July 7, 2006: My apologies for the delay with this chapter. It might be the final instalment of this story and I wanted to make certain I got it right.
The family dog, Harry the Greyhound, passed away suddenly yesterday and to say it has thrown my Muse off her chair would be an understatement. This chapter is almost ready to send to my Beta but I have to put it on hold for a bit. Harry would want me to continue to be creative, though, especially with this story. After all, I'm almost done - and he loved sniffing in the woods, especially after a good, hard rain…
July 16, 2006: Unless I'm mistaken, this is the final chapter of 'Getting Away From It All'. :)
My thanks to Alaidh, the Almighty Beta, for offering to assist with this story when it was just a short response to a challenge - her challenge, in fact. You are brave, Alaidh, and would make a super ranger. :)
Thank you to those who read and those who review my writing. Your feedback during this 'saga' in particular has been - and will always be - greatly appreciated.
There has been a slight mystical quality to elements of this story. It didn't start out that way but it is there, nonetheless, and I've tried to be consistent with it. Though it is a bit whimsical, I haven't neglected that element in the final chapter. For those of you who weren't sure about this aspect of the story, I thank you for your patience.
Be it so noted that I still enjoy writing in this universe and don't anticipate becoming bored any time soon, lol! Depending on who you are, this is either a promise or a warning… ;)
"Fight the power. Protect the downtrodden. Blah, blah, woof, woof."
Getting Away From It All
"Moral excellence comes about as a result of habit. We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts."
- AristotleChapter Twenty
April 17, 2019, 5:56 PM,
Olympic National Park, Washington
In the Woods
Lightning flashed in the distance and the thunder grumbled in response, a brief reprieve from the intense storm that had interrupted a beautiful day.
Max continued to dart through the forest, evading the men who hunted her. Her original goal had been to return to the campsite - to Logan - but she didn't want to bring trouble with her and had changed her mind. Studying the situation tactically, she now had three main problems and one of them had just separated from the other two.
Bill, the blond surfer guy in camouflage, was heading southeast and that could only mean one thing. She managed to control her breathing, remember her training and remain calm and focussed.
Damn it, Logan, you better not get hurt -
She figured Alby had sent Bill to Lena Creek to check up on the progress of the guy named John - Alby's son. John. Trusted park ranger. She wondered if Sherry and Thompson knew about his betrayal. Max didn't know if the young man had been involved with the previous hunts but his participation with this event alone would be enough for someone like Matt Sung to show no mercy and lump him in with the others.
And if Justice were served, John would join them and kiss his ass goodbye.
Norton - the jerk - was wasting ammunition by shooting at the forest in what appeared to be a completely random attack. Although he was firing in an area not far from her current location, she figured it was due to luck not skill. He was guessing and, though it was a good guess, it wasn't enough for him to score a hit. She had assessed him as an over-confident, reckless type who seemed to have control issues.
Since he was armed, that also made him dangerous, a wild card.
Maybe that's why the leader has set him loose, she thought. If he screws up, it doesn't really matter. He's expendable.
Bill was a threat to Logan and the campers - if they were still there. If John hasn't already moved them to another location, Max thought grimly, reviewing the exchange she had heard earlier between father and son. She determined that if Logan or any of the others were harmed because of these people, she might not wait for the human courts to have their say in the matter.She smiled, her teeth gleaming white in the dim light of the forest. Assuming any of the hunters make it outta the park alive -
After a brief pause, the onslaught resumed. Norton seemed ready to annihilate anything in his path and no doubt his wordless yelling and subsequent taunts were supposed to strike terror in her heart. It was obviously his job to keep her distracted. Besides, he might flush her out and then Alby could make the killing shot.
Trophy on the wall.
She had two choices. She could try to reach the campsite before surfer guy or take out the jerk and hope the campers could hold on a little longer. Not knowing their current status was frustrating. As more bullets splintered the bark on an aspen to her right, she made her decision.
Norton was having the time of his life. The sound of the rifle, the pouring rain, the howl of the wind… It was like a Hollywood movie. He was the mighty hunter, seeking his prey. Man versus the Elements. Classic.
Dramatic, dangerous, exciting.
He paused, belched and hoped he'd remember it in the morning.
He crept closer to a cluster of trees, opting for stealth now, alert for a sign that would indicate the location of the prey. The hunt was very special this time, and though another person might have worried about the way the circumstances had changed, Norton didn't let it bother him at all. He trusted Alby to deal with any hitches in their plans and had consumed enough beer that he was oblivious to anything but having a good time.
She sure can move, Norton thought, momentarily distracted as he recollected the speed and agility their target had demonstrated. He had tried to figure out how she'd managed to incapacitate so many of their club members but that was a mystery for another time. Unlike them, he could handle her. She was just a girl, after all, and they'd brought down bigger game.
Just a girl.
He ducked under a branch and straightened.
Then the tree attacked him, grabbed him from above and behind and lifted him from the ground. He opened his mouth to yell but found a strong leather-clad arm wrapped tightly around his lower jaw as he continued to rise. His ascent was so swift that he lost his hold on the rifle, barely had time to take a breath and feebly kick his legs before the top of his head connected solidly with one of the heavier branches.
The last sound Norton heard was the snap of his own neck.
There was a pause and then his limp body dropped to the soaked forest floor with a gentle thud and a shifting of leaves and needles that had gathered there from last autumn. Seconds later a dark shape crawled down the tree trunk head first, eyes glinting as it cocked its head and carefully checked the location of the other hunter. Judging the leader to be far enough away that he wouldn't be able to make a visual, the slight figure flipped the rest of the way down, landing on its feet, facing front, crouched in preparation for any attack. When none was forthcoming, X5-452 wasted no time following the trail southeast at a speed that would make the average human eye believe they had perhaps witnessed the passing of a wild animal, or had been mistaken that they had seen anything at all.
Lena Creek Campground
Logan Cale had experienced many things in his life, including several close encounters with Death and a paralysing injury, but they had all occurred in a very urban setting, with streets and buildings and emergency services handy - or as handy as they were since the Pulse.
Now he adjusted his position in the wheelchair, not in the comfort of his living room or in front of his computer, but parked in the mud in a mostly unfamiliar wilderness setting that didn't have any hope of back up arriving in time.
Such is the life of the vigilante journalist, he thought grimly.
The rain continued to pour, varying in intensity, and thunder and lightning pursued one another across the sky as the clouds rolled darkly above the park. By now, the campers they had met yesterday were probably halfway to the parking lot and with luck they wouldn't encounter any hunters on their route. Logan didn't know how many people they were up against or how organized they were, and as the water trickled down the back of the collar of his jacket he wondered exactly what he was thinking coming out here in the first place. Within hours of meeting the young man who had managed to survive one of the hunts, he was on the road to the middle of nowhere, the broken knight on his horse.
And he'd brought Max into this nightmare. He closed his eyes and replayed the words she had spoken at his apartment before they departed.
"Yeah. Right. Like I have nothing better to do with my time than get shot at."
They hadn't discussed it at all. He'd made a decision and coerced her into joining him.
Way to go, Eyes Only, his Inner Voice snapped. If she's killed during this screwed-up operation, what will you do?
Cherish her memory always? Fight harder to protect the downtrodden? Wallow in guilt and self-pity? You have pictures of her on your computer. You can stare at them endlessly and wish you'd done more for her and mourn and forget to eat and shut out the rest of the world. You're good at that. Will you finally have the guts to take down Manticore or die trying?
Shut up, shut up!
Not like you were doing much else with your life, anyway, the Voice continued. Might as well continue the fight in memory of the pointless death of a young woman who trusted you -
Logan opened his eyes and tightened his grip on the Vector. I'm not going to let her die.You and what army?
He forced himself to focus on the clearing, the tents, the trees and quickly scanned the area. He realized that the only sounds he heard involved the storm. The shots had ceased.
That could be good or bad…
There was movement ahead of him and to his right. A man in camouflage was advancing slowly down the hill, not far from the path Thompson, Caitlin and the girls had used to return to camp about fifty minutes before. It was dark because of the weather and he didn't have his glasses on but Logan had seen the sway of branches as the man had pushed them aside and easily tracked his location.
Placing the gun briefly in his lap, Logan slowly eased the wheelchair a bit further back into the embrace of the trees that edged the clearing. Armed once more, he wondered what he was going to do. Would he shoot the man before being spotted? Would he aim to kill? Would he be able to live with himself if he didn't wait for it to be a clear case of self-defence?
Or would he risk his own life and the lives of others because he had never made the first move in a gunfight?
As the man entered the campsite, rifle at the ready, and moved cautiously towards the tents, Logan swallowed, steadied his arm and cleared his throat.
"You're surrounded!" His voice cut through the rain and sounded unexpectedly steady and authoritative. "Drop your weapon and put your hands in the air!"
The blond-haired man swivelled to get his bearings and locate the voice. He obviously ascertained the general vicinity because he levelled his weapon and pulled the trigger. Logan aimed and fired in the split second before then threw himself sideways in a vain attempt to avoid being shot.
The hunter screamed and dropped, clutching his right kneecap, the rifle now limp in his hands. Lying in the mud, Logan allowed himself a moment of satisfaction, having hit his target as he'd intended. Keeping the Vector clear of the ground, he crawled forward on his elbows as quickly as he was able, dragging himself towards the limited safety of the trees behind him.
Bullets whizzed near him, impacting the mud and splashing it across his face. It hadn't taken long for the blond man to regain some control - and now, he was angry, too.
Something grazed his right temple, like the sharp sting of a bee. He heard a strangled noise that sounded like a choking animal then felt consciousness slip away. His last thoughts were of Max and her brilliant, wonderful smile.
X5-452 tossed the body of the blond man aside. She hadn't killed this one, though it had been tempting. She'd reached the site in time to hear a man's voice order someone to drop their weapon, had witnessed the blond man have his knee cap blown out, but hadn't been able to reach him in time to prevent retaliatory fire.
He wouldn't be bothering anyone for a while.
She quickly located the glint of a wheelchair and still body of a man, which lay not far from it. He had tried to crawl away…
She blurred to kneel next to him and gently turned him so he was on his side, face out of the mud. He had lost consciousness. A quick assessment determined that he was bleeding from his right temple and his right calf. The front of his jacket was stained with blood and at first she thought he'd been shot in the chest.
Oh god, please no -
Pulling the jacket open revealed there wasn't an injury there. The relief she felt was almost enough to make her believe in a deity. On closer inspection, the head wound was minor compared to what it could have been. She struggled to keep her emotions in check; it was to be expected from a soldier in the field. Bullet must've ricocheted off that thick skull of his. The damage to his leg needed bandaging but looked as if it had missed the bone. He wouldn't have felt that one, of course.
Always a danger for Logan, especially when playing with guns.
Yet another reason to hate them.
She tore his pant leg and wrapped the fabric tightly around the calf. An extra piece she crumpled in her hand and pressed against the bleeding on his head.
"Hello there, little lady."
The world seemed to crystallize around her, crisp and sharp and impossibly real. The rain sounded louder, her soaked clothing felt very heavy and the smell of the earth filled her nostrils.
She turned very carefully, shifting in the mud so she could see her opponent.
Alby stood about twenty feet away, his rifle clearly aimed at her head. He had chosen not to kill her but to announce his presence instead. So I'll know that death is coming.
The grin on his face warned her that he wasn't currently in a very sane place.
"This is the end of the game, honey."
"You don't want to play anymore?" She was stalling for time, time to think of something she could do to survive this thing, to protect Logan, time for -
A glimmer of white light grew over Alby's shoulder and blossomed into a searing brightness. She saw him whirl around, heard him scream then a crack of thunder drowned out everything. She squinted against the light and thought there was a person standing there.
And she would have bet her bike that a large elk stood silhouetted behind them.
Then the light was gone as abruptly as it had manifested, and Sherry the park ranger lowered her rifle.
Alby lay at an awkward angle on his back in the mud, a bullet through his heart. The sky sighed and the rain washed away any blood that appeared.
"You okay?" Sherry asked. She crouched to check the pulse of the man she'd shot, fingers resting lightly against his neck. The ranger nodded her head once to Max, indicating the enemy was dead.
"I will be."
Her head snapped around to see Logan open his eyes.
Satisfied her mission was accomplished, X5-452 curled back into her corner like a cat returning to a comfortable chair, leaving Max to focus on the man who risked so much trying to make the world a better place.
"Hey," she said, applying pressure to his head wound again.
"Hey," he replied.
"You're gonna be fine."
He smiled weakly. "I know," he said simply, green eyes gazing up at her. "You're here."
A slow smile crept across her face. "So much for getting away from it all, huh?"
"They say a change is as good as a rest," he said shakily and moved his arms as if to sit up. She put a firm hand on his shoulder and made him lie down again. In her peripheral vision, Sherry waited patiently, giving them some space for which Max was very grateful.
"Uh-uh," she said. "Nice try." Logan sighed and squished gently back down into the mud. She pulled off her jacket and rolled it into a ball before placing it under his head. "Now shut up and don't move."
He gave her a quiet laugh and her smile broadened.
Max resolved that dinner and a long, hot shower were in order.
Lena Creek Campsite,
Olympic National Park
The paramedics were just finishing with their last patient. There were squad cars and two transport vans and the place was swarming with police. The trip out to Lena Creek had been fraught with bad weather and uneven roads. The vehicles and their occupants hadn't been through this much exercise in a while.
At least it had finally stopped raining.
As Fate would have it, Sherry had failed to appear at her nephew's birthday party and when her sister couldn't reach her, she'd sent their brother - a police officer in Hoodsport - to investigate. He'd met a frantic group of campers at the gate to the park and promptly called for reinforcements.
"Just leave the bandage alone, already."
Logan straightened his glasses, glared at Max and stated calmly, "The adhesive they've used makes my skin itch." From one perspective, it was fortunate that he didn't have the same problem with the bandage on his leg. If the adhesive irritated his skin there, he'd never know. He reached up to his temple again and attempted to remove the pad taped there. The bullet had only grazed his skull and the bleeding looked worse than it actually was.
Max smacked his hand away again.
"We've covered all the ground we can tonight, Mr. Cale." It was Lieutenant Munroe, Sherry's brother. He had been very patient with an anxious group of Girl Scouts and several dishevelled adults. After he had taken the initial statements and made sure everyone was looked at by a paramedic, officers from his division had started the collection of the hunters. Max had given their locations but not divulged how they had been removed from the action. "We'll be letting you all go soon, I think."
"Thank you," Logan said and watched the officer move away to deal with another unit reporting in.
Max sighed and decided to sit on the tailgate of the Aztek beside Logan. If we get out of this without looking suspicious, she thought, it'll be a miracle.
She had also told them where to find Melanie's body. Hoodsport wasn't a big place and many members of the squad had known the young woman through Sherry - and through her work with kids at the hospital.
"Her folks will be devastated," Lieutenant Munroe had stated quietly.
Max felt an overwhelming need to scream. It just wasn't fair.
The last of the hunters was loaded into one of the vans and it bumped down the rough road towards the front gate. Logan didn't need to go to the hospital as his leg had only suffered a graze, so with the scrapes and cuts attended to, the paramedics also departed, taking a drugged and restrained Bill to the hospital with police escort. The bodies of two hunters and one park ranger had been placed in the other transport van, out of sight of the campers.
"Almost done," Lieutenant Munroe announced to the group moments later. "Just have to make sure all the I's are dotted." Mason County had an open investigation on the attempted murder of a Peter Hurst of Seattle to resolve. They wanted to ensure that a conviction against all the hunters would stick. With the pertinent details and contact information taken down, the campers were finally told they cold go. They would be contacted if their testimony were required.
As the last of the police vehicles drove away, Logan and Max looked around the campsite. There was caution tape circling parts of interest and it reflected a glossy yellow when the breeze twisted it slightly. Tony and Suzy were doing their best to console the subdued Girl Scouts, who huddled in blankets around the one remaining fire. It had been a shock when they'd been told about Melanie. Mark and Caitlin were beside the main tent speaking quietly with Sherry. Everyone had endured a lot, physically and emotionally. Earlier in the evening, water had been boiled and tea dispersed to give Caitlin and Suzy - and the girls in particular - something to do and to try to provide some comfort.
Max stared at the fire, aware that Logan had shifted his gaze to her.
He gave a little shrug. "Helping me catch the bad guys, as always."
She frowned. "Didn't help Melanie at all."
"No, but you did keep the others safe." Logan hesitated then placed an arm around her shoulders. "I couldn't have done this without you, Max, and those hunters would still be getting away with murder."
She sighed. "All in a day's work for Eyes Only, right? Besides, I should be thanking you."
He looked genuinely puzzled. "For what?"
"Oh, the exercise," she began casually. "The chance to do some good… not leaving me behind…"
When he didn't respond she turned to look at him. The expression on his face was difficult to read but the way he smiled and the way his eyes shone made her stomach flip.
It took a few beats to realize that Suzy was standing in front of them. They turned to blink at her simultaneously. She smiled. "We figure you must be starving, too. How about we break camp and head into town together? Sherry tells us there is this great restaurant called Annie's -"
"Food!" Max slid from the tailgate and Logan's embrace. "Sounds good to me."
"Yeah," Logan said, lowering his arm and nodding. "That'd be fine."
"I'll let the others know," Suzy said, obviously pleased that, despite their short acquaintance, they weren't saying goodbye just yet. She returned to the group and Max silently started to disassemble the camping attachment.
"There wasn't anything you could have done, Max," he stated quietly.
"I know," was her brief reply. She'd never been able to do anything when it came to guns - other than refuse to use them.
"Have you seen Ranger Thompson?" This time it was Carrie approaching them. "We'd like to invite him along, too."
"Haven't seen him," Max said. She folded the awning as best she could and stuck it into the back of the Aztek.
"I think he was doing a quick sweep of the area." Logan glanced at his watch. "That was about half an hour ago." Beside him, Max muttered something he didn't catch and flipped a switch on the pump so the air mattress would deflate.
"We were wondering if he'd already left."
"I really don't know. I'm sorry." Logan smiled and was pleased to see the girl smile back in return.
They'll get through this. It won't be easy, but the girls will be okay. He thought of Max and the normal life she had been denied. If only everyone had a happy ending.
"One last song," Vernice declared and the others agreed. Max paused to watch with Logan as the girls moved to stand around the fire. They didn't seem to discuss which song they were going to do so it must have been some type of tradition, that the last song was always this song. The two Scout leaders and their husbands watched fondly as their troop reached out to one another, held hands, and began to sing.
Mm-Mm I want to linger
Mm-Mm a little longer
Mm-Mm a little longer here with you
Mm-Mm it's such a perfect night
It doesn't seen quite right
That it's my last night here with you
We'll all remember
Our lasting friendship true and strong
Mm-Mm and as the years go by
Remember this and sigh
This is goodnight and not good bye.
Sometime during the song, Max had linked her fingers with Logan's. Neither of them seemed to mind.
Both of them decided not to mention it afterwards.
The owl settled on the branch of a fir tree as the sky finally cleared. Below him, the elk dipped its head to acknowledge the faint image of a young woman as she approached. She wore her hair in a long braid down her back and the marmot kept pace beside her, stopping when she did.
We have been here before them and we will still be here when they are gone.
The woman smiled and reached out to touch the elk's fur. The stars reflected in her dark eyes.
I know, she said, though her voice didn't make a sound that could be heard by anything living.
They stood together and watched the campers a little longer then the traces that remained of a woman named Melanie turned with the elk, the owl and the marmot to begin the evening's watch at Olympic National Park.