I've decided tonight to post the first chapter from my novel Schism. Schism is about a second American Civil War, and this is where it all begins...
All five were dressed in black as they crept through the woods. The moon peeked intermittently through the trees, but it provided enough light so they could make their way. The target was ahead, and they wouldn't allow it to tarnish this landscape.
Melanie Santos led this motley crew. She was 23 with puffy cheeks and brown eyes. She loved being in the woods and learned long ago that short hair was easier to maintain out here. Behind her, a twig snapped.
"Be quiet," she hissed.
But Dan Nettles would have none of it. "We're 25 miles from the nearest person," he snapped. "Ain't no one around here gonna see us. This shit is heavy, and that means we're not going to be the most graceful folks in the world."
What he was referring to were the two gallon jugs of gasoline he carried. His pudgy build added the girth needed to carry supplies, but it didn't lend itself to ease of movement. Behind him, Heath, Tristen, and Carla carried the rest of what they needed - hoses, spray nozzles, etc. - with similar grace.
"You never know when some asshole camper or Forest Ranger could be wandering around," Melanie said. "What do you think they'd do if someone found us with all of this stuff?"
"We've done this kind of thing two other times and haven't come close to getting caught. You're so paranoid."
"I still wish we could've parked closer," Tristen grumbled. The hoses they needed were wrapped around his lanky frame.
"We had to," Carla said. "Once this thing goes up, do you want anyone passing by to place our car at the scene? Besides, this is our territory, and you should feel at home in it."
Tristen didn't stop grumbling, but he kept it under his breath. He enjoyed nature - one of the reasons he'd agreed to go along - but he wasn't as close to Gaia as the rest of the crew. His experience in the wild was limited mainly to rock climbing and the occasional hike; still, further encroachment into unspoiled areas of the wilderness had to be opposed, so he tagged along more out of principle than love of walking up and down rocky hills.
The wood line broke and Melanie signaled for them to stop. She pulled out a pair of binoculars and glared at the enemy. It stood stoically against the night, unaware that it was about to fall.
"Ugly fucker," Dan muttered.
"Yeah," Melanie replied. "I get why people want to come up here, but they ruin the whole thing by putting abominations like that up instead of allowing the Earth to simply exist around them."
What they were referring to was a nearly finished structure in the clearing. It was made of logs and wood shingles, with a towering arch held up by two pillars at the front. Along the front was a series of large windows with new glass that still had blue tape crisscrossed over them. A few rows of white paint had been slapped on the walls, but there were enough patches of brown to say there was work left to do, a message accentuated by the tools and lumber that dotted the ground. A sign in front proclaimed the abomination to be the "HIGH COUNTRY MOUNTAIN RESORT AND SKI LODGE."
Melanie stepped into the clearing. "Shouldn't be too tough to bring down, and being so late in the season" - it was already July - "I don't think they'll have enough time to rebuild before the snow comes. Hopefully the winter will do enough damage that it'll be too costly to put up again."
"Let's do it," Dan said.
They gathered their gear and began to make their way across the clearing. Summer had been cooler than usual, with temperatures hovering around 55 to 60, but the hike was making them sweat. Shuffling towards the lodge, Heath pulled up short and pointed.
"What's what?" Melanie asked as she continued moving towards the target.
"That." He took her shoulder and pointed to one of the windows.
From that window came a faint glow. It wasn't terribly bright, but it stood out against the night. As they stared at it, Carla spoke.
"You don't think anyone's in there, do you?"
"Don't be ridiculous. We've been watching this place for more than a week, and no one ever stays the night. Didn't we watch the last truck pull away a few hours ago? Look around - there isn't a car or anything in sight. How would anybody be up here?" Melanie was right - the gravel lot was barren except for a couple of sawhorses and a scaffold.
"It's probably either a security light or a droplight that some construction guy forgot to turn off," Melanie argued. "You don't want to make that trip back to Weippe without finishing what we came up here to do, do you? That'd just mean another trip tomorrow night, or the next, or however long it took for us to squash this thing."
Heath nodded, but he felt uneasy. Even though they hadn't seen any activity at night, he hadn't counted on someone leaving the lights on. Still, there were no shadows in the windows that indicated people, and there were no vehicles that could've ferried folks out in the event of an emergency, so if anyone was stupid enough to be up here, they'd be up the creek if something happened.
They dumped their equipment by the entrance, uncoiling hoses and letting metal nozzles and spray cans clatter to the ground(they were more careful with the plastic jugs of gasoline). Without preamble, Dan and Tristen began pouring the gasoline into the spray cans. Once that was done, Heath and Carla started attaching long rubber hoses to the cans.
Melanie took one of the hoses and shot a fine mist of gasoline into the air. "Seems to be working," she said with a smile. She then proceeded to soak the wooden pillars by the lodge's front.
"Daddy, it's cold."
Ron Turlman looked at his daughter Hannah and smiled. She was quickly becoming every bit the princess she admired from those Disney movies - curly blond hair and a gap-toothed smile, as well as a growing aversion to dirt - he knew that one day soon he wouldn't be able to talk her into these little adventures anymore.
"That's why we have sleeping bags," he replied. "They'll keep us warm. Just be thankful it isn't October - we'd be hip deep in snow."
He was a burly man, with a high forehead and scruffy brown beard. Loving the outdoors was the reason he was here, and building this lodge was the culmination of a lifelong dream. He and his wife Susan could be away from civilization and enjoy the mountains while making a few bucks.
"Just think of it as camping without being outdoors," said Ron's 12 year old son Adam. The boy was his father in miniature - a forehead that showed it would retreat when he hit his mid-20s, and hairy arms that would fill out with muscle as the boy got into football and weightlifting, just like his dad.
"If this was real camping, we'd be able to build a fire and boil water for a decent cup of coffee," Susan said.
"Yeah, dad, why don't we have real lights in here?" Hannah asked.
"The electricity won't be hooked up until August, so we make due with this droplight for now."
"I still don't know why we have to stay up in this dirty old lodge instead of our hotel," Hannah pouted.
Ron suppressed a sigh. Nothing made sense to a nine year old unless she could see an immediate benefit, and waiting for supplies from the contracting company didn't factor in to her comfort level. "Honey, the men who are going to be bringing up the last bit of wood and paint will be here very early, and we need to be ready when they arrive. Summer is growing short, and we're going to need every bit of daylight to work if we want to be open for ski season."
His daughter plopped down on the ground and rested her chin in her hands. Ron knew she'd rather be in a comfy room somewhere, sitting on the bed and painting her toenails, but she'd get there. If this lodge became what he wanted it to, one of those comfy rooms might be right here in a few months.
Adam was already laying back in his sleeping bag and staring at the droplight hung from the ceiling. Susan sat Indian-style on her sleeping bag and brushed her stiff brown hair. It was time to go to sleep and he hoped the alarm on his phone would wake him so they'd be standing outside when the first truck pulled up. It was going to be a long day.
Outside the window, a faint light grew stronger.
Melanie dropped the book of matches at the base of the column and took a step back. That step back became a full leap when a pillar of flame shot up the column and caught the roof. The fire spread quickly, and she smiled.
Dan pulled a large piece of plywood away from the building and took out a can of orange spray paint. He wanted to make sure the wood survived so that the media would get their message. On it he wrote, "If you build it, we will burn it - ANFPP."
"We better get out of here," Tristen said. "That fire looks wild."
"Relax," Melanie chided. "I'm pretty sure it's gonna stay confined, but you're right - I don't want to be anywhere near here when folks find this wreckage."
Flames began to roll around the side of the building. The gas they'd sprayed along the sides reacted in some way with the paint and sparked an even greater conflagration. A column by the entrance crashed to the ground, wrapped in fire. Soon, the night was ablaze.
He hadn't noticed the orange glow outside until smoke started seeping in through the windows. The air was soon hazy as smoke clung to the walls. It was all too obvious to Ron that something was wrong.
"Everybody up!" he cried, but the command was unnecessary - the entire family was out of the sleeping bags quickly and headed for the door. By the time they got into the hallway, fire was already lapping at the walls and ceiling.
"Daddy, what's happening?" Hannah whimpered.
"The building caught fire. We need to get out of here."
Timbers began falling. Ron put his arm up to his head to protect his face as a piece of wood crashed to the ground in front of him. Behind him, Adam was virtually dragging his sister towards the entrance, while Susan pushed them from behind. When they reached the front door, Ron grabbed the knob.
"Ah!" he yelled. He shook his hand and grimaced as blisters began to form. He pulled off his shirt and wrapped it around the doorknob before giving it another try. It didn't move. He put his shoulder against it, but again it failed to give way.
His sweating now had nothing to do with the fire. With flame-ridden wood collapsing around them, Ron doubted they could make it to the back door. He backed up, lowered his shoulder, and ran at the door with everything he had, yet it still failed to move - it felt like it was braced from the other side. The only thing Ron thought he'd broken was his shoulder.
He sank to the ground in agony as his daughter screamed - the foot of her nightie was on fire and Adam had to smother it with his hands. Hannah's brother was now shielding her from the fire with his body, and his back was beginning to smoke.
"We've g-got to go b-b-back," Susan coughed out.
Ron pulled himself up and tried going towards the back of the lodge, but a wall of fire blocked his path. He tried pushing through the flames, but the growing inferno stayed his advance as surely as bricks and mortar. The scream that broke the air was now Ron's as flames lapped at his arm.
Susan was huddled around Adam and Hannah. Ron stumbled back to his family and picked up his daughter.
"We've got to try and break through it." He looked at Hannah's face, which was now covered in soot and tears. "Baby, this will hurt, but we don't have any other choice."
Susan was crying as well, while Adam tried being stoic, but the firelight in his eyes told a different story. She just nodded at her husband and he dashed into the yellow barrier. He never reached the other side.
Somewhere in the ring of fire, the heat took out his legs and he fell, dropping Hannah. As his skin began to sizzle, he was sure he heard her scream again, but he wasn't conscious long enough to find out for sure. Within seconds, his body was engulfed. His last thought was that he didn't see his wife and son race past, and he knew they were consumed as well.
The woods were cold, but the orange glow on the horizon provided enough light so they could make their way. They carried out the equipment they'd used so the police couldn't use anything to track the fire back to them.
As they moved, Tristen said, "I still think I heard something back there that sounded like a scream."
"That was just pressurized air escaping the wood," Melanie said. "Stop worrying - there wasn't anybody in there."
"I hope you're right," Tristen replied.
It was Dan that had bravado enough to say, "So what if there was? Greedy Earth fucking pigs would get what they deserved if they got scorched. Maybe they'll learn to leave nature alone."
Everyone but Tristen nodded. They'd done what they had to in order to protect Mother Earth from further desecration, and they would have no sympathy for those who would scar the land just to make money. Of course, agreeing that those responsible would've gotten what they deserved was a lot easier when they were sure the lodge was empty.
Firelight from the lodge lit their path for several miles, and by the time the light was useless, they were nearly back. As they put the gear in the trunk of the beat up Volvo, Melanie smiled and slapped Heath on the back.
"One more abomination down, a whole lot more to go."
"This is Morgan Mitchell with a Fox News Alert. Firefighters and forest rangers near Bald Mountain, Idaho have confirmed the death of a family of four at a ski lodge under construction north of the town of Weippe. Ron and Susan Turlman, as well as their two children, were overseeing the final stages of construction when arsonists set a fire, trapping the family inside and killing them. Initial reports are sketchy, but there's evidence the family tried to escape but couldn't due to structural damage. We go now to Tracy Foreman of KTVB out of Boise. Tracy?"
"Thanks Morgan. The fire at the nearly completed High Country Mountain Resort and Ski Lodge was bright enough to be seen for miles, even from its remote location. The Turlmans were a local family from Mountain Home, Idaho who loved the outdoors and wanted to find a way to share it with others. Ron Turlman owned a construction business and decided to build a lodge so his family could enjoy nature and make a little money while they did so. However, he never imagined it would lead to the death of him and his family.
"People around here knew the Turlmans pretty well and spoke about how down to Earth they were."
(CAMERA CUTS TO INTERVIEW FOOTAGE)
(Screen reads Rita Kisiah) "They were good people. Ron was always quick to help out. When my roof collapsed in the blizzard last year, Ron rebuilt it and didn't press me to pay him - said I could pay him back when I could. Such a sweet man."
(Screen reads Jimmy Kelsing, Neighbor) "They wanted to go up into them mountains and retire. Can't imagine why anyone would wanna kill 'em. All they was doing was helping make it so that other people could enjoy the mountains too."
(CAMERA CUTS BACK TO TRACY)
"The High Country Mountain Resort and Ski Lodge was one of many being built in the Bald Mountain area to take advantage of Idaho's booming ski industry. Investigators are now sifting through the rubble to try and figure out what happened."
"Any word yet on how the fire might have started?" Morgan asked.
"Tthe folks I've spoken to believe it was deliberately set, but they won't say anything beyond that. I've got to tell you, Morgan, there's going to be a lot of anger around here if this turns out to be arson. Investigators are urging everyone to hold off on jumping to conclusions until more information is uncovered."
"Thanks Tracy. Stay tuned to Fox News for more on this developing story."
Melanie sat on the futon and stared at the TV. She hated Fox News - or Faux News, as she liked to call them - but they were the only ones who covered the fire in any detail. She now had little doubt that their adventure had gone terribly wrong.
Dan plopped down on the futon and kicked off his sandals. Running his fingers through his hair, he said, "Guess the building wasn't as empty as we thought."
Melanie turned her head to her fat friend. "How can you be so glib? We're about protecting Gaia, not killing innocent people."
"Do you really think they were innocent?" he sneered.
She hesitated. "Okay, maybe not completely innocent, but I still can't believe the fire killed people. We watched that place for a week. I knew the routine and the last truck was gone long before we got there."
"I know, I know - it's tragic." Dan's voice was flat and showed nothing resembling sympathy. "Still, if they hadn't done what they'd done, no one would've gotten hurt. We're at war, Melanie, and sometimes people get hurt. I wish they didn't, but ain't nothing gonna be completely clean."
In the corner, Carla wrapped her arms around her knees and had her head buried in the crooks of her arms. When she looked up, tears were streaming down her pale white face. "What do we do now? Are they going to come after us?"
"No one's going to come get us," Melanie said. "We took all our stuff, and no one saw us drive away, so the police can't tie it back to us unless one of us goes blabbing. Just remember that the ANFPP way is to stay anonymous."
"Speaking of the ANFPP way," Tristen said, "I'm pretty sure that they've found Dan's calling card by now. Our organization will soon be all over the news. We have to get out in front of this or we'll lose support."
"I don't give a shit if we lose support," retorted Dan. "This is about fighting against those who tarnish our planet. Direct action is the only way."
"That may be," Melanie replied, "but Tristen's right. We always issue a press release so that others will know the consequences of blighting the planet. We'll need to get something to Seattle as soon as possible so we can shape the story."
PRESS RELEASE - FROM THE OFFICES OF THE ACTION NETWORK FOR PLANETARY PROTECTION: ANFPP deplores the loss of any life as an affront to our Mother and Protector. Life is precious, and this tragic accident shows only the dangers of humanity's continued encroachment into the cradle of Gaia's womb.
However, further scarring and ecological devastation of our Mother can no longer be tolerated. For too long we have watched as our natural world is raped by the greed of a few in pursuit of avarice. It is this crime that must be opposed by all people. We call upon those who claim devotion to our Mother to say no more to such intrusions. Only when the people of our planet return the wilderness to its natural state that our fight will cease. Until then, the struggle goes on. May the blessings of Mother Gaia shape our hearts in compassion and our minds with respect for all of Her creatures.