Authors: Regan Wolfrom
I didn’t bother with the dongle. The alarm had already gone off; we knew they were here.
Two weeks ago I would have done my best to turn the Marchands away. I would have tried to come up with a list of convincing reasons why we shouldn’t have anything to do with people who’d never done much to help us.
But that was before I buried Natalie. And before Eva Marchand had to bury five of her children and grandchildren.
Everything feels different now... there are so few of us left. The anger... what’s happened in the past... it’s all drained out of me. I’m just too damned tired.
I heard ATVs pull up. Justin and Rihanna.
“I can’t promise anything,” I said to Eva, “but I’ll do my best.”
Eva smiled. “Thank you so much, Baptiste.”
“You’re good people” I wasn’t lying. “That’s what counts around here.”
Sara was not happy with me.
“They are not good people,” she said.
Almost every one of us were crowded around the dining room table, Tremblays and Porters included since the ship had sailed on keeping it a secret; the Marchands were waiting up the road, Lisa and Matt keeping an eye on them.
“Good people don’t turn other people away,” Sara said. She stopped for a moment, biting her bottom lip. Then she almost started to laugh. “I know... I’m a hypocrite.”
“You were the one who wanted to have people join us,” I said. “What’s changed?”
“I’m not saying no to the Marchands... I just don’t want us glossing over what they did last winter.”
“So you must hate us, too,” Alain Tremblay said. “That’s good to know.”
I expected the Porters to join in, but Justin and Rihanna just sat silently, listening.
“I don’t hate anyone,” Sara said. “But that doesn’t make what you did okay. I asked for help, and you gave me none. You left us to die.” She turned to look at me. “And honestly, Baptiste, I don’t understand this big turnaround with you.”
“We’d be stronger with them,” I said. “Besides, I’m no better than they are,” I said. “If it had been up to me we wouldn’t have taken anyone in.”
“That’s silly,” Kayla said. “You took
in. That counts for something.”
I realized that I was about to say something that could change a lot of people’s opinion of me. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to talk about it, but I felt like I should. I felt like I was done holding onto it.
“You don’t understand,” I said. “I wouldn’t have taken anyone in. We had to take Fiona, but after that...”
“Don’t say it like that,” Fiona said. “Like I’m a stupid burden to you.”
“Fiona... you know what I mean. There’s no way I would’ve left you there by the lake. You know I’m glad I found you.” I turned back to Sara; I had to explain. “Graham and I aren’t from here... so we’ve been thrown together from the start. Hell, we’ve been a team since even before The Fires. And when we decided to take Fiona with us, we knew that we were
for her. So when we met you --”
“We didn’t know if we’d find the right place to live,” Graham said. “We didn’t know if we’d be able to get enough food and firewood together to make it through the first winter. So when you guys came to us it felt pretty impossible to add four more mouths to feed.”
“So I said no,” I said. “I told Graham and Fiona that we couldn’t risk everything on a bunch of people we barely knew.”
“So you were really going to let us die?” Kayla asked.
“It’s not like you were helpless. I mean, there were four of you and only three of us. You could have struck out on your own.”
“It wasn’t safe,” Sara said. “You knew that. You knew that we had no way of protecting ourselves. You had all the guns, Baptiste.”
“I’m glad that Fiona and Graham changed my mind. I’m glad we took the risk. But as much as it pisses me off that people turned you away, I understand why they did it. Family comes first, every time.”
“I guess it’s lucky we’re family now,” Sara said. “That’s assuming that we are, and that we’re not just a bunch of strangers hanging around you and Graham and Fiona.”
“That’s not fair,” Fiona said.
“I don’t care,” Sara said. She stood up and left the table. “Do whatever you want with the Marchands. I really don’t care.” She was up the stairs before anyone had a chance to respond.
From there we continued the meeting, no one really taking over as chair, but Graham leading things for the most part.
No one else had a problem with the Marchands; since they had able-bodied people and the supplies to feed and arm them, there was really no reason not to take them in.
The only other thing we discussed at our emergency meeting was how best to move their supplies and equipment from Lillabelle Lake over to our cottages. After some argument, I won out on using the cart for all of it, saving what little diesel we still had left for a real emergency. We’d stick to the back roads, three men in armour, away from Cochrane and well away from Clute. And we’d throw in the Tremblay’s UHF rig and a battery pack for good measure; the Marchands had one in their truck, so there’d be a way to stay in touch the whole distance.
It was a risk, but I felt it was worth it.
We gave Alain Tremblay and Lisa the task of surveying the empty cottages around the lake; I doubt Lisa would have agreed to her partner had she been at the meeting, but she didn’t argue with the decision. For all her bluster, she’s probably the most reliable person we’ve got.
Graham took charge of the supply transport, taking Matt and the skinny Marchand kid on the cart, each one of them fully dressed in riot suit, vest and helmet; we only had the three sets, but either way I doubt we’d have wanted another body taking up space on the trip. Graham assured me that if they saw any signs of gray pickups or painted combat helmets or pretty much anyone at or on the way to the Marchand homestead, they would drop everything and come back home.
I spent the rest of the day in the living room with Eva Marchand, telling her a little bit about our security setup and finding out as much as I could about the way things were on the West side of Cochrane.
Eva was convinced that they and the Walkers were the only families left.
“Do you really think Stems would attack you?” I asked.
“He attacked the Lamarches once. I know you haven’t forgotten.”
“He’s changed... I think...”
“He said he’d force us to move. So an attack could happen. And between him and Detour Lake, I wasn’t willing to risk my family on it. And I knew that we’d be safer here with you.”
“But how did you know we’d take you in?” I asked.
“You took the Porters and even the Tremblays. They had nothing to give. Together we are all stronger.”
“What about the Walkers?”
“What about them?” The mention seemed to upset her.
“I have trouble believing that they would expect you to sign on as indentures.”
“Why not? We’re no different than anyone else they’ve enslaved.”
“There’s Fisher Livingston... if they let that scumbag join them...”
“He didn’t join them. He signed the paper.”
“I doubt he’d do that.”
“He was scared and alone. What else could he do?”
“Curl up and die? That would be my holiday wish.”
“I see you’re still blaming him.”
“That won’t change.”
“I think you should consider forgiving
Livingston, Baptiste. We’ve all made terrible mistakes over the past couple of years. I certainly hope you won’t hold mine against me for eternity.”
“I can’t hold on to anything forever,” I said. “But I’m not ready to let Livingston off the hook just yet.”
Eva changed the subject, asking about our plans for growing crops. I told her as much information as I felt she needed to know, nothing more, and she smiled and nodded politely. By the time I was done talking about it I could smell fried fish in the kitchen.
Soon after that, Fiona came out to make sure that the Marchands were joining us for dinner. I guess for them it was either that or opening a couple cold cans of corn in their truck; they really didn’t have much of a choice.
I went to see Justin Porter for the first time in what seems like forever. We used to be something close to friends, once. Now I know how often he’s stabbed me in the back.
I ran into him on my way to his place; he was on his snowmobile, and he stopped to talk to me with the engine still running, like he was ready to make a quick getaway.
“Cut the engine,” I said.
He shook his head. “I’m meeting someone. Don’t have much time.”
“This is important, Justin.”
He turned off the machine. “Takes a big man to resign his post,” he said.
“It’s true what Stems said, isn’t it? Those guys with the Toyotas and the big guns are from Detour Lake. The same Detour Lake that you were hoping we’d go steady with.”
“That’s not true,” he said, so quickly that I couldn’t tell if the notion had come as a surprise.
“It makes sense. No one screams ‘we like to pretend we’re real soldiers’ like Detour Lake.”
“There’s no way. I know those guys. They’re good people.”
“The same way you’re good people?”
“You really think I’d want us to partner up with them if I suspected for one second that they were behind the attacks?”
“I don’t know what to think. You’ve been running people to Detour Lake behind my back. I know that. You know that I know that.”
“I’m not doing that anymore. I haven’t done a deal since Marc died.”
“That doesn’t make you any more trustworthy.”
“Then it’s all out in the open, is it, Baptiste? Good. Well, I think you’re incompetent. And I want you to admit that you’re beyond hope here, and that I’m a better choice for keeping us safe. That’s it. No other motives... no schemes... just me wanting to keep my family alive. And your people, too... if I can.”
“Fuck, Justin. I won’t trust you, so you can forget about it happening. But I’ll tell you right now: if I ever find out you’re making deals with Detour Lake again, I will kill you.”
“Leave the threats to people who can carry them out,” Justin said. He turned on the engine. “I’m not scared of you.”
And then he drove away.
Sara didn’t come down for dinner, and as much as Fiona tried to cover it up, I noticed when she snuck a plate upstairs.
I did my best to take Sara’s place in the conversation, asking questions about Eva and her family, hoping that I wouldn’t accidentally trigger some tidal wave of grief, but knowing that I had to keep going with it... because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
I wanted to ask about one of her daughters-in-law, particularly about the bulge in her stomach. The Marchands seemed careful not to hint at pregnancy; I’m not sure why they’d think it would change anything for us.
I don’t mind babies as long as they’re not living in my house.
After dinner I excused myself, asking Graham and Lisa to organize the sleeping arrangements, and then I went upstairs to my room to find Sara. I opened the door without knocking, wondering if she’d fallen asleep with the lamp on again, but she was awake, sitting against the headboard with Ant’s journal in her hands.
“Do you remember the day we met him?” she asked.