The Forest Doesn’t Care – A Cole Wright short story

My Cole Wright thrillers are out now. Visit the page for the full rundown.

The third novel Hide Away will be out on May 20th, so to entice you, I’m putting up this story in the lead up to release day. The story will be up for a week or so from May 10th (and then available for purchase as and ebook and in print). I hope you enjoy this taster.


Blurb

Charlie and Suze just want a quiet, relaxing hike through Crater Top park. A beautiful, tranquil and hidden in the mountains.

Helping out with the park’s trails, Cole Wright enjoys the change. The chance to do something different.

No one expects trouble. Not way out there.

But then, trouble has a way of showing up.

Available in ebook, $2.99, and paperback, $2.99 – from the Universal Book Link.

Read on for the first couple of chapters



The Forest Doesn’t Care

by Sean Monaghan

Chapter One

A speck of rain struck Charlie’s ragged old peaked cap. Right on the brim. Louder than rain had any right to be. He reached up and touched the brim, running his fingers along the threads there, feeling the softness of the edge where it was fraying.

It was a Cardinals cap bought at a game when his grandfather had taken him umpteen years ago. Some game that had been too. Drosser had smacked it clean out of the park, but the Cardinals had still lost.

Now Charlie touched a spot of damp right there on the peak. Definitely rain. On the way. It had seemed distant for a while, the swish of a squall coming through. Others had passed them by.

Charlie looked back along the rugged trail. He’d stepped over roots and rocks, now not even sure if it was a trail. The ground was boggy, reeking like old compost. There was a clear path back through the pines. Either side it was dark. The overcast sucking light from everything, especially here in the woods.

He adjusted his pack, the straps were cutting a little into his shoulders. Wrong kind of thing really to take out on this kind of walk.

Just a little generic daypack. Practically the kind of thing a down on their luck mom or dad might purchase at one of those dollar stores so their kid had something to take what little lunch they had to school

Charlie had just tossed in a raincoat—a light one, fat lot of good that would if it really rained—some tasty chocolate protein bars and a half liter of Jungle Juice.

The trail sloped up here, heading for some peak or other. There had been tantalizing glimpses of light, as if there were clearings, or a road or even the peak itself.

When he and Suze reached them, though, each time, it was just a deceptive, momentary change in slope.

Suze was somewhere ahead. Better prepared, that was for sure. She’d bought herself a Fairbreaker coat. A layered jacket that keeps rain out, but wicks away sweat in some kind of magical transference. She had a proper pack with wide straps and some kind of spout that reached over her shoulder, connected to a built-in water flask. Kept her hydrated.

If this rain came to anything, hydrated wasn’t going to be a problem.

From nearby, something squawked. Some kind of bird, chasing down a rodent or smaller bird.

There was wildlife here. Half the reason for coming. ‘Crater Top Nature Park’. Sixty acres of beautiful old growth forest, so it said on the webpage. Didn’t mention that it was sixty acres set in thousands of acres of clear-felling. The view from one of the little ledge clearing they’d reached seemed to encompass just a vast swathe of broken land. Brown, churned earth, with stumps and branches and abandoned lodgepoles that had broken or split on felling. A rusted, yellow trailer of some kind with one of the tires canted and twisted at a bad angle.

The idea was to focus on the surrounds. The pretty mosses growing in around the roots. The bursts of mushrooms from rotting trunks. The swish and sway of the trees in the gentle wind.

“Charlie?” Suze called from ahead. She was around a bend and hidden from sight. He’d last seen the flash of her guacamole-green pack a few minutes back.

She was the serious hiker. He was happy to do day walks here and there, but she was in the club. Trailblazers. A bunch of early to late middle aged women who would rise at the crack of dawn, march over a mountain range and sleep on some windswept plateau in rustling tents.

“Not far behind,” he called back.

Ahead there were gaps in the trees. Daylight. Or, at least, the overcast. Another of those tantalizing shifts in the slope that made you think you were coming up on the ridge.

From off to his right, east, came the patter of rain. Coming closer. The leading edge. Probably heading straight for them.

Easing through the curve in the trail, he spotted Suze forty yards ahead. Her red coat already on and the hood up. Her pack on the ground, leaning against her legs.

Facing away from him. She had her hands out. Moving her head as if talking to someone.

There was a definite slope change where she was. From his angle it looked almost as if she was on the ridge. But beyond, there was a bank, then more trees.

The road cutting. She’d mentioned it. Shown him on the map. An old forestry road, used by the park’s people now to service the various amenities. There was some kind of vault toilet near the top, apparently.

For rescues too perhaps. If Charlie tripped and busted his ankle here, he would need carrying out.

As he drew closer, Charlie saw the back end of a pickup. Big and new. Black. Shiny. Chunky tires. A tow ball.

The tailgate was open. The front end was hidden by the foliage.

More rain was coming in. Still just a shower, but pretty soon it would be torrential.

Charlie kept walking.

There was someone else there. Standing just the other side of the pickup. Head and shoulders visible.

Older guy. Lot of gray in his thick beard. He had a maroon beanie on his head. He was saying something to Suze.

Charlie drew up almost to them. Maybe these guys could give them a ride back down to the parking lot at the trailhead. Save them a walk in the rain.

Charlie came up almost level. Just a few yards from Suze. The guy stepped forward.

“Hey,” Charlie said. Now he could see into the pickup’s tray.

A body lying there.

A woman. Blood all over her face. Eyes staring blankly.

“Welcome to the party,” the guy said, stepping around.

He was holding a rifle.

Level.

Aimed right at Suze.

Chapter Two

Cole Wright Stood by the open door of the park’s busted and beat up SUV. A twelve-year old RAV4. Bought secondhand on a very tight budget. Bought from donations a few years back.

Jim Targell, who’d employed Wright, said that it had been one of the best investments they’d ever made.

Right now, at the rocky, exposed crown of Crater Top, Wright had a fabulous view across the local landscape. There were tall trees below, but around the top they only grew a few feet high. Too rocky and dry and barren. The air was filled with their sweet pine scent.

Across the valley, on private land, some huge acreages of forest had been clear-felled. Every single tree cut down, leaving stumps a foot high. In five years it would look better, with neat rows of green saplings.

Farther off the hills turned to blue, fading into the distance. An to the east, a curtain of rain was drawing in. Maybe another few minutes and Wright and Targell were in for a drenching.

“One minute,” Targell said from nearby.

The crown hosted a cellphone tower. Something put in by T-Mobile. They paid to have it here, and made a contribution to the road. Even made a grant to put new tires on the RAV a year back. Targell liked to tell the stories.

The name Crater Top was kind of a misnomer. There was a crater, but it was far below and lost in the forest. The peak might have been part of the rim a hundred thousand or a million years ago. There was a flat area with just enough room to turn the vehicle around, and the tower.

A trail led off to the south, and fifty yards farther down, occupying a flat spot, there was a functional toilet hidden in the trees. Functional in that you could use it. It stank and attracted flies. A half hour back Wright had replaced the rolls of paper and the squeeze bottle of sanitizer. Before he left he’d squirted a couple of good dollops onto his hands and rubbed it around. Still didn’t feel quite clean.

Wright was just here for a few days, probably. Help out with maintenance on the trails and amenities. Another grant, from the county, was paying for it. Suited him. It came with a simple room in the park’s office, meals and a little spending cash for his back pocket.

He and Targell were up here tasked with maintenance on the cyclone wire fence that protected the base of the tower. T-Mobile were paying. Tightening bolts and wires and sending photos back to the technicians who would do the regular and more technical maintenance.

“All right,” Targell said, closing up his toolbox and loading it into the RAV’s rear. He came around and got into the driver’s seat.

Wright got in next to him and they closed their doors with groaning, squeaky thunks. Wright was tempted to donate his meagre salary back to the park so they could get a service done on the vehicle.

“The phone company could do all this themselves,” Targell said, reaching through the gap between the seats and pulling out his little blue cooler.

“They could,” Wright said, knowing what was coming. The company has to charge out their own workers at seventy dollars an hour. Two of them for a full day really added up. Cheaper to give every second inspection to the park volunteers and make another donation.

Targell folded down the top of his cooler and handed Wright a plastic-wrapped sandwich and a Coke can.

“Got a bit warm there, sorry,” Targell said.

“No trouble.” Wright unwrapped the sandwich. Targell lived fifteen minutes away, in Clawville, a town of nearly four thousand. He’d been a doctor, but become a part-time ranger—part-time paid, full-time employed, he would say—because things weren’t working out. Wright figured a malpractice suit that wasn’t worth fighting.

Targell always made lunch for them both. Trout in the sandwiches, that he’d caught and gutted and seared himself. Wright wasn’t sure about trout sandwiches that had been warming in a cooler all morning, but it was food and he wasn’t fussy. With rocket and mayo, the sandwich was pretty delicious.

He sipped from the cola as Targell ranted on about the phone company and their generosity, but with a level of corporate cynicism.

The vehicle was parked facing east and the rain was almost upon them. The first scattered drops already impacting the windshield.

“Well,” Targell said, balling up the plastic wrap from his sandwich, “we’d better head on down before there’s some landslide that does the job for us.”

He started the engine and the old vehicle shook and rattled. Targell put his own soda in the central cup holder, adjusted the shift and backed carefully around. It took three goes. A K turn.

Then they were on the road. Gravel crunching under the tires. The angle was steep. The little vehicle was ideal. Light and agile. Targell was a cautious driver.

But he had to throw on the brakes as they came around one of the switchbacks to see a big black pickup blocking the way.

End of Chapter Two


Continue reading “The Forest Doesn’t Care” in ebook or paperback – click here. For more intrigue check out the Cole Wright page on the website. And feel free to drop me a line.

Cheers

Sean

 

Hide Away – Cole Wright book 3 available for preorder

It might just be me, but I have a sense that when a book series has three titles, then it’s got a real foundation.

So, May 20th sees the release of Hide Away, book 3 of my Cole Wright Thriller series. A foundation, I suppose.

The books can be read in any order, so if you want to start here, feel free to jump in.

_

Cole Wright sits in a sparkling bright Route 66 themed diner in a small Montana town. Kind of town you could walk side to side in five minutes and leave behind.

In the mountains nearby, Joe Bridger consults his phone.Any moment and he will get the go ahead. A simple job.

He can get out of the snow and grab himself a meal.

The two should never meet. No need to.

Practically nothing in common.

Wright finds himself on a collision course. Suits him just fine.


As usual, $5.99 for the ebook, but $16.99 for the print. This is the longest yet, pushing 400 pages (okay, I do that Patterson thing of having all chapters start on the right hand side, so sometimes there’s a blank page on the left… maybe 360 pages, then).

See the whole series here at Smashwords. Or Amazon. 

Universal book link for Hide Away is here

Check the Cole Wright page on my website for more details on the series.


Stay tuned – as with the previous releases, at the start of the month I’ll have a Cole Wright short story free to read on this page. It’ll stay up for free for a week or so, then be available through the usual channels. That’ll be $2.99 for the ebook, and $5.99 for the paperback.


The Forest Doesn’t Care

A Cole Wright short story.

Charlie and Suze just want a quiet, relaxing hike through Crater Top park. A beautiful, tranquil and hidden in the mountains.

Helping out with the park’s trails, Cole Wright enjoys the change. The chance to do something different.

No one expects trouble. Not way out there.

But then, trouble has a way of showing up.

[Free to read here on this website from May 10th through to May 18th]


Links to the other novels

 

 

 

 

 

 

and stories

 

 

 

 

 


Thanks for reading.

 

 

“Schedule Interruption”, a Cole Wright short story

Measured Aggression the second Cole Wright thriller novel will be out on March 20th. In the meantime, here’s a little taster from the latest Cole Wright short story – the first couple of chapters of “Schedule Interruption”.


On his way toward Spokane, Cole Wright rides a rickety old bus. Local service. Regular schedule. Few passengers. Small town to small town. Heartland people.

Wright plans to pick up the long distance service when the bus reaches the freeway.

Plans, though, have a way of getting interrupted.

A standalone Cole Wright story that comes right down to good people in tough circumstances.


Schedule Interruption

Chapter One

Dust devils flickered to life along the side of the highway. Little whips of wind, picking at the desiccated ground. Whirling it up into momentary, insubstantial wavery ghosts that seemed to follow the old clanky bus chugging along under the beating sun.

Cole Wright sat in a tacky, faded window seat toward the back. On the right. The window itself was dark and patinaed. Someone had managed to scratch Sally 4 Patrick near the bottom. Bored on a long trip, and had scraped away with the edge of a dime or a quarter. No one would have heard a thing over the rumble of the engine.

The bus was maybe a fifth full. About forty seats. Most people clustered toward the front. A few pairs, but mostly alone. A college student with an open laptop. A farmhand in a white cowboy hat. A couple of women in their seventies, both spry and well dressed. One of them kept up a constant monologue about the government, the weather and her former husband Trevor who’d absconded some thirty years back with one of the high school teachers. The woman’s voice was almost soothing.

The air in the bus was cool and dry. Wright sipped from a half liter bottle of Dr Pepper he’d bought outside the bus station back in Kelles. A little town on the crossroads of couple of state routes. Forty miles south of the freeway. Eighty miles from anywhere with more than a vending machine and a gas station with pumps from last century.

The bus station hadn’t even been more than an old store that someone had converted into a waiting room. The bus to Gransfield ran three days a week. Gransfield being on the freeway, and boasting a couple of gas stations some fast food places and an IGA. At least according to the folks he’d talked with while waiting.

The bus itself had to date from the 1950s. Maybe a little newer. Small windows and hard seats. The kind of thing that, polished and scrubbed, would show up on some movie screen, delivering new Vietnam war draftees to their muster.

Wright capped his soda and watched the prairie slip by. There were hills in the distance, blue and dark, barely showing above the plain. The country here rolled ever so softly. Like a slightly mussed blanket. Not table-flat, but no one would mistake it for mountainous, or even hilly.

Wright was heading for Spokane. He’d wandered enough and it was time for a break. Maybe get a job again. If he could handle the routine of regular hours.

Something straightforward, like packing vegetables to be shipped to supermarkets, or laboring laying bricks, or maybe looking up one of those big online gift shipping companies and vanishing into a gigantic warehouse filled with conveyors and rollers and every product you could think of from shampoo to tires to bread makers.

Anything but police work, really. Which included a whole mess of things, like security guard, bouncer, investigator.

For now, though, it was good just to let it all wash off and ride the rails. Or highways, as such.

As he twisted the lid from his soda again, the bus lurched, slowing. The liquid fizzed and ran out over his fingers. He was forced to lick them clean as the bus came to a stop.

They weren’t anywhere.

Just the plain, rough and dry farmlands lying around and hoping for some rain. Telegraph poles and mile markers. About two hundred yards north, back from the road, stood some farm machinery. A big rusty old combine harvester, and red dump truck with a long snout.

Beyond those stood a plain white clapboard house. Two stories, with some smaller, less well-painted buildings around. Equipment sheds and outhouses, presumably.

The bus hissed. Came to a stop.

Wright removed the cap from his soda and sipped. The bus’s door clanked. The driver reaching across and throwing the handle.

Through the front windshield, which was in two pieces, separated by a vertical strip and had a crack running from about eight o’clock a third of the way up, Wright could see a town. Maybe a mile, mile and a half off.

The tall signs, edge on from his perspective, indicating gas and fast food, and maybe even a motel or two. A few low houses there, dark and anonymous. Some tall, bushy trees, like oaks a hundred fifty years old.

That would be Gransfield. On the freeway.

The bus’s destination.

Outside, from just at the bus’s open door, someone called something. From his angle Wright couldn’t see them.

“Two fifty,” the driver said. “Each.”

More inaudible words from outside.

The driver turned in his seat and sighed. He was probably mid-seventies. Slim, but what little hair he had on his head was pure white. His face was lined with the grizzle of years and he had a thick, white mustache.

He’d smiled at Wright, back in Kelles, when Wright had boarded. The kind of smile that was welcoming. Acknowledging that here was someone new. It was pretty obvious that the other passengers were all familiar to the driver. Even the college student.

“I don’t have a choice,” the driver said. “I know it’s not far, and I know you could walk it, save for the heat we got. But the thing is I have a boss. All these good people have paid.”

The person outside said something. Louder, more forceful, but still inaudible.

Wright capped his soda. He slipped it into the netting pocket on the back of the seat in front.

“No, not at all,” the driver said. “It’s a set price. A minimum. You know when you’re in the city and you get a cab, there’s already three dollars on the meter before you’ve even left the curb? That’s the flag fall. I’ve stopped here, because you waved me down.”

Another word from outside. Could have been an epithet.

Wright stood.

“It’s two dollars and fifty cents,” the driver said. “Each. You got a problem with that, you go talk to my boss. His number’s painted on the side of the bus.”

The driver swung back around into his seat. He reached for the door lever.

The kind of lever that’s been in buses since forever. A simple system. An aluminum handle, vertical, with two pieces of flat aluminum on a pivot fixed just below the dash. Between the handle and the pivot, a rod, also on a pivot, connects that part of the mechanism to the door.

The door, then, folds in half, right into the footwell. The handle is designed so that the door can be opened or shut without a driver having to leave their seat. They have to stretch a little, but it’s not much effort.

The driver pushed on the lever to close the door.

The lever didn’t budge.

“Let go of the door,” the driver said.

Another epithet from outside.

Wright stepped into the aisle.

 

Chapter Two

Out on the road, a black pickup was heading south, coming toward the parked bus. Coming from Gransfield.

The driver glanced toward it.

The pickup slowed a little. A late model F150.

The bus’s engine thrummed, sitting at idle. The floor under Wright’s feet shivered.

The college student had closed up her laptop. She was leaning into the aisle a fraction. The older woman had stopped talking.

Wright took a step forward.

The F150 didn’t stay slowed for long. It picked up speed and sped by the bus. Wright glimpsed the driver as he went by. Three days of stubble and a cowboy hat. Staring dead ahead.

“Let go,” the bus driver said, “of the door.”

A mutter from outside. Probably ‘No!’

“It’s two fifty from here to Gransfield,” the driver said. “I can’t do no more favors. “

Wright took another step forward. This brought him level with the farmhand. He’d set his hat on the seat next to him.

Wright put his hand on the seat back.

The farmhand looked up. He smelled of hay and earth and beer. He met Wright’s eyes. Almost eager.

“Stay put,” Wright said.

“They’re holding us up. I should go talk to them. Or pay the fare.”

“Do you know them?”

A nod.

Wright stepped back. “Go talk to them. I’ll pay the fare.”

“Mikey,” the farmhand said

“Wright. Cole Wright.”

Taking the back of the seat in front, Mikey pulled himself upright. He was tall. Had to duck so that he didn’t his head on the steel framing of the webbing luggage rack that ran front to back. One on each side. A few parcels stuffed in. Some more hats. A pair of roller skates that looked as if they’d been left from when the bus had been manufactured.

Mikey stepped into the aisle and started along.

The driver saw him coming. Held his hand up.

“Hold on, son,” the driver said. “No need to make this any of your business.”

“I can handle myself.” Mikey was wearing a white singlet with a plaid shirt open and over the top. Sleeves rolled up. He had ragged jeans and black steel-capped boots.

“Mikey,” Wright said. “Hold up.”

Mikey didn’t stop.


The story continues here (Universal Book Link), through the usual channels. ebook $2.99, print $5.99.


 

There’s more Cole Wright around – check out the full Cole Wright page right here on the website. The Arrival, the first novel, and “Dark Fields” the first story are out now. Measured Aggression will be out soon. The third and fourth books, Hide Away and Scorpion Bait will be out in May and July respectively.

Also in May and July, I’ll be posting free short stories for a few days again. I like the rhythm of that. The novels are fun to write, but so are the short stories. By the end of the year there will be six or seven or so, and I guess it’ll make sense to put them into a collection.


 

 

 


 

Measured Aggression – Cole Wright Thriller #2 available for preorder

Following book 1, The Arrival, Cole Wright book 2 Measured Aggression will be out on March 20th – the ebook is available on preorder now.

_____

The sign at the edge of town announces it as Cooperville, Pop 3516.

Small town. Big problems.

Passing through, Cole Wright just wants a meal and to get back on the road.

Always happy to have a nice meal.

Always happy to avoid problems.

Sometimes, though, problems just demand attention.

ebook $5.99, print $15.99, hardback $19.99 – UBL here


To promote the book’s release and give you a taste of Cole Wright, I’ll be putting up a Cole Wright short story – “Schedule Interruption” – for free on this site for a few days, starting Monday 7th March. From the 10th, the story will be available for $2.99/$9.99.

On his way toward Spokane, Cole Wright rides a rickety old bus. Local service. Regular schedule. Few passengers. Small town to small town. Heartland people.

Wright plans to pick up the long distance service when the bus reaches the freeway.

Plans, though, have a way of getting interrupted.

A standalone Cole Wright story that comes right down to good people in tough circumstances.


If you wanted a taster right now, well, there is The Arrival, but there’s also another short story – “Dark Fields” – available now. Again $2.99/$9.99 – UBL link here.



In other news, the third novel Hide Away is about ready to go and will be out in May, and the fourth, Scorpion Bait, is set for July. The fifth novel, Zero Kills, intended for September, turned out to have more than zero kills, so it’s been retitled Slow Burn. I have a couple more short stories written, so should be able to pair a short with a novel in each release month. And I’m going to power on and write a novel with zero kills to fit that title. Might even be able to have that out in December.


In other, other news, for those who might prefer my science fiction to my thrillers, I have a standalone SF novella The Chule coming out on March 10th as well.

Setting up a quiet, simple colony on planet Barchime should be idyllic.
Eliza, Della and the others have high ideals.
Sparsely populated, the gorgeous planet offers everything they need.
But when something riles up some local wildlife, the simple life might just come to an end
A very sudden end.

ebook $2.99, print $9.99 – UBL here


More news next week, about the next Captain Arlon Stoddard novel, and the next in the Karnish River Navigations series (finally), and, remember, the free story too.

 

Thanks for reading

Sean