The Girl in the Moss (Angie Pallorino Book 3)

By: Loreth Anne White

A SECRET RUNS THROUGH IT

And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

—Genesis 2:9

SEPTEMBER 1994

Twilight lingers at the fifty-first parallel, painting the sky deep indigo as tiny stars begin to prick and shiver like gold dust in the heavens. It’s cold, winter’s frost already crisp upon the breath of the late-September evening. Mist rises wraithlike above the crashing white water of Plunge Falls, and fog hangs densely over the forest, playing peekaboo with the ragged peaks of the surrounding mountains. She moves carefully along the slime-covered rocks at the edge of the deep-green eddies and pools of the Nahamish River.

Stopping for a moment, she watches a cloud of small insects that have begun to dart just above the water’s mercurial surface. Peace is complete, a tangible thing that feels akin to a gentle blanket wrapped about her shoulders. She’s in the moment as she crouches down to her haunches and removes a wallet-size fly box from the front pocket of her fishing vest. She opens the silver box, listening to the thunder of the falls downriver. The wind hushes through the forest up along the ridge at her back. She selects a tiny dry fly that best matches the insects hatching over the water. Gripping the fly between clenched front teeth, she draws the line from her rod with her fist. With practiced movements she knots her fly onto the tippet attached to the leader at the end of her dry line. A silver hook nestles in the feathers, which are designed to fool the trout into thinking the fly is food. A smile curves her mouth.

Rising to her feet, she begins to cast—a great big balletic sequence of loops, her line sending diamond droplets shimmering into the cool air. She feels a punch of satisfaction in her belly as she settles her fly right at the edge of a deep, calm eddy, just where the current begins to riffle along the surface, where she’s seen fish rising for the hatch.

But as her fly begins to drift downriver, she senses something. A sentience. As if she’s being watched. With intent. She stills, but her pulse quickens. Her hearing becomes acute.

Bear?

Wolf?

Cougar?

She can no longer hear the others, she realizes. They’re upriver at a camping area near the boat pullout. She left them gathering around the fire, sipping drinks, waiting for their two male guides to prepare dinner, getting ready to laugh and eat and tell tall tales into the night. But she’d been hungry for a few last casts before full dark on this second-to-last day of their trip. It was a failing of hers—always wanting just one more of everything, not being able to stop. Perhaps it was not a good idea. She swallows, turns her head, looks up at the rocky bank. Nothing moves in the darkening shadows between the trees that grow shoulder to shoulder along the ridge. Yet she can feel it—a presence. Tangible. Watching. Malevolent. Something is hunting her—weighing her as prospective prey. Just as she is hunting the trout. Just as the fish are hunting the insects. Nerves tighten. She squints into the gloam, trying to discern movement in the shadows. A rock dislodges suddenly. It clatters down the bank, disrupting more stones, which rattle and knock their way down to the river and splash into the water. Fear strikes a hatchet into her heart. Her blood thuds against her eardrums. Then she sees it—a form. It shifts forward, becoming distinct from the forest. Human. Red woolen hat.

Relief slices through her chest.

“Hey!” she calls out with a wave.

But the person remains silent while continuing forward, picking a determined route down the bank, heading directly for her, something heavy in hand. A log. Or a metal bar. About the size and heft of a baseball bat. Unease slams back into her chest. She takes an involuntary step backward, closer to the water’s edge. Her wading boots slip on greasy moss despite the studded soles. She wobbles, steadies herself, and laughs nervously.

“You spooked me,” she says as the person reaches her. “I was just wrapping up here, and—”

The blow comes fast. So fast. She spins away, trying to duck out of the weapon’s reach, but her quick twisting motion sends her boots out from under her. Her rod shoots into the air. She lands with a hard smash on rocks and tumbles instantly into the river, entering with a splash.