Now this was fun! There are so many creative ways that writers interact, it’s exciting to be involved. I was pleased, and daunted at the same time, when I was invited to participate in this international joint venture.
Written Fireside is a storytelling round robin website maintained and overseen by the talented Lori Connelly. I Looked Away is a contemporary women’s fiction story, currently being created by 11 professional international authors. This story is based on a true event.
This is my contribution ~ Chapter Five of “I Looked Away”
This round robin story is sponsored by Written Fireside, and is being written by authors all corners of the world. Chapters One through Four can be found at Lori Connelly, author, Aileen Harkwood – Author, Elsa Winckler Romance Author and Elise Forier Edie and watch for Chapter 6 by Eve Devon on December 9th.
Chapter Five by Patricia Sands
Madeline’s vision blurred. Bitter acid constricted her throat, already raw from yelling, as she struggled for breath. The fading light morphed into a black hole, sucking her down.
As he questioned the brunette, Garrett’s eyes turned to Madeline when she moaned. He caught her in his arms as his quick reflexes saved her from toppling into the mud.
Rain pelted down and a cool wind had picked up. Thick, dark clouds obscured the sky completely. Madeline’s shivering body pressed into his soaked ranger’s shirt.
“Is this your tent?” he asked the teenagers.
“Yeah … our parents have an RV back in the lot and we’re hangin’ here. How can we help?” a heavy-set boy, about college age and wearing an gold and green Packers’ hoodie answered. Concern was obvious in his expression and voice, as awareness of the situation became clear. Garrett thought he seemed like a take-charge kind of kid.
“Go get your parents … and hurry!”
Madeline’s deadweight began to ease as he supported her across the slippery patch of grass and mud and into the tent. He was relieved to feel her legs getting stronger as she regained some control of her distraught state.
Motioning with a flick of his head, he barked at the other three rain-soaked youths to follow. Inside, he addressed the brown-haired girl directly in a voice that was now surprisingly calm, but bristled with authority. There was no question the ranger meant business.
“I need to know this … NOW! Which way was the man running? Just tell me that.”
Swallowing hard, the girl blinked. “He ran right past our campfire and into the woods on the trail by the last picnic table.”
“What else? Was he white, brown, black? Clothing? Jacket? Sweater? Did he have hair or was he bald? Tall? Short? Heavy?”
Trembling from cold and nerves, the girl’s face contorted as tears squirted down her cheeks. “He was, like, white and tall … um … no average … well, like, maybe tall … I don’t remember what he was wearing … like, I didn’t really look … I didn’t know anything was wrong!” Choking on her last words, she paused before losing control completely, filling the tent with loud sobs. The boy in the gray fleece put his arm around her.
Garrett pulled a notepad and pen out of his back pocket as he spoke into the two-way radio clipped to his shirt, just below his left shoulder. Talking in abrupt spurts, he made notes at the same time.
“Witness saw man … average to tall … caucasian … running past tents … headed down Pine Needle Path … west end of campsite …crying girl in his arms … girl fits Megan’s description. Break.”
Ranger Judy’s voice crackled back. “Roger. Volunteers spreading through whole area … exit from the parking lot already blocked … two vehicles did exit just before: a green pickup truck and a pink Buick with Mary Kay license plate … State troopers checking highway … roadblocks in place … sending support here … river rescue assembling … Amber Alert issued. Clear.”
“Copy that. Out.” Garrett replied. His jaw tightened as he turned to the girl again. He silently thanked the capable staff in the park, grateful for how they would leap into action. He also knew once the troopers arrived, they would take over command. This had happened on his watch and he wanted to have something to give them. With any luck he would solve this.
“Miss, I’m Chief Ranger Garrett Weston. What’s your name? You need to try and help me. No time to waste.” As young as he looked, there was strength and determination in his eyes, now a steely gray. His squared shoulders and solid stature were reassuring despite the unfolding nightmare.
The teen’s dark complexion was ghostly as she wrung her hands non-stop. A look of horror replaced the confused expression of minutes before. The boy in the gray fleece removed his arm from around her and nudged her toward the ranger.
“I’m Kim … Kimberly … Simpson,” she replied as her knees buckled slightly. She sat on the red mesh campstool Garrett pushed over to her.
The other girl and boy began talking to Madeline. Their faces were pale and serious as she prodded them, through her tears, to recall something. Anything. All she could think of was that Smart girl and the demented couple who had taken her.
Garrett held up a hand to quiet everyone.
Madeline wiped her face with her sleeves and sniffed loudly. These few minutes had been torture. She wanted to run from this overcrowded tent, stuffy and damp as it was becoming. She wanted to rush over to the picnic table and discover Meg had just been playing a silly game of ‘hide on mommy’ like she did at home all the time. She wanted to hug her tightly and hear her daughter’s sweet giggles and laugh with her and kiss her all over. That’s what she wanted.
She stood swiftly and turned to leave. “I’ve got to get back to our tent! Megan might be there now!”
Garrett caught her arm and waved his hand in front of her face to get her to focus. He had seen that frozen expression on a mother before and knew she would slip into shock if he didn’t do something. He squeezed her arm, as he spoke, giving her a slight shake.
“We’ve got someone waiting there, ma’am. We need you here now.” His gaze penetrated her dazed eyes.
Motioning to the young man in the fleece, he asked for a bottle of water from a nearby cooler. “Open the tent flap too. Let’s get some fresh air in here.”
He reached down and pulled over a second campstool, guiding Madeline to sit next to Kimberly.
“Drink the water, Madeline,” he said to her, his voice softer for the moment as he used her name. “You need it.”
With his hand on her shoulder, his eyes swept her face and, in those seconds, he sensed the intensity of the pain overwhelming her fragile beauty, “She definitely is not a Natalie Tucker.”
He put his foot up on another stool. With the notepad on his knee, he wrote Kimberly’s name, asking her age and address as well. Ripping off a page, he passed it to her companions, with a pen and terse instructions to write down their information.
Turning to Kimberly, he asked her to close her eyes for a moment. After that last abduction in the park, Garrett had studied about investigations and interrogating witnesses. He was aware of the difficulties in being an eyewitness. “Our minds are not like video cameras. They can’t just replay what we saw. I know this is difficult. Your mind can play tricks on you. Look deep inside your memory. Do you see anything more clearly now?”
She squeezed her eyes shut. Her lips twitched. “The little girl was holding something very close to her face but I couldn’t tell what it was … like, maybe a doll …”
“I know what it is,” Madeline cut in hoarsely. “Her teddy bear. It’s brown. She never goes anywhere without it.” Her shoulders shook as she buried her face in her hands.
Kimberly’s eyes popped open.
“Oh! Your notepad and pen … please!” Reaching to take them from the ranger’s hands, her request was more like a demand. “I’m an art student. I … I did see something … him…”
Garrett cocked his head and pressed the button to speak into his two-way.
With deft light strokes the teenager began to sketch.
Have you ever written a group story? Let’s hear about it!