“Time Jam” Interview

When Time Snap first came out, my young friend Max interviewed me for his school paper. We talked again when I finished Time Crunch, and with Time Jam now available, Max asked for another visit.

 

SHANE: Well, here we are again.

MAX: Yeah, and thanks for the advanced copy. That makes things easier for me. So … I know you said Time Jam was harder to write than your Ebook Coverother books. How was that?

SHANE: Y’know, when I wrote Time Crunch, I hardly felt like I was working. I didn’t know in advance what was going to happen, and every day I got up excited to get to work to find out what was going to happen next. There were a lot of times I’d finished writing a scene and think, “Whoa … I can’t believe that just happened!” But the whole time, the scenes were just flowing together, almost like someone else was doing the writing, and I was just typing it into the computer.

MAX: So what was different this time?

SHANE: Well, I still didn’t know what was going to happen. But I had to work a lot harder for it.

MAX: Is that why it took so long to finish?

SHANE: Exactly. I had to think about it a lot more. I still don’t know where a lot of the ideas came from. Looking back, I can’t remember what prompted certain events and situations—and when I look at them, I even wonder how I ever thought of them—but I know they didn’t come as easily as they did in Time Crunch.

MAX: What was the hardest part?

SHANE: The editing. And rewriting. Ernest Hemingway said he rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms 39 times before he was satisfied. That’s sort of what I felt like. When I wrote the final draft, I went back to punch up the beginning—that’s the page most people read—and ended up going through the whole book again. And then I did that two more times.

MAX: So are you satisfied?

SHANE: Let me put it this way. One of my personal “curses” is that once I finish a book, I can’t go back and read it just for the enjoyment of it. No matter how much I’ve tried to polish it, I know I’ll find parts I’d like to rewrite.

MAX: So you really don’t ever read them again?

SHANE: No. And I’d really like to. But even when I’m just reading, I can’t help thinking like an editor. And it makes me miserable to find a sentence or paragraph that needs a little something and know I can’t do anything about it.

MAX: Not to change the subject, but I noticed this book is a lot different than the others.

SHANE: Yeah, I tried out a few new ideas.

MAX: Like the quotes from Zach’s science fair paper below the chapter titles …

SHANE: Right. And then the chapters from the tyrannosaur’s point of view. The quotes just seemed necessary. I didn’t want people to forget that this wasn’t just another walk in the woods; that something awful and terrible was about to happen. And I didn’t want the tyrannosaur to be just another nasty animal in the forest. I wanted her to be just as important as Chase and Zach and Tali.

MAX: Let’s talk about Tali …

SHANE: Well, you remember Klorel, in Time Snap? People are always asking when we’re going to see her again. I couldn’t get her into this story, but Tali fit right in. And I liked having her there to torment Chase and Zach a little.

MAX: So, are we going to see Klorel again?

SHANE: We might. But you know the way I work: I don’t like to plan that far ahead. If and when she shows up again, it’s going to surprise me as much as anyone.

MAX: Speaking of which, I can’t let you go without asking about the ending …

SHANE: Well, that surprised me, too. I don’t want to give anything away, but it just kind of happened. I was pounding away on my keyboard and BOOM! It happened. And I remember thinking, “Oh, oh. Now I’m in trouble …”

MAX: Sooooo, is it fair for me to ask—

SHANE: All I can tell you is, I don’t know either. But I’m excited to find out!

Sneak Peak at “Time Jam”

It’s almost here! Time Jam, the third book in the Chase McCord series (and the follow up to Time Crunch) is almost here! Just waiting for the cover to come back and it’ll be available. I’m so excited I can’t wait, so I’ve included a sneak peak here:

 

Prologue

“It’s called the Chicxulub Asteroid. It’s pronounced CHICK-shuh-loob, and it’s important because it killed the dinosaurs.”

—Zach Wolff’s Science Fair Paper

SHE WAS CALLED Tyrannosaurus rex, and she was hungry.

Standing still as a rock, she watched the meadow from inside the trees. A warm breeze blew in from the grass, strong with the scent of grazing animals, and Tyrannosaurus eagerly breathed it in. The smell of prey quickened her pulse and she bared her teeth in anticipation.

Depositphotos_133745638_xl-2015Across the meadow a pair of enormous alamosaurs were stretching their necks deep into the forest. Nearly a hundred feet long, the alamosaurs were able to pluck limbs and leaves from trees other animals were unable to reach, happily munching on greens available only to them.

Tyrannosaurus could have reached the alamosaurs easily, but she made no move toward them. Either animal would have provided her food for several days, but she was aware of more vulnerable prey.

The breeze shifted, bringing with it the scent of horned triceratops, stealthy albertosaurs, spike-headed chasmosaurs, and duck-billed segnosaurs. Tyrannosaurus didn’t know the animals by name, but she knew which were prey, which were hunters, and which—like the alamosaurs—were unimportant.

Along with the rich, earthy smells came a chorus of noisy honks, hoots, bawls, squeaks, and bleats as grazing animals rumbled about the meadow. Tyrannosaurus listened intently, recognizing the sounds as calm and unworried.

None of the animals had yet detected her.

Tyrannosaurus had the keen eyes, nose, and ears of a skilled hunter. But the soles of her feet were equally perceptive. She could detect the tremors of lumbering alamosaurs and stampeding triceratops from as far as twenty miles away, and she was often aware of prey long before she could see or smell it.

But there were no tremors of fright from the ground now: the surrounding forest was peaceful.

And so she waited.

***

A NEW SMELL drifted by, the scent of a male tyrannosaur. Tyrannosaurus lifted her head. There were times when she would welcome the male, but this was not one of them. This was her territory and she was not in season: if the male came close, she would drive it away.

Flies buzzed around her eyes and she blinked, but

other than that remained perfectly still.

Tyrannosaurus was a patient hunter.

A pack of feathered dromaeosaurs abruptly rushed through the clearing. Dromaeosaurs were sleek, agile predators that—like Tyrannosaurus—walked on two legs. They were fast enough to catch small animals and—hunting in a pack—could bring down a triceratops, or even a lumbering isisaur. But today they would feed upon whatever the tyrannosaur left behind.

Tyrannosaurus saw the dromaeosaurs, but paid them no mind. Like the huge alamosaurs, they were unimportant.

There was a rustle of grass and Tyrannosaurus turned her head, aware of movement outside the trees, just out of sight. Her ears flicked and her nostrils flared, testing the breeze. The approaching animals were anatosaurs, and there were several of them. Adult anatosaurs were almost as large as Tyrannosaurus, though slow and awkward. They had broad shovel-like bills filled with teeth, but the teeth were not meant for fighting, but foraging.

And they were prey.

Tyrannosaurus remained still. The anatosaurs plodded into view: green animals with purple heads and thick, muscular tails. Most of the animals were fully grown, forty feet long and eighteen feet tall at the hips. But there were several juveniles and even a few tottering infants, only recently hatched. Many of the animals were walking hunched on two legs, though a few rumbled along on all fours.

Tyrannosaurus watched patiently. She lacked the ability to plan an attack. Her actions were driven purely by instincts honed and sharpened over millions of years.

But those instincts were precise, powerful, and deadly.

And they guided her more effectively than any teacher.

***

MORE ANIMALS PASSED, the middle of herd now in front of her.

And Tyrannosaurus sensed it was time. She crouched, loading her powerful legs like springs, then exploded from the trees. With a terrible roar she rushed into the meadow, directly into the unsuspecting anatosaurs. The startled animals panicked, bleating and honking in terror, bolting in all directions. All of the animals were on all fours now, their heads low to the ground as they galloped for safety.

Tyrannosaurus ignored the confusion, focusing upon a single animal, a juvenile. The young anatosaur bleated in fear as the tyrannosaur thundered toward it, and at the last instant turned sharply, unexpectedly, and raced off in a new direction.

Tyrannosaurus rushed past, just missing the animal. She whirled around, but the young anatosaur was already several yards away, speeding for the trees. Tyrannosaurus was fast, but only for short distances, and the fleeing anatosaur was already out of range.

The tyrannosaur roared angrily—

Another animal abruptly rushed past, confused by fear and panic. Tyrannosaurus sprang forward, snapping at the anatosaur’s neck. The animal honked and tried to turn, but Tyrannosaurus was moving fast. She slammed into the anatosaur, knocking it to the ground. The animal rolled and struggled to regain its feet, but Tyrannosaurus was already slashing with her powerful jaws. Able to crunch through solid bone, her yellow teeth sank into the warm neck—

And that was that.

***

TYRANNOSAURUS FED GREEDILY. Her teeth were strong—able to hold tight a fighting, struggling animal—and she could tear off and swallow more than five hundred pounds of meat in a single bite.

Most of the other animals fled into the forest when Tyrannosaurus attacked. But the dromaeosaurs—along with several smaller scavengers—had gathered nearby, waiting patiently for the giant predator to finish her meal.

By nightfall, there would be little left of the unfortunate anatosaur.

***

IN TIME, TYRANNOSAURUS stepped away from her kill. Blood dripped from her jaws, but her belly was full. She looked around the meadow, growled at the dromaeosaurs, then turned and lumbered into the forest.

If she had looked into the sky—and if she’d cared about such things—she would have seen what appeared to be a bright spot like a small moon or a large star. She wouldn’t have understood, but the object was a rock—an asteroid eight miles across—hurtling toward the Earth.

In a matter of days, that asteroid would cause her death … even as it destroyed the world around her.

 

Wow! I hope you’re as excited as I am! The book will be available in just a few more days! Please watch for it! https://www.amazon.com/Shane-Barker/e/B005I6WGR6

“Time Jam” Update

People have been asking for an update on “Time Jam,” the follow-up to “Time Snap” and “Time Crunch.” It was scheduled for release this month (October, 2019), but even as I work on the final draft, I keep finding things I want to be “just a little bit better.” I was Silhouette of Brachiosaurus and Iguanodonreally happy with “Time Crunch,” and I want to be absolutely certain that “Time Jam” is just as fun. I’ll need just a little more time with it, but I hope to have it ready before Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, here’s a quick snippet to give you an idea what it’s all about:

CHASE TURNED, JOINING his teammates as they squeezed through the crowd toward the showers. He was almost to the locker room when a hand grabbed him by the arm and jerked him to the side.

“Hey–”

He turned–surprised–to see Zach Wolff standing there with wide eyes.

“Hey, Zach–”

“Chase!” Zach hissed through the noise of the boisterous crowd. “C’mere! We’ve gotta talk!”

“Give me a minute,” Chase said. “Coach wants to talk to the team, then I’ve gotta take a shower–”

“Chase, listen,” Zach insisted. “We’ve gotta chance to see The Asteroid!”

“An asteroid?” Chase glanced toward the showers before turning back to Zach. His friend was flushed with excitement, but not because of the ballgame. “So what?”

“Not ‘an’ asteroid!” Zach whispered, his voice urgent. “Thee Asteroid!”

A knot of rowdy kids collided with Chase, nearly knocking him over. He shot them an irritated glare before turning back to Zach.

“What are you talking about?” Chase asked impatiently, anxious to rejoin the team. “What asteroid?”

“The Asteroid,” Zach said for the third time. “We have a chance to see the Chicxulub Asteroid–the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs!”

 

WOW! I’m so excited about this book! It’s different in a lot of ways from anything I’ve done before, and I can’t wait to share. If you haven’t yet checked out “Time Snap” or “Time Crunch,” give them a look. And be watching for “Time Jam!”

 

Sneak Peak at the Sequel to “Time Snap!” (Part I)

Wow! I’ve just finished the sequel to “Time Snap!” It’s called “Time Crunch.” It’ll be available by the end of May, and I’m super excited about it! Here’s an excerpt from the prologue:

 

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FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLD Zach Wolff stopped on the trail and looked back over his shoulder. Sweat ran down his face as he chuffed for breath.

Man, he thought, wiping a sleeve across his forehead. It’s like I can’t breathe here.

He sucked in a deep, lung-filling breath, but the air made his head swim: it clearly had more oxygen than he was used to breathing.

He buried his face in his shoulder—trying to mop off the sweat—then looked quickly all around. The forest was too thick to see much, the trees too tall to permit much sunlight. The shrieks, cackles, and cries of birds and small forest animals filled the warm air like a chorus of anxious monkeys. And there was a … scent … in the air that reminded Zach of a warm, humid greenhouse.

Filled with must, and mold, and decay

Zach closed his eyes—

There was a sudden snap from the trees, and Zach felt his stomach drop as he looked back over his shoulder.

Crap! It’s still coming!

He turned and began running again. The trail was narrow, and the roots and limbs of tangled ferns and shrubs tugged at his legs. He wasn’t running as hard as he could—

Can’t afford to get tired!

—but just fast enough to keep his lead.

The trail abruptly spilled from the forest onto a wide swath that cut through the forest like a meandering road. Rotting stumps and logs lay everywhere, and Zach knew instantly what he’d found.

Dinosaur highway, he thought. Made by animals big enough to knock down fifty-foot trees.

He looked up and down the “road,” trying to decide which way to go. It didn’t really matter, but—

Another crunch came from the trees, and Zach turned right, jogging down the side of the crumbly swath. The ground had been pulped and pounded, chopped up, chewed up, and crushed again and again by the feet of enormous animals.

Makes sense, he thought. An apatosaur could smash its way through the middle of the forest. But why bother when there’s a perfectly good trail to follow

 

IN ADDITION to the rotting stumps and logs were enormous piles of excrement—dinosaur dung—some as tall as he was. Many of the moldering piles were old, black, and crumbling. But others were still fresh: green and fragrant and buzzing with flies. Zach ignored them, hoping the ripe smell would mask his scent. But rank as the putrefying dung was, Zach knew it might not be enough.

Tyrannosaurs have good noses, he thought. The part of their brain that regulated the ability to smell was larger than those of other predators. Zach knew, of course, that just because tyrannosaurs could track prey like hounds after squirrels didn’t mean all big carnivores could.

But it didn’t mean they couldn’t, either.

 

HE JOGGED ANOTHER fifty yards, cast a quick glance over his shoulder—

Good! Nothing there yet!

—then darted off the swath and back into the forest.

The trees were the strangest he’d ever seen. There were pine trees, of course, fifty or sixty feet high with trunks five feet across. And there were gnarled, moss- and vine-covered trees that filled the sky with their branches. Shafts of sunlight filtered down through the leaves and fronds like bright spiderwebs, illuminating a million different shades of green.

Zach ran for another minute, then slowed to climb over a fallen log. He stepped behind one of the thick, gnarled trees, looked back into the forest, then leaned back against the mossy trunk.

Man, can’t run much farther, he thought. He took a deep breath of the warm, fragrant air and felt another rush of dizziness. His sides were beginning to ache, and he knew he couldn’t go on much longer.

He closed his eyes for a moment, giving his heart a chance to relax a little. He only  needed to rest for a minute—just long enough to catch his breath—before he began running again. He stifled a cough, then looked up into the treetops.

Something

The forest was suddenly quiet. The birds, the bugs, and the small forest animals had become silent. The stillness was eerie, and Zach felt the hair on the back of his neck rise as if charged by an electric current. He glanced around the tree—

Still nothing there.

—then looked ahead.

Time to go

He took another breath, then pushed himself away from the tree and froze.

Something moved in the forest ahead.

Zach caught his breath, then slowly bent his knees, lowering himself to the ground. He kept perfectly still, his eyes locked on the dense foliage. Several seconds passed. Then several more. Zach could feel his heart pounding, his lungs burning as he held his breath.

Everything was still, and quiet.

Zach watched carefully. He was just beginning to think it had been his imagination—or maybe a frond swaying in a breath of unfelt breeze—when the leaves rustled. He pressed himself back against the trunk of the tree, scrunching down as far as he could.

And then he saw it.

The dinosaur emerged slowly from the trees, its head down and its eyes peering straight ahead.

It looks like a tyrannosaur, Zach thought, though he knew it wasn’t. Tyrannosaurs were Cretaceous animals and wouldn’t exist for another sixty million years.

But it’s not an allosaur, either. It’s too big. It’s got a longer snout and it’s … stockier … than an allosaur.

He shrank back into the ferns, watching. Allosaurs were supposed to be among the fiercest predators of the Mid Mesozoic. But this was more than forty-feet long, sixteen-feet high at the ribs: bigger than any allosaur, larger even than T-rex. It was covered with pebbled, mottled-grey skin that blended with the foliage, ugly jagged scars running across its jaw and shoulder.

Zach racked his brain, thinking of every picture he’d ever seen—every description he’d ever read—trying to decide what the thing was.

Could be a siats, he thought, pronouncing the name “see-atch” in his mind. Siats was a recently discovered predator thought to be bigger and more terrifying than T-rex. Or maybe it’s a lythronax … the “King of Gore.”

Zach shuddered, not excited about either possibility. A dinosaur more ferocious than T-rex?

A dinosaur known as the King of Gore?

Running into either one would be bad news.

But it might be something new, he thought. Something undiscovered … something no one’s ever seen!

He knew paleontologists had only identified a fraction of the dinosaurs that once ruled the world. And there were literally thousands—millions—of species yet to be discovered.

So if it is something new, I could name it, he thought. Call it … Zachiosaurus.

The enormous dinosaur stood with its massive head and tail stretched parallel to the ground. After a moment it turned, looking in Zach’s direction. Zach’s blood froze as he stared back, praying the thing hadn’t spotted him. His stomach churned in fear.

They might not name it after me because I discovered it, but because I was the first person to be eaten by one . . .

 

I hope you’re as excited as I am! I’ll post Part II of the “sneak peak” in a couple of day!

Virus!

Skimonster1117_ebookMy book “Virus!” came out about a month ago, so I’m a little late getting this posted. But what a kick! If I ever wrote a book that was “pure adrenaline,” this is it.

When I began writing, I remember thinking, “I’ve got to start this story at ninety miles and hour . . . and keep getting faster!” You’ll have to decide for yourself how well I did, but I know there were nights I couldn’t get to sleep because I was so hyped up over what I was writing. (One young reader told me that he’d read the whole thing in about two days, and that when he was finished he “chuffing for breath,” as if he’d been the one doing all the running.)

Made me laugh.

I do have to make special mention of a few key characters. “Brady” was inspired by a young man I know, and so were “Sid” and “Ethan.” (I’ve actually been trying to work Ethan into a book for quite a while, and I’m glad he finally made an appearance.)

And Hunter . . . oh, man. If you ever met the young woman who inspired Hunter, you’d think I actually toned her down quite a bit. I used to joke that when she became older, that no young man would ever propose marriage to her. That instead, she’d simply inform some lucky guy one day that they were going to be married, and that was that.

I’m not sure if things actually worked out that way, but I have my suspicions . . .

I hope this book is as fun to read as it was to write!

Time Snap

My new book “Time Snap” just came out and I couldn’t be more excited about it. (And I can’t get enough of that cover!) I ran into some problems with the actual publishing (the fact that I just had shoulder surgery and have to do all my work one-handed hasn’t helped), but now that the wrinkles have been ironed out, I thought you might like to see an excerpt:

Skimonster1117_v2_Ebook

CHASE’S KNEES SAGGED like they’d turned to Jell-O. As the lightning died away the outline of the big rex melted again into the darkness. But looking up, Chase imagined he could still see the dull gleam of the animal’s enormous yellow teeth.

The rex growled as if thinking, I’ve got you now!

Chase felt fear squeeze his heart like an icy hand. He knew they only had one chance to get away, and that there was no room for mistakes.

“Klorel, Zach … run!”

They didn’t need to be told twice. The next instant Klorel and Zach were sprinting through the trees with Chase hot on their heels. The big rex bellowed … angrily? Hungrily? Chase couldn’t tell—didn’t care—as he raced after his friends.

Klorel tripped on a root and fell flat on her face. Not missing a beat—as smoothly as if they’d practiced it a thousand times—Chase and Zach reached down as they passed, grabbed her by the arms, and pulled her to her feet.

They still had a chance to escape. But Zach suddenly became tangled in the roots and fell hard enough the air gushed from his lungs in a loud hooff! Chase turned to help just as the rex burst from the trees. The tyrannosaur lunged and Zach rolled away just as a massive foot thumped into the mud, exactly where he’d been a second earlier.

“Zach!”

Chase cringed and darted to the side as the tyrannosaur bellowed. The rex whipped around as if searching for its prey and Chase saw the great tail swinging toward him. He ducked just as the tail lashed the air, felt a whoosh! as it passed over him.

The tyrannosaur darted forward and snapped at something in the brush, the huge jaws slamming together with a crack like a gunshot. There was a wet crunch

Chase felt his stomach heave, knowing Klorel had been in that direction.

—and the great head rose over the trees, leafy limbs and branches dangling from its jaws.

Outraged at having missed its prey, the rex turned and lunged again. Chase dove aside as a massive foot came crashing down, just missing him. He scrambled to his feet then instantly ducked again as the tail whipped by over his head.

The tyrannosaur obviously knew Chase—or someone, or several someones—was there, hidden in the brush. But in the rain and the darkness and the thickness of the brush, it didn’t know exactly where.

The rex bellowed, stamping a foot into the mud so hard it shook the ground. Mud flew through the air and splattered Chase like a school bus splashing through a puddle.

The tyrannosaur wheeled around and snapped at the brush. Chase had lost track of Zach and Klorel—didn’t know which way they’d gone—but couldn’t help thinking they were right there, beneath the rex. He reeled back, hot bile rising in his throat, certain the rex had gotten one of them.

The dinosaur crunched down again—the huge jaws cracking together—then whipped its head back and forth, shredding its prize into pieces. Chase saw leaves and branches flying from its mouth, but the rex didn’t seem to realize it had missed the real treat. It shook its head and stamped the mud, then abruptly wheeled around again. Chase dropped and rolled to avoid a clawed-foot, then instantly had to roll the other way to miss the other one. The tyrannosaur was thrashing around like it was covered with biting ants, and Chase was right beneath it, scrambling back and forth and trying to avoid being mashed into the mud.

A great foot crashed down and part of a massive claw caught Chase across the leg, pinning him to the ground. Chase cried out in pain, but the claw moved and Chase wiggled free, the dinosaur not knowing he was right there. Chase army-crawled through the mud, realizing he wasn’t just in danger from the terrible teeth and jaws. He was just as likely to be squashed flat by a massive foot or batted into outer space by the whipping tail.

He reached the trees and scrambled to his feet, wanting to run, but was afraid the rex would see him. He knew his best bet was to stay out of the dinosaur’s line of sight while trying to avoid being trampled, batted, beaten, or eaten.

The rex lunged at something in the brush, and Chase darted behind the trunk of a thick tree. He watched the dinosaur stomp back and forth for another moment, then took a step back from the clearing. And then another.

Finally, when he was sure he was out of sight, he turned and ran deeper into the trees. He ran for several minutes, then turned and angled in the direction of the jet. He hoped Zach and Klorel—if they’d gotten away—would be doing the same.

He could still hear the tyrannosaur thrashing about in the trees. But the animal didn’t seem as enraged as it had been before.

As if accepting that—for now—its prey had escaped.

Crazy, disturbing thoughts raced through Chase’s mind as he slogged through the trees.

A million different animals to choose from, and it finds us again, Chase thought. He

winced as a wet branch whipped across his face. It’s almost like it’s looking for us. Like it’s tracking us. But how?

Some kind of wild dinovision?   

Extrasmellory perception?

Rogue reptilian radar?

What?

A strange thought began tickling the back of his brain. He sensed the big rex wasn’t just looking for a quick snack. It seemed more like a dog chasing a ball while the kids played keep-away.

Huh.

 

Outtabounds (2)

Ebook CoverBecause this is the first adult novel I’ve published in several years, the people asking questions about it are several years older than those I usually work with. And I’ve included an excerpt from the prologue to give readers a taste of what this one’s all about:

Prologue

Twenty-three years earlier . . .

TEN-YEAR-OLD Jeffrey Christopher crouched over his skis as he raced down the snowy hillside. A bump appeared on the side of the trail and he shot toward it, tucking his poles beneath his arms like an Olympic racer. He waited until the last instant, then pushed up with his knees and popped into the air, whooping with excitement. He landed in an explosion of snow, zigged and zagged to slow himself, then turned his skis and braked to a stop.

He turned and looked uphill.

“C’mon, Dad, hit it!” he shouted. “Hit it!”

James Christopher knew he’d be taking the jump the moment he saw Jeffrey heading for it. The boy loved watching his father fly through the air as much as he loved being airborne himself. James wasn’t really  interested in bumps and jumps anymore–growing old sometimes did that to a man–but risking life and limb (and watching his father do the same) seemed hard-wired into his son’s DNA. It made the boy smile. And that was all the reason James Christopher needed to take the jump.

He was Jeffrey’s hero and he knew it. Jeffrey once told a friend his dad was “the best skier in the world!” After that, James would have taken an Olympic ski jump blindfolded rather than disappoint his son.

He bent his knees as he made his approach, then hopped and popped into the air. He splayed his arms and legs–a classic spread-eagle–and landed cleanly. He braked hard, spraying Jeffrey with an icy shower of fresh, frosty, sparkling powder.

“Yes” Jeffrey exclaimed, grinning from ear to ear. “That was great!”

James smiled. He looked back up the hill for a moment, then turned back to his son. “So where do you want to go?”

“Loose Moose!” Jeffrey said without hesitation.

“Sounds good,” James agreed. “Let’s go.”

James took a moment to catch his breath as Jeffrey planted his poles and pushed off. He knew before asking that they’d be hitting Loose Moose. It was their signature run. Narrow monkey trails snaked through the pine forest on both sides of the creamy corduroy, and father and son both enjoyed darting between the trees, ducking beneath snow-laden branches, hopping fallen logs, and slicing through piles of loose powder before blazing back onto the groomed run again.

James breathed deeply–the air seemed unusually thin this morning–as he followed Jeffrey down the slope. Whenever they skied together, James insisted on Jeffrey taking the lead. He enjoyed watching the little firecracker, for one thing. But he also preferred being uphill in case the boy took a spill. It was much simpler to reach him that way than if–

James gasped, abruptly overcome by a wave of nausea and dizziness. He wedged his skis to slow himself, suddenly confused and out of breath. His chest began to burn, felt as if it were being crushed. He braked to a stop and bent over his skis as he tried to catch his breath. His head swam. His ears rang and his chest flamed. He could feel his heart pounding.

He had no way of knowing it, but an aneurysm–a weak spot in the aorta below his kidneys–had burst and begun spilling blood into his abdomen. The result of a genetic defect, the aneurysm had gone undetected for years. But now–weakened by a recent infection and aggravated by the stress of hard skiing–it had given way.

His heart began pumping faster to compensate for the diminishing volume of blood. The extra fluid in his abdomen created pressure against adjacent veins and arteries, further slowing the circulation of blood and depriving his body of oxygen.

Searing pain slashed through Christopher’s chest and he fell to the snow, gasping and clutching at his coat.

Jeffrey turned to look back uphill just as his father collapsed.

“Dad!”

The boy slammed to a stop, popped off his skis, and struggled to run back up the slope. He sank to the top of his ski boots with every stop in the soft snow but didn’t quit. He clawed his way up the hill with all the speed he could muster.

“Dad!”

By the time Jeffrey reached him, his father was unconscious.

“Dad!”

Confused and frightened, Jeffrey shook his father, then shook him again, desperately trying to wake him. There was a shushing sound and he looked up to see a skier slicing down the hill. The boy stood and frantically waved down the passing skier.

“There’s something wrong with my dad!” the boy cried as tears coursed down his cheeks. “Please, you’ve got to help him!”

The skier took one look at the man lying crumpled on the snow. He could see blood trickling from the corners of the man’s mouth and knew the situation was more serious than a broken leg or a sprained ankle. Certainly beyond any help he could offer. He knew he could stop … but he didn’t know first aid.

But he knew where to find someone who did.

“Stay here,” he said. “I’ll get the ski patrol.”

Before the boy could respond the skier planted his poles and shot down the hill, relieved to have a task he could handle.

Jeffrey knelt beside his father feeling lost and alone and more frightened than he’d ever been in his young life.

Hot tears seared his eyes.

“Dad,” he whispered between sobs. “Oh, Dad …”

 

So that’s the first half of the prologue. (I hope it grabbed your attention!)