Title: Bogged Down (A Vashon Island Mystery)
Author: Charlotte Stuart
Genre: Mystery/Cozy/Amateur female sleuth
An ancient bog hidden away in a forest is the perfect backdrop for murder…
BOGGED DOWN is a mystery set on Vashon Island, a place that has been described as Mayberry-meets-Burning Man. Its motto: Keep Vashon Weird.
Lavender (Lew) Lewis moved there because it is only a twenty-minute ferry ride from Seattle, yet light years away in tempo and character. She grew up on a commune in Alaska, joined the army at 17, does woods parkour for exercise and HR investigations to earn a living. Life in her waterfront cabin with her two food-obsessed cats is predictable and relatively stress free. Until she leads a tour group into an ancient bog on the island and discovers a body.
The air was still. The silence absolute. The white flowers of a Labrador tea plant growing in the deep peat moss were motionless. Birds were either foraging elsewhere or resting in the red cedars near the edge of the pond. Even the frogs were quiet. A hapless insect broke the silence and landed on the sticky hairs of a hungry sundew. It struggled to free itself but was slowly suffocated and absorbed by the carnivorous plant. Then again all was still.
Until a bubble released a whoosh of air and a body, half submerged in the murky pond, sank to the bottom.
A Hand Up
Twelve people clustered along a seldom-used path under overhanging conifers. It was a warm day, almost 80 degrees in the sun but 10 degrees cooler in the shade. Most of those present had complied with our suggestion that they wear boots or sturdy shoes. Only one was wearing tennis shoes, a round-bellied middle-aged man in a T-shirt that said, “Cheat on your girlfriend not your workout.” I could have mentioned to him that in places along the trail the moss ranged from damp to soggy to downright mucky. He was going to find it hard to avoid sinking to the top of his pristine white Nikes. On the other hand, he’d been warned. And I didn’t like his T-shirt.
“You the guide?” a young woman asked me. “I thought Anna was going to be our guide.”
“She called in sick,” I said, wondering as soon as the words were out whether that was something Anna would have wanted everyone to know.
“Oh,” the young woman said, sounding disappointed, even without knowing anything about me. Not only was it my first time to take a group through Whistling Pete Bog, I was a poor substitute for several reasons. First of all, I didn’t know much about the bog beyond the few facts I’d committed to memory at the last minute. Second, I’m not a people person. When I agreed to fill in for Anna, I was admonished to be polite and not kid around too much. Apparently, my reputation for being outspoken and at times flippant were not preferred qualities for a bog tour guide. My redeeming quality was that I was available.
There was some chitchat while a young volunteer for the Island Land Stewards passed around the sign-in sheet and collected fees from those who hadn’t paid yet. But most of those present had their cell phones out, passing the time by doing whatever it was people do on their cell phones while standing next to someone they could be talking to. A few were taking pictures to document the start of their adventure.
I’m on the board for the Island Land Stewards, the owners of the bog. Our Executive Director twisted my arm to lead the tour. The main instruction I received from him, other than sticking to the script, was to keep everyone on the path. The bog was a unique and fragile ecosystem. Damaged flora could take years rather than days to recover. That’s why tours were limited to small groups and only happened once a year. The rest of the time Whistling Pete Bog on Vashon Island was a well-kept secret by those who cared about its existence. It is one of only two such bogs on the island, both owned by our organization. It is on a side road toward the south end of the island but doesn’t appear on any of the tourist maps. The small roadside sign that identified it was obscured by trees and bushes. Most people, tourists and residents alike, would fly past the overgrown path without a clue that it led to such an amazing place.
When it was time to get under way, I took a deep breath and started the introductory spiel that I’d memorized the night before.
“Approximately 11,000 years ago the glacier that covered this area finally receded and left behind a depression. The land here was lined with glacial till which kept the water from seeping out, so a small pond was formed. Slowly, very slowly sphagnum moss grew outward from the edges of the water. And I do mean ‘slowly’–one foot every thousand years.
“So,” I ad-libbed, “if you think your tomato plants aren’t doing well this summer–.” I paused for a few appreciative chuckles before continuing.
When I’d competed my script about the bog’s history, I jumped right into an explanation of what they could expect from the path ahead–uneven ground, roots poking up, an occasional detour around trees that blocked the way, soft ground, mud, puddles. From the looks on their faces, you would have thought I was about to lead them on an exotic safari rather than an hour’s trek on a tame if uncultivated path. The bog’s unique environment and the secrecy surrounding its very existence gave it cachet and an aura of mystery.
We started off through a thick fir and cedar forest. There was no breeze. The large branches overhead were as still as paintings. Except for the muted sound of footfalls and a few hushed conversations, it felt like we were entering another world, a magical place of giant trees and spongy ground. Everyone knew we weren’t the first people to journey into the bog. Still, I had to admit, it felt special, even to me.
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What’s your favorite thing about the Fall season:
In addition to the fall colors, I enjoy walking in the woods and seeing how nature is adapting to the changes in daylight and weather.
What inspired you to write this story:
I love Vashon’s unique environment – both physical and cultural. I wanted to capture some of that in a mystery.
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Runs September 1 – 30.
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In a world filled with uncertainty and too little chocolate, Charlotte Stuart, PhD, has taught college courses in communication, gone commercial salmon fishing in Alaska, and was a management consultant in the business world. Her current passion is for writing lighthearted mysteries with a pinch of adventure and a dollop of humor. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys watching herons, eagles, seals and other sea life from her Vashon Island home office.
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