A Cold White Fear
Chapter 1I was sitting in the kitchen agonizing over my Christmas grocery list when I heard the noise. It wasn't a knock or even a tap. More like a thud from the front of the house. But since a blizzard had been howling all day, I ignored it. I assumed it was a branch the wind had broken free, given the force with which it was lashing snow against the windows.
With only four more days until the big day, I was planning to drive into Somerset tomorrow to ensure I could get everything Eric wanted for our first family Christmas, like the three dozen fresh oysters he wanted to serve as the starter to the moose stew he was preparing for Christmas Eve. But the way the snow was filling up the driveway, I might have to wait another day before my road would be cleared enough for my aging pickup to crawl through.
Though I was looking forward to seeing my sister Jean and her family and Eric's daughter Teht'aa, whom we hadn't seen since she'd moved north, I couldn't understand why my husband wanted to share our second Christmas as a married couple with so many people. We could have a perfectly wonderful time with just the two of us. Mind you, given the way he'd slammed the door on me when he left for Regina on Saturday, maybe we wouldn't be celebrating Christmas at all.
The thud sounded again. This time with more force. Since the likelihood of a branch falling on the same place twice was nil, I made my way down the hall to the front door, wondering what kind of an idiot would be out in such terrible weather.
It couldn't be Pierre delivering one of his fabulous farm-fresh turkeys. He wasn't supposed to drop it off until the 23rd, the day Eric was scheduled to return. Besides, he would take it to the back door.
Nor could it be Jid. Though the boy was outside, he was replenishing the dwindling supply of firewood on the back porch with logs from the wood shed. There was no need for him to wade through deep drifts to the front door.
Through the shears covering the narrow window next to the door, I could make out a shadow, but not much else. Living in such an isolated location with kilometres of empty forest between me and my closest neighbour, I tended to be wary about opening the door without knowing who it could be, especially when I was alone. Before Eric and I were married, I'd become used to living by myself in the remote wilderness of Three Deer Point with my only company, Sergei, my wimpy standard poodle. But he could hardly be called a guard dog, though he did have a ferocious bark on him. Sadly he'd passed on, and now my current guard dog was Shoni, another standard, who at ten weeks old wouldn't scare anyone away.
Since it was a winding kilometre-and-a-half drive up the Three Deer Point road to my rambling Victorian cottage, most people called to ensure someone was home before making the trip. Today, with the amount of snow that had fallen, it would be nearly impossible to get here without getting stuck. Unless this individual had come by snowmobile. But a skidoo wasn't exactly quiet, and I'd heard nothing to suggest one was parked outside my home.
"Who's there," I called out.
"Open the door," shouted a male voice, followed by another thump against the heavy oak door.
Forget it. No way was I going to open it with that tone, especially a voice I didn't recognize.
I backed away, almost tripping over Shoni. Recently separated from her mother, she followed my every step. I lifted her up and gave her a kiss on the top of her soft, furry head by way of an apology. She gave me a big lick on the cheek, along with a nip from her sharp puppy teeth. She hadn't yet sorted out the distinction between licks and nips.
A shudder went through the house as another blast of wind pummelled it.
"Madame, please let us in. We need help."
That was better. At least he was now being polite.
I decided to get the portable phone from the living room, thinking it would be a good idea to have it handy, just in case. But the minute I reached for the receiver, I was plunged into the semi-twilight of the storm. The hall light had gone out, along with the lights in the living room.
The power was out.
Given the velocity of the wind, I'd been expecting it to happen all day. However, now was not exactly a convenient time. Hoping it was a momentary flicker, I waited for the lights to return. They didn't. It meant the phone also wouldn't work. With no cell coverage in the area, I couldn't use Eric's spare cell either.
"Open up, madame. My friend's badly hurt." Another round of loud pounding.
I didn't like the feel of this. It made no sense that these men would be at my place in such weather.
Still ... perhaps there had been an accident.
I hated to open the door without some form of protection, but Eric's hunting rifles were locked up, and the key was likely on his key chain with him. Besides, I didn't have the foggiest idea on how to use one.
But if someone really was hurt...
I moved the sheers aside and found myself staring into a pair of startling amber eyes framed by a swirl of tattoos, which gyrated up over his forehead and onto his bullet-shaped head.
I let the curtain fall back into place.
He knocked on the window. "Please, madame, my friend might die."
No way I was going to let this guy in. "I can't help you. There's a Health Centre on the reserve. Go there."
"We can't go anywhere in this shit. Our car's stuck. You have to let us in. It's damn cold out here."
"Miss Aggie, that you?" came another much weaker voice. "It's Willie's boy."
Miss Aggie. Did he mean my Great-Aunt Agatha?
I inched the curtain aside just a crack. The tattooed man had moved away, giving me a clear view of another man, half-standing, half-leaning against the porch railing. Snow swirled around him, momentarily hiding his face. When it cleared, his face was equally unfamiliar, though it bore the familiar bronze tinge of my husband's skin and many of my friends, except in his case it bore the unhealthy yellowish pallor of more time spend indoors than outside. His duffle coat was crusted with snow, as was the tuque pulled down over his forehead and ears. His eyes were closed as if in sleep, until they winced in pain. Then I noticed the snow turning red where his hand pressed against his side. "How do you know my great-aunt?"
"My dad used to do odd jobs for her."
"But she's been dead almost fifteen years."
"Yeah, well, my dad died about that long ago."
"You from the rez?" The Migiskan Anishinabeg Reserve bordered my land.
"I don't think I've seen you around."
"Yeah, well ... I haven't lived there in a while."
"What did you say your name was?"
"Ah ... Larry. Look I'm not feeling so hot. Can you let us in?"
I hated to turn away someone from the community where many of my friends lived, particularly someone who was in trouble. I knew Eric wouldn't want me to either. "What's your last name?"
"Are you related to Tommy?"
"You talkin' about Marie's kid? Him and me were in the same class at school."
He did look to be about the same age as Tommy, in his early thirties. And he did know that Tommy was Marie's son.
I felt a pang at the thought of Marie. She'd been a valued friend when I first moved into Three Deer Point and was having difficulties adjusting to the disparities in my life. Even though it was several years since her tragic death, I still missed her.
Wanting to believe him, I opened the door.
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