The Spotted Traveler
Chapter 1
 
     “This is the coolest summer vacation ever,” Paxine said, positioning her ski goggles and grabbing the tow rope to the bunny hill. 
     Her dad laughed at her pun, throwing a snowball at her.  It was July and summer where they lived.  However, it wasn’t summer where they were vacationing.
     “Watch out for the mad Tail,” her dad said as a snowboard glided past her.
     The snowboard slid to a stop and Tache, blazing bright in a yellow and orange coat, jumped off, bounding toward her.  He caught up with her, sitting on one of her skis to hitch a ride up the bunny hill.  His snowboard dragged behind him, attached to his harness by a leash.
     “Two seconds from the top.  Get ready,” Paxine said, adjusting her hold on the rope.
     Tache stepped from her ski, bounding off across the packed snow.  He positioned his snowboard with a couple of paw swipes before pushing off and gliding down the hill.  He’d already gone down the hill so many times that no one thought any more of the fact that a cat was snowboarding.  In fact, he caught on to snowboarding faster than Paxine had skiing.  This was her first time.
     Tache, an exotic spotted cat, was Paxine’s Tail Guard, or Tail.  He went everywhere that she did and he protected her, which was why he was with her on the ski slope.  However, while Paxine had rented her skis, Tache’s snowboard was custom built for him by Garon, Paxine’s Great-uncle, who was known for inventing wonderful gadgets.  The snowboard was smaller and lighter than most snowboards, and it was fitted with molded rubber onto which cat claws could grip quite well.
     Paxine followed Tache down the hill, gliding to a stop in front of her dad.  “Okay, I think I’m ready for some big hills” she said.
     Paxine was tall and blonde with blue eyes, just like her mom.  She was twelve, smart, and had already traveled more than most people.  Thanks to her grandma, she knew how to speak Spanish and Portuguese.  Her summer project this year was to learn French, so during their plane trip down to the ski resort, she’d listened to French lessons.
     “Maple Syrup to start, demoiselle,” her dad said referring to her as a young lady in French and mentioning the name of the easiest big hill.
     Paxine laughed, looking around.  “Where’s mom?”
     “She’s having problems with the towrope,” her dad said.
     “What?  That’s the easiest thing.  How could she be having problems with that?” Paxine said.
     Her mom, at the top of the bunny hill, was covered in snow and refastening her skis.
     “I think because of that guy on the ground.  He ran into her,” her dad said.
     A man, also covered in snow, half under the towrope, was trying to avoid everyone else who was coming up the rope as he tried to get to his feet.  He wasn’t succeeding, and two other people fell trying to avoid him.  Her mom skied away from the mess, rejoining them at the base of the hill.
     “I thought you said you knew how to ski,” Paxine said with a laugh.
     “Erg,” her mom said, brushing snow off the front of her coat.  “I couldn’t really yell at him.  He’s where he should be, on the training hill.  If you see him go up the lift, however, you warn me.”
     Her dad laughed, brushing a bit of snow off the back of her coat.
     “I’ll make sure they notify the media if he goes up the lift.  Now, how about us?  Paxine says she’s ready to go, and clearly, Tache is,” her dad said.
     “A bunny hill is one thing, but the bigger hills?” her mom said, but it was Tache sitting on his snowboard she was looking worried about.
     “Well, the only way you’re going to stop him is by locking him in the car.  But knowing him, he would probably hot wire it and drive the car up the ski hill,” her dad said half serious.
     Paxine almost fell off her skis laughing.  Even her mom laughed.  Tache yelped at them.
     “Sorry, Tache,” Paxine said as she wiped tears from her eyes, “That does sound like something you’d do.  Or maybe break a window with your tail and escape.”  She laughed harder, bending over so she didn’t fall.
     “Yelp,” Tache said, swiping his tail through the snow as if making a snow angel.
     Her mom and dad broke out laughing again.
     “That sounded just like he said, ‘Yep, I’d do that’,” her dad said.
     “Something like that,” Paxine said with a laugh.
     “Okay, then,” her dad said, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes.  “Let’s try those big hills.  After you.” 
     He waved her on toward the nearest ski lift, bending to fasten a leash that hung from his coat to Tache’s snow board.  He skied after them, towing the snowboard with Tache aboard.  Tache held on tight with his claws.
     Paxine shuffled into the line for the ski lift, thinking this was going to take awhile, but the line moved at a steady pace as people shuffled onto the lift chairs that never stopped moving.
     “Okay, once we get up there, I’ll go first and get to the far side, you turn sideways and shuffle in beside me,” her mom said, instructing her on how to get onto the lift for her first time. “The chair is going to bump into you and scoop you up.  Grab the hand rail on the side as soon as you can.”
     Paxine wasn’t concerned about the chair.  There were plenty of people ahead of her providing examples on what to do.  She was more worried about Tache.
     “Paxine,” her mom said, jolting her attention back to the front of the line.  They were next.  Her mom sidestepped over.  Paxine side stepped after her. 
     Bump.  Whamp.
     The chair bumped into her, causing her to sit down hard and she floated off her feet.
     “Whoa,” she said, startled.
     “Uh, sir.  You can’t…” the lift operator said, sounding unsure.
     Oh, no, Paxine thought in a panic, trying to twist in her seat.  They weren’t going to let Tache get on?  Was she going to end up at the top of the hill without Tache?
     “Lift ticket,” her dad’s voice said, and the lift scooped her dad and Tache up.
     There was a lift ticket on Tache’s coat.  Paxine laughed with relief, wondering what the lift operator must be thinking.
     Her dad set the snowboard and Tache beside him.  He waved at her, sitting back to enjoy the view.  Tache’s eyes, however, were as round as they could be as he peered over the edge.  He kept his claws attached to his snowboard.
     “I’m just glad his coat is so bright,” her mom said, glancing back at Tache.
     The real concern with Tache on the ski hill was that someone might not see him and run into him, thus the need for a brightly colored coat.  He also needed the coat as he was an exotic cat from a warmer climate, needing extra protection from the cold.  The coat covered his back and sides, but his legs and belly were uncovered, glittering with snow.
     “I'm glad he has claws,” Paxine said, holding tight to the hand rail on the chair. “That's a long drop down.”
     Paxine's chair bumped, scaring her.  She thought it was from the people in front of her, who were laughing and trying to get their chair to swing, but it was from passing a pole that supported the cables that the lift chair rode on.  They passed a number of these support poles.  Tache's tail fluffed after each bump.
     “I could ride this all day,” Paxine said, feeling more comfortable.  “Look.  The people skiing down the hill look so small.”
     “We’re almost to the top,” her mom said in warning, jolting Paxine back to realize where she was.  She was on a chair lift that didn't stop.
     “We’ll jump off together,” her mom said.
     “Jump?” Paxine said, feeling anxious.
     “You ski to your right.  I’ll go to the left.  Don’t worry about falling down; you just want to make sure you’re clear of the lift chair,” her mom said.
     Paxine nodded, not feeling confident as she shifted to the edge of the chair.  There was still a big drop below her, but she could see the top of the hill getting closer and the area where they needed to get off.  Her concern was no longer the distance to the ground, but that the hill area around the lift looked steep and icy.  Her skis were crooked.
     “Off we go,” her mom said.
     Paxine straightened her skis in a panic, hopping off toward the right and wham.  Her skis slid out from under her.  She slid on her butt into a snow drift.
     “Yelp,” Tache said somewhere over her head.
     “I’m okay,” she said, raising her ski pole, feeling no one could see her otherwise, buried in the snow.
     “How’s your butt,” her dad said, skiing up close to her.  Right behind him was Tache.
     “Good thing for padded snow pants,” she said with a laugh.
     “Up you go,” her dad said, giving her a hand up.
       She brushed off snow, thinking of her mom on the bunny hill.
      “That’ll probably be the hardest thing to learn today; how to get off the lift without falling,” her dad said.
     “Icy,” Paxine said.
     “Hey, I thought you said you were ready for the big hills,” her mom said with a laugh, skiing up to them.
     “Yeah, yeah,” Paxine said.
     “Icy, yes, that’s where everyone gets off.  All those skis pretty much pack and polish the snow to an icy finish,” her dad said.  “Okay, let’s hit the slope.  Head that way.  Follow your mom.  Your guard will be tailing you.”
     Paxine laughed at his pun, pushing off to follow her mom around the building that held the lift equipment.  There was no definitive start for a particular ski slope.  To the right was one slope.  To the left was another.  A slight veer to the right was yet a different slope, and a slight veer to the left was yet another.  Then there was straight ahead.  Every slope appeared to go straight down.
     Whoa, she thought, looking down on the steepest hill she’d ever seen.  At least it looked like it.  And that was the way to the slope named Maple Syrup; the easiest slope on the resort?  She kept her skis in the snowplough position to keep her from going fast, but gravity was winning, and she felt like she was going too fast.
     Two people skied fast past her, taking a sharp left at the tree line.  What, she thought?  She had to do a sharp left turn?  How’d she do that?  She turned her skis like she learned on the bunny hill to make a turn, but wasn’t going as fast as she thought and there wasn't enough momentum to change her direction.  The trees seemed to be coming right at her.
     Whamp.  In a panic, she dropped to the ground, sliding to a stop.  Someone skidded to a stop by her, coating her in snow.
     “Hey,” she said, wiping snow from her face.  She looked to see who the culprit was and there was Tache on his snowboard.  He was staring at her with big yellow eyes full of concern.  “I’m okay,” she said, smiling in spite of the snow shower she just received.
     “Your leaning too far forward,” her dad said, skiing down to her.
     “Easier said than done,” she said with a moan.
     Her dad helped her up again, brushing snow off of her.
     “Tache isn’t having any problems,” her dad said, poking fun at her.
     “But he has four feet and only one ski,” she said, pretending to glare at Tache, who smacked her with his tail.
     “Just remember straight down, which is called schussing,  will get you going fast.  Your snowplough stance was good, but you were going sideways, not good.  And down a hill, you should zigzag to control your speed.  Don’t worry about falling.  When in doubt, sit on your butt.  Take your time and get a feel for your snow legs,” her dad said.
     She nodded, watching two other people slide by on their butts, stopping in a flurry of snow.  She cleared off her goggles, setting them firmly over her eyes, before pushing off.  Now that she was on the gentler angle of the slope, she felt a little more confident, finding she could control her speed and practice her zigzag around obstacles and turns.
     “Okay.  Piece of cake,” Paxine said, after making two turns.  “Whoa.”
     A child skied past her, then fell with a plop into the snow right in front of her.  Paxine veered in a sharp zigzag, catching herself from falling.
     “Doing well,” her dad said, his voice floating down to her.
     Paxine didn’t dare look back as the slope twisted and turned, needing her total attention on what she was doing.  She felt she was just getting the hang of all the twists and turns when the slope straightened, looking like it went straight down.
     “Oh, boy,” she said, wondering why each hill always looked so steep?  And why did the hill have to end near the lift where everyone was going to see her fall flat on her face?
     Zig, she thought, digging in with her skis, using her legs and body to control the skis.  She accomplished four snow spraying zigzags before gliding down to the base of the hill.
     “Well done,” her mom said, waiting for her by the lift.
     Tache coasted up behind her.
     “That is so cool.  Dude.  Did you see that?” one of two older boys said, gawking at Tache and his snowboard.  They each were carrying their own snowboards and wearing matching yellow and green striped hats.  Paxine ignored them as her dad slid to a stop by her.
     “You did great, Paxy,” her dad said.
     “Thanks,” she said, wishing her dad hadn’t used her name.  She didn’t want the boys to know it.  “How did Tache do?”
     “I only had to rescue him once.  Oops,” her dad said, scooting out of the way, as a woman skied by, waving her arms trying to balance herself.  Snow covered the back of her snow pants and coat, showing she’d fallen at least once.  Then her legs shot out from under her and she plopped into the snow.
     “Someone,” he said, indicating the woman with his eyes, “fell in front of Tache, and he ran into her.  She never knew it, so after I extracted him and his board, I helped her up, and we continued on our way.”
     “Abominable snow hazards,” Paxine said with a laugh, making sure she didn’t laugh too loud.  “Okay, let’s go again.”
     Her dad picked up Tache on his board, following behind.  The two boys still stood there gawking with their mouths open. 
     “Cool, Dude,” she said, mimicking them.
     “Well it’s not every day you see a Tail skiing,” her mom said.
     They shuffled in line until their turn.  Paxine had no problem getting on the lift chair.  This time the lift operator just nodded at her dad and Tache as they got on the lift chair behind them.
The lift ride and the bumps weren't scary this time.  The view was amazing and the people skiing below were fun to watch.  Along the slope to one side were bumpy areas.
     “What are those for?” Paxine said.
     “Snowboarders.  Those are called moguls.  Give the snowboards a challenge,” her mom said.  “Not for skis.”
     “I'm glad for that,” Paxine said, readying herself as the lift approached the top.
     I’m going to do this, Paxine thought, shifting toward the edge of the chair like her mom and straightening her skis.  At the same time as her mom, she hopped off the chair, skiing to the right just like last time, and sliding right onto her butt, just like last time.
     “What am I doing wrong?” Paxine said in frustration as her dad skied over to help her up.
     “Yelp,” Tache said.
     “Did he say you were leaning too far to the right?” her dad said, brushing snow off the back of Paxine’s coat.
     “I didn’t know you could understand Tache,” Paxine said in amazement.
     “I don’t.  You were leaning too far to the right.  Jump off the lift straight and then veer to your right.  You’re trying to land and turn at the same time,” he said.
     “But there’s not enough room to do that,” she said with a moan.
     “Yes there is.  Try it next time,” he said.
     “Oh, okay.  Jump straight, land and then turn,” she said, pushing off to follow her mom toward the Maple Syrup slope again. 
     The hill down to Maple Syrup didn’t look so steep this time as she mimicked her mom, managing to make it down the slope without falling.
     “Yowl,” Tache said, catching up to her and passing.
     “Don’t tell me to get out of the way,” she said, losing her concentration.  She almost fell, lucky to reach a straight stretch where she didn’t have to worry about a curve or a tree.
     Tache kept to the middle of the trail, going as straight as the trail allowed.  He used his tail as a counterbalance to whip his snowboard around for turns or to avoid other people.  He didn’t have any problems keeping his speed down as he didn’t weigh that much.
Paxine found she had to zig and zag a little more to control her speed so she didn’t over take him.  She liked watching him in front of her.  He was so awesome to watch and she got to see everyone else doing double takes as he sped past them.
     The steep slope at the end of the ski run didn’t seem as daunting.  Tache headed straight down, crouching.  She zigged and zagged behind him, but they both glided to a stop at the same time by the lift.
     “That is so cool.  How do you make him do that?” one of the boys said.  They were both still standing at the base of the lift.
     “I don’t.  He does it on his own,” Paxine said as her dad joined her.  She headed for the lift.
     “That is so cool.  How do you make him do that?” the boy said again, but to Paxine’s dad as he picked up Tache on his snowboard.
     “Glue,” her dad said, skiing off to the lift.
     “Glue?” Paxine said with a giggle.
     “Is that what you told them?” her mom said.
     “A little glue and his feet don’t come off.  Then you just give the board a push,” her dad said deadpan.
     A woman ahead of them looked back, frowning. Both Paxine and her dad almost burst out laughing.  They were still chuckling as the lift chair scooped them up.
     Paxine was determined this time not to fall.  She took care to think out what she needed to do and not do.  Her lift chair reached the top and she hopped off, heading straight as her dad said, then she turned, skiing with no trouble to the corner of the lift building.
     “Hey.  “I didn’t fall,” Paxine said to her mom who came around the other side of the lift building.
     “Excellent.  You saved your butt,” her mom said.
     “There’s dad with Tache.  He makes it look so easy,” Paxine said, watching her dad hop off the lift and ski up to her, still holding Tache and his board. 
     “Good job, Paxy,” her dad said.
     “I don’t know how you hang on to him and get off the lift,” Paxine said.
     “He’s not heavy,” her dad said, setting him down.
     “Well, I’m getting the hang of this now.  Race ya,” Paxine said, kicking off, heading for the Maple Syrup hill, but this time, she didn’t go slow.  The curves were scary, but she maneuvered around them, and shot down the final hill to the lift.
     She was the first one there.
     “I won,” she said to no one, looking back up the hill.
     Tache's yellow and orange coat appeared, keeping to the middle of the hill, aiming right for her.  Behind him, she saw her mom.  They both slid to a stop together beside Paxine.
     “Where’s dad?” Paxine said, not seeing her dad’s red coat anywhere.
     “He went down another hill,” her mom said pointing behind Paxine.
     A red object that looked no larger than a pea swept down a hill that looked like it went straight up.  The skier, growing in size as he drew nearer, zigzagged across the wide slope, shooting a spray of snow at each zigzag. 
     “That’s dad,” Paxine said, recognizing the red coat.
     “Let head on over there,” her mom said.
     Paxine fastened the leash she carried with her onto Tache’s snowboard and skied after her mom.
     “That’s a serious hill,” Paxine said as they got nearer to the base of the hill, which wasn’t far from the ski lodge.
     Her dad skied over to them.
     “Now that is a hill,” he said, breathing hard.
     “Wow.  I don’t think I’ll go on that one,” Paxine, looking straight up toward the top.
     “I…don’t think…we’ll let you go…down a triple black diamond ski run either,” her dad still catching his breath.  ‘In fact, I don’t want you going down any black diamond hill.”
     “I don’t think you have to worry about that,” Paxine said.  “Oh, no.  Look, Tache’s getting ice balls in his fur.  I better go defrost him since the lodge is right here.  Can you do that hill again so I can watch?  Looks like our window is facing that way.”
     She unhooked Tache from his board, picking him up.
     “Okay.  Security sees you,” her dad said.  “We’ll catch up with you.”
     “Okay,” Paxine said, heading for the lodge while her parents headed back to the lift.
     The security guard that traveled with them came down, helping her get her skis off since she was holding Tache.