Thesis revised a short s.., p.1
Thesis Revised: A Short Story, p.1
By Jennifer McMurrain
©2012 by Jennifer McMurrain
All rights reserved.
This book or parts thereof may not be reproduced in any form, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without prior written permission of the copyright owner and/or publisher of this book, except as provided by United States of America copyright law.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Published by LilyBear House, LLC
Interior Design: Jennifer McMurrain
Cover Design: Brandy Walker
Sister Sparrow Graphic Designs - https://www.facebook.com/SisterSparrowDesign
To my overactive imagination, may you always give me goose bumps.
Joella spun around. She was sure she’d heard broken voices dancing on the desert wind. Scanning the horizon, she looked for the owners of the phantom conversation. Possibly some early evening hikers just getting in or maybe people from the campground down the road. The canyon did like to carry sounds. She was being silly. Shaking it off, she continued down the path.
“It’s probably just the sage brush against your pant leg,” she muttered to herself. “Stop freaking out. If you don’t check these trap cameras, you can say good-bye to your thesis project. It’s not like you’ve never walked this trail before.”
She had gone as far as she could with her book research, and now she needed some hands on data to prove her point. She had already switched out the memory cards on nine cameras and only had one left. Glancing at the horizon, she chastised herself for spending too much time in the library studying for her last round of finals. The sun would be down before she even reached the camera; it would be down before she reached the abandoned mine house.
Goosebumps took over her arms as she heard the voices again. No, not voices, but a wail. Joella paused and listened hard. Could it be the creature she was determined to prove was in the area? Possibly the same cougar she had spotted crossing the highway eleven months ago? The one her thesis professor adamantly insisted she couldn’t have seen because, “there are no cougars in this region." Her grade was solely reliant on one quick flash of the cougar on one of these cameras. Three months of photos hadn’t revealed a hint that the elusive cat made the canyon home, but Joella wasn’t giving up.
Hearing nothing more, she continued down the path. In the twilight, she could make out the broken down outline of the mine house. The canyon was full of old mines and forsaken buildings, but for some reason this particular house gave Joella the "willies". Rumors ran rampant on what happened to the old miner that built the place. Some said he was crushed to death in a cave-in, while others insisted he disappeared in the woods screaming about a banshee that haunted the mines.
Joella paid no attention to rumors. Banshees and ghosts were folklore told to keep kids in bed at night. They had no place in science. Nonetheless, she kept her eyes on the path, careful not to look at the rundown building. The last thing she needed was to have her eyes play tricks on her and spook her any more than she already was.
Another moan caressed the air, causing Joella to pick up her step. She could see the camera just a few yards ahead.
“Just switch out the memory card and be done with it,” she encouraged herself.
A scream echoed on the canyon walls, and Joella returned it with her own. Picking up speed, she raced to the camera. The shutter clicked twice just before she opened the weather proof cover and exchanged the cards as fast as her jittery fingers would allow. Slamming the cover shut, she ran back down the trail, concentrating on the path ahead. Reality blurred with fear as the screaming continued.
Nearing her car, she threw her hand in her pocket and grabbed her keys, clicking the unlock button over and over until she was within range and the headlights came on. She jerked the door open, threw her bag into the passenger side seat, and peeled out of the dirt parking lot. Joella maintained her tunnel vision well after she reached the highway, afraid a glance in any direction would send her tail spinning into another fit of panic.
Seeing the lights of her small college town, she rolled her neck and tried to relax. Thinking back, she laughed at herself. The screams were probably just a barn owl calling to his mate. She had been silly to get so worked up. She would never make it as a wildlife biologist if she couldn’t handle a little evening hike. Taking a deep breath, she vowed to never let her fear get the better of her again.
After a nice cup of tea and long hot bath, Joella towel dried her hair as she walked to her computer. It was time to see if she caught anything on her trap cameras. She grabbed the memory card marked for the tenth camera, said a little prayer for some cougar photos, and slid it into the reader.
Clicking through the pictures she got the usual critters, some mule deer, a couple of raccoons, and a lot of birds. Coming to the last series of shots, Joella gasped, and her computer mouse hit the floor. There in the last photo she could see her own frantic face and just behind her left ear... the face of a man screaming.
If you enjoyed Thesis Revised
please check out this excerpt of Winter Song
Available in both paperback and e-book on Amazon.com Summer of 2013.
Sage McKennan stared into the fire place and shivered. Cooper knew the one-bedroom house he shared with her was warm enough. It was an internal chill that raced through her body. It happened every time they fought and tonight was no exception.
“Come sit by me,” said Cooper, patting the couch cushion beside him. Sage didn’t move.
Cooper sighed and bit his lower lip. “Okay, you were right. I shouldn’t have gone. I just thought I could earn us some money for the bed and breakfast. I don’t want you to have to work graveyard at the hotel for the rest of your life. You deserve better.”
Sage moved from the fire to the window. The snow was coming down harder now. The lights blinked and Sage gave a worried glance at the lamp. Cooper walked up behind her.
“Don’t worry, baby, this storm will blow over soon enough,” he whispered gently. “Just another Wyoming winter. Nothing to worry about.”
Sage turned away and rushed to the china cabinet, gathering candles from a top drawer.
Cooper chuckled. “I know. I know. If you light all the candles now the lights won’t go out. If you wait and don’t light them, the lights will go off and you’ll be scrambling around in the dark.” He smirked. “Of course, you know how I like to scramble in the dark.”
Sage set the candles around the small den and began lighting them.
“Come on, Sage!” Cooper groaned. “How long are you going to keep giving me the silent treatment? I’ve been through hell. I don’t even know if anyone else made it off the boat. The only thing I could think about was getting to you. Speak to me! Tell me you love me! Let me hold you, damn it.”
Sage looked up as headlights fell through the window.
“Who in the world is that?” asked Cooper.
Sage hurried to the back door, opening it in time to let the Deputy in out of the snow. He stomped his boots off before stepping out of the mud room.
“Deputy Park,” said Cooper. “I bet you’re here to ask me about the accident. Sage, get the man some coffee.”
“Please sit down, Richard,” said Sage gesturing to the small kitchen table. She hurried to get the coffee pot that sat warming on the stove. “I’m sure you’re chilled to the bone. I hate nights like this.”
Richard sat, holding his hat in his hands.
Cooper leaned on the door frame. “I really don’t remember much. You should’ve called. I would’ve saved you the trip. All I know is the alarm went off and I grabbed my survival suit. This kid by the name of Gavin Hart was my bunk mate, couldn’t have been more than eighteen. He did the same. Then he started freaking out ‘cause his suit had a hole in the foot. So I traded with him. Next thing I know, we’re both swimming in the Bering Sea.”
Sage handed Richard a large cup of steaming coffee. “Well?” she asked.
Richard placed his untouched coffee on the table, grabbed Sage’s hand and shook his head. “It’s not good, Sage. You better sit down.”
Sage sank to a chair.
Richard rubbed his thumb over the back of Sage's hand and cleared his throat. “They found one life boat. Captain Mullis and some kid named Gavin Hart were the only ones in there.”
“Oh good!” Cooper gave a sigh of relief. “Glad the kid made it out.”
Sage took in a deep breath. “What about…?” A loud sob finished her sentence as Richard shook his head slowly.
“You mean he’s dead?” Sage gasped. “Cooper’s dead?”
“What are you talking about? Sage, I’m right here.” Cooper closed the distance between him and Sage. He reached out to hug her but caught nothing but air as his hands passed through her body. “What the…”
“Do you have someone I can call?” asked Richard.
“She doesn’t need to call anyone. I’m right here!” Cooper yelled. “I don’t know what kind of shit you two are trying to pull, but it’s not funny.”
Cooper reached for Sage’s hand and again it passed right through. He stared at his hands.
Sage shook her head as Cooper walked to the window, trying to wrap his brain around the news. “I’m dead,” he repeated. "How can I be dead?"
“I don’t know if this is going to make you feel any better,” said Richard. “But that Hart kid is alive, thanks to Cooper. I guess he had a hole in the foot of his survival suit, and Cooper switched with him at the last minute. Cooper’s a hero.”
Sage managed a small smile. “He was always my hero.”
The electricity blinked a couple of times before calling it quits. Candlelight filled the room.
Richard meet her gaze. “You don't have to be alone tonight,” he said, placing a hand on her arm.
Sage shook her head again, and patted Richard’s hand. “I’m not alright, Richard, but I’ll be okay. Thanks for driving out here and telling me. I know you’re a busy man.”
“I don’t feel right leaving you here alone,” protested Richard. "Really, I think I should stay."
“I want to be alone!” blurted Sage. Taking a deep breath she looked at the deputy. “Please Richard. I need to digest this in my own way.”
“I understand,” he said, putting his hat back on. “I’ll be back in the morning to check on you. No arguments. Call me if you need anything, and I mean anything. It's really no trouble.”
Sage thanked Richard before firmly shutting the door. Cooper watched Sage pick up Richard’s coffee cup, dump it into the sink, and wash it. The candles flickered around her, giving her blonde highlights an amber glow. Setting the cup in the drainer, she made her way to the den, and started picking up the scrapbooking material that covered the coffee table. She’d been working on the albums when Cooper came home.
Gathering up the pictures, she came across one of Cooper sitting in a meadow. Wild flowers bloomed all around him as he smiled at her, hiding behind the camera. Dropping the pictures, she fell to the floor.
“Why?” she cried. “Why’d you have to leave me?”
Sage pulled herself onto the couch and curled in a ball. “I told you not to go. I told you it was too dangerous. Why didn’t you listen? Why’d you leave me?”
Cooper sprang to the couch, anxious to touch his love again. “I’m right here, baby. I would never leave you.”
He looked around, trying to find a way to show her that he was there. Spotting the candle nearest her, he bent down and concentrated as he blew. The fire went out.
Sage stared at the candle through wet eyes. None of the others had even flickered. Picking up the candle, she examined the wick. It was fine.
Cooper leaned in close, aching to hold her. “I will never leave you again.”
Other Works by Jennifer McMurrain
Emma's Walk: A Short Story
Footprints in the Snow: A Short Story
Finding Hope A Short Story
About the Author
Having a great deal of wanderlust, Author Jennifer McMurrain traveled the countryside working odd jobs before giving into her muse and becoming a full time writer. She's been everything from a "Potty Princess" in the wilds of Yellowstone National Park to a Bear Researcher in the mountains of New Mexico. After finally settling down, she received a Bachelor's degree in Applied Arts and Science from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, TX. She has won numerous awards for her short stories and novels. She lives in Bartlesville, Oklahoma with her husband, daughter, two spoiled cats, and two goofy dogs. Quail Crossings is her first novel.
Author photograph by Brandy Walker Photography
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