Cat Taylor’s father and uncle, a famous search-and-rescue team, died on Storm Mountain two years ago, and Cat and her mother still can’t seem to move on. When her mom goes away on business for the weekend, Cat thinks she has the house to herself—until her cousin Ty suddenly shows up at her door, claiming his dad visited him in a dream and told him to scatter the two brothers’ ashes at the mountain’s summit. Cat refuses; how can Ty ask her to let go of her dad? But when she wakes up the next morning, Cat discovers that Ty has gone to Storm Mountain—and he took her father’s ashes with him.
Determined to stop Ty before he does something crazy, Cat races up the mountain after him. But when a huge snowstorm rolls in and traps them, Cat and Ty realize they could be in more danger than they ever imagined.
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About the Author
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By Tom Birdseye
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2010 Tom Birdseye
All rights reserved.
KNOCK, KNOCK, WHO'S THERE?
Cat Taylor opened the oven door and pumped a fist in triumph. "Yes!" She grabbed a pot holder from its wooden peg, took a deep breath to steady herself, then carefully hauled a twelve-inch, homemade pizza out into the warm glow of the kitchen.
"Perfecto!" she said, surveying her masterpiece. "Thin crust, pesto sauce, black olives, and artichoke hearts. Who could ask for more?" She tucked a stray strand of dark hair behind her ear and grinned.
Until she spotted her dog, a husky named Mugs, sneaking around the corner. The grin dropped. "Hey, you, keep your distance," Cat warned. "Sit."
Mugs didn't sit. He'd made it clear from day one that following directions was not a high priority, especially when there was food to be had. Cat figured that in another life Mugs must have been a pig—with hollow legs. The rascal could flat-out eat. Now the greedy gleam in his eyes shined clear. He'd scarf down every last bit of her prized pizza in a heartbeat if he got the chance.
"No way," Cat said. She put the baking sheet on the counter. "I agree that this is the best pizza in the world, but Mom made me promise not to feed you human food, remember?"
Cat waited for an answer, then caught herself and thumped her forehead with the palm of her hand. There she went again, talking to Mugs like the dog was human. Ridiculous.
Or was it? Who else was there to talk to at the end of three miles of winding, rutted gravel known as Storm Mountain Road? Trees were plentiful. People were most definitely not.
Of course she texted her friends in town, visited their Facebook pages, and chatted regularly with them on her cell. But it wasn't the same as having a real person in front of her.
True, her mom, Hope, was usually around. A freelance software developer, she telecommuted from her office just down the hall. Hope would instantly drop her work if Cat needed anything. She tried really hard to be Cat's friend, and Cat appreciated the thought. But Hope wasn't Cat's friend. She was her mother, and there were some things—no, actually, there were lots of things—that Cat didn't want to discuss with her mother.
Besides, Hope wasn't home tonight, anyway. In an uncharacteristic move that had caught Cat completely by surprise, Hope had agreed to give a presentation at a software developers' conference in Portland. In the past she'd always said she'd rather swim with sharks than speak in public, and yet she'd driven all the way to the city to stand up in front of hundreds of strangers. What was with that? Especially on this particular weekend in May
Oh well, no matter. Bottom line: Mom wouldn't be back until Sunday afternoon, and that left Cat with Mugs. So even if the pooch didn't have a lot to actually say, he had a way of looking Cat right in the eye that at least gave the impression he was listening, and understood.
Now Cat leaned down and tousled Mugs's furry, pointed ears. "It's you and me, boy," she said.
Mugs looked up at the countertop where Cat had set the pizza, and whined.
"Patience, Mugsy," Cat said. "I haven't forgotten your chow. We're just dining late because well, because we can!"
Mugs wagged his tail. Cat nodded and grinned. "Yep, we are completely, totally, absolutely in charge of our own destiny. You can gobble as much dog food as you want, and I'm going to savor this entire pizza. Then I'm going to wash it down with a Cat Taylor double-shot mocha and stay up all night if I want to!"
Mugs cocked his head and seemed to smile.
"Good boy," Cat said. "Now let's shake on it." She extended her free hand. "C'mon, Mugs, shake."
No response, as usual. Despite countless hours of effort on Cat's part, her dog was simply not into learning tricks.
Cat sighed. "Mugs," she said, for what felt like the millionth time, "you're hopeless."
Mugs answered with a lunge for the countertop and almost nabbed the pizza. Cat scooped it up, laughing. "Get back, you rascal!"
Mugs barked and lunged again.
Cat held the pizza over her head and danced around the kitchen, chanting, "No pizza for Mugs! No pizza for Mugs! No pizza for—"
BANG! The knock at the front door boomed so sudden and loud, Cat almost dropped her dinner. "Whoa!"
BANG-BANG-BANG! The pounding echoed through the house. Mugs bayed like a hound on the hunt and dashed into the living room.
Cat shoved the pizza to the back of the counter and followed, although she wasn't sure why. Alarm bells were going off in her head. "Who is it, Mugs?" she whispered. "Who would be way out here in the boonies, especially this late at night?"
She tiptoed over to the front window and peeked around the curtain. A face loomed inches from her own, nose plastered flat against the glass, lips curled in a crazed grin.CHAPTER 2
A DEER IN THE HEADLIGHTS
Cat gasped and lurched backward, tripping over Mugs. Both girl and dog let out a yelp. Cat crashed to the floor. Mugs squeezed under the coffee table, where he crouched, trembling.
Staggering to her feet, Cat fumbled to get her cell phone out of her pocket. How many times had she rehearsed the proper response to a crisis? Hundreds, surely. But now that the moment was upon her, she had to shout mental directions to herself. Open the phone! Dial nine-one-one! Hurry! A maniac is lurking on the front porch!
BANG! BANG-BANGS! "Cat? Hey, is that you? What's going on in there?"
At the sound of her name, Cat stopped and lowered her phone. She tried to calm the hammering in her chest, slow her rapid-fire breathing. Think! she commanded herself. It sounded like a boy. A boy who knew her
BANG-BANG-BANG! "Cat? Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I was just fooling around. It's okay, open up."
Now Cat scowled. Scare her? She wasn't scared, just startled, that's all. She shut her phone and slipped it back into her pocket. Scared? Says who? She squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, then undid the lock and eased the door ajar.
It was a boy, all right, standing in the pool of porch light. He wore a frayed red mountaineering parka so large it ballooned around his middle. A backpack was slung over his shoulders. Black hair peeked out from under a neon orange stocking cap. "Hey!" he said, and flashed a broad smile.
Cat stared, unable to believe her eyes.
"What's the matter, cat got your tongue?" the boy said. He started to laugh but stopped short. "Get it? Cat got your tongue? It's kind of a joke?" He tilted his head. "Um, guess not. Anyway, cool to see ya' again. Sorry about not keeping in touch, but—"
The boy broke off midsentence and waved his hand in front of Cat's face. "Hello? You all right in there? You're looking a lot like a deer in the headlights."
That's because all of a sudden Cat felt a lot like a deer in the headlights—blinded in the face of oncoming traffic. Before her stood her cousin Ty. Who, just like her, had lost his father on the North Face of Storm Mountain two years ago. Cousin Ty, who, just like her, could understand what it meant to live with—
"Aunt Hope here?" Ty said. He peered over Cat's shoulder into the house. "She still doing her software thing? Still volunteer with Search and Rescue? How about chicken fajitas? She still make that on Monday nights? She remarry?"
An old, familiar irritation flickered to life in Cat's gut. Although Ty had grown at least a foot and looked more mature than the last time she'd seen him, he wasn't. Same old motormouth as when he lived down the road. Same old nosy questions, too.
Ty beamed. "Bet Aunt Hope will be glad to see me, huh?"
"She's in Portland," Cat said tersely. "Conference. Home Sunday."
Ty's eyebrows went up. "That's a sign. I mean, what are the odds? My mom's gone for the weekend, too. She and Gene went to her twentieth high school reunion in Spokane and—"
"Stop!" Cat held up her hand like a cop at an intersection. "Who is Gene?"
Ty chuckled, clearly delighted to get a rise out of her. "About a year ago Mom went out for a jog and met this runner guy named Gene. One thing, as they say, led to another. She's Lizzy Blake now, not Lizzy Taylor. Gene Blake is my new dad. Comprendes?"
Cat shook her head. No, she didn't understand. A new father? How could anyone ever replace—
"Mom thinks I'm bunking with my friend Alex while she and Gene are gone," Ty said. "But I pulled a fast one on her and have been staying home solo."
He hesitated for a moment, as if he expected to be congratulated. For what? Pulling a "fast one" on his mom? Maybe on occasion there were a few minor things Cat didn't tell her mother about—staying up all night drinking mochas, for example. And watching teen vampire movies. And, okay, she had to admit Hope knew nothing of her trips to the rock climbing gym in town after school or her vow to follow in Dad's mountaineering footsteps. But that was different. That was to save her mom from worrying.
"Anyway," Ty went on, "I camped out on the couch and played video games, watched Comedy Central, scarfed bean burritos with extra cheese—best food in the world, by the way, especially when washed down with a few cans of Mountain Dew—and just cooled my jets. Well, cooled my jets until early this morning when I woke up right out of a dream."
Ty blinked his eyes shut and then popped them open wide to demonstrate waking up. "I didn't remember much," he said. "You know how dreams are. Dad had been in it, though, I was sure of that. And, okay, I realize this may sound kind of crazy or, you know, sort of woo-woo, but it seemed like he had been trying to tell me something. I didn't have a clue what, but I just couldn't get the idea out of my mind."
To emphasize his point, he tapped the side of his head. "So I climbed the ladder into the attic and worked my way back to the corner where Mom had stashed Dad's climbing gear. I started nosing around, and down in the bottom of the last box was his old parka. This is it, right here!"
He turned to the side and did an exaggerated impression of a fashion designer, complete with a fake French accent. "Notice zee fine detailing." He swept his hand down one sleeve. "Especially zee duct-tape patch on zee elbow!"
When Cat didn't respond, Ty shrugged and continued in plain English. "I put it on, pulled the collar up around my neck, and stuck my hands down deep in the pockets. And that's when—ka-ching!—I realized what Dad had been trying to tell me."
A sudden sadness swept over Ty's face, and for a tense moment Cat thought he was actually going to cry. What would she do about that? Barricade herself in her room like she did when Mom broke down?
Cat was both relieved and surprised when instead of crying, Ty let out a satisfied sigh. "So I grabbed Dad's search-and-rescue gear," he said, "packed his ashes, and caught the first Amtrak south."
Cat's mouth fell open. Surely she hadn't heard that right. "You packed what?"
Ty nodded, smiling now with obvious pride. "Yep, packed Dad's ashes, took Amtrak to Portland, caught Greyhound to town, then hiked the last few miles up Storm Mountain Road. So here I am, and here "
He swung the backpack off his shoulders, and Cat could see that it was a Black Diamond Ascent, same as her dad's. It even had the official Storm Mountain Search and Rescue patch sewn on to the top pouch. Ty opened it and unloaded a coil of red climbing rope and two Petzl ice axes, the kind with curved shafts and aggressive, sharp picks for scaling steep routes. With a grunt, he then pulled out a simple brass urn about twelve inches high.
"Good," he said, looking the urn over. "No scratches. The bubble wrap worked."
He blew a piece of lint off the latched lid, then held it up for Cat to see. "And here's my dad, better known to you as Uncle Scott." He looked into the house again. "Where's Uncle Jonathan? You spread his ashes already?"
Cat's head swam. To steady herself, she put a hand on the back of the stuffed armchair. She glanced over her shoulder toward the little shrine her mother maintained on the living room mantel. In the center of a neat line of wood-framed photos of her father sat a brass urn identical to the one Ty held. "Um, no," she finally mumbled, "Dad's still here."
"Cool," Ty said. He had slipped over the doorsill and now stood beside her. "No, better than cool, it's another sign. It means that you're supposed to join me on—Hey, a dog! Man, I love dogs, especially huskies. He's new to the family, huh? When did you get him? What's his name?"
Cat blinked, trying to keep up. Mugs had squirmed out from under the coffee table and was sitting at Ty's feet, looking up at him with his head cocked. "We got him two years ago," she said, "a few days after after you left. His name is Mugs."
Ty crouched and put his hand out. "Hey, Mugs!" he said. "Glad to meet you. Put her there. Shake!"
Cat started to warn him. "He doesn't—"
Mugs shook. Cat couldn't believe it.
Ty rubbed Mugs's ears just the way Mugs liked it. "Great dog. We should take him with us!"
Cat blinked again. "Take him with us?"
But Ty, urn tucked under his arm, was already up and dragging his dad's gear down the hall. "Got to get some sleep first, though," he called back over his shoulder. "Since Aunt Hope isn't home, all right if I crash in her bed?"
He stopped and pointed into Cat's mother's bedroom. "This is it right here, isn't it, across from yours? Yep, same bedspread. Nice and neat, too, just like always." He looked Cat's way. "Don't worry, I won't make a mess. I've turned over a new leaf. I'm organized! Hey, I even brought one of those little travel alarms with me. Gonna set it for five A.M. I'll wake you up, too—promise—so we get this expedition rolling!"
"Expedition?" Cat finally managed to slip in. "What are you talking about?"
Ty grinned. "You and me, Cuz, fulfilling the dream. We're going to spread our dads' ashes from the summit of Storm Mountain."CHAPTER 3
YOU CAN THANK ME LATER
Cat stared in disbelief. "You've got to be kidding."
Ty's grin faded into a thin straight line. "Do I look like I'm kidding?"
Even from down the hall, Cat could see a look of pure determination in his eyes. "But but that's crazy," she said.
Ty flinched at the word crazy. "No, it's not." He brushed the air with his hand, as if to dismiss her. "But, hey, if you don't have the guts, I'll do it by myself."
"By yourself? You know nothing about climbing," Cat said.
"And you do?" Ty shot back, sarcasm dripping.
Cat bristled. "Yes, I do!" She advanced on her cousin, finger wagging. "While you were in town all of those Saturdays goofing off on your skateboard, I was learning with Dad. He taught me how to tie lots of knots, and strap on crampons and self arrest with an ice ax, and all sorts of stuff. He even gave me his mountaineering library. Look!"
Cat marched into her bedroom and pointed at the neatly arranged shelves. "Forty—no, fifty—books, and I've read them all!"
She swept her hand across the spines as she rattled off titles. "Into Thin Air, Touching the Void, Four Against Everest, No Shortcuts to the Top, Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue. And, of course, Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills. I've about memorized that one! I could go on and on. Yep, fifty books, easy!"
Ty rolled his eyes. "Woo-hoo, good for you."
Cat ignored the mocking tone. To her, this was serious business.
"And that's not counting all my issues of Climbing magazine and Rock and Ice and Alpinist," she said. "Or all the Web sites I've bookmarked. I'll bet you haven't read a word of any of this stuff, much less studied the topos like I have!" She motioned around the room at the topographic maps that papered the walls. "Storm Mountain is no place for rookies!"
"I'm not a rookie," Ty insisted. "I'm the son of Scott Taylor. I can do it. Hey, I'll betcha even Mugs can do it! Right, Mugs?"
Mugs had followed Cat down the hall and jumped up onto the foot of her bed, his usual perch. During the day the spot served as a sentry post from which he could look out the window with quivering anticipation and bark at squirrels raiding the bird feeder. Now, however, he looked back and forth between Cat and Ty, ears perked.
Cat shook her head. "Our dads were expert climbers and look what happened to them up there on the mountain!"
Ty frowned. "I know, I know, but—"
Excerpted from Storm Mountain by Tom Birdseye. Copyright © 2010 Tom Birdseye. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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