During the daylight hours, I am a project manager, dad, ranch hand, and general all-around average guy. I spend my free time with my family, reading, playing games, golf, and the working on our small ranch.
A closet romantic, Fate Takes a Hike was a challenge I set myself almost a year ago. While I have been writing short stories and fan fiction for years, I’d never pushed myself to do a full, book-length tale, until now.
With the book’s release, I will start my journey into this world called romance writing. Let’s hope I survive!
Mist from the early morning rain clung to the trees and mixed with the light breeze to cool the sweat on my face as I walked up the small trail.
Just past the halfway point to the glade, I stepped over the roots of old Splitjaw. At some point in its past, the aged fir tree had been bent over and broken, creating a neck-like structure where the shattered ends split open, making the trunk look like the opened jaws of an alligator. Kara, my fiancé, named it Splitjaw during our first hike in this area.
I smiled, thinking back to that day and her silliness. She’d insisted that Splitjaw needed to be fed. She had dug through her backpack and pulled out some beef jerky, which she opened and stuck in its jagged “mouth.” Pleased with herself, she’d shouldered her pack and continued with our trek.
Digging into one of the cargo pouches on my pants, I pulled out the strips of beef jerky I brought with me for this very moment. I unwrapped them and placed them into Splitjaw’s mouth. Pocketing the wrapper, I patted the tree and proceeded on my way. Tradition satisfied.
It was close to noon when I stepped out of the trees and into the clearing. Sunlight bathed the meadow. The tall, waving grasses forming a sea of green, almost like a calm lake. The lone Oregon white oak dominated the center of the clearing, a soldier standing guard over the meadow and its denizens. I had no idea how that acorn made it to this area, but I was happy that it had found a home here.
Its branches spread outward to provide shelter and shade to all those who gathered below them, perfect for the task I had given it.
I drew in a cleansing breath, shaking myself from my reverie, and continued walking until I stood under the oak’s branches. I unshouldered my backpack and set it down against the tree before letting one hand rest gently on its trunk.
“Sorry I’m late. I was finishing up some drywall in one of the upstairs bedrooms and lost track of time.”
I bent down, opened up the pack, and pulled out a collapsible rake. Unfolding it as I stood, I began clearing the detritus of small limbs and leaves from around the area.
“It took longer than I planned, but I got the flooring finished in the kitchen. I know we talked about that white checkered slate tile, but it was out of stock and the backorder was going to take too long. So, I ended up doing a grey, sixteen-inch tile that has four small black diamonds in the center. I think it looks fantastic against the backsplash.”
I continued my rundown of my construction highlights as I kept raking.
Satisfied that no limbs or leaves remained, I collapsed the rake, stowed it back in the pack, and pulled out a small set of shears. I squatted down on one knee and began trimming the grass around the two small bronze markers. I worked in thoughtful silence, letting the metallic snip-snip of the trimmers soothe my mind and heart as I cleared back the grass and weeds that had grown since my last visit.
Once everything was pruned to my liking, I stowed the shears and retrieved a small rag and bottle of brass cleaner. Pouring a small bit of the solution onto my cloth, I began scrubbing the bird droppings off the markers.
With the bronze gleaming again, I stowed all of my tools and supplies and gazed down at the markers, telling myself I wouldn’t cry even as the first tear worked its way down my cheek. Every time I thought I had cried myself out, I found that with these two, I never would.
“I love you both,” I whispered, letting my fingers lightly brush the metal.
I stood up, grabbing my backpack and swinging it up and onto my back. I shrugged my shoulders a couple of times to seat the straps comfortably, then fastened the belly band, tugging on it to make sure it was tight.
With a final, pained glance at the markers, I turned and headed east, passing quickly out of the meadow and into the trees beyond.
Chapter 1 Josie
I shook the small handheld GPS unit in an attempt to make it work.
“You’ve got to be freaking kidding me! I will smash you into a million pieces, you worthless hunk of plastic!”
The small, yellow electronic devil was obviously unimpressed with my threat and mocked me with its refusal to comment. Looking up at the sky, I almost asked the heavens, ‘What next?’ But I didn’t want to tempt fate. Little did I realize at the time that the heavens could read minds, and fate could be a real bitch.
Sighing like a teenager being asked to do the dishes, I shoved the worthless plastic demon into my backpack and pulled out my trusty old compass. Flipping open the lid, I began turning in a small circle, talking to myself while the needle danced inside its glass case.
“Okay, let’s see,” I muttered to myself. “If that’s north, then that way is west and towards the lake. If I can make it to the lake, I should be able to get to the marina and use their phone.”
I nodded to myself, taking a deep, calming breath. This was good. Everything was going to be okay.
“I’m going to call Brianna Cranston and give her a piece of my mind. Wait, no. First, I’m going to get her to come pick me up and take me to my car, and while she’s driving me to it, then I’m going to give her a piece of my mind. She’ll be trapped then and can’t escape my wrath. Nice plan, Josie. Less walking, more righteous satisfaction.”
Brianna had been the one to talk me into this jaunt when I should have been helping Mom with the store. I knew that somewhere in those spreadsheets and invoices was the answer to our financial situation, something that would pull us up out of the hole we were spiraling into.
Apparently, I had been getting a tad bitchy with folks lately. Brianna cornered me in my small office Wednesday. Mom apparently let her slip back to harass me.
“Girl, you need to get away from the sheets of numbers and clear your head before you bite one of your worker’s—or worse, Kaylin’s head off,” she told me, crossing her arms and skewering me with an icy glare.
I scrubbed my tired eyes, glancing up at her. “I don’t have the time. We’re losing money every day and if I don’t figure out how to stop it, Mom and I are toast.”
Brianna began lecturing me, using her finger like a conductor’s baton. “Get your lazy butt out in the woods. You and your dad loved the woods and trails around here. Hell, you were a tomboy for most of your time here. Get out there, walk among the trees, and clear your mind. Maybe an acorn will fall on that head of yours and give you the idea you need!”
I had reluctantly agreed, more to get her to leave and to stop her nagging. And I had to admit … she had a point. I needed a break.
Putting my compass in the pocket of my shorts, I began walking in the right direction, only slightly limping, thanks to the blister on my heel. Normally, I’d have fixed it with some moleskin, but since I was in such a hurry to leave this morning, I neglected to pack my first aid kit.
My pack contained everything else I might need. Bear whistle, snacks, water, and dry socks. I even had a copy of Cosmo that I had filched from the beauty shop. Figured it could double as emergency toilet supplies should the need arise.
No GPS, no moleskin, a squishy blister on my heel, and still a long way from my car. The day was just a winner all the way around.
“Just you wait, Brianna, I’ve got two sweaty socks with your name written all over them!”
I chuckled evilly at the thought of taking off my boots in her car and launching an odoriferous attack. If I were lucky, she’d puke. Hey, if you can’t make your best friend puke, why are they your bestie?
While I might have thought Brianna gagging on sweaty socks would be funny, what galled me the most was that she was right.
About an hour into the hike this morning, I realized I actually felt better. The rich smell of the trees and the sounds of nature slowly eroded my stress level, lowering it to what most folks considered normal. I was bordering on darn near relaxed. Even with the blister and the evil GPS unit, I was feeling better than I had in several weeks.
“Okay, Brianna, maybe no socks this time.” Nodding to myself, I continued on down the trail.
After another thirty or so minutes of walking, I came to a ridgeline. Taking a moment, I glanced down into what appeared to be about a fifty-foot drop-off. It wasn’t a straight drop, more of a steep downhill, something you might ski on if there were snow, and if you didn’t mind rocks and trees at the end of your run. Unhooking my water bottle, I took a small sip as I drank in the panoramic view. I could just see the lake on the horizon. Clipping the water bottle back to my pack, I took a deep, refreshing breath.
“Finally, something is going my way.”
I began walking along the edge, hoping to find a way down that looked less like a blue diamond run and more like a bunny slope. I enjoyed skiing, but the lack of skis and snow put a damper on shooshing down the ledge. With my luck today, I’d fall and break an ankle.
At that exact moment, the heavens showed me that they had been paying attention to my thoughts. Just as I walked near a patch of scrub brush, a small rabbit burst out of it right at my feet, moving as if it was late for something.
Like any red-blooded girl seeing something that looks like a mouse on steroids flying at her, I screamed and high-stepped away from the impending rodent mauling that I just knew was coming my way.
Unfortunately, in my adrenaline-fueled rush to escape, I forgot about the ridgeline I had been admiring. I screamed again as I toppled over the edge. I smashed flat on my side and began tumbling end over end as the loose rocks and dirt gave way. I saw ground, sky, ground and then felt a sharp burst of pain in my leg and a punch to my stomach.
I barely had time to think, “Ow … shit,” before blackness took me.
About The author
When he’s not writing, or working his day job, Bob spends his time helping his wife take care of their three horses, four cats and the multitude of chores one finds around the farm. When there is free time left, he enjoys playing golf, video games, and DnD with his friends on the west coast and watching their three kids grow up and explore life.