What follows is the (rather rough) opening of the novel. I have more, but I'm not ready to post it just yet.
The sun turned a golden red as it slipped beyond the edge of the lake. Wispy clouds caught fire and glowed hundreds of purple hues as the last minutes of light melted away. Yes, thought Thomas Grady, today was a good day.
The campground around him was calm, for the moment, and his wife was reclining with him in the oversized hammock swing, watching the sunset. She sighed and snuggled closer, her golden hair lightly tickling his chin. A very good day. It had been a good idea his best friend had had: a week-long camping trip into the national park. Tom had a great many objections at first, but now that they were here, relaxing in the beauty of the landscape, he could wholeheartedly say that things were good. Better, in fact, than they ever had been.
They had come to escape a great many things - not least among them news of his parents' impending divorce - and it seemed that the surrounding forest allowed them a sanctuary from the outside world. That feeling of seclusion, Tom decided, was priceless. For here, there was no employer demanding that he work weekends for the next two months; no secret mistress driving a wedge between two formerly happy parents; no politically-minded school teacher lecturing him on the need for 'little' Johnny to be indoctrinated into the cult of political correctness; none of it existed in Yellowstone.
Samantha twisted a little, so she could look at something across the campground, near the tents, and Tom turned a curious eye after hers. "What, babe?"
"Oh, nothing. I thought I heard the boys." John and Daniel were out 'exploring' the trails that emptied into the camp area. They were all well-traveled, clearly marked, and led to nearby physical attractions; and given their ages – John was 13 now, with Daniel following close behind at 10 – Tom felt better about trusting them with some autonomy. The boys had been told to return before dark.
"It's still light yet, Sam. They'll get back in time - they're good about that."
"But you're concerned about the forest."
"Well, you never know."
"I think we can leave off worrying for a few more minutes." He smiled at her, and she smiled back; then she leaned down and kissed him.
John saw the sun slipping through the trees to his right, and motioned Daniel back. "C'mon, Danny - we gotta go."
The ten year old was closely examining something he'd never seen before - the massive structure of an ant hill. And not just any anthill - he'd seen those - but a giant anthill. Almost as tall as his knee.
"Danny, you're gonna get bit."
"You know what dad's gonna say when you’re all red and puffy?" retorted the thirteen year old.
"Okay, fine." With that, Dan let loose with a kick that sent the anthill flying in a dozen directions. As he fled the scene, hundreds of ants scrambled to repair the damage, creating what looked from a distance to be a living, writhing carpet. John shuddered involuntarily. He hated bugs.
"You idiot. C’mon."
The two boys started to jog down the path toward their campsite, when Daniel paused to look at a trail of different ants that were crossing the packed dirt. John passed him, and hollered back. “Danny! Let’s go!”
Daniel ignored him. “Look, more ants.”
“We have ants at home, c’mon.”
“Not like these.” Daniel straddled the line of single-file insects. “They’re going somewhere.”
“Duh! And we need to go somewhere, too.”
“No, look –“ Daniel pointed and followed the ants off the trail.
“Danny!” John again shuddered involuntarily and ran after his little brother. The trail of insects was surprisingly clear – no longer was it just a single-file column - and Daniel’s trail was more so. He had run ahead in his excitement, and John trudged along behind, increasingly worried that they’d be late getting back to the site.
The ants were marching in clumps, and they were going in both directions. They were carrying small pieces of something, but John couldn’t tell what it was. He stepped further aside from the moving ant farm, and heard Dan crashing through the underbrush ahead. John sighed – but as he did, he noticed a rankness to the air. He turned the corner in the trail Dan had ‘blazed,’ and the smell grew stronger. John held his breath to ward off the stench, and as the makeshift path opened around a big tree into a slight clearing, John bumped into his brother, who had his hand over his nose and mouth.
The thousands of ants were massed now, crawling into everything. There didn’t seem to be a blade of grass uncovered as they blanketed the ground, swarming over the decaying carcass of a gray wolf where it had crushed a massive ant colony. The effect was horrific. The ants became the wolf’s second, living skin, crawling over and through eye sockets and gaping jawbones, opening the rotting flesh of the wolf’s tender underbelly in their desperate attempt to clear their nest, and spilling the bloody contents all over the ground. Flies and maggots competed for the eyeballs and soft innards as the red insects carried away small chunks of the wolf’s body. The stench was intense.
John felt like he was going to throw up. He grabbed Danny and quickly moved away from the horrible sight. As they passed the big tree, John was overcome, and he puked. Daniel looked green himself.
“It didn’t have a tail.”
John spit and wiped his mouth. He needed water and a toothbrush. “What?”
“The tail was missing. Do - do you think they ate it?”
John was angry now. “Shut up, Danny.” He gripped his younger brother’s shoulder and steered him back toward the camp. As the sun disappeared over the horizon, a lone wolf howl crept toward them, and the boys ran the rest of the way.
Howard Jaret was reading an old copy of TIME magazine. His feet were propped up on the vacant lower levels of the metal shelving that ran along the wall of his “office,” reclining his chair into a more comfortable reading position in front of the desk. He wanted to go to sleep – he hadn’t had much more than four hours last night – but he had to make sure that the systems install went along without a hitch. And of course, he was the only member of the research team who could; or at least, the only one without a suitable excuse.
The computers – there were fifteen of them, all server racks – blinked red and green LEDs at him, displaying that they were working with some outside entity. This would be, presumably, the lab in Arizona, otherwise known as “the boss.” The Yellowstone Wolf Monitoring team was but one of a dozen fingers that helped the scientists down in ‘Zona monitor various species of endangered wildlife. It was their job to assign tags to the Park Rangers for animal fittings, and to act as a communications relay between the lab and the field. Two weeks ago, they had received a rather expensive computer overhaul, for which Howard was now monitoring the cleanup.
The monitor on his desk, of which he was only peripherally aware, read “Time Remaining - 2:14:36.” It was seven thirty-four in the evening. Howard shifted in his chair and turned the page.