Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Prologue and Chapter One: Sam: Before


Sam: Hey. Didn’t expect to see you online. Are you in town?
Chloe: No. The Firewatch station has an internet connection, but not much better than faint dial-up speed. Enough for a text chat, but not for anything more. I got your email. I’m so sorry.
Sam: Oh, I forgot you’d get that too. I just sent it out to everyone in my address book.
Chloe: How are you holding up?
Sam: Not as well as I’d like.
Chloe: You know that you can talk to me, right? I mean, who am I going to tell?
Sam: Your uncle? You’re at his Firewatch Station right now, aren’t you?
Chloe: Would you like to come here for a while?
Chloe: Hello?
Sam: Are you serious?
Chloe: You’ve never seen the Valley in winter. It’s like a whole other universe. I told you last time, the Valley is very theraputic.
Chloe: *therapeutic
Sam: To be honest, I’ve thought about it. I never told anyone this, but since the funeral; I’ve been dreaming about the valley. About last summer.
Chloe: Yeah?
Sam: The doc said I should keep a journal. Whatever I think about, whatever I do; and even dream about. Apparently it helps.
Chloe: You don’t think so?
Sam: I don’t know yet. It’s only been a week. Are you sure you want to have me there? I’m not exactly at my best; and if I’m brutally honest, you’ve never seen my worst. Or very much of my ‘day to day’.
ChloeThe friend I made has lost a loved one. The guy I had here last summer is hurting, really deep. I want to help. I don’t know how, but you know how I feel about life in the city. You’ll never get your feet back under you there.
SamIt’d still take me at least a week to get everything squared away and make it there. Your uncle really okay with me showing up?
ChloeActually, he won’t be here. That’s why I’m at the Station. I’m… filling in for his shift. My uncle took the plane.
SamIsn’t he permanently on call there?
ChloeThat’s why he took the plane. There have been a lot of budget cutbacks lately, and it looks like a lot of the Fire Lookouts are losing their jobs. My Uncle is one of them. He just checked in. His orders are to empty the Station out and bring everything back to the Department. He’s on the radio now, trying to sort travel arrangements. If you come up, we save the cost of another flight; or of hiring a Jeep and Driver. He’d be all for it.
Sam: Bad week all around.
Chloe: You come up in a rental, we can park your Jeep at the Fuel Depot, and you stay here with me at the Cabin for a couple of weeks. Ewan will be back at the Station soon after, and he can take your rental back to civilization, loaded with everything he takes out of this Station. I can fly you back to town when the snows move in.
Sam: ???
Chloe: When winter moves in, I have to get my plane refitted with Skids, instead of floats; given that the lake is my runway. And that part does have to be done in Fairbanks.
Sam: So when the Lake starts to ice over, I head home, and you take your refit plane back to the valley. So that’s what? A few weeks?
Chloe: Sounds like a reasonable length of time to be away from it all. Your boss okay with that?
SamI’m ad-hoc. I’ve got more than eight weeks of free time before I go back on rotation. But what if I don’t make it in time? I’ve never driven those roads, and from what I hear, the snows must be pretty close. What if I don’t make it in time?
Chloe: Then you don’t. It happens. Look my uncle up, if you get lost. He can meet you in Fairbanks, with the plane. Maybe he could even fly you in.
Sam: It sounds like we’re improvising. Didn’t you always tell me that ‘improvising’ was a bad idea in your neighborhood?
Chloe: Is that a ‘no’?
Sam: I’ll start packing.
Chloe: I’ll tell Ewan.

Chapter One: Sam: Before

Dear Dad,
Keeping printouts of chat sessions is cheating, I know. Doc Wilson said I should ‘keep a journal of my activities and interactions’, just like the Dream Journal; but I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean chatroom transcripts.
Did I ever tell you about Chloe? I’m going up there this weekend. I may not be back for several weeks; but I have to get out of that apartment. I’m going nuts trying to sort your things. Why did you keep Elizabeth’s wedding dress? She’s been divorced longer than she was married.
I spoke with her, by the way. She was falling all over herself apologizing for missing the She seems to be doing better. She heard about my plans. She thinks I’m running away, but I reminded her that she’s the expert on that. Wrong thing to say, I know; but she was remarkably okay with it this time. Maybe running away for a while is good for you.
I told her about Chloe. She thinks I’m going up there for a ‘dirty weekend’. I have to admit, I’ve missed Chloe, but not like that not just like that.
The problem is getting there. Chloe tells me her uncle is being downsized soon, so if he takes my wheels on his way out; I’m free to stay a lot longer than the rental agreement on the Jeep. It’ll be a long drive. I remember you used to take long drives when you needed to think about things.
(Begin Recording)
Testing… Testing. Quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Yeah, the transcription app works, even while I’m driving. Like an idiot, I packed the Jeep four times, and what do I forget to take? The journal I’m meant to be keeping. So, Doctor Wilson, I’ll be dictating my entries for the drive. The app is set to upload the transcripts to your office.
So, um… Dear Dad.
I still feel weird, talking to you out loud, but Doctor Wilson insists. You are on my mind, though. I keep hitting songs on the radio that remind me of you. That’s what I get for having the same favorites as my father.
I’m well out of Fairbanks, population thirty thousand; which is Chloe’s standard landing spot for resupply. I’m now in the type of country that makes phone coverage difficult. My connection keeps dropping out, so some of these messages aren’t backing up to the cloud. The constant pings reminding me I’m in ‘Off-Line Mode’ are driving me nuts.
I’ve saved the map locally, and I’m charging the phone off the 4x4, so I should make it just fine. It’ll be a near thing, getting through the pass before the first snow; but once I do that; it won’t be hard to find the cabin. I know my way from there.
In fact-wait, what’s…
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Dear Dad,
Okay, so… slight hitch. I had the wrong route mapped. A natural mistake, given that Chloe’s cabin doesn’t have a street address. Or a street, come to that. In fact, it’s miles away from the nearest road; and even that’s a dirt path, more than anything. This is Alaska. Only a dozen numbered highways, for a state twice the size of Texas. Less than twenty percent of the state is even accessible by road.
It wasn’t until I got up into the high country that I realized the map was sending me down a different road. We were meeting at the Fuel Depot, which is closer to the Firewatch Station; at the total opposite end of the valley from Chloe’s Cabin. I had set the map to drive to the western end of the Valley, closer to her Cabin. I’m actually meeting Chloe at the Eastern end, at the Depot near the Pass.
An easy screw-up, since I never took any of the roads last time I was here. Chloe flew us in with her seaplane, and her cabin is on the opposite side of the lake to her uncle’s Station.
I had to drive for almost half an hour before I got into a coverage area that let me recalculate my route. If I’d followed the route I had marked, I’d have taken another full day to drive around the valley and come in from the other side.
On the right course now.
I still wonder about this, dad. Narrating my life. This trip is the first thing I’ve done of any interest in months. Talking out loud to you on my drive feels… ghoulish. You’ve been my dad for my entire life, but I have no idea what you’d say if you were sitting here with me. You’d probably accuse me of running away from my problem. And I am, but I had to get out of... your... house... Huh. I guess the coverage here is good enough to get my voicemail too.
(BEEP) “You have one Message. Message One: Thursday, 13:45. (BEEP) Hey, little brother; it’s Liz. Europe is great! It was exactly what I needed. I guess I forgot the time difference, or I’d have caught you before you left. Have fun hanging out with Grizzly Adams’ forgotten twin sister. I don’t get it, bro. Well, okay yes I do. I mean, I saw the selfies you took with her last year; and I get that; but The Alaskan/Canadian Wilderness isn’t exactly your kind of place; especially not in Winter. But, as it happens, you were right about me running away from problems. I’ve decided to take the extra three weeks. You know how it is, I’m not ready to come back to reality yet. Don’t judge me. Love ya!” (BEEP)
Nah, no judgements, sis. We both run away from our problems; but you’re going somewhere with pizza. Aw, Dad. This is gonna destroy the family, you know. We weren’t that close even before you died.
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Dear Dad,
My unintentional detour meant I had to make another pit stop. You always said to keep the tank as full as possible. Over this kind of trip, there was no way I was going to start out on less than a full tank.
It got me off schedule yesterday, but the motel hadn’t given my room away when I got there. It isn’t so much a motel as a pub with a spare room. I was able to charge up, which I could do in the Jeep anyway, but there was no internet. Or there was, but you gotta pay by the kilobyte; which is crazy. I’m heading into the mountains; and won’t see Wi-Fi for a month. One day isn’t an issue. The Doc’s gonna be annoyed if I lose these recordings, though.
You remember those road trips we used to take? The highway general stores had the huge selections. Not like a supermarket, just… all purpose. I remember making the joke once that in the event of a zombie apocalypse, I’d come straight to one of them. They have plenty of weapons, too.
Liz found out I was heading for the Alaskan Interior and told me to take a machine gun. I don’t know what she’s worried about. The cold’s more dangerous than a bear will ever be.
I should get up to the valley in another three of four hours. It’ll be late morning. Chloe’s going to meet me at the end of the road with her snowmobile. Something that can carry the cargo. It was a fairly easy trade. She puts me up for a few weeks, and I bring her all the supplies she would normally have to fly to Fairbanks for. She sent me a list. Odd selections. A year’s worth of salt and coffee; a bulk purchase of… women’s items. A huge bulk-size jar of capers and anchovies; enough flour to keep a bakery open; two dozen toothbrushes.
You can tell a lot about a person’s life from what they shop for. Everything that’s not on this list, she either doesn’t want it, or can make it herself.
She even specified brand names. It took me a while to figure out why last summer: It’s because she doesn’t have a garbage truck coming by her house, ever. Everything she throws away, she has to deal with. She chose brands that had reusable wrappers, or degradable ones.
I myself am traveling fairly light. I brought my own bedding and clothes, of course, plus a sleeping bag. Last time I was up there, Chloe rigged a hammock for me. Given that she lives alone, it’s not like she has a guest room.
And no, I’m not telling you more about that, Dad.
There’s a real chill in the air. Chloe was predicting the snow would hit two days ago, so I have snowchains. There’s heavy frost, though. Gonna be a near thing.
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Okay, Dad. This might be a problem.
I made it to the valley entrance, but the road is impassable. A tree fell across the bridge. The bridge is still standing, but it looks like it took a beating. Maybe the foundation shifted a bit, from the look of things; and even if I took the car across anyway, I couldn’t get past that fallen tree. The valley is so narrow here that there’s no way I could go offroad. The bridge is just too close in. Driving down the side of the hill will surely put me in the river, even in a 4X4. Way too dangerous. What can I say, Dad… I’m more aware of mortality in recent weeks.
I haven’t seen another person on the road for most of the day, and the road only goes as far as the valley itself, so it’s not like there’s anyone else coming this way.
My best bet is the Depot. That’s where I’m meant to meet Chloe; and if memory serves, it’s only a few hundred feet past the bridge. So I’m going to see if I can just climb over the tree and walk-oh, oh great, just great; now it’s raining!
Hang on, dad; I’ve got to see if I can find another way around.
(Transcription Error. Too much background noise. Please try again)
Hello? Who’s there?! Chloe? Is that you?
(Transcription Error. Too much background noise. Please try again)
Oh. Okay. Wow, you’re bigger than you look in nature films… Just. Stay. There. I’m backing. Away. Slowly.
(Transcription Error. Too much background noise. Please try again)
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
Well, that’s closer than I would have liked, dad.
Hehee. Way too close, in fact. I’ve never seen a Mountain Lion before. Maybe it’s a Cougar. I don’t know. I’ll ask Chloe, if I can get past the tree. I can tell that cat is still stalking around somewhere. I’ve never seen one like it. The fur is all matted; one eye was missing, huge scars across its face.
I’ve never thought of animals as being malicious before. This one looked eager to kill me.
I’ve decided. It was definitely a cougar.
The rain is getting extreme. I’m actually a little worried about the bridge. And if Chloe’s a quarter mile on the far side of that tree, waiting at the parking area; I dread to think what she could go through waiting for me to show up.
(End Recording)
(Begin Recording)
So, now what? I’ve been sitting here an hour and the rain’s only gotten heavier. I don’t have a chainsaw. I can’t get that tree out of the way. The bridge I’m parked on isn’t exactly the Golden Gate. Another ten minutes of rain, and the river will start washing over the top of it; and even if it holds, it’s not like it’s going to wash the debris out of the way.
What really worries me is the river itself. It’s not exactly crystal clear. The mud washing down from the valley walls is thick, and the stones are getting heavy. I can see baseball sized stones bouncing along. I don’t know if the river will-WHOA!
(Transcription Error. Too much background noise. Please try again)
Come on! Start! Hurry up! Gotta move! Gotta move!
(Transcription Error. Too much background noise. Please try again)
Come on! Move! What’s… One of those rocks must have… Ugh. I have to get out and clear the debris, before-
(Transcription Error. Too much background noise. Please try again)
Come on, come on. I don’t have a winch, get out from under the axle, or… Is that gas? Am I leaking gas? Where’s that coming from?
(Transcription Error. Too much background noise. Please try again)
(Transcription Error. Too much background noise. Please try again)
...ugh. I’m hurt. I think… ow. I’m hurt.
(Time Out. End Recording.)


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.