The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon

Prologue

COLORADO ROCKIES

April 17, Tuesday

4:17 p.m.

Breathtaking drops along the road that rimmed Colorado’s Dead Horse Canyon terrified Sara Reynolds from the start. Cliffs and gorges stretched on and off for miles, few protected by guardrails.

“Too expensive,” Bryan explained. “Not a priority for lean county budgets.”

His advice for dealing with roadway-induced acrophobia was simple:

“Keep your eyes on the center line. Concentrate on the road. Whatever you do, never, ever look down!”

His words sprang from memory, recommendations moot. Ignoring the threat didn’t make it go away. Especially when someone T-boned your truck on a blind curve.

Their mangled Silverado teetered on a ledge twenty feet below. She stared, incredulous, as steam twisted upward from its crumpled hood in a sultry, hypnotic dance. Vapors crawled along the shattered windshield, then teased the heart-shaped leaves of a young quaking aspen—the truck’s only ally against a sheer drop of several hundred feet.

The realization she’d been the truck’s passenger only moments before sizzled through her like lightning. Why was she weightless, brunette tendrils floating about her shoulders like a storm cloud? Her horrified gaze shifted to her husband, likewise weightless and wearing his signature crooked grin.

“What happened?” Her words were soundless, thought rather than speech.

“We’re dead.”

“What? Dead? What do you mean we’re dead?”

He pointed to their truck. She gasped. Their lifeless bodies were clearly visible through the cab’s passenger side window.

He was right—they were dead.

The tender expression in his hazel eyes embraced her heart as affection flowed between them. An unexpected sense of peace  defied what lay below. Time froze, the forest hushed and serene as a leafy chorus offered a requiem in the spring breeze.

What seemed an eternity later, sirens screamed through the canyon. His demeanor shifted.

“I’m sorry, Sara. That didn’t exactly work out as planned. I know—I should have listened to you. I love you, sweetheart.”

Renewed panic surged. “What are you saying, Bryan?”

“You must go back. Promise me. Don’t let them get away with this. Please.”

He blew her a kiss, then his personage retreated, fading into a swirling vortex of unearthly light.

No! Wait. Don’t leave me! Bryan, please. Don’t go!”

He didn’t stop, her plea denied, his only response a wave of farewell as he vanished into the light.

* * *

She awoke to mind-numbing pain. Her shoulder, neck, and hip screamed, spasms twisting every muscle as if some wild beast had torn them apart. There’d been an ear-splitting crash, a brilliant flash of light. . .

Where was Bryan? Where was she?

Unless someone knew otherwise, surely it was hell.

Somewhere far away a muffled siren wailed. Fear of the truth conspired with her blood-crusted lashes not to open her eyes. Pain vetoed the refusal. Her eyelids trembled open.

A sandy haired, broad-shouldered man in a blue EMS uniform sat beside her, attention fixed on a beeping vital signs monitor. A metallic taste filled her mouth, lips swollen and heavy, her attempt to speak a scratchy whisper.

“What. . .happened? Wh-where’s Bryan? Is he h-here?”

The man turned her way, regarding her with dark, concerned eyes.

“It’s okay, ma’am. Don’t try to talk.” He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “We’re getting you to help as fast as we can.”

Her breathing quickened, ravaged muscles and nerves on fire, but the agony consuming her heart eclipsed it all. A sob caught in her throat, words an articulated whimper.

“H-he left me. Here….”

“Just relax.” He emptied a syringe into the port of the IV line embedded in her arm.

The pain ebbed. Again nothing. Only darkness.

* * *

BELTON REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER

April 17, Tuesday

5:37 p.m.

The sensation of motion breached the persistent fog. Her eyes cracked open as the gurney rumbled through a portal into blinding light. Electronic chirping, then muted voices, the smell of antiseptics.

She forced her query out from somewhere in her chest. “W-what h-happened?”

The pretty black nurse hanging a unit of blood looked her way. “You were in a bad wreck, darlin’. Just rest now. You’re in good hands. You’re awake and that’s a really good sign.”

“But my husband—”

“I know, darlin’. Don’t worry about him. He’s in a better place.” Tears flowed unbidden. It had to be a nightmare. Willing herself awake, however, failed. Abandonment and confusion in the grip of agonizing pain remained.