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Complete Surrender the Sun Series

Complete Surrender the Sun Series

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Where's the pilot? was the first thing that came to mind when I regained consciousness after the battle of a lifetime for the last available aircraft that might save us all from this disaster.

Maeve read my mind and said, “You captured him alive. He’s in the next room.”

I nodded, knowing I couldn’t fly them out of there myself.

Then she raised an eyebrow, as I sat up and made a grumbling noise.

I pointed to my clothes on the chair. Despite her misgivings, I had to talk to that pilot.

But my nose wrinkled at the scent of the plaster over my leg wound, and my head spun.

Despite that, I gripped the edge of the bed as Maeve handed over my clothes. Then I spotted Ben sitting quietly in a nearby chair, cradling a black cat.

The boy glanced at me, then avoided eye contact. I knew the fear he was battling instantly. It was the same fear that had consumed my best friend and his father.

Ben remained silent, while I dressed.

He glanced up at me again while his eyes flooded and I waved my hand to him.

After a moment’s hesitation, he shooed the cat from his lap and ran to my side burying his face.

I ran a bandaged hand through his hair and graveled out, "I'm fine, Buddy. I won't leave you and your mom. Ever…”

Continue reading if you like:

  • Stories of Hope in the Face of Disaster
  • Heros when Humanity is at its Worst
  • Forming New Family Bonds
  • Starting Over
  • Orphans Finding Their Way
  • Surviving and Thriving 
  • Finding Strength in the Darkness

🔴 Chapter 1

October 31, 2030

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Lying on her blanket-strewn queen-sized bed, the one she’d once shared with Roger, Maeve dreamed. He was there again…with her, laughing as she complained about him leaving his coffee cups everywhere in the garage growing islands of fluffy green mold. “It wouldn’t kill you to put them in the dishwasher yourself, you know.”

Levering open the dishwasher door, she made a show of turning the dirty mug upside down and placing it on the top rack. “See, it’s that easy. Even easy enough for you to do.” He grabbed her around the waist and tickled her until she squealed.

“Easy, huh?” But the tone of his voice meant something entirely different than the ease of washing moldy mugs.

But as she glanced down, pasty blood covered his camo trousers, causing them to turn a shade of puce as the red mingled with the brown. She begged him to release her and knew the deceit of the scene then.

As he quickly lifted her up into his embrace, she stole one last look into his eyes before the dream faded and he was snatched from her again. Before he left her, she reached up and pressed her hands against his rough cheeks, engulfing him so that she would remember him this time, the feel of his pressed lips to hers. She held the illusion even as his form began to dissipate no matter how hard she willed to hang on to him. “I love you. Don’t leave me.”

Her hand moved over the soft, rumpled sheets then, in the space he should have been but would never be again. Burying her face into the covers, she sobbed as dawn brought yet another day with the realization she’d lost him forever.


Maeve wiped away the tears before she turned to her six-year-old son standing in the doorway. “Good morning, Ben. I’ll be up in just a second, buddy.”

“You were dreaming again. I heard you.”

Like many mornings before, she needed to divert the conversation, or they’d both end up in turmoil with past memories and ghosts haunting them throughout the day. “Hey,” she said, “you have a Halloween party today, right?”

“Uh huh,” he said as he padded barefoot to her bedside. She pulled him closer. Ben’s little boy smell still made her ache. His features were so like Roger’s, set in miniature. His dark hair and brown eyes were the color of milk chocolate. She adored that Ben resembled his father more than herself. At least she had a permanent part of her dead husband after all.

She brushed her son’s overgrown bangs out of his eyes then hugged him tighter. She knew he sensed her sadness. Fending off her emotions, she needed to pull strength from somewhere else deep inside for the both of them today. This was the wrong way to start the day; she knew that by repetition.

Drawing a smile to her lips, she kissed him. “Go get your cowboy costume on and I’ll get in the shower. Scoot.”

“OK, can I have cereal for breakfast this morning?”

“That would be far too much sugar with class treats later today. How about some oatmeal instead?”

He nodded and then sprinted down the carpeted hallway to his bedroom as she yelled, “Walk please.”

Resigned to the fact that she now had to start the day, Maeve sat up and pulled her legs over the side of the bed. Running her hands through her long red hair, she tried to pull her wild mane behind her. In doing so, she glanced at the picture on her bedside table. The image with her and Roger and the infant Ben. The proud parents that somehow made this miracle stared back out at her with perfectly drawn happiness in their expressions; not a hint of tragedy marred their faces.

The Maeve today barely recognized those people. How the pain of losing Roger hurt as if his death had happened just the day before! She resented the picture now. How could they’ve been so happy? Didn’t they know the life they led couldn’t last for very long? People died in war. Fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and her husband along with them. Why did they think they were immune to death? The image brought her no more joy. It only brought her jealousy now. She kept the photo there on her nightstand out of tradition, hoping that someday she’d feel something more beyond bitter resentment for having him ripped from her and her son.

Not like this. Not today.

Maeve ran her fingers through her hair again and shook them, causing her hair to wave around wildly. Ugh, get going, she said to herself to shed the malaise trying to possess her today. She whipped the covers to the side and moved herself to the edge of the bed. Without the warmth of the covers, she realized she could see her breath out before her in her own room. No wonder Ben ran to his room. It’s freezing in here. She hurried to the adjoining bathroom. Starting the shower, more to warm the space than herself, Maeve removed her nightshirt and brushed her teeth as they chattered from the invading freezing temperatures.

As the room began to fog with warm steam, she stepped into the water, still clutching the toothbrush between her teeth. She would take any compromise to warm herself, and if that meant brushing in the shower, so be it.

A haze wafted up around her as she turned in the warm cascading spray and then finished the task. Once thoroughly warmed and cleaned, she dressed for the day, reluctant to leave the soothing heat of the small bathroom. Then she descended the stairs of the A-frame house and landed on the cold wood floor on the main level.

Switching on her iPad that she kept in the kitchen, she set the station to the local live news stream out of Spokane while she turned on the Keurig and began Ben’s oatmeal.

“It’s cold in here, Mom. I can even see my breath,” Ben said as he entered the room dressed in his cowboy getup, minus the holster and six-shooters that the school frowned upon. Joining her in the kitchen, he climbed up on the barstool while watching his mom carry on with their morning routine.

“I noticed. Maybe the furnace is out,” she said, and while the Keurig emitted a welcome scent, she stepped over into the hallway near the garage and checked the regulator on the wall. “I don’t know. It says sixty-seven. I can hear the furnace running. I’ll push it up a little anyway. I’ll have to call someone to come out and check it today.”

“Look at the news, Mom,” Ben said. “There’s a snowstorm.”

She followed his small finger pointing to the screen. The weatherman was expressing concern over the new weather disturbance coming their way. “Great, and at the end of October, too,” Maeve said. She finished making her coffee while she watched the news report with her son on the iPad screen.

“KREX News reporting. Bob Madeira here. Folks, bundle up. The lowest recorded temperature in the Spokane region is seven degrees recorded back in 2002. I hate to break it to you, but it’s five degrees out there right now. I’m sure there’s a lot of broken pipes in the region, and area plumbers will be out in full force today. Especially for those who haven’t blown out their sprinklers yet, like me…

“Residents in Coeur d’Alene are enjoying three-degree weather this morning. In fact, let’s check the forecast for this week—woo wee, it’s going to be a shiver-fest. The highs are well below freezing the rest of this week and into the next. Most schools have either closed for the day, or there’s a two-hour late start. Check your local school. It’s a deep freeze, folks, with no end in sight…”

“Fantastic!” Maeve said with a chill.

“Is it going to snow?” Ben asked with excitement. His eyes sprung wide.

“Oh…I hope not. I never thought that stuff would melt off last year. Eat your oatmeal,” Maeve said and plunked his bowl down in front of him. “I’m going to start the truck and get the engine warmed up before we go.”

She set her hot coffee cup down reluctantly. Maeve slid into her boots and pulled her black puffy coat on, then opened the door to the garage and felt the meaning of freezing cold hitting her face. “Three degrees, my arse…Ugh, oh.” She fumbled with her zipper as her fingers became numbed. “Gosh darn it, friggin’ cold out here,” she grumbled on her way to the driver’s side of her cream-and-black SUV, a Toyota FJ Cruiser.

Once behind the wheel, she hit the garage door opener and then put the keys in the ignition. Then the garage door made a sound unlike its usual racket. “What the heck?” she said, looking in the rearview mirror. The door remained in place.

She pressed the door opener again, and this time, it lifted maybe two inches before giving up and closing once again. “Damn thing’s frozen, man…”

Maeve stepped out of the FJ. “What would Roger do?” She’d uttered this phrase countless times since his death, and it had helped her figure out how to handle many tasks in the past, though now she knew it was a reliance she needed to let go of.

She scanned his workbench, remembering him squirting something from a blue spray bottle that he kept inside the door during the coldest months of winter.

“Where is that thing?”

She rifled through a few boxes of random automotive bottles and then found the one she was looking for. Maeve unscrewed the lid and smelled the contents. “Vinegar?” After replacing the top, she shook the contents. Though she knew the concoction was a year old, she hoped the solution would still work.

She began spraying the door’s seal, hoping to melt whatever was frozen. Again she tried the door after waiting a few seconds, and though the door did open, it opened a bit slower, like a cranky old man rising from his bed with enough complaints and resentment to color the rest of his day with a bad attitude.

Maeve stood there looking at the frozen landscape outside her home in amazement. She could swear the month was January instead of October: everything was covered in a determined layer of frost and appeared brittle before its time. The sugar maple in her front yard had yet to lose all of its bronzed leaves—each leaf perfectly caught in a colorful stagnation now encapsulated in white crystals. Mounds of leaves were scattered everywhere over the graveled driveway and covered with a thick layer of icy frost. The long road leading to their private twenty acres within the Coeur d’Alene National Forest was beset with wild critter trails, their footsteps marking their paths from an early emergence of the day regardless of the human interlopers.

She blew out an icy breath. “Wonderful…” Though she didn’t think the conditions were really any kind of wonderful. She meant the statement as sarcasm—the beauty of the frozen scene was undeniably a beautiful winter scene, just far too early in autumn.

She turned on her heel and started the FJ; this time though, it took two tries to get the cold engine to comply with her request. She remembered Roger telling her once that cold weather was as hard on engines as it was on people. She doubted him then, though now it seemed his statement was redeemed.

“Ben, get your big coat on and gloves and your hat,” she said as she entered the now-warmed house once again.

“Do I have to? No one else will be wearing theirs,” Ben complained.

“No, you don’t, but take one step out there without your warmest gear on and you’ll lose your nose to frostbite. You don’t really need those fingers either, do you?” She shook her head in mock agreement.

“Mom!” Ben rolled his eyes.

“Seriously, you heard the weatherman. Bundle up, buddy.”

“OK,” Ben said as he climbed off the stool, taking big steps with slumped shoulders up the stairs. He finished his morning routine with the reluctant addition of winter gear while Maeve finished her now lukewarm coffee, cleaned out Ben’s breakfast bowl, and listened to the news while she packed their lunches and grabbed her gear for the day.

As Maeve pulled out of the long driveway and drove away from the house, she was thankful for the choppy gravel drive. She would have slid on the sloped icy frost halfway down the path without the benefit of the grit. However, once she pulled off of Scenic Bay Drive onto the nicely paved Beauty Bay Drive, she began sliding to the other side of the road. The slick street made it nearly impossible to gain traction even after she put the FJ into four-wheel drive.

“Well, that wasn’t the way I’d planned it.”

“You’re a bad driver,” Ben announced with confidence from the backseat.

She checked her son in the rearview mirror, arched her eyebrow, and asked, “Whoever told you that I was a bad driver?”

“That’s what Grandpa Jack says.”

Maeve let out a frustrated breath. “I am not a bad driver. Grandpa Jack tells that story of when I was learning to drive. I haven’t run into a police officer since I was a teenager.” She began to drive down their sparsely inhabited road as she left. “I’m going to have to have a talk with Grandpa Jack next time we go to Maine. What are you laughing about back there?”

Ben giggled again. “You,” he said, pointing. “Ran into a policeman!”

“Agh! Some things you never live down. I swear even your…”

She swallowed hard. She’d done it again. She’d forgotten…As impossible as it was to forget her husband’s death, it happened from time to time, even now. “Even your dad used to give me a hard time about that one.” She ended her statement with a smile and then glanced in the rearview mirror to see how Ben had taken the mention of his father again.

She found him with a half-smile staring out the window. It wasn’t so bad now. A month ago she couldn’t even mention Roger’s name without Ben and herself resorting to tears still or at least a painful knot in their throats. Now, it was just the painful knot and a clenched stomach. Time heals all wounds? That’s a trick I’d like to see, she thought, still glancing at her boy’s reflection as he appeared to brace for impact.

“Mom!” Ben shouted with his arm outstretched. With a sickening crunch, a blurry rust-brown beast flitted to the side of the road. Careening recklessly, the SUV skidded out of control, finally coming to a stop on the icy, narrow, winding two-lane street.

Her heart pounding like a racing piston, Maeve turned to her son. “Ben! Are you all right?” Her hands shook like leaves. “Ben?”

“Yes, Mom, I’m fine. You hit him, I think?”

“Was it a deer? A moose? I didn’t even see what it was.” She scanned the windows to catch a glimpse with hopes she hadn’t killed the unknown creature.

“You hit a man, Mom! It was a man on a horse. It was the hermit guy, I bet.”

“Oh my goodness!”

“You hit him, Mom!”

“Oh jeez,” she said. There were tracks in the icy frost on the road leading off the side and into the forest, but she didn’t see anyone, man or beast, out there anywhere.

Sitting sideways in the middle of the road, she restarted the SUV and then pulled the truck over to the side of the road with her emergency flashing lights on. “Stay right here, Ben,” she said as she released her seatbelt that now clenched across her lap like a vise. This stretch of Beauty Bay Road traversing through the thick forest was always her favorite part. She could breathe deeply here in its seclusion and felt peace unlike anywhere else in the world. It wasn’t until five more miles up the two-lane road that her breath became more shallow and tense as the small town of Coeur d’Alene came into view.

Roger often told her the thickly forested area was home to several ex-military men who just couldn’t take society anymore after the trauma of war and used the forest as a sanctuary of sorts. They lived off the land there, and now Maeve was afraid she’d just killed or maimed one of them, the one they called the Hermit.

“Hello?” she shouted after she quickly shut the door to keep the warmth inside of the truck for Ben. She cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, “I didn’t mean to hurt you. Are you all right?” She waited for a response as she followed the tracks in the frost leading from the road into the evergreen forest. They became harder to detect the farther she went, as the canopy of the woods held back the frost and the evidence of footprints. Once, two feet in the dense brush, she looked back at Ben looking through the truck window after her. Her breath puffed out in little clouds in front of her face. Her nose was already numb, and her cheeks felt frozen solid. She crossed her arms and suddenly had the feeling someone was watching her, and though she was cold, there was something more making her shiver.

“I’m sorry I hit you. Please let me help,” she yelled again, breaking the solitude of the forest. That’s when she finally saw him and had the feeling it was only because he’d let her see him. A man hidden in plain sight appeared before her. Wearing military camo much like Roger’s, he blended in well with the evergreen surroundings.

His raspy voice startled her. It was as if he hadn’t used it in quite some time. “Don’t yell. You should watch where you’re going. Especially with a kid in the car,” he said, motioning toward the SUV.

Her mouth agape, she finally said, “I…I’m sorry. Did I hurt you or your horse?”

“You almost did. He’s fine. I think you murdered a few fallen branches on the road though. Go on. Just watch where you’re going,” he said gruffly, but his eyes were soft and unyielding as he held her attention.

“Can I bring you anything?” she said, assuming he was the hermit Ben mentioned.

“I have everything I need.”

She took the hint that he wanted her to leave. “OK. OK then. I’m Maeve Tildon,” she said and held out her hand for him to shake.

He stared at the offering.

Her hand hanging in midair for longer than a comfortable time, she let it drop. “If you find out later that you, or your horse, are hurt…well, I live down Scenic Bay Road. There’s a sign on the mailbox that says Tildon. You can’t miss us. Just let me know. I’ll pay for any medical expenses or vet bills,” she said and turned her head toward her SUV, then suddenly turned back again. “I’m just very sorry.” As if she really wanted him to know she truly was.

He nodded at her and diverted his vision to the side.

She figured that was the end of their short conversation, and she turned to leave again.

“Hey, you’re Maeve? Roger’s Maeve?”

She turned. “Yeah. I mean, I…Roger…he died. Over…there.”

The man stood there a moment, silent, maneuvering the news around in his head as if a puzzle piece he’d tried to fit into place had found home. She knew the feeling.

“I hadn’t heard. I’m sorry. When?”

Caught off guard, she said, “Almost a year now. Did you know him?”

He took a step back. “Yeah. I knew Roger.”

She responded the way she always did. With sad eyes, she smiled slightly because there was no way to respond appropriately to having someone ripped from you. If there was, she hadn’t figured it out yet. She turned, and when she did, she did it into herself. Set back a mile in grief in an instant, again.

She walked back to the opening from the forest to her truck holding her son. Then she turned, and this time when she looked back, the man was gone. Vanished into the woods.

She never did see the horse she’d nearly hit.

Shaking her head as if his image had been a dream, she made her way back to the SUV and climbed inside, noticing it was nearly as cold inside now as it was outside. Ben was shivering in his car seat.

“Did you find the Hermit?”

“I found a man. It’s not nice to call someone a hermit, Ben.”

She started the truck.

“What’s his name then? That’s what they call him at school. He has a horse. Was the horse hurt?”

“Far too many questions all at once, son. He didn’t mention his name, and it looks like they’re both fine, thank goodness.” She lowered the emergency brake handle and restarted the engine.

“Let’s go. You’re going to be late for school this morning.”

🔴 Chapter 2

Maeve opened the bookshop door with the force of her body and leaned hard against the glass door pane. Once inside, she was so cold that her breath was as apparent inside as out. “Don’t they have the furnace on yet?” she said with no one to hear since her employees were not scheduled to arrive until later in the afternoon when business typically picked up.

She shook off her gloves and squeezed her fingers open and shut, trying to get them to work like normal.

She’d barely made it into town after dropping Ben off at Fernan Elementary School. Everyone remarked how terribly cold it was so early in October. Admonishments that the school should have called a two-hour-late session were whispered none too quietly down the hallways.

“Don’t stand outside for me,” she’d told her son. “Wait inside until you see me in the turnaround. OK, Ben?” She didn’t want him to freeze outside after school, and sometimes the teacher’s aides couldn’t be trusted to take the right care in severe weather.

“Yes, Mom,” he’d said, but she still doubted his words; he would be given to peer pressure and little boy attitudes by the end of the day.

Still, she stifled her motherly fears knowing he’d be fine, and while she doubted there would be much traffic today with the weather, she got the bookstore ready anyway. Perhaps a few patrons would come out just to get warm in her bookstore after watching the latest hit at the movie theater less than a block away.

Maeve opened the bookstore when Roger was deployed with some inheritance money she gained after her mother had passed away. She had hoped the work would be enough to divert her from her husband’s absence. The new Stoneriver complex proved to be a great asset to Coeur d’Alene with its new theater and shops. Several restaurants occupied the once-vacant stores, and with the almost occupied condos above, they were certainly out of the financial woes that were present when the complex started back in the early 2000s.

She’d only just started making headway in the ledger books when she was notified of Roger’s untimely death. Now, she hoped the shop’s income would be enough to support her and Ben the rest of the way. Roger’s retirement she didn’t touch. Those funds went into an account exclusively for Ben to someday use as his college trust as he saw fit. At least there was that. She didn’t have to worry about where the money for college would come from.

The few employees Maeve kept did inventory in the evenings and worked part-time on the weekends while the others filled in. Maeve kept herself for Ben most weekends and worked days until he was out of school. That way, he would have some semblance of a normal life. That was how she saw it in her mind anyway. A normal life for a little boy without a father. One she could never replace anyway.

After turning on the cash register computer system, Maeve checked the back door and looked for any packages left for her. She’d been expecting a shipment from Ingram Content any day, and though today would mark the shipment one day late, she wasn’t worried. The ice on the roads was holding everything back; she’d already received a shipping delay notice in her e-mail.

A familiar jingle caught her attention. She returned to the front of the store, only to find Elizabeth, the lady that ran the sports store next door, standing inside.


“Yes, I’m here,” she said as she rounded the many shelves containing the books she loved.

“Did you hear?”

“Hear what?”

“The water pipes in my unit froze and burst. There’s no water.”

“No, I didn’t hear. Are they coming to fix it?”

“No, not yet. All the condos above are also out of water. Isn’t this something? Three degrees at the end of October? At this rate, we’ll be in a deep freeze by Christmas.”

“Oh gosh, don’t even say that.”

“Well, it’s true. Didn’t you hear about the preordained Ice Age? Many scientists have predicted this for a long time. It’s all over the news. I remember my mother talking about it when I was a teenager. She said the same thing happened back in 1645 and the Thames in southern England froze over. They ice-skated on the river. There are old paintings about it. ‘It’s happened before. It’ll happen again,’” she said. “Like an abusive husband.” Elizabeth laughed.

“Are you going to close up shop then?” Maeve asked, thinking closing up might be a good idea for her, too.

“I have to stick around and wait for the plumber to show up. If he shows up. But you could go home. I doubt anyone’ll venture out today anyway. The streets are terribly slick, and they’ve closed the theater.”

“School’s open, though.”

“Ben went in then, did he? I heard they were going to let out early.”

“Well, if that’s the case, I should just call Angelina and Justin and have them stay home. I’ll just pick up Ben and go home and watch movies all day. Maybe make some soup and popcorn.”

“That’s a splendid idea. You deserve to take some time off, Maeve.”

Again Maeve half smiled and backed away. Her widowhood always came up, no matter how subtle the conversation. She backed a little more and said, “Well, call me if anything happens, then. I’ll just close up the store and head back and pick up Ben on the way.” Maeve flipped off the cash register and then asked, “Did they say what the high today would be?”

Her friend stepped back inside the store quickly. “I heard this is it. Three degrees. That’s why it’s such a big deal. I bet I don’t get any trick-or-treaters tonight with this cold weather.”

“Ugh, that’s right. Halloween. I might take Ben by your place, but the roads are so slick, and if this keeps up by dark it’ll be more like zero degrees. Too cold to take little ones out.”

“I agree, and not safe to drive on the frozen streets. Do you have anyone nearby to walk him to?”

Maeve shook her head, “No, we’re out in Beauty Bay. Might as well be the boonies. We like it that way, usually.”

“You could bring him to our house. Sam’s home—I’ll call him to have something ready; it’s on your way home anyway. Then head back. I bet Halloween will be canceled for a lot of children this year. Too bad, but it’s safer that way, certainly not worth frostbite.”

“Thank you. That’s very sweet of you, but like you said, we’ll just go straight home.” Maeve could always count on her friend for quick parenting advice. “I’ll lock up and go get him now.”

* * *

A few minutes later, Maeve pulled up into the school parking lot. As she walked toward the green-painted school bell of Fernan Elementary School, she wasn’t surprised to see they’d put down salt on the icy parking lot again to keep the parents from colliding into one another. She also wasn’t surprised to see that several parents also had the practical idea of picking their kids up early on this treacherous weather day. The parking lot was full to overflowing. Why they didn’t cancel classes in the first place confounded her.

“Hi, Maeve. Ben is in the cafeteria with the rest of the class,” his teacher said as she passed by. “Did you get the text alert on your phone? Some parents are saying they didn’t receive theirs.”

“No, I just thought I’d close up my shop and come by early to get him because of the weather.”

“That was smart of you. The furnace isn’t working here, and we can’t hold class in the frigid classrooms, so we alerted the call-in system, which apparently isn’t working either.”

“Gosh, I hope you get home early, too. It’s supposed to get even colder in a few hours.”

“I know. I’m worried. We live out toward the Palouse hills, and my kids have to walk quite a ways to our farm from the bus stop, and it’s way too cold for exposed noses. I have to get my entire class home before I can leave and try to catch them before they start the walk home.”

“I’m sorry. That’s the opposite end of the lake for me, or I’d offer to help. Well, I’ll get Ben out of here. I hope you get to leave earlier,” Maeve said on her way to the cafeteria. She jogged a little down the hall and felt guilty, but something was telling her to hurry home. In the pit of her stomach, a funny feeling advised her to get Ben and get home now. Maeve rounded the corner of the cafeteria when she heard the principal, Mrs. Campbell, announce to all the children:

“Boys and girls, sometimes we have weather emergencies that might affect our plans. So I would like for each of you to please be responsible for yourselves and your younger siblings. It’s simply not safe for trick-or-treating tonight, and so we are thankful that you’ve each been able to spend your holiday indoors with us today. When you go home, I want you all to stay safely inside. The cold temperatures are just too dangerous to be outside for any length of time. Your parents may have plans to do something else fun inside for the evening instead. In such cold weather, you could easily lose your fingers and toes, and that’s not a very nice trick on Halloween. So enjoy the treats you’ve received here at school instead of going out this evening. Perhaps enjoy Charlie Brown on television or play family games instead. Be sure to bundle up, because no one is leaving these doors without their winter weather apparel on their person.”

Maeve listened and was very thankful the school was taking the harsh weather seriously. She’d hate to think of children getting stranded off the school bus on their way home for any length of time in this dangerous cold without their coats on.

Maeve scanned the crowd for her little cowboy, and soon she spotted him with his floppy brown hat on. It must be a parent thing. I can look into any group and zone in on my own child almost instantly.

Ben spotted her too, and as she stood there shivering, she motioned with her hand for him to come to her. He got up from his spot on the floor and waded through the other boys and girls dressed as everything from princesses to a creative slice of pepperoni pizza.

“Hi, Mom,” he said, dragging his school backpack and coat behind him.

“You ready?”

He nodded.

“You heard the principal. Put on your coat and gloves.”

Ben didn’t protest this time since he saw several of his buddies also putting on their outerwear. “They canceled Halloween?” Ben asked quizzically, trying to make sense of what the principal was trying to convey.

“Sort of. It’s way too cold, so it’s not safe to be exposed outside right now. Let’s hurry and get you in the car before the parking lot turns chaotic.” She took her son by his gloved hand and led him outside. One step into the frigid air and the sharp cold took their breath away. Once Ben was strapped securely in his car seat, Maeve checked the rearview mirror again. The last thing she wanted to do was disappoint her son. He’d had far too much of that already in his young six years. And a parking lot crash wasn’t a good idea either since she’d had a bad driver reputation to overcome since that morning.

His unruly brown mop was turned sideways as he contemplated the issues outside of the window. “Mom? If we don’t do Halloween tonight, can we do it when the temperature gets warmer again?”

With an inner sigh of relief, she smiled. “Yes, of course, Ben. I’m certain a lot of other parents are considering the same thing. Sometimes Mother Nature makes you change even the best-laid plans. We’ll cuddle up by the fire tonight and eat popcorn and watch movies. Does that sound like a good idea?”

“That’s a very good idea, Mom,” Ben said.

🔴 Chapter 3

Though Maeve slid on the ice in the shadows of the large pine trees along the way, the trip home was uneventful, and she gave the stranger credit for it because she’d heeded his advice. The man had been on her mind all day. She knew just about everyone that her Roger had known, and not once had she ever run across this particular man with the deep-set blue eyes. She would have remembered those eyes, so piercingly blue you couldn’t help but compare their vibrancy to every shade in nature.

No, she doubted she’d ever met him before, but he knew her by name. Meaning Roger had to have mentioned her to him over time. Roger did say a few of the fellas that came back with him after their third tour were too lost to serve again. He’d stated that they simply slipped into the forest and were rarely seen. She thought it must be a temporary situation, them just needing some time to adjust to life again. Others in town picked up the story. Maeve believed it was only a small-town rumor, but now she began to consider what fact might lie in those tales. Perhaps some who returned were too far gone from society to fully return. No one could blame them. Roger, when home on leave, suffered from nightmares. Even when he was still home with them, she’d lost a part of him to war even then.

Like most evenings when she returned home, she changed into her black leggings, wool socks, and Roger’s denim button-up chambray work shirt that hung nearly to her knees. She’d worn the shirt more than Roger ever had, but the soft shirt reminded her of him, and she imagined she could still smell his scent between the fibers.

“Come on, Mom!” Ben called from the living room.

“Patience, son.” Maeve shuffled the pot filled with kernels over the gas burner. Of course she could have just microwaved the fluffy stuff, but the kernels never turned out as good. She preferred the old-fashioned method. So with one hand held tightly over the lid, she moved the pot lightly over the gas burner to keep the corn kernels from burning as they heated and began to pop. As the sound of the grains rattling around the bottom of the pan lessened, she held the pot higher over the burner. Then, she quickly poured the contents into a large bowl and poured melted butter and kosher salt over the kernels, tossing the popped corn as she went; each bite held the perfect amount of each ingredient to perfection. “I’m almost done.”

“Smells so good!”

She held the large round popcorn bowl with one arm and grabbed napkins with the other, and as the fireplace sparked and crackled, she cuddled up under a plaid fleece blanket with her son; between them, the popcorn bowl rested.

Ben looked as if he were in nirvana when she placed the bowl down in front of him. Together they watched the latest movie hit rated PG, but even so, Maeve kept the remote close at hand in case anything inappropriate showed up. She’d learned as a parent how to easily pretend to “accidentally” change the channel whenever something too risqué happened to be shown. So far Ben had not caught on, or so she hoped.

As evening began to set in as early as four, she remembered she needed to set food out for the stray cat Ben had named Jet, who often slept underneath their back porch. “I’m going to feed the cat before it gets too dark. I’ll be right back.” So as Ben watched the dinosaurs lamenting the newest villain in their midst, Maeve tiptoed into the kitchen to pour kibble into a bowl. When she opened the door, an intense cold blast stunned her in place. Closing the door behind her, she flipped on the back porch light. Then, in slippers, she made her way down the wooden porch steps. So cold was she, just in the chambray shirt, that she clutched her free arm around her middle and began to shiver right away.

“Jet,” she called out, knowing she sounded silly—As if the cat knows his name—but that was the routine she and Ben had begun. The cat usually came running out of the brush but always held back a distance. It seemed he was a reluctant domesticate. Actually, the man she met today reminded her of the tomcat. Somewhere between the wild and what should be. Never to be fully tamed again and always a little broken, or so that was how they preferred life to be, him and the cat. Never committing fully to the assimilation of man or beast, but somewhere in the in-between.

Those like them were never accepted fully in any part of life. So they remained on their own and preferred it that way.

“Jet! Come on, it’s too darn cold out here! Brrr,” she shivered.

But Jet never emerged from the woods as he always did. She was reluctant to leave food out near the house to entice other creatures of the forest, some of which could be dangerous, but she made an exception on this cold night. “Well, I’m going to leave your bowl here,” she said, and in case the cat watched her from behind the trees, he would know where she placed his dinner.

Maeve tiptoed back inside and locked the door. Then she hurried back to the warmth on the couch with her son and the fireplace.

“You’re freezing, Mom,” Ben complained as she slid in next to him under the covers on the warm couch.

“I know. It’s freezing out there for this time of year. After the movie, we should watch the weather report again and find out what’s going on before we go to bed.”

As soon as the film was through, though, Ben lay asleep leaning against her side. She changed the channel and turned the volume down.

Bob Madeira appeared again on the news channel, and she’d never seen the charming meteorologist look so troubled.

“I don’t see an end to this, folks. Nothing in the forecast would indicate a lessening of the current trend. It’s winter no matter the calendar date. Expect snow in the morning up to eight inches in the Coeur d’Alene area. Keep your pets inside and make sure your children are bundled up if they go outside. Please limit their time to ten minutes. It’s that cold. Schools are closed across the region, and please stay home if you don’t have to go to work. Check in with elderly residents and make sure they have sufficient heat. Be careful out there, folks.”

“Snow? Eight inches? Great.”

Maeve lifted Ben up, and at six years old he was becoming too big for her to carry him for much longer. She was five foot five and hefted books all day long, but she conceded now to herself that the days were numbered when it came to lugging her son’s weight around. It was a sad realization. Had his dad been alive, he would have had a few more years of a parent carrying him around on occasion.

She climbed the stairs and placed him gently in his bed but didn’t close the door so that the heat could continue to penetrate the cold, empty space. She tucked him in and then went to the hall closet to retrieve another blanket to spread out across him. “Good night, Ben. Sweet dreams,” she whispered.

Maeve padded back downstairs into the living room and added another log to the woodstove, poking the inferno around a little with the pointy end of an iron poker that she kept nearby. The cord of wood Roger had chopped the last time he was home was quickly dwindling away, and she’d have to order some more or split some herself to keep them warm through the winter because the furnace just wasn’t keeping up with the low temperatures. Their property backed up into the Coeur d’Alene National Forest, so there was plenty of downed wood to choose from. She’d have to go and see if she could round up a few smaller logs as a last resort.

Looking into the flames, she sighed deeply, trying to keep her sadness over Roger at bay. It was a daily battle. She knew it did her and Ben no good to keep mourning him. His death had been nearly a year ago now, and she wasn’t crying herself to sleep at night anymore. She knew if she kept going down that long, dark, fruitless road, not only would she lose herself, but her son as well. She could not forsake Ben.

Maeve had muted the television, but she caught a glimpse of the school closures streaming at the bottom of the screen, and there flashed all of Coeur d’Alene’s school districts reporting closures for the rest of the week. “That does it,” she said to herself, picking herself up off the floor and retrieving a wine glass from the cupboard and a bottle of her favorite Smoking Loon Merlot. After she had armed herself with a corkscrew, she brought the items back into the living room and sipped a glass while picking at the remaining popcorn kernels that were stuck to the bottom of the wide plastic bowl while she gazed into the flames of the fireplace. That evening was the first time she’d had a drink and not sunk into the abyss of missing Roger. Of course she missed him, but she’d crossed that bridge, and now she could enjoy the taste and honor his memory as well.

Then, suddenly, she heard a cat screech, and she nearly spilled the wine when she jumped up from the couch. “What the heck?” she said and set the glass on the end table before going out to investigate.

Remembering the intense cold, she wrapped the blanket around her shoulders before she opened the back door. Something had tripped the motion detector light Roger had installed, and Maeve believed the perpetrator was nothing more than Jet, the cat.

The door handle was icy to the touch, and when she unlocked it, the door nearly flung open by itself from the wind pressure. In only a few hours the wind had picked up and was now gusting violently. She noticed debris strewn all over the yard where earlier there were only the expected leaves of fall.

“Jet?” she called to the cat, her voice lost to the wind. She wasn’t opposed to letting the cat hang out in the garage if he would only trust her enough to let him inside. “Jet, come here,” she called out. Again and again, her voice was stolen by the howling wintry wind.

She stepped outside a few more feet and closed the door behind her. The light beam played with shadows on the ground, and though she saw it with her own eyes, she was confused at the same time. Where she’d loaded some of the last few logs left over from Roger’s cordage, a large stack of freshly hewn logs lay. Something was out there—or rather someone—and had given her fresh wood. No human should be exposed to this weather, especially at night. She thought to herself, What in the world?

Maeve stepped back inside the house briefly and donned a proper jacket and insulated rubber boots. She grabbed a flashlight and gloves as well and went outside to the woodpile and shined the light beam on the ground to see if there was any sign of the mysterious wood delivery guy.

She, in fact, saw several boot prints on the frost-covered ground and followed them to the tree line where she also found hoofprints. They were fresh prints, even on the frozen ground. Then suddenly she realized who he must be and that he could still be there somewhere in the dark. The funny thing was, she wasn’t as afraid of him as she thought she should be.

She cupped her hands around her mouth and let her voice carry on the wind as her wild red hair blew around her. “Thank you!”

Part of her wanted to add you didn’t need to do that, but hadn’t she just lamented about how in the world she was going to get more wood? Her home butted up against the section of the dense forest he must have come from. Maeve grabbed as much of the wood as she could carry to haul back inside with her, and when she arrived back at the porch, she saw then what she hadn’t before. A neatly stacked set of wood remained beside the doorway.

“That’s why Jet shrieked. That guy must have scared him.” Maeve looked around once more and realized now there were snowflakes drifting on the wind. The storm was starting, and she hoped she had prepared enough for herself and Ben because it looked as if they were going nowhere for several days.

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