Two Days Earlier
Sam’s eyes welled up as she peered out from her viewpoint on Black Mountain. Glacier Village with all its charm and bustle lay below her to the left, the ski slopes of Mount Blue loomed above the valley on the other side and an endless view of white-capped peaks spread out before her. She struggled with her choice. Every location her eyes rested on was full of rich, wonderful memories, making her decision almost impossible. A lump formed in her throat as warm tears rolled down her wind-chilled cheeks.
She had been avoiding the task for months. As a consequence, her mom’s urn sat neglected, collecting dust next to the battered lounge chair by the fireplace — Elaine Shepherd’s favorite spot. Sam insisted that the place where her mom’s ashes were to be spread would be her decision alone, that she would have to bear the responsibility of ensuring that her mom’s final resting place was perfect. But spreading her ashes would be an acknowledgement that her mom was gone. Forever. And that she was still alive, even though Sam knew deep in her heart that on that day, that bullet had been meant for her.
A loud ring from her satellite phone echoed down the mountain and around the valley, snapping her out of her thoughts. She brushed her cheeks with the back of her glove and cleared her throat. “Hello?”
“Sam? Lorne, here. You still working on installing that new barrier out by Fool’s Bluff? Need any help?”
“No, no. I’m good,” Sam said too quickly. Because of a shortage of volunteers, she had been sent out to block off the avalanche hazard area on her own, but even if there hadn’t been a serious flu outbreak in town, she’d have asked to carry out the task alone. Ever since her mom’s death, Sam preferred solitude, preferred being away from people, their looks, their questions. She had found an escape from villagers in the surrounding wilderness. The mountains always offered her everything she wanted: serenity, nature, happiness, adventure. Most of her happy memories involved the outdoors and almost all were from family backpacking trips. Her mom and dad had taken her out mountaineering even before she could walk, when her dad would strap her to his already bulging backpack and haul her up remote peaks. Every trip had a different destination, but regardless of where they went, the sound of their laughter always echoed through the crisp, clean air.
“Yeah, figured. Sorry to call you on this phone. It’s a bit of an emergency. So, uh, what I’m really calling about — and I hate to ask — I wouldn’t do this if we weren’t in a bit of a fix, Sam. Ryder’s just gone home and Dominique and Rahim called in. They’ve got that nasty flu that’s going around.”
Sam knew what Lorne wanted, but she remained silent. A feeling of dread grew with every word he spoke.
“And you know how much we need the funds this year. The chopper alone! Folks just don’t care about Search and Rescue until it’s their butts on the line. They don’t realize that we’re all volunteers, that our gear isn’t paid for with their tax money. Some people think we work for them!”
“Y’know, the Alpine Survival Challenge is one of our best fundraising events. And orientation is tonight. So with folks out sick and that big storm that might be coming next week, we just can’t postpone it this year,” Lorne continued. “So I’m just going to ask, and of course I totally understand if you can’t, and I’m going to be right up front in telling you that this year’s Challenge is going to be a lot tougher than past years’. Ryder’s idea to justify the bigger fundraising goals this year, eh. Anyway, say ‘no’ if you can’t, but would you consider subbing for Ryder? We really need you, Sam, otherwise I wouldn’t ask. We need to know now, though. Like, right now. We’ve got to get the supplies and we won’t be able to get our deposits back if we cancel too late.”
“Of course I’ll do it, Lorne.”
The annual Alpine Survival Challenge was one of the most popular community events in Glacier Village. People of all ages and fitness abilities participated in teams, competing against one another to test their endurance and outdoor survival skills. There were no prizes other than bragging rights, which was one of the reasons it was always a fun event for everyone.
Sam had participated every year since she was born. Although, until she could walk on her own, the extent of her participation had been limited to being carried around by her dad. This was the only year she had declined.
It wasn’t her first choice of plans for the night, but she couldn’t let Lorne and the group down. No way out of it now, she thought after ending the call with Lorne. She quickly resolved to make a new plan for the night, to try to make the most of the situation. Who knows, she wondered, maybe it could even be fun.
A sudden bone-chilling scream pierced the peaceful silence. Sam’s back jerked straight and she dropped the satellite phone in her hand. It slid into the out-of-bounds area and down, down, down the steep cliff and out of sight. She stared into the white expanse. This wasn’t a good start to the plan.