SKIER DOWN!

The one question I’m asked more than any other is, “How many of your stories are based on real life?” And the answer is, Lots of them! Many of the incidents in my dinosaur books were even inspired by actual (and usual ridiculous) events. (The adventure with”Vampire Wasps” in Time Jam was actually inspired by a memorable and–yes–painful experience.

Anyway, the ski resorts all shut down early this season, but in a normal year things would have just wrapped up. With that in mind, I’ve attached a tale from my Ski Patrol novel, Outtabounds. This is one that was indeed based on an actual, harrowing, and very nearly tragic incident. (Names and places have all been changed, of course!)

Chopper

A PATROLMAN at the bottom of the mountain was pulling the canvas cover over a snowmobile when he noticed a man approaching. The patroller smiled and said: “Hi. Can I help you?”

“I certainly hope so.” The man spoke with a distinct New Zealand accent. “One of our mates seems to be missing. We were wondering at what point we should push the panic button.”

“Oh? When did you last see him?”

“About eleven-thirty. He skis better than the rest of us, so he nicked off. Our car’s still in the lot and he’s got the keys, so we know he hasn’t returned to the hotel.”

“Have you looked into any of the bars? Restaurants?”

“We’ve nipped in and out, yes, but there’s no sign of him.”

The patroller—a man named Hardman—sighed. Most missing adults eventually turned up at home or in a nearby watering hole. Chances were this one would too. But the car in the parking lot was a disturbing detail.

Worse, Lower Sweeps had already begun: there wasn’t much time left to mount a search.

He took a notebook from his pocket. “What’s your friend’s name?”

“Wendt … Jonathan Wendt.”

“Age?”

“Thirty-eight, give or take.”

“What’s he wearing?”

“Um, red coat, black pants … black helmet.”

“And where did you last see him?”

“About halfway down the run. The one you call … what is it now? Rodeo?”

“Does he have a cell phone?”

“Yes.”

Hardman lifted an eyebrow, but the man shook his head.          “We’ve been ringing him for the best part of an hour, but he hasn’t responded.”

Hardman nodded. “Okay.” He lifted his radio, then changed his mind and pulled out his cell phone. With the amount of information he needed to convey, the phone would be more efficient. He scrolled through his list of contacts, pressed CALL.

The phone rang three times.

“Dispatch, this is Ben.”

“Hi, Ben, this is Jeff. I’ve got a possible missing person.”

He heard a soft curse from the other end. “Okay … what have you got?”

Hardman relayed the information, then heard muffled voices as patrollers at the dispatch desk talked it over.

“Jeff?” Ben finally asked.

“Yes?”

“Can you stay with your guest?”

“Sure.”

“Okay. Why don’t you take him over to the clinic. Call us back from there.”

“Okay. Thanks, Ben.”

Hardman could picture the chaos he’d just created around the dispatch desk. Chances were, the missing man was lounging in a nearby bar, working his way toward a mild hangover. But until he was located, sweeps would be interrupted, dozens of sweepers placed on standby, and plans made to sweep the entire mountain again.

Even as he thought this, his radio rasped to life.

“Patrol Dispatch to all patrollers. We have a possible Code Green”—patrolspeak for a missing person—“stop all sweeps and stand by.”

Hardman looked up into the darkening sky. The sun had already set and it wouldn’t be long before the mountain was cloaked in blackness. Decisions would have to be fast and furious. On top of that—

There was a sudden burst of noise from the New Zealander’s coat.

“Ruddy Rudy,” the man said, fumbling for his pocket. He looked at his phone and shouted, “It’s him!” He punched at the screen. “Hello? Jonathan?”

Hardman could hear a voice, barely audible, rasping from the phone. “ ’Ello? ’Ello? Are you there?”

“Jonathan?” The man from New Zealand practically shouted at his phone. “Jonathan? Is that you?”

“Nathan …”

Hardman could hear the injured man gasping, could hear pain and confusion in the distorted voice.

“Nathan … I’ve … I’ve taken a bit of a spill.”

“Are you all right, Jonathan?”

There was a lengthy pause before the halting voice returned. “I’ve taken a spill, mate. … My head … I seem to be bleeding …”

“Where is he?” Hardman prompted Nathan. “Ask him where he is.”

“Jonathan, I’m with a medic. We need to know where you are.”

They waited, but there was no response.

“Try again,” Hardman prompted.

“Jonathan? Jonathan! Are you there, Jonathan?”

There was no response.

Hardman lifted his radio as Nathan continued calling to his friend.

“Patrol Dispatch, Seven Sixty-two.”

“Dispatch.”

“Ben, we’ve made contact with the missing man. He’s still on the mountain and he’s hurt, but we’ve lost contact again. We don’t know where he is. Stand by and we’ll get back to you.”

Hardman looked at the New Zealander, who shook his head: he’d been unable to regain contact.

 

FARTHER UP THE mountain, Chase listened to the radio traffic: even though most patrollers carried cell phones, important traffic was usually broadcast over the radio so others were able to keep track of what was happening. By keeping informed, patrollers could often anticipate and even prepare for calls before actually receiving them.

Like everyone else, Chase had stopped his sweep; he was standing at the top of a steep, empty run. He knew things would be happening fast. Worst case, everyone would be transported back up the mountain by snowcat or snowmobile so every run could be swept again. If the missing man was not found, helicopters with infrared, thermal imaging, or whatever they used would be called in.

Everyone was in for a long night.

Which would be even worse for the injured guest.

 

NATHAN’S PHONE began chirping and the New Zealander punched at the screen. “Jonathan?”

“ ’Ello?”

“Jonathan? Jonathan! Where are you?

“I … I’ve been trying to … to make my way down the hill.”

“Jonathan, listen carefully: do you know where you are?”

“I’ve reached a lift. It’s closed. There’s no one here.”

“Look for a name, Jonathan! Do you see a name on the lift?”

“Says Quickdraw.”

Hardman stabbed at the transmit button on his radio, completely ignoring correct radio protocol.

“Ben! This is Hardman. The missing man is at the bottom of Quickdraw. He’s hurt, he’s bleeding, he’s barely functioning.”

“Ten-four!”

“Keep him talking,” Hardman urged Nathan. “Tell him to sit down and stay put. Tell him help’s on the way.”

 

CHASE DIDN’T HESITATE. As soon as he heard “Quickdraw”—the lift at the bottom of the box canyon—he turned his skis and shot down the hill. He reached up and keyed his radio as he skied.

“Dispatch, Seven Forty-seven: I’m on the ridge just above Quickdraw. Be there in five.”

He sliced through the snow, feeling neither the wind nor the snow on his face. He topped a rise and spotted a lone figure sprawled on the snow near the bottom of the lift.

Chase swept up to the man, popped off his skis, and knelt beside him. There was blood on the snow, blood on the man’s face, coat, and snow pants. Chase tapped the man lightly.

“Sir? Hello? Can you hear me?”

No response.

Chase glanced at the man’s chest, saw it expand and retract again.

Still breathing!

He popped off the man’s skis, carefully eased him into a supine position, and gave him a quick once over. He noted the blood frozen and crusted around the man’s nose, ears, and mouth, which he recognized as classic signs of head trauma. The bleeding seemed to have stopped. Chase didn’t see signs of bleeding anywhere else, and there weren’t any obvious deformities—signs of broken bones—in any of his extremities.

Chase leaned back and keyed his radio.

“Dispatch, Seven Forty-seven.”

“Dispatch.”

“I’m with our injured guest. I need a trauma pack and backboard, and let’s bring in an air ambulance. We can land it here below the lift. Guest is male, about 40 years old, breathing but unresponsive, probable head trauma. Vital signs to follow.”

“Copy your backboard, trauma pack, and air ambulance. Patrollers en route.”

Because of the severity of the man’s head injury, Chase knew the spine was also compromised. Under normal circumstances he would have directed someone to hold the man’s head still until he was secured to a backboard. But by himself he didn’t have that luxury.

He slipped off his backpack and med pack, then pulled off his coat. He molded this firmly around the man’s head to keep it from moving. That done, he assessed the man’s breathing and heart rate—both elevated as his nervous system compensated for the loss of blood—then made another search for injuries. There was a soft spot on the man’s head—just above the left eye—which Chase recognized as a depression fracture.

He checked to be certain the man’s airway was clear—that it wasn’t obstructed or filled with blood—then began checking more closely for any less-obvious injuries. After several minutes a patroller skied up with a trauma pack strapped to her back.

“Still unresponsive,” Chase reported as the other patroller kicked out of her skis. “Hypovolemic, probable skull fracture. Let’s get him in a C-collar, and then get some Oh-two onboard.”

“Ten-four.”

Two more patrollers skied up. Then three more, one towing a toboggan loaded with additional supplies.

“SkyRescue is inbound,” one of the new men reported. “Be here in five.”

Two patrollers were already positioning chem-lights to mark the landing zone in the growing twilight.

“Thanks,” Chase said.

As the first responder, Chase took charge of the scene, directing the other patrollers as they tended to the man’s injuries, affixed an oxygen mask, and then secured him to a backboard. It wasn’t long before he heard the thump of rotor blades and looked up to see a red, black, and white helicopter swooping low over the ridge with landing lights ablaze. He checked over his shoulder, glad to see two patrollers scrutinizing the landing zone, checking for debris.

There was a rush of wind as the helicopter settled onto the snow, and then the engine noise quickly died.

Chase looked through the swirl of snow. The pilot was his friend Taylor, the man as focused as a laser beam as he shut down his machine. A flight nurse and paramedic leaped from the chopper.

“Probable depression fracture above the left eye,” Chase warned, though he knew the flight crew wouldn’t take his word for it—they never did—and planned to assess the patient themselves.

“Okay, got it.”

Chase stepped back as the nurse and paramedic took charge and finally allowed himself to relax. He stretched a kink from his back, then walked over to the helicopter. Whiting had stepped from the chopper to watch the action.

“Working a little late, aren’t you?” the pilot asked.

“Yeah, well, things were a little too quiet. Just thought I’d liven things up a bit.”

The two shook hands.

“Well, ’preciate your thinking of us. A little flight time always beats sitting around playing cards … even in this weather.” The pilot nodded to the where the nurse and medic were working over the injured skier. “So what’cha got?”

Chase quickly recounted the tale, earning a whistle from the pilot.

“Wow,” Whiting said. “Guy’s lucky you found him.”

“No question. If he hadn’t regained consciousness we might not have found him ’til spring.”

The flight nurse whistled for the pilot’s attention and made a quick twirling motion with his finger.

“Oh, oh,” Whiting said. “Looks like we’re going hot.” He shook hands again with Chase. “Guess I better get serious.”

“Yeah.” Chase jerked a thumb toward the clouds. “Feels like the wind’s picking up. You be careful up there.”

“Always.” He turned back toward the chopper. “Least I won’t be fighting the crazy holiday traffic.”

Patrollers and flight crew quickly loaded the injured skier into the chopper and—minutes later—Whiting skillfully lifted the helicopter into the air. In seconds it had disappeared into the gloom.

Chase looked around. For the first time he realized he and his crew were stranded in the bottom of the box canyon. He’d no sooner had the thought than the growl of snowmobiles filled the air, the machines apparently dispatched to tow the rescuers back up the hill.

Ah, he thought. Good to know Ben’s on the ball tonight.

 

An investigation showed the the injured guest crashed in the trees high up the mountain. He was unconscious and hidden when the patrol sweepers skied by. No one’s fault, and just one of those things. The scary thing to me was that there was no warning. One minute we were closing down the resort at the end of a long but exciting day, and the next we were racing to save a man’s life. It was a lesson to me on the importance of always being prepared. And always remembering, “Today could be the day you’re called to save a life. Will you be ready?”

Outtabounds

It was just ten degrees when I took my dog cross-country skiing around the farm this morning. (I actually had to scrape ice off the bottom of my Karhus!) But the sun was bright and the skiing was great. I usually spend the time thinking through whatever book I’m working on, but this morning I kept going back to Outtabounds, my ski-patrol novel. (The tag line is, Not afraid of ski lifts? You will be . . .)

Anyway, this is the prologue. I hope you like it!

 

PROLOGUE

Twenty-four years earlier . . .

Ebook CoverTEN-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 choose 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 step 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 …”

***

CHASE ROGERS slalomed through the fresh, creamy snow carrying a mongo—a steel bar used for driving holes into hard snow and ice. The bamboo poles and plastic ropes that marked closed and out-of-bounds areas were constantly working themselves loose, and keeping them buffed out was a never-ending chore.

He skied easily, enjoying the feeling of long skis on groomed snow. He stopped frequently to pull up the slack in a sagging rope or use the mongo to drive a new hole for a leaning pole. The sun was high in the sky—bright and warm—and it felt good on his face as he hopped over a rise and onto the face of a steep pitch.

There was a skier down on the snow near the bottom of the hill, someone kneeling beside him. Chase was a rookie ski patroller, but he’d skied long enough to recognize the scene of an accident. Forgetting the ropes, he turned his skis and within seconds reached the stricken skiers.

A young boy looked up with swollen eyes, instantly recognizing the red coat and white crosses. A look of overwhelming relief flooded the boy’s face.

“It’s my dad!” the boy cried, choking on his words. “Please help him! Hurry, please!”

Chase punched out of his skis, a million thoughts whirling through his mind. The man on the snow appeared unconscious, and there was no mistaking the blood trickling from his mouth. Chase knew he was facing a dire situation. Knew he needed help and knew he needed it fast.

He reached down to his chest harness and keyed his radio.

“Wrangler Patrol, Seven Forty-seven.”

A scratchy voice rumbled back. “Wrangler Patrol.”

“I need an Oh-two pack, backboard, and toboggan at the bottom of Powderkeg.” And then, though he knew it was unnecessary: “Please expedite.”

“Copy your Oh-two, backboard, and toboggan. Ten-four, patroller en route. Wrangler Patrol clear.”

Chase dropped beside the man on the snow. He took in the blood trickling from the man’s mouth, the clenched eyes—

He looks like he’s in pain.

—and the lack of discernible breathing. He shook the man roughly.

“Sir? Sir! Can you hear me?”

Nothing.

“He just fell!” the boy cried frantically. “He was grabbing his chest!”

“How long ago?” Chase asked.

“I … I don’t know! Five minutes? Ten? I don’t know!

“Okay,” Chase said. “Just relax.”

He placed his ear close to the man’s mouth and watched his chest. He heard no sound of breathing, felt no breath upon his cheek, saw no telltale movement of the chest.

Damn!

Chase quickly tilted the man’s head, pinched the nose shut, and blew two breaths into the mouth, ignoring the stubble of whiskers against his lips. The breaths went in and Chase saw the man’s chest rise.

Chase placed his fingers alongside the man’s neck and felt for a pulse: nothing.

He moved his fingers, felt again.

Nothing.

He ripped open the man’s coat, placed his hands in the center of the chest, and straightened his elbows: he shoved, compressing the man’s heart.

One, two, three

He winced as the man’s ribs cracked under the pressure, but forced himself to focus on his work.

four, five.

He repositioned himself alongside the man’s head and blew again into the whiskery mouth. He felt the breaths go in and saw the chest rise.

It’s working!

He quickly returned to the man’s side, positioned his hands and shoulders, began compressing the chest.

One, two, three

He knew help would be coming. Knew too that he couldn’t stop working. Couldn’t stop unless the man began breathing on his own or someone arrived to take over … or until he himself dropped from exhaustion.

He completed five compressions—the accepted protocol of the time—blew twice into the man’s mouth, began another cycle. He knew—he’d been warned—that cardiopulmonary resuscitation was a difficult, draining procedure. But he was surprised by how quickly he was tiring. His arms began to ache, his back already burning from the strain.

Five compressions, two breaths, five compressions, two breaths, the motions becoming automatic, his actions almost mindless. He couldn’t stop. He struggled to ignore his tiring muscles and focus upon his work.

Get oxygen into the lungs, into the blood.

Keep the blood circulating.

Breaths.

Compressions.

Breaths.

Compressions.

Breaths.

His shoulders burned, his aching elbows, knees, and back howling for relief. He began to worry that he’d become too tired to continue. The thin mountain air was insufficient to sustain him, the cold draining his strength as rapidly as the strain of performing CPR.

Focus! he ordered himself. I’m not stopping!

He’d seen the look in the kid’s eyes—the boy had looked at Chase with an expression of trust and confidence—and Chase was not going to fail him. Not for anything. No matter how tired he became.

Come on! he thought as he blew into the cold mouth. Breathe!

Breathe!

He continued compressing, breathing, compressing, breathing, compressing, breathing. He became dimly aware of movement around him.

People.

Activity.

Voices.

He wanted to look, to see what was happening, but couldn’t tear his eyes away. Was too tired, too numb, too exhausted to do anything but continue the rhythmic cycle of chest compressions and breaths.

One, two, three

More motion.

A hand gripping his shoulder.

A voice.

“Chase …”

“No,” he whispered numbly. “Can’t … stop …”

“Chase,” the voice repeated, a little more urgently. “It’s okay … we’ve got it. Stand down …”

“Can’t … stop …”

Hands gripped his shoulders, began pulling.

No!

“C’mon, Chase, it’s okay. C’mon, man, let go … let go, Chase … we’ve got it.”

Chase felt himself being pulled away. He resisted, struggled briefly, finally let go. He blinked, saw people in red coats kneeling over the stricken man as they continued administering CPR. More breaths, compressions, breaths. Someone feeling for a pulse. More breaths, more compressions. Other skiers had stopped to watch and a patroller had his hands out, shooing them away.

After several minutes a grizzled patroller—the patrol doctor—motioned the men performing CPR to stop. The doc placed a stethoscope against the unconscious man’s chest. He listened, repositioned his stethoscope, listened again. By now a rescue toboggan had arrived and a patroller was preparing it for transport … but without the urgency Chase expected. It was several moments before he realized why.

It was over.

He sat back on the snow as icy beads of sweat trickled down his back feeling … what?

Distress?

Failure?

Defeat?

None of the words seemed exactly right.

He was completely, utterly drained, both physically and emotionally. He looked to the side and saw the man’s son kneeling in the snow beside his father. Tears streaked the boy’s cheeks, the young face flushed and filled with anguish. The boy looked like he was on the verge of losing control.

After a moment the boy looked up and their eyes met. For a brief, horrifying moment Chase thought the boy might show some sign of anger that Chase had been unable to save his father. But despite his grief the boy managed to mouth the words, Thank you.

It was as if a dam suddenly burst within him. A flood of emotions overwhelmed him and Chase collapsed on the snow. He began to cry, sobbing like a baby.

He was twenty-two years old.

It was his second day on the job.

 

Wow . . . reading that always takes me back to the mountain. Anyway, I hope you like it! You can read more details here!

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!)