The bog was about half the size of a football field. Going around it, or veering off in another direction, might be safer. But if there was any chance of reaching the road, a straight westward dash across the muskeg would be the shortest way.
She could hear the dogs getting closer. Fueled by terror, Emma gathered the last of her strength and burst into a headlong sprint.
The outer edge of the muskeg was firm enough to support her. But within a few yards, murky water began welling around her sneakers. With every step, the muck grew deeper. Soon it was closing over her ankles, making a sucking sound as she freed each foot. By now, she'd gone too far to turn around. As her feet sank deeper, the effort drained her strength, slowing her progress to a crawl.
When her bare foot came up without the shoe, Emma knew she'd made a fatal mistake. Unfamiliar with muskeg, she hadn't realized how unstable the ground could be. Now she was stuck halfway to her knees, and too exhausted to go on.
She was trapped.
* * *
John Wolf slowed the vintage de Havilland Beaver to 75 mph and lowered the flaps for the descent into Refuge Cove. The mail run to the scattered villages up the coast had taken most of the day. Tonight he looked forward to a meal in his cabin, a hot shower, and a good book by the fire.
Through the windscreen of the sixty-year-old single-engine prop plane, he checked the landscape below. Like a yellow stain against the dark green forest, a familiar patch of muskeg lay directly under the flight path. Using it as a marker, he knew he could make a turn there and line up his bearings for a perfect landing in the cove.
He was banking for the turn when he glimpsed something out of place. In the middle of the muskeg, a living creature was struggling to get free. A young deer or bear cub—that was John's first impression. But as he corrected the turn and leveled out to a full view of the muskeg, he realized that it was a woman, caught in the treacherous muck.
What would a lone woman be doing out here? Whatever her story, she was in one hell of a bad spot.
John put the plane into a shallow dive and zoomed in low. There was no place to land here, but he wanted the woman to know she'd been seen and that help would be coming. She waved frantically as he passed overhead. He glimpsed long chestnut hair and a plaid shirt before he climbed again and circled back.
Now what? He could—and would—radio for rescue. But it would soon be dark, and the night would be cold. Even with a helicopter, a rescue team might not be able to reach her before hypothermia set in. And there was another danger. Trapped as she was, the woman would be easy prey for the black bears that roamed the forest and had little fear of humans.
A hard-core loner, John made it a habit to keep to himself. Other people's problems were none of his damned business. The last thing he wanted was to be somebody's hero. But even he couldn't leave a helpless fool woman out here alone.
The Beaver's floats would only allow the small plane to land on water. The soupy surface of a muskeg might do in an emergency, but this open patch, surrounded by dense forest, was way too small. His best bet, a quarter mile from the muskeg, was a place where a creek had eroded its banks to form a shallow lake. From the air, the lake hadn't looked much bigger than a puddle. But he remembered estimating its length to be a little over a thousand feet—barely enough distance to land and take off again. The width was maybe a third of that distance. The landing would be hairy as hell, the takeoff even riskier. But it was his best chance of reaching the woman. Maybe the only chance.
He took a moment to radio his position and pass on what was happening. Then he banked, made one more low pass over the woman, then headed for the lake.
* * *