G. Wells Taylor
Copyright 2009 by G. Wells Taylor
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written consent of the author, except where permitted by law.
Edited by Julia C. Moulton
Editorial Consultant: Katherine Tomlinson
COMPLETE EBOOK AVAILABLE $1.99 in MULTIFORMAT at GWellsTaylor.com.
Edward Telford M.D., C.C.F.P., for consulting on medical practice and protocol.
Constable Jeff Knights who generously shared his knowledge of police procedure.
Many thanks, gentlemen.
Cover Art Title: Bent Steeple
Concept and Design: G. Wells Taylor
Branches: Derived from "Branches." Used with the kind permission of photographer Gordon Chalmers.
For Janet Lanctot
With respect and considered a promise kept.
The fire had burned down to an even orange flame when it exploded. There was a sudden cracking noise, a cloud of cinders and a fist-sized coal shot out. The missile rocketed toward Kelly and her breath caught. Before she could flinch, membranous wings clawed open, grabbed the air. The coal-now the flying thing-swooped once around her head and disappeared into the frozen night.
Her eyes followed the blur until vertigo pulled and she had to grab her knees to keep from falling off her improvised chair. The wet logs grouped by the fire made slippery furniture. Bracing her legs, she realized that the beer was getting to her-definitely; she'd have to slow down soon. Her balance was going. She chuckled and then looked across the fire at her companions. They were gaping at her.
"What?" She frowned, searching their shadowed faces. Some instinctive memory brought a hand up. She swatted the air in front of her. "What?"
"Holy shit, sweetie!" her boyfriend Randy howled. "You must be wasted!" He laughed. "That bat almost took your eyes out!"
"What bat?" Kelly struggled to regain her composure. She straightened her back then gathered her long hair behind her shoulders with a left and right swing of her head. She squinted into the icy pine branches above. The tall red trunks disappeared into ragged darkness.
"Wasn't a bat, anyway." She tried to recover, remembering only a flame-etched shape. "Too cold...it was a blue jay!"
"A blue jay? Ah Kelly!" Mike Keeshig was her older brother. He slapped his thigh and took a long pull on his Old Milwaukee. The American beer tasted bitter and cheap, but he preferred spending his money on the ladies at the Sweetwater Inn. Beer was all the same anyway if it was cold enough. He chuckled, scanning the shadows overhead with his large brown eyes. The wind had the high branches swaying; they knocked against each other with hollow tones. Stars showed in a few jagged gaps, burning in the dark blue winter sky. "Was a bat-I saw it. A big one too!"
"Nah," Kelly said, grabbing a fresh can of beer from a hole in the snow beside her-she almost tumbled off her seat again. Their snowmobiles had run down a good flat place for a fire near an old fence line. The cedar rails burned hot and the parked machines formed a good windbreak across their backs. They were miles from the highway with nothing around them but snow, shadows and bush. "Was a whisky jack then..."
"Ah shit sister, some Indian you are," Mike chuckled, pushing his black hair from his face. "Grandfather is right. We're not fit to hunt poodles!"
"Grandfather never hunted no bats!" Kelly stabbed a finger across the fire. "What do you know anyway? You couldn't hit a bat with a baseball!" She laughed at her own joke.
"Only a bat flies that close to a fire, blind like they are," Mike said, scowling.
"True," Randy agreed, nudging Mike's elbow. He was hesitant to join the discussion knowing how angry Kelly could get when she was opposed. But he shrugged and hoped she was drunk enough to forget it. "And owls would hate the light." He started asking Mike for a smoke but his friend suddenly shot a hand upward, pointing.
"There!" Mike lurched to his feet-trying to steady his footing on the uneven snow-his beers were getting on top of him too. "Right there."
All three watched a black, finger-winged creature flap out of the shadows. In the flickering firelight they could see it was a bat-the venous membranes crimson. It was a big one too and in the queer light its eyes reflected red.