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Authors: Melanie Jackson

7 Wild East

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Wild East

by

Melanie
Jackson

 

Version
1.1 – May, 2012

 

Published
by Brian Jackson at KDP

 

Copyright
© 2012 by Melanie Jackson

 

Discover
other titles by Melanie Jackson at
www.melaniejackson.com

 

This
book is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places and incidents either are
products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance
to actual events or locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental.

 

All
rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any
form.

 

 

Prologue

 

The pristine vastness of the mixed forest and scrub brush
spread like a green carpet in all directions, covering the rolling hills and
making them look deceptively soft and inviting. The air was crisp and clear,
hinting at the autumn to come. Two hawks soared the thermals high overhead
watching for the smallest movement below. Above the gentle sound of the breeze
blowing through the trees came sounds of exertion. The source of these sounds
proved to be a pair of heavily laden hikers. Each of the hikers wore a
full-size backpack with a sleeping bag strapped to the bottom. Additional
equipment was lashed to the sides of each bag. One of the hikers was limping
badly while trying to support himself on a tree branch turned into a makeshift
crutch.

Reaching the top of a rise, the man in the lead stopped and
removed his hat to wipe the sweat from his brow. This man was Pete Mitchell,
the lead surveyor on this project, and he was growing frustrated with the slow
pace set by his assistant. He wore a light jacket with various emblems sewn to
it that clearly identified him as a member of the Canadian Environmental
Assessment Agency.

“How far do you figure we’ve traveled so far today?” Mark
Stripe asked while bracing himself against a large rock to rest his badly
twisted ankle.

“No more than five miles,” Pete replied in frustration. “Not
far enough.”

Mark sensed his superior’s disappointment.

“I’m sure I can travel faster if we’d get back on a trail
and stop cutting cross-country,” he said in exasperation.

“I doubt it,” Pete replied under his breath.

Pete unbelted his pack and shimmied out from under the arm
straps. Laying the pack gently on the ground, he began unbinding the tripod he
carried lashed to its side. Pete took particular care in unpacking the
theodolite, a precision piece of equipment used to measure horizontal and
vertical angles. With the tripod set up, he set the theodolite on top and began
the process of leveling the small tower.

Looking through the eyepiece of the device, Pete sighted in
on a nearby hill that had no name but was clearly marked, along with its
elevation, on his surveyor’s map. This was one of the two points they were
using to mark the bends in the route they were mapping. By matching the
horizontal angle to this hilltop with the horizontal angle to another hilltop
located behind him, the surveyor can map precisely where he is standing. This
is a simple process known as triangulation. By measuring the vertical angle to
either of the hilltops, the current elevation can be determined. These two
measures were being recorded along the full length of the proposed route being
mapped by the lead surveyor.

Of course, the field of surveying had changed a great deal
over the years with the invention of the GPS and the laser but Pete believed in
doing things the old-fashioned way using the tried and true equipment of the
past. No inability to communicate with a satellite or computer downtime was
going to hinder him in his efforts.

Pete eventually turned the theodolite in the opposite
direction to measure the angles to the next hilltop. In reality, he would use a
third hilltop to verify his measurements before making a permanent record.

Mark eventually slipped out of his pack to lie down in the
pine needles. This was the worst summer job ever. The entire time that Pete
spent updating his survey tables and charts was spent by Mark trying to sleep
but having to swat flies away from his face. Tired of being treated like
nothing more than a pack animal, he chanced incurring Pete’s wrath by asking
the same question he asked nearly every day around this time.

“How much further are we planning on going today?”

Pete looked away from his eyepiece to consider his partner. He
was going to chew him out at first but decided to take it easy on the rookie
this time.

“Well now, seeing as how you’d rather be traveling on a
trail then cross-country, I thought we’d go as far as a dirt road up ahead
which should take us back to civilization. How does that sound to you?”

“That sounds good to me. How far?”

“Can you make it another five miles?”

“I can if it means getting back to my warm bed at home.”

“Great, just let me finish these readings and we’ll be on
our way.”

Pete set his eye back to his instrument, made several
adjustments, and then scribbled some more notes in his logbook. He was about to
stop and break down the delicate apparatus when he spotted something out of the
corner of his eye. He pointed the scope into the valley below the hill he’d
been measuring against and the sight became crystal clear.

“What is it?” Mark asked.

“It appears to be a town, but it’s not on my survey map. Let
me check the detailed reports.”

Pete walked over to his pack and had to dig deep into it to
come up with a thick booklet that had become buried beneath some clothes. Consulting
their current location in the index, he eventually discovered the identity of
the town.

“It’s a place named McIntyre’s Gulch,” Pete explained.

“Doesn’t look like much,” Mark commented, shading his eyes
in a vain attempt to see into the distance.

“Kid, what you don’t realize is that you’re looking at the next
big oil boomtown. Come on, let’s see if we can make it there by lunch.”

“You mean to eat real food?” Mark replied enthusiastically.

Pete wasn’t surprised at the excitement behind the kid’s
words. He’d been listening to Mark’s stomach grumble for the last two weeks,
the entire duration of their survey. Instead of responding verbally to his
partner he merely smiled and shook his head as he continued to break down the
surveying equipment.

Before long they were packed and once more trudging through
the woods making a beeline for McIntyre’s Gulch to bring its residents the good
news.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

I was scraping at the encrustation of moss on the roof. It
was pretty but damaged the shingles. And, hard as it was to believe, winter was
coming. Thanksgiving was only five weeks away and already there was beginning
to be a certain crispness to the morning air as the winds gradually shifted to
the north.

Neither Thanksgiving nor the weather was on my mind that
morning though. I had been consulting my calendar, a freebie that the Wings had
gotten as a promotional gift from some air safety organization, and according
to it—and my own inner hunches—I was a week late.

A week, that isn’t so much. In geologic time, it’s nothing
at all. But when it came to taxes and childbirth, a week could be significant.

Usually I am a wait-and-see kind of person, and I keep
things to myself. Half the plan was working. I wasn’t saying anything to Chuck
until I knew for sure what we were dealing with. Chuck was under horrible
pressure, having just been assigned a trainee for outback survival training. No
one in town was thrilled with having to welcome an outsider into our midst, but
we were ready to do our part. That is to say be as pleasant and boring—and
innocent—as it was possible to be. After all, into every life some rain must
fall.

But that morning brought a deluge of concerns.

My largest worry, until about nine that morning, was
figuring out how to arrange a trip to Seven Forks to buy a pregnancy test. The
Braids didn’t carry anything like that at the store, and I didn’t want everyone
knowing what I feared until it was an actual fact that had to be dealt with.
That is why I also couldn’t go to the Bones and let him try the old-fashioned
way that meant killing a rabbit. People killed rabbits all the time—and ate
them. But I was utterly repelled at the idea of someone eating a rabbit after
it had given its life for my curiosity.

At 9:04, according to my watch, which wasn’t all that
accurate, I caught the first glimpse of the flood waters that were coming into
McIntyre’s Gulch.

Strangers. One of them was injured.

“Ricky,” I called down to the boy who was watching his
puppy, Sisu, and Max tumbling around the yard. The Flowers’ stepson had been
sneaking off into the woods again when I had called him over to keep Max
company. This time of year, the woods near town were mostly safe. Mostly. But
Ricky wasn’t old enough or savvy enough to deal with a bear. As if anyone ever
is, but carrying a gun helps and he was still too young for that.

“Yeah?” He looked up. He was still unhappy with me for
stopping him and Sisu from having his adventure.

“I need you to do something important, okay?”

“Okay.” He liked doing important things.

“Pop over to the pub and tell Big John that we have
strangers coming into town and that we need the Bones because one of them is
hurt.”

“Strangers?” Ricky scrambled to his feet. He had been in the
Gulch long enough to know that this was cause for concern.

“Yes, two of them.”

“I’ll go fast,” Ricky promised and took off like a shot.

Since I was on the roof and my ladder was old and held
together with rusting wire, I was slower in my dismount but wasted no time in
getting out into the street. I was debating whether to take the time to tap on
the Bones’ door when it opened and Doc stepped out with his medical bag.

“I hear I have customers.”

Thankfully he sounded sober. With the Bones one never knew.

“Just one. At least, I hope just one. There are two of them
coming.”

Big John and Ricky trotted up behind us. Big John had
forgotten to take off his work belt. Ricky was with him.

“Ricky, would you keep an eye on Max for me? A lot of
strangers are afraid of him, you know.” I tucked back a stray hair. I had
braided it to keep it out of harm’s way while I worked, but nature always finds
a way to escape containment.

“Sure, Butterstoch.” He still hadn’t mastered my name and I
didn’t correct him since I kind of liked the way he said it.

Ricky patted Max. People are afraid of my dog because Max is
a wolf. Ricky was very proud of the fact that he wasn’t afraid.

“Okay, let’s get this act on the road.”

“I never know if we are being too welcoming or too mean,”
Big John muttered.

“I know,” I answered Big John. “But one of them is hurt. We
may be a little unfriendly but we aren’t heartless. By the way, we will
probably have to speak some English or French with them, but it would probably
be best if we did most of our talking in Gaelic.” I glanced at Ricky. His
Gaelic was peculiar, but it was coming along since we spoke it to him all the
time.

Doc snorted but didn’t argue.

“Hello,” Big John called when we were near enough. “
Ciamar
a tha sibh?

“Hi,” the injured one called back with relief. The older man
was frowning, possibly trying to make out what Big John had said. He had chubby
chipmunk cheeks that should have made him look friendly. They didn’t.

We were close enough by then to see that the injured one was
just a boy, possibly still in his teens. He also had a makeshift splint around
his ankle.

“You looked like you could use some help,” I said. “I’m Butterscotch
Jones—Goodhead,” I added, recalling my married state. “This is the Bones—our
doctor. And the other is Big John, our mayor. And this is Ricky.”

“I’m Pete Mitchell,” the older man said. “This is Mark
Stripe.”

“Have a seat, young man,” the Bones said. “Let’s have a look
at that ankle.”

The boy sat gratefully on a nearby stone. Doc took only the
smallest of looks at the purple flesh and then murmured in Gaelic, “
It’s a
sprain, not a break, but it’s bad
.”

“Big John—and Wendell, since you are here—we need to make a
chair and get this young man to my office.”

“Sure,” Wendell said and he and Big John linked arms to make
a seat. “Wendell Thunder,” he added, smiling at the two men.

By then Sisu, Max, and Ricky had joined the circle. Pete
looked wary, but only for a moment. I guess he figured that if Max were hungry,
he would have eaten Ricky first.

“Give me your backpack, Mark,” I said.

He hesitated, standing on one foot.

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