longer, but the trees on that route will help.” She sank her teeth into one of the homemade rolls. “This is so good,” she chewed another moment before swallowing.

“These are heavenly. I know I’ve put on five pounds since Burley has been at the park. I won’t be able to get into any of my clothes.” Finley reached for another roll. “But this is worth the exercise I’ll have to do,” she moaned as she bit into the Danish.

Fletcher enjoyed watching the woman eat. She didn’t care if she gained fifty pounds. “You don’t have to worry about any excess poundage, Finley. You’ve been up and down that ravine so many times during the day, that any excess fat is long gone.” She sipped her coffee.

“You think so?” Finley held up one of her arms and tried to pinch any flab that might be hanging down. After several attempts and none could be found, she dropped her arm again and reached for another roll.

“It’s still overcast outside so I radioed the office. I wanted someone to come pick up the report I left on the front seat of my SUV. They informed me the forecast is for more snow later today, so we’d better get a move on.”

Finley stuffed the last piece of the roll into her mouth and shook her head up and down. Within a few seconds, the roll was followed by several swigs of the strong brew. She stood up and finished the coffee, then sat it in the small sink before she went into the bedroom to get her knapsack.

The trip did take a little longer as Fletcher had predicted. She shut off the snowmobile and placed the tarp over the top and secured it with several branches she had been using for the past week.

She removed her pack from the back of the sturdy snowmobile and after slipping her arms in the wide straps she snapped the front clip in place. Instantly the hairs on the back of her neck stood on ends. Something wasn't right. She could feel it. Out came the binoculars and she scanned the area from the edge of the ravine slowly and deliberately up to the summit. The glasses then gradually moved to the opposite ridge and back down the gully to the opposite crest where they were standing.. Nothing seemed out of the normal, but Fletcher’s instincts told her to use all the precautions that she could and be prepared for the unexpected. She scanned the entire surrounding area for the second time and still wasn’t satisfied.

“Everything alright, Fletcher?” Finely stepped back to the snowmobile where Fletcher was removing the Winchester from its sheath.

“Didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but my gut feelings tell me something isn’t quite right. I know we’re being watched, but I can’t spot any frosted breath, or anything that seems out of place.” She slid the rifle over her shoulder next to her backpack and turned to her companion.

“Finley, I want you to keep as close to the sides of the chasm as possible. I don’t want you out in the open without at least a few rocks or a tree or two between you and the top of the ridge.” Her head nodded up the ravine to the crest of the gulch.

“Okay Fletcher, but we’ll be in a few partially open spaces as we measure part of the west side of the rock slide and below the overhang.” Finley tone warred with the sick feeling in her guts.

“Just be careful, and don’t stand for long in any open spaces if you can prevent it.” She warned and motioned for Finley to descend the knotted rope handrail first. The rope guide had been attached to a tree just off the trail and to another tree down the incline next to the overhang. It was covered with snow and iced in some places making the descent slower than usual, but was an added safety factor in descending the grade with a full backpack.

“Wow,” became a vastly overused word during Finley’s examination of the geological configuration surrounding the overhang. The paleontologist was in ecstasy as she made her notation in her little black book and moved a few feet to another formation. After a few more photos of each physical sample and jaw-dropping looks at the environmental surroundings, the smaller woman sat down next to a rock to make the necessary data notations required for the photographs she had just taken.

Above the tree line, two great bald eagles circled the area. The human concealed in the snow above the ridge had disturbed the peaceful tranquility of their nesting site just after dawn. The eagles had circled over the man at daylight as he carefully camouflaged his hiding place and settle in for a couple hours of sleep before his female objectives arrived.

Uranus circled his fifteen-year mate Gaea, in a protective maneuver as they continued to loop the territory that they had held for many years. Many bald eagle pairs have been known to continuously occupy nesting sites for twenty years or longer.

Both eagles had swooped down over the summit to see the human stomping through the snow at first light. Uranus was suspicious of this human. He had observed the man off and on for over a week just lying in wait, as if to shoot some unknown species. But he had also observed the green drab clad humans he had come to recognize from his many years as being protective of all wildlife and there had been one of those humans below for all that length of time also, although not the same one. Even though the bald eagle knew the green drab humans wouldn’t do him or his mate any harm, the white clad human was not one of these.

The old eagle had observed this particular human in various parts of the vast park taking the lives of numerous and different wildlife. The big bird had narrowly avoided being hit by pot shots by this man creature on two separate occasions. For this reason the great eagle believed his defensive aerial maneuvers with his beloved Gaea was necessary. He carefully drew her away from the peak and back towards the trees near the waterfalls on the opposite side of the ravine.

Uranus and Gaea had bonded somewhere around his sixth year of life. He had gained by then, the brilliant white head and tail feathers of an adult, and had honed his hunting skills to the fine edge essential for providing the food required by a mate and nestling young.

It was a bond strengthened through the years to be broken only when one member of the pair should die. A bond renewed in late winter and early spring each year while the lake was still ice rimmed and snow clung to the conifer shadows. A bond with fires rekindled as the pair took to the skies in a breathtaking aerial courtship ballet.

Higher and higher they would climb, their shrill calls echoing across the shimmering lake as they soared briefly before folding their wings to plunge downward with interlocked talons, cart-wheeling and tumbling and pirouetting down, down, down, before finally separating and spreading their wings in order to narrowly avoid splashing into the chill lake waters. They would then soar upwards to repeat their courtship performance again and again…the courtship ritual of so many long years ago.

Today was not the day that Uranus had chosen for either of them to meet a disastrous fate as he continued to circle his mate, slowly drawing her towards the safety of their alternate perch tree near the falls. The bald eagle’s wings spread wide as he glided to the perch and flapped only once before he landed.

Gaea circled the ravine where she observed the two female beings. Two humans she sensed were mated for life, as she and Uranus were. Gaea’s call echoed across the snow clad mountain as she accepted the things to which fate bound her. The majestic eagle swooped down over the setting snow once again, where she’d sensed fate had brought together the two human creatures and where she sensed…their fate bound them also.

Upon observing the awe and beauty of the two mated eagles perched on their alternate roost, destiny knows full well their life would continues with value and meaning…but would the souls of the two resting below?

***

Up on the summit in the same direction that Fletcher and Finley has come the first day, a white clothed figure laid next to several heavily snow covered bushes and a large mound that had accumulated from the heavy snowfall.

“Come on Bucannan, take that little twit up in that cave and stay put for a half-a-minute.” The cigar in his mouth was clinched tighter and saliva dripped out of the corner of his lips. His gloved hand reached up and wiped the tobacco juice away. He coughed quietly into the cotton cloth he had been breathing into since he caught a glimpse of the two women descending the slope three hours before. He placed the cloth back over his nose and mouth and unfolded the cloth that lay beside his left hand and checked the small black detonator once again. Everything is ready to go. Now all you have to do is cooperate just a little Bucannan and I’ll be a happy man, he breathed slowly into the made-shift mask.

“Come on dammit, take a break and go in to warm up your pretty ass, honey. There can’t be any witnesses, so that shapely ass of yours has to go inside with Bucannan. Get a move on, you’ve got to be cold, cause I’m about frozen from laying here.” He reached out and pulled a little more snow around the trench he had made for his binoculars.

“I’d be half way home by now Bucannan, if your guest had’a gone in with you when you went in the first time, but no….no…she handed you her fucking backpack and started taking pictures of the damn rocks that she brushed the snow off of and even the damn trees. Honey, you have gotta be a first-class fruit basket.” The unshaven face twisted in disgust at having to wait in the bitter cold snow pile since daylight.

“Too bad about that dark haired twit though. Wouldn’t mind poking you a few times myself, honey, but you choose the wrong place to be.” The cigar was bit into. He reached down and picked up the loose piece and stuck it and the smaller piece into his parka pocket. A fresh one was unwrapped and placed in the corner of his mouth and teeth again came down tight on the fat, dark corolla. “Now where in the hell did you get off to Bucannan?” He scanned the area below and caught sight of her green drab ranger hat through some snow covered branches. “Haw, there you are.”

The tall Park Director had stationed herself between two trees just below where Finley sat. She rubbed the back of her neck again for the tenth time since she had been standing there. Her sixth sense had clicked in again, as she scanned the area of the opposite summit again. Show yourself. Just one little breath is all I need. She raised her glasses to her eyes again and slowly panned the ridge. “Damn, nothing,” she lowered the binoculars, “but I know you’re up there you son-of-a-skunk.”

A screech to her right quickly diverted her eyes from the opposite ridge to the top of the trees. There a beautiful male bald eagle was gliding across the treetops. “Well, Uranus, it’s nice to see a friendly sight, old fellow. Now where…ah, there’s your mate. For an old girl, Gaea is still as graceful as ever,” she said softly as she watched the two eagles circle slowly and return to their roost off to her right.

“Hey, Fletcher would you come hold this line so I can get some measurements?” Finley called as she stood up and brushed the snow from the seat of her pants.

“Sure.” The tall woman glanced up at the ridge once more then placed her glasses back in their case hanging from her shoulder. She stepped carefully from between the two trees and made her way up to Finley.

They worked on for another hour before the snowflakes started trickling down.

“Finley, we need to pack it in. By the time we get everything arranged in the overhang and get back up to the snowmobile, this will really be coming down.”

Finley finished writing the sentence she had begun and looked up grinning at the tall woman. “I think I have about covered everything out here that’s needed, so why don’t I go in and take one more look around while you roll up this tape for me?” She asked, as she jammed the notebook into her zip locked bag and shoved it into her pocket before she zipped it closed.

“Sounds like a plan. I’ll be up in a couple of minutes,” she took the empty roll from Finley. “May take me a little longer as I’ll have to wipe the tape as I go along, some snow and ice have formed on it.” She nodded as she wiped the first section of the tape.

“You know we skipped lunch, so maybe we could get back to the cabin and have a nice hot meal instead of those sandwiches in your backpack.” Finley started up the slope to the overhang.

“Sounds like another good plan,” Fletcher grinned and continued to wipe and roll the tape. Before she had cleaned a foot of the tape, she again glanced up at the partially concealed ridge opposite of where she was working. What is going on here, and why do I keep have the feeling we are being watched? She ran her hand along another foot of the icy tape, keeping her eyes glued to the obscure summit. I’ll be glad to get the heck out of here. The hairs on the back of her neck again became rigid.

Finley packed all the miscellaneous items into her and Fletcher’s packs and set the Park Director’s on the ledge next to the coil of tie rope that the Park Director always had in the top of her pack. Carefully she picked up the rope and wound it into a smaller coil and placed it in the top of the pack. She’d leave it open for the tape the tall woman was bringing. She fastened the buckles in place on her backpack and set it next to Fletchers. Blue eyes looked around as the paleontologist felt a lump in her throat. “What a wonderful experience this has been. I know this will be the best exhibit our museum will ever displayed. Heck, it’ll be one of the best in the world.”

Up on the pinnacle, squinted eyes glared through the glasses. “Bitch, get your ass up that slope into that cave before the twit come out. I’ve waited for over a month to set this in motion,” sour breath filled the made shift cloth mask, “and I’ve waited long enough.” He reached over where his left hand had rested, unwrapped the small black remote detonator and checked it again before he flipped the rag over the device and raised his head to stare angrily through the binoculars once more.

The young paleontologist turned off the two heaters and carefully moved them to the backside of the cave. Next, she placed all three lights on top of the ledge that Fletcher and Jamison had used as a seat. Looking around the cavern, she reached down and picked up several pieces of debris that had blown in when the flap had been opened and placed them inside Fletcher’s open pack.

“Are you ready?” Fletcher asked as she entered the opening.

“All set,” Her pack was secured on her back and the harness was fastened in the front. Finley then picked up one of the lights and went to the back of the cavern to the alcove. She stooped down and held up the light to shine on the wall.

“Fletcher from the first day, due to my geological background, I knew this wall was man made.” Finley stated, as she placed her ear against the wall as Jamison and Fletcher had done on several occasions.

Fletcher placed the wet roll in the pack and snapped the catch, then lifted it to her shoulders and fasted the straps in front. She turned off the two lights, picked up the rifle and strolled to the back of the cavern. She lowered her head and stooped down to miss the overhanging rock above the small alcove where Finley was intently listening to the rocks.

“I brought it to your attention so you wouldn’t think I was attempting to conceal anything from you,” she said, placing her ear against the wall to the right of Finley’s.

“Jamison said it was a wind tunnel of some kind and she could hear water. But…I don’t hear either. Do you suppose they sealed it up to prevent access to this chamber?”

“Well I definitely can hear the wind, so I suppose it’s…”

K A B O O M! The blast echoed across the valley.

The tall woman didn’t get to finish her sentence. The explosion slammed her and Finley hard against the wall and everything went black…for both women.

“YEAH!” The white clad man jumped to his feet and rammed his clinched fist into the air. “Haw!” He shouted. “Let me see you claw your way out of that, you bitch,” his croaky voice roared. He picked up the binoculars and watched as tons of rocks, snow and debris continued to tumble down on top of the overhang. “If you aren’t already crushed to death Bucannan, I’d estimated you and the little twit have about a minute of air left.” A lopsided, smug appearance covered his face as he continued to watch the mass of slush and rubble settled on the scene. The area was unrecognizable.

“They won’t find your stiff body for days, Bucannan, and that’ll be only after they’ve spend a lot of time digging you out.” He snorted as he flipped the hood of the parka back over his head.

The snow had begun to come down in a steady flurry, making visibility over the ravine almost impossible, but he continued to hold the glasses on the scene.

The cigar was removed from his mouth and he spat the tobacco juice on the ground and then replaced the nub in the side of his mouth.

“Guess I’d better get the hell out of here. It’ll take me three hours to get to my snowmobile and I can hear a nice hot shower and a fifth of Jim Beam calling my name.”

He raised the glasses to his eyes for one last view of his handiwork , and then crammed the glasses into their case. The poncho he had laid on was folded up and rammed into the ratty knapsack along with the binocular case and made-shift mask. He held the detonator in his hand for a moment before he slipped it into his jacket pocket. “I’ll need to toss this beauty out the truck window when I get back up into Canada to my cousin later today,” his grunt was throaty. He quickly put on his snowshoes, and placed the pack on his back. His rifle was slung over his shoulder and the satisfied figure headed down the summit at the fastest pace the heavy snow would allow.

***

Jacqueline Boudreaux poured another cup of strong coffee from the thermos as she looked out the frosted glass of the job trailer. She sure duped me. First time anyone, especially a woman had every conned me. I’ve got to give it to you Julia, that was the some feat you pulled off for almost two weeks to get me to pay that price for your mother’s logging land. She unconsciously snapped the pencil in her left hand in half.

She wrinkled her nose and laughed. “Hahaha. For a sweet smelling, overly shapely blonde to pull the wool over on Mitchell Boudreaux’s little girl like that, has got to rate up there in an award winning feat.” The redhead tossed the pencil in the trash can at her left foot and sipped the hot coffee as she thought back over the incident that occurred almost a month ago.

Then out of the clear blue sky, Julia had called her last night and said she was going to be back in the country in a few weeks and wanted to see her. Maybe even have dinner and perhaps talk about the way their liaison had ended. “Hell, why not, I now own the property I’ve tried to buy for almost five years, and she does have that fifty acre track up in Colemont that I wouldn’t mind having for a nice low price.” Her tongue ran across her lips with anticipation. “Have to admit, that was the best sex I’ve had in months. Might be worth at least listening to her if she’ll do my body the way she did those long, sweat filled nights. Damn, I could barley walk when I left her each morning,” she hesitated as Mark Brody, her logging foreman got out of a truck with a Canadian license plate on the front and pulled the hood of his coat up to cover his head.

He opened the door and stepped in, grinning from ear to ear.

“Where in the hell have you been all week Brody? I had to get Cheroot to take over the logging operations and you know I don’t trust that bastard,” she frowned.

“Why Ms. Boudreaux, you know good and well, I’ve been taking time off to go up on the Canadian side with my cousin for our annual hunting trip,” he scratched his four-day old beard and sat down on the corner of her desk.

“What the hell you talking about Brody? This is the first I’ve heard about some damn hunting trip. You left me without a foreman and I don’t take kindly to…”

“Fletcher Bucannan won’t be giving you anymore problems, Ms. Boudreaux.” He waited for her reaction as he unzipped his coat.

At the name, Jacqueline’s heart leaped. She fought to keep her face blank. “She won’t?”

“Nope. Not in this lifetime at least,” he persisted.

She had always been nothing but strong and unwavering; always in complete control, but in hearing Brody’s declaration she had to reached out and take hold of the end of the plans table to steady herself. She took several deep breaths before she could walk behind her desk and flop down in the chair. Boudreaux’s thoughts moved quickly. She wanted to know every detail, but she knew it would probably be best if she didn’t.

“Perhaps you shouldn’t ask anything else, Ms. Jacqueline…Just in case.” He twirled a pen on her desk round and round. “I came to collect my pay, then I’m back up to Canada for another week,” he replied as he continued to disperse with his coat and gloves, “I was thinking…I might need a little extra to be seen in the evenings around some of the night spots up there.”

The tall redhead opened her center desk drawer. After shuffling through several envelopes she found one with Brody’s name on it and handed it over to him. “Here’s your regular pay,” she handed the paycheck across the desk to the seated man. She opened the bottom drawer of the desk and removed her wallet from her purse. Long fingers pulled out several thousand dollars and handed it to the unshaven man. “Consider that a small bonus for getting that ridge timber in for me. And Brody,” Jacqueline spoke in a low, enduring voice leaning across her side of the desk. “You’ll find a brand new 4x4truck at your house when you get back from your hunting trip. The pink slip will be in the glove compartment, and the keys under the floor mat.”

“Thanks boss,” he stood up and shoved the money and paycheck into his pocket. “You need to make sure Cheroot watches the oil in that #4 skinner. It has a slow leak and we don’t need it out of commission because he didn’t bother to check the dipstick.” He put his coat and gloves back on and headed for the door.

“I’ll remind him to check it,” she relaxed a bit.

He only gave her the briefest of nods as he opened the trailer door.

“Brody,” she called.

His head turned in her direction.

“You got a favorite color?”

“Fire engine red,” he placed a cigar in his mouth, flipped the hood over his head and disappeared through the door.

She sat there for several minutes, just thinking about Brody’s few words. Finally her face lit up like a chestier cat, and she tossed her legs up on her desk. “Some days are worth getting out of bed for.” She placed her hands behind her head and started whistling a lively tune.

***

The ringing in her right ear wouldn’t go away. Instead it became louder and louder. “Ohh,” she moaned as her right hand slowly went to her ear. Her fingers became wet with something sticky. Gradually her eyes flickered open only to see darkness. She closed her eyes and moved her body. “Ouch,” she flinched at moving her right shoulder.

Finally her body responded, and she was able to sit up, although her head slumped down to her chest. It took several minutes sitting there before her eyes popped open again. “FINLEY!” She cried, and started feeling around for the smaller woman. Her hand touched something soft...Finley’s backpack. “Finley, Finley are you alright?” She asked, running her hand across the head of the downed woman.

Fletcher reached behind her and unsnapped the flashlight from her belt. A powerful beam flooded the small chamber before it was directed to the head of the unconscious paleontologist. The ranger placed two fingers on the pressure point on Finley’s neck and felt a strong heartbeat. Holding her hand under the small nose, she felt regular breaths coming from the woman.

“Finley, I don’t know if you’re broken up inside or not, and I don’t dare move you,” she leaned over the small figure and saw blood slowly seeping from a gash just below the hairline. She quickly reached into her pocket and removed her handkerchief. Carefully she placed it on the wound and applied pressure. “Finley, you need to wake up. Come on, Sweetheart, open your eyes.” The tall woman pleaded.

Fletcher lowered her head to face of the smaller woman. “Please wake up, Finley. Come on, Darling, open your eyes for me.” Her lips placed soft kisses on Finley’s cheek and ear. “You mean the world to me, Sweetheart. I can’t live without you, so please wake up and let me know you are okay.” She continued to plead with the unconscious woman between tender kisses.

Fletcher removed her pack and placed it close to Finley. The flashlight was laid on top of the pack so she could use both hands to examine the smaller frame carefully for any exterior injuries. Slowly and painstakingly she moved down one side of the paleontologist body and up the other.

“Doesn’t feel like you have anything broken or busted, but your head.” She scooted back up to take off the small woman’s backpack. After unsnapping the pack in front, she cautiously eased first one arm from the pack then rolled her body carefully over on to remove the other arm. All the time, Fletcher was cooing and talking gently to the younger woman.

“Sweetheart, I don’t know why you chose this lifetime to become reacquainted with your center essence and join with someone like me; but the Great Spirit has brought you into my life for a loving purpose and it can’t end before we have reached deep into our inner realms and reunited with our love. I do love you so much, Finley, with all my being. I won’t loose you now, do you hear me?” Fletcher leaned down and placed her lips gently on Finley’s. “Please don’t leave me, Finley. Please come back to me and open your eyes.” Tears began to fall from Fletcher’s eyes.

In between her pleading and gentle touching of Finley’s lips, the tall woman removed the handkerchief and examined the wound. It had stopped bleeding and had begun to swell. She removed her canteen from her belt and turned to handkerchief inside out before she dampened on side and placed it on the bulge. “Come on, Honey, just move once for me.”

Finley’s mouth parted slowly as her head started to turn towards the sound of Fletcher’s voice. “That’s it, Darling, come on, open your eyes.”

“Ohhh,” a laborious whimper escaped Finley’s lips.

“Thank you Great Spirit,” she said to her relief as she leaned down closer to the awakening woman. “Finley, can you hear me? You need to open your eyes now.” Tears dripped from her face onto Finley’s. “Can you hear me, Honey? Where do you hurt?”

Slowly the blue eyes fluttered opened. “What…what happened?”

“Sweet Jesus! Finley are you alright, where do you hurt?” She leaned closer to the woman.

“My…my head fills like someone…took a baseball bat and beat me.”

“Are you injured anyplace else? Talk to me Finley, where are you having pain?”

“My entire body hurts, but my head the most.”

“Do you think you can sit up if I help you?”

“Just…just give me a minute to…Oh, Fletcher, I…I was walking towards this bright light and I heard you calling me…I heard you from way off someplace in the dark behind me. You kept calling me, telling me you loved me and for me to come back to you,” trembling lips muttered, barely audible.

Gently, Fletcher placed her hand on Finley’s face and whispered, “We’re going to have fifty or sixty years for you to tell me all about that experience, Sweetheart.” She leaned in and closed her lips gently on Finley’s. Finley responded by raising her hand to Fletcher’s head prolonging the kiss.

“You ready to try and sit up with my help?”

“If you’ll kiss me like that again, we can just lay here for awhile.”

“Why don’t we try it again from a sitting position?”

“Don’t see why we can’t…”

“Come on Finley, let me help you up, please.”

“Okay, if you’re going to whine about it,” she ran her fingers through Fletcher’s hair.

“Now I know you’re alright,” she leaned down and placed her arm around the small shoulders as Finley sat up.

“Okay…okay, now that I’m sitting, and awake, I want you to tell me the same things to my face that you said while I was unconscious.” She blinked as the handkerchief fell from her forehead.

Fletcher nodded solemnly as she picked up the handkerchief and refolded it. “Don’t think you need this anymore.”

“Fletcher, I love you.”

“And I love you,” she heard herself whisper.

Fletcher pulled her close again, her warm, firm lips trailing tiny kisses over her upturned face. Finley’s lips erased her rational thoughts, her doubts, her anxieties. She was incapable of tainting this moment with worry about later. Finley drew her into the now, a wondrous place with no yesterday and no tomorrow, only moment upon precious moment, strung together like pearls on a silver thread.

She took Finley’s face in her hands, looked deep into her eyes with tender wonder. “Now, when did that happen?”

“At the dawn of time,’ Finley responded quietly, “and it will last until the end of time.’ Her honesty was frightening, but she met Fletcher’s eyes squarely. If the tall woman wanted something else, if she wanted only a temporary relationship, she would back off now…and she would crawl deeper into this dark little hole, curl up in a fetal position, and go on to her next existence.

But she returned her intense gaze steadily. “I felt it, too,” Fletcher said softly. “The powerful tug of destiny, from that first moment I laid eyes on you. Only I didn’t call it that. I called it trouble with a capital F.”

Finley laughed, a sound that came from her throat like a contented purr. What she saw in her face was a woman who was incapable of lying. Fletcher Bucannan could have her pick if she wanted to satisfy a brief urge. She had seen how women looked at her, sensing in tall woman that rare combination of power and playfulness, womanliness and gentleness. But Fletcher had chosen. Chosen her because she was Fletcher’s equal.

They kissed. Long and lingeringly, until Finley ached with a deep need…A need of a life together…The need of a deep love…A forever kind of need.

The taller woman must have read each of these thoughts as they flickered across her face, because she smiled gently. “Now tell me that you don’t want me forever as I want you?”

Finley leaned back from her, and drank in the features of her face. The austerity was muted with tenderness; an unmistakably loving light lit the depths of those astounding hazel eyes. She realized that the look she was giving her now was not new. She had seen that expression flicker through the tall woman’s eyes on and off many times in the past few weeks. She’d been baffled by it at the same time she had been warmed by it. But now she identified her expression as yearning. Fletcher wanted her. She loved her.

“Honey, I’d love nothing better than to this deeper, but I think it would be best in a different place, don’t you?” She hugged the smaller woman close.

“My Sweet, Wonderful Fletcher, I promise you we will continue this,” she wrapped her arms around the taller woman’s neck, and rested her head on her chest.

They sat there in the dim light for several minutes, just being in each other’s arms. In a darken alcove, the picture gradually came into sharper focus… a multicolored mosaic of two coils interlaced together to make one long spiral of endless love…one of eternal companions.

“I could stay like this forever, but I think I’d better try and get us out of here.” Fletcher’s lips touched Finley’s gently.

“Guess you’d better.” Finley reluctantly released her hold of the tall woman’s neck.

Fletcher picked up the flashlight and moved it around the small enclosure as Finley watched the flashlight slowly sweep the area.

“I’m going back to my original question, Darling. What happened? We were leaning against this wall,” she tapped the wall lightly, then I woke up to this,” she panned the large stone slap that had securely fallen into place over the alcove entrance. “Obviously we are sealed in tight here, so why haven’t we suffocated?” Finley looked helplessly towards Fletcher. “Or have we already suffocated, and we’re in another afterlife?”

“My head hurts too much for this not to be real, and I’d guess yours aches as much?”

Finley raised her hand to her forehead. “Now that you mention it, it does. But that still doesn’t answer my question.”

“An explosion. A big explosion.” The light circled the enclosed space again.

“You mean some idiot blew us up on purpose?”

“Yes.”

“I’m not believing this. Someone blew up this wonderful once in a lifetime site to kill us? But we’re still breathing; how can that be?” She flinched. “Need your handkerchief back please.” Her face twisted with pain as she removed her fingers from the gash next to her hair. Fletcher reached into her pocket and handed the bloodstained hankie back to Finley.

“There,” the light settled on a small opening in the rock wall they had been leaning against. “The explosion must have jarred a stone loose, and that’s how this cavity is being ventilated. It’s definitely a wind tunnel.”

“Fletcher, how are we going to get out?” “Good question, not sure of the answer just yet,” she reached up removed the chain from around her neck. Attached to the chain was a transceiver, aka: rescue beacon. “Put this around you neck and inside your shirt next to the skin. I’ve turned it on.” She handed the transceiver to Finley, who took it reluctantly.

“What about one for you?”

“I left the other one in the SUV. I forgot to give it to you earlier in the week.”

“I’ve used a transceiver when I was on the cross-country shoot team.”

“Good, then you know if they don’t hear from us by tomorrow,” she looked at her watch, “they’ll come looking for us.”

Finley placed the chain around her neck and the instrument under her crew-neck shirt. She leaned back against the rock wall. “Can we last until they dig us out?” Fear filled her eyes.

“Honestly, I don’t know the conditions outside this small cavity.”

Fletcher looked around and spotted the battery operated light. “It’s a miracle we weren’t in the main cavern. By all rights we should be crushed. But Sky Mother is looking over us, and I intend to try and get us out of this nook.”

She pulled the fixture closer to the light and examined it closely. “The globe and tube are gone, but there is a…” she pried open the side of the light and removed an extra tube. After several attempts she was able to get the remains of the fractured bulb and inserted the new one. A flick of the switch and the light came back to life. “It doesn’t have globes, but at least it’s light.” She switched off her flashlight and returned it to it to her belt.

“Now what?”

“I’m going to try and get this air gap larger,” she replied, holding the light up to the area. “Yes, I think I can get something in…” she looked around and spotted the rifle. Although the butt was broken into, the barrel was still intact.

Fletcher tried diligently for several minutes to get the end of the barrel into the small opening to no avail. She sank back to the floor and again pressed her open palm to her ear.

“Do you have something in your backpack that we can put on your ear, Honey?” Finley asked.

“Yeah, I have the first aid kit. We might as well put something on your head first, then you can wipe some antibiotic on my ear.”

“Here, take two of these Advil I got from the pack,” she handed the pills to Fletcher.

“You need to take a couple yourself.” She held out the water bottle for Finley to drink first.

“Okay,” she took the bottle and lifted the pills to her mouth.

They sat there for a few minutes, resting and trying to think of someway to make the air opening larger.

“I have it,” Fletcher reached down to her boot and un-strapped her knife.

The end of the blade went into the opening for a short way, but stopped. Fletcher worked it back and forth and from side to side but the opening stayed the same. The ranger removed the knife and examined several inches of rock in all directions. “I need a way to get this one stone loose,” she sank back to the floor as she ran her hand through her hair.

“Think Fletcher, think,” she said to herself, “how to move…damn, I should have though of that sooner.” She picked up the rifle and checked out the end of the barrel to make sure nothing was lodged in the end. The hammer was cocked then Fletcher placed her mouth over the opening and blew several times. Nothing came out the end of the barrel. The ranger lowered the hammer back into place and cocked the weapon placing a cartridge into the chamber.

“Finley, I want you to get back as far in the corner as you can and hold your backpack over your face.”

“What…what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to try and shoot a little of the stone away, but I don’t know what the bullet will do, so I want you back over there please.”

“Okay,” Finley said, “and you be careful doing that.”

“As careful as I can,” she took her glove out of her pocket and placed it over the end of the busted stock.

“Fletcher wait,” Finley placed her hand on her arm.

“Yes?”

“Nothing…be careful.”

The Park Director smiled and leaned over and claimed a quick kiss. “Don’t worry, it will either work or it won’t.”

“The not working is what I’m afraid of,” Finley scooted back into the corner.

What if the barrel is bent and it explodes? What if something is lodged in the barrel and it didn’t come out…it could explode and blast my face away. She closed her eyes and her thoughts went out for protection from Sky Mother. A moment later she carefully placed the barrel at the edge of the hole and angled it towards the back of the hole.

BANG! The shot pinged as it hit the back of the opening and struck the stone on its way through, making a clang as it hit a stone someplace on the other side of the wall.

“There is definitely an opening of some kind on the other side,” the lever action cocked another bullet into the chamber. This time, Fletcher moved the end of the barrel a little to the right of the top of the rock and fired. By the time the rifle was empty, the rock showed signs of looseness. Fletcher turned the gun around and using it as a hammer as she repeatedly hit the stone. Gradually it began to move inward.

For over an hour Fletcher worked on the stone, first with the rifle, then her knife. Working in the cramped area was exhausting and the tall woman had to take frequent breaks.

“Fletcher, you need to eat a sandwich and drink some water.” Finley pulled the knapsack to her and opened the pack. “Here, eat this and drink this bottle of water.”

“I’ll eat it if you will eat one, and we’ll share the water, okay?”

“Okay.” She took out a sandwich for her and scooted over next to Fletcher.

They ate in silence. Each absorbed in their own private thoughts.

Finishing the sandwich, Fletcher rolled up the wrap and placed it in her pack. Finley handed her the water bottle and she took several small swallows then handed it back to the paleontologist.

She gave the wall another look. “Well, I hope this works,” she stood up even though she was only half standing and her back was stooped as she moved a couple of feet from the wall. Quickly she removed her coat and tossed it to Finley.

“Fletcher what are you going to do?” Finley caught the coat. She drank the remainder of the bottle water and placed the trash into Fletcher’s backpack. “Please back up again, I don’t know what, if anything, will happen.” The tall woman closed her eyes and focused on her breathing. Without warning, Fletcher’s right foot came out and kicked the loose stone. “Errr,” was all she said as her foot recoiled to the rock bottom.

“Fletcher are you crazy?” Finley scooted forward, but stopped when the tall woman put up her hand.

“Get back. It moved, but I don’t know what will happen to the stones around it if I can dislodge it.”

“You’re going to break your foot or ankle, Darling.”

“Finley, I have broken a two by six with my bare foot, I think I my foot will be okay with the boot on and I have my body ready. Now, please back up as I asked you to do.” Her head hung down and her eyes closed again. She exhaled slowly and concentrated. Again her foot shot out and hit the stone dead center. This time the stone moved several inches.

Fletcher repeated this martial arts action twice more with her right foot then twisted around to do the same maneuver with her left. “Urph,” Fletcher exhaled as her left foot met the stone. On the next thrust, Fletcher put all her energy into the movement. She bumped her head on the ceiling as the stone was forced from its location and her boot went through the wall. The tall woman hopped closer to the wall and quickly removed her boot from the opening.

“YOU DID IT!” Finley came to her knees and scooted forward.

“Yeah, now let’s see what’s behind this edifice.” She reached behind her and found her flashlight. The Park Director checked the stones next to the opening, and found them to be loose, but still in place. Her head went to the edge of the opening as she held the flashlight up to the hole.

***

Chapter 14


“Yep, it’s a chamber about the size of old Weahan’s bedroom,” she said and she moved aside to allow Finley to take a quick look. Fletcher was careful not to shine the light on the three skeleton’s she had seen in the chamber, but shinned the beam on the floor, walls and ceiling of the cavity.

“Well, it’s certainly high enough for even you to stand in and a lot roomier than this shoebox,” her voice sounded approving as she moved away from the opening. “You think you can make an opening large enough for us to crawl through?”

“I’m going to try.”

“Fletcher, be careful, please.”

“Don’t worry, Honey, I’ve got good reason to be careful,” she leaned forward and pressed her lips to Finley’s.

“Yes, you do,” she attempted a smile, but instead, a tear left the corner of her eye.

Fletcher reached over with her finger and carefully wiped the tear away. The tall woman leaned forward again and kissed the area where the tear had been removed. “I love you, Finley Tayrena Jorgensen, and I’m happy for your reassurance.

“You’d better be,” her fingers reached out and brushed gently over the tall woman’s lips. “And I love you, Fletcher Lela Bucannan.”

Fletcher smiled and moved back to the wall. After examining it for several minutes, the rifle was picked up from the floor and placed behind one side of the open and across the front of the other side.

“Fletcher do be careful. I don’t like the looks of that.”

“Well, I think a couple of kicks might loose the other side as well, so keep your fingers crossed.”

“You want me to hold it in place?”

“No Sweetheart, I don’t want you close to it. Don’t know what’s going to go where,” she moved a foot away and started to relax. Momentarily, her left foot came up and smacked the rifle just below the butt.

“Clunk,” the metal bent at the chamber. The powerful kick had not only bend the rifle, both stones moved.

“They moved,” Finley shouted.

“Yeah, but not enough,” Fletcher pulled the rifle barrel a little further out of the opening and rearranged it on the stone sill. She turned to her right and slumped for another kick. This time she her foot was shot out with such force that the rifle bent again, and tumbled into the hole before Fletcher could grab it. “Oh, well,” she sighed as she attempted to move the stones on both sides of the opening by hand. Both were loose from the jolts, but wouldn’t come loose or move anymore.

Following a rest period of a couple of minutes, she got up and examined the stones around the opening again. Fletcher selected the stone on the right to receive the directed blows. Upon delivering numerous blows from both feet, the stone slipped back almost dropping into the other side of the wall.

“Finley, these stones above this one looks like they may come down when this is kicked again, so you may have to pull me back if I don’t move my boot back quick enough. I don’t know how much of this might come down, and where it will settle.”

“Okay, but please don’t let those rocks catch your foot under there.” Finley moved closer to the opposite wall on the other side of Fletcher. “I’m ready.”

The tall ranger relaxed and before Finley could blink, her foot had shot out and in a jumping fashion and retracted just as quickly, causing Fletcher to tumble to her left into Finley’s arms. But the stone went flying into the other cavern, and two stones dropped down into the opening then caught on each other.

Fletcher wiggled her foot as she crawled to the opening. A sign of relief left her lips as she was able to pull one stone forward and tossed it to the floor on her right. When she removed the first stone, the second fell back into the other cavern.

“Fletcher, I think we can crawl through there,” Finley had joined her at the wall.

“You can make it I think, but it’ll be tight on me. I don’t want to take that chance.” The Park Director examined the stones on the bottom and smiled as she removed her knife again and pried first one stone loose then another. Within moments, the opening was enlarged and Fletcher set back with a sigh of relief. “I need to rest a minute before we go through.” She reached for her canteen and drank deeply before she handed it to Finley, who only took a sip and replaced the cap.

“I’ll get the packs ready, and here is your coat,” she passed it to the sitting woman.

“Thanks.”

For a moment Fletcher leaned back against the opposite wall. She felt relieved, but her body was near exhaustion from the many jolting blows she had delivered to the solid wall. Both her ankles hurt, and her knees cramped from not being able to be extended properly. Before she had time to think about how much she hurt, Finley was by her side and massaging her knee.

“Oh lord, that feels good. A little harder, please.”

“Tell me if I get too rough.”

“I will, but how did you know they hurt?”

Finley looked up uncertain, “I don’t know. I just sensed it.” Her hands switched to the other bent knee and resumed kneading the joints.

“Hmm.”

“You want me to do your ankles?” Finley asked later.

“Thanks, but no,” the tall woman reached down and took the smaller hands in hers. “Ready to try the next chamber?”

“I guess so.”

“I’ll drop the backpacks over first, then I’ll help you through.”

“No…you need to go through before me, Fletcher. I’ll need help reaching the floor as it looks like a pretty good drop down.”

“Finley, I want you out of here before I go through. I’ll hold your arms and drop you carefully.”

“Nothing doing, Sweetheart,” she backed away from Fletcher’s grasp. I’ll hand you the light, and then you can help me.” Her eyes pleaded with the older woman.

“Okay, but I want you ready as soon as you hand me the light.”

Finley nodded her head and picked up the light and set it down next to the opening.

Fletcher tossed her coat and backpacks through the opening, then turned to draw Finley closer to her. “I mean it, Finley. You stand right here.”

“Okay, Sweetheart.” Her head leaned up to secure a brief kiss before Fletcher jumped through the opening without touching any of the rocks. As she cleared the wall, she tucked and rolled to the floor. She quickly reached through the opening and took the light and swiftly set it down on her right. “Come on Finley, lean in and I’ll drag you through.”

The smaller woman didn’t have to be told twice and before she could blink, large hands had pulled her though the opening and set her safely on the floor and was promptly embraced.

The smaller woman buried her face in Fletcher chest and closed her eyes. Gradually her heart slowed to its normal rate.

As she opened her eyes and glanced around the small chamber she jumped, having been startled by the three skeletons on the far side of the chamber.

“Holy Jesus, what in the world?” Finley screeched and stepped forward as if to feel the bones.

“NO!” Fletcher grabbed her arm. “Don’t touch them, Finley.” The startled paleontologist almost lost her balance, but was pulled into strong arms again. “I just wanted to look at them,” she insisted. “I’ve seen burial chambers before.”

“This isn’t a burial chamber, Finley.”

The smaller woman stared at the three remains until a light went off in her head, “Oh!” She thought for a moment, “Your traditions burn the bodies, don’t they?”

“Yes,” she picked up the light and held it closer to the skeletons. “See the three arrows in this one body. Even though two of the arrows are laying in the rib cage, the third arrow is still embedded in a back rib,” her long fingers pointed to the bones in the corner. “The stone hatchet is still implanted in the skull of the second one, and here in the third,” she stepped down holding the light in front of her, “the spear went through a rib breaking it and out the other side.”

“They were killed deliberately?”

“I’d say so. You can tell by the way the bones have dropped, they were probably, unceremoniously thrown down onto the rock floor and the opening sealed to prevent anyone from ever getting in and properly caring for the bodies.” She squatted down a few feet from the remains.

Finley sit on her heels beside Fletcher, and placed a hand on her knee. “But why?” she asked, rubbing the knee and top of her leg.

“Reprisal…Retaliation…Punishment for all time, never to cross over to the afterlife.”

“What are you saying, Fletcher?” The paleontologist grasped the strong hand of the taller woman.

“Probably the penalty for violation of what was considered a sacred site.” Her voice matched the sick feeling in her stomach. She stood up and walked to the opposite wall followed by a long sigh. “Those weapons are the same as those in the other chamber. I’d…venture to say, these three went into that chamber, or did something the older tribe members thought violated what was considered a hallowed place and their penalty was a brutal execution.”

“Sounds like what they did in Egypt and Greece centuries ago,” Finley stood up and walked closer to the skeletons. “Fletcher there are partial fragments of clothing that looks to be hundreds of years old.”

The tall woman turned but didn’t check out the fragments that Finley was pointing to as she squatted by the remains. Instead, she picked up the light and moved around the chamber slowly. The light was held high as she examined the walls of the room. “Here it is,” she set the light down to the side of the areas she had spotted.

Her elbow was jostled as Finley joined her. “What did you find?”

“The air tunnel. They placed stones over the passageway to keep out animals or…” she pulled down several stones and tossed them to the side, “or relatives, maybe friends from being able to get to the bodies.” She lifted a couple more of the heavy stones and looked down the tunnel. Her flashlight came out and flooded the passageway. It had a slight decent before a curve blocked her view.

“Can we get out through that burrow?”

“Don’t know until it’s tried.” Fletcher turned and went over to her coat, picked it up and put it on. “I need to rest a few minutes before I check it out.” She sat down next to her backpack and opened it. “Here, have another sandwich.” The ranger turned Park Director held up the sealed locked bag.

“Thanks,” Finley took the bag and sat down next to Fletcher. “Want to share another bottle of water?” The smaller hand reached into the pack.

“Sure,” long fingers reached for the bottle.

“It’s getting colder in here,” Finley shivered and pulled her coat together.

Fletcher got up, picked up Finley’s pack and placed it in the tunnel opening, partially blocking the incoming cold air. “Won’t keep it all out, but most.” She rejoined the younger woman on the floor.

They ate the sandwiches and passed the water bottle back and forth. “You want an apple for desert?”

“Nah…I’ve had enough for now.” Fletcher handed the bottle back to Finley and leaned back against the wall.

Finley leaned back also and emptied the water bottle. “You have any idea where that burrow comes out, or if…”

“Honey, I don’t know anything about the tunnel, or even if we can squeeze through yet.”

The young paleontologist felt increased warmth inside about the term of endearment, and moved closer to the taller woman. Fletcher reached over and put her arm around her shoulders in an attempt to keep her warmer, or so she tried to tell herself. Just having contact with Finley, made her chilled body all lukewarm within.

Following a short rest, and not want to leave the warmth radiating from the small woman next to her, she stretched her right arm and wiggled her shoulder. It hurt like crazy, but she didn’t let on. They were in a hole, without knowing what was on top of them, or if they would ever see the warm sunshine again, but each woman was content with the warmth radiating between them.

“Fletcher, if we don’t get out of here, I want you to know I’m the happiest person in the world right now.”

“My sentiments exactly,” The Park Director said, and leaned over for a long, enduring kiss. A kiss of promise. A kiss of contentment. A kiss of love. “But, I’m going to get us out of here, Sweet One. I have…well, I have a few things I haven’t done yet.” Her grin left little for Finley to imagine.

“Hmm, I hope I’m part of those things,” she purred leaning up for another kiss.

Even though her body ached all over, Fletcher chuckled, “You can count on it. Now, I’m going to crawl down the tunnel and find us a way out of here.” She stood up, and offered her hand to Finley, who accepted it.

“I’ll be right behind you,” she followed Fletcher to the hole in the wall.

“No, you aren’t,” she turned to face Finley. “You’re going to wait here until I check out the tunnel.”

Finley was shaking her head in a negative manner, “Not this time, Fletcher. If anything happens in that hole, it will happen to the both of us,” she adamantly declared.

“Finley, we can continue to argue about this, but use your head. What if there is no outlet, or if I have to turn around and there isn’t enough room. I’d need to back up, and with you’re being there, it would only hinder…”

“Fletcher, we have had many quarrels, and I’ve won a few, and you’ve won a few. However, this is our first fight and you can consider it lost, because I’m going. You aren’t leaving me here.” She turned and went to side of the chamber, picked up Fletcher’s bashed in hat, her backpack, and walked back to where the tall woman stood, her mouth still open. “Now, what’s the plan?” she placed the smashed hat on the rangers head after dropping the pack at her feet.

Fletcher shook her head in wonder, and removed the hat. “I said you spell trouble.” Her lips brushed Finley’s cheek.

“All the trouble you will ever be able to handle, now what’s the plan?”

Fletcher wadded up her hat and placed it in the top of her pack and then buckled it closed. “Well, there isn’t room for us to wear the packs, so we’ll have to secure them to our boots and drag them along behind us. I’ll go first, and you follow closely, okay?”

“Okay. Then?”

“We’ll see where the tunnel goes and hope it doesn’t get any narrow, or has any cave-ins blocking the way.”

Finley thumped the side of the opening, “This formation looks pretty solid to me. It’s probably was a break in the rock structure from a volcano or underwater river from long ago.” She wiped her hand around the inside of the burrow. “There isn’t any moisture and little dirt.” She turned to face the Park Director. “One thing does concern me though,” she stated.

“And that is?” Fletcher asked, and she moved the light closer to the opening.

“You said there was an explosion, a big explosion. So why is this chamber still intact, and why is this tunnel still open?”

The Park Director ran her hair through her disarranged hair. “That explosion was deliberate, Finley. Someone who knew about explosives and how to use them set it off precisely where it was needed, and only when both of us were in the cavern. So, her or she, and I’ll say he, had to know what was required to make that portion of the overhand be covered completely by the blast.”

She squatted down and tied the strap of the backpack to her left boot, and motioned for Finley to move closer so she could secure her pack to her boot also. “If he had entered the cavern at all, he would have examined the walls to see if there was another way out, and I don’t think he did that. I believe he only wanted to bury us, and didn’t care about what was on the inside of the overhang…that is, as long as we were inside.” She stood up and removed her gloves from her pocket and put them on. The one glove used on the rifle butt had a couple of holes, but some protection was better than none.

“You’re saying that he was an expert, and knew exactly where to set charges?” She followed suit and pulled her gloves from her pocket.

“Yeah, an expert that had specialized experience in demolition to accomplish that kind of blast. Similar to what our firefighters do when they want to blast away a certain portion of a fire path that has rocks, boulders or trees that can make it difficult for the fire to cross.”

“You think it was one of your firefighters, some park personnel?”

“No I don’t. I think it was the same person that shot out my tire, and the same person that has been watching this site.”

Finley’s body shivered. “You think the individual that tinkered with your brakes, the shooting and this is the same person?”

Fletcher looked around the cavern once more before she removed her flashlight from her belt and set it in the open. “No, Finley, I don’t think the person that punched the holes in the brake line and the shooter are the same. The brake job was amateurish, and more like a hurried, spur of the moment thing. I think the shooting, this place being watched and the explosion were from someone different, someone that has a first hand knowledge of explosives.” The tall woman started to ease herself into the opening, but stopped and turned. “Can you get up there by yourself?” She nodded towards the tunnel opening.

Finley leaned into the opening and back out again. “No problem, I’ve got a lot of upper body strength.”

“Good.” Fletcher turned back to the opening but stopped again and bent down to her pack. She removed the candle always carried in the side compartment of the pack as well as the small water tight container with a half dozen matches inside and placed them in her inside jacket pocket. “Just in case,” she said to Finley.

Finley’s head nodded at Fletcher’s insight.

“I’ll go in, turn on the light and move forward a little and shine the light back towards the opening. You need to turn off this light,” her boot toe touched the fixture, “before you enter the tunnel.”

“Alright, and I have my small examination light in my pack, do you want me to get it out?”

“We might need it later, but leave it there for now,” she turned and started into the tunnel. She wiggled her legs and felt the pack being lifted to the opening by Finley. “Thanks,” she called and moved forward a few feet before she turned her shoulder and held the light back for Finley.

“This isn’t the first small tunnel I’ve been in, Fletcher,” she said, and her head touched Fletcher’s pack. “In Egypt, at several sites, the tunnels can be very a lot tighter than this, and they have booby traps to boot.” She nodded for the tall woman to proceed.

“Not the first one for me either. I’ve explored most of the caves and cavern that I know about in the park, and even some underground springs, but this is the first time I’ve been sealed inside a cavern.” The tall body inched forward slowly. “We are coming to a curve, Finley, and there is a slab of rock hanging down that you need to watch so that your head doesn’t hit it,” she said as she turned her head towards the rear. “I’ll shine the light on it for you to see,” the beam was pointed first at Finley, then the sharp formation overhead.

“I see it,” Finley called as she pulled her boot forward drawing the pack closer to her feet.

The Park Director inched forward, but had to turn sideways to get around the curve in the burrow. Once she had manipulated the bow she noticed a significant slant downward in the tunnel. A strong current of air whipped past her uncovered ears causing the already buzzing right ear to throb from the chilling wind. A groan escaped her lips as her gloved hand went to her bruised ear.

“Did you say something?” Finley’s gloved hand tapped her boot.

“The tunnel slopes downward for what looks to be about fifty yards or so,” she said as the beam from the flashlight danced ahead. “There is another protrusion to the right here,” the ray of light circled the projection.

“I see it, thanks. Man alive, it’s getting breezy in here,” she exclaimed as she zipped her parka up as far as it would go and fastened the top snap.

“Try and think of something else, like the hot springs and a good cup of steaming coffee.”

“I’ll take the hot springs, a mug of coffee, one of Burley’s fabulous Danish rolls and you in the springs with me.” Finley’s teeth chattered, but didn’t keep her from giggling at her last suggestion.

Fletcher stopped crawling and lay the flashlight down. You are going to get that wish, Sweetheart. I can guarantee it, she smiled at the thought and turned her head back toward Finley. “Don’t see why all those ideas can’t be arranged.” Brown eyes gazed back at her, watching the corner’s of Finley’s mouth lift. “You ever drank hot apple wine?”

“No, are you offering me some?”

“Hmm, maybe…that and…”

“Go on with you,” Finley slapped at her boot, “Get me out of here and I’ll try any thing you suggest.” She winked at the turned head.

“I’ll remember that,” she turned forward and picked up the light. “I certainly hope you do,” Finley mused, as she watched the backpack in front of her moving forward.

The burrow was silent as the two women inched down the tunnel to another curve. This bend was tighter to manipulate and took several tugs from Fletcher to get her backpack around the walls of the burrow. Behind her, she heard the smaller woman’s breath becoming as short as hers. It was getting colder and the wind pierced her already red face.

“I hear running water off in the distance, Finley.” She stopped to rest momentarily.

“Does it sound like an underwater river, or one of those streams we crossed on the trail?”

“The force is too loud for either, it sounds like a waterfall.” She reached down for her canteen and pulled it up to her face. “The only waterfall around here is a good half mile from where we park the snowmobile, and it’s on the other side of the next ravine.” The cap of the canteen was slowly unscrewed and she took several sips before she recapped it and put it back into its pouch on her belt.

Finley laid her head down on her gloved hand and tried to slow her breathing. “How far do you think we are from the falls?”

“Hard to tell. The tunnel isn’t going straight, but its not far now. You need to drink a little water from your canteen before we move forward.” She swallowed and turned sideways to rest her knees from the crawling.

“I’ve already got it out,” Finley confirmed as she drank from the canteen twice then screwed the cap back on. “I notice the slope is more gradual than before we made that last turn, and the rock formations isn’t quite the same as when we started.”

“Yeah, it’s been gradually changing, but the tunnel ahead starts another slope in the grade. That could be because the ravine where the overhand was happens to be several hundred feet higher than the ravine where the waterfall is located.” She picked up the flashlight and began to crawl forward again.

“Could you be hearing an underground waterfall?” Finley asked, arching her back and stretching her legs.

“Don’t think so, or the wind wouldn’t be so cold, and a piece of ice just hit my face. So, it’s got to be an opening close by the waterfall. Besides that, I don’t know of another stream or springs coming up out of the grounds anyplace close to this area that would be a tell tale sign of an underground falls or river.”

“That’s a good sign isn’t it?”

Fletcher stopped and lay over on her side. “Could be, but you need to know that the waterfall is a good hundred foot drop to the ravine floor. The walls around the waterfall are almost straight up and down.” Her head was resting against the burrow wall as she spoke. “There will be ice and snow everywhere,” her voice halfway muffled from her jacket sleeve.

“You are just a bundle of great tidings, Fletcher. Have to admit though, for a first date, this will be hard to top and one I’ll remember for the rest of my life.” She attempted a little humor.

“You can’t hold this against me, and believe me, we are going to have a first date, and it won’t be anything like this frosty escapade you’re calling a date.” She grinned good-naturedly, and tossed a loose pebble back towards the young paleontologist.

“You don’t say? Will it be a torrid date?” She tossed the pebble back, hitting the prone woman on her side. “You can keep your rocks to yourself, Sweetheart. I’ve enough of them embedded in my clothes already.”

Fletcher picked up the pebble and placed it to the side of the tunnel. “It’ll be a nice, quiet dinner someplace special,” the tall woman promised. “Can’t say how the hot the end of the date will be, but I promise you it’ll be steamy enough.” The Park Director chuckled and began crawling again.

“Another promise I’m holding you too,” Finley grinned and she too started crawling forward.

The tunnel went on and on, with fewer crooks and turns, but the current of air became stronger and had many flakes of snow. The floor of the burrow was damp and cold. Suddenly, the beam from the flashlight reflected a glare back towards Fletcher. The base of the passageway was covered with snow and a thin coat of ice.

Fletcher placed the toes of her boots into the side of the tunnel incase she started to slid and couldn’t stop herself. “Finley, I see the opening, but it’s icy up here. You need to press your boots into the sides of the burrow, and stay there until I check out the entrance,” she called back to her companion.

“Thank Allah,” Finley placed her face on her arm and exhaled.

The Park Director spread her elbows and hands to the side of the tunnel and pulled herself along on her belly. The end of the flashlight held in her right hand was forced into the thin coat of ice to give her some extra leverage as she pulled herself forward. “Damn, this floor is cold,” she muttered.

There were several large stones at the opening, and a disarray of branches and pieces of various debris partially filled the break in the tunnel. Fletcher reached up and grabbed the largest limb. The ice and snow surrounding it crunched as her grip tightened. The limb didn’t move. It was not only frozen in place, but the end was caught in the crevice of rocks on a narrow ledge below the entranceway. The opening was much larger than where they had entered the burrow, and had clearly been sealed up years before with stones. Although only a few remained at the base of the opening, the tree limbs and branches would have made it impossible for anything to enter the burrow from this end.

Fletcher pulled herself to a sitting position and untied the backpack and set it beside her. She picked up the flashlight and braced herself with her back and legs on the opposite side of the opening and slid her head up between two limbs.

“They didn’t have to worry about anything getting in here, its twenty feet straight up a sheer wall and slippery as all get out down the side of this craves.” Her head was partially out of the opening as she shinned the light all around to get a feel for the area. “Phew, snow, rocks and ice. Getting to the top of the ridge is not going to be easy.” Spray from the waterfalls and snow covered her face as she drew back inside the opening and sat against the wall.

She scooted around and placed her feet against the rocks and pushed. Nothing moved. “Not again,” she shrugged and rocked back and forth on the floor of the burrow, until her feet kicked out at the stones. “Crack, bang, boom,” the two top stones went out the opening, struck the ledge with a thump, and hit the snow below, tumbling over and over until she heard a splashing sound as the rocks hit the water below.

“What’s going on down there?” Finley called from behind her.

“Just trying to get some stuff out of the opening. You stay there until I tell you it’s okay to come down here. It’s wet and slippery and I need to work on this a few minutes before you slid down here.”

“No worry, I’ll just lay here and watch,” she replied.

Wished I knew how in the hell I’m gonna get that debris apart so we can get out. If I kick it loose too, I’m liable to slip straight over the edge and down the side of the cliff.

She continued to shine the light back and forth across the opening and took several more looks out between the trees. On the third sweep, she saw a jagged rock protruding about ten inches out of the cliff and pointed upward a few degrees.

Ok, if I can get my tie rope over that rock securely enough, we could use it as a guide rope along the edge. She wiggled back down between the limbs and sat cross-legged on the wet floor. Opening the backpack, she removed the roll of damp tape. This might work as a safety rope if I double it, then redouble it, she thought as she placed the tape in her lap and reached back into the pack and removed the coil of tie rope. “Great, now to see if I’ve lost my touch with my roping.” She removed her gloves, placing them in her pocket and skillfully tied a loop knot in the end of the rope. In the other end, she tied a double hard knot. Just so we won’t slip off the end.

She set the tape next to the backpack and picked up the rope and light, then worked her head and shoulder through the limbs enough so that she could swing the large loop over her head. After three tries and still missing the rock, she pulled back inside the branches and made the loop twice as large as before. Back through the opening the upper part of her body went. She briefly shinned the light on the area above her head to see how close the branches were and then back to the protruding rock.

On the second try, the noose fell over the projection and Fletcher’s head dropped to her chest. “Thank goodness,” she sighed. Carefully she pulled the rope tight. “Phew!” she blew out. She placed the light under her chin and took both hands and pulled on the rope. It tightened snuggly.

Sitting back down, she began to unroll the damp tape. The tape was a hundred foot roll, and would make a sturdy twenty-five foot length strap once she had finished with it. Fletcher carefully began braiding the four lengths together and tied a double captain’s knot at both ends of the newly formed strap.

“Finley, time for you to come down, but be careful, it’s very slippery.”

“Thought you’d never be ready,” she said as she slid the last two feet and stopped as her gloved hands reached Fletcher’s legs that were braced against the opposite wall. “I’m getting really cold, Fletcher.” She propped against the wall and leaned forward.

“It’s freezing outside, and there isn’t much I can do right now. But, we’ll be back to the cabin and a nice hot fire soon.” She attempted to comfort the shivering paleontologist. “Come here and let me hold you for a moment.” Fletcher drew Finley into her arms and started rubbing her arms and shoulders. “Turn a little and let me rub your face.”

Finely turned her head and felt the large hands rapidly moving back and forth on her face and across her nose and chin. “There, did that help any?”

“Actually quite a lot, thanks. So, how are we getting through that stuff?” The shivering woman pointed to the partially blocked opening.

“Carefully and I do mean carefully, Finley.” Long fingers reached down and picked up the strap. “Give me your backpack.” Once it was between her legs, she secured one end of the braided leash and to the side of her belt. “You’ll have to wait until you’re partially through the opening,” the light was shone on the area Fletcher had mentioned, “Then you put on the backpack and fasten it in place. It will act as a tie rope between you and me, understand?”

“Yes,” Finley shook her head up and down.

Fletcher turned and took Finley in her arms again. “Honey, we’re about forty feet from the waterfall, and some twenty to twenty-five feet from the crest of the ridge. Snow and ice cover the rocks above and going up will be impossible. But…and this is a large but…I’ve attached a rope to an overhanging rock that we can use as a guide rope along a small ledge. If we’re very careful and hold on to the rope, I believe we can cover about fifteen feet at a downward angle to a larger ledge that I think will be wide enough for us to make our way down another fifteen feet or so. Then there seems to be a few boulders that we can jump down to and make our way to the bottom and along the bank for about a hundred or so yards past the cliff area. Then we can climb up the sloping ravine, hit the path and make our way to the snowmobile. You up to trying this?”

“I don’t have any choice, do I?”

“I won’t lie to you, Darling, it’s going to be slippery, cold and it will be dangerous for both of us.”

“Where you go, I follow.” She picked up the backpack and checked the straps, then looked up at the Park Director. “Kiss me, Fletcher.”

The taller woman leaned forward and slowly lowered her lips to brush those held up to met hers. She gently nibbled the lower lip but was pulled down to meet both lips fully, then released. “I know…I love you too, Finley.” She took one quicker kiss, reached out with her hand and pressed her hand gently against the younger woman’s face before she let it drop and settled back against the wall.

“You need to get your flashlight out now.” She picked up her flashlight and unsnapped the circular ring on the bottom of the utility light. Inside her pack she removed the first aid kit and popped it open. The roll of gauze was removed and Fletcher cut off two pieces about three feet long. A quick knot was tied around the ring on the bottom of her flashlight. The other end was tied to her belt. She waited until Finley had out her small light before she reached down and picked up the white tape from the first aid box. Several twists of the tape around the top of the smaller light were quickly done, then she crossing down the light to the end and leaving a small loop at the bottom. She repeated the procedure back up to the top of the small light with the tape. She took the gauze and looped it though the end of the made shift lope on the end of the light and attached it to one buttonhole at the top of the Finley’s parka. “Don’t turn it on until I tell you, okay?”

“Alright.” She picked it up and placed it in her front upper jacket pocket.

Fletcher stood up and replaced her gloves before she moved to the limbs. “Watch where I put my feet, and my hands, and hand me up your backpack as soon as I tell you.” She pushed her pack through the opening and hung it on a slingshot shaped branch to her right. Her eyes glanced back at Finley then she wiggled through two limbs with her shoulder and head. Her hand went to the side and she wrapped the rope around her wrist and placed the end in her clinched fist. The limbs sank slightly as all her weight was placed on them. The tall woman slowly lowered her body to the small ledge and pulled her backpack off the knot and carefully slipped it on and fastened it.

“Okay, Finley, give me your pack.”

It appeared between the limbs and she reached up and took it. “Now you, and be careful.” She called, and Finley’s hand, arm and shoulder appeared between the limbs. A few seconds later, Finley was sitting on top of the limb with one foot still hanging down in the burrow opening.

“Put on your pack and fasten it in place before you move any further.” The tall woman handed the pack to the outstretched glove. “Good girl, now check the straps to make sure they are secure. I don’t want them coming off your shoulders and that guide rope coming loose.”

Finley did as she was instructed.

Fletcher stretched her leg to the bottom of the debris. “Okay, hold on with your right hand, slide off and place your foot on top of my thigh and catch hold of this rope with your left.”

Again, Finley did as she was instructed.

“Hold on just a minute, I want to pull this one limb out, I think we can use it as a trekking pole.” She kicked the limb and almost lost her balance. “Damn, that was close,” she said as she grabbed at one of the snow covered limbs.

One more kick and the limb slipped from its position and was drug from the debris pile.

“Honey, have you ever tight-roped your way across a log or rock and found that if you could even grasp a small tree branch that you could retain your balance?” Finley asked as she grasped an outstretched branch and scooted closer to the tall woman.

“Yeah, several times while cross country trekking. I found the trekking pole gives you that kind of stability, balance and confidence to make your next move, that’s why I think we need this stick.” Fletcher replied as she placed the made shift pole between her backpack straps. “It’s slippery here, so be careful,” she said as she began picking her way slowly down the rocky ledge.

It was close to midnight and both women were bone tired. It was an effort to move one foot beside the other as they forced their hands and feet to move across the rocky cleft. They had to let the rope go as they were beyond its reach and help.

Allah, if I go off this ledge, I’ll take Fletcher with me. Please give me strength…Allah, please give me strength, she prayed as she moved carefully behind the taller woman. Panic is a very powerful force. As your body detects the fear it pumps out tremendous amounts of adrenaline and endorphins into your system. Both of these have a narcotic effect and are responsible for you’re increased breathing, your body feeling warm and breaking out in a sweat. Finley realized she had begun to sweat. Not a good sign. She didn’t shake her head and deny this was happening to her. She knew it had happened to many very skilled individuals more qualified in rock climbing then she ever was, and she had to force herself to call out to Fletcher, that she needed to stop for a moment.

Fletcher stepped back to her, “Darling, I know you feel panic setting in and probably want to sit down, breath deep, eat a little food, and just sit until you are calm. Unfortunately, we can’t stop on this ledge.” The taller woman leaned in close to the covered head and placed her arm around her shoulders. “You can do it, Finley. Only another six or seven feet and we’ll be to that wider ledge and we can take a short break.”

“Fletcher, I’m sweating and that’s not a good sign.”

“Oh, God. Finley, we can’t stop here,” she tightened her around the smaller woman. “Come on, Honey. Where is that old superior attitude of yours? You want to get off this ledge don’t you? Then come on and move your pretty butt.”

“Nag, nag, nag. When we get off this damn cliff, I’ll show you attitude.” Finley nudged Fletcher with her head.

“That’s the spirit. Just a bit further.” She started creeping along the ledge again.

They reached the larger shelf where Fletcher placed her arm around the smaller woman. “You want a bit of an apple and a drink of water?”

Finley looked at the hanging light and saw the large snow covered rocks strewn beneath them. “Not here, we’ll stop when we get there,” she pointed to the plateau below.

“Good girl.” Her arm went down and she reached for another hold on the rocks.

Fletcher smiled as she saw the large flat surface below them. She stepped carefully off the ledge and hopped down to the face of the table of stone. Her arms reached up to help Finley. “Come on Honey, jump.”

“Please don’t let me fall off that table, Fletcher.” Finley pleaded and she felt her foot slip and she began to fall.

The tall woman reached out and caught the falling woman in her arms. “Got you,” she set the woman down on the soft snow.

“God, I’m glad the snow has stopped and the moon has come out.” She took off her pack, placed it in the snow and sat down on top of it. I’d like that apple now, but not any water, please.” Within a minute, Fletcher had her pack off, and handed Finley an apple.

Finley took a large bite and handed it to Fletcher, “Share?”

“Sure,” the tall woman took the apple and bit a large bite before she handed it back to the sitting paleontologist.

“We’re going to rock-hop across that tundra on a track toward the depression right there.” She moved the beam back and forth over the area they were to take. As she brought the light back towards the rock they were on, it started going dim. “No, not now,” Fletcher shook the light, which flashed a few times then went dark.

“Fletcher, take mine. You’re in the lead and you need it.” She pulled the small light from her pocket.

“Don’t want to do that, but we don’t have a choice.” The tall woman reached down to her knife sheath on her boot, whipped out the knife. She cut the gauze on her light just below the ring and let it drop into the snow. After squatting down in front of Finley, she reached up and cut the gauze next to the buttonhole. The knife was returned to the sheath and she tied the two pieces of gauze together, but didn’t turn on the light. “I’ll wait until we get ready to jump to that next shelf to turn it on. It won’t last long.” She sat down on her pack and took the apple Finley offered her.

“You ready?”

Finley stood up and picked up her pack. “Yes, but I hope we can move faster, Fletcher, because I’m getting very cold.”

Fletcher put on her backpack and drew the shorter woman into her arms. “We’ll go as fast as we can,” she said as she rubbed the woman’s back. “Everyone in their lifetime has experienced being cold and feeling a chill. We get goose bumps and our teeth chatter, our limbs ache and we feel a little sleepy. Most of the time a little jumping in place and a warm drink is all it takes to get warmed up, but sometimes, you gotta keep your mind on something else. Why don’t you talk to me to keep your mind off being cold, okay?”

“Just what do you want me to talk about?” she asked through trembling lips.

“You’re an intelligent woman, you must have a repertoire of rhetoric you’re familiar with,” Fletcher vigorously rubbed the shoulders of smaller woman. “You’re a natural chatter, so just talk to me about anything you want, Honey.” She released Finley and inched toward the edge of the ledge.

“Fletcher did you know hypothermia can be serious trouble? Hypothermia is a sudden and profound cooling of the temperature in the core of your body to below 96° degrees. The core is your torso and your head where your vital organs are located. Continued cooling can result in an irregular heartbeat that can lead to death,” her teeth chattered as she spoke.

Fletcher turned and made her way over the rock to Finley. “Honey, I’m very familiar with hypothermia. I was hoping you’d talk about something a little more…a little…”

“Warmer?”

“Just keep talking about something to keep your mind off the cold, not something that keeps your mind on how cold you are. Okay, tell you what, how about you talk about Tibet and one of your trips there. Tell me about the scenery.” Fletcher rubbed her shoulders a few times before she turned and inched her way back to the edge of the plateau.

“Tibet. You want me to talk about Tibet…” Finley swatted her arm several times, and moved closer toward the taller woman. “It is not enough to know the mountains and rivers of Tibet from the angle of geography, Fletcher. They are more than a part of nature; they form a part of the sentiments of the Tibetan race. In this land, each mountain and each lake are part of a heart-stirring story. Once you set foot on the plateau, you will feel dwarfed in the face of the towering mountains and endless Gobi desert, which gives one something of the feeling of what the earth was like when first separated from the heavens,” Finley locker her arm around Fletcher’s.

“Beautiful, huh?” Fletcher asked switching on the small flashlight.

“Oh yes, both people and land. Fletcher you can feel the hot air currents rise from underneath your feet. In the evening, galaxies twinkle across the broad sweep of the inky black sky. You can feel the revolving of the earth and the Milky Way. It impresses viewers with a sense of the boundless magnitude of the universe, inviting one's soul to join and merge into the universe.” Finley loved Tibet. Not only the terrain, but the people. “When the sun rises and falls on the grassland, the key elements to life seem to fall into place. Towering mountains, beautiful lakes, galloping snow leopards and flocks of sheep reveal supernatural power and beauty, holding one in awe and reverence for the magnitude of nature. High mountains represent heroic and miraculous power, and the pure and gentle waters brim with holy beauty.”

“Sounds like a place I’d enjoy visiting,” she turned to Finley. “We’re going to go over the side of this plateau and onto that rock,” she turned and shined the small light to certain areas to the next flat rock terrain. “Don’t worry, we’re attached by this tie-rope and I won’t let you slip off.” She moved to the edge of the surface and motioned for Finley to join her. “We have to jump, and I want us to do it together.”

“Fletcher, it’s a good fifteen-twenty feet to that plateau.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s the reason I want us to jump together. The tie rope won’t give us much latitude if we don’t.”

“What if there are protrusions under that snow?”

“Trust me Finley, I know this area. That surface is as flat as this one. I figure it has about two-three feet snow on top and will act as a cushion, but it’s still going to be a hard landing.”

“Sweetheart, the good times with you just keep coming,” she squeezed the taller woman’s arm. “Can hardly wait to see what comes about in the next chapter,” she gulped.

Fletcher shivered as goose bumps rose from her ears down her back and along her arms. Why does even the sound of her voice vibrate to the depth of my being? Oh, well, maybe…oh, hell, I…shit, now I’m starting to ramble. Get your mind back on business, Fletcher and get you both out of here.

Wanting to keep contact and emboldened the shorter woman, Fletcher placed a gloved hand over Finley’s and squeezed. “Um...we could write a pretty good adventure book, couldn’t we?” The Park Director choked out, trying a bit of wit.

“How about our next adventure be on a hot, steamy beach on an island in the South Pacific? Now, exactly how do you propose we jump down there?” was the whispered question as she pointed to the plateau below.

The older woman frowned in concentration, “South Pacific! Never been there either. Take my hand Finley, and we’ll jump together.”

Finley took a steadying breath, ignoring the dive bombers in her stomach and clutched the larger gloved hand. “Say when.”

“On the count of three. Ready, one-two-now!”

They leaped off the rock and hurdled to the snow below. KAPKUMP. They hit the snow as their hands were pulled apart and sank into the white surface.

“Oh…that smarts,” moaned Finley.

“You okay?”

“You mean did I break anything, don’t think so. How about you?”

She wiggled to the top of the snow and stood up. “I’m good to go. Here let me help you out of that,” her hands went down to the partially submerged woman.

Finley had sunk into the snow up to her waist. “It’s deeper than the three feet you suggested,” she was suddenly very weary of the situation, but extended both hands.

“Don’t give up, we only have three more rocks. The jumps are only about half that distance,” she thumbed toward the rock above their heads.

“So you say,” came the low voice.

Eyes focused on Finley’s, she asked, “You ready?”

She only blinked and took Fletcher’s hand.

“We jump together again, only this time, not with feet down. Try and land on your butt with your legs extended. You won’t hit the rock surface that way.

“Just bust my ass,” Finley swallowed convulsively. Tendrils of fear tickled her mind.

“No you won’t…trust me,” came the low voice near her ear.

Finley swallowed again and nodded, “Count again, please.”

“Sure. One…two…now,” the voice insisted.

KABLUMP. The loose snow went flying.

“Not so bad, huh?”

“Still hurt my fanny,” Finley was up brushing snow from her backside.

Fletcher let out a short chuckle. “Nice buttocks I do have to admit and I certainly wouldn’t want anything to happen to it, but we have two more jumps to make. You up for it?”

“Hell no!” she paused, “but…take my hand and pull me over if I can’t jump.”

A long silence followed.

“Geesh, you are a persistent irritation,” Fletcher growled warmly. “So, I’m a pushy broad. So whaatttt…”

“Now,” she didn’t give Finley a chance to finish before she jumped and pulled Finley with her.

Another KABLUMP.

“One more to go. Give me your hands, Finley.” Her hands went down to the partially sunken paleontologist.

“Fletcher, you have to give me a minute….bushed.”

“All right, but you need to get out of that snow. Here,” she took off her pack and sat it on the snow. “You can sit here for a couple of minutes.” She reached down and took both the younger woman’s gloves and pulled her forward.

“Help me off with the pack, please.” She sank to the top of Fletchers knapsack.

“We can only take a quick break, Honey, can’t stay immobile for too long.” Fletcher sat the younger woman’s pack down and sat on it.

“Gimme, a minute. How about a drink of water?”

“No water, it’s too cold and will only slow down your metabolism. How about a couple bites of another apple?”

“Sure.”

Fletcher pulled Finley up off her pack and eased her down on her own. Within a minute she handed the weak woman an apple.

Finley bite into the fruit slowly. The juices ran out the sides of her mouth. Her glove came up and wiped the liquid off. She took another bite of the sweet fruit then handed it to Fletcher. After one large bit, the tall woman attempted to handed it back to Finley.

“I can’t eat anymore.”

Snow formed the skeleton of the plateau, and the waters branch out like blood vessels feeding and nurturing the land. This was not a desolate area, and often had hikers until Fletcher had placed the area off limits. Above the two women, two great bald eagle’s shrieks encouraged them on. The waterfall was fed by one of the many springs in the area. The water rushing down the cascade and running down the forked creek had a taste virtually unknown in other parts of the world. This was not a backward area. From the snow clad mountains there is rock-firm will and from the waters there flows a rapids-like enthusiasm. However, being out in this temperature and this area when you were near exhaustion was not a pleasure or sight seeing tour. It was beautiful, but it was dangerous

Fletcher took the apple and tossed it over the plateau. “Let’s get going,” she The partially eaten apple made a thump as it hit the ice below. Quickly the packs pulled onto their backs. Hand and hand they inched closer to the edge of the plateau.

“On three,” Fletcher said.

Finley only nodded before they jumped.

“Good girl,” Fletcher eased Finley out of the snow. “We have a few rough places, but then we’ll be able to make the incline up the ridge easily.”

“Good, cause…I’m about spent, Darling,” she rested her head in Fletchers chest.

“I’m going to take hold of the back of your pack as you ease yourself over this rock, and you see that shelf right there?” she moved the light back and forth where she wanted Finley to place her feet. “”That’s the path we’ll take down the creek bank to that area right there,” the light shown on the proposed course. “You okay,” she asked looking at Finley with concern.

“Yeah. Let’s go,” was the weak response.

They made their way down the rocky ledge and just above the frozen water's edge below. As they hopped down among some larger rocks, Finley stepped off a larger one, which then slid down and crashed on one a few feet below, taking the paleontologist with it

“Watch out!” Fletcher screamed, as Finley scrambled to get a footing and a hold on something to no avail. The rocks started sliding and hit the ice with the frightened woman right behind. The rocks sank through the cracked ice. Finley’s legs danged in space then entered the icy water as she sank to her waist before the tie-rope stopped further decent. The tie-rope snapped tighter as Fletcher flung herself flat and grabbed a stone.

She clutched the rope and eased herself over the edge of the barrier to see Finley submerged to her waist in the cold water. “Damn,” she cursed as she increased her grip on rope with her free hand. Her boot found a crevice in the formation and she stuck her boot in to act as an anchor. Carefully she wiggled her shoulders over the formation and pulled on the rope, lifting Finley slowly out of the water. “Don’t fight, Finley. This rope can’t hold much more. Let me pull you up to that log, so you can get a footing on it.”

She called to the struggling woman. “Finley, stop flaunting about and put your feet on that log,” her voice demanded.

“Just a little farther!” Fletcher called from the snow-clad rock above. Carefully, Finley inched her way out on the big ice covered log, then started to slip. A strong hand reached down, caught her sleeve, and pulled her back up. “Come on Finley, you can do it. Make your feet move, Sweetheart.” She encouraged the shaking woman.

“I…I…I can’t. I’m…I’m too cold, my legs…legs won’t move…anymore,” she said through shivering blue lips.

Fletcher recognized the signs of hypothermia already with Finley from her statements of feeling profoundly cold, her blue lips and pale skin, the uncontrollable shivering, and now muscle aches and inability to move, and a lack of ability to think clearly. If she gets a severe case of hypothermia, dementia, seizures, and unconsciousness will be followed by eventual death. I’ve got to get her warm again. Got to keep her mind working. “Finley! Finley, you listen to me, you make your feet listen to you and MOVE that scrawny ass of yours along that log,” she shouted. “Dammit, it Finley, do you hear me?”

“Nag, nag, nag,” the brunette gasped, blue eyes attempting to focus.

Drops of water left Fletcher’s eyes at Finley’s response. “I’ll do more than nag the hell out of you if you don’t get your ass moving.”

“Is…is…that…a threat?” the shaky voice asked along with cynically raised eyebrows.

“Hell yes, and a solemn promise to boot,” her grimaced matched her growl.

“Mmmpphhh.” Finley moaned, “I’ll…I’m trying.”

Fletcher grinned and tightened her hold on the rope as Finley grasp for a secure hold on the rocks. Her boots finally moved along the icy surface of the log.

Soon they were thick into large rocks strewn all over creek bank of the slope and had to plot a few steps ahead all the time. Sometimes they had to use their hands to scramble in addition to using the trekking pole to augment their balance. About half the time Fletcher felt they would have been better off without the pole, and the other half, she was glad to have it.

After countless time had lapsed, they had make their way down maybe a hundred feet only to regain that and a bit more to crest the actual summit and fall into a large heap on the snow.

“Gotta rest,” Finley whimpered.

“Only for a moment. The trail is just down there,” Fletcher pointed down the slope. “The snowmobile is just out of sight around that clump of snow there,” her glove rose to point to the other ridge.

“Too…too far,” Finley went limp and slumped into the snow.

“Finley, don’t you dare give up on me. We’re almost home and I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose you now.” She pulled the woman up and shook her savagely several times.

“Ohhh,” Finley blinked.

“Don’t you dare give up on me now…Finley, wake up,” she shook the slumping body several more times.

“Stop,” she was all she could get out.

Fletcher stood and pulled the limp woman up. Her strong arm went around her waist and she half carried, half dragged the smaller woman down the snow covered slope to the trail. “Only about another thirty-or-so yards to the snowmobile, Finley. We’ll make it, just keep forcing your feet to move.”

“Sooo…co…cold,”

“I know Honey, but you can see the mobile…see it up there?” Fletcher raised her glove to indicate the large mound just ahead.


***



Chapters 1 & 2
Chapters 3 & 4
Chapters 5 & 6
Chapters 7 & 8
Chapters 9 & 10
Chapters 11 & 12
Chapters 13 & 14
Chapters 15 & 16
Chapters 17 & 18
Chapters 19 & 20



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