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Twelve-year-old Sam Flynn would rather be anywhere than high up in the Rockies, trying to get up the courage to leap across a dangerous crevice. His father’s taunts aren’t helping, but Sam is used to them. His dad has been putting him down ever since Sam took up the guitar and started spending most of his free time with the band instead of coming along on hikes.
Sam finally overcomes his fear, jumps the crevice, and rejoins his father. But it isn’t long before a careless move on the boy’s part injures his father and puts them both in danger. With help far away, father and son will have to depend on Sam’s skill and knowledge to get them down the mountain. Night is falling fast, and their food and water are in short supply. As if that weren’t bad enough, Sam has a bad feeling they’re not alone.
By turns suspenseful and poignant, Blind Mountain is a gripping story of survival. It will appeal to all readers who enjoy a blend of well-developed characters and nail-biting action.
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Jane Resh Thomas has written more than a dozen fiction and nonfiction books for young readers, including the highly praised BEHIND THE MASK for Clarion. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Sam Flynn tossed a fist-sized rock and watched it tumble down the mountainside. It struck another rock, bounced wildly, and careened several feet in another direction. That’s what would happen to Sam if he put his foot wrong, if he slipped, if a patch of brittle rock gave way beneath him.
Hey!” His father called down from the sand-colored ledge where he stood. Did you throw that rock, Sam?” No.” Did you push it? Give it a little nudge? Set it in motion?” Sam arranged a straight face to show his father and looked up the slope at him. It’s a rock,” he said. We’re climbing. My boot must have loosened it.” What if somebody was behind us, down below?” Yeah. What if? What if Sam himself lost his balance? If he had followed the rock down the mountain, maybe his father would be sorry for making him come today. And who would hike behind them, anyway? Anybody with any brains would hike on a trail. But they were Flynns, weren’t they? Flynns didn’t take the easy road.
Their runty little border collie, Mac, hustled up beside Sam’s father. The dog peered down and barked. His tongue hung out of his smiling mouth, and his feathery tail wagged his whole body. The boy and the dog had been partners since Sam was five and Mac a fuzzy black-and-white pup. Come on! he was saying now. Hurry up. Isn’t hiking fun?
No. Hiking wasn’t fun. Not anymore. Mac had been bred for keen intelligence and strenuous effort for herding sheep from one field to another on the rugged moors of Scotland. The crumbly limestone cliffs here in the Montana Rockies were just another challenge to the dog. He and Sam’s father had that in common. They both liked splashing across streams that plunged downhill in a froth. They enjoyed leaping from rocky ledge to stony shelf. The two of them could climb all day and not fall in a heap of fatigue at the end. Sam had been that way once, too, before he discovered the guitar. Before his father started razzing him all the time. Before he lost his nerve.
Come on, damn it,” called his father. What’s holding you up?” I’m coming as fast as I can,” Sam yelled.
Ahead, still looking down at Sam from the ledge, his father leaned his cheek against the smooth blackthorn walking stick that Sam’s mother had given him for his last birthday. These mountains reminded him of his boyhood in Scotland, he said, though they were higher and rougher than those back home, and he liked the easygoing people. As soon as he had finished medical school and his surgery residency in New York, he had streaked out here. Sam glanced up at Dad, who made a drama of waiting. As always, he was impatient. I’m coming, I said,” Sam repeated.
Take your time, by all means.” The sarcastic edge in that voice made Sam’s teeth hurt. As he hurried to catch up, his boot slipped in scree the loose, eroded gravel that was always underfoot, rolling on the hard rock beneath it. Sam’s father met him at the edge of a cleft in the rock. We’ll have to cross this little crack.” Sam approached the crevice, wary of slipping. It was wider than his arm was long, and too dark for him to see to the bottom.
Little crack!” said Sam. It’s too wide.” Thirty inches if it’s a hand’s-breadth. Easy jump.” Sam’s father leapt across the crevice as easily as Mac. See? Easy.” What if I lose my footing?” Don’t be a sissy. Come on.” You go ahead. I’ll wait here for you to come back,” Sam said.
Wait as long as you like, but I’ll be going down a different way.” Sam’s father turned and strode away across a sloping patch of lavender asters.
Sam whimpered under his breath. What if he couldn’t jump far enough to cross the split in the rock? He felt dizzy just imagining what would happen if he hadn’t the strength, or he lost his nerve at the last minute, or his legs failed him. He would fall down to the dark bottom of the crack. His legs would break. The crevice was so deep, nobody would ever find him.
Looking back down the mountain at Sam, his father snorted, hands on his hips. You’ve gone chicken since you joined that band.” Jab. Jab, jab another of the constant swipes at Sam’s music. Maybe Dad was no, he couldn’t be jealous of the band.
Dr. Flynn came back to the crevice. Here. Take my hand.” Embarrassment burned in Sam. He wouldn’t take his father’s hand now if he were dangling off one of the hundred-foot cliffs on this mountain. Go on!” he shouted. I’ll do it by myself.” His father turned his back again and went on alone. Sam looked down into the darkness. He kicked a stone. His wait for the clatter when it hit bottom was way too long.
Sam looked along the crack to see whether it narrowed. No toward the river, the crevice broadened, and it continued in the other direection among some trees. Who knew how long it was? If Sam lost his way or took too much time looking for a narrow place, Dad would leave him behind.
SSSSSam stepped back several feet, took a deep breath, ran toward the crevice, and jumped. He cleared it by at least a yard, and his momentum carried him on even after he landed. Falling forward and skidding on the rolling gravel, he scraped his knees and the palms of his hands. He shook the pain out of his hands and picked little stones out of shallow scratches. He was still alive. His jeans were torn and his knees oozed blood, but never mind the bleeding would cleanse the wounds. Still smiling, Mac found his way down Dad’s trail to meet Sam. The dog licked his hand with one quick swipe, then ran behind him, clipping his knees, herding him, as if he were a slow sheep that had separated from the rest. Sam obeyed the dog and hurried to catch up with his father, who had gone out of sight. He hadn’t even watched to make sure Sam was safe.
Let’s take a break here by the river,” said Sam’s father. He sat down and opened his pack, leaning against some kind of pine Dad knew them all, but Sam never could remember the trees’ names. His father squinted up at the sky. We’ll have to turn back soon.” Sam lay on his stomach and looked down at the rushing water. He felt like laughing. Too bad: they would have to go home. He couldn’t wait.
His father prodded him with a sandwich. The smell of Cheddar cheese and mustard and bread and sweet pickles almost made Sam take the sandwich, but he wouldn’t give in to hunger. He had jumped the crevice, and Dad hadn’t even nodded. All he needed to say was Good for you, Sam. Good job.” Other fathers would have. Sam hadn’t wanted to hike in the first place, not when his friends were practicing for the middle-school concert in September. Robert Bailey was sitting in for Sam today. Maybe Robert played guitar better than Sam. Maybe the boys would keep Robert on and kick Sam out of the band. A melancholy melody sang in Sam’s mind. When the band had placed second in last year’s music contest, Dad had said, Only first counts,” and turned away. Even a first wouldn’t count, though. Dad hated rock music. In his eyes, artists of all kinds were girlish; if Sam wanted to play with his band, he must be a sissy, too. A mama’s boy, Dad said.
He poked with the sandwich again. Sam’s hand moved against his will and accepted it, as if he were a robot and his stomach its master. Lighten up, can’t you?” Dad sucked on a tube that led to a water bladder in his backpack. These trips used to be fun.” Strange. Sam used to love the hikes, too before Dad forced him to come along. But now that he was twelve and had a mind of his own, he wanted to hang out with his friends, not compete with Dad on these grueling climbs. If you live in the mountains, you need to know the mountains,” his father went on. Same as knowing the streets if you live in the city. When I was your age, I knew every corner in my Glasgow neighborhood, and every spring and boulder on Ben Lomond.” Yeah, Dad, I’m sure. You were a hell of a guy.” I told you, Sam, no backtalk. No swearing.” You swear.” Hey!” He poked Sam hard in the ribs with his boot. I swear like a Scotsman, though.” Mac whined, waiting for his share of the sandwich. Oh, all right,” said Sam, handing over the last bite. Could Dad program a computer? Sam could. Could Dad deck Sam’s judo teacher? Sam had done that once too, even though it had been a lucky throw.
Come on. You go first now,” his father said. No more rocks down the mountain. Do anything like that again, and you can find your own way home.” Sam dragged himself up the slope after Mac, grabbing aspen saplings or using firmly seated rocks as handholds. Mac looked back and herded Sam with the intensity of his gaze. His father herded him from behind. Everyone’s eyes were on Sam, forward and back, as if he were livestock. Dad waited to pounce if he made a mistake. If only he could be in charge, just once, he would make Dad pay.
Sam walked up between some stunted pines that grew somehow out of the scrabble and rocks. He pushed between two small trees, breaking through the prickly branches with his arms up around his face. He grabbed a limb and walked on. Its sap smeared his hand. This sticky pine goo wouldn’t wash off, no matter how hard he scrubbed, not until he cleaned his hand with turpentine back home. If he didn’t remove every speck, his fingers would catch on the guitar strings. Disgusted, he let the pine bough go. Ahhh!” Sam turned. His father was on his knees under one of the trees, clutching his face and swearing. Bloody branch caught me right across the eyes,” he groaned. Never saw it coming.”
© 2006 by Jane Resh Thomas. Reprinted by permission of Clarion Books / Houghton Mifflin Company
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