Lynne Temple is driving through the Appalachian mountains toward her new life. She's made grand plans to start fresh after her divorce, including settling into a new town. An overturned semi on the West Virginia turnpike forces Lynne to use a temporary detour through a remote rural area high up in the mountains... A detour from which she will vanish without a trace.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Vanished by Jaid Black
She'd give anything for some coffee. An oversized mug filled to the rim with the richest, hottest, blackest Columbian elixir ever to grace a coffee cup would have felt like a gift from the gods right about now. But at this point, she thought grimly, even a half-filled Dixie cup that tasted more like water than beans would be enough to make her do a cartwheel.
Lynne Temple sighed as her red SUV idled up yet another twisting, snowy mountain road. She'd been following this temporary route for over an hour now and was beginning to worry that someone had neglected to put up a very necessary sign that would have kept her from heading in the wrong direction.
A semi had jackknifed on the turnpike an hour or so before she'd gotten to it, making the lanes impassable. The police quickly threw up a temporary detour route through the rocky terrain, diverting traffic through a small coalminer town in the remote wilds of West Virginia. Not that there was much traffic in need of being diverted at eleven o'clock on a Tuesday night in a sparsely populated, rural area. Indeed, Lynne had yet to run into another pair of headlights.
For the first time since this little excursion off the beaten path began, a sense of alarm was beginning to settle in. It was pitch black outside, nothing but the SUV's high beams to break the bleak darkness. The further she drove through the steep terrain, the thicker the wintry forests on either side of the tiny road grew. It was creepy out here, she thought, the tiny hairs at the nape of her neck stirring. Dark, remote, and creepy.
She didn't belong in this place, she knew. Lynne felt--and was--out of her element. To a city girl from the flatlands of Clearwater, Florida, even something as simple as driving on the turnpike set her nerves on edge. The snowy mountains the turnpike cut through were steeper than she'd ever seen. The winds this high up in altitude were harsh during the winter months, beating against the SUV and making her feel as though she would be blown off the side of a cliff at any given moment. She felt no more protected from the elements than she would have felt driving a tin can with four glued-on wheels.
The turnpike had been bad enough. Driving through the bizarre little twisting road nestled somewhere up in the Appalachians was a thousand times worse.
Lynne took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, telling herself not to freak out. So it was dark outside. So the wind was moaning like a demon out of a B-movie. So the gravel road had turned to mud and slush about fifteen minutes ago...
"Great," she muttered under her breath. "This is just great."
She realized that she needed to turn around and follow the winding path back to some manner of civilization, but there wasn't precisely anywhere to turn around. She could stop in the middle of the "road", she supposed, and try to turn around that way, but with her luck she'd finally spot another vehicle while attempting the feat--as it slammed into the side of her new vehicle from out of nowhere.
At first she had assumed she was following the detour correctly, but she couldn't recall the last time she'd seen a sign. Worse yet, she'd made more than a few turns in the past hour and now wasn't altogether certain she could find her way back in the middle of the night. Especially when she considered that the snowfall had been light but steady, so the SUV's tracks were probably already covered up.
What an ironic way to start her new life, Lynne considered, frowning. Thirty-four was supposed to be the year she made life happen instead of waiting for it to come to her. She could design databases from anywhere, but since her largest client was located in the capitol city of Charleston, West Virginia, she'd decided to make the move after the divorce from Steve and settle into a lazy southern house down on the river that saw all four seasons. It sounded almost idyllic compared to the humid, forever hot beach apartment crammed full of bad memories she'd vacated all of a day ago. And it could still be idyllic--if only she could find her way back to the beaten path.
Lynne's gaze absently flicked toward the fuel tank gage. Her heart rate sped up when she saw that she was down to an eighth of a tank of gas. Great! she thought. This is just damn great. She blew out a breath, that sense of alarm growing by leaps and bounds. It was pitch black outside, the winds were moaning something fierce, she was driving up a muddy, slushy path that led only God knows where, the snowfall was picking up a bit, and now the SUV was running on fumes. She would have laughed if only she weren't so terrified.
Clutching the steering wheel so tightly her knuckles turned white, Lynne's dark brown eyes widened as the narrow path she was traveling up became impossibly narrower. "Shit," she mumbled, deciding it was way past time to turn around. The snow-capped forest to either side of the tiny road was growing thicker...and somehow a lot more intimidating.
Her teeth sank into her lower lip; perspiration broke out on her forehead. She absently tucked a rogue strand of dark brown hair behind an ear as her inner musings turned ugly. As ridiculous as it sounded even to herself, she was afraid to stop the SUV long enough to turn it around. Stopping equaled vulnerability, leaving her naked to outside attack, even if the stop would only last a few seconds.
Lynne blew out a breath, rolling her eyes at her dramatic thoughts. "You've watched one too many horror movies, kiddo," she whispered as she let up on the gas pedal and slowly worked the brake. She hadn't seen another vehicle let alone another person for miles--well over an hour ago by now. The chances of some psycho on the loose nabbing her while she did an about-face in a locked vehicle of all things was about nil to none.
The SUV came to a stop, the lack of movement underscoring the sound of the moaning Appalachian winter wind outside the barricade of the windows. She told herself to ignore it, to forget about the fact she was alone in the middle of a mountaintop forest in the dead of night, and to concentrate on getting the hell out of there.
Backing up enough to turn the vehicle around, she gasped when a movement of some sort snagged her peripheral vision. Her breathing immediately stilled. She blinked and did a double take.
"Damn, damn, damn," she murmured as she kept turning the SUV around. She prayed she was imagining things because she hadn't seen anyone or anything upon second glance. Just get out of here! she told herself as the vehicle straightened and she stepped on the accelerator. Now!
Flooring it, Lynne's heart rate went over the top as she slammed down on the gas pedal. Probably not the swiftest reflex she'd ever had, for the SUV immediately went into a skid. Mingled mud and ice-slush flew up from all sides, pelting the windshield and making her heart thump like a rock in her chest.
Another movement to the left...
Lynne barely had time to register that she'd seen something when the shadow of a large man appeared from seemingly out of nowhere. She screamed as she slammed down on the brakes and veered a quick right to avoid hitting him, then screamed again when she momentarily lost control of the SUV and it went into a flat spin.
Shaking like a leaf, she tried to recover from the spin, but it was too late. Her eyes widened as the vehicle skidded off the narrow path and headed straight for the trunk of a thick oak tree. Unable to do anything besides go numb from shock, she watched in helpless horror as her brand new cherry red vehicle collided with a mighty oak, smashing the entire front end and simultaneously jarring her body. Frantic, she turned her head to the left to see if that man was still around--or if she'd imagined him altogether.
The automatic airbag in the steering column engaged and a second later she was struck in the side of the head with a life-saving device that damn near killed her. She gasped as the airbag assaulted her, her dark eyes rolling back into her head.
Please don't let me pass out, she thought in terror as the shadow of a very real, and very large, man emerged from the forest. Oh God--oh please--I must have sustained a concussion...
Lynne's vision began to dim at the precise moment the stranger's form appeared in her remaining headlight and began to steadily walk toward her SUV. He was huge--at least a foot taller than her own five feet--and was wearing a one-piece jumper of some sort. His face was grim, his sharp gaze intense.
As her eyes slowly began to close, she considered the possibility that maybe the stranger was a mechanic. Mechanics tended to wear those blue issue one-piece jumpsuits. Maybe he could even help fix the SUV.
Her dulling gaze flicked toward the stranger's vein-roped hands. Hysteria bubbled up inside of her when she saw that his hands were chained together. And, she thought, ice-cold horror lancing through her, so were his ankles...
Lynne's heart violently pumped away in her chest even as she slipped into the black void of unconsciousness. He was an escaped convict, her mind screamed, the reality that she was about to pass out unavoidable. Oh God--
Oh please, she thought as her eyes irrevocably closed, please somebody help me!