Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Read Chapter 1 of The Chase by Mary Hagen

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Life hangs in the balance when four women on a backpacking trip are attacked by four convicts running from the law. To survive, they must outsmart the men. To do so, they take an alternate route away from the trail and head for a distant mountain pass leaving back backpacks behind. Without their survival gear, they know they cannot survive.  In spite of the risks, Tannya Hudson returns to their campsite to retrieve whatever she can find and to find Cindy, one of the backpackers who is missing.  The convicts return to the camp and make plans to catch the women. Tanya barely escapes. In spite of her efforts to hide her tracks, the convicts pick up her trail and follow as she climbs to meet her fellow hikers. Will the women meet? Will they outrun the men? Will they survive in dismal weather conditions or will they die?  The Chase begins.

 

Reluctantly, Greg Moore backed his Jeep out of his carport. His terrifying dream about Tanya Hudson and her backpacking trip stayed with him as he drove toward Julie's house. The premonition that something bad was going to happen to Tanya and her three friends never left him. How could he, a civil engineer who dealt in concrete facts, not dreams, reveal his misgivings? He laughed. The dream was real, and he couldn’t put it out of his mind.

He loved Tanya, had from the moment he met her and could not bear the thought of something happening to her. It was his fault that Tanya broke off their relationship, but his marriage and subsequent divorce from Andrea had been painful. He was not ready to make another permanent relationship. Marriage terrified him, but Tanya would not agree to anything else. She chose to remain friends because of his refusal to agree to a permanent commitment. What was he thinking? Tanya was not Andrea.

The premonition haunted him at the intersections, as the sun rising in the east turned the sky a vivid orange and red, at the dark clouds gathering in the west. Blood came to his mind. He could not reveal to anyone his misgivings. Certainly not Tanya. It was only a dream, a stupid nightmare.

He braked at a stoplight, impatiently tapping his fingers on the steering wheel as he waited for the light to change. The dawn accentuated his feelings of gloom. The light changed from red to green and he drove forward, the inner fear never ebbing from his mind.

At the time he met Tanya, he believed he never could fall in love again.  Tanya was the most beautiful woman he knew. Just thinking about her filled him with desire and a love so deep it hurt. She was opposite in every way from the women he usually chose - small, blonde, and blue-eyed, who were dependent on him to make decisions and to take the lead in planning activities like Andrea. Andrea wanted more of everything, money, fun, and adoration from every man she met.

Tanya was tall, independent, with beautiful black hair and eyes. More importantly, she challenged him, his beliefs, and his ideas in ways he did not think possible. Life was never dull with her. She was a free spirit. He did not want her to change even if she did not believe him.

Tanya's words echoed in his ears over their last dinner when she announced the end of their relationship. "You're a macho prude."

Greg smiled to himself. He liked the sound of her voice, the almond shape of her eyes that radiated sparks of light, her high cheekbones, the shape of her mouth. He knew he had blown the relationship. Because of him, it was on hold. Friends, he thought, I can't deal with just being a friend, but at least, he would see her. Could he watch her date someone else? He knew the answer.

His motives in the beginning had been to bring the tall, aloof beauty to his bed, seduce her and drop her. In a short time, he realized she excited and challenged him in ways akin to the feelings he had when he climbed a 5.11 pitch on a mountain or conquered a difficult peak. He had the same anticipatory anxiety every time he thought about meeting Tanya. It was with him now as he drove to pick up Cindy and Rebecca Kerr and Julie Johnson, but it was mixed with dread and concern.

He and Tanya clashed over many things but, in time, Tanya subdued him and changed his mind on several issues about women but never his desire to seduce her. She refused any sexual relationship, demanding a deeper commitment from him than he was willing to give. Look where it had gotten him.

 He loved Tanya but something in him made him want to conquer her first. Their mutual stubbornness, mostly his, was about to break them apart but he could not give up his need to dominate her, first. Stupid, he admonished himself.

As much as he wanted, he could not reveal his premonition, his misgivings, his fears that something disastrous was going to happen on their trip. It was foolish on his part, but the most he could bring himself to do was to call Tanya and say, "The weather's going to change. You could be caught in rain or snow."

Tanya refused, laughing at him as she replied, "You know by now a little wet weather has never stopped the four of us."

Greg called Rebecca and Julie to ask them to reconsider their trip to no avail. In the end, he agreed to drive them to the trailhead and to pick them up at the end of their trip. He would see Tanya, be near her, but the reason he had offered to drive them was with the hope he could persuade her to change her mind.

The light was on above Julie's front door. Greg pulled into her driveway. Steve, Julie's husband, opened the door before Greg was out of his vehicle.

"Julies got her stuff in the garage. I'll be out to load her gear in a second."

People have happy marriages, Greg thought. He only needed to look at Steve and Julie. They had been married five years and still acted like newlyweds in spite of their differences. Julie was like Tanya. They both enjoyed camping, hiking, climbing, and working together on outdoor projects. Steve did not care if he ever went camping except during hunting season. They gave each other space to pursue their interests.

Greg knew he and Tanya would do the same. Why then, could he not marry her? Why couldn’t she agree to a live together with a commitment? Greg clacked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. He had no answer.

Steve and Greg helped Julie stash her backpack into his SUV. Steve wished Julie a safe trip, kissed her a lingering goodbye until Greg interrupted, “Hey, we’ve got to pick up the others.”

Steve slammed the car door, gave Julie another kiss, and waved them on. Greg drove toward Rebecca's house. She and her daughter, Cindy, were on the porch waiting.

“That girl is well-endowed for an eighteen-year-old. She looks more like someone twenty,” Greg said as he turned into the driveway.

"I hope the disagreements between Cindy and Rebecca don’t upset our trip,” Julie said, “Rebecca’s expectations of Cindy are almost impossible. No wonder the poor kid resents her. She absolutely insisted Cindy go with us.”

“This is a farewell trip for Cindy before she’s off to college. Good thing,” Greg said.

“I know.” Julie paused. “I can’t understand the two of you.”

Greg glanced at Julie. “Changing the subject?” Greg stopped the motor.

“When are you and Tanya going to stop playing this little game of friendship and get back together?” Julie asked. “She’s my best friend. I hate to see her hurt by you or anyone for that matter.”

Greg shrugged his shoulders. He opened the door and climbed out of the SUV. “Jim must still be asleep, lucky dog,” Greg said.

“Who needs him? Rebecca manages everything. Now that’s catty of me. Rebecca’s my friend,” Julie said.

The sullen expression worn by Cindy announced her displeasure over the backpack. Greg relieved her of one pack and shoved it into the space behind the seat.

"You look unhappy," he said.

"You know Cindy," Rebecca said. "She's never happy at the beginning of one of our trips. She'll cheer up as we get into it."

Greg caught the hostile glance Cindy gave her mother. He sympathized with her co-workers, and her friends, except Tanya and Julie. For ten years, she had worked as office manager in their consulting business. They considered Rebecca the reason their business succeeded, but Tanya could work with anyone without conflict.

Julie stepped out of the car to let Rebecca and Cindy into the back seat. Cindy barely acknowledged her greeting as she buckled her seat belt.

As they drove away from the Kerr home, the inner fears surfaced in Greg's mind to plague him the remainder of the distance to Tanya's house. He could not stop them. He had even risked Steve's teasing and tried to convince him that he should discourage the trip.

A bolt of lightning flashed above the mountains to the west. "You know, the weather gets better in a few days. Why not wait?" he said.

"You still at it, Greg? You might as well give up. We're packed and moving. Wet weather isn't going to hold us up. Besides, you know as well as we, the weathermen are wrong half the time with their mountain forecasts. The mountains make their own weather," Rebecca said.

"I'd be in favor," Cindy said. "I don't even want to go on this dumb trip, and I wouldn't if it wasn't for Tanya and Julie."

"We're going to miss you when you leave for college,” Julie said in an effort to appease Cindy.

The sun appeared briefly on the eastern horizon under the clouds as Greg parked in front of Tanya's townhouse. Before he could open his door, Tanya came out of her house with her pack and her miniature poodle, Figwort, named for the plant family Greg knew Tanya loved. Figwort pranced ahead of Tanya furiously wagging his tail and ran to Greg.

"Hey, old buddy, miss me?" Greg stooped to the dog's level to pet him. Figwort licked his face and gave Greg a smile showing his canine teeth. "At least, you still love me."

He opened the back door of the SUV and said, "I’ll take that pack.” He removed the straps from Tanya’s shoulders, restraining the desire he had to hold her. Her hair, braided and tied with strips of leather, smelled fresh and clean, surfacing his feelings of loss and misery.

He took a deep breath to control his emotions. "Ouch. What’ve you got in this pack, the kitchen sink? It weighs a ton. Are you sure you’re going to be able to meet me in six days?"

Tanya's laugh sent stabs of discouragement through him and shredded his insides. If only he could talk her out of this trip.

"I decided to take my rope and a few carabineers just in case we need them for a river crossing or as a climbing aid on one of our side trips."

"Thought you were going to just backpack, not climb." Greg struggled to keep his feeling of anxiety out of his voice, the dream sharp in his mind. He put her pack in his vehicle and slammed the door. "I've missed you," he said as he held open the right door.

Tanya said nothing. A cloud blotted out the sun and a black chill enveloped him.

Figwort jumped into the front seat of the SUV. He wagged his tail at the three women sitting in the back seat.

"Hi, everyone. I decided to take Figwort. Hope you don't mind but when I took him to the kennel, he looked at me with such a pitiful expression, I couldn't leave him."

"Come, Figwort, sit on my lap," Cindy called. "I don't care. I love Figwort. I just wish I could have a dog, but you know Mom. She's Mrs. Neat, Neat, Neat. No animals at our place. They might dirty her floor."

"Lighten up, Cindy. I don't want us to be in constant disagreement on this trip. Think of Julie and Tanya if not me. They want you to have a good time."

Cindy hugged the poodle. "Sorry, guys.”

 

Tanya sat quietly, aware of Greg's after shave, her gift to him on his birthday, the warmth of his body, and the soft sound of his breathing. She missed him, felt lonely when he wasn't with her, but she was determined to end a relationship she saw stagnating. Her unhappiness weighed heavily on her mind when she was alone, and she had buried herself in her work to keep from thinking about him.

She had been burned once, and she was not about to let it happen again. Jack Egger had been her Mr. Right, who turned out to be Mr. Wrong. Lately, her relationship with Greg seemed headed in the same direction.

For months, she and Jack, her former lover, shared dinners, spoke of their futures, and planned joint holidays. Abruptly, he did not call. Finally, Tanya with reservations swallowed her pride and called Jack. His words cut her to the core. "I've met someone else." The real reason, Tanya realized, was that she was half Blackfoot, an orphan, and Jack’s parents were against his dating her.

She was not going to let that happen again. Difficult as it had been, she told Greg of her decision over dinner at Suhiro’s. He protested but refused to make a commitment. To bury her disappointment, she spent hours in the field on any project she could, and she vowed no one was going to destroy her hopes and dreams of the future, including Greg.

She smiled as she recalled his words. “Remain friends! I don't like that." It was his problem. He had to understand, she needed more than an ongoing affair. As a foster child, she had moved from house to house never knowing how long she would be in one place. Permanent friends and relationships were important to her.

The voices in the vehicle hummed around her, but she was only aware of Greg. She glanced at him. Something bothered him. The set of his jaw revealed his moods to her. Still, she had no right to ask.

Figwort jumped into Tanya's lap. Her breath caught in her throat as a blue Buick with four men passed them on a double line, blind curve. "Wow! That was stupid."

"A bunch of idiots," Greg responded. He slowed his SUV.

"I need to put my heart back in place after that," Julie said. "I do want to live.”

As Greg turned off the main highway and onto a narrow, one-lane road the same blue Buick roared past them. He shook his head. "They must have a death wish for themselves and someone else."

"Tanya, you haven't uttered a word this whole drive," Rebecca said.

"I've been mulling things over in my mind, trying to remember if I've forgotten anything," Tanya answered. She felt but did not see Greg's glance.

"Hope you're weighing the odds of having a miserable trip," he said.

Tanya chuckled. "It's not going to be miserable. We'll have perfect weather. Fall is a beautiful season to be out."

"Take a look above you. Those clouds are building. We can have terrible weather in September, the fall equinox."

"Come off it, Greg. We're going. You're as bad as Steve. He thinks I'm nuts every time I venture out in bad weather, but I actually like it," Julie said.

"I'll go home with you. I hate bad weather, and I hate being forced to go on backpacks," Cindy said. “Look at those black clouds. We’re going to be wet the whole trip. I’m already shivering. Come, Fig, sit on my lap and keep me warm.” The dog jumped over the seat and licked her face.

"Cindy, shut up," Rebecca ordered. "I'm tired of your constant complaining. You know you always have a good time once we’re on our way."

“Hang in there, Cindy. We’ll see to it you have fun. It won’t be the same without you around to keep us in tune with life,” Tanya said.

Greg stopped the SUV at the end of the road. "Sure you don't want to change your minds and wait a few days. Sky's pretty heavy," Greg said. He looked at Tanya, his eyes conveying a message to her she could not read. Her heart banged against her chest just being next to him, and she gulped to rein in her emotions. She turned away and went to the rear of the vehicle to reach for her pack. Figwort followed her.

One by one, Tanya handed packs to Julie who stacked them by the side of the SUV.

“I’m going to put my rain gear on top of my pack. I know I’ll need it before we’ve gone a hundred steps.” Cindy laid her pack on the ground, opened it, and scrounged around for her rain jacket and pants.

“Good idea,” Julie said. “Though, I hope we don’t have to wear them. I get so hot with mine on.”

“I’m optimistic. The weather’s going to clear,” Tanya said. She reached for her pack.

"Let me help you," Greg offered. His six-foot, two-inch height made her feel small even though he was only six inches taller than she. His arm around her as he helped her into her pack sent pulses of warmth through her veins, his nearness sending her heart racing. She gritted her teeth to keep from uttering words that would undo her vow to herself to end her ties with Greg.

Tanya slipped one arm and then the other into the straps. Before she could stop him, Greg pulled the belt around her waist and buckled it. His closeness brought her heart to her throat. She gulped to regain control of her emotions and took three backward steps. He looked into her eyes.

“Sure you want to make this trip?”  Do you have your cell phone?"

"No. Stop fretting.  You know, we don't take them on a backpack.  Half the time they don't work.” Tanya moved her shoulders from side to side to settle her pack and pulled the straps closer to her back. “Feels comfortable.” She moved her arms in a half circle.

Rebecca shouldered her pack and offered to help Cindy who brushed her aside. “I’m not helpless.”

“If everyone’s ready, we should hit the trail. Want to lead, Cindy, and set the pace? I’ll bring up the rear,” Tanya said.

"Have a good trip,” Greg said. "I'll see you in five days."

"We will. Thanks." Tanya hitched the waist belt of the pack tighter and turned up the trail, Figwort at her heels.

The cheerful voices of the women carried to him, but he could not rid himself of the remorsefulness that flooded through his mind and engulfed his body, leaving him deeply depressed as the dream returned.

A rag bundle of blue and red cloth lay at the base of a cliff. As he turned it over to examine it, he looked into unseeing eyes, Tanya's deep brown eyes, lifeless and vacant. A moan escaped him, but he uttered no words, no calling out for Tanya to come back. Greg shook his head to rid himself of the black memory, the dream of her fall so real. Still, the alarm and the fear pumped through his veins.

"Tanya," he whispered.

As though hearing him, she turned and waved.

 


 

 

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