The Calling Page 1


I DON’T KNOW WHO was more anxious—Daniel or Kenjii—but they weren’t making this emergency helicopter evacuation any easier. I patted Kenjii and she shifted until her full hundred pounds of German shepherd rested squarely on my feet. When I tried to wriggle away, she moved closer and pinned my legs. I sighed and glanced at Daniel. He was staring out the window, fingers drumming.

I twisted to look at the others. Daniel and I were in the first passenger row, behind the pilot and Mayor Tillson, who was in the copilot’s seat. Behind us were the mayor’s daughter, Nicole, and his niece, Sam Russo, gazing out their respective windows. Hayley Morris and Corey Carling sat in the last row. Hayley was talking; Corey wasn’t listening.

“We’re going north.” Daniel had to yell to Mayor Tillson to be heard over the helicopter noise. “We’re supposed to be heading to Victoria, aren’t we?”

When the mayor didn’t respond, the pilot said, “Change of plans, son. Victoria’s backed up with evacuees. We’re taking you to Vancouver.”

“Okay, so why are we heading north?”

We live on Vancouver Island, near Nanaimo, which is almost directly west across the Strait of Georgia from the city of Vancouver, British Columbia.

“Wind,” the pilot said. “Same one that’s driving that fire is forcing us to circle north. Don’t worry. I’ll have you there in an hour.”

I looked at Daniel. His face was drawn with worry. I couldn’t blame him, under the circumstances. We’d outrun a forest fire and outwitted a mysterious fake rescue team only to be whisked from town before we had time to catch our breath.

I was worried, too, about a lot of things, but right now, mostly about Rafe Martinez, unconscious on the floor behind my seat. How much smoke had he inhaled? What was he going to do when he found out that his sister, Annie, was still missing?

I twisted the bracelet on my wrist. A cat’s-eye stone on a worn leather band. Rafe’s. He’d want it back when he found out that I’d told them not to wake him up because he wouldn’t leave without Annie. That would be the end of anything between us. But I could live with that. Better than I could live with myself if I’d let him die in that inferno.

“Are the other helicopters going to Vancouver, too?” Daniel asked. “The ones with our parents?”

“I believe so,” the pilot said. “Is that right, sir?”

When Mayor Tillson didn’t answer, the pilot glanced over. “Sir?”

He bent to see the mayor’s face and chuckled. “Seems someone doesn’t mind the racket this bird makes. He’s sound asleep. I’m sure he said the other helicopter was just a few minutes behind us.”

I leaned forward. The mayor was slumped in his seat, hisface toward the window, at an angle that didn’t look comfortable at all. When I undid my seat belt, the pilot glanced back.

“Whoa, none of that. This isn’t a 747. Belt on at all times. Maya, isn’t it?”

I scooted to the edge of my seat and touched the mayor’s arm. “Mr. Tillson?”

“Hey,” the pilot said, voice sharp. “If you want me to check on your parents, just say so. Your mayor has had one hell of a day with this fire, and you kids running off didn’t help. Let the man get some rest.”

Sure, the mayor must be exhausted, but with everything that happened, I doubted he could relax enough to fall asleep.

“Mr. Tillson?” I said, shaking him harder.

Daniel undid his belt. Sam did, too, getting up and walking forward, hunched, as she stepped over Rafe.

“Okay, that’s enough!” the pilot barked. “In your seats, belts on. Everyone!”

“Or what?” Sam said. “You’ll pull over and make us walk the rest of the way?” She shook the mayor’s shoulder. “Uncle Phil?”

Mayor Tillson’s head lolled. Nicole shrieked and fumbled with her belt. I pressed my hand to the mayor’s neck.

“Is he all right?” the pilot said, sounding concerned now.

“He’s breathing,” I said.

“Could it be a heart attack?” Sam asked.

Before I could answer, the pilot cursed and said, yes, that must be it, with the stress and all, and the mayor was, as he put it, “a big guy.” He’d get a doctor on the helipad right away.

“Wh-what?” Nicole said, scrambling over Rafe. “Did he say heart attack?”

“If it is, we’ll get help,” I said as Corey pulled her back.

The pilot was on the radio to his dispatcher, filling him in between bouts of yelling at us to sit down.

I moved in front of the mayor to undo his jacket. When Sam tried to wedge up beside his chair, Daniel nudged her toward our seats. Anyone else, she’d have told him to go to hell, but she listened to Daniel.

“Maya can help,” Nicole said when the pilot tried sending me back to my seat. “She knows first aid. She runs a hospital.”

“For animals,” Hayley said.

Corey told her to shut up, but she had a point. My dad was the local park ranger, and I had a rehabilitation shed for nursing injured animals back to health. I did know first aid, though, and the basics of dealing with a heart attack victim. Step one: call a doctor. Kind of tough, under the circumstances. Step two: give the victim an aspirin. That wouldn’t work while he was unconscious. But why was he unconscious? I remembered fainting as one of the signs, but not sustained lack of consciousness.