Frozen Stiff 

Prologue

When the pain of the biting cold faded and sleepiness began to wash over her, she realized, somewhere deep in the recesses of her mind, that she was in serious trouble. But it was such a relief not to hurt any more that she ignored the alarm bells in her head.


Ever since she had regained consciousness with a headache that could have dropped a polar bear, the cold had been overwhelming, seeping into her very soul. She had spent an eternity shivering, but it didn’t have its intended effect—rather than warming her up, it only sapped her strength faster. And even though she was walking as briskly as the conditions would allow, she just got colder and colder.


If only she had listened to that nice guy she’d met down in Santa Fe yesterday. He had warned her that the weather up here in the mountains could change with surprising speed, and did it ever. Last night had been barely tolerable for her, curled up in a ball under the low boughs of a fir tree. She had long since grown tired of the granola bars, but they had enough calories to keep her going, while they lasted. Then this morning, what had started as a nice fall day—chilly, but sunny and warming up—had suddenly turned vicious, with wind, a cold rain changing to snow, and finally these blizzard conditions.


She knew she was too far from anywhere and too deep in the canyon to get a cell phone signal, probably, even if her battery wasn’t dead, even if she hadn’t dropped the thing somewhere, maybe when she had stopped by that big rock to rest.


And then … what had happened? She was walking up the little side valley, thinking about her dilemma again, resolving to put a stop to the madness somehow, to prevent the slaughter, and … then what?


All she could remember was waking up cold, and with the unbelievable headache. It made her usual migraines seem tame, even benign.


It didn’t help at all that these mountains were so confusing. Steep valleys winding here and there, with little side canyons going nowhere. Rocks and cliffs, and cliffs and rocks—that all looked alike. She knew she had to go down before going back up, but how much and when to turn off the trail down the stream was just a mystery.


This side canyon she was in just now certainly wasn’t the right one. The cliffs up there behind her weren’t something she had encountered before, and there was no way she was going up them anyhow. If only she could find the right trail and get back to the car, she could get warmed up.


Ah, here. The big rock, where she rested before. The one like a toadstool, with a little shelter under its side, the downwind side. Just a little rest, maybe that would help restore enough strength to find a way out of this awful place. As she settled into a hunched-up sitting position in the lee of the big rock, she pulled her windbreaker over her head and stuck her hands into her armpits.


So tired, sleepy.


What would her father do? He was always talking about his hunting trips when he was younger, trips into the Sacramento Mountains in the fall. If you get lost, he said, stay put. Someone will find you—assuming someone knows that you’re missing. But no one knew that she had come up here, except that guy downtown yesterday. Of course, he wouldn’t know she hadn’t returned last night.


And her father had always talked about what you should carry, even on the shortest hikes. Matches. A space blanket. Rain gear. All that other stuff that she’d neglected to bring as well.


I’m sorry, Daddy, I’m so sorry. I screwed up, I should have listened to you.


He would be frantic, of course. She was supposed to call him tonight, she remembered.


And she also needed to make that other call, as difficult as it would be, she must—the madness had to stop. No matter the history of injustice, the collusion with the Zionists, the seductive infidel decadence that was corrupting the faithful. There was simply no way she could let all those people die like that. No way. She had to stop it. Had to.


Just a little rest, she thought, maybe then I can go on, find the car. So sleepy …