Excerpt from Nero’s Fiddle
“Maybe another minute or two–” she stopped. She’d been aware of a noise in the woods for the last few seconds. Assuming it was nothing more than wind rustling leaves, she hadn’t been concerned about it. Until she realized there was no wind at all. She now recognized the sound for what it was: the rustling and crunching of underbrush indicating the sound of movement.
“Is there someone in the woods, Mom?”
Keeping herself between the woods and Michael, she turned to face the woods. The noise didn’t sound close, but it was definitely headed toward them.
The woods before them sloped upward. The foliage was thick and green, making it difficult to see anyone coming.
Instinctively, she reached behind her back and put her hand on the Sig.
Grunts accompanied the rustling, crunching sounds. Odd grunts. Low and guttural. They sounded funny. Not quite–
A loud growl issued from the woods. Definitely not human. It sounded like–
“Shit!” Bev said hoarsely. She turned and physically turned Michael in the direction from which they’d come. “Run!”
Sedona had walked a few yards with Jaz lagging behind when Michael’s voice—literally a nonstop scream—reached her from around the curve. Alarmed she stopped, uncertain about whether to run to or away from the sound of his voice.
He dashed around the curve then followed closely by Bev screaming, “Run!”
Immediately adrenaline pumped into her body, increasing her heart rate, sending fight or flight impulses along her nerve endings. There was just one thing she needed to know. “Where?”
“Back to the building! Run! Now!”
Sedona hesitated only a moment longer; long enough to see what they were running from.
A rather large, rather angry-looking black bear.
Her eyes opened wide, those nerve endings now screaming for her to run.
She turned and charged past Jaz who stood, her face pale, staring wide-eyed at the sight of her mother and brother being chased by a bear.
“Run, Jaz!” she screamed. When Jaz didn’t respond, she stopped, quickly turned the child, and physically pushed her into running ahead of her. “Run!”
Bev and Michael soon caught up to—and passed—Sedona and Jaz.
Great, Sedona thought wildly, now that bear’s right behind me.
The bear loped behind them at a distance of a couple dozen yards, not attempting, yet, to close the distance between them. Human feet running out of fear and desperation kept him at a good distance.
Bev reached the building first. She ran up to the metal door and grabbed the knob.
“Dammit!” she cried. “Locked!”
“The ladder!” Sedona shouted as she charged past Bev.
“What ladder?” she asked even as she followed.
“Over here!” She ran to the opposite side of the building where an aluminum ladder led up to the roof. She stopped, grabbed Jaz, and pushed the girl toward the ladder. “Up!’ she said.
Jaz didn’t have to be told again. She began climbing the rungs at breakneck speed.
“Michael! Go!” Bev yelled as the child began clambering up after his sister.
The bear growled.
“Go!” she said to Sedona. But Sedona hesitated. “What?”
“Vertigo,” she said helplessly.
Bev grabbed her arm and shoved her toward the ladder. “Damn your vertigo, Arizona! Get up that ladder!”
Sedona took one or two steps up the rungs, and made the mistake of looking down. She stopped as dizziness overtook her.
Bev charged up the ladder after Sedona, almost knocking both of them off, running into the woman when she stopped.
“I can’t,” Sedona wailed.
“Yes. Yes, you can,” Bev said breathlessly. “Please Sedona,” she pleaded desperately. The growl of the bear was closer to the building. “Look up, don’t look down! Think of it as stairs. Whatever it takes, do what you have to do and get up this ladder!”
The word became a mantra in Sedona’s head as she tilted her head upward and began to climb. Stairs. Stairs. Just stairs. Funky stairs, stairs you have to climb with hands and feet, that’s all, just stairs. It’s either this or get eaten by a bear. Hey that could be a poem. Stairs or eaten by a bear. Stairs, that’s all, just stairs.
Upon reaching the top of the roof, she literally threw herself over to make way for Bev, not looking, not paying attention, not even caring where or how she landed so long as she got off those funky stairs. She landed on her back, her head falling on something soft, not caring what it was. She lay there panting, feeling she was completely useless, but unable to stop the dizziness and nausea overtaking her.
Bev vaulted onto the roof then turned and began pulling up the ladder.
“Can bears climb ladders?” Michael asked his voice panicked.
“We don’t wanna find out!” Bev shot back. “Jaz! Help me!”
Jaz, who’d stood in shock until that moment, quickly dispensed with her backpack and grabbed the ladder. Michael attempted to help, but with his mother and sister pulling for all they were worth, there was no place at which he could grip the ladder and help. He stood by helplessly as they pulled the ladder up and laid it across the roof.
The bear growled from the ground below.
Michael joined them at the edge and looked down at the bear.
He growled, stood upon his hind legs, and stretched himself up the side of the building. The stucco-covered concrete allowed him no purchase and he sat back on his haunches, growling with more exuberance. Obviously, he was a little perturbed that breakfast was out of reach. He took the liberty of lying down to wait them out.
“How long will he stay down there, Mom?” Michael asked.
Gasping for breath, Bev said, “I have no idea, honey.”
“So we’re up here for the duration?” Jaz’s voice carried a note of fascination in it. At least it wasn’t accusatory.
“Looks that way,” Bev said. “He’ll get tired of waiting. Leave. Sooner or later. I hope.” Her voice didn’t have much hope in it. She took a deep breath, having finally caught it, and exhaled, her cheeks puffing. She turned and surveyed the roof, spotting Sedona a few feet away. The woman still lay on her back, eyes closed, gasping for breath. Cautiously, she said, “Uh, you okay there, Arizona?”
“In a minute,” she gasped. The nausea was gone but the dizziness still made her head swim.
“Uh, well, you, uh, might wanna move.”
She cautiously opened one eye and looked at Bev. “Why?”
Jaz turned and issued a short, “Gross!”
“What?” Sedona asked.
“Ewyuck,” Michael said when he spotted Sedona.
She was becoming alarmed. “What?” she asked tartly, daring to open both eyes.
“Uh, well, um, that’s not a pillow under your head,” Bev said.
Sedona didn’t move. A sickening dread filled her, the nausea returning. Where was the owner of that Jeep Cherokee?
She groaned as she rolled away. Overwhelmed by dizziness and nausea she looked at where she had been lying.
Though the image rolled in her vision she recognized a bloated decomposing body a few feet away. Nausea hit her again. She fought to keep down the stale granola bar she’d had for breakfast that morning. It was a losing battle; the nausea wouldn’t be denied its escape.
“You okay, Sedona?” Bev’s voice was close as she knelt beside her.
When she placed her hand in the middle of Sedona’s back, she lost the battle. Her stomach clenched. Half-digested granola bar and bile ended up on the roof beneath her. She found the wherewithal to nod as her stomach clenched again and she dry heaved.
Bev continued rubbing her back, which had both a soothing and an irritating affect, but she didn’t stop her. If nothing else it provided her comfort knowing the woman didn’t abandon her in disgust.
After ceaselessly muttering, the stairs, the stairs, the funky funky stairs in her head, the clenching stopped. She fell over onto her side and rolled over onto her back. She was still light-headed, and remained in her prone position. From experience, she knew the dizziness would pass; it only required lying very still until it did.
“I’m okay,” she rasped, her throat raw from the expulsion of what little her stomach had held.
“Can you sit up?”
“Not yet. A few minutes. Sorry.”
“No need to be sorry. You did good, Arizona.”
She knew what Bev meant: she’d made sure the kids got up the ladder first. Instinct. It was just instinct. But she knew what that meant to Bev.
The world slowly came back into focus. She cautiously turned her head and looked up at Bev. The image didn’t roll. Good. A good start. The body behind Bev was partially blocked by Michael and Jaz, both looking at her with concern. That was good too. The rest of the body, which consisted mostly of jean-clad legs, she could mentally block out.
“Think you could drink some water?” Bev asked.
“In a minute,” her voice still raspy. “Just gotta get my bearings.”
“Take your time,” Bev said gently. The bear growled from the ground. She gave her a wan smile. “I have a feeling we’re not going anywhere any time soon.” She gently patted her arm and stood.
As Bev walked to the edge of the rooftop and gazed down at the bear, Sedona slowly, carefully, pulled herself to an upright sitting position. She intentionally put her back to the dead body.
Michael and Jaz walked around to her line of vision.
“You okay, Arizona?” Michael asked. The poor kid’s face was grimaced with worry.
She gave him a wan smile, “I’ll be okay.”
“You look a little, um,” Jaz searched for the right word, “gray. I would say you look a little green around the gills, but it’s hard to tell.” She took off her backpack and unzipped it.
Sedona chuckled then stopped as this unsettled her queasy stomach, “Was that a joke?”
“More like an attempt at one,” She removed a bottle of water and held it out for Sedona, “This is rainwater. A little cleaner than the stream water.”
She accepted the bottle and gave the girl a sincere smile, “Thanks, Jaz.”
“You’re welcome,” She looked as though she wanted to say more, but she didn’t.
And Sedona didn’t press. She knew there would come a time when the girl might want to continue their discussion in more detail, but certainly not within earshot of her mother. She opened the bottle and took a tentative sip of water. She waited to make sure it stayed down before taking another.
“Well,” Bev said rejoining them. “That is one determined bear.”
“One hungry bear,” Sedona amended. “What do we do now? Just wait it out?”
Bev shrugged, “What choice do we have?”
“Good point,” she agreed morosely and took another sip of water.
Bev removed her backpack, and walked toward the other end of the roof away from the body, “I know what I’m gonna do.”
“What?” Michael asked following her.
“I am going to try out the blanket I salvaged from Wally world yesterday and take a nap.”
Sedona watched as Bev opened her backpack and removed the blanket, which she spread out on the rooftop. She tossed her backpack at the top of blanket.
“Are you serious?” she asked with some dismay. “How can you possibly sleep with,” she glanced behind her only long enough to confirm the body was still where it laid, “a dead body only a few feet away?”
“Easy,” she grunted as she lay upon the blanket. She laid her head atop the backpack removing the baseball cap on her head in the process. Just before placing the cap over her face to block out the sun, she looked playfully at Sedona, “The dead body won’t try to eat me.”
What people are saying about 'Nero’s Fiddle':
"Better than a Saturday night date!" (5-star review)
"The roller coaster ride of adrenaline through this book will keep you turning page after page" (5-star review)
"I once wanted to be Ripley (from Aliens) but now I want to be Beverly!" (5-star review)
"The plot is enthralling, the characters well developed and the action was non-stop" (5-star review)