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For my mother, Rose Blackwell, who helped me understand that only writing makes a writer.

Thanks to my family for reading and re-reading and offering sound advice and especially to my brother Selby who greatly encouraged me start to finish. Also I appreciate the proof reading and editing done by my wife Tina. Any remaining errors I surely introduced in my final edit.

Chapter 1

Anson felt no pain, and the view was spectacular. What more could a guy ask for? Through the forest canopy splotches of brilliant blue sky winked on and off as early spring leaves danced in a mercurial breeze. Towering beeches guided his eyes heavenward, lifting his spirits and the moist earth cradled his body. The forest smells enticed him to breathe deeply, but he was unable to take in a full draught of its vital freshness. His lungs seemed incapable of complete expansion. Still, he smiled, though the corners of his mouth did not move, he smiled inwardly, as the clean odors of humus and jasmine mingled with pine and drifted across his nostrils. He did not feel chilly, but the air was cold, and the ground sucked the heat of life from his body. He pondered on it, and thought it remarkable that his vision was perfectly clear; the magnificent Big Thicket rose about him in splotchy shades of green and gray and yellow. The faintest of noises were discernible, a black carpenter ant or dung beetle scaling a leaf. The taste of blood fought for supremacy over his early morning coffee. Perhaps he had bitten his tongue or his lip. The odors were lovely and intoxicating, and yet he was sure that he could not move and perhaps would never move again. The only sense he could not verify was that of touch. He felt nothing.

Fortunately, he still had full control of his mind. He did not know how long he had been flat of his back, but the sun stood at mid morning, so he guessed maybe less than an hour. He didn’t remember falling, or even climbing, but he lay motionless as a stone, his eyes searching the familiar woods around him.

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