A mysterious black panther is a principal element in my new novel in progress, Bones of Skeleton Creek. It seems impossible that a large black cat, an animal not native to North America, is prowling rural Logan County, Oklahoma. Buck McDivit learns the impossible is true, and that the supernatural may be involved. Here is a short, largely unedited excerpt from murder mystery Bones of Skeleton Creek.
By now, the rain and wind had reached storm levels. If Buck could have found a way through the fence to the lease line road, he would have taken it back to Clayton’s ranch. He could not. His only recourse was to find shelter beneath the leafy overhang that roofed Skeleton Creek.
Central Oklahoma soils that provide such firm footing when the weather is dry quickly become treacherously slick when rains begin. Buck realized as much as he started the ATV and tracked his path back to Skeleton Creek. The creek’s formerly gentle flow had riverted to a swirling torrent of rushing water. Only a few feet of earth remained above the flow on either side of water turned suddenly violent.
ATVs are sure-footed vehicles, the one Buck drove no exception. Still, when he pointed the front wheels down the slope, he knew instantly that he had made a mistake. The front end slipped sideways, out of control, then flipped over, dumping Buck unceremoniously into the slick mud.
The work someone had done to lessen the slope into the creek had also compromised its integrity. Water poured down the opening, washing away any traction that may have existed. For Buck, it didn’t matter as he tumbled toward roaring water, the heavy ATV tumbling on top of him.
The weight of the ATV carried him into the roaring waters of Skeleton Creek, its rushing force propelling Buck rapidly downstream. He had swallowed lots of water and his muscles felt like warm putty when he finally grabbed a log, lodged against the bank, and pull himself up the slippery slope and out of the water.
Rain continued but the brunt of the rapidly moving storm had already passed over. Buck lay in the mud for a while, spitting up water and trying to catch his breath. When some of his strength finely returned, he found he had another problem.
Mud was so slick that it sucked one of his boots right off of his foot. When he tried to stand, his feet came out from under him and he plunged back into the muck.
Buck’s struggle continued for the better part of an hour. When he finally reached the relative stability of a red sandstone boulder, he stretched out on his back and drew an exhausted breath.
Rain had finally ceased but now it was replaced by darkness, the creek bed almost like the inside of a cave. Using roots and rock, he finally managed to work himself above the rushing water. What he found was a game trail, established by decades, maybe centuries, of wild animals.
Supported by rock and roots, the narrow pathway provided Buck’s first sure footing since he exited the oil lease. Still, all was not well. He was drenched, his cap gone, along with one of his favorite boots, and he had to pick his way along the trail because it was too dark to see. He also had the uneasy feeling that something was tracking him.