Authors: Wylie Snow
Table of Contents
Jump Zone: Cleo Falls
Copyright © 2013 by Wylie Snow. All rights reserved.
First Kindle Edition: 2013
Published by PG Watkinson
Jump Zone: Cleo Falls © 2013 by PG Watkinson
All rights reserved under the International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
Editor: Megan Records
Proofreader: Susan Helene Gottfried
Cover and Formatting:
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
To Simon, James, and Spencer, who encourage, nurture, and tolerate my creative ups and downs with unfailing support. And to my mom, for giving me Everything.
As a special thank you, my creative team has designed a Jump Zone game for your iPod, iPhone or iPad. Please visit my website
for instructions on how to download this complimentary app.
Available from September 9, 2013 for a limited time.
I’d always presumed the moments before death would be fuzzy and warm.
They’re not. Death is painful. And cold.
Death is terrifying.
For me, there are no sepia vignettes of my childhood, no sign of my mother’s smiling face to usher me into a blissful afterlife, open armed. There’s nothing to distract me from the fright that slams me every time my mouth fills, every time my head slips under.
No matter how hard I kick or thrash, the current is merciless, dragging me downriver, closer to the edge, closer to the—
I can’t even
I claw for the surface, flailing desperately for something to grab onto. But there’s nothing. Not a rock, not a log, not even a stray root. Even if by some miracle I don’t drown, there is nothing to save me from the fall.
Seventy feet, straight down.
And the rocks at the bottom… I’ll be smashed.
My chest burns so bad, I want to scream from it. Can’t, don’t dare. I bite down on the inside of my lips to seal them from another mouthful of icy water and taste the copper of my blood. I will my legs to get me to the surface for another breath, but I’m tumbling through the blackness, not sure which way is up.
The rapids twist and toss me, pull me fast and hard as if they’re doing me a favor in getting me to the edge quickly. It’ll be over soon. Yet every agonizing second feels never-ending.
The more my muscles ache from cold, the heavier my limbs become, the slower time goes. Death is a cruel bitch.
My lungs are on fire. And no matter that my eyeballs feel like they’ve been dunked in acid, panic won’t let me close them.
There’s a legend amongst my people of a Ghost Warrior, a survivalist from Old Canada who lost his life in the Polar Wars. They say he guides folks home in their time of need, gives them a second chance. Where is this phantom rescuer for me? Am I not worthy?
I already know the answer…
The pressure in my chest begins to crack me open. I acknowledge my fate, look it in the eye, welcome it. The thought frees me. The simple act of mental acquiescence releases my fear, replaces it with regret. And anger. I’ll never get a chance to make amends to my tribe, to Jaegar or my father, never feel the love I’ve tried so hard, so
hard, to earn.
Anger fuels my strength, gives me a final burst of energy. My anaesthetized legs push off of something solid. My head breaches the surface.
I scream in Death’s face.
Then water fills me, douses my fire. I am numb, unable to feel my extremities, unable to feel anything. Like a piece of flotsam, the current tosses me over the precipice toward the jagged rocks below. My world goes dark.
asy now, darlin’. Get it all out. Breathe for me now.”
His voice came at her through a long black tunnel. Cleo ignored it at first, but it grew louder and more persistent. She couldn’t connect where she was, or who kept insisting she breathe. Before she could get a grasp on her senses, her stomach muscles twisted, convulsed as river water filled her throat and exploded out her mouth. She could vaguely taste the tang of her last meal; a strip of jerky and a couple of handfuls of trail mix, eaten in haste.
Images flooded her mind—the flash in the sky, the kayak, the rocks. Her head spun like the vortex she’d been trapped in. She needed to breathe, needed to—
Gripped by another spasm, she opened her mouth to scream from the agony ripping up her insides but all that came out was another mouthful of river.
There was a spot of warmth on her back, the hand of whoever was keeping her propped on her side so she wouldn’t drown in her own sickness.
The Ghost Warrior must have come. She’d always been skeptical of the legend, but who else could have possibly brought her back from the journey into dark?
“That’s it. Let it all go.”
Retching, loud and vulgar in her throbbing head, masked the words of the rumbling, reassuring voice behind her. There couldn’t possibly be anything left in her, yet her body still heaved, still gagged until every ounce of strength was spent. Exhaustion made it impossible to keep her cheek off the ground.
Blackness beckoned her to come back to the place where she wouldn’t have to fight, wouldn’t feel the pain or cold, but Cleo refused to succumb. She clung to this discomfort, to life, and struggled to shake off the disorientation. She prised open her burning eyes and through milky vision saw a shimmer of light reflected in the shiny pool of her own vomit.
, she thought as her eyes drifted closed again,
I survived, but my dignity didn’t.
She groaned and tried to roll away from the mess, but the movement triggered more retching.
“You’re going to be fine. I got you. Just concentrate on breathing,” the voice reassured calmly while she ejected more from her stomach. “Quite a bath you took there, darlin’.”
As her wits returned, she began to tremble, gasping for precious air, afraid to let her lungs go empty.
He draped something over her, something heavy and warm, but her wet leather clothing held the chill and she couldn’t stop violently shaking.
“You’re going into shock,” he said, bundling her tighter. “Try to slow your breathing down. Don’t want you to hyperventilate on me. In and out, nice and slow, on my count.”
Cleo closed her eyes and focused on the Ghost Warrior’s voice, concentrating on his instructions. She tried to inhale deep and slow, tried to savor the feeling of each inhalation, but she gulped greedily and let it out with fearful reserve.
Tingles, sharp and searing, spread through her limbs as her core warmed. The discomfort shoved away the fog and confusion from her mind. The details of the accident buzzed behind her eyes, but Cleo swept them away like an annoying horsefly. She couldn’t go there. Not now. It was more important to focus on surviving.
Ghost Warrior talked her through the worst, all the while rubbing her back. He counted slowly as she breathed, in and out, in and out, until her panicked gasps calmed.
It was working, whatever he was doing. She was glad the legend was true. The Ghost Warrior, born of the Taiga, the northern wilds, protected his people.
He smoothed the clinging tendrils of her hair from her neck and cheek with a gentle touch, his silk-smooth fingertips gliding across against her forehead. Softly…so softly.
People of the Taiga did not have soft hands. So who was stroking her hair? Not a triber. Definitely not a warrior, even a ghostly one.
Don’t trust outsiders.
Instinct kicked in. Cleo rolled away from the gentle touch as fast as her protesting limbs would allow. She grasped for the knife at her thigh, only to find an empty sheath, then felt for the weapons harness that normally crisscrossed her torso. Gone.
Her muscles protested as she jumped to her feet in a graceless, jerky motion and assumed a stiff version of attack stance. Hot pokers stabbed through her right leg as she fought to keep her footing. Her body swayed as her brain struggled to maintain equilibrium. The last thing she needed was to faint.
“Whoa, whoa.” The stranger got up slowly, palms outstretched like he was talking to a spooked horse.
Soft hands. Not one of us. Even the tribe medics and scholars chop their own wood. The youngest children develop calluses from working fields and learning to handle a bow.
Never trust outsiders.
He was backlit by a potassium nanowire lantern that threw his face into shadow and blinded her with its glare. Cleo tried to peer into the darkness behind him, around him, and as far as her peripheral would allow without letting him out of her sight, trying to ascertain if this outsider was alone.
From his silhouette, she could see he was a much larger man than she wanted to face while unarmed and half stunned.
He moved toward her. Cleo stepped back, ignoring the pain shooting through her lower leg, worse now that the ice in her blood had thawed. Her shin was on fire, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the outsider.
“Take it easy, darlin’, before you hurt yourself,” he said, his voice even. He inched toward her, hands open, fingers spread.
He was taller than her father, but not as broad. She might be able to take him…if only the damn world would stop swaying.
“G-get back,” she warned, but her throat burned and her croaky voice sounded more squeaky than fierce. She was in position, ready to execute a roundhouse kick to his side, but her leg wouldn’t bend, wouldn’t move. And then there were two of him, rushing at her. She shook her head to clear the spinning black discs that danced through her vision, but the movement made them grow bigger until they swallowed her.
For the second time that night, Cleo’s world went black.