Apache Dawn Excerpt
From Apache Dawn: Book 1 of the Wildfire Saga
Chad kept up his top pace as long as physically possible and only stopped when he stumbled and crashed into a snow-covered log. He laid there in the cold snow, resting until the stars retreated from his vision. He rolled over on his side, placing his back against the frozen log. Only then did he realize he was half buried in the snow and a hell of a lot colder than he’d ever been before. Panting, his chest burned with the effort of his escape. His beard was coated in snow, making his face cold. His teeth began to chatter.
“Not…not…good…man…” he told himself as he struggled to brush the snow off his watch. It was only 3:37 p.m. He glared south through squinted eyes, looking through a tunnel of snow swirling around and about him. The storm had fully enveloped the mountains in darkness. This was no normal early season storm. It was a real blizzard. And he was about spent and still hours away from shelter.
Chased by those soldiers, he now felt a sudden, terrible kinship with the animals that he’d harvested for the CDC. Run to ground, exhausted, cornered. He had only to wait for a crack of a rifle and a bullet to end it all. He chuckled grimly. The Blue Flu couldn't touch him. The Black Death had no way to hurt him. But a little piece of lead might very well finish him off right here, propped up against the snow-covered log.
He knew they were out there somewhere. Full dark would be coming soon, this time of year. That would be real bad new for him, stuck out here, freezing to death with no shelter, already exhausted. The prey had been run to ground.
A new voice called out. Chad held his breath.
“Mr. Huntley! Chad Huntley!” The voice came from behind the log, to the north—the opposite direction in which he had last spotted his pursuers. It was calm, authoritative, and loud. Whoever was speaking was close. And clearly spoke English.
“Sir, we’re here to help you! Can you hear my voice? Chad Huntley! Hell-looooooo!”
Chad gave up. Whatever was going to happen, hopefully it would all be over soon. Maybe they would take him to jail for shooting one of those guys back there. He didn’t care anymore. He just wanted out of the damn storm. He feebly raised a gloved hand and tried to speak. His voice croaked out a reply but it was lost in the howling wind. He waved his arm over his head, back and forth. He stirred, trying to raise himself on one elbow and keep waving. Chad was shocked to see how fast his body succumbed to the elements once the initial adrenaline rush ended. He felt weak as a kitten.
“Got movement over here!” shouted the voice, closer now.
“There he is!” called out a second voice, almost on top of him.
A shape appeared out of the snow as it slid over the top of the log and landed next to him with a muffled thump. Chad was expecting the woodland camouflage of his tormentors but was greeted with someone wearing white camouflage, and decked out as if he was going to war. The man was wearing a military helmet, snow goggles and a neoprene mask over his face—all white. The man was also wearing a white vest with bulging pockets and a rucksack on his back. He carried a wicked-looking machine gun.
“Sir, are you Chad Huntley?” said the masked figure, bending low to speak clearly through the wind.
“Yeah,” Chad replied hoarsely.
“Are you okay? Are you injured?”
“Okay. Just relax. I’m Staff Sergeant Garza. We’re gonna get you out of here, okay? I need you to put your rifle down first, though.”
Two other forms appeared out of the snow like ghosts, dressed like Garza. They both knelt down next to Chad and looked him over. One soldier took Chad’s Henry rifle and looped its sling over his shoulder.
The other turned to look around and called out into the air, “Anvil, this is Hammer 2, Actual.”
Garza was trying to help Chad to a sitting position and he could hear over the soldier’s in-helmet headset the static-filled reply, “Hammer 2, Actual, this is Anvil, go ahead.”
“We have the package—I say again: we have the package. The trees are too dense here, better call off our ride. We’ll head to the secondary LZ.”
“Anvil copies all. You got twenty minutes. The storm is eatin’ the gas up, how copy?”
“Shit,” the soldier said. Then louder, “Roger, Anvil—Actual copies all. We are Oscar Mike.”
“Somebody help me get him up,” said Garza.
“I’m…I’m sorry,” said Chad through clenched teeth. “I didn’t…mean to shoot him—”
“Calm down, sir, you’re going to be fine,” the soldier replied. “Wait, shoot? Shoot who?”
“Those g-guys back there,” Chad said, weakly pointing south. “Been chasing me since b-before noon…soldiers I think. Hunting me across the damn mountain.”
“What kinda shitshow we just walk into, Cap?” came a gruff voice from the other side of the log.
“Stow it, Donovan. Get your ass up that ridge and check it out.”
“Hooah,” the man replied and climbed over the log with as much grace as an elephant.