angry, shouting, but she couldn’t pick up any of the words.

Tess hit something-she never knew what it was-and started to tumble. She was rolling down the hill feet first, unable to stop herself, her camera bag alternately pounding the ground and her head.

She reached around on all sides, desperately grabbing for something to stop her fall. Her hands finally managed to light on a thick tree root half protruding from the dirt. She clamped the root and braced herself.

She felt like her arm was being ripped out of the socket, but fortunately, the root held. She stopped sliding. Slowly she lifted herself to her feet.

Sasquatch and the other silhouetted figure were definitely fighting-and not just with words. Blows were being exchanged. Sasquatch seemed to be getting the worst of it; the other figure was landing punch after punch. It was almost as if the poor beast didn’t have his heart in it, didn’t want to fight back. Sasquatch was getting creamed.

The other man landed a sharp blow, sending Sasquatch reeling backward against the huge mechanical tree cutter. The man picked up a long metal object-a crowbar, she thought, or maybe a tire iron. Sasquatch was pinned down and trapped. He was a goner-or so Tess thought.

Out of nowhere, Sasquatch raised his hairy arm, and this time it was holding a gun. She winced as the sound of a shot echoed through the clearing. She heard a sickening cracking noise as the other man crumpled to the ground. He must be dead, she thought, shot at such close range. But no-the fallen figure was moving, if slowly. He was still alive.

Sasquatch started running, away from both his opponent and Tess.

Tess kept moving cautiously forward. She didn’t know what was going on, but there was bound to be a story in it. Maybe even a story for the National Whisper; after all, it did feature Sasquatch. And besides, this was a heck of a lot more interesting than traipsing through the woods.

The man left behind slowly climbed up to the cab of the tree cutter. What on earth? Tess wondered. Was he planning to chase Bigfoot in the tree cutter? She kept moving forward and was less than a hundred feet away when the man turned the ignition.

The night sky was suddenly illuminated by a hot white flash. An instant later, a huge booming sound rocked the clearing. The force of the explosion knocked Tess off her feet, left her clutching red dirt for dear life. She kept her head down while smoke and metal debris flew through the air.

What is happening? she wondered. She felt the radiant heat of the explosion warming her, and for the first time became frightened. What was she doing out here all alone, separated from police, doctors, any semblance of civilization?

Up on the tree cutter, she heard the man scream. He was still alive! She looked up, and her eyes widened with horror. He was burning, flames radiating from every part of his body. He stumbled away from what remained of the tree cutter and began running in circles, as if desperately searching for something, anything to take him out of his misery.

And then all at once his howling stopped. The burning man stood still for a final moment, then crumbled to the ground. The human being was gone, replaced by a heap of charred flesh.

Tess pulled herself out of the mud, trembling. What happened? she asked herself. What have I stumbled onto? And-as her reporter persona reasserted itself-why the hell aren’t I taking pictures?

Idiot. She pulled the Nikon.35 millimeter out of her camera bag, turned it on, and peered through the viewfinder. It was much too dark. She knew the pictures wouldn’t come out, even with the flash.

She also had a palm-size Sony camcorder in her bag. She remembered that when she had checked it out, Chuck, the guy in Property, had explained that it had a twenty lux rating-meaning it could take decent pictures in candlelight.

Maybe it could do some good here, she reasoned. She yanked it out of her bag and started recording. The tree cutter was still burning, like a fiery funeral pyre. She videoed the destruction, then panned over to tape what was left of the burning man.

She almost had the corpse in her viewfinder when she saw Sasquatch reappear. He was moving forward, making a beeline in her direction.

He’d seen her.

Tess turned and ran. She avoided the slope and moved in the other direction, barreling past the burning metal and heading toward the safety of the woods on the other side of the clearing. If she could just make it to the woods, there was a chance she might be able to lose him. Might make it back to civilization to file her story.

She couldn’t be sure of much, but one fact was abundantly clear. Hairy Neanderthal evolutionary throwbacks didn’t pack pistols. Plus, when he had run at her, Tess had seen a face illuminated by the light of the flames. The mask was clenched in his hand. The conclusion was inescapable-Sasquatch was a human being.

A human being she’d just seen kill someone.

The heel of her shoe dug into the soft loam of the earth. Her ankle twisted and she fell crashing to the ground. No! she told herself. You may not give up that easily! She pushed herself back to her feet, leaving a shoe behind. She didn’t dare turn her head and look, but she could hear him behind her, hear him running, panting, grunting.

She had to keep moving, had to keep pushing herself. The other edge of the clearing was still hundreds of feet away. She had to make it. She had to. She could not give up.

All at once, she realized she didn’t care about getting a story anymore. She didn’t care about her clothes, she didn’t care about her hair, and she didn’t care whether she ever worked again at the National Whisper.

She just wanted to live.

And she felt absolutely certain that if Sasquatch got his hairy paws on her, she wouldn’t.


Paul Bunyan’s Stepchildren

Chapter 1

Ben Kincaid drummed his fingers on the card table set up inside the Magic Valley Mystery Bookstore. When he arrived, the table had held twenty copies of his first book, Katching the Kindergarten Killer. And now, an hour and a half after the book-signing began, the table still held twenty copies of Katching the Kindergarten Killer.

The owner of the bookstore, Fred Franklin, sauntered over to Ben’s table. He was stroking his pet, a large black and white tuxedo cat. “Slow day for autographs, huh?”

“I don’t seem to be getting much traffic,” Ben admitted. “Maybe if you put me in the back next to the cafe.”

“Nice try. We don’t have a cafe.”

“You call yourself a bookstore and you don’t even have a cafe?”

Fred smiled. “What can I say? Magic Valley isn’t really in the mainstream.” He picked up one of Ben’s books. “So I gather this is nonfiction? True crime?”


He skimmed the summary on the dust jacket. “Mmm. Serial killer. Cut the heads and hands off his corpses. Pretty grisly stuff. Why’d you want to write about this?”

“I wrote about it because I lived it.”

“You mean this really happened? Like, to you?”

“That’s why I wrote it. I thought people might be interested in reading a firsthand account.” He glanced at the unmoving door. “Guess I was wrong.”

“Don’t jump to any conclusions. It’s early yet. Wait till people start getting off work. Folks aren’t too used to

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