THE RIDGEWALKERS: INTRO & CHAPTER I
DARKNESS DESCENDED FROM THE LAST MINUTES OF LIGHT...
It is the time of power, the thin red line. The hunter reloaded after firing several rounds into a fast-moving shape holding a child. Cynthos was hit with a dart while shielding the child, protecting him as she collapsed in a small thicket of brush.
Myceium was also injured when a bullet ricocheted off a rock and hit her. The attackers on the ridge held a tactical advantage.
Curt, directed his men with clear commands. He still had two tranquilizer darts he could fire from his rifle.
Zambos wove through the forest and brush, quickly approaching the ridge. He sprinted across an open area, closing in on the rock outcrop above him where the gunmen were. Suddenly, he felt the sting of a dart and then a second. Curt’s aim was true, yet Zambos kept approaching until Kelly fired off several rounds, grazing his head and hitting both legs.
Zambos was pinned next to a log as the drug slowly began taking effect. He used his last remaining energy to get to a hidden place before he collapsed.
Pat pressed his mike. “Jed’s KIA, approaching threat, out.”
I jumped up, ran and grabbed the Glock pistol laying on the ground. My Coast Guard training came back to me in a flash. I flattened out, shooting in the direction of the attacker in military gear, forcing him behind cover. I fired two more rounds, pinning him down.
On the ridgeline, Curt and Kelly Pat momentarily hung back because of limited visibility. The thump, thump, thump of rotor blades from a helicopter whirled in the distance, getting louder as it approached. The full moon sat above the ridgeline, rising into the night sky.
Back on the ridge, Curt talked excitedly in his headset. “Secure perimeter, and prepare for package lift in five minutes.”
I never thought I would find myself again in a survival mode from the recent boat incident.
— From Ridgewalkers
To Ma, Who Worried
Abyssal darkness lay beyond the back deck floodlights of the fishing trawler Rebecca Irene as it worked near Unimak Pass, which separated the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. We were headed north, back to Dutch Harbor, just after midnight. While finishing my duties in the galley, I wanted to check in with the skipper. I ascended the stairs leading up to the wheelhouse and found him seated in the Captain’s chair, looking tense, the lit end of a cigarette between his crumpled fingers. The cigarette appeared pointed at me as sheets of rain pelted all the windows, the wind a persistent, deep low howl. The dark wheelhouse moved in the fits and rolls of an unruly ocean, illuminated only by an array of electronics around the radar screen, which displayed our position.
I poked my head above a cabinet on the upper steps. “Cap’n, got a plate for you down here if you’re hungry.”
“Thanks Alex, be down in a few minutes.”
The orange cigarette end brightened as he pulled from it in the darkness. The smell of smoke hung heavy in the air. The skipper was always on edge, especially on nights like this. He was thin, about five foot five, with curly black hair. He needed a shave.
Before I stepped back down, I noticed the outside mast navigation lights displayed the “green over white, trawling at night” light configuration. The seas were thirty feet, and the wind blew from the north at sixty knots. Rough seas were not ideal conditions for bottom fishing, but the 1995 cod season was closing the next day in the area we trawled, so we would be required to move.
A new first mate came aboard, relieving the Captain of the watch. He went downstairs for a late dinner and some much-needed rest. I handed the skipper his plate and he thanked me and stepped into his stateroom. I still had cleanup duties ahead.
An hour later, around midnight, the deckhands tried hauling in a large net bag of bottom fish, but the net got stuck on something along the sea floor. The straining cables could be heard and felt on the back deck as the waves under the boat first slackened and tightened the cables, pulling into the winch drums. It began dragging the boat backward, right into a large swell. The back hatch was open after crew members dumped a net of fish below deck; the processors were working hard and fast to get the load put into the freezer hold on the lowest deck, running athwart from port to starboard.
Earlier, Gina, the factory foreman, met with the processors and showed how to do this. “Do a good job and speedo, dammit! It’s important to stack the frozen fish boxes in the freezer hold a certain way once they were gutted, cleaned and plastic wrapped. The boxes must distributed evenly, port and starboard so nothing could shift, causing the trawler to list, or lean to one side or the other, increasing the chance of capsizing the boat and we become food for the fish, not the other way around. You morons don’t screw this up, or we die! Then my ghost will come back and haunt your ghost hard, you hear me!”
She sure knew how to drive a point home, adamant with anyone working in the freezer hold. That amounted to everyone new to the boat, excepting engineers and the skipper.
I was finishing up in the galley. The back-deck access door was also open, so deckhands could grab a snack if there was time. I heard splashing that sounded close, so I dogged the door closed in case water splashed up and into the galley. No sooner had I closed it when a wave hit, the door preventing water from entering the upper deck into the galley and staterooms. This wave was just the leftover water; the main swell rushed into the open aft hatch and flooded the lower deck into the fish processing area. The boat began listing to one side, everything flying at me, the lights flickering as the vessel started to flip. I stood sideways on a bulkhead, hanging on inside the galley.
Everything went dark. My life flashed before me. I had been in a similar situation years before while in service of country off the Oregon Coast. This is it.