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Mina looked across the stretch of dry grass to her mate Khnor, who lay sated and sleepy. He closed his eyes, licked the residue of blood and meat from his muzzle and paw while the wind the tawny mane away from his face. Those powerful spike teeth glistened in the light as he yawned.
She'd made the kill earlier. Blood had coursed through her veins as she ran and leaped on the young gazelle's back. A roar erupted from her mouth and she felt blood flow through her paws as she dug her claws into the young animal. The moment she'd brought the animal to its knees and buried her teeth into its neck; adrenaline rushed through her body.
A feeling she'd never felt before. She tore another strip of meat from the haunch. The smell of blood rose in her nostrils and released a need that seemed to intensify. She buried her muzzle in the bloody mess and savored the smell and the fast beating of her heart.
Another strange feeling overcame her and she lifted her head to capture the scents in the air. She could smell each animal and sense its fear.
Now every creeping thing turned into potential food. With the final gnawing of the meat from the bones, she rutted around the carcass, her belly full and the two small cubs she carried in her womb would be satisfied. The rest would be devoured by the birds circling and the ring of smaller animals she sensed, just out of her sight.
She moved to a rock a few yards from her mate, stretched out in the blazing sun and rested her head on her paws.
The high rock overlooked a garden. One she knew every inch of. A large tree dominated the center, protruding above the others.
Just below her stood the garden's gate , another addition. A divide locking them away from the home they once knew. A glowing body sat near it holding a stick that shot bolts of pain to anyone who tried to enter. She knew that pain. She'd experienced it. She'd roared and charged the glowing body only to have the stick pointed at her and felt the pain.
From that moment her life, and the lives of every animal shunned from the garden, had been changed.
Mina closed her eyes and thought back to their days in the garden. She and other animals played, chasing their tails, rolling and tumbling over each other.
The food was not killed. It was provided; fruits, vegetables, grass, leaves, all succulent and filling. In the afternoon, the two-legged animal and his mate came and to her and Khnor. They had no fur nor feather, but they were fun and loving. The male called each animal to him and gave them a name.
She had gone to the male and rolled on her back. He always knew just where to scratch her belly. There had never been any thought other than love that crossed her mind.
All had changed after that other animal entered the garden. If she would have had the instinct and senses then that she had now; that thing would never have made it two feet from where she'd first seen it.
It had two legs and a long tail, beady eyes that darted to every dark shadow and a skinny forked tongue that seemed to taste the air every few seconds. She'd slid on her belly, following the new animal, did it want to play catch me? Maybe roll down the hill or try to climb the trees?
She watched it for a while as it made its way to the center of the garden, where the two furless beings stayed.
Now it was too late, the serpent, as she found out, was worse than any of the animals created. It had spoken to the furless animal with hair that flowed from her head down her back.
She had walked with it. Mina heard the tone of the new one and saw the long haired one walk away from the tree shaking her head. She'd seen the stranger sidle up to other and soon she'd tested the tree, touching the leaves and jerking her hand back. She looked at the stranger who encouraged her to take the fruit.
She had picked the fruit from the tree at the center of the garden and took a bite.
Mina followed her friend and watched while she curled up with her mate and shared the fruit with him.
Immediately a loud noise seemed to shake the garden. A voice roared in the air; calling for the furless ones. They ran and hid. That was before.
The glowing body with the firestick made all living beings leave the garden, never to return.
They ran from the garden and into the tall grasses of a new land and a new life. Her former playmates that once chased and tumbled over the grass now ran from her in fear.
Those she once slept with and cuddled into their soft woolly backs were now just food to her and her mate.
The change in the garden had already begun, vegetation blending in with the surrounding wilderness. Would the garden, as they had known it, be gone forever?
She sniffed the air, smoke. That meant the furless ones had killed one of her brothers or sisters for their sustenance. She'd followed them when they left the garden, she wanted to be with them, but when she saw and smelled the covering they were wearing, she hid.
Hanging on their bodies was fur. Not attached like hers and the other animals. Only the skin had been cut from the animal and hung over the main part of their bodies; leaving the legs, arms and head uncovered. By the color of the pelt, she knew whose body was missing its fur.
They put the meat onto a rock over fire. She'd lifted her head and roared at the new feeling of hunger.
A red sun now set over the horizon. The silhouette of the big tree mocked Mina. Tomorrow was another day, another hunt for food and the rush of elation with the kill.
That was all she lived for nowadays. Killing for her mate, and eventually teaching her young cubs to do the same; when they were born. It wasn’t a bad life, just a hard one. She sighed as she watched the glowing body with the fire stick, sitting by the garden gate. Her eyes slowly closed and she slept.
Carrie Wells, wrapped her brown braid into a knot around her head to keep it from swinging over the fire while she cooked. With a deft twist of the wrist the flapjack’s turned over on the griddle. Breakfast would be done just as Mr. Greer and his son Walter returned from their scouting trip. An anxious, almost excited buzz filled the air. The goal was in reach. Soon she would be married.
“Is breakfast ready?” A whiny voice called from inside the prairie schooner.
Carrie bit her lip and straightened. “Almost, Mattie. I think I see the menfolk coming across the ridge.” She pressed her lips together knowing the flurry of activity would ensue at the news. Sure enough, the sound of bumps, bangs and screams of frustration as Mattie, the young bride of Walter, hurried to dress before her husband arrived.
With practiced hand Carrie stacked the cakes in a pan and set them near the fire to stay warm. She had no idea if the men were on their way back, but they seemed to manage to be near when her cakes came off the fire. She had cooked the meals only to turn most of the serving to Mattie who pretended she had done the cooking. It had been this way from the beginning when Mattie had taken Cassie aside after they’d agreed to take her to Oregon with them.
“Do you cook?” Mattie asked.
Carrie responded with a definite, “Yes.”
“Over a fire pit you have to make?” Mattie’s eyes bored into her own.
“Yes. I’ve cooked outdoors before.”
“Then I’ll make a deal with you. You won’t have to pay full price to travel if you do the cooking then I’ll take over and serve it.” Mattie waited for Cassie to agree.
Cassie gave her the once-over look and knew the score. This little missy couldn’t cook but she didn’t want her husband and his father knowing. It was no skin off her nose, and it cut her price to travel west. "Every tub otta stand on its own bottom," she'd whispered over and over on the trip. Sometimes not under her breath. The other women had taken up the mantra when Mattie sashayed around the camp.
She left Mattie to follow her routine and climbed the rocks to a spot overlooking the train. The mountain's shadow gave a welcome relief from the heat of the plains they’d traveled through. On the days the sun beat down on them with such fierceness, she was sure God wanted them all to turn around and go back. Then the rain. What was worse? She knew. She’d take the hot sun any day to the whining of young Miz Mattie Greer, who made her life miserable over the course of the trip, acting as if Cassie had been hired as her personal maid. The wagons were camped in two rows with their passengers milling between. She smiled at the way everyone seemed to move a little faster to get breakfast out of the way and everything packed. With the news the End of the Trail was ahead, you could feel the anticipation in the air.
A little way west of where she sat. She had the best view to watch everyone at their daily chores. The teacher stood before her students. Each morning, either in her large Conestoga or outside it, she taught the children their sums, letters and about the flora and fauna they found along the trail.
The thundering of hooves announced the return of the menfolk. Cassie remained on her perch watching the men. They rode on to their wagons greeting their families. Mr. Greer, Walter and a stranger stopped at their wagon. Mattie greeted the three and after a brief discussion shook her head.
Cassie furrowed her brow, who was the man? A traveler on his way East? Possibly a Trail boss on his way to bring another wagon train west. She grinned as Mattie pranced around the fire offering pancakes to her husband, father-in-law and the stranger. She imagined the screech when Mattie burnt her hand lifting the heavy coffee pot. Walter jumped up taking it from her poured coffee for the other two. Mattie patted his arm and handed the men the precious jug of syrup Cassie brought. She'd found Mattie soaking her pancakes and passing it to neighbors until the jug was empty. Cassie didn’t bring out her stash until a month had passed and the bottle was a different color. Then she’d hid it after each use. Now she realized Mattie must have gone through her things. Cassie would check to make sure none of her things were missing.
Whatever they’d asked Mattie she was having nothing to do with it. With a whirl of her petticoats she walked around the wagon and out of sight among the other women.
Mr. Greer walked down the line of wagons stopping to talk to a group here and there along the way. She frowned, what was he looking for? Each shook his head or called to their wife who responded with a negative shake. Was he looking for her? She looked back at the man. Had she been sent for? Was this her new husband?
She stood and brushed the dirt and dust from her skirt. She used her fingers to catch any stray hair and tucking them away. The train parked near a small river of mountain fed water. The livestock fed down stream to leave the fresh water for the campers. Last night she’d taken a towel and slipped out for a quiet wash up while the camp slept. She hurried to the edge of the water, splashed its coolness on her face and dried it with her apron. With her head held high and a firm step she headed for the wagon.
She didn’t get far. Mattie grabbed her arm from behind and pulled Cassie around to face her anger. “Don’t think you’re going to leave here.” she spoke through gritted teeth.
Cassie looked at her in confusion. “What are you going on about?”
“That man,” Mattie hissed, “has come from the Valley to talk to you. If you think you’re going to leave me here to cook and clean until we get to our home, think again.”
Cassie pulled her arm away from Mattie and patted her hand. “Now here, here," Cassie spoke as if she were talking to a small child, “You knew you’d have to start cooking sometime. What are you going to do when you get to your home? You said it was a big farm house with lots of land. I assume you must be able to have a cook. If not now is a good time to start. I have no idea who this man is or why he’s here.”
Mattie narrowed her eyes, “You knew he was coming? How did you know he was here?”
“It's no secret. I was sitting up there and saw it all. When I saw Mr. Greer talking to people, I guessed he must be asking about me, so I headed over to find out what’s going on.”
“Cassie, there you are. Where have you been, we’ve been looking all over for you?” Walter and his father interrupted the two women.
“I saw her sitting up there,” She pointed to where Cassie said she was. “I thought she should come down and see what the man wanted.” She smiled all sweet and innocent at the men while Cassie wanted to gag. Instead Cassie turned to walk to the wagon.
The man stood with his back to her talking to a few of the travelers. They seemed quite taken with what he was telling them.
“Here she is,” One of them spoke, as Cassie walked to them.
He turned and Cassie gulped. Blue eyes looked her over. He pulled off his hat and the sun glinted on light brown hair with strands of golden blond highlights. He smiled and a lone dimple in one cheek peeked at her. His teeth were white and straight.
“Hello, Miss Cassie, I’m Grant Fillmore.” The deep timbre of his voice struck a cord inside her and all her nerves sang to his tune. “I’m glad to finally meet you.” He held out his hand.
She placed hers in his, “The pleasure is mine, I’m sure.” She let the soft southern accent tinge her voice. He was here. The man who had paid her way to marry him. Why on earth did he need to do that. The man was drop-dead handsome.
“I got word your train was a day or so out. I had my men ride with me and see if you wanted to get to the ranch faster than plodding along. We can pick up your trunks when the train gets there.”
She couldn’t speak. He wanted her to go with him. To ride a day and maybe overnight to get her to the ranch. Why? Part of her was scared now that the day of reckoning had arrived.
“Yes.” She heard her voice answer and wondered where it came from.
He told her what she could bring and that they would be spending the night as his brother’s house before finishing the trip the following day.
She turned to Mr. Greer who beamed at her, “Of course you can go. We’ll catch up with you in Oregon City where you can get your trucks and boxes.”
Cassie grinned when she stepped into the wagon. She thought about Mattie. "Every tub otta stand on its own bottom." She'd been told as a child. Now she would be on her own. It wasn’t proper, her going off with stange men. What if something happened to them along the way? She shrugged They got here safe, and I’m sure they feel it’s safe going back. she told herself.
In no time at all she had her large carpet bag packed with essentials for two days. That’s what it would take for the wagon train to travel to the of the trail.
Grant tied her bags to a horse and helped her into the saddle. He swung on to his horse with ease and gave a nod to those watching them leave. “I’ll see you at the End of the Trail.” Cassie called as she touched the sides of her horse.
They moved down the trail for a few minutes. The wagons were long out of site and the men with him divided into two groups, one up front and one trailed behind.
Grant looked behind him and pulled his horse to a stop jumping off. He came to her side and took her by the waist to pull her off her horse.
“Sorry, I can’t wait any longer for this.” And he pressed his lips to hers. Something inside she’d never knew she had exploded and began to burn her blood from her head to her toes.
If it felt like this when people kissed, how did they ever get their work done? She thought when she could wrap her mind around what she was feeling.
I have decided to post snippets from my new work in progress.
From time to time I will post a portion of a chapter.
Here is a synopsis of my book :
While Detective Andrea Watson is watching ice blocks being cut from Blue Lake, she sees something in the ice that causes her concern. She discovers body parts encased in frozen netting. She and FBI Agent Fletcher Peterson are on the search for a serial killer.
She deals with a misogyinistic police department, a pesky reporter, as well as a interested parent. Will she and the agent be able to find the killer before he kills again?
I don’t believe in psychics. There are somethings that can’t be explained. Andrea Watson had repeated the mantra more than a few times lately.
Fixing her dinner, she looked at her phone then shook her head. “Why am I thinking Dad is going to call?” Taking her dinner to the table she began eating.
“We eat at the table like a real family. We aren’t going to watch TV for dinner.” Her father had drilled it into her and to this day she still ate at the table.
Once, after an argument over the phone, she’d gone to the living room, and sat in the chair to eat her dinner, but after a few minutes, she went back to the table. She couldn’t break tradition. Here she was, feeling that her father was going to call.
After putting the dish into the dishwasher, she looked at the clock, shaking her head at an uneasy feeling. She should call her dad. In the living room the book, she’d been reading, awaited her. Closing it, she silently pleaded, “Alright call me already.”
Her phone trilled. “Hello dad.”
“That was quick. Did you know I was going to call?”
“Never mind, Dad. How are you?”
“Same-o, same-o. How are things at the station?”
“Nothing new. Same-o, same-o.” She repeated his own answer.”
“Any new cases?”
“No.” She raised her voice in almost a question. “Are you telling me something?”
Her father paused. “OH.”
Andrea felt frustration grow. Her lips almost pursed, but she forced them apart and asked, “Oh what? You always say that and then I get the full story. Just spill it.”
She heard his sigh before he spoke. “All I can say is to step up to the challenge. Don’t let anyone put you in the corner, so to speak.”
“Are you saying I’m going to learn to dance?” The mix of sarcasm and humor wasn’t lost on her dad.
“Glad you still keep your smile. You’re going to need it.”
“Dad, stop your dancing. Tell me what’s going on.” This time it was her sigh that crossed the air waves.
“You know it doesn’t work like that. I’m glad you’re back to believing. You’re going to need that faith. Also, when a strong helping hand is offered, don’t push it away.”
Andrea dropped her head to her chest. “Dad, I wish you could give me some hint. I know it doesn’t work like that, but you have to give me something.”
“Honey, all I can say. It’s going to be the case that launches your career.”
“Really? That’s it?” She waited for her father to continue, but all she heard was silence.
“What are you doing on your day off?” He changed the subject and Andrea gave a tilt of her head even though he couldn’t see it.
“The Winter Carnival is building an Ice Palace this year on Harriet Island. They are cutting the ice from Blue Lake. If it’s not too cold, I thought I’d go and watch for a while.”
“You’re hearty Minnesota stock. Bundle up and go. It will be a sunny day in spite of the cold. Be sure to wear those gloves I gave you and if you look in that Christmas box on your shelf you’ll find the fur hat I gave you a couple years ago for your birthday.”
“Dad. That hat makes me look like I’m from Russia,” she protested.
“But it will keep you warm. Wear it.”
She agreed and said her good-byes.
The event from earlier that day came to mind, as she made her way to bed.