This week, I decided to change things up a bit
in my head for Rachael Ritchey’s #BlogBattle. Recently, my wife asked me to write her a story. This story, in my opinion, will be rather longer than she expected and so I decided to work in a form that isn’t used all that often anymore.
I’m writing a
It’s currently untitled since it takes me a bit to name such things. Until then, I will affectionately call it Kristen’s Thriller.
Let me introduce you to part 1.
Kristen’s Thriller: Part 1
January 20th, 1990
Jonathan’s Ford, North Dakota
Samantha Carter picked herself up from the ground, noticing the spots of blood scattered about on the snow. Shivering, she wrapped her arms around herself in a vain attempt to keep some smattering of body heat. What she needed was a nice thick coat—like the one which waved at the top of the she’d just attempted to climb—not the thin sweater she wore which did almost no good.
“Hurry up,” said a hard voice behind her.
Jonathan Carter stood in the knee high snow glaring at his eight year old daughter. Even though the wind cut through the trees with a vengeance, he stood with his woolen coat open, unaffected by the subzero temperatures. Samantha shot a glare at her father, and he moved swift as a cat, the snow no hindrance.
“Don’t give me that, young lady,” he said, grabbing her chin in one cold hand. Fear solidified in her belly, making the weather outside seem warm in comparison. He’d never harmed her, true, but that look. . . . He went on, staring daggers into her eyes. “You do what you’re told.”
He spun her to face the black walnut she’d fallen from moments ago. Samantha wished she had a normal father, like those of her friends at school. Then they could play house and ride bikes and play catch in the backyard. She could have sleepovers. Instead, he’d made her learn things that made no sense to her. Do things she was sure other girls didn’t have to do.
Today, she’d woken up to find her pink winter jacket waving from the highest branch of this old tree. Before breakfast, she’d been shoved out into the cold to recover it without the chance to even throw on a pair of gloves. Now, Samantha’s hands were raw and her back hurt from where she’d struck the ground. And her father wanted her to try again.
Those eyes left no question to his that. It would toughen her up, he said. So would the new things he promised to teach her this summer. That scared her more than a little. Each year, his teachings had grown harder, building upon her knowledge from before. Maybe it was the dance lessons he’d promised. Ballet, if she had her way. None of that icky stuff with boys. Her father had threatened tango lessons, but the rare glint in his eyes told the lie.
Cold burned her lungs as she gripped the tree with both hands, hugging it close. Moving arms and legs like a spider, she worked her way up to the lowest branches. Numb fingers gripped the branch and she hauled herself upward. Bark scraped at her skin and she could feel pieces of it lodge painfully underneath her nails. First one branch, then another rose to meet her, confidence growing until she was moving without thought. It was as if her hands and feet moved of their own accord. And without the worry that slowed her, Samantha moved faster up the ice covered limbs.
Then one foot slid out from under her, off a thin branch. The second one followed almost immediately after. Samantha dangled from an upper branch, not nearly thick enough to support her entire weight. Cracking sounded in her ears as she kicked in desperation. Panic welled and started to overwhelm her. She couldn’t fall from this height. It would . . . be bad. Very, very bad.
Breathe. The first thing is to always breathe. Her father’s words cut through her panic, killing it in its tracks. You don’t and you will be worthless. Breathing strengthens your body and gives you time to think.
The first breath came hard. She fought for every ounce of air. But the second came easier, the third easier still. And while she couldn’t feel her hands grow stronger, she could feel her grip steady. A branch struck her in the knee as she moved her legs deliberately. Lifting her right knee to her chest, Samantha placed her foot on the branch and levered herself up. It wasn’t easy, but moments later she stood hugging a branch to her chest.
From there on, it was a simple matter to reach the top and the jacket. It had been tied by one sleeve to the top most branch, but came free with a tug. Briefly, Samantha considered trying to don the garment as she dangled there, but quickly nixed the idea. Instead, she tied it around her waist with in a loose knot.
The journey down was easier than up. Some parts of her decent was more akin to falling than climbing, but nothing like her near disaster earlier. Dangling from the bottom most branch, she let go and fell the last few feet into the snow. She dusted it from her hands and crawled into the coat as quickly as she could move. It was colder than she was, but soon the heat from her body fixed that.
Jonathan sauntered up to her, no more care for the cold than when she’d started.
“Good,” he said, crouching to look at Samantha in the eyes, “but you could’ve done better.”
Samantha wanted to ask how, to cry out in frustration and point to her throbbing hands. What else could she have done? She’d climbed a tree in the dead of winter without a coat, surviving a near fall that surely would’ve broken several bones, and made it back alive. But instead of howling, she stood mute, looking into her father’s brown eyes.
“Do you think,” he said, “that I could have climbed that tree all by myself?”
She shook her head.
“Do you think those branches near the top could’ve supported my weight?”
“Then how’d I get up there?”
Samantha looked about the yard. Everything was covered in a layer of snow shining bright in the sun. The back of the house, several dozen yards away, looked the same as usual with the addition of several tracks leading to where they now stood. The barn which housed all of her father’s equipment and tools looked untouched.
Except for the set of tracks leading toward it.
With a shake of her head, Samantha followed them, letting her father to follow behind a moment later. Neither one said anything as she followed the trail around the side of the barn. There, leaning up against the side, was her father’s aluminum later, free of snow and shining in the sunlight.
She touched it with numb fingers. “You could have said something,” she muttered over her shoulder.
“You could have looked,” he responded. “Brute strength and directness is all fine and good. Under the right circumstances. But you need to know your surroundings. Sometimes a bit of observation can save you much more. The trick is knowing what’s useful.”
Samantha spun. His cold words stung and her climb was still too fresh to give her father any lee way.
“I could’ve hurt myself.” Samantha held out her hands to show him. A small cut she hadn’t noticed before left a thin line of blood across her palm. “I did.”
Jonathan wrapped his daughter into his arms. Soft words reached her ear and she felt herself relax. She was still angry, furious even, but it seemed a small thing to throw against her father.
“I would never have let you climb up there if I didn’t think you could do it. You’ve done harder in worse conditions. All this is to help you—prepare you—for when I’m not there. In case I can’t be. You will face troubles in your life and I won’t be there. And when that happens, you’ll be able to trust no one but yourself.”
She wiped tears from her eyes. “And Uncle Kevin.”
Jonathan smiled. “And Uncle Kevin. But mostly you. And if I know anything, Samantha Carter, you can handle it.”