was at her uncle’s Firewatch Station, which was a lot closer to the
road that led into her Valley. Sam was due in a few hours, and this
was the most comfortable spot to wait for him.
CQ; Chloe, can you hear me?”
twitched in surprise at the voice. She routinely went weeks without
speaking to anyone, including her uncle. The Station Radio was always
on; as a matter of procedure, but she was surprised to hear from him.
“Uncle Ewan? This is a surprise. Don’t tell me you’re on the
way back to Fairbanks early? Over.”
not, sweetie. I’m still in Anchorage; and I wanted to let you know
that I’m going to be here a lot longer than I thought. We were
right: The Department is closing a lot of the stations in the deep
woods. I’m under orders to clear out the station and leave it shut
down.” Then, almost an afterthought: “Over.”
sighed. “Well, we knew it was going to spread, once it happened to
there was a development this morning. A bunch of the other
Station-Chiefs are getting together to plead their case to the
Department personally; and it looks like we might have a shot. But it
means I’m not coming back so soon. They’re pulling in people for
a sort of Class Action, but given how far apart we are, it might take
a few weeks. Over.”
glanced back at the clouds and did the math in her head. “A few
weeks means the lake will be icing. You want to fly back now? I have
to meet Sam in a couple of hours, but if you come in now, I can fly
you back right away and hold onto the plane. I don’t know what we’d
do with Sam’s rental, but...” Her eyes flashed as that thought
hit her. Oh.
That’s the point of the call, isn’t it?
why I’m calling.” Ewan responded. “I can’t get back. They
want me to pick some people up, since I’ve currently got a plane
that can make the trip relatively cheap and easy. And I got a call
from Chase at the Hangar in Fairbanks. Apparently there’s a delay
on your refit. The usual supplier went bust over the Summer. Your
plane is fifteen years old; and the skids you need won’t be
installed until they arrive from someplace in Illinois. And all that
go pick up a bunch of retrenched Firewatchers before the snow hits.
All told, that could be another month. At least. Over.”
scowled. “Are you kidding me?! I’ve got a standing order with
Chase. He’s been refitting my plane from floats to skids every
winter since I got my pilot’s license! If his usual guy went bust
months ago; why wasn’t he ready?!” She lowered the handset, and
then remembered. “Um, Over.”
lesson well learned, kid. But right now, the schedule has changed
dramatically. Do I need to call in the Rescue Choppers? Over.”
me? I’ve got more than enough supplies to make it through Winter.”
Chloe assured him, imagining her shelves automatically; doing math in
her head. “The problem is Sam. The snows are later than I thought
they’d be. Once the snow comes, I can tell you, down to the day,
how long until it’s safe to land on the lake with Skids. That’s
still a month or more away. The plan was to have Sam come up here;
and then you take his rental on your way home. Then I fly him back
when it’s time to rig my plane for Winter. But if you aren’t
coming...” She released the microphone button, trying to fit the
spoke before she could say anything more. “You forgot to say
‘over’. Chloe, I can’t come back yet. There are a number of
Rangers like me over here, trying to keep our Stations open. I can’t
leave. They’re trying to get the Department to give us a hearing.
It could take another week or more. Given that they’d rather fire
us all by phone, and they don’t want the meeting, it’ll probably
be longer. Over.”
said nothing for a moment, looking at the clouds again. They looked
more menacing with each passing minute.
get where I’m going with this, right?” Her uncle’s voice came
again. “Sam’s rental will be sitting up there for an extra three
weeks, your plane would have to take its chances with the ice floes,
your last supply run would be sitting in a Fairbanks warehouse for
weeks until someone got back to it, and you’ll have an extra mouth
to feed for a lot longer than you expected… Over?”
was a question, and Chloe lifted the microphone, knowing he’d left
it to her to finish the thought. “Sam can’t come. Over.” She
summed up, disappointed.
he could, but he’d have to wait it out until the lake goes solid
completely. With my new flight schedule, plus the Intervention? It’d
be way too dangerous to try and land on the lake in that transitional
stage; and there’s nowhere else in the valley that’s open enough
for a runway. I can try and make it back before the lake starts to
ice. I know you’ve been looking forward to seeing him again. Over.”
checked her calendar, and then the barometer. “I’m amazed the
snows didn’t start three days ago. Don’t chance it. Besides, if
there is a chance to keep the Stations open...” She shook her head.
“It’s either Sam’s visit, or all your jobs. He’ll understand.
that. Give me the number. I’ll call him, and warn him off.”
was already pulling out her notebook. “You forgot to say ‘over’.”
She teased gently, and gave him the number. “Call fast. He’s
already on his way; and odds are there’s lousy phone coverage. I’ll
stay here until I know you got through to him. Over and out.”
uncle called back a few hours later. “Chloe, if you can hear this,
there might be a problem. I haven’t been able to reach your friend,
was waiting by the radio this time, and was quicker to answer. “Not
a surprise if he’s only a few hours away. Listen, I was going to
meet him at the Fuelling Depot, where I usually leave the ATV when I
go back to civilization. Our plan was to park his car under cover,
transfer his supplies to my ATV, since it’s better suited to the
terrain; and then refuel him from that fuel tank. I can head there;
just in case you can’t reach him in time. You never know. He may
decide to stick around the extra few weeks. Over.”
that. You head for the depot and wait for him. It’s just inside the
Valley; so if he makes it there; you can turn him back yourself
before the pass snows in. I’ll keep trying to reach him from my
end. He may get in range of a tower or two before he makes it to you.
But I just got handed a weather report for the Valley.” There was a
shuffling sound over the speaker. “Looks like that storm is going
to hit harder than we thought. If your beau doesmake
it in; I want you guys to wait it out at the Station, rather than
trying to drive all the way back to your cabin. You know how fast the
ground turns nasty; even on an All-Terrain Vehicle. Over.
smiled a bit, despite herself; and scribbled down a quick note about
the call in the Station records. It was her uncle’s habit to record
communications to and from the tower. “Yessir. Over. I’m leaving
now. If Sam doesn’t show, I’ll know you reached him. Tell him
he’s welcome to delay the trip by a few weeks and fly in with you
once the lake freezes solid. Over.”
will. Check in to make sure. You don’t want to take any chances up
there. Over and Out.”
kept one eye on the sky as she circled the lake on her ATV, driving
up the walls of the Valley, sure-footed as a Mountain Goat. Her uncle
wasn’t wrong about the weather. It came on fast this far north; and
Chloe had spent the majority of her life out in it, learning the
tells. There was a storm coming with enough force to bury anyone out
in it. There were flecks of green in the black storm clouds; and
Chloe knew the lightning would come soon.
with the ATV, it would have taken several hours to reach the
Firewatch Station. Chloe knew some of the shortcuts; rises between
trees that would be deadly when going back downhill; or after the
rains. She’d made this trip multiple times. Over this kind of
terrain, it would have taken her days to walk it.
paused twice, eyes glued on the coming stormfronts. She was sure
she’d make it there; but wasn’t so sure she’d make it back. The
weather was unpredictable enough that she always packed some survival
gear with her ATV. By late afternoon, she reached her destination;
just as the rains began.
Depot was little more than a carport, which stood empty. It had been
filled with leaves, blowing in under the cover of a rusted, holey tin
roof. There was a large fuel-tank for whatever vehicles were parked
here; and Chloe refilled her tank first thing. The rain settled in
heavily; pouring down like her lake had leaped into the sky and was
falling back down on her.
Sam I hope you didn’t make it this far.” She breathed, and her
breath misted. The Depot, worthless as it was, still kept the rain
off. It was impressive to watch from a position of being dry; and
Chloe settled in to wait.
storm only got worse. Lightning forked across the sky at regular
intervals; striking close enough that it shook the air apart. Even
over the downpour; she could smell the ozone as the air burned from
the whipcrack of energy.
cold started to bite; and Chloe pulled her furs in tightly around her
neck. “So, how long do I wait here?” She asked herself, checking
her watch. “You were due in about ten minutes ago.” She looked at
the rain. “If it stops; I’ll head for the Station-”
lightning blew up hard enough that she felt her back teeth shake; and
she sank into her coat a little, drawing back from the rain. “Or I
might just set up here for a while.”
loved her cabin, but she didn’t consider it her home. The Valley
was home. Everywhere in it was as good a spot to settle as any other.
She’d spent most of her life there. Waiting out a storm in her
survival tent was not a new tactic. There were huge piles of dead
leaves blown deep into the carport that she could pile up over her
tent as a windbreak.
had a large tin with a sealed, reusable lid; containing some of her
apple slices. There were wild groves of fruit trees growing in the
valley; and she’d spent the summer collecting and preserving for
the winter, which was about to bury her world. She spent an agreeable
time munching on her preserves, emptying out the tin completely; and
putting it away carefully for later. She lit a single candle for heat
and light; more than enough to warm her tent as the storm raged
Chloe said aloud. “This time of year, the days are shorter and
shorter; but I’m quite certain you’d be here by now, Sam.” She
tossed the cold ashes of her small fire away. “Which means my Uncle
got through to you.”
rain had stopped; but the wind shifted just long enough to rip
against her tent; bringing a shockwave of chill on the air. Chloe
didn’t shiver. She’d been through a dozen winters; and knew the
signs. Traveling by ATV in the dark was dangerous, but Chloe didn’t
know how many days she had until snowfall; and she’d made the trip
enough times that she’d risk it.
the decision made, Chloe was in a hurry; gathering her tent quickly.
drove slower in the dark; but the ATV had headlights, and she found
her way to her uncle’s Firewatch Station in a few hours. The sky
was pitch black by the time she reached the stairs.
she was inside, the first thing that hit her was an acrid smell. She
didn’t think much of it; too glad to have made it safely. By the
clock, it wasn’t that late; so her first stop was the radio. “CQ.
CQ. This is Station 230. Come back?”
radio screen wasn’t lit up. She worked the power switch. The LEDs
flicked for a moment; but the signal read as non-existent. Chloe went
to the lightswitch. The lights stayed off. She went to the
mini-fridge, and found it was off too.
sniffed again; catching the smell of burnt wire; and realized.
“Lightning strike. The close strike didhit
here.” Chloe shook her head. “Dammit, every single year! No
wonder they want to close this place down!”
slept till dawn. The rain stopped sometime during the night. There
wasn’t much in the way of food; and Chloe didn’t take anything.
She had stores of her own.
made a quick survey of the Station once the sun came up, and was not
surprised. Lightning had indeed fried the generator, and the
grounding wire. The radio had a battery backup that would last it for
a day or two, but the antennae was a different matter. That far out
into the wilderness; it took a lot of power to contact anyone, let
alone Anchorage; and the antennae was a lightning rod at the best of
every year.” Chloe sighed hard. “Alright. Sam didn’t show; so
he must have turned back. I can’t call anyone to verify that, and
my Ham Radio back at the Cabin doesn’t have enough range for anyone
outside the Valley.” She shook her head. “Nothing else for it
then.” She looked around the Station. I
hate the thought that I won’t ever come back here.
Station was due to be closed down, and her Uncle’s last task would
be to clear it out. Chloe took some of the personal items herself.
They’d be safe at her Cabin until her Uncle returned, and it would
save him some time. The firewood was of more use to her than her
uncle; but she couldn’t carry all of it. She took all the
‘perishable’ food since the power was out. She left the paper
packets full of soup mix that she knew her uncle liked. She’d never
cared for it herself.
weather had held, and she took another hour to admire the scenery.
The Station was nothing but windows. Every time she came to visit her
Uncle, they talked about the view. They both loved the wilderness;
feeling more at home with the trees than they ever could with roads.
in the distance was the lake. “Funny.” She said aloud quietly.
“From here, it all looks so far away.”
was usually buoyed by the view; feeling more like herself than she
ever did. But this time, she felt a little melancholy. She had been
expecting a couple of weeks of company; and now it wasn’t coming.
for the best, anyway.
She told herself. He’s
just lost his dad, and you invited him to a secluded mountain cabin,
miles from anyone? How else was he supposed to take that?
you knew that a week ago. She
if you didn’t want to seem forward, then why did you invite him;
shook her head. “Doesn’t matter.” She told herself. “He’s
A Note From The Author: I hope you're all enjoying 'Dear Chloe' in its serialised format. If you'd like to read the whole thing at once, and take it with you, you can buy the whole book here in eBook and Paperback Format.