It’s Sunday, I’m about to head off to Mannheim for a book reading (I’ll let you know all about it tomorrow!) so I figured this was a good time for another excerpt from Chaos Theory. And I hate to say it, but at this point, between me having a cold all last week and my assistant dealing with some stuff, it Chaos Theory probably won’t be released until maybe the very beginning of March. Alas, these things happen! But here’s a bit to see you through….
“Is this on?” he said into a microphone. “Not that I really need it if it isn’t.”
Everyone laughed. Chairs were turned so people could see Howie, and for a moment, the delicious meal was abandoned.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Howie began. “I’d like to welcome you to PSF today to join us for this grand repast. Let’s have a round of applause for the excellent chefs of Haskell Catering.”
Applause filled the room. The head chef, a woman named Rebecca Standish, who Melody had known since childhood, nodded and smiled in appreciation.
“But, of course, you’re all here to find out what our spring mixer is all about,” Howie went on.
A buzz of excitement filled the large room. Melody grinned at Will. His mouth remained in a neutral line, but she could see the spark of interest in his eyes. Interest in more than one thing.
“Okay, okay,” Howie continued. “I know that it’s the worst-kept secret in town, but what you all don’t know is that we’re going to have a contest within a contest.”
That caught everyone’s attention, even nudging Melody’s focus away from Will and up to Howie.
“Our spring event is in association with Shoshone National Park and the National Park Services,” Howie went on. “And yes, we’re going to be having an orienteering competition.”
A ruble of enthusiasm filled the room. Howie smiled at it, but raised his hands for silence.
“So for those of you who don’t know—and at this point, I expect that’s about three of you—” Several people throughout the room laughed. “—orienteering is a survival game where people are blindfolded and dropped into the middle of the wilderness. Using only a compass and map, they’re challenged to find their way out, or find their way to a specific point.”
He paused so people could let that sink in. Melody found that her heart was thumping in excitement, half at the prospect of the challenge and half because the corners of Will’s mouth were inching up into what might actually be a smile.
“We’re going to be doing things a little differently,” Howie went on. “Since this is a mixer, rather than dropping you into the wilderness alone, we’re going to be pairing you up in teams, one person from town paired up with one person from Paradise Space Flight.”
It took Melody all of half a second to burn with the desire to have Will as her partner. He was exactly the man she wanted to get lost in the wilderness with.
“Furthermore,” Howie continued, “instead of just dropping you with a compass and map, in addition to those two things, we’ll be giving each team member a backpack full of preselected supplies. Some of them will be crucial tools for wilderness survival, and some will be….” He made a curious sound and tilted his head to the side. “Let’s just say they’ll be interesting.”
“Oh my gosh,” Rita whispered, making eye contact with Melody and Calliope. “Does Howie know about your game?”
Casey burst into snorting giggles. “Can you imagine the kind of stuff that would be in those backpacks if he does?”
“Now, in all honesty, the competition is meant for singles,” Howie went on, which only made the girls at Melody’s table giggle harder, as if he was confirming Rita’s suspicion. Will sent a frown Melody’s way, but she only winked at him. That caused Will to snap his eyes back to Howie. “We can make provision for any couples that want to take part, though. And you might find the competition within the competition to be just as enjoyable.”
Melody instantly stopped sniggering like a high school girl and sat straighter.
“As I mentioned,” Howie said, “this competition will take place at Shoshone National Forest. Well, Paradise Space Flight will be partnering them for an even grander enterprise as well. As you know, funding for the National Parks Service has been harder to come by lately, and our national parks have come under a certain level of attack. But Paradise Space Flight is dedicated to preserving and celebrating out natural heritage. Shoshone National Forest has been incredibly gracious to give us unprecedented access to their land. We, in turn, will be doing them a great service as well.”
He reached into his podium and held up a camera. “Each couple in the competition will be given a state of the art, professional quality digital camera. As you make your way through the wilderness, you will be responsible for taking photographs and videos of the natural splendor that Shoshone National Forest has to offer.”
A ripple of excitement and approval passed through the room. Melody exchanged a look with her sister that said photographing nature was right up their alley.
“So in addition to the prize for the couple to make it out of the forest and to the rendezvous point first, a second prize will be given to the couple who takes the best photographs, as judged by a panel of experts from PSF and the National Parks Service. Those winning photographs will be featured in a promotional video that PSF will be sponsoring to bring awareness to the glory of nature and hopefully to encourage donations.”