Read an Excerpt
Hunted Past Reason
By Richard Matheson
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2002 RXR, Inc.
All rights reserved.
"This is as good a place as any," Doug said, leaning forward on the backseat.
"Okay." Marian started to slow down the Bronco as it turned a curve to the right.
"By that fallen big-leaf maple'll be fine," Doug told her.
"Right." She eased the Bronco toward the right side of the road and braked slowly. The carpeting of yellow leaves crackled under the tires before Marian stopped the Bronco by the fallen tree.
"Perfect," Doug said.
Bob drew in a sudden, involuntary breath. "And so the adventure begins," he said, trying to sound pleased.
Marian looked at him as she switched off the engine. "You all right?" she whispered.
He nodded, smiling. "Fine," he said.
Doug opened the back door of the Bronco and got out. He stretched his arms upward, groaning as he arched his back. "Oh ... boy," he muttered.
Marian looked worriedly at Bob. "Are you sure you're all right?" she asked.
"Yeah, why do you say that?" He managed a grin.
"Well —" She gestured vaguely. "You didn't sound too certain there."
"And so the adventure begins," she quoted.
"Oh." He laughed softly. "I'm a little nervous of course. I'm no kid. But I'm sure it's going to be fine."
In back, Doug had unlocked the hatchback door and was starting to lift it.
"You're comfortable then," Marian said.
"Oh, sure." He leaned over and put his arms around her. She responded and they held on to each other tightly.
"Okay, lovebirds," Doug said from behind the car. "Time to unload our gear."
Bob and Marian drew apart, smiling at each other. They opened their doors and slid out, standing on the leaf-covered ground. "My God, the leaves are so big," Marian said, picking up one that was more than a foot across. After a few moments, she dropped it, the golden leaves crunching under their shoes as they moved to the rear of the Bronco where Doug was pulling out his backpack.
"Here, I'll get yours," Marian said, pulling at Bob's backpack. "Holy! Moses." She had lost her grip on the pack, which thudded down on the ground. "It weighs a bloody ton," she said. "How in God's name are you going to carry that for four days?"
Bob forced a smile. "It's really only three, honey. There's not that much left of today."
"Two hours would be too much for carrying that," she said, gesturing toward the fallen pack. "You're forty-five, not twenty-five."
"Honey ..." He gazed at her reproachfully.
"Oh ..." She sighed, looking guilty. "I'm sorry. I'm not saying you can't do it. It's just ..." She made a face. "It's so damn heavy."
"He'll get used to it," Doug told her. "And it'll get lighter every day as the food goes."
"I suppose." She watched Bob pick up the pack and move it away from the Bronco, then turned toward the back of the car.
"You're not taking this, are you?" she asked, picking up a red flare.
"Sure." Doug's smile was teasing. "To light our campfires."
Marian put down the flare, smiling. "What's this?" she asked, picking up a length of chain. "You don't need this on your hike, do you?"
"No." Doug took it away from her and put it back in the car.
"What's it for?" Marian asked him.
"Protection," he answered.
She opened her mouth as though to speak, then closed it again. "Oh," she murmured, watching him take a long leather carrier from the Bronco. "What's that?" she asked, trying to cover her feeling of embarrassment about mentioning the chain.
"A bow," he said.
Bob made a sound of strained amusement. "You're taking a bow?"
"I always do."
"And arrows, I presume."
Doug gave him a look.
Bob asked, "Why? Do you hunt while you're out?"
"Not necessarily," Doug said.
Bob and Marian exchanged a look. "Which means ...?" Bob asked.
"Bob." Doug turned to him with a mildly accusing look. "We're going into wilderness. There are black bears out there. Mountain lions. Coyotes."
"Oh, now, wait a minute," Marian said abruptly. "Nothing was said about black bears or mountain lions or coyotes." She looked at Bob in concern. "Now I'm not so sure this is a good idea."
Doug laughed. "Marian, I'm not saying we're going to run into one of them. The bow is just a precaution."
She stared at him, her expression one of worried doubt.
"A precaution," he repeated.
"How many times have you used it while —" She broke off. "Scratch that. How many times have you had to use it while backpacking?"
"Once," he said, smiling.
"Black bear or mountain lion or coyote?" she asked uneasily.
"Rabbit," he said, repressing a grin.
"Rabbit?" She looked startled. "You shot a rabbit?" As Doug nodded, she asked, "How come?"
"I lost my pack in some rapids and I had to eat," he told her.
She looked at him in silence for a few moments.
"There aren't any grizzly bears up here, are there?" she asked apprehensively.
"Used to be," Doug answered. "Wolves too. Until they were killed off by stockmen — traps, guns, poison."
Marian winced at his words.
"Honey, I'm sure it's going to be —" Bob started.
"All right, let's put it this way," Marian broke in. "How often do you see black bears or mountain lions or coyotes?"
Doug chuckled. "Marian, you're too much," he said.
"Well," she insisted, "how often?"
He groaned softly. "Once in a while, dear girl," he said with labored patience. "But they don't want to have anything to do with us any more than we want to have anything to do with them. You leave them alone, they leave you alone."
"Marian, come on," Bob chided.
"All right, all right." She nodded several times. "I'm just ..." She gestured vaguely with her hands.
"I should never have mentioned it," Doug said. "Believe me, it's nothing to be concerned about. Okay?"
"Okay." She smiled awkwardly. "I'm just ... an apprehensive frau, that's all."
Doug's responding smile was a sad one. "Too bad I don't have a frau to be apprehensive about me," he said.
"Oh ..." Marian moved to him and kissed his cheek. "I'm sorry, Doug. You're really doing something nice taking Bob on this ... what, hike?"
"Adventure," he said with a teasing smile.
She smiled back at him. "Right, adventure," she agreed.
"All right. Now." Doug looked serious. "You're okay with the Bronco?"
Marian nodded, smiling. "Okay."
"And you understand my map."
She nodded again.
"Well, I'm not the world's greatest mapmaker," he said.
"It's fine," she told him.
"Well, just ... follow the yellow Hi-liter route."
"To Oz," she said.
His lips puffed out in a sound of partial amusement. "Yeah, right," he said. "It's about ... I'd say forty miles or so. Two things to keep in mind. Turn off the main road after you pass the Brandy Lake sign. And most important, keep an eye out for the two Pine Grove signs, one for Pine Grove Street, the other for Pine Grove Lane. You turn right on Pine Grove Lane; it's the second sign you'll come to. Got it? The second sign."
"Got it," she said.
He raised his hands, palms forward. "I'm only being a pest about this because we've had to go out searching for a lot of guests who turned right on Pine Grove Street."
"I'll remember," she said.
"Okay. Good. You have the keys to the cabin?"
"In my purse."
"Right. And you understand about the propane tank for the stove. And turning on the water."
"I do." She nodded. "I'll be fine, Doug."
"Well ... I just want to be sure. We won't be there until Wednesday afternoon."
She nodded. "I'll be fine," she reassured him.
"Sure you will," he said. "You'll enjoy the cabin. There's a nice big deck in back that overlooks the forest. Sit there with a drink, you'll love it."
"I'm sure." Marian nodded, smiling.
"You'd better be on your way then so you have plenty of light in case you make a wrong turn. Driving up there in the dark can be a bitch."
"I'll be fine," she said once more.
"Good." He kissed her on the cheek. "We'll see you on Wednesday then."
"On Wednesday." She was silent for a moment. Then she said, "I'm going to say good-bye to my husband now."
"You mean auf Wiedersehen, don't you?" Doug said with a grin.
She pointed the index finger of her right hand at him. "That's up to you," she told him.
His grin widened. "Don't worry, I'll take good care of him."
"I know you will."
She took Bob's hand and led him several yards away, to the other side of the fallen maple tree. She put her arms around him and held him close. "You take good care of yourself now," she said.
He embraced her. "I will."
"I'll avoid the black bears and the mountain —"
"Stop that," she interrupted softly. "I'm going to be uneasy enough without worrying about wild animals chewing on you."
Bob laughed softly. "Don't be uneasy," he told her. "Doug has backpacked dozens of times."
"Well, you haven't," she said. "Take it easy. Don't let him push you."
"Why would he do that?"
"Well ..." She blew out a heavy breath. "He's so ... physical; you know that. He's an actor, he's done westerns ... action pictures. He's ... tuned up."
"What, and I'm out of tune?"
She sighed. "I don't see you going to the gym very often. Or swimming."
"I walk, don't I?"
"Your one saving grace." She squeaked as he pinched her back. "Well, anyway, I mean it: please-take-it-easy. Don't let Doug push you. He won't do it on purpose," she added quickly, cutting him off. "He might just do it without thinking."
"I'll collapse at regular intervals," he said.
"Oh ..." she sighed again. "You aren't very reassuring."
"I will be careful," he promised. "I will take it easy. I will avoid wild animals."
The grip of her arms tightened. "Please do," she said quietly.
After several moments, she drew back and looked at him intently. "Honey, are you sure you want to do this?" she asked.
"I have to, sweetheart. How am I supposed to write a convincing novel about backpacking if I've never backpacked once?"
She nodded, sighing again, then made a face of mock pleading. "Please, sir," she said in a little girl's voice, "couldn't you write a novel about drinking chi-chis and lazing around in Hawaii with your wife of twenty years?"
He chuckled. "Maybe the next one I —" he started.
"Bobby, we have to go," Doug called.
"I wish he wouldn't call you that," Marian said, "as though you were ten years old or something."
"He doesn't mean any harm," Bob said. He drew her close and pressed his lips to hers, lingering on the kiss.
"Dear God, that was like farewell," she said, tears appearing in her eyes.
"Don't be silly, sweetheart. We'll be at the cabin on Wednesday afternoon. Have a vodka and tonic waiting for me."
"If I don't drink up all the vodka, worrying about you."
He laughed softly and took her by the hand, leading her back around the tree.
"Farewells all completed?" Doug said.
Marian managed a faint smile. Doug's smile became one of sympathy. "Really, Marian, there's nothing to be worried about. Your husband will be sore as hell in every muscle, that I guarantee, but otherwise he'll be intact."
"Okay, okay, I'm going," she said. She kissed Bob briefly on the lips, then moved to the Bronco and got in behind the steering wheel. She turned on the engine and pulled out onto the road, raising her right hand in farewell. Bob had the feeling that she didn't look back because she was crying. Oh, sweetheart, he thought, smiling sadly.
As the Bronco disappeared around a curve, he picked up his pack with a grunt at its weight. "Okay, let's go," he said.
"Whoa, whoa, not so fast," Doug told him.
"What?" Bob looked at him, curious.
"We have to check out our gear before we leave."
Bob frowned. "Now?" he asked.
"Why didn't we do all that before we left Los Angeles?"
"It's a good idea to do it now," Doug said. "Double-check before we leave."
"What if I don't have everything I need?" Bob asked. "What can I do about it now?"
"Well, I gave you a list of things you need. I assume you got all of it," Doug said. "I was going to go to the supply store with you — as you recall. But you were in New York attending a big meeting."
"Mm-hmm." Bob nodded, wondering why Doug felt the need to call it a "big" meeting. It wasn't that and Doug knew it.
"Oh, well," he said. "Let's do it then."
Doug looked at him questioningly. "Are you sure you're up to this, Bob?" he asked.
"Sure," Bob said. "I'm looking forward to it."
"Are you really?"
It didn't sound like a question to Bob. Doug's smile bordered on disbelief. He chuckled. "Okay. You got me," he admitted. "Naturally, I'm a little apprehensive."
"A lot apprehensive," Doug answered.
"Well, maybe," Bob said. "I'm not exactly John Muir."
"Not exactly." Doug's smile was amused now.
"I'm counting on you to lead me through the wilderness without incident," Bob said.
Doug shook his head, laughing softly. "I'll do my damnedest, Bob," he said. "Okay. Let's see what you've got."
Bob leaned his pack against a tree to open it.
"I see you got a side packer," Doug said.
"Is that bad?" Bob asked. "The salesman said it was easier to get into."
"Did he tell you it would leak more in the rain?"
"Well ... no," Bob answered. "Are we expecting rain?"
"Y'never know," Doug said. "Did you try it on for comfort?"
Bob nodded. "Yes, I did. The salesman even put a sandbag in it to show me what it would feel like when it was loaded."
Bob chuckled. "It felt heavy," he said.
"Damn right." Doug nodded. "Well, let's see what you've got inside."
Bob unzipped the bag and took out the first item.
"What the hell is that?" Again, Bob felt that it wasn't a question but a judgment.
"A stove," he said.
"That wasn't on the list I gave you," Doug told him.
"The salesman talked me into it," Bob said. "He showed me how easy it was to use. What would you rather have at the end of the day, he asked, cold cereal or hot chicken à la king over rice?"
"You have chicken à la king with you as well?" Doug said, laughing as he spoke.
Bob sighed. He was getting a little weary of Doug's belittling tone. "You never took a stove with you?" he challenged.
"Yeah, sure I did," Doug answered. "Nothing wrong with having a stove. I was just trying to cut down on the weight you have to carry."
"Okay." Bob nodded.
"Canister stove's heavier too," Doug told him. "And you'll have to carry out the canister."
"Oh, no." Bob looked dismayed.
"Oh, yes," Doug said, nodding and smiling again. "Those are the rules of the game, Bobby. You don't leave anything behind. Except for piss and crap, of course."
Bob made a face, nodding. "I understand."
"Do you?" Doug looked at him almost sternly. "There are rules, Bobby. It isn't just a stroll in the park we're going on, you know."
All right, all right, Bob thought, He felt like saying it but didn't want the hike to start out on a strained note.
"Before we look at what else you have in your pack —" Doug started.
Oh, God, what now? Bob wondered.
"You're not wearing cotton underwear are you?"
The unexpected question struck Bob as funny, making him laugh. Doug frowned. "I'm sorry for laughing," Bob said. "I just didn't expect that question."
"Well, it's not an unimportant one," Doug told him. "Cotton underwear gets wet from perspiration, feels lousy."
Bob nodded. "I understand. I have on poly prop-whatever-underwear."
"Polypropylene." Doug nodded. "Good. And thin polypropylene socks under your wool socks?"
He must have sounded a bit apathetic, he realized, because Doug frowned again. "Bob, these things are important," he said.
"All right. I understand." Bob nodded.
"Okay." Doug looked serious again. "You have three complete sets of socks."
Doug started to speak but Bob interrupted him. "What do you use for a stove?" he asked.
"Two logs close together over the fire," Doug said. "I put my grate across them." He grinned. "Of course, now I have a stove to use."
The hell you do, Bob thought, after making fun of it? He sighed. Well, let that go, he decided.
"Very often, I've just eaten what Muir did — uncooked food, hot tea or coffee," Doug told him.
Well, he is trying to be helpful, Bob chided himself. And, after all, Doug didn't have to offer to take him on this hike, helping him get background material for his novel.
Excerpted from Hunted Past Reason by Richard Matheson. Copyright © 2002 RXR, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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