Atalanta's Story- Chapter 10

Atalanta's Story Chapter 10. This chapter has been difficult, it is longer than I wanted but it can't be helped. I want to thank Bill for all his help with his suggestions, comments, and corrections. This is my 2nd attempt to post this chapter after four (now) hours adding in an extra line after each paragraph this morning.

In the chapter our heroine finds that she doesn't like public schools (what teenager does), faces danger but does not escape unscathed and in the process her mutant identity is revealed.

Chapter Ten

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The lurching starts and stops, the groaning, protesting gears combined to make both conversation and riding difficult. I was into my second month riding the school bus twice a day, to the local high school and back home. Two hours a day, an hour each way was wasted on the bus ride to and from school. Another hour was spent walking the mile to the state road where we waited for the bus each morning and walking home each evening.

Many of the lessons and classes were boring, repetitious, and tedious. Taken with the extra travel time the hours wasted each day added up to more than the previous year’s home school day had. The decision to attend the public school was looking worse each day and particularly so in light of decreased time I spent running each morning.

None of us attending high school from the spa was happy with the arrangements. We agreed to protest en mass today, we being Lindsey, Lindsey’s boyfriend George, and me.

Mom thought I needed last year to get used to being a girl but she thought I needed this year for the social experience of mixing with other teens in a structured environment. My interests though ran in different circles.

“Mom,” I called as I entered the front door, “I’m home.”

“I’m in the kitchen dear.”

I placed my book bag, another annoyance, on the table, “Mom we need to talk …”

Later, after venting and still seated at the kitchen table mom summed up my feelings accurately, “You don’t like school, it is boring, and you don’t learn enough. That about cover it?”

I nodded, “Yeah that sums it up pretty well.”

“Honey those are feelings all school age children have.”

“I know mom but I guess last year spoiled me and the two hour ride doesn’t help my mood any.”

“Atalanta we have to be careful until I know where we stand on the mutant thing.”

“Mom I think you are over reacting to the whole mutant liability issue. As a doctor you have stated that I was born with traits of both sexes and that the onset of puberty caused me to develop as female.”

“That is true but the paperwork was rushed through and I’d like to double check it first before we draw attention to you.”

“Attention,” I replied confused, “what attention?”

“Some jurisdictions,” mom replied, “are suspicious of homeschoolers.”

“Suspicious! Why?”

“I blame it somewhat on the 24 hour news cycle, the war on terror, or the war on drugs, or any other war on anything you care to name. People and actions get defined and labeled and anyone that falls outside certain guidelines, like homeschooling, is looked at with skepticism.”

Mom was being paranoid about the whole mutant thing I decided.

“I know mom, but with the three of us withdrawing there is not anything that points to me or us directly.”

“That’s true,” mom conceded laughing, “But they may think Judy is starting a cult out here. But I’ll talk with the other mothers though I believe you will have to wait until after the Christmas break before we can move on it.”

“I thought as much but the homeschool application need to be submitted a month before then.” I cautioned.

The next hour passed with not much being settled or any deadlines established. I reached the conclusion that I needed to ask at school for that application or that deadline might come and go forgotten. Mom was reluctant to shine any type of spotlight on us.

“I’m going up to make friends with Ready, by now she has probably forgotten me,” I pointed out pouting.

“Don’t be long dear, you know I worry if you’re out after dark.”

“I know, mom. I won’t be.”

That was another pet peeve of mine and a strike again girlhood; people treated me like I was a piece of china and might break. Alan hadn’t had free reign to do as he pleased but he did have more choices it seemed to me. Maybe it was just that time of the month and my hormones were acting up.

Carrying my backpack to my room, I exchanged my jacket for a hardier version and left, calling out goodbye as I did.
Contrary to the spiel I fed mom, Ready greeted me excitedly, “You can’t fool me you faker,” I told the mare, “It is the treat you remember, not me.”

Tossing her head she agreed as I fed her a lump anyway and filled her feedbox and water trough. Finishing I slipped away to a secluded portion of the addition where I checked the supply cache. It was as I or rather we had left it.
I felt better knowing it was intact.

Closing the door to the kitchen complex I saw that Lindsey was in a corner busy with preparations for the evening meal.
“Hi Lindsey.”

“Hi, yourself,” she replied not looking up intent on her food arrangement.

“You talk with your mom,” I asked.

She stopped, turning on her heel, “A little but I didn’t have a chance to say much. Not enough time to really dig into it. And that is another gripe; the time we waste going to and fro is time I can better spend here.”

Lindsey’s desire was to be a world-class chef and follow in her mom’s footsteps. Schoolwork as designed by the state was cutting into that time. I felt the same way about my training schedule. George, I think was happy to be where Lindsey was.

“I talked with mom but I think it will take more talking but I’ve got to go; she will have a fit if I’m late.”

Another two weeks had passed without a commitment from any of the parental units. Somehow, I was going to have a light a fire under mom.

It was now early November and the chilly nights had turned into cold ones with the chill lasting throughout the day. The thickening and darkening clouds banking against the mountain ridges called out a long forgotten warning. A sudden blast of wind caused chills to run my spine.

I shivered.

Suddenly wary I rushed up the porch steps with the stray thought it wasn’t very lady like or dignified.
Who cared?

Opening the door I called, “Mom I’m home.” No answer. That wasn’t odd in itself. Mom kept all hours at the clinic but the house felt empty. The house felt off. I felt off and didn’t know why. I carried my backpack and tossed it on my bed.

Warning bells rang. Loud!

Throwing caution aside I ran from room to room and finding nobody or nothing disturbed.

“Calm down,” I scolded myself, “Mom is probably over at the clinic.”

Picking up the phone I dialed the clinic’s number and receiving no answer. Next I tried Judy’s number.
“Hello.”

“Judy, have you seen my mom?”

“Hello Atalanta and how was school today.”

“Same as always bo-ring,” I snapped and repeated, “Have you seen mom.”

“Are you home?” God what was it with twenty questions today.

I answered impatiently, “Yes, I’m at home. Have you seen my mom?”

“She’s probably at the clinic,” Judy offered.

Pausing I began deep breathing to calm my jangled nerves and impatience.
“I tried calling but no one answered.”

“Relax dear, she was probably in the back and couldn’t get to it in time.”

“You’re no doubt right but Aunt Judy can you please answer one simple question for me.”

“I’d be happy to.”

You haven’t so far I growled silently.

“When was the last time you saw Liz Reed, my mother.”

“It was after lunch sometime. I think her assistant called her with an emergency of some kind.”

“Thanks Aunt Judy,” I replied hanging up the phone cutting off any reply from her.

Finding the clinic locked and dark I fished out a set of duplicate keys and let myself in. I stood in the center of the darkened lobby willing myself to learn anything of value from my surroundings.

Slowly I moved, eyes unblinking, arms down, trance like down the hall to the supply room where I again used my keys to open that door. Unwilling to break the tenuous connection I left the light off, surveying the room and its contents. The refrigerator drew my attention and held it.

Looking inside the medicines seemed to be in their normal places on the shelves. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that I shouldn’t trust what saw at face value.

Dig deeper!

Looking blankly at the refrigerator’s lined interior I suddenly remembered Mom’s log. I retrieved it from a drawer and praying that I’d find an answer opened it. Again I just stared blankly at its contents hoping for inspiration to strike once more.

Then I remembered Mom’s warning. Emboldened I switched on the lights and quickly found the inventory document and using it and her logbook began to write down the discrepancies that I found. My innate sense of direction once again proved its worth as it led me to look for a particular pattern. Finding that pattern sent a chill down my spine.

Striding down the hall I opened Mom’s office and rifled through her files until I found Margaret Hanson’s phone number. She was Mom’s gopher assistant and I quickly dialed her number and asking her to call the clinic when she didn’t answer.

I then dialed Judy’s number and when she answered, “Judy this is Atalanta and I need to see you in Mom’s office. Now!” And I hung up before she could question my authority.

I didn’t think the wait would be long and it wasn’t. She didn’t storm in but it was close.

“Mom is in serious trouble. I think she has been kidnapped to treat a gunshot,” I stated flatly before she could scold me.

Judy’s mouth hung opened in surprise, her crafted rebuke at my insolence forgotten.

“What makes you think that?”

“This does,” I replied tersely handing her the paper I had written the list on.

“That is a list of meds and supplies missing from inventory and not on her logbook,” I continued answering her unspoken query.

“Margaret Hanson doesn’t answer her phone either. Didn’t you say she called with an emergency earlier?”

“Yes she did. Have you tried her cell phone?”

“Whose phone, Mom’s or Margaret’s?”

“Your mom’s.”

“I didn’t think to,” I replied sheepishly.

Judy pulled out her phone and was dialing when I shouted, “No, don’t call her. Not yet. Let’s consider it for a minute first.”

Judy frowned but ended the call, “What’s on your mind?”

“Okay,” I began slowly buying time as I sorted out my ramblings, “If-mom-has-been-kidnapped-then they might not know she has a phone. A call might alert them but what about a text instead.”

“Great idea, you do that and I’ll call the sheriff.”

I texted, Liz U all right? Missed U. Call me. A&J. Crossing my fingers I pressed send.

Judy was speaking, “The sheriff is sending a car over to Margaret Hanson’s place to look around. He will authorize a triangulation on her cell phone provided it is on. But he can’t without evidence issue a missing person report until 24 hours has passed or conduct a search for Liz.”

Another idea forced itself into my consciousness, “Judy can you call the sheriff back and ask if there has been any robberies, shootings, knifings, jailbreaks reported today or last night in the area.”

“Sure, but why?”

“Based on the missing supplies I’m guessing the emergency is trauma from either a gunshot or a knife wound. Apparently they can’t go to a hospital so that leaves crime as the cause of the injury and it might just show up in the LE database.”

“Okay lock up and we’ll walk over to your house to check it again and I’ll call on the way over.”

Judy’s phone rang as she was about to call: it was the sheriff calling back. Listening to the one-sided conversation I gleaned enough to speculate that Margaret Hansen was not at home.

We hurried to the cottage and once inside did another search that turned up nothing.

“Her car is here and she’s not here or at the clinic and has left no messages for either of us,” Judy mused aloud.
We were seated in the kitchen at the table waiting for the sheriff to call back. I was staring at the ceiling fingers laced behind my neck.

“Your hunch seems to be proving out but what made you think she had been kidnapped.”

“I can’t say if anything triggered it. I just knew the moment I walked into the house something was wrong. I just followed that knowing wherever it led. That’s it in a nutshell. No logical reason at all.”

At that moment the phone rang but it was the landline. I noted the number and that it was a mobile number. Quickly I reached for the phone lifting the receiver off its cradle, “Hello.”

“Mom,” I cried, “is that you?”

“It’s me baby, hush and listen. I have to be quick. I’m treating an emergency patient tonight and I can’t leave until in the morning. You go and stay with Judy tonight and I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow. Judy will look after you and you be a good girl for her okay and remember baby I love you.”

“I love you too mom,” I returned as the phone went dead.

“Mom,” I cried into the useless device.

“Was that Liz?”

I nodded numbly replaying the conversation. Was it my imagination or had she stressed the word can’t? The last sentence had felt too final. I felt the chills again.

“It was mom but something wasn’t right.”

“Another feeling of yours?”

“Yes but I have some facts this time to back it up. She called from a mobile number but it’s not hers. She couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me who she was treating or where. And she told me to be a good girl for you.”

Judy sensed my turmoil and rose to hug me tightly, “It will be all right, I promise. Too bad you didn’t get the number.”

Squirming out from her arms I grinned, “Who says I didn’t,” I replied retrieving pen and paper writing down the number. “I seemed to have developed a photographic memory and I also left the phone off the hook too if that helps to trace it any.”

The sheriff took that moment to call Judy back. Listening again to another one-sided conversation I learned that the tower signal showed that Liz was traveling north. The time was 2:16 and a little over 4 hours ago.

Only one event fit our profile, a jailbreak or rather a road-gang breakout. Five men had overpowered the guards rescuing one prisoner with one rescuer being shot in the attempt. But that was two counties to the east and they were last seen heading south where law enforcement was focusing their efforts with obligatory notices going out to the surrounding counties. The least likely direction was this far west and north.

Judy relayed to the sheriff that Liz had called and the number she used.

“Can I talk to him,” I asked.

Judy handed me the phone, “Sheriff Beckham this is Atalanta Reed, how soon can you have a location for the last call?”

“About ten minutes and we should know something. Atalanta there is not much more we can do until the 24 hours are up and strictly speaking the last call should start the time all over. But I’m not going to do that. Tonight I’ll inform the sheriffs and police north of here to be on the lookout for possible escapees and that they might have two women hostages. By tomorrow morning if you haven’t heard anything I’ll issue a full-blown alert. But if they are going north they are heading into a full blown snowstorm.”

“Thanks sheriff.”

A few minutes later the sheriff called back that the last signal was also north and seemed to be online to Colorado or Utah but that its location was out of his jurisdiction. He had informed that county’s sheriff of the possible convicts and hostages but wasn’t hopeful as he had no vehicle description or a confirmed sighting.

I stared glumly at the four kitchen walls.

“He’s doing all he can.”

I bit back the quick retort. “Thanks Judy but we both know he is half-ass in it.” I knew I was being unfair to the sheriff but my instincts were screaming at me. I had to do something.

“You need something to eat,” Judy replied shifting the subject.

“I do need to eat something but not right now. What I need now is some peace and quiet and time to think and then food.”

“Okay I need to take care of a few things and eat dinner too but you’d better be over there at the house no later than nine o`clock.”

“I’ll be there then.”

“Oh, and I want your promise that you won’t do anything foolish.”

“I promise that I won’t do anything foolish but you’ll be the first to know if I do,” I replied grinning and mentally crossing my fingers.

She seemed to buy it, “Remember nine o`clock and honey your mom will be fine.”

After she left I retrieved the road map from our car and printed out several types of maps from the computer and after that placing my phone on charge. By nine, I had laid out heavier clothes and boots on my bed and rummaged what supplies I needed from the pantry and closets.

Sitting at the kitchen table, I drew vectors to their last known positions and plotted intercepting vectors across the country. The state road they were likely taking outlined an inverted “C”, all I need do was connect the ends. A hundred road miles was reduced by half by traveling as the crow flies doing this. From doing Google searches, I learned and marked landmarks, mines, and shacks along the way. The TV weather reports helped me determine snowfall amounts and road conditions in the direction I felt they were going.

When nine o’clock chimed in the kitchen I left walking to the main house with those variables continuing to swirl about as they were being processed, distilled, and sorted. The night air seemed unnaturally still and quiet as the temperature continued to drop.

Halfway across the yard on hearing a call I looked about finally seeing a great owl perched on the eaves. As I looked up at him, he turned his head and looked directly at me and in that brief moment some knowledge passed between us. The owl took wing and flew off into the clouds leaving silence in its wake.

Climbing the steps to the porch my boots clop clopping on the wooden planking I opened the door that led to the kitchen area and not the dining room to began heating leftovers. In a few minutes I was joined by Lindsey and her mother at the table.

“Judy told us what happened. Is there anything we can do?”

“Not really,” I replied, “Except to pray.”

Feigning hunger, I kept one eye on my plate and the other on the room while I slyly made mental notes. Judy came as I was doing so carrying a cup of chocolate with her.

“Here,” she said holding the cup out, “Every girl likes chocolate and this is what the doctor ordered for a cold night like this.” Some words stood out in my mind even if they hadn’t in the speaking and rang a warning bell. Similar to the uneasiness I had received arriving home earlier I decided something felt off. But for mom’s sake I couldn’t let on.
Taking the cup from her I set it on the kitchen counter, “Thanks Aunt Judy. I guess it is the nervousness but I need to go first.”

“Drink it before it gets cold.”

“I won’t be but a minute,” I assured her.

Making sure my footsteps sounded just as if I was going to the bathroom I slipped back and hid just outside the door to eavesdrop, “… just a mild sedative it will help her sleep. Make sure she drinks it okay.”

My hunch was right I thought as I quietly slipped away and returning minutes later. Judy had already left, leaving Lindsey and her mom to see that I drank the chocolate. I picked up the cup smiling at them over the top of the cup, brought it to my lips, and drinking from it. Satisfied that I wasn’t suspicious and or not thirsty the older woman left the room, leaving Lindsey and me alone. After making sure Hannah wasn’t returning I bent over the sink and spat out a wad of chocolate soaked tissue into the drain.

“What is that?”

“A wad of toilet paper,” I declared before asking. “Have you got any more cocoa?” When she just stood looking at me I asked again, “Please Lindsey get me some cocoa.”

As she was bringing me the cocoa, I rinsed out the cup in the sink and after heating water made another cup of chocolate. Filling the cup I held it out between us and lifted the cup draining it in two large gulps.

“Now you can tell your mom you saw me drink the whole cup.”

“I get you,” she giggled with me, “but why. You are not going to do something crazy are you?”

I parried her question, “I don’t like being drugged for one thing and besides I want to be awake and alert at first light when the sheriff calls.”

“Cool.”

We hugged and I quietly left the kitchen.

Back at home I quickly slipped out the back and hurried to the stables where I saddled and fed Ready and a packhorse. While they were eating I gathered camping supplies from the tack room and then opened the secret weapons cache Manny had built into the addition.

I led the horses, tied them out of sight in the bushes behind my house, and slipped inside where I began to systematically turn off the lights.

I settled in the darkened house to wait. As I did I reviewed the plan and actions I was going to take that night. Judy was going to be pissed at me I knew that. That couldn’t be helped. I again went over my preparations and assumptions looking for any holes that I could fill.

I had enough food packed to last two people three days and the same amount of grain for the horses. On the packhorse I had filled a five gallon bladder with water though I was sure, if the weather people were right, I could melt enough snow to last. I had stashed several large tarps and ropes as well on that horse and a comprehensive medical kit. I had also filled a duffel bag with an extra change of clothing for mom and me and the other toiletries we might need. The extra horse was probably loaded with 150 pounds of gear while I had filled Ready’s saddlebags with similar but smaller amounts.

From the shadows I kept watch on the darkened yard from behind the curtains on my bedroom window when a few minutes past 11, a dark figure floated across from the main house. Sighing, I quickly slipped away from the window and under the covers pretending to be asleep when the shadowy figure moments later walked into the house and down the hall before then looking into my bedroom. Seemingly satisfied that I was sleeping, the intruder turned around and walked down the hall and back to the main house.

I lay quietly under the covers until I was assured she wouldn’t return tonight. I hastily dressed in the leather duster and boots Manny had bought for me as a going away gift. The girl in the mirror was sufficiently badass to look at home in a grim reaper movie or the matrix. I smiled at the thought and whispered, “You go girl.”

Leaving by the back door and after I had gathered the extra gear from the house I needed, I walked to where I had left the horses tied. I secured the extra pack to the little mustang and untying their reins walked the horses a safe distance before mounting. Seated on Ready’s back I saw the owl perched on a high limb in front of me. Once again we locked gazes before he flew off the perch and to the north. I followed at a slower pace.

The snow began falling lightly a flake or two and then flurries first but by daylight the air was heavy with large flakes and quickly accumulating on the cold ground. My map showed that I was nearing where mom had called last evening.
Throughout the night I followed the owl catching glimpses but at daylight he seemed to have disappeared. Stopping and searching out the area I located an overhang large enough to shelter the horses and myself.

Using a tarp I quickly erected a make shift shelter for the animals and me and built a fire. Melting snow, I fed and watered my horses and then ate a hot breakfast. Pulling out a sheaf of papers and several maps and with the help of my compass I made mental notes of the most likely places to hole up and comparing them to my present location.
Once finished and leaned against the rocky bank I dug out my cell phone.

“Hello,” the sleepy voice at the other end of the call answered.

“Judy this is Atalanta.”

“Atalanta, what time is it?”

“A little after seven.”

“I didn’t think you’d be up so early.”

“Why not, I haven’t been to bed yet,” I replied cheerfully.

The rustling at the other end told me Judy was now wide-awake.

“Where are you? You promised me not to do anything foolish.”

“Technically, I told you I’d call you first and I have. I’m about 30-35 miles north in the mountains and I intend to find mom. You can let the sheriff know where I am and what I’m doing. I’ll leave my phone on and check in about every four hours but don’t call me.”

“Atalanta is there nothing I can say to make you change your mind?”

Shaking my head, “Nothing, besides its too late now,” I admitted.

“Relax Aunt Judy. I’ll be fine. Right now I’m under an overhang having a hot chocolate after a hot breakfast. The horses are warm and comfortable and I’ll be ready to travel when my guide shows up.”

“Guide, what are you blabbering about?”

“A spirit guide, an owl.”

Judy understood what a spirit guide was from her Native America heritage and its meaning. “Okay,” she sighed, but be careful.”

“I will,” I replied hanging up having spied my owl on a rock 30 yards away.

“Give me a couple of minutes,” I called out. He seemed to understand tilting his head in my direction.

By mid afternoon, we were struggling in two feet of snow with Ready bucking mightily through it gaining a few feet at a time. If the snow wasn’t dry and fluffy or had it melted and then froze or blown into snowdrifts then I was stranded in the wilderness. And it was only a matter of time before one or more scenarios happened.

My owl was still showing up teasing me before flying off into the snow. Just before noon he had turned northwest and then due east and then north again.

I was utterly and completely lost. Funny I didn’t feel any panic. Maybe it was the seemingly unbroken sea of white that blanketed everything wrapping myself in its warmth. Lulled into a sense of peace; maybe I should just rest.

The owl’s screech together with Ready tossing her head jarred me back to reality. Shaking my head and dismounting, I leaned against the horse and mumbled, “What have I let myself in for?” Looking up and taking the reins I began plodding through the snow, taking one step then two steps forward. Time dragged as much as I did into the waning hours of daylight. My owl continued its taunts.

This part of New Mexico or was it Colorado or even Utah was crisscrossed with gulley, ditches and depressions that held winter snows and formed runoffs for the spring melting to accumulate and provide avenues for summer storms to flow through. Strange monuments and weird carvings often resulted from the water’s force. Ahead was just such a place where the snow and rushing water had carved an enclave from the rocks resulting in a large overhang that had carried away the earth beneath and offered shelter from the storm. That action had also deposited a fair amount of debris including fuel for a fire along the banks as well.

Working quickly I soon had a makeshift shelter set up for the animals and myself. Nearby, I collected a large amount of seasoned and rotting firewood and soon a good hot fire. It was cozy there with the ground bare and the snow reflecting the heat inside. The weather cooperated blowing the smoke back along my trail and out of my shelter. While supper was cooking I fed and watered the horses. Even Harvard flew in and found a perch to light on. Yes I named the owl Harvard. I figured the school Harvard was smart like my owl.

Harvard flew from his perch to land on the woodpile and began scratching and clawing at the pieces. The horses watched contentedly and I watched both between spoonfuls of stew and sipping hot coffee and leaving Harvard to his foraging.
Now what? I wondered aloud after eating and scrubbing my cooking utensils with harvested snow.

Harvard screeched loudly as if to answer and flew out into the falling snow that had slowed considerably with darkness falling.

Should I follow?

In a few minutes he was back, calling out impatiently.

“You want me to follow you?”

Harvard cocked his head as if to say, “Are you crazy? I can’t talk.”

“What about sign language then?” That bird looked me squarely in my eyes and nodded.

“Okay,” I grumbled, “Give a minute and keep your shirt on.” I giggled at the inane reference and rose wrapping my long coat tighter, and decided the horses would remain in place until I returned. Banking the fire and securing my rifle, I walked into the cold night following a bird.

After an hour and two hundred yards of trudging through waist deep snow where Harvard was barely visible at times in the haze, I stumbled on to another break in the landscape, a break that Harvard had already claimed and was pensively studying me with his large golden eyes.

“Is this it?” I asked.

Harvard screeched in reply.

I was on a rise at the head of a small valley and using my binoculars examined the panorama in front of me. Sweeping the valley laid out before me I almost missed it. Tucked into the corner nearest me and half hidden by boulders was a house.

Concentrating, I swept the area again finally seeing several lights that twinkled out of the darkness at me. Sweeping the area again I saw the outlines of several buildings that flanked the homestead. One I was sure was a barn with a connecting shed with what I was sure was a tractor or truck parked in its opening. Adjusting the binoculars I inspected the area for the third time, finally seeing the ash of chimney smoke against the white blanket of snow. The humidity quickly pushed the plume of smoke down hovering just above the rooftop. Parked in front of the house were several more vehicles.

This wasn’t an abandoned homestead or mine but a real working ranch with people inside. The question though was, was there crooks inside too? And by extension was my mom there? I had to know and needed a closer look.

First I needed a plan and a germ of an idea formed that I began to refine until I was satisfied that it could still be used even if something unexpected happened. But I needed Judy’s help.

Excited I dug out my phone giving a fist pump when I saw I had a signal.

“Judy,” I asked when the call was picked up, “This is Atalanta. I’ve found them.”

“Atalanta, where are you and you found who? Your mom?”

“I don’t know exactly where I am at but I guess it is western Colorado about 100 to 120 miles by the road, 40 to 50 miles, or half that as the crow flies from where you are at. I am watching an isolated working ranch that’s snowed in. There are people inside and no evidence that anyone has been outside today.”

“If you don’t know where you are at how did you come up with those numbers?”

“Guesswork,” I answered, “They traveled by the state road and you know how crooked it is. You travel two miles on it to go one mile and I have ridden Ready more than 40 or 50 miles in 12 hours before.” I knew the miles were as accurate as we had been absent from the ranch for closer to 18 hours. I allowed for slower progress through the deeper snow that day and that we had stopped twice.

“Okay but you haven’t talked with anyone or seen who is inside.”

“No I haven’t.”

“Then how can you be sure you have the right place or people.”

“The same way I knew how to find those kidnappers. I just know.”

“Okay let’s say you’re right. What are you planning to do?”

“I’ve got a plan forming but I need your help.”

“What can I do from here?”

“Call the sheriff and let him know I’ve called and to triangulate my position. That should help narrow it down to western Colorado or even Utah and my description of this place should narrow that even farther. I take it the crooks have not been caught.”

“I’ve been so worried about you and Liz, not about those criminals but the sheriff hasn’t told me anything about them. I do know he’d like to take you out behind the woodshed and tan your hide. I wouldn’t mind a piece of that action myself.”

A pang of guilt stabbed me.

“I’m sorry Judy but I didn’t have a choice.”

“Tell the sheriff," I continued, "to contact Colorado authorities and tell them I’ll leave my phone on to find us.”

“You stay right where you are and be safe.”

“Don’t worry Judy. I am safe where I am at out of the snow and bundled up tight against the cold and I’ve got a fire going to boot. If I had only thought to bring marshmallows and a cute guy I’d be tempted to turn my cell off.”

The laugh from Judy reassured me the white lie was worth it.

Leaning against the rock I considered what to do next. The horses would be fine where they were at until daylight and I doubted they’d stray from shelter. The fire should burn and smolder providing both heat and protection from the elements and any predators. The slackening snow necessitated that the next phase be executed quickly.

My mind made up, I pushed away from the rock and approached the house from the north, the opposite direction I had traveled from. Using the buildings and terrain as cover I safely sneaked up to the house. From there I circled the perimeter being extra careful looking in at the doors and windows.

The windows on what I assumed were the bedrooms were closed and darkened leaving me to guess who and how many people they held.

Thank god kitchen window curtains weren’t really designed with privacy in mind because using some caution I sneaked up to the kitchen window to look inside and see three females. One was Margaret, mom’s erstwhile assistant, while the other two were unmistakably mother and daughter. Seeing Margaret confirmed for me that I had located the fugitives.
Sliding quietly under the kitchen window sill I carefully approached the next eyelet and closer to the front of the house. The curtains were drawn but I was able to peer inside between the drapery folds. Seated on a couch in a far corner of the living room sat the father and his son and the younger daughter who was about eight years old. Three hard-bitten men silently kept watch from their vantage; one seated in a straight back chair facing the father and his two children. A second man seated cattycornered, beside the front door in an upholstered chair, while a third was seated between the threshold of the kitchen and living room. From there he watched both kitchen and the front room.

Crouching with my back to the outside wall, I expelled a pent-up breath and considered what I knew and what I guessed. Three men had helped three men escape from a road crew and one had been shot in the escape. That was six men and then somehow they had convinced Margaret to trick mom into helping their escape, so that was eight people that had shown here yesterday afternoon.

Based on the dimensions and the house layout, what I could see from the kitchen and front room windows, there were three bedrooms and a bath which meant that most likely the family that lived here consisted of three children and their parents.

Eight people on the run and the five that lived here for a total of thirteen, nine was accounted for that left three men, one that was wounded and my mom missing.

Two thugs were undoubtedly sleeping in two of the bedrooms while the wounded man was in the third bedroom and mom was with that man caring for his medical needs.

One of the bedrooms opened off the kitchen and I assumed was probably the master bedroom. The second bedroom if the window locations were any indications was larger than the third and likely held two beds and for the girls with the other smaller room being the boy’s. It was impossible to say who was in which room but my intuition was telling me though that mom and her patient was in the room with two beds.

My innate sixth sense decided that the girl’s room was the middle and I moved as quietly as possible to see inside past the drawn curtains. I was able to tell a nightlight was on which help support my theory that it was the girl’s room.

Standing to one side, I used my knife to test the window. I held my breath as I felt it move. Scant seconds later the curtains parted with my mom’s face looking out. I almost screamed partly in relief mostly in surprise. She didn’t see me as I was in the dark and tight against the wall.

Now the problem was how to let her know I was here and not freak her out doing it. Watching the curtains fall into place an idea surfaced. Quickly moving before I changed my mind, I used my knife blade to slowly work the window higher.

When I was satisfied with its height I then listened closely with all my senses tuning into the rhythms of the room. Only then did I begin whispering her name, Liz … Liz … Liz in time with that cadence.

After what seemed an eternity the whooshing sounds of shoes on carpet reached my ears. Mom was coming to investigate either the draft or the whispers. Shielding my face with my hat I waited. I heard her mumble something about the window.

Screwing up my courage I whispered louder, “Liz.” In the stillness it sounded like I was beating a bass drum. I heard the curtains rustle as they opened, followed by a sharp intake of breath.

“Liz,” I repeated with my face still in the shadows. The window opened higher.

“Who are you and what are you doing here and why?”

“Before I tell you, you have to promise me that you will not freak out.”

“Why would I freak out?”

“Promise first.”

“I promise.”

“Remember you promised,” I replied more calmly than I felt tipping my hat back with both the white of the snow and the subdued inside lighting bathing my face in relief.

Mom to her credit stifled her scream but she hissed through clinched teeth, “Atalanta, what are you doing here, and why aren’t you in bed?”

Her maternal instincts were on high alert.

“Mom,” I whined channeling my inner child, “You didn’t think I was going to let you go gallivanting around the country without me, did you?”

“What are you doing out there?”

Sighing I took a firmer tone, “Hush and listen to me. Okay?”

When she had hushed I added, “I’ve alerted the local authorities and they have fixed our location with my cell phone and they will be here shortly. I’m going to stand guard outside in the meantime.”

“Aren’t you cold?”

“No, this coat is really warm and I’ve got horses for company and Harvard.”

“Harvard. And just who is Harvard?”

“Mom Harvard is not somebody, he is my pet owl.”

“Since when do you have an owl?”

“Since last evening when he showed up as I was leaving and I followed him here. And mom, I’m camped about three hundred yards away in a natural depression. It’s a natural shelter; scooped out by the weather, it has a roof and protection from the snow. It’s nice and warm and cozy in there especially with the horses in there. I’ve got a fire that I started with all the driftwood that’s lying around I’ve done eat a hot supper. I just wanted make sure you was all right and let you know help is on its way.”

“I suppose, but I still don’t like it.”

“Here,” I said handing her an extra cell phone, “my number is programmed in and it is on silent mode. If I need to get in touch I’ll call. Okay?”

Just then my phone buzzed, “I got to go,” I added holding up my phone as I slipped away to answer. I was probably going to hear about getting the last word in when this was over.

“Hello,” I whispered.

“Is this Atalanta Reed?”

“Yes it is.”

“This is Sheriff Fife. We are having some difficulty pinpointing your exact location. The snow is causing the tower signals to echo and bounce about. The closest we can place you is probably within 5 miles. In the dark and in this snow we may stumble around you or into you and we don’t want that if we can help it. Do you have any more information about your location?”

“Sheriff, I’m not from here and I have traveled almost 24 hours in a blinding snowstorm. So I have no idea where I am at and I haven’t seen any landmarks at all and for all I know I could be standing on one right now and not know it.”

“I’m sorry but unless you have something else for us to go on we are going to hunker down for the night and wait until daylight.”

A germ of an idea formed, “Sheriff, if I can supply you the name of the people that live here would that help?”

“Hell yes, can you do that?”

“I think so let me check and I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”

Thirty minutes later after again circling the house and recording the car license plates I dialed Sheriff Fife back and asked, “You got a pen and paper handy.”

“Shoot.”

I rattled off a series of letters and numbers, “That is the license plate numbers of every vehicle here.”

“I’ll run these numbers and call you back.”

I retraced my steps to where I had first spotted the homestead, on a rise at the head of the valley. The place offered protection from the wind and snow where I could observe the house. The drawback was that building a fire here might give away my position and it was smaller than the place where my horses were picketed. My cell phone buzzed again it was the sheriff calling back.

The Beans was a family of five and with that name they now had a layout of the land and where we were located. What they did not have was a floor plan of the house. I told him I could supply that information. After I described my present position and where my main camp was we agreed to meet there in about two hours and plan out the next step. That camp was about three hundred yards away from the house and we felt confident that we wouldn’t give away our location.

The sheriff informed me the numbers of one plate belonged to a family in my county who had not reported it as stolen but Sheriff Fife was calling my sheriff to verify. That could prove to be the vehicle the miscreants had used to drive here.

Retracing my path proved easier than breaking the trail had been and I soon had a lively fire going and hot coffee on when the posse arrived. They brought their own supplies and horses and we soon had my little camp expanded enough to house a dozen men, horses and supplies.

We had all hunkered down around the fire while the sheriff made the introductions. I did get a few strange looks from some of the men.

“I don’t know how you found this shelter, or for that matter I don’t know what in hell kept you from getting lost to start with in this snowstorm. But come to think about it I don’t know how you tracked your mama here either,” the sheriff grumbled and added, “but I’m glad you found these buzzards.”

“I could tell you sheriff how but I’m not sure that will be any easier to believe.”

“We got a few minutes, try me.”

After I finished my tale the sheriff was shaking his head and I was getting a few open mouth expressions especially after I told them about Harvard.

“Where’s this bird at now,” an anonymous voice accused.

I shrugged, “I don’t know, I haven’t seen him since I located the house.”

“Let me get this straight, this owl conveniently shows up as you are leaving, guides you here, and then disappears.” The sheriff asked in his best interview manner.

I nodded.
“I find that hard to believe.”

“Well Sheriff, you tell it then,” I replied calmly. Color rose in his cheeks but any reply was cut short.

“You spend a lot of time in the wilderness?” This came from an older man.

“Before we moved here 18 months ago I was an Army brat and city girl.”

He chuckled shaking his head, “Beats all.”

“Can you use those,” The sheriff asked indicating the pistols on my waist and the rifle leaning against my gear.
“Yes I can.”

“You ever kill anything with them?”

“Just some lions, coyotes, wolves, and the occasional bear but I usually prefer my bow. It gives them a sporting chance,” I grinned pushing his buttons. I noticed his color rise again.

That same old man snapped his fingers, “You’re that bounty hunter, aren’t you.”

Blushing, I busied stoking the fire.

“Bounty hunter,” another man asked the older and whiskered guy.

“Yeah, sheepherders pay a bounty on predators and I heard about this girl who was a whiz at it from some friends of mine down south. I just figured it was a tall tale until now. You’re her, aren’t you?”

I nodded having already let the cat out of the bag by admitting to tracking and killing the predators, “But I didn’t think my identity got around. I had someone else collect the bounty for me. I didn’t want or need the notoriety.”

That same old man snapped his fingers again. I was beginning to really dislike that old man.

“You’re that same gal what tracked and captured those kidnappers.” He went to tell the story and it grew with his retelling. “… Rescued the seven-year old twins, captured and hogtied the bandits all by her lonesome. Hell Sheriff,” he turned to Fife, “you don’t even need a posse when you got Wonder Woman here.”

That comment could be taken badly but when good-natured ribbing followed I found myself grinning at the back and forth banter that followed. That ritual proved to be the means that allowed me to be accepted as an equal in the posse with even the sheriff giving his taciturn agreement.

“Settle down guys,” the sheriff interrupted exerting control, “this is serious business and it is time to move out.” As an afterthought he added, “I just wish we had a way to contact someone inside.”

Seeing the look on my face he growled, “What else haven’t you told me?” More grins from the posse followed.

Blushing again, I replied, “Well Sheriff, as it happens I did talk with my mother and gave her an extra cell phone I just happened to have brought with me.”

He stood slack-jawed and flabbergasted before exclaiming, “I am recruiting you to supervise my next posse, and you seemed to have thought of everything.”

“Not quite,” I returned, “this ground is cold. I wish I had thought of camp chairs.”

He started to grin until he saw that I was serious and instead growled, “Let’s go.” There were some good-natured grins aimed at his back as we broke camp.

After an hour of plodding through the waist deep snow the sheriff had his men in place around the house. He had a man watching each bedroom window at the back and another man watching the kitchen. There were six of us including me covering the front of the house. Sheriff Fife left a man to watch the camp and another at the head of the valley as a lookout. He wanted me to “man” the latter and out of harm’s way but as I pointed out; I knew the layout and I had the inside “man”. He reluctantly agreed.

“See if you can raise your mom.”

“What’s your plan, Sheriff,” I asked.

“It depends on what your mom tells us.”

I dialed but mom didn’t answer but a few minutes later she called me back from the bathroom. From her, we found out the guards had been changed with three men sleeping and two were keeping watch.

“Mom, how long can you stay in the bathroom and not be missed?” The seeds of an idea sprouted.

“Five or ten minutes, I guess.”

“Okay, don’t come out until you have to but don’t stay in there long enough to raise a ruckus either, and mom whatever happens don’t let on that you know me. If you do you’ll blow my cover. And don’t worry it will be over soon. I love you”

“I love you too.”

Sheriff Fife groused at me, “This seems to be your show, tell me what devious plan you came up with and we’ll see if it makes sense.”

I knew he wouldn’t like it and I was right. He didn’t. I didn’t like it either but the plan did made sense to me. In the end he agreed to it although he listed the reasons why it was bad.

“You’re a civilian, underage, and a girl.”

“Don’t you have junior g-men in your department, Sheriff?” I teased.

“Yeppers, but they’re not armed.”

“No problem, Sheriff,” I replied handing him my weapons, “If I need a weapon I’ll borrow one inside. But there is nothing I can do about being a girl.”

“In this case being a girl is an asset, I’d say. A man will be less threatened by a girl and remember she did capture those bandits.” That came from the same whiskered old man that seemed to know a lot about me who had spoken up before.

It was a simple plan. Like in the desert, I was portraying a little girl lost and asking for help. Again I was counting on the men seeing me as a helpless little girl and underestimate me.

The sheriff nodded, “Git going before I come to my senses.”

Trudging across the pristine landscape and pushing against the incessant wall of snow, I carefully watched the house for any sign of discovery. I was not purposefully being quiet but the soft blanket of snow absorbed the sounds of my labored breathing and falling down.

Climbing the porch steps I called out, “Help, hello the house. I’m lost and cold, Help.” I cried pounding on the door.
The door suddenly swung open revealing a middle-aged pock faced black haired man with dark cold eyes holding a semi automatic pistol tight against his body. In that sliver of time as certain as a photograph, I catalogued the interior.
The husband, with his children was on the couch in the same position as I saw earlier. Mom to my relief wasn’t in sight. Through the open arch leading to the kitchen I saw one female. To my right was the second guard, now alert and standing, looking behind me at the dark landscape. I didn’t see Margaret and surmised she probably was in one of the bedrooms.

Playing the part of a frightened schoolgirl I sobbed, “I thought I was going to die out there. Nothing but snow everywhere I looked and then I saw your light. Can’t I come in mister I’m cold and tired.”

“Sure let her in Floyd,” the guard on my right replied, cocky, stepping forward, grinning assuredly, “she’s just a kid and besides you’re letting the cold in,” In a flash I saw that he fancied himself a ladies’ man and cocksure.

Perfect.

I pretended to trip on the threshold and reaching forward latched onto his outstretched hand and using his momentum and my falling weight to jerk him into his partner. Using the slapping technique Manny taught me, together with my cold hands I rapped quickly on the back of his gun hand causing it to relax and open momentarily. As I continued my body roll between the men, my left hand caught the pistol mid air and in one motion rolled to my feet facing them as they untangled. Still moving and before either man could react I stepped forward and snatched the second man’s gun from his waist.

They turned as one facing me but stopping short seeing their pistols in each of my hands.

“How?”

“Magic,” I smiled as I signaled the sheriff and moments later the front room was filled with deputies who quickly handcuffed and gagged the prisoners.

“I think one room has Margaret Hanson in it and another has the wounded man.” I reminded the sheriff.

I was left in the living room to guard the prisoners while the rest of the posse went to wake up the other criminals. Mom had come into the room as the men were being handcuffed, “Atalanta what are you doing,” she asked seeing the pistols I held.

“Mom,” I groused, “please, not now, later okay.”

She nodded, folding her arms under her breasts clearly perturbed at being denied her maternal birthright. I saw some grins flash from the sheriff and a few of his deputies before they quietly and quickly left to round up the bad guys, which didn’t take long.

The outlaws had expected that any trouble would come from within the house and not from outside. Who in their right mind would be outside in this type of weather? Not one of them expected an alert this far west or north. The guards were to keep the family subdued and not against outside discovery.

After securing the fugitives on the couch and calling in reinforcements one of the men asked, “How did you find us? We left a false trail to the south and I didn’t think anyone would be out in this snow.”

“You have her to thank or I guess in your case, curse for that bit of luck,” the sheriff answered pointing at me and amused at their bewilderment.

“Why,” one of the men asked me accusingly.

“You made a big mistake when you kidnapped my mom,” I returned and then laughed, “I knew the second I walked into our house something wasn’t right. It was easy following you guys here,” I grinned rubbing salt in their wounded egos.

I turned to mom and continued, “When you weren’t at the clinic I used the inventory charts and your log to determine what was missing and likely reasons. Judy supplied the rest telling me that Margaret had called you with an emergency although I couldn’t convince our sheriff that you bad guys were responsible for it. I then took matters into my own hands.”

“I figured you’d not listen to me but I depended on Judy to look after you.”

“Don’t blame Judy mom, I tricked her into thinking I had drunk her mickey, going so far as to feign sleeping when she sneaked into the house later to check up on me. She gave me heck for it when I called her later and even accused me of lying to her. But as I told her, technically I hadn’t as she was the first to know.”

Recalling my past adventures the realization of the last sentence set in and more grins lit up members of the posse and even briefly touching the corners of mom’s mouth.

“What am I going to do with you? Going off in the middle of the night and not telling anyone where you’re at or that you even left, just has to stop.”

Shrugging, I returned, “I’m sorry mom but I just seem to be drawn into the middle of stuff but things have turned out all right.”

“Mrs. Reed, sorry to interrupt but how is our wounded prisoner doing?”

“Not so good I’m afraid, Sheriff. I told these guys that the bullet needed to come out but that I couldn’t do it outside of a hospital. I could kill or paralyze him if I tried but he will die if that bullet is not removed, and soon.”

“How soon and what are his chances?”

“His chances are not good less than 50/50 and that’s his chances now; in 24 hours 30/70. I probably should go check on him.”

“Mind if I go along,” the sheriff rejoined.”

“Suit yourself sheriff.”

“Mom, can I tag along?” She nodded taking my hand and we followed the sheriff.

Outside the window, a large winged bird with glowing eyes uttered a doleful shriek from high on its perch in a tree outside the kitchen window as the three figures passed by its vantage point. A shower of snow sparkled, catching the light and fell to the ground as the great owl took flight.

Sheriff Fife led the way into the bedroom walking over to the bed and then stepped aside to allow mom to examine her patient. I watched from behind her as she took his blood pressure and temperature while listening to his heart and checking his eyes using a small penlight.

Satisfied Liz straightened up and turned toward the sheriff, “His condition is worsening and he’ll be dead if he’s not in a hospital before tomorrow tonight.” As Liz explained, she moved from blocking my view of the man who lay, apparently dying.

Memories of a very different night came rushing at me but with different actors. Our gazes met and recognition followed scant seconds later.

“Sarge,” I drawled, “You can’t stay out of trouble, can you?”

“Bitch,” he spat.

Mom’s reply, “You know hi …” was cut short. A tongue of flame exploded at me from under his blanket. My reflexes, incredibly fast was no match for a lead bullet moving 1,000 feet a second and only needed three thousandths of a second to reach me.

Slow motion time kicked in at the last possible instant as I twisted left and away from the shot. I watched as the metal ball punctured my flesh just below my right breast and rib. I felt the slug careen off a rib and exiting my side underneath my arm.

Time then returned to normal as I crashed into and bounced off a wall and onto the floor. I moaned as a searing pain chased the bullet’s trail, followed by a blinding light and then warm darkness. My snapshot before the darkness was the window exploding beside the bed.

I woke in a large subterranean cavern that had several hallways leading away from its center from where I seemed to be at. One hall in particular seemed to beckon me, a hall that was brightly covered in a golden light. I looked at the scene from what appeared to be from inside a box, like observing from a distance and outside my body.

I felt a presence inside my mind demanding attention as I stared, still mesmerized by the light, “Atalanta, it is not your time. You must go back to your family and friends, they and the world need you.”

“What happened?” I thought.

Harvard my great owl appeared; slowly taking the shape of a tall blonde woman dressed in white silks and golden sandals, her body adorned in diamonds, gold, and silver jewelry.

She spoke revealing even white teeth, “Atalanta I hoped you’d have more time to adjust.”

“Huh,” I mumbled sensibly.

“… But I see that I’m going to have speed up the pace some. In the meantime I’ll give you some protection and a mark of that pledge.” The cavern faded.

“What is going on and where am I at?”

“In due time we’ll talk, but not now, it’s time for you to go back.”

The cavern and the woman began to fade, replaced by the room that I was shot in. I slowly became aware of someone hovering over me pulling at my clothes.

“Jeez, are you trying to smother me, I need some air … oh,” I winced as pain stabbed at my side.

The shape above me transformed into mom who paused her examination at my protest to ask me, “Did I hurt you dear?”

“No you didn’t, but the bullet did. I expect I’ll be sore there a while.”

“I need to stop the bleeding, dress and bandage that wound before it gets infected.”

“Sounds good,” I agreed, feeling that my shirt was warm and sticky, “but let’s use another room. Why is it so cold in here?”

Fife and another deputy stepped forward, assisted me to my feet, and with a man on each side of me we shuffled into the kitchen where I was eased into a chair. Mom shooed the men out and into the front room.

My long coat was eased off with mom then cutting my shirt off my body. Except for my bra I was naked from the waist up and perched high on my left arm was the perfect image of Harvard.

“How did that get there?” I wondered.

“Never mind, we’ll talk about it later,” she warned, examining my wound.

She worked quickly using warm water and a saline solution to clean away the blood and then bound it up with strips of linen and gauze. Stepping back she frowned, then looked over at the wife, down at herself and finally over to Margaret.
“Atalanta, you need a clean bra, yours is filthy, but none of ours will fit you but I don’t want your breasts irritating your wound either. I need to come up with a makeshift bra.”

“Can you have the sheriff bring me my pack?”

She nodded and disappeared into the other room and in a few minutes returned with my pack.

“Don’t tell me you packed a clean bra.”

“I tried to come prepared and I even brought a change of clothing for you too.”

As she was sorting through what I packed, I occasionally caught her looking at me oddly and more than once seemed on the verge of a comment. Soon I was dressed in a clean bra and blouse.

“Can you help me on with this coat?”

“You sure you don’t want to wear something lighter.”

“No, this is fine. Can you get the Sheriff for me?”

I was resting on my left arm and side relieving the pressure when he came in, “I’d appreciate it if you see that my animals and my stuff gets home safely.”

“Don’t you worry about it Atalanta, it’s taken care of. I have my best man on it.”

Thanks Sheriff,” I replied, “but can someone tell me what happened back there,” I indicated the bedroom with my gaze.

“You were shot and I guess it was your owl busted through the window hovered over you and then disappeared; not much,” he declared with a lopsided grin.

“What about Sarge?”

“He’s still holding on.”

The rancher and a deputy had found enough wood to board up the window against the cold. Also with the rancher’s help they were using a sled to pack the snow for a copter to land.

As we were waiting, I noticed the two girls staring at me wide-eyed. Calling them to me I apologized, “I’m sorry I got blood in your room and that my bird broke out your window. Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?”

“Are you a super hero,” the youngest whispered shyly.

“No,” I replied giggling, “I’m just a girl who can’t get out of her own way, but I do have a secret weapon,” I leaned forward whispering.

She jumped up and down excitedly, “You really have a secret weapon!”

“I have a guardian and that’s like a secret weapon isn’t it.”

“Does she have wings?”

I started to answer no then I remembered Harvard; “Sometimes she does and sometimes she doesn’t. What do you guys say if I ask her to protect your room from bad people and then I will see if she will clean up your room after we leave?”

“Will she do that,” the older girl asked giving me a serious look.

“I’m sure she will keep the bad stuff out of there and stand guard while you sleep. I can’t say for sure about her cleaning up but I’ll ask. Okay.”

I noticed that mom spent a lot of time on the phone or huddled up with sheriff while we waited for the helicopter to arrive. What they talked about or who all she called beside Judy I didn’t know. The hastily constructed helicopter landing pad was about 50 yards away from the house and a packed runway leading from it to the house.

Despite my protests they carried me out on a litter amidst a round of “’Atta’ girl,” from the posse. Being carried and laying flat put a lot of pressure along my side and with each step toward the aircraft a wave of dull pain rolled over me and I groaned as the aircraft drew closer. Beside the pilot and three medical personnel, the feds had sent along three agents to oversee. The feds were always involved in crimes that crossed state lines and were quick to add their 2 cents. Sarge and I were tied in and quickly hooked to monitors and IVs. Before we left the ground both the pain and my mind was getting fuzzy and I didn’t remember the trip or arriving at the hospital.

Sometime later that day I awoke in a hospital bed hooked to IVs with an occasional beep from a monitor. The second time was later that same afternoon and I realized I was in one of those awful gowns that all hospitals seem to favor. Sleep hastily reclaimed me each time. On each occasion mom was seated in a chair.

The room was darkened when consciousness returned the third time, light provided by corridor lighting. I was familiar with many of the trays, equipment, and machinery present from working in and around the clinic.

My right side was swaddled in bandages and drips and IV’s were attached to various places along the hand and arm on that side too. Wires were also attached to several locations on my chest and an automatic BP cuff on my right arm.
Mom was curled up in a lounge chair asleep, if her even breathing was any indication.

The large round face wall clock read 2:30 in the a.m. from all appearances. After noting the furnishings and where the interior doors, closet, and dresser were located, I began to take a bodily inventory. It was then I noticed the straps around my legs and waist and that the bed railings were up. I felt like a prisoner.

I did have free movement of my left hand and arm and my head and neck. Oh and I could wiggle my toes. My hair was tied back keeping it out of my eyes and from tangling as much.

The door opened admitting a nurse, “Oh you are awake. How are we feeling this morning?”

“I’m ready to go home.”

“You have any pain,” she asked checking my vitals and IV before testing my dressing.

“No, but what are these straps for? How about you take them off me?”

“You’re not going thrashing about and tear open your wound are you?”

I responded holding up two fingers on my left hand, “Scouts honor.”

“In that case I guess it will be all right,” she acknowledged releasing the restraints. I experimented moving my legs and then I scooted higher in the bed.

“Whoa,” she cautioned, “too much moving around and I’ll have to replace the restraints.”

“Sorry I was just trying to get comfortable. When will I be released?”

“When the doctor says you can?”

I smiled, “I’m good friends with her.”

She smiled back, “Sorry sweetie not here, she’s not your doctor.”

Our conversation must have awakened mom because I heard her stirring and in minutes she was beside my bed.

“Sweetheart, how are you feeling?”

“Great,” I declared, “How long before you can spring me from this joint?”

She laughed, “I’m glad you are feeling better but probably not for another 24 hours.”

“Why,” I pouted, “I’m ready to go home.”

“Why,” she repeated, “why because you’ve been shot and I agree with your doctor that another night of observation to make sure that no infection has set in. Besides, you need to be interviewed and give a statement to the authorities.”

“Where are we?”

“Cedar City Medical Park,” Mom answered.

Great, I had a name and a place but not a location.

“Okay … but where are we again?”

“Utah, dear.”

“Um-mm, I’m hungry, any chance I can get anything to eat here and a drink; I’m thirsty too.”

Mom and the nurse left together, mom to get me some food and drink from the canteen near the nursing station and the nurse to her duties. She returned in a few minutes with some bland fruit cup and water that wasn’t very appetizing but it was cool and soothing.

“Thanks, mom,” I frowned after she had disposed of the container. “What happened after I was shot?”

“What do you remember,” she countered.

“Just flashes,” I admitted, “the explosion, the flame, the bullet, and the window crashing in. That’s all, just snapshots.”

“You’re one very lucky girl; an inch to the left …”

“Can’t happen,” I replied casually, “I didn’t become a girl for no reason. Besides I have a guardian.”

“Harvard?”

“Yes-no, well maybe but I think he is just a projection of someone else.”

“Who do you think that is?”

“First tell me what happened in there,” I asked referring to the bedroom where I was shot.

“The window blew in at the same instant as the shot did and followed by a giant owl that flew over to and covered you like a blanket and then seemed to disintegrate right before my eyes. When it did, I rushed right over to you and found you struggling to get up. It all took less time than it takes to tell it. Now it’s your turn.”

I shrugged, telling her of the cavern, the great owl, and of the woman and her message.

Perplexed, she replied, “I thought I saw a similar looking woman in that cloud that covered you, but it was just a fraction of a second and I could be mistaken.”

Pulling down the gown from my left shoulder, “You think this is that mark,” I asked pointing to the etched image.

“I don’t know but I won’t discount it either,” she countered.

We talked a little longer before I started to feel sleepy, “Mom I’m fine, but I am getting sleepy again and I think you need your sleep too,” I yawned pulling the covers higher.

A few days later found me at home either resting on our couch, in bed, or at the kitchen table. Doctor orders, no make that mom orders.

“Isn’t there another way, mom,” I asked for the umpteenth time. “I’m not one of these mutants and I don’t want to go to this Whateley Academy.”

We were seated at the table in the kitchen discussing me going to this school back east. Actually I was protesting going and had been ever since I had first learned of this school.

After the interviews at the hospital and the subsequent release the next day we flew home in a helicopter provided by a grateful government. Being a military brat I recognized two of the passengers as definitely from one of the services. Both spent a lot of time talking with mom.

In designing the new clinic a landing pad was built behind the center for any trauma victims. It didn’t require a lot of space and it was paid from a grant and its use limited to LE, medical, ranch business, and location made it an ideal staging area.

We landed to a small crowd of onlookers, Judy, Lindsey, and Sheriff Beckham chief among them. I felt like I was on display; landing in a helicopter doesn’t go unnoticed.

A week later mom broke the news about Whateley and I had whined about going ever since.

Finally she had had enough, “Out with it Atalanta, what is bothering you? It can’t be you’re afraid of meeting other people. Not the girl who singlehanded went into the desert and tracked down five bad men and rescued two little children. Or the girl that handed a guy twice your size, kicked his rear-end or the girl who in a snowstorm tracked down and rescued seven hostages and then survived getting shot.”

“… But.”

Liz was wound up tight and wasn’t about to be sidetracked, “Or the girl who played bounty hunter last winter and that I had to find that out from strangers. This same girl that has daggers as her hair pins. Now that I think about it this Whateley Academy may just be what you need to keep you out of trouble. And since it’s affiliated with the Army you can go there on a military scholarship.”

Great, now mom has convinced herself and any chance I had at changing her mind just flew out the window. But, a military school?

That O’Reily dude from one of the alphabet agencies must have really done a good job selling her on Whateley merits.
I conceded that the mutant rumors and the different hate groups out there might be a problem and that a temporary Military MID card shielded and allowed me to travel was useful. A small but larger group now knew my back-story and with the exception of my tattoo my appearance hadn’t noticeably changed. I did notice a subtle sense or source of power that I wasn’t aware of before being shot.

“Fine, have your way mom. I can’t really say why it bothers me as much as it does. It maybe that it seems I have no choice in the matter. It might be I don’t like to be labeled as a mutant. Or it could be something else, but you are right I am not afraid of any single person or a group of people. But I do have reservations about organizations that I’m not familiar with.”

“Congratulations Atalanta you have articulated your concerns and not just griped about it. There do you feel better,” Liz replied smiling.

I did feel better. “Yes I guess I do but I think it’s your smile that’s doing it,” I returned her smile.

“Good we’re going to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas together on Thanksgiving because they want you there early for your placement tests. So you’ll be there for their finals while you get placed and assigned your classes for the winter semester. You’ll also get your power testing and classification and permanent MID card then too.”

That was news to me, “So I go up to get tested and return back here and then go back to start school,” I queried.

“No, not that dear,” mom replied quickly, “the students have two weeks and the faculty has only one week. Your placement and power testing will run into both weeks and the MID card you have is temporary and is more like a travel warrant. Until you get your permanent card you can be arrested for unauthorized travel.”

“Jeez mom, that is a reason I didn’t want the mutant label.”

“You brought that one on yourself young lady when you rescued me,” Liz replied teasingly.

“I’d do it again,” I replied stoutly.

“I know you would and that is as good a reason as any you need this school. You’ll learn to deal with this new world that you’re in and stay out of miss-adventures.”

Somehow I didn’t think it wasn’t going to be as simple as that.

The next week flew by and Thanksgiving came and went with food and gifts and well wishes. The month long holidays was condensed down to three days with Sunday to rest on. Monday I packed my belongings and sneaked a visit to Ready and my cache.

Tuesday evening saw me waiting on the wooden platform at the depot for the train to arrive. I dressed warmly in jeans, boots, and my duster over Liz and Judy’s protests of, “You look like a hooligan going dressed in those clothes.”

My two suitcases were already checked and slung across one shoulder hung my purse while I clutched tightly the duffel or overnight bag. Its weight belied its compact size and contents: a change of clothing, toiletries, nightshirt, and duplicate documents.

My schedule called to change trains in Kansas City and again in Boston over to a local line that would take me into Dunwich where I was to be met from someone representing the school. My itinerary also included a one-day layover in Boston to connect with that local train which only ran three days a week to Dunwich.

As the days clicked off and the time for my departure drew nearer a strange dichotomy occurred: Mom and Judy grew more tense and anxious at the same time as I grew more enthused.

Mom adjusted the lapels on my coat for the third time while asking me again, “You have your money, cell phone and charger, travel papers, birth certificate, make-up, laptop …”

“Mom calm down. We’ve already went over this at least three times and checked and rechecked every item off the list. I’ll be all right but now I’m worried that you won’t be.”

“Honey I’m just worried that’s all. I’m sending my baby off into the world all alone and your just 14 years old.”

“But-But,” I teased posing, “I’m not just any 14 year old. I’m Superwoman.”

Before mom could properly scold me the faint sound metal of pushing against metal reached our ears, “clickety-clack, clickety-clack.” The sounds grew louder as each second ticked off until the hiss of air brakes signaled its stopping at the depot platform.

The conductor punched my ticket while the porter loaded my bags. A second round of hugs and goodbyes had the conductor admonishing us, “All aboard or you will be catching the next train.”

Standing at the top of the steps I waved and watched until the two lone figures disappeared against the sun. The train was almost empty and I had my choice of seats.

At last I was on my way to the New England school: Whateley Academy. What miss-adventures lay ahead?

Thanks for reading. There is one more chapter to go in this first book. It maybe a while after that before I start posting the second book. I have her at Whateley but am re thinking that timeline as it doesn't feel right. I do intend to write several more books of Atalanta's Miss-Adventures.

As always thanks for reading and your comments and I'll try and answer any question you have.



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