Starting Point by Elle Aycart

Chapter 1





Somewhere in the north of Minnesota, outside a remote cabin, in the middle of winter…





All things considered, dying of exposure while watching a star shower beat the hell out of kicking the bucket in a hospital, staring at an IV drip.

Being drunk also helped.

Gaze on the sky, Megan reached for the glass of wine on the wooden table by her chair—and knocked over the almost-empty bottle of chardonnay. Oops. She looked down, but whatever liquid it contained had spilled already, leaving a dark splotch on the crisp white snow. Oh, well, too bad. She was too drowsy to move. She knew she should be freezing—heck, she probably was—but she couldn’t feel it. If anything, she felt warm and cozy. It was the booze, undoubtedly. One could always count on booze to make things better.

A pity she didn’t have a pen and paper handy. She would have liked to say goodbye. That was the downside of accidental suicides: no planning. But beggars couldn’t be choosers, and nor could a dead woman walking.

She raised her glass to the sky. “To you, Jess. I tried, girl. Crashed and burned, you might say. Make room up there, because I’m coming.” She tossed back the remaining wine, liquid sloshing over her hand.

It had all been so innocent, so unintentional. After turning off the lights in the rental cabin, she’d come out armed with a quilt, a bottle of wine, and a glass, ready to watch the star shower. A shame she hadn’t thought about taking the key, too. Or her cellphone. Of course she’d lock herself out of a totally isolated cabin in the middle of winter.

She was hallucinating already, because she could see Jess’s reproving face staring down at her. “Yeah, yeah. Don’t give me that look, sister. I did try. You saw me trying. That frigging cabin is impenetrable.”

She’d tried smashing out windows with a snow brush, a rock—heck, even this Adirondack chair. Not a crack. The chimney was too narrow to climb down, even for her. She’d been able to break out a car window, but she had no clue how to hotwire the damn thing, and there was nothing in it that could help her anyway. She could have crawled into the trunk to conserve heat for a little while, but she had no intention of dying huddled in a metal coffin, missing the star shower.

“I suppose I could try building an igloo,” she mused to Jess’s apparition, “but who the fuck are we kidding? You know I was never one for the National Geographic Channel. I wouldn’t know where to start. So this is it. Deal with it. I have.” The closest town was too far away. She hadn’t seen any other cabins driving up here, no neighbors to go to for help. Even if she’d manage not to get lost in the forest—a huge if at that—she’d never make it to civilization on foot, so she’d resigned herself to the inevitable. When the universe gave you lemons, right?

Never mind that it had been giving her lemons all her life and she’d been guzzling down bitter lemonade nonstop. It was time to show the universe the finger and use those damn lemons for downing tequila shots. Figurative ones, that is.

She hadn’t had this in mind when she rented the cabin. She’d come here to view two scheduled star showers in solitude and comfort. The plan had been to move on afterward, make the most of the time she had left for as long as she could. Apparently, destiny had other plans. The story of her life.

All in all, Minnesota was as good a spot as any to bite the big one. She had very fond memories of this place, having spent a great summer here eighteen years ago, when she was thirteen. And she loved the cold. She’d rather die from that than the alternative, thank you very much.

Megan just felt sorry for the owner of the cabin. What a shock it would be for the old lady when she came up and found her tenant turned into a popsicle. Hopefully the hefty deposit would cover her trouble.

And Logan. She felt sorry for him too, regretted the way things had ended with her brother—the time apart, not even texting. Death had one good side: it put everything else in perspective. She should have kept her big mouth shut. He’d been happy living a lie. Who the heck was she to intrude on that?

She could still see Jess in the sky, shaking her head. “Try harder, damn it.” Hey, auditory hallucinations too—rude ones at that.

There was no fooling her old friend. Jess knew Megan had thrown in the towel. The impenetrable cabin was just a shortcut fate had tossed in Megan’s lap. Crumbs, for which Megan was secretly happy. Jess disapproved, clearly. Well, tough shit.

Her gaze strayed to the dark splotch in the snow. Maybe she could have left a note written with wine. Nah, her decision to drink the booze had been the right call. No one should be forced to die totally sober. It was bad enough that she had to do it alone. Then again, everyone died alone. With the difference that most couldn’t choose how and ended up hooked to machines and drips, at the mercy of doctors and sedatives. She was going out in style and on her own terms, something very few people got to do. For this, she should be grateful, really.