Finding Courage – Book 3 in the Rescue Alaska Series – publishes September 11. Here is a preview.
Saturday, October 13
His pulse quickened as they approached. He’d waited so long. Too long. He closed his eyes and reveled in the memory, which didn’t come as a gentle wave but as a surge of agony from the depths of his personal hell. He’d craved the searing pain, the deeply felt anguish. It was only during these moments, when he was sure he would drown in a river of longing, that he felt truly alive.
On the surface, the rescue seemed fairly routine. Two teenage boys had gone hiking earlier that morning. They were only supposed to be gone a couple of hours but had failed to return by the time they’d agreed to meet with the families for lunch. The father of one of the boys had gone looking for them, and when he was unable to find them after a couple of hours, he’d called the Rescue Alaska Search and Rescue Team, of which I, Harmony Carson, am a member. It was fall in Alaska, which meant the days were becoming shorter toward the endless night of winter. Although the daytime temperatures were mild for this time of the year, the overnight low promised to dip well below freezing. Normally, we like to interview the person making the call, but the man said he was heading toward Devil’s Gulch, where he was certain the boys had been planning to hike, and the reception there was sketchy, so the information we had to go on was limited. By the time the call came through, the sun had begun its descent toward the jagged peak of the distant mountain, so we knew there was no time to lose.
Jake Cartwright, my close friend and brother-in-law, had taken the call. I was already at Neverland, the bar Jake owned and where I worked as a waitress, as was S&R team member Wyatt Forrester, who worked part time there as a bartender. Jake had made a quick decision to employ the team members present to look for the boys, so he and his S&R dog, Sitka, me and my S&R dog, Yukon, Wyatt, and team member Austin Brown, who happened to be in the bar having a drink, set off with a feeling of urgency, given the sharp drop in temperature and impending darkness.
“Jake to Harmony,” Jake said over the two-way radio we all carried as we traveled toward our destination.
“Go for Harmony,” I answered. We’d spread out to cover more ground in the event the boys had either doubled back or taken another route. We knew if we didn’t find them before then, once we reached the narrow entrance to the gulch, we’d all converge into a single unit.
“Have you managed to pick up anything?” Jake referred to my ability to psychically connect to those victims I was meant to help rescue. My ability, which I oftentimes considered a curse, had come to me during the lowest point in my life. My sister Val, who had become my guardian after our parents were killed in an accident, had gone out on a rescue. She’d become lost in a storm, and although the team tried to find her, they came up with nothing but dead ends. She was the first person I connected to, and the one I most wanted to save. I couldn’t save Val, but since then, I’ve used my gift to locate and rescue dozens of people. I couldn’t save them all, but today, I was determined that our search would lead us to the missing boys.
“No,” I answered, frustration evident in my voice. “Which is odd. Even if the boys are uninjured, they must be scared. The temperature has dropped and the sun is beginning to set. The fact that I’m not getting anything at all is concerning me.”
There are really only three reasons I can think of when I don’t pick up something, even a small whisper, during a rescue. The most common is that the person who’s been reported missing isn’t really missing at all. They might not have checked in with the person who reported them missing, but they were perfectly safe, not in physical pain or mental duress. I hoped that would turn out to be the case with these two boys.
The second commonest reason I’m unable to pick up a psychic connection is because the person I’m trying to reach is either unconscious or already dead. That’s the reason I least hope to confirm, but at times, the person we’re trying to find has already taken his final breath before we even begin our search.
And the third reason I’m occasionally unable to make a connection is because the person in need of rescue senses me but is blocking me. This rarely occurs, but it’s possible.
“Is Sitka picking up anything?” I asked. Even if I was unable to connect, I’d think Sitka would pick up something. We didn’t have anything with the boys’ scent to help direct the dogs today, so they’d been instructed to find anyone who might be in the area. Having a specific scent to track worked a lot better, but at this time of the year, when there weren’t many people out hiking, if anyone was around, the dogs should be able to locate them.
“No. Nothing specific at least, but he does seem to sense someone,” Jake answered. “If the boys came this way, as the father seemed to think they had, he’ll find them. If they veered off in another direction, though, we might have a real problem. Given the anticipated overnight temps, it’s important to find them as quickly as possible. We’re going to go on, but I’d like you to take a short break and really try to connect. If you sense something, let us know.”
“Okay.” I stopped walking and looked around. “I don’t have a lot to go on, but I’ll try.”
“The man I spoke to said the boys’ names are Mark and Andrew. They’re both fourteen and have dark hair and dark eyes. That’s all I got from him before he cut out.”
I signed off, then sat down on a large rock. I instructed Yukon to sit and stay next to me, then I closed my eyes. I relaxed my mind and focused on the information I had. Mark and Andrew. Scared, most likely. Possibly injured. Dark hair, dark eyes.
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I tried again. I allowed whatever images that came to me to pass through my mind. I hoped if they were out there, their psyches would somehow find mine.
I had an intuition that the man who’d called Jake to report the missing teens had been less than honest. If I had to guess, this whole thing was a hoax. It happened from time to time, although I had no idea why anyone would do such a thing. Still, if the boys actually were in the area and were in some sort of trouble, it was likely I’d pick up an echo of fear if nothing else. I was about to give up my quest to make a connection and had stood up to move on when a feeling of sorrow pierced my heart with such intensity it left me gasping for air.
Oh God. My hand clenched my chest.
My instinct was to break the connection, but I knew if I wanted to locate the source of the pain I needed to maintain it, so I took a deep breath and opened my heart to the anguish. I allowed the pain to envelop me as I tried to figure out who it was I’d connected to. I could sense the distress was emotional rather than physical. Someone was dealing with intense grief. No, not grief, longing. The suffering was deep and real, but there was something else as well. I frowned. In the midst of the sorrow was anticipation.
I focused harder. I knew I hadn’t connected to the boys but someone else. Someone older. I could sense a darkness. An emptiness. As if the soul of the person I’d connected with had been drained of all life. I felt the individual try to pull back. He knew I’d made a connection and was trying to push me away, but I resisted. I tried to go deeper, but then I saw it. My eyes flew open.
My hand flew to my mouth. I was sure I was going to be sick, but I thrust the nausea aside. “Harmony to Jake.”
“Go for Jake.”
“It’s a trap. Pull back. Pull back now.”
In that instant, there was a loud crash as the mountain above the narrow opening to the gulch exploded, sending tons of dirt and rock to the path below. I turned and ran as fast as I could. Tears streamed down my face, but I didn’t really notice. I felt fear, and pain, and death.
I ran faster still. Yukon was running in front of me. He must have sensed where to go because he never wavered. When I arrived at the place where the dirt and rock had settled, I found Sitka standing over Jake, who appeared to be unconscious.
“Jake.” I ran to where he was lying on the hard ground and felt for a pulse. I let out a breath of relief when I saw he had one. He had a bump on his head but appeared to be otherwise uninjured. I grabbed my radio and called Sarge, who was holding down the fort at the base. “Harmony to Sarge.”
“Go for Sarge.”
“There’s been an accident. A landslide. Find Jordan. Have her meet Dani at the helipad. We’re going to need an air evacuation. And Sarge, tell them to hurry.”
With that, I stood up and slowly looked around. I wasn’t sure where Austin and Wyatt were. Had they been with Jake? In front of him? On another trail altogether?
I heard Jake groan. I turned to find both Sitka and Yukon licking his face. I knelt down next to him. “Are you okay?”
Jake put his hand to his head. “What happened?”
“Landslide. You were hit in the head with something. You blacked out but appear to be otherwise okay. Where were Wyatt and Austin before the mountain came down?”
Jake sat up. His face paled. “In front of me.”
I looked down at Sitka and Yukon. “Find Wyatt. Find Austin.”
The dogs ran on ahead, and I knew I needed to follow, but the dizziness and nausea I’d kept at bay had returned. I was fine, I reminded myself. I’d seen something I’d need to process, but the most important thing was to find my friends. I stood up and looked at the spot in front of me, where the trail had once been. This was bad. Really bad.
It didn’t take the dogs long to find Wyatt. He’d managed to find a place next to the wall of the canyon to crouch down, avoiding most of the debris from above. After a bit of back and forth, we determined he was trapped and hurt. Jake managed to get up despite his head injury to help me dig him out. It was a long, arduous process because each rock needed to be lifted and set aside. I don’t know how we found the strength to do it, but when I saw Wyatt’s face, bruised but alert, I wanted to cry in relief.
His leg was broken and his shoulder dislocated but he didn’t appear to have any life-threatening injuries. By the time Jake and I had freed him, the sun had set, but we could hear Dani’s chopper in the distance. I wasn’t sure I had any strength left, but we weren’t done. “Find Austin,” I said to the dogs, even though I suspected he was gone. I’d been able to sense Wyatt as the dogs looked for him, but when I focused on Austin, all I found was silence. Of course, if he was unconscious I might not be able to make a connection, so there was that hope for me to cling to. I tried to keep up as the dogs scrambled over the rubble. Wyatt hadn’t been all that far in front of Jake and so hadn’t been in the area of largest destruction, but the farther toward the center of the landslide the dogs traveled, the more certain I was Austin was gone. By the time Dani had landed the chopper, Sitka alerted. He’d found Austin.
Sometimes all you can do is what you have to do. Dani had brought Jordan and Sarge with her, so they helped load Wyatt into the chopper, where Jordan went to work on his injuries. Once Wyatt was in Jordan’s hands, Dani and Sarge helped us retrieve Austin’s body. When we’d freed him from the rubble, it was completely dark and the temperature had dropped at least thirty degrees. Jake was still dizzy from his head injury, and we couldn’t all fit in the chopper at the same time, so Jordan went with Dani, who flew Wyatt and Jake to the hospital, while Sarge waited with the dogs and me. Austin’s body would be airlifted down as well, but it was more important to see to the injured.
“It wasn’t an accident,” I said to Sarge after we’d built a fire for warmth, then settled in to wait for Dani to come back for us.
“What do you mean, it wasn’t an accident?”
I tilted up my head so I could more clearly see the northern lights overhead. I wanted to embrace the breathtaking beauty that could be found in the Alaskan wilderness, but all I could feel was grief. “In the brief moment before the mountain exploded, I connected with someone in so much pain it was almost unbearable. I felt the rawness of exposed emotion as grief was channeled into rage.” I lowered my head and looked at Sarge. “Someone lured us up here. Someone set off explosives and intentionally caused the landslide. I have no doubt the intention was to bury us all, but I’d stopped to try to make a connection, so I was well behind the others. When I realized what was happening, I was able to warn Jake, which gave him maybe a second to retreat.” I swallowed as a lump of emotion clogged my throat. “Jake told me that he’d called to the others, but the mountain was already coming down and they were too far ahead.”
Sarge was silent for a moment. I imagined he needed that time to try to process what I’d just said. To lose a member of the team to a random landslide was bad enough; to lose him to a madman was another thing entirely. “So you’re saying Austin was murdered.”
I nodded. “Yes. That’s what I’m saying.” I took a deep breath as my entire body began to shake.
“Are you okay?” Sarge looked me in the eye. He put his hands on my shoulders and gave me a little shake.
“I’m okay. It’s just that…” I couldn’t continue. I tried to speak, but at that moment I couldn’t even breathe. I felt my heart pounding in my chest as a flash of memory seared through my mind.
“Just that what?” Sarge said persuasively. “You didn’t finish what you were saying.”
I shook my head. I couldn’t speak. I didn’t want to remember.
“You know you can trust me.”
I nodded. Sitka and Yukon were sitting so close to me, they were practically in my lap. I could sense their distress. I needed to pull myself together, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to do that.
“I want to help you, but you need to finish your thought,” Sarge insisted.
I put my arms around the dogs and took comfort in their warmth. I let them lick the tears from my face, and then I answered. Softly at first, but as my voice found its footing, I went on with more intensity. “In that moment, when I connected to whoever set off the dynamite that caused the landslide, I saw something else. A memory. Not my memory, his memory.”
Sarge frowned. “Okay. What was it?”
“It was Val.” I felt my body begin to shake again. “He was with her. The man who killed Austin was with Val when she died.”