#KINDNESS LIVES IN THE MOUNTAINS

DSC03894I called it the “dam trip,” and dragged my husband along. Labor Day didn’t mean we had to work–me at my computer writing and Robert in his garden gardening–and besides, the day held the promise of perfect weather. Temperature in the seventies, cloudless sky, and a slight breeze all indicated to me it was time to do something in nature. Kayaking was out because of some back pain for Robert. The next best thing? A dam drive in the Smokies.

Three major dams in western North Carolina provide power for the TVA all within forty miles of one another. The drive took us through towering mountains as the road hugged the shores streams, rivers, and lakes. But one stop at Yellow Creeks Falls did more to restore my faith and hope in mankind than viewing breathtaking vistas.

We hadn’t brought our walking sticks for hiking, something we always do here in the mountains. We started out on the short hike to the small falls, and the path was rocky and narrow. A young couple came toward us, and I pulled up next to a tree to let them pass. He carried a walking stick, and I said. “I wish I’d brought my walking stick,” and nodded to his.

“Here–take this one,” the young man said.

“No, no. That’s fine.” I was sorry I’d made my thought public.

“No,” he insisted, “I don’t need it anymore. It’s yours. I just made it.”

He handed it to me. The stick had been stripped of its bark with one end sharpened into a point. Then he walked on leaving me with his work of art and a much appreciated implement for me to use on the rest of the hike.

Nothing on our dam trip came close to inspiring me more than one young man’s kindness on the waterfall trail. I brought the stick home. It will be my reminder to  pay it forward at every opportunity.

The dam trip renewed me. The young man whose path crossed mine gave more than just a piece of wood he found near the Yellow Creek Falls.

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Yellow Creek Falls, Cheoah Recreation Area, North Carolina

NATURE WORKS MAGIC

dsc03807A weekend spent enjoying the wonders of where we live helped fight the anxiety of the past few months. Nature always rejuvenates me and inspires me to continue. If the bald eagle, the great blue heron, the white ibis, and the anhinga can survive the loss of habitat and invasion by humans, then I can survive the political turmoil occurring wherever I turn, except when I’m surrounded by blue skies, water, and wildlife. Enjoy my little photo journey and inhale its curative powers. (Photos by P.C. Zick from St. Marks Wildlife Refuge and Wakulla Springs State Park, both lovely spots less than thirty minutes from our home in Tallahassee.)

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SUMMER LINGERS WHILE FALL BECKONS

 

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Wild turkeys outside my office window in the winter.

The wild turkeys gather together as summer wanes forming their “gangs” to wander the mountains surrounding our cabin. Last night we heard a rustling outside our front door. When we went to look, a large turkey flapped its wings and flew into a tree in front of our porch, settling on a branch precariously. We watched as it moved around on the bouncing branch. Finally, it quieted and went to sleep for the night. The turkeys have come home to roost.

 

As always, the summer flew by and our days are numbered in the mountains, although we hope to see much of the color burst forth on the still-green trees. Yet, signs are everywhere as berries form on the holly tree and the sumac leaves begin to turn red.

dsc03660Our first full summer in North Carolina satisfied us. The garden grew and grew, providing the pantry and freezer with plenty of vegetables and sauces for the winter. We froze peas, beans, cole slaw, soup starter vegetable sauce, and zucchini bread. I pickled dills, chips, and relish. We put up pasta sauce and salsa. And if that wasn’t enough, my husband went out and bought local corn from a roadside pick-up truck because that’s one thing he doesn’t grow. He froze twenty bags of corn kernels. When his lima beans only produced enough for the table, he bought a bushel from a local farmer of “butter beans” and froze seventeen bags of those. If you’ve never tasted fresh lima or butter (same thing) beans, then you have no idea of the soft buttery vegetable’s virtue. Try it sometime.

 

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Tomatoes waiting to become pasta sauce or salsa.

Our kayaks provided transportation on local rivers and lakes and gave us moments of serenity and inspiration. We’ve only begun to explore all the places of watery beauty in our area. We are the beneficiaries of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s damming of the rivers. The lakes that are formed as a result–Chatuge, Nottley, and Hiwassee–are deep and long. Plenty of boat ramps make them easy to access and give us a multitude of landscapes to explore.

 

Drives brought us to waterfalls with plenty more to explore and enjoy.

The only complaint I have is the weather. It’s been an unusual summer here in the mountains. We came here to escape the heat and humidity of Florida’s summer, but it followed us here but without the rain. Temperatures near ninety, humidity as high without even the relief of afternoon showers. The storms I love to watch moving across the mountains have been few and always bring us running to the front porch to catch a rare glimpse of darkening clouds and rain hitting the metal roof. Who knows what is normal anymore as far as weather goes? Maybe the winter will be sunny and warm in Florida all winter.

How did your summer shape up?

LOVE THY NEIGHBOR

IMG_0677We moved to the mountains of southwest North Carolina to heal and live in a peaceful and clean environment. Since December, we’ve lived here full time. But our neighbors, with whom we share a driveway, spent the winter in Florida. They came back last week, and with their arrival, a bit of our peace vanished.

What happened shows us the problem in our world today when people become so focused on their own agenda that they forget some simple courtesies.

Communication before accusation and love instead of hatred are the main ones that come to mind. If two families with a shared driveway are unable to discuss calmly and with respect then what hope do we have as a country to find a way to solve our problems?

We initially bought this cabin with the intention of healing and restoring our balance. For the past three years, either my husband or I have been at dis-ease with our bodies. First, I was hit with a nasty virus that killed nerves in my legs and left arm that resulted in months of chemo-like treatments to rid myself of the unwelcome invaders. Three weeks after I received the green light from my doctors that I was cured, my husband’s dis-ease began. We’re still on the journey to his well-being. And the one thing that has helped him the most has been building, creating, planting, and now harvesting a bountiful garden. Along with the mountain air, I see him regaining his strength and will to live. The growth of the green produce has been inspiring and fulfilling for both of us.IMG_0668

Then the neighbors returned from their winter sojourn.

All through the winter, I kept her informed of the progress of our garden building which came within a couple of feet of their property line on the driveway.  When dirt was delivered and accidently dumped over the property line in March, I sent her an email with photos explaining that Robert would remove the dirt as the gardens were built, and that we’d be keeping them in produce all summer. She replied that there was no problem, and they looked forward to sharing in the bounty.IMG_0627

Within an hour of their return, she visited with Robert as he worked on the garden. She talked about the property line, about the eventual paving of a portion of the driveway, and about gravel on the rest. We would share in the cost of all the work. Robert chatted with her several times over the next three days, believing neighborly relations were fine.

Then the email to me came informing me, in case my husband hadn’t, that Robert didn’t realize the importance of property lines and that they must have control over their property. She accused him twice in the email of “clearing” their property, and then gave me all sorts of legal descriptions of the property line. Then they stopped talking to us but daily walked the property line, pushing back weeds and climbing the hills.

The other day, they came down to the edge of the garden, once again looking at the property lines while Robert worked in the garden just feet away. He forced them to speak to him.

“We’re getting a surveyor out here because this has to be legal,” she informed him.

“Fine,” he responded, thinking that it didn’t have to be this way but if they wanted to spend the money to determine if we’ve done something so horrendous that they had to accuse us in an email and then stop speaking to us, then fine. Go ahead.

Based on the information provided to us by both the developer of our little subdivision and by the neighbors, we kept within our property lines. Dirt was spilled across the line, which has been removed. And to get at the dirt, Robert did remove some suckers on a stump from a tree removed before we moved here, which is one foot into their property.

I might add that this property line in question is at the back of their cabin and down a slight hill. They can’t even see it from their home.

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The back of their cabin

 

I understand wanting to establish legal property lines. And if they’d approached us first without accusations, we might have been able to work it out, and even shared the cost of the surveyor. We’d feel better, and they would be blessed with produce throughout the summer.

We have decided that our peace shall not be broken by the lack of good manners. We are praying for a satisfactory outcome, and we’re sending them all our loving energy via prayer. We’ve come too far in this process of restoring our well-being to let anyone else take it away.

My husband and I are in our sixties and have lived in various places separately and together during our lifetimes. This is the first time either of us has encountered a problem with a neighbor, so it has been disturbing.

Please keep us all in your thoughts that we can solve this little problem because I need the hope that we can solve the bigger issues in the world today. And it all starts with the little seeds in our own backyards.

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#BP Oil Spill Four Years Ago – Let Us Not Forget

oiled wildlife during BP's oil spill in 2010

oiled wildlife during BP’s oil spill in 2010

BP’s oil spill in 2010 still haunts us today as scientists study the lingering effects of the millions of barrels of oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico. At the time of the spill, I worked for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a public relations director. Immediately, our agency became watchdogs for oil headed toward Florida’s waters and beaches. I wrote about the oil spill in my novel, Trails in the Sand, using it as the backdrop for a family racing to save itself from destruction.

April 20, 2014 represents the forty-fourth anniversary of the first Earth Day, and it’s also sadly, the fourth anniversary of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.

Click here to grab your #.99 cent Kindle copy

Click here to grab your #.99 cent Kindle copy

Trails in the Sand is on sale during April for .99 cents on Kindle. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter of Trails in the Sand:

As I sipped the aromatic brew, I glanced at the morning’s headlines before the television and George Stephanopoulos diverted my attention.

It was only a blip on the charts of the day’s news stories. I would have missed mention of it if I’d gone to the bathroom when George said an oil rig had caught on fire in the Gulf of Mexico the night before. On the morning of April 21, 2010, other news took precedence over this minor incident occurring miles off the coast of Louisiana.

As I flipped the channels to find more news, I learned that volcanic ash from a recently erupted volcano in Iceland was costing airlines $1.7 billion to combat the loss in flights. The day before the Supreme Court overturned a ban on videos depicting animal cruelty. Matt Laurer announced the death toll after the April 14 earthquake in China now topped 2,000.

CNN reported that a former coal miner at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia decided to give an interview detailing the unsafe conditions at the mine prior to the explosion two weeks earlier.

But nothing more on a little oil rig burning in the middle of the ocean. Since the fire occurred the night before, the morning newspapers contained no reports.

I took another sip of coffee, trying to determine the level of my reporter’s barometric pressure climbing up the back of my neck.

“Were you listening to NPR in the kitchen?” I asked Simon as he came back to bed with his cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice.

“No. Why?”

“Just a curious little footnote to the news this morning, but I’ve only heard it on ABC so far,” I said. “It seems an oil rig caught on fire out in the Gulf last night. The report said eleven men are missing, but officials are confident the men are on lifeboats that haven’t been found yet because of the smoke on the water.”

“It sounds like it has the potential for a real disaster,” Simon said.

“They also said a former miner decided to talk about conditions at Upper Big Branch mine,” I said. “Sure wish I could have gotten that interview.”

A couple of the channels gave a brief account of the oil rig fire, but all agreed everything was under control. I hoped that was the case, but it bothered me when all the reports said the fire still burned. How did they have any idea what lay below the surface of that fire?

“Yesterday, April 20, was the eleventh anniversary of Columbine,” I said. “And the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day is tomorrow.”

“And the West Virginia explosion occurred on your mother’s birthday, April 5,” my husband said.

He knew very well I kept track of dates and wondered at the curiosity of so many significant occurrences in history coinciding with other dates important to those closest to me. In my family, birthdays, anniversaries, and deaths more often than not occurred on important historical dates. Two of my aunts had been born on December 7, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor – a day of infamy. My best friend Holly was born on Christmas Day, and my sister died on the Fourth of July just two years earlier.

“I guess I better make some calls,” I said. “I’m a little skeptical that all is well in the Gulf.”

“Getting one of those hunches?” Simon asked.

“My ears are starting to tingle, so I better listen.”

I wouldn’t say I was clairvoyant or possessed powers of prescience, but I had a journalist’s instinct for news whether I was dealing with my job as a freelance environmental writer or as a woman assessing a person’s intentions. I learned over the years to follow those instincts. First, I felt something akin to hair rising on my neck. However, when I felt the tingling in my ears that sent a shiver down my spine, I began to pay attention to every little detail. The skeptic in me was still simmering beneath the surface even though my marriage to Simon the year before took some of the sharper edges off the knife of my cynicism. Love works miracles, but my transformation was still a work in progress. For the sake of my career, that was probably a good thing. I needed to question everything, or I’d never have a story.

I wondered where to start finding out about the fire. For nearly three decades, I made my living by writing about the environment and wildlife, with human interest thrown in the mix. One of the most recent stories took me to the Panhandle of Florida where a bear wandered into a residential neighborhood only to be darted with a tranquilizer by a wildlife biologist with the state wildlife agency. The drugged bear stumbled into the Gulf of Mexico before collapsing from the tranquilizer. The biologist wanted to knock the bear out temporarily, not drown him. He swam out to rescue the unconscious animal, dragging it back to shore. Photos of the rescue taken by a resident went around the world.

I wrote investigative pieces about illegal dumping of hazardous waste in rivers in far too many places in the United States. I wrote about environmental disasters and crimes whenever I received a tip from my sources that I’d cultivated and coddled over decades of trying to find the perfect quote. I wrote a story a few years back about a wildlife CSI lab in Oregon. I traveled across the country for stories filled with dramatic flourishes that somehow touched lives. I waded through the swamps of the Everglades hunting the invasive Burmese python, and I followed a group of camel traders in the deserts of Morocco, all in pursuit of the story.

When Simon came back into my life, I made the decision to give our marriage my full attention. I curtailed the scope of my writing, concentrating on stories from the southeastern Atlantic coast.

“Just when I thought our lives might settle down,” Simon said as he sat on the edge of the bed, flipping through the newspapers.

“You and I will never settle down. It’s our karma to be perpetually stirred up,” I said as I leaned forward to give him a kiss on the cheek.

 

Here’s to remembering the past lest we repeat our same mistakes.

 

Natives Lands – Chapter One

TimucuanWhen the Spanish landed near St. Augustine, Florida, in the sixteenth century, the Timucua (Spanish named them; the Timucua near St.Augustine called their village Seloy) occupied several hundred villages in one-third of Florida. Most historians agree they lived from St. Augustine to west of Tallahassee, and south to Tampa Bay. Much of what we do know about this group of Native Americans comes from Fr. Francisco Pareja, a Franciscan priest who served at a mission north of Jacksonville. Some estimates put the Timucua population at 100,000 in 1500 A.D., according to Florida’s First People by Robin Brown. (Click here to read previous post on the Timucua.)

However, by “1800 A.D. all aboriginal Floridians were gone,” Brown states.

I’ve never bought it. How does an entire population of people disappear completely? They must have realized at some point, they weren’t going to survive the Spanish invasion into their lands, so I imagine them banding together and escaping to the Everglades. That’s what the Seminoles (Creeks) did when they found the Spanish would not tolerate their presence in north and central Florida in the 1800s. The Seminoles fled to the Everglades. The white man couldn’t survive the harsh conditions nature provided in the Everglades. But the people who lived in balance with nature and respected its power and beauty could. My new novel, Native Lands, explores the possibility that the Timucua didn’t become extinct but simply went into exile.

The novel’s first draft is complete and ready for its first read by my beta pals. Even though the majority of the novel is set in contemporary Florida, there are flashbacks two hundreds years to Locka and the Seloy living near St. Augustine. Here’s a peek at the first chapter (in draft form). I would love to hear your comments and/or suggestions.

Native Lands

By P.C. Zick

Chapter One
1760 – near St. Augustine, Florida

Locka wiped the blood off his spear with his blood-stained fingers.

Their blood is the same color as mine, he thought. A chill descended over him, despite the heat of the morning air from the sun rising over the ocean to the east.

He looked down at the body of the man he’d stabbed through the heart.

“Go back to the village now,” he said to Mali who stood nearby holding the moss the Spanish soldier had ripped from around her neck and from her waist. “Stay to the river banks.”

Only a few minutes earlier, the day held bright promises as Locka left his village tucked into a grove of live oaks dripping in gray moss. He walked through the marsh, careful to step between the sharp reeds, as he headed east to the estuary. Rich with a variety of landscapes, the area was a great provider of food for his tribe, the Seloy. Locka headed for the estuary where the tide would soon be high. Locka wanted to reach the nets he’d laid the night before while it was still low tide. When the water returned, it would empty any of the mullet or snook that had swum into his nets.

He noticed Mali walking parallel to the marsh carrying a large basket. Locka knew that she was probably headed to the blackberry bushes between the tree line and marshes.

Locka watched her graceful movements as she carried the basket on her hip just above the line of her moss skirt. More moss, entwined with small shells and pearls, hung around her neck. It swung from side to side revealing her firm and full breasts not yet turned soft from nursing a child. He knew soon Mali would be married to one of his young warriors although he knew she wasn’t yet promised to anyone.

He wanted to turn away from watching her, but he couldn’t. Her straight black hair swung down her back, and soon, as the summer heat intensified, she’d wear it up in a knot to keep her neck cooler. Her almond-shaped brown eyes and her ample body made him feel the risings of something he hadn’t felt in a very long time. Locka found himself reluctantly and frequently mesmerized by her. She reminded him of his wife Suri before she gave birth to their son Olio. When Mali turned and saw him staring at her, he quickly turned away, missing her wave and smile. Even though his wife vanished five years ago after a raid on their village, he still ached for her and kept himself away from the young maidens of the village who were more than willing to take the handsome and brave Locka as their husband.

When he turned back around, he saw Mali nearing the bushes laden with blackberries. He also saw a white man, wearing boots and a tall metal hat, come out from the woods. Locka recognized him as one of the Spanish soldiers from the fort downriver. The soldier moved toward Mali, and when he stood in front of her, he reached for her breasts as Mali screamed.

“Locka!” Mali’s voice carried across the marsh to the estuary, but it only excited the soldier more as he pulled Mali toward him and pushed his leg between hers. With one hand holding her close, he used the other hand to rip the moss skirt away from her body, and then he reached down between her legs with his free hand.

Locka was on the move at the first sight of the soldier and before her screams rang out across the marsh. When he reached them, Mali was pushing the soldier away, but he held her tightly as he continued to probe her with his hands and mouth. So absorbed was the Spanish soldier in his abuse that he failed to see Locka’s approach.

Locka leaped from a crouching position and landed close to the soldier. Locka shoved him to the ground as Mali escaped to the side. She watched from several feet away as Locka shoved his spear into the man’s chest. He died quickly with the smirk on his face wiped away and replaced by the open-mouthed shock of fear.

Blood dripped from his spear when he pulled it out of the dead man’s chest. Locka reached down and rubbed the soldier’s blood on his hands and then smeared the blood on his face.

“He won’t bother you again,” Locka said without looking at Mali.

“Thank you, Locka,” she said. “I was sure he was going to either kill me or take me back to the fort.”

“Go back to the village now,” Locka said. “I’ll take care of the body.”
Mali reached to touch his arm, but Locka pulled away abruptly as if she’d slapped him. He turned his attention to the dead man as he cleaned the end of his spear.

“I’ll cover him at the base of the burial mound.”

Mali nodded and then headed back to the village.

After wiping the blood off the spear, he put it back in its pouch and slung it over his shoulder. He bent down to grab the boots of the dead man and dragged the body to the line of trees away from the water. When he came to the base of a mound twelve feet high, he dropped the feet and began digging a shallow grave with his spear. If the animals came and dug him up, so be it. He at least made the effort to bury him.

When he finished his work, he stood and looked east to the estuary and the river beyond. The sun was higher in the sky, and the water was returning to the mud flats of the estuary. On the opposite bank of the river, Locka could see the dunes laden with the orange sunflowers and yellow daisies of spring interspersed with the tall and spindly sea oats waving in the wind. He couldn’t see the ocean beyond because the land was so flat and the dunes were taller than his six-foot height, but he could hear the constant motion of waves just beyond the dunes.

Now that the water was coming back into the estuary, he’d have to walk to the beach and spear food from the sea since he’d missed the chance at low tide to find any oysters or conch.

Before going back for his canoe to row across the river to the dunes, he climbed another mound, this one made from the shells thrown there by the Seloy tribe for many centuries. From the mound, he viewed the different landscapes that provided his people with the means to live an abundant life during the warm months. The Seloy had just returned from their wintering site deep in the woods to the west a few weeks before. During the winter months, Locka missed the variety of their coastal home. Despite the violence of his encounter with the soldier, he managed to pull his concentration to the landscapes of the ocean, river, estuary, marshes, woods, and creek that flowed behind their village.

He watched as a few egrets and ibis pecked in the mud for the last bit of food from the flats before water covered the whole area once again. A lone great blue heron stood at attention at the line of water, patiently waiting for a fish to appear. During low tide, the birds were so abundant, they hid the mud. Now, only a dozen or so of the hardiest souls remained. A pelican flew close over his head spying to see if he had any fish he was willing to sacrifice. The sea beat upon the shores as Locka watched from the mound. From his vantage point, he could see in all directions. His village lay to the west in a low-lying canopy of live oak trees weathered by the constant salt breezes. A small creek ran behind their seasonal home. He surveyed the river immediately in front of him and let his gaze head south to the settlement of St. Augustine.

The sound of trees being ripped from their roots like a black bear ripping the meat from the bones of a fawn, tore through Locka’s heart as the Spanish cleared even more land to build houses and churches from the coquina shell weathered and crushed by the tides.

To celebrate Earth Day 2014, my Florida fiction books are only .99 cents on Kindle during April. Click on the covers below to purchase.

Tortoise Stew - Small town Florida gone wild

Tortoise Stew – Small town Florida gone wild

Trails in the Sand - Oil spill, sea turtles, and love

Trails in the Sand – Oil spill, sea turtles, and love

#Florida Fiction – Celebrate #Earth Day 2014

DSC03075Florida–surrounded on both sides by water–is vulnerable to the changes inherent in the world today. Sea level rises, beach erosion, and increased intensity of hurricanes leave the state open to natural disasters. Add to that the unmitigated sprawl of developers to the Sunshine State for its landscape and warm weather, and all the elements for disaster are in place.

I made Florida my home for thirty years. I hope to return there in a few years. The state is in my blood, which means I’ll be writing about the characters and environment for a long time. I’m working on the first draft of my third book of Florida Environmental Fiction, while my first two books, Trails in the Sand and Tortoise Stew, are available to read at any time.

Click on photo

Click on cover

 

Trails in the Sand –

***Love Triangles, Endangered Sea Turtles, and BP’s Oil Spill

***A Florida Novel by award-winning Florida author, P.C. Zick

When environmental writer Caroline Carlisle sets off to report on endangered sea turtles during the BP’s oil spill, the last thing she expects is to uncover secrets – secrets that threaten to destroy her family, unless she can heal the hurts from a lifetime of lies. To make matters worse, Caroline’s love for her late sister’s husband, Simon, creates an uproar in a southern family already set on a collision course with its past.

From Caroline’s sister: “My sister is nothing more than a common whore,” Amy said when Simon told her he was leaving her. “You just have to face it and get over some childhood notion about her being your soul mate.”

On BP’s oil spill: “Two weeks after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, dead sea turtles began washing up on the beaches near Pass Christian, Mississippi. Beach walkers discovered the stranded animals on sand darkened by the blood seeping from the turtles’ nostrils and underbelly.”

Using BP oil spill timeline and facts as the backdrop, Trails in the Sand explores the fight to restore balance and peace, in nature and in a family, as both spiral toward disaster.

 

TORTpsdTortoise Stew 

Florida Fiction filled with intrigue, corruption, twisted love, and outrageous Florida  characters

A Florida Environmental Novel from Award-winning author, P.C. Zick

Small town politics at its best, worst, and wildest in this novel about the development of Florida at any cost.

“The bomb sat in a bag on Kelly Sands’ desk for an hour before she noticed it.” And so begins the raucous journey through small town Florida politics in Tortoise Stew.

Kelly Sands, a reporter, covers some of the more controversial and contentious issues in a small Florida town. Dead armadillos and gopher tortoise carcasses left as calling cards to those opposing the development of rural Florida show small town politics at its worst.

Commission meetings erupt into all-out warfare. With the murder of one commissioner and the suicide of his wife, Kelly begins an investigation that threatens to topple the carefully laid plans of the developers and politicians to bring a movie studio and landing strip within the city limits of the small town. When a semi-truck from Monster Mart runs over and kills a young girl, the environmentalists become even more vocal against the developers’ plans. All the while, Kelly struggles to overcome and escape her past, which catches up to her as she follows the antics of the politicians, developers, and environmentalists. With the help of her boss, Bart, and her best friend, Molly, she uncovers more than corruption in small town politics.