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Johnny Gage inserted his key into the lock and opened his front door. He reached up with his hand and pinched the bridge of his nose trying to alleviate the persistent sinus headache he had been fighting for the past ten days.
He tossed his keys onto the hall table in his foyer, toed off his heavy shoes, and pushed the door closed behind him.
The first thing he was going to do was turn on the coffee maker and swallow down some more Tylenol. After that, he wanted nothing more than to stand under a hot shower for at least twenty minutes and then crawl into his bed and sleep the rest of the day away.
It was 8:45 in the morning, on the second Saturday in December, and Johnny was just returning home after having been called in to work for some last minute overtime.
He had been called in unexpectedly and on short notice, the Friday at noon when Tim Blake from B shift had gone home with one of those twenty-four hour stomach ailments.
Since Stephen “Gibby” Gibbons from C shift had already worked Roy’s shift for him on the Thursday; and Colin Blackwell from C shift would be working Roy’s shift for him on the Monday; Johnny had been the only one left to call. It was just one of the hazards of being one of only six paramedics in Swanton. In fact their paramedic station was the only one in Franklin County Vermont.
Johnny had agreed to come in, despite the fact he had only been home for four hours after working his own regular shift; not to mention the fact that he was still fighting off a stubborn cold that he had come down with almost two weeks earlier.
It was just bad timing that Johnny had come down with this cold and Tim had been hit with a stomach bug on the exact week Roy had booked off for some vacation time.
John Gage and The DeSoto family had only moved to the area five months earlier; and with them now being so close to New York, Roy had suggested to Joanne, his wife of twelve years, that they try to obtain some tickets for a Broadway show for their wedding Anniversary which had been on the Friday of that week.
The couple had decided to make a vacation of it, and they had booked the weeklong trip to New York City in late October. Their vacation was to include, tickets to two Broadway shows, a day long retreat to a spa, a carriage ride through central park and a performance of the Nutcracker at the Lincoln Center.
There was also an expensive hotel suite booked expressly for a week of romantic evenings spent alone. It was to be Roy and Joanne’s combination Christmas-Anniversary gift to each other.
Originally Johnny was supposed to have been having Chris and Jenny stay with him during his days off; with Dixie stepping in when Johnny was at work. But when he had come down with this cold, and seemed to be having trouble shaking it; Joanne had balked at leaving Johnny with two active children to look after, as well as working his shifts.
The last thing either DeSoto wanted was for Johnny to get run down and seriously ill over the holidays.
In the end it had been arranged so that Jenny would be staying at the home of her best friend Monique Leblanc, and Chris would stay at his best friend, Trent Gardner’s home for the week.
Initially Johnny had planned to take the kids out to cut down a Christmas tree this morning, but since he was now alone for the task, he figured he could sleep all day today, and slip out tomorrow afternoon and get it, before Joanne and Roy arrived home.
Their plane was due to land at Burlington around eight in the evening, which meant it would be at least nine before they got home to Swanton.
Johnny also was hoping that by staying in bed all day and sleeping as much as he possibly could today; that the sinus headache that had been plaguing him would be gone or at least lessened by the next morning.
He knew the exact tree he wanted. It was actually on his property. He had wanted to thin out some of the trees at the edge of one of the back pastures, but when he had gone to cut them out, he had discovered that one of them was a beautiful eight and a half foot balsam fir. So instead of cutting it down right then, he earmarked it for his Christmas tree and held off until this week to chop down that particular tree.
As soon as his coffee was ready, Johnny poured himself a mug full and carried it into the bathroom where he pulled out a bottle of Tylenol from the medicine cabinet. As soon as he had swallowed down the pills, he turned on the hot water in his shower and began to strip out of his clothes.
Within half an hour; Johnny was lying, clean and in some fresh boxers, all snug and warm in his bed, fast asleep.
~ ~ ~
Over at the Gardner house Chris DeSoto and Trent Gardner were outside shooting hoops in his driveway, where Trent’s father had installed a basketball net over the garage door. The two ten year olds had been joined by Trent’s twelve year old brother Kyle.
The Gardner family lived just a half mile up the road from Johnny on a fifty acre farm. Johnny would often see Trent and Kyle Gardner along with the neighbouring Wyatt boys waiting for the school bus at the end of their lane ways on his way home from work.
The Gardner farm consisted of a large white clapboard farmhouse along with several outbuildings that were located some distance off to the north of the house. These buildings included a barn, a driving shed, chicken coops and a garage.
The farm also boasted several large fields that were ploughed and planted each spring, but were now laying barren and open. The farm itself ran along the edge of a large section of a large wooded nature reserve.
This December had been milder than most. There had been a few days when an inch or two of snow had fallen and covered the ground, but then the weather would moderate and it would soon melt away again.
Today it was cooler and the temperatures were currently just sitting on the freezing mark, but the ground was once again bare. At the moment the odd stray snowflake was falling, but it wasn’t coming down steady enough so that any of it was sticking to the ground.
The three boys were growing bored with throwing the ball at the hoop, and they were more than happy when they saw the neighbouring Wyatt boy’s making their way up the long lane that lead to the Gardner house.
The Wyatt boys consisted of twelve year old Sean who was in Kyle’s class at school. Next in line was ten year old Brody. He was in the same class as Trent and Chris.
Last but not least were the twins, Aaron and Adam who were eight. They were one grade above Jenny in school, but were still friends of the younger DeSoto child, due to the fact that they often accompanied Brody whenever he came over to play with Chris.
“We came over to see if you guys wanted to get a game of kick the can going?” Sean yelled out.
“Sure, we can play out in the pasture… I just gotta run in and tell my mom where we’ll be.” Kyle replied.
It was only a matter of a minute or two before Kyle came back outside.
“Mom says it is okay, but we have to play in the back pasture and stay out of the bush. There have been a lot of coyotes in the area lately and she doesn’t want us running off to go playing in the woods.”
“How do we decide who has to be it?” Chris asked.
“Easy” Trent said.
“I’ll grab an empty feed bag and we each put our hats inside of it. Then I’ll reach in and who’s ever hat gets pulled out…that guy has to be it.”
Brody Wyatt was the one who ended up having his hat pulled from the bag.
Kyle had come out of the barn with an empty coffee can suitable enough to be used for the game. Since Kyle and Sean were both on the local soccer team, it was decided they would be the ones to actually “kick” the can.
Once Sean had booted the can across the field, the remaining group of boys took off in several different directions in search of the perfect hiding spot.
Chris Desoto headed off to his right running as fast as he could; he knew exactly where he was going to hide … In the north-west corner of the field was a small bluff, that would be the perfect place to hide.
Frank Gardner hadn’t bothered to clear the small bluff out of the field because in the centre of the bluff, there were three enormous boulders that had probably been dragged there during the last ice age. Small trees and scrub brush had grown up in and around the rocks and since it only took up a small corner of the field that backed onto the woods, he had found it easier to just plough around it each spring.
Chris had just settled down behind the biggest boulder when Aaron Wyatt came up beside him.
“Go away Aaron, I found this spot first…go find somewhere else to hide, before you give me away.”
The eight-year old gave a dejected sigh and ran off towards the trees that grew along the fence line.
Ten long minutes had passed and none of the boys had been found yet. While he was quietly sitting behind the rock; Chris heard a rustling in the dead grass that grew up in the middle of the bluff.
He looked behind him and to his amazement he saw a doe with a young fawn grazing at the edge of the woods along the fence that ran around the perimeter of the field. It was obvious that neither the deer nor the boy had been aware of the other’s presence.
The prevailing winds had meant that the boys in the field were downwind of the animals, that, combined with the fact that they were hiding, had meant there wasn’t any noise to alert the animals that humans were close by.
Chris was mesmerized by the site and sat watching the animals feed on the grasses along the edge of the woods.
He was taken by surprise when the doe suddenly jerked her head up in fear.
Chris began to look around and it wasn’t long before he saw what the doe had discovered. Coming up the fence line along the edge of the woods Chris saw a pack of four coyotes stalking the doe and her young fawn.
The doe and her fawn lit out across the open field where they could gain enough speed to evade the pack of coyotes. Instinct and experience telling the doe that the denseness of the bush would mean her young fawn would have no chance of getting up enough speed to out run the pack of hungry carnivores.
The deer had made it to about a quarter of the way into the field with the pack of coyotes running behind.
The chain reaction that happened next filled the air with confusion. The deer, the coyotes and the boys suddenly became aware of each other’s presence.
Both the coyotes and the children’s natural instincts were to avoid each other. The instant they laid eyes on each other, those instincts were engaged.
For one brief instant the coyotes and the boys stared at each other in shock and surprise… then all hell broke loose.
Instantly the group of young boys panicked and fled their hiding places around the field, shouting and running for the safety of the Gardner’s outbuildings. The sudden and unexpected appearance of so many humans caused the animals to panic as well.
The doe and her fawn swerved to the South and jumped over the fence into the neighbouring pasture, and they quickly disappeared out of sight. The coyotes broke off their chase and high tailed it back towards the safety of the bush.
Unfortunately for Chris, not only did the current situation put the coyotes in between him and the barn, but they were now heading right towards him, in an effort to get back into the safety of the bush and away from the humans.
Chris only having arrived in Vermont from Los Angeles five months earlier had no experience with wild animals. If he had, he would have known that coyotes rarely went after humans. But the young boy had no way of knowing this and so he instinctively began running away from the pack in the opposite direction… which just happened to be right into the woods.
Chris was running blindly with no clear thought of where he was going for almost ten minutes, until he came to a soft maple tree that had limbs low enough that the boy could hoist himself up and climb up about fifteen feet into its branches.
He remained there for almost twenty minutes until he was sure the coyotes were long gone, before he cautiously made his way out of the tree. It was beginning to snow heavier now, and once he was safely on the ground, he quickly headed back towards the Gardner’s house.
He glanced down at his new winter jacket and noticed that he had torn a huge piece out of the right sleeve when he had climbed up into the tree.
“Aw man. Mom and Dad are gonna kill me when they see this.” He groused as he made his way back to the field.
Back on the Gardner farm the other boys had seen the coyotes and took off running towards the safety of the outbuildings.
Even though they knew that coyotes were not known to go after humans, they were still young enough to be frightened by them.
Kyle Gardner and the Wyatt twins had taken refuge in the driving shed, while Sean, Brody and Trent had made it up into the barn. The two groups of boys had each seen the other heading into their respective shelters.
Regrettably for Chris, each group of boys thought that Chris DeSoto had taken refuge with the other group.
It was over half an hour before Sean finally decided the coast was clear and he emerged from the barn and walked over to the driving shed. It was only after the other boys came out into the field that they realized Chris DeSoto was missing.
~ ~ ~
Johnny tunneled deeper underneath his down filled duvet as the shrill strident sound of the telephone invaded his peaceful slumber. Finally after the sixth or seventh ring his hand snaked out from beneath his comforter and fumbled around blindly until it found the receiver. Slowly his hand and the telephone receiver disappeared beneath the blankets.
“Hello,” said the somewhat muffled and still half asleep voice of John Gage.
There was silence in the room for a few moments while the voice on the other end of the phone was speaking… suddenly the mound of blankets exploded as Johnny’s body shot up straight in the bed and he began to untangle his body from the mounds of sheets and quilts.
“How long ago was that? … Who all have you contacted? … I’ll be over in fifteen minutes.”
That was the extent of the conversation from Johnny’s end of the phone. He replaced the receiver back in the phone’s cradle while he simultaneously stood up making a grab for his clothing.
As soon as he was dressed Johnny flew down the stairs taking them three at a time. When he reached the foyer he shrugged into his down filled Husky Parka and stepped into his heavy winter boots.
He grabbed the keys to his Rover off the hall table and bounded out the door. The grandfather clock chimed out twelve times to signal midday as Johnny’s Rover roared out of the driveway and turned north toward the Gardner’s farm.
~ ~ ~
Evelyn Gardner stood nervously wringing her hands as she paced back and forth on her front porch. She watched John Gage’s Land Rover come roaring up her lane, and skid to a stop.
She had met him a few times in Swanton, and of course Johnny was their next door neighbour, so he and Frank had become casual friends.
The young paramedic flew out of the car and came running up her front steps.
“Okay, tell me again exactly who all have you called?”
“Well,” Evelyn said nervously.
“I called the police right away, but the dispatcher explained that the police chief Ted Cooper, the fire department and the paramedics are all currently tied up at the scene of a bad accident out on route seven. Apparently a transport truck was bypassing the I-89 and it hit an icy patch and lost control and crashed into a van full of University Students heading home for the holidays and both vehicles then slid into a cattle truck. I guess it’s a pretty big mess.
The dispatcher said she would send Ted or his deputy around as soon as she could, but it might be a little while.”
“Roy and Joanne gave me your number as an emergency contact, so I phoned you next. He’s been missing for an hour and a half now, and I’m really worried.”
Johnny ran his hands through his hair in frustration. He looked around the horizon and shivered.
In the last half hour the wind had shifted and had picked up in strength. It was blowing out of the north-west, bringing down a winter storm system from Canada. The temperature had already dropped almost ten degrees and it was now starting to snow heavily.
He knew that it probably meant some severe weather was headed their way, and he couldn’t afford to wait for help to arrive.
Just in the few minutes he had been talking to Evelyn the winds had risen and the gusts were blowing harder, causing the snow to blow in drifts across the now snow covered fields. He knew he needed to find Chris before the squalls really set in.
Johnny knew the inherent dangers of being lost in one of the blizzards that came down on the north winds from Canada. Johnny had been raised in Montana and he was well aware of what could happen. He knew about winter’s power and fury. He understood its harsh ways and the perils of being stranded out in a storm.
It was dangerous and foolhardy to underestimate Mother Nature’s power when it came to the fury of a blizzard. Blizzards were like living beasts, both unpredictable and fickle. They were wild, capricious and not inclined to forgive reckless behaviour.
Johnny remembered the time when he was fourteen and a blizzard had swept down into Montana from Alberta. One of the ranch hands had gone out to the barn to check on the horses, and had never returned.
He had failed to follow the guide wire that had been strung up between the bunkhouse and the barn. When they found him after the storm had moved off, he was frozen to death, only twenty feet away from the side of the bunkhouse.
Old Bill had followed his trajectory and had told Johnny the dead man had missed finding the bunkhouse by no more than three or four feet. But it was a deadly mistake.
Johnny knew that time was of the essence … he had to find Chris right away.
He ran down the porch stairs and over to his vehicle. He opened the back of the Rover and began to rifle around inside the back of it, gathering up his camping supplies.
He had spent a lot of his down time these past few months familiarizing himself with the woods and trails in the area. So he was reasonably confident that as long as the storm held off, and he found Christopher quickly, he could navigate the both of them back to safety.
He reached in the back of the Rover for his large camping back pack. He had purchased it a month ago, because he wanted one with a metal frame. Camping in the northern States took more preparation than it did in the warmer climates.
A cold night in Southern California and a cold night in Northern Vermont were vastly different. He had purchased an arctic sleeping bag that was good to -40, as well as a bivy shelter. He kept plenty of fire starter, food and extra dry socks and gloves as well as a couple of Mylar blankets in his pack. There were other supplies along with his modified first aid kit, inside.
Because he had no idea how long he was going to have to search, and there was the threat of an impending storm, Johnny decided he had better go prepared for a long haul.
Besides if Chris had been hurt he would need the sleeping back to keep him warm and stave off possible shock, hypothermia or frostbite.
Johnny strapped his bivy shelter and sleeping bag onto the metal frame of his back pack and hoisted it up onto his back.
He reached in and grabbed his hat, gloves and a scarf and put them on before he closed up the back of the Rover.
He walked back over to Evelyn and the boys.
“Okay, when help arrives I want you to tell them, that I’m heading out directly north of the field the boys were playing in….if I have no luck I’ll shift to the west. With this snow, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to see some footprints on the ground… Now if I could just trouble you to fill these two canteens with water for me, I’ll be on my way.”
While Evelyn Gardner was inside filling the canteens, young Aaron Wyatt came up beside Johnny.
“Mr. Gage?” the small voice said.
“What is it son?” Johnny asked.
“I know where Chris was hiding before the coyotes showed up.”
Johnny knelt down in front of the boy.
“You do? Can you tell me where he was?”
Aaron nodded. “He was hiding behind the big rocks that are in the bluff in the corner of the back pasture…it was right beside the spot that the deer come from.”
Kyle interjected at this point.
“It’s in the north-west corner of the back pasture. It’s easy to find because it’s the only bluff dad didn’t clear from the field. He said the bluff wasn’t that big, and the rocks would be a lot of work to haul away, so he just left it.”
By this time Evelyn had returned to with the canteens.
Johnny relayed this new information to the woman as he put the straps of the canteens over his shoulders.
“I’ll begin my search, using the bluff as my starting point. You can tell the others when they get here…I also want you to get in contact with Dixie McCall. She’s working at the clinic in Swanton today. Tell her that the number of the hotel where Roy and Joanne are staying is written on a sheet of paper under the fire truck magnet on the front of my fridge.
She has a key to my place. She’ll need to phone Roy and Jo and let them know what’s going on… make sure you tell her that I’m already searching for him, and hopefully he’ll be back safe and sound very soon. She may want to go and get Jenny from Monique’s too... just in case this turns into a big deal.”
After making sure he had everything he felt he might need in his search for Chris, Johnny said goodbye to Evelyn and headed out across the fields in the direction of the bluff where Chris was last seen.
Johnny could literally feel the storm gathering strength as the wind now started to come in intermittent gusts across the open fields. Already the large fluffy flakes of snow that had been falling only half an hour earlier, had begun to change into the small sharp pellets of driving snow that stung his face when it hit his exposed flesh.
Johnny easily located the bluff in the northwest corner of the pasture, exactly where Kyle had said he would find it.
Johnny approached it carefully. He didn’t want to disturb any of the evidence Chris may have left behind.
The moment Johnny drew near to the large boulders he could see exactly where Chris had been hiding. The scrub brush and tall dead grass had been trampled down, and several small twigs were snapped off.
Johnny scanned the area, and it soon became clear exactly where Chris had gone over the fence. He had left a visible trail of snapped off twigs and beaten down brush as he had charged through the bush in his panicked attempt to put some distance between himself and the coyotes.
Before Johnny scaled the fence, he took a moment to slide the backpack from off his shoulders. He reached inside and pulled out a bottle of Tylenol. His sinuses were killing him, and he wanted to try and stop the pain from getting any worse.
The biting pellets of snow blowing into his face and stinging his eyes weren’t helping matters either. Johnny lost no time in removing two pills from the bottle and dry swallowing them down. Dry swallowing pills was something he had gotten quite good at over the years… he’d had to swallow a lot of them in his twenty eight years, he thought ruefully.
Next he removed his whistle from the pocket of the backpack and put it around his neck. Johnny had always carried whistles, and he had even gotten both Chris and Jenny into the habit of carrying whistles with them whenever he took them camping or hiking. In fact he had even made sure they each had a whistle permanently attached to their life vests.
He had drilled into the two small children the advantages of carrying a whistle. He had explained to them that the sound of a whistle carried a lot farther than the sound of a human voice. In fact depending on the weather and the terrain, the sound of a whistle could literally be heard for miles.
With the wind increasing and the noise from that same wind impairing how far his voice would carry, Johnny knew that using the whistle was going to be necessary. He was just thankful that he had taught Chris the signal for distress… three sharp blasts from a whistle.
He hoped that if Chris heard the sound of the whistle he would know enough to follow it back to Johnny.
Johnny was also hoping that Chris remembered all of the survival lessons he had tried to teach him. He silently prayed Chris would remember that Johnny had instructed him on what to should he ever find himself lost in the wilderness.
Johnny had told both DeSoto children, that the moment they realized they were lost, that they were to stop, find the nearest sheltered spot and hunker down and wait to be rescued.
He had instructed them that, unless staying in one place was dangerous, due to wild animals, fire, flood etc…. that it was better to stay put and let help come to you, rather than risk getting yourself lost deeper and deeper into the wilderness.
He just hoped Chris was sitting in some sheltered area now, waiting for Uncle Johnny to come and find him.
Johnny shouldered his knapsack and scaled the fence as he headed off into the bush to find and rescue his young nephew.
By now the snow was nearly four inches deep, and any foot prints less than ten minutes old would be obscured in the wind and driving snow. Thankfully in his panic, Chris had just plowed recklessly through the undergrowth leaving a clear and distinct trail for Johnny to follow.
Johnny began alternating between blowing the whistle between wind gusts and calling out Chris’ name. Each time he paused for a moment in the hope of hearing an answering call back.
Johnny had walked over a mile due north into the bush when the trail came to a sudden end. It took Johnny only a brief moment to understand why.
Up in the tree branches above him he could see a large piece of bright red material that had obviously been recently torn from an article of clothing. Johnny instantly recognized it as having come from Christopher’s winter coat.
In fact it had been Johnny who had helped the young boy choose that very article of winter wear.
When Johnny and the DeSoto’s had gone into Burlington to buy warmer clothes for their first Vermont winter, Johnny had counseled Roy and Joanne to stay away from light or pastel colours.
Johnny knew a lot about harsh winters from his days in Montana, and the one thing he knew, was that pale colours were not the wisest choice.
For one thing, they were impossible to keep clean, but more importantly, they were harder to see against the snow.
It always seemed that no matter how many times you cautioned a child to stay off of the tops of the snow banks that were piled up between the sidewalks and the roads; they still couldn’t resist the draw of them, and would invariably end up walking along the top of them, when walking home from the school or the playground.
Johnny explained that bright colours were easier for cars and snow ploughs to see.
In the end Jenny had picked out a deep neon pink one the colour of bubblegum, and Chris had chosen a fire engine red one, just like his Uncle Johnny’s.
Johnny reached up and grabbed the scrap of cloth and put it into his own coat pocket. Chris had probably climbed up the tree to escape the danger he had perceived he was in.
Johnny called out Chris’s name and when he got no answer he blew out loud and shrill on the whistle. He paused and listened again, but the only sound that answered his call, was the howl of the ever increasing winds.
Johnny made a loop around the tree looking for signs of the boy. He soon picked up his trail several yards from the tree. It was harder to read now, because Chris was no longer crashing through the undergrowth. He had obviously calmed down and was now walking, disturbing less of the brush around him.
What disheartened Johnny more than anything else was the fact that when Chris had climbed down from the tree he had clearly become disoriented and had misjudged the way back to the Gardner farm.
Instead heading south; back the way he had come. He had gotten his directions confused because now he was heading east; and he was now walking directly into the Nature Reserve wilderness…and this particular reserve was several thousand acres in size.
Johnny could only hope that Chris had realized his error quickly and had stopped and taken shelter somewhere. The one good thing was at least he was still on his feet when he had climbed down from the tree. Hopefully when Johnny did finally find the boy, he would find him cold, but unharmed.
The threat of frostbite and hypothermia was Johnny’s biggest concern right now.
Even in the shelter of the bush, the visibility was almost down to nil, as the storm had now developed into a full-fledged blizzard. Out in the open away from the shelter of the trees, Johnny knew that the combination of the wind and snow would be blinding, with severe whiteout conditions.
Johnny was also familiar with the protocol of the emergency services and he was well aware that any search efforts would have been called off by now, and wouldn’t be allowed to resume until the storm was over.
He had known some of these storms to last for hours… and some of them, on occasion, could last for a couple of days. Either way, right now he was the only one who would be looking for Chris … it was up to him, and him alone to find the boy now.
Even now the trail left by Chris was almost totally wiped out by the blowing and drifting snow. The going was slow and Johnny had to spend more and more of his time looking for the trail of broken and snapped off twigs that Chris had made as he walked through the bush.
The only saving grace was the fact that the bush offered some measure of protection. The denseness of the trees and scrub brush in the bush created a bit of a wind break and the snow was not quite as blinding in here. Even at that the snow was already up past Johnny’s knees, and he knew it would come up even higher on Chris’s smaller frame.
He just hoped that Chris was holed up somewhere by now and not still trying to walk. In this depth of snow and strong wind, the boy would soon tire. The outcome of such an event filled Johnny’s heart with fear and it fueled his sense of urgency. It caused him to push aside his own discomforts from both the weather and his cold, and keep slogging on forward, blowing the whistle and calling out for the missing boy.
His head was pounding and it was now aching into his jaw and teeth. The pain was almost to the point of making him nauseas, but still Johnny persevered in his search for Chris.
He could still make out the odd trace of Chris’s trail on the higher bushes, but he was beginning to despair as he thought about the boy suffering from exposure while he headed further and further away from civilization.
Johnny was beginning to tire now himself, and he stopped to take a drink of water from his canteen during one of the brief pauses that occurred between the gusts of wind.
He looked down at his watch and took note that it was almost three in the afternoon. Once again he put the whistle up to his mouth and gave three sharp blasts. It was after the final blast that he heard a faint cry coming from just up ahead.
“I’m here…. I’m here.”
Johnny’s head shot up in surprise and he called out.
“Chris? Is that you? Keep yelling.”
The wind was beginning to blow again making hearing anything other than its shrieking impossible, so Johnny quickened his pace toward the direction he had heard the boy’s voice.
“Chris?” he shouted out again into the wind. He put the whistle up to his lips and gave one long loud blast.
Johnny almost jumped out of his skin when from almost beneath his feet he heard…
“Uncle Johnny? I’m here.”
Johnny looked just off to his left, and it was then he seen the small flash of red showing out from inside a partially hollowed out tree trunk. The tree had fallen over years before, and had been semi- hollowed out … rotted away by time and various wildlife over the years.
Johnny sank down to his knees and looked inside the opening. It was with complete and utter relief to both Johnny and Chris, when their eyes met.
Johnny; who was sitting precariously on his heels at that particular moment, was knocked onto his back into the snow, when Chris hurled himself out of the log and into his Uncle’s arms.
Johnny held the boy tight against his chest for a moment in utter relief and joy. Then he slowly extracted the child from around his neck and stood up before the snow had a chance to completely soak into his jeans.
He gently shoved Chris back into the hollowed out tree and then followed him in as far as he could go.
Once inside he began to survey the child, giving him a cursory examination with his eyes. He pulled off the boys ski mitts and examined the digits.
He breathed a sigh of relief that although Chris was obviously cold, he didn’t see any sign of frostbite on his face or hands. He would have to wait to check his feet until they had reached some kind of shelter.
Although Johnny had his survival gear in his knapsack, he still needed to find some reasonably sheltered area in which he could set it up.
Johnny sat back and smiled down at Chris.
“Are you okay Chris? … Your Uncle Johnny has been out looking for you for hours, sport.”
Chris’ mouth began to quiver and his tears began to fall.
“I’m sorry Uncle Johnny … I didn’t mean to come into the woods, but the wolves were chasing me, and the woods were the only place left to run. I went up into a tree to be safe and then I waited up there until I was sure they were gone.”
“When I climbed out of the tree I was sure I was going in the right direction, but I guess I wasn’t cause I got lost… then it started to really snow hard… I was so scared; I thought I was going to freeze to death.”
By the time Chris stopped talking he was sobbing.
Johnny pulled him back into a hug, and began rubbing his back. He shushed the boy and quietly talked to him, reassuring him that no one was angry with him and that it was going to be okay. He didn’t bother to correct him, and tell him that they weren’t wolves but coyotes. There would be time enough for that later on.
As soon as the boy settled down, Johnny pushed him back and looked at him seriously.
“Okay Chris, this is how it is. I kinda know where we are, but not exactly where we are; and until this blizzard let’s up, I won’t know for sure the best way to get back home. That means we’re going to have to stay put in the woods for a bit. But this old tree just isn’t big enough for both of us, and it’s not warm enough either.”
“Now I’m going to step outside again for a minute, and I want you to wait here and stay with my pack.”
Johnny slid out of his back pack and opened it up until he found a large canvass bag that was full of food supplies. Johnny tipped over the canvas bag and sent the packets of food out into the bottom of his back pack.
“I have a greater need for this bag right now,” he said as he smiled over at his nephew. “You stay put and I’ll be back in a flash.”
Johnny had taken note of some of the spruce and silver birch trees that were around him. He needed to avail himself of some tinder, so he quickly stepped away from the hollowed out tree trunk and he walked the seven or eight feet over to some nearby birch trees.
As soon as the wind gusts paused, he quickly began to strip off bunches of the bark from the silver birch trees, and began stuffing them into the empty canvass bag. Once he had enough to satisfy himself, he walked back nearer to the hollow tree to where there were several spruce trees. He reached into the center to where he would find some of the dried out and brittle branches that had died because of lack of exposure to the sun.
He snapped off the small twigs and branches and stuffed them into the bag until it would hold no more. He then cinched it closed and crawled back into the shelter of the hollowed out tree. He shouldered his knapsack onto his back and tied the cord of the canvas bag onto the metal frame.
He turned to look at Chris and quirked his eyebrow questioningly before he spoke.
“Like I said before Chris, I know where we are … roughly, and so here is what we need to do. A few weeks ago when I was hiking in this bush, I came across an old abandoned bear den, and unless I miss my guess we aren’t too far away from where it is.”
“What I’m going to do is try and find that den, and get us into some kind of shelter that will keep us safe and dry until we can safely head home. So I want you to take hold of my hand and don’t let go.”
“I’m hoping that another fifteen minutes of walking due east will take right to the area where I saw it. Now the wind is too strong for talking so if you need to stop or need to talk to me, I want you to tug on my hand…otherwise we’ll just keep going without talking… now are you ready to get out of here?”
As far as Chris and Jenny DeSoto were concerned, Uncle Johnny could move mountains.
Chris remembered sitting with Lucas and Natalie Mills at his Dad and Uncle Johnny’s going away party from Station 51. He had listened with rapt attention as they lauded Uncle Johnny as a hero who could save anyone from anything.
He remembered back to the time when Uncle Johnny had been kidnapped by three bad guys on a bus. He had read the many newspaper articles about it that sat tucked away in between the pages of one of the big books on the shelf in his dad’s den. He’d snuck in and read them one day when no one was looking.
He had also listened to the two Mills kids talking about it that day in July, and to hear Lucas and Natalie and the newspaper reporters tell it; his Uncle Johnny had single handedly out-smarted the fugitives to escape, and had saved their lives with his march through the wilderness.
Chris had total faith that once again, his Uncle Johnny would pull out some amazing miracle from thin air and save him now.
So when his beloved Uncle asked if he was ready, he nodded with complete assurance, that Johnny could get them through anything.
Johnny readjusted his gear onto his back, and willed away the pain of his headache. He took a drink from the canteen, and then gave Chris a drink from the other one so he wouldn’t catch his cold. Anything more would have to wait until they found shelter.
Once Chris had a firm hold of his hand, he guided him back out of the hollowed out tree and into the open winds and snow.
They had walked on for almost a quarter mile through the bush, when Johnny came across what he was looking for.
It was a rather large clearing that led to a deep gully in the midst of the woods. He knew on the south east bank of the gully there was a small abandoned bear den. He had used it himself on his last overnight camp out not four weeks earlier.
Once he seen the clearing open up before him, he knew he was close to what he was looking for. The trouble was; there were no trees to serve as any kind of a wind break in the clearing, so the wind and the snow could do its worst.
The visibility out of the shelter of the trees was nil, and it would be extremely disorienting once he stepped out into exposed area. He scanned the opening and after a moment or two, he turned his body in the direction he was sure he needed to go.
He cinched the straps of his knapsack up against his body as tight as they would go. Then he reached around and picked up Christopher in his arms.
“Put your face into my jacket Chris and hang on tight.” He yelled close to the boys’ ear.
The moment he felt Chris bury his face in his jacket he stepped out of the shelter of the trees and headed into the open field that made up the large clearing in the bush.
Immediately the winds slammed into his face with the force of a jackhammer, making his head pound even more. It pulled at his scarf, and threw him off balance as he walked. The shrieking and roaring of the winds drowned out everything else around him. It caused his eyes to leak tears that quickly froze against his cheeks.
The pellets of snow felt like ice, and they stung his eyes, and irritated them as if it was sand. The snow swirled and piled up into deep drifts that were well above his waist in some areas, and in other places the winds had scoured the land until there was bare earth underneath his feet.
The moment he left the woods, he was walking blind. It was literally as if someone had thrown a white sheet over his head. He couldn’t see a foot in front of him in the blinding snow, as he trudged along.
The wind continued to howl and wail. It seemed to Johnny as if it was coming at him from every direction at once. His chest heaved as he gasped for air. The winds stole his breath away as quick as he could breathe it in. It made him stumble, and the cold began to seep in underneath the waistband of his coat.
The winds pulled at him from one side, and pushed him from the other making walking a nearly impossible feat. It threatened to knock him over, and drag him down into the ever deepening snow drifts.
Johnny had always looked at nature as being in some ways like a living beast, wild and unpredictable…. living and breathing.
Sometimes Mother Nature could be gentle and soft, soothing both his soul and his spirit. But there were also those times when she could turn frightening and fierce, plunging you into a life and death struggle to survive.
At this moment, nature seemed to be the later of the two. Johnny swore he could almost hear the winds laughing at him… taunting him. It was if the blizzard was stalking him like some ethereal grim reaper, hoping to claim two more souls for a prize.
Johnny’s’ ire rose from somewhere deep within his heart. There was absolutely no way in hell he was going to let the beast win… not today. They would survive this beast, even though he knew full well that a person could get swallowed up in a storm like this and never be seen alive again.
The deep snow had been difficult enough to walk through with just his back pack on. It became even more of an obstacle now that he was carrying a ten year old boy in addition to his heavy back pack.
At that moment he was thankful for the intense training firefighters had to do in order to qualify. Even though he had not been a firefighter for some months now, he had kept up his fitness level in order to be able to function at his best in his capacity as a paramedic.
He knew he could no longer navigate his way by sight, so he did what he had always done in the past … he relied on his instincts, and his inner sense of direction.
He stopped, closed his eyes, and focused his thoughts on where it was he wanted to go. Then without opening his eyes he began to walk in the direction he was sure would lead him across the field and over to the edge of the gully.
Johnny lost all sense of time as he walked blindly through the snow. He kept on his forward course towards the east, letting his instincts rather than his sight guide him to where he thought the gully was located.
It felt like he had been walking for at least an hour… but logically he knew it couldn’t have been more than ten minutes.
He continued to move forward at as steady a pace as the wind and snow would allow; all the while he was still clutching Chris tightly to his chest.
Suddenly he felt the ground give way under his feet, sending both he and Christopher tumbling down into the white void of nothingness, below.
When his free fall ended a second later, Johnny found himself lying on his back in the middle of a snow drift. He glanced over and seen Chris was lying about six inches away to his left.
For the first few seconds, Johnny had no idea what had happened. Slowly as he re-oriented himself, he became aware of the fact that the winds were not as harsh where they had landed.
Both he and Chris pulled themselves back up into a standing position and looked at each other in confusion.
It only took Johnny a second to realize that in the blinding snow, and with his eyes forced shut, he had literally walked off the edge of the gully. The fact that this side of the bank on the gully was facing the southeast, explained why there was a measure of shelter from the harsh northwest winds.
Johnny stood up and brushed the snow off of his clothes, and then he repeated the process with Chris.
He was immensely grateful that they had both landed in a deep drift of soft snow, and not the cold frozen ground, as they would have probably both ended up with some injuries. As it was they were only cold and stunned.
Johnny grabbed Christopher’s hand and pulled him in tight against the shelter of the bank.
Along the sheltered area against the hard frozen earth of the bank, the snow didn’t have the wide open expanse that it had in the field above. That meant that the snow wasn’t driving against them nearly as hard, and the visibility had increased to a few feet, along its edge.
It was stroke of good luck that this had happened. Now all Johnny had to do was follow along the side of the bank until he came to the old abandoned den. The only question now was, did he need to go to the left or to the right?
His gut instinct told him he needed to head to his right. If he had stayed close to the course he had envisioned that he had been taking; then the den should be close by and off to his right. Once again he trusted his instincts on the matter. He decided to head off towards the right.
Now that the blizzard winds were slightly less punishing and he could see for a few feet in front of him; he let Chris walk once more. This time he kept him directly in front of him.
The two of them crept along, feeling their way along the side of the bank for another twenty minutes, Johnny was beginning to worry that he had made an error in his judgment. He knew that darkness came early this time of year, and he knew once darkness fell, any chance he had of finding the den would be lost.
He was almost ready to just give in and try to set up his bivy shelter as best he could along the sheltered side of the bank, when out of the gloomy white curtain in front of them, the opening of the den finally appeared.
Its entrance was a perfect circle of about two and a half feet in diameter, and it stood open and free of snow. The main reason for it being clear could be put down to the fact that it was facing the southeast, and out of the direct winds.
Johnny raised his eyes heavenward and gave a silent prayer of thanks to God for their deliverance; and then he stuck his head into the opening just make sure no other creature had decided to take shelter from the storm inside the den too.
From what he could see inside the darkened hole, it was still empty. Again he said a prayer of thanks. He shrugged off his pack and shoved it into the opening on the side of the bank.
As soon as he had freed himself of the heavy back pack, he picked up Chris and pushed him in through the opening. Once Chris was safely inside, Johnny followed him into the hole and out of the raging storm.
The den opened up once they got inside. It was about four feet in height and went back a good ten feet and was about seven feet wide.
All in all it was a fairly large den, which is why Johnny had known it had more than likely once housed a bear and not a smaller animal like a wolf or fox.
It had obviously been out of use for some years, because there were little to no signs of any scat or old bedding around.
The first thing Johnny did was open his pack and pull out his emergency lantern and switch it on.
Once he had taken a moment to catch his breath he smiled over at Chris.
“Okay kiddo, the first thing I want to do is check out your hands and feet, he said as he carefully removed Chris’s mitts and boots. Once he had the boy’s boots off, he carefully removed his socks.
Although his hands feet were red and cold, they showed no sign of frost bite.
Once he had accomplished that task he reached over and began to untie some of the large waterproof bags from the frame of his backpack.
Inside one was his arctic sleeping bag, in the other was his bivy shelter.
“I guess I’ll really get a chance to give these a baptism by fire now… or maybe I should say a baptism by ice,” he said to Chris as he unpacked his gear.
“I did some cool weather camping about a month ago, but I used my old sleeping bag, and it was a bit chilly. That’s when I went out and bought this winter camping gear … this will be the first chance I get to try it out.”
Chris just nodded silently as he watched his uncle arrange and sort out his supplies.
“I’m afraid I can’t build a fire just yet… not while we’re in here. The carbon monoxide fumes in such a small area with no real ventilation make that impossible, but as soon as the wind goes down, I’ll try to get one going just outside the entrance.”
“At least our socks and sweaters are dry. Thank heavens you were wearing snow pants, so your jeans are dry. My jeans are damp from the snow, but my long johns underneath are still dry. I’m going to have to slip out of my jeans before they thaw and make my long johns damp too.”
“Now I need you to slip out of your damp outer clothes so you’re in your sweater and jeans.”
“We don’t want to be climbing inside the sleeping bag in wet clothes. That will only make the sleeping bag damp inside. I’ll set up my bivy shelter in here, while you slip out of your wet snow pants and coat.”
“What’s a bivy shelter Uncle Johnny?” Chris asked as he began to unzip his coat.
Johnny continued to unpack and set up the gear as he explained the bivy to Chris.
“Well, it’s kind of like a one man tent, only different. It looks like a human body only it has a small dome at the top where your head goes. It’s made of special material for cold weather camping. It uses your own heat to keep the air inside comfortable. We can get inside of it, and it will be nice and warm.”
“My sleeping bag is a special one too. It lets you sleep outside and will keep you warm as toast. It’s made for the army in the countries where it gets really cold, and mountaineers and survivalists use them too. You can sleep in this up to minus forty and still stay warm.”
“There is one thing though Chris … both of these are made for one man only, but I figure since you’re only ten, and I’m pretty skinny, the two of us put together will be about the same as one really big guy. But we are gonna have to share them.”
Chris grinned up at Johnny.
“Hey, that’s okay Uncle Johnny, I’ve never been camping with just you before. It’ll be us single guys just hanging out together.” Chris exclaimed enthusiastically.
“I was just worried that we were going to freeze to death in the snow. But I know you’ll make sure everything is okay.”
Johnny smiled at the complete faith that Chris had in him.
“Don’t you worry sport; we’re going to be just fine as long as we’re snug in this den... bears do it every year. I’ve got plenty of food and water, so all we really have to do is just hunker down and wait this storm out.”
Johnny went to work setting up the bivy and arranging the sleeping bag inside. Once it was all set up to his satisfaction, he went to work going through the food supplies.
He set aside the packets of oatmeal, powdered eggs and pancake mx as well as the hot chocolate mix and coffee that he always kept in his food stores for when he went on overnighters in the wilderness.
With no chance to safely light a fire there would be no way to heat them. He resigned himself to the fact that there would be no hot food to consume tonight.
He pulled out the bag of almonds, tiny boxes of raisins, some beef jerky, dried fruit and trail mix. He arranged them into a pile at the head of the bivy tent, and then he motioned over to Chris.
“Alright Chris, I’m going to slide into the bivy and into the sleeping bag, and when I tell you, I want you to come over and slide in beside me as close as you can get. We need to kick off our boots, they’re still wet, and I don’t want any moisture inside the bivy. This den is dry enough, that they’ll be okay out here with the backpack.”
Johnny was glad that he had opted for the regular style of sleeping bag and not the mummy style. Otherwise he would have had to do without because only Chris would have fit.
At least with this one, it was roomy enough that they should both be able to squeeze inside and conserve their body heat. The temperature had dropped significantly all day long, and already Johnny was feeling its effects, and he knew Chris would be too.
Thankfully the two of them managed to slip inside the bivy tent without too much effort. Johnny had been right, both he and Chris were of slight build, and once again, Johnny discovered being skinny had been a blessing.
Once inside Johnny pulled in the food supplies and the canteens and the battery powered lantern inside the bivy, and zipped the opening shut.
Johnny rationed out a portion of the food for the two of them, and they lay inside the bivy propped up on their elbows, munching away on their supper.
Johnny looked at his watch and seen that it was now approaching five thirty in the afternoon. By the sounds of the howling outside, the blizzard was showing no sign of blowing itself out. He was exhausted after his heavy trek through the drifts while carrying Christopher and he suspected Chris was too.
The best thing for the both of them to do would be to settle in and try and get some sleep.
Once they had eaten and found a comfortable position to lie in, Johnny lie back and let his eyes close. Outside the day was waning fast, as the blizzard raged on. This being the time of year when the days were at their shortest; Johnny knew that outside, the sun must have set by now, and the dull white-grey haze of snow would have turned black… and still the wind shrieked and howled in its unrelenting fury.
Not more than an hour had passed and the interior of the bivy was warming up. It was designed to use human body heat to warm up the interior of the shelter, and indeed it was now approaching what Johnny guessed would be seventy degrees inside the tiny tent.
He had taken some more Tylenol when they had eaten, but it wasn’t doing a whole lot to ease the pain behind his eyes and along his jaw. He had come to realize that he was dealing with some kind of sinus infection and that it was probably going to take something stronger to get rid of it, but for now the Tylenol was all he had at his disposal.
“Is your headache from your cold really bad? I saw you take some Tylenol.” Chris asked worriedly.
Johnny shook his head.
“It’s not too bad. It’s just some kind of sinus infection I think… I’ll be okay… it’s nothing to worry about Chris.”
“I bet my dad wouldn’t agree with you. He’s going to make you go to the clinic and see Dixie or Dr. Early, when we get home you know.”
Johnny laughed… “Yeah, I’ll bet he does… but then again he’s usually right. Just don’t tell him I said that okay?”
It was Chris’s turn to laugh this time.
“Okay Uncle Johnny. It’ll be our little secret.”
There was a long period of silence in the dark, and Johnny was beginning to get sleepy.
He was lying there comfortably dozing when he heard Chris’s small voice call out.
“Uncle Johnny… do you ever get scared?”
The question had come at him from out of nowhere.
“Do you ever get scared?” Chris repeated.
Johnny put his arm around Chris’s small shoulders and pulled him in closer and gave him a reassuring squeeze.
“Sure Chris, everyone gets scared sometimes. It’s a part of being a human being. It’s a natural instinct that is just built into each one of us.”
“It’s what stops us from stepping out in front of moving vehicles, or trying to pet a rabid skunk…I can tell you I was pretty scared today when I couldn’t find you.”
Chris’s brow was furrowed and he shook his head.
“No, Uncle Johnny… I mean being scared that you’re gonna die and stuff like that. Like when you get hurt, or when you’re way up high on a rescue or when you were inside a burning house.”
Johnny was quiet for a moment before he answered.
“Yes, Chris I get scared about that stuff too, but it’s not the same scared.”
“I don’t understand… isn’t being scared all the same?”
“Nope,” Johnny declared.
Johnny paused and tried to decide how to best phrase the point he was trying to make.
“Look at it this way… didn’t you feel one kind of scared, when your dad got hurt at work a couple years ago , and another kind of scared, … like you were today. Then there’s a different kind of scared, like when you break a rule at home or school and you’re going to get punished for it?”
“Oh….okay I think I know what you mean now.” Chris nodded.
“So you mean that you get scared the other ways too, right Uncle Johnny?”
“Yeah, sure Chris….but it’s different each time. When I’m on a rescue and inside a burning building or up on a high cliff, I’m usually too busy trying to get the job done to really think about it. But sometimes it gets a bit hairy and you do get a bit scared.”
“You worry you won’t get the patient to the hospital on time… or you worry about keeping you and your partner safe… it’s more like an intense nervous scared…”
“Were you scared those times you got hurt? Like when that rattlesnake bit you or when you were hit by the car?” Chris asked.
Johnny smiled at Chris.
“Well, when I got bit by the snake, I was more frustrated at first that it happened in such a dumb way. Then I was so focused on treating myself that I didn’t think about it too much. But afterwards when I was being driven into Rampart on the engine, I did get a bit scared…sure.”
But when I got bit by the snake, I was alone as far as the medical end of it went, so I was too busy concentrating on helping myself, and it distracted me from being really, really scared. So it wasn’t as bad as it was when the car hit me. It’s different when I’m hurt so bad than I’m not able to help myself.”
“That’s the main reason it was a lot different when I got hit with the car. That time there was no way I could even begin to do anything for myself. I was hurt too badly… so I was more scared that time… at least I was off and on.”
“What do you mean, off and on?” Chris asked.
“Well,” said Johnny. “At first I was just confused and didn’t know what had happened. I just knew that I hurt a whole lot… all I could think about was how much it hurt, and I was just wanting it too stop hurting me. Then when I got some medicine to help with the pain, and I thought about what was probably wrong with me… I got scared.”
‘So when I was in a lot of pain, I hurt too much to actually think about being scared… and sometimes I wasn’t coherent enough to really understand things to be scared… that’s what I meant when I said that I was really scared, but only off and on.”
Chris snuggled in closer to Johnny.
“Dad was really scared when you got hit with that car… I heard him telling my mom.”
“I know Chris,” Johnny said quietly.
“But not as scared as he was when those bad guys kidnapped you on that bus.”
“I saw him cry about it that time; when he thought he was alone. He cried because he thought you were dead … He really loves you Uncle Johnny… we all do.”
Johnny felt a lump forming in his throat and he had to compose himself before he could speak.
“Well, Chris… I was really scared then too… and I know you guys love me, and it makes me feel really good inside to know that.
And I love your dad Chris….just like I love you and Jenny and your mom … you’re my family.”
“That’s why you were scared when I was lost today huh?” Chris stated matter of factly.
“Yes, Chris. I love you a whole lot, and that’s exactly why I was scared.”
“Are you scared now, Uncle Johnny?” Chris asked him.
Johnny shook his head confidently.
“Nope not at all… We’re safe and warm, we got food, water and so all we have to do is wait out the storm. I know where we are, and I know the way home… we’re going to be just fine Chris. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
Chris smiled up adoringly at his Uncle. Then I’m not scared either.”
The boy was silent for a while, and then he quietly added.
“But I bet mom and dad are really scared for both of us right now.”
Johnny sighed. Chris had just put a voice to the one thing that had been on his mind the last hour or so. Roy and Joanne would be going out of their heads with worry over their son… and brother.
“I know Chris. But there is nothing we can do about it right now… just concentrate on how relieved they’ll be when we get home… now how about we try and get some sleep… maybe when we wake up the storm will be over.”
There was no more talk inside the bivy as both Johnny and Chris fell asleep.
Chris slept peacefully enough for the first hour or so, and then he began to toss and turn. In his dreams he began to re-live that day’s events, the howling winds slowly melded into the howling of the wolves in his dreams…
Chris’s restlessness pulled Johnny out of his sleep, and he gently shook the boy awake.
“Are you okay sport?” Johnny asked the child.
“I was having a nightmare about today…” Chris’s voice quietly trailed off.
Johnny shifted around until he was lying on his back, with his arm around Chris.
“I guess maybe it isn’t such a good idea to go to sleep with a storm on your mind. How about if I told you some of the stories I learned when I was a young boy just about like you. Would you like that?”
“Cool…that would be awesome Uncle Johnny… are they Indian stories?”
Johnny chuckled… “Yes, Chris…they are.”
For the next hour, Johnny told Chris stories that he had learned from both his mother and White Eagle as a child. He told him the story of Rabbit Boy, just as he had Natalie and Lucas Mills a year and half earlier.
He also told him some of his other favourites. He told him the stories of Spotted Eagle and Black Crow, and of Coyote, Iktome, and the Rock. He told him the story of Wakinyan Tanka, the Great Thunderbird, and The White Buffalo Woman.
Finally after more than an hour had passed Chris fell into a peaceful sleep.
Unfortunately for Johnny the stories he had told Chris had brought to his mind the happier days of his childhood when his parents were still alive.
He couldn’t help but think of how much he missed his father and mother. It was probably the reason Johnny was plagued by his own nightmares when he finally managed to fall back asleep himself.
Falling asleep while he was thinking of his younger days was not a good idea. Just as had happened to Chris before; the sounds of the wind in his ears crept into Johnny’s subconscious and invaded his dreams.
The wicked winds were stealthy and clever as they invaded Johnny’s slumber and haunted his dreams. They crept into the darkest corners of his mind and called out those painful thoughts that he usually kept buried in the farthest corners of his mind.
There were so many unpleasant memories that he had worked hard to push down and out of his day to day thoughts.
The trouble with dreams is that they have no concept of time; and so the distant past becomes the present once more; twisting and distorting the present reality, turning dreams into nightmares, and so the past is re-lived as if it were happening at that very moment in time.
For Johnny the thoughts that had been let loose in his subconscious mind, took him back to the night his parents had been killed. And he found that in his nightmare, he was once more a small ten year old boy.
He broke out into a sweat as he slept, and he began to thrash restlessly about.
The wailing blizzard winds laughed at the sleeping man, as their shrill howling shrieks cunningly metamorphosed inside Johnny’s mind, turning their lament into the screams of his mother as the family car was sent over the embankment … killing both his father and mother.
The pain of his headache began to combine with the physical and emotional pain he felt in his dreams. Tears started to stream down his face, as he plaintively called out for his mother in his sleep, begging her not to die.
The disturbance caused Christopher to wake from his own slumber and he rose up and looked over at his Uncle Johnny as he tossed and turned.
Chris saw his Uncles tears, and heard his plaintive words. He heard the man beg his mother not to die. He heard his uncle cry out that his dad was dead.
The young boy was uncertain as to what he should do. He had already known that something bad had happened to his Uncle Johnny when he was young.
Like most children, he had been far more observant that his parents had realized or given him credit for. More than once he had overheard snippets of hushed conversations between his mother and father.
He had already guessed some time ago that Uncle Johnny’s mom and dad were dead. Uncle Johnny never spoke of them… and Chris’s parents had always told him and Jenny not to ask their uncle about it.
He was young enough to be unsure about how he should handle this current situation, but old enough to realize from what he was hearing, that his beloved Uncle Johnny had been there when his parents were killed. That he had witnessed their deaths first hand.
The thought of that made him feel queasy. Mostly because he wasn’t sure what he would ever do, if he saw his mom and dad be killed. It was an extremely unsettling thought… one Chris didn’t want to think about.
He remembered once before when Uncle Johnny had been staying with them, long ago, when his uncle had been very ill from getting sick from a monkey. Chris had been much younger, but he vividly remembered padding out of his bedroom in the wee hours of the morning, and seeing his father trying to calm down his Uncle Johnny when he had been an upset by bad dreams.
He wasn’t sure what he should do now, as his uncle tossed and turned and wept in his sleep; so he did the only thing he could think to do… he mimicked his fathers’ actions.
He stroked his uncles brow and told him softly, that everything was okay… that it was only a bad dream and he was safe. He kept up his litany of soothing words until gradually; and much to his surprise; his uncle’s movements calmed down and he once again settled into a deep sleep.
After several minutes had passed, Christopher lay back down and closed his eyes, but he didn’t fall asleep immediately… he had too much on his mind.
One thing he did realize, was that he found his love for his Uncle Johnny growing even stronger.
He was glad that Uncle Johnny and his dad had become partners, best friends, and eventually, brothers.
He began to understand just a little bit better, the bond that the two men shared.
In his sleep Johnny had found himself re-living the night that his parents had been killed by a group of racist bigots. It was a nightmare he hadn’t had in several years.
Ever since he had met Roy, and been adopted into his family; those dreams had slunk back into the darkest recesses of his mind.
But tonight; whether it was because he had been telling Chris the stories of his own childhood or the mournful wailing of the wind; he had been caught up once again in the throes of his painful past.
But this time his nightmare had ended differently… as abruptly as his nightmare had surfaced, it had suddenly retreated, and he became aware of an incredibly warm feeling of being surrounded by comfort and love.
As quickly as it had come upon him, the fear and sadness was gone, and he found himself enveloped by a wonderfully peaceful feeling; and he spent the rest of the night, sleeping in a serene and tranquil state, free from the ghosts of his past; while the winter storm raged on just outside their cozy den.
It was several hours later before Johnny finally woke up again.
At first he wasn’t sure what it was that had awoken him; but then it hit him what it was.
It was the overpowering sound of silence… the storm had finally ended.
He glanced down at his watch and pressed the button that illuminated the dial. It was just after six thirty in the morning, and it was still black as pitch outside.
He glanced over and saw that Chris was still fast asleep. Not wanting to disturb the boy, and knowing they couldn’t go anywhere before sun up… he settled back down and allowed himself to slip back to sleep in the pleasant warmth of the bivy.
~ ~ ~
As much as Chris and Johnny’s dreams had been restless the night before, plagued by nightmares brought on by the sounds of the blizzard winds; the night had been even worse for Roy and Joanne.
In fact the last eighteen hours had been the epitome of a living hell for the two of them.
It was twelve thirty, and the two of them had just returned to their hotel suite from an exquisite lunch at a very upscale bistro.
They had just arrived back in their hotel room, and were looking forward to a very intimate and cozy afternoon in the Jacuzzi that came with their suite, when the call from Dixie had arrived.
Joanne had run around frantically shoving their belongings into suitcases, while Roy got on the phone to the airport and tried to get an emergency flight back to Burlington.
It was then he learned that all commercial flights to Vermont had been halted due to an imminent storm system that was due to strike on the lee side of Lake Champlain within the next two hours.
Roy slammed the phone down in frustration, and cursed his luck, until a flash of inspiration hit him, and he phoned the one man he hoped could help him… George Danforth III.
Some measure of luck was with them that afternoon, as it just so happened George Junior was in New York for a follow up with this specialist regarding the arm injury he had sustained back in the summertime. So the Danforth jet was actually in New York that day.
After a quick phone call to his pilot; George Sr. phoned Roy back and informed the couple that if they could get to the jet in a half an hour, they would be flown back to Burlington. They were cautioned that they only had a half hour, and even that was pushing it. Their window of opportunity was closing in fast, as the pilot had been warned that all personal flights to Vermont would be closed within the hour, once the storm hit.
Only those leaving right away ahead of the system would be allowed to leave. So it had been by the skin of their teeth that the couple had made it to the jet and back home to Burlington.
By the time they landed in Burlington, it was just before one forty five.
The storm was just beginning to pick up in strength and all the highways and interstates in the area had been closed due to blowing and drifting snow causing whiteout conditions.
The couple was once more frustrated at being so close and yet so far away from Swanton and their missing son and brother.
In the end they ended up staying in Burlington with Joe Early at his condo.
Although Roy’s body was in Burlington, his heart was in Swanton. He wanted desperately to be able to search for Chris and Johnny himself, and the waiting was killing him.
He knew that even if he had made it back to Swanton, he would not have been allowed to go wandering around in a blizzard looking for the missing pair. The search had been postponed until the blizzard had passed. They couldn’t risk sending anyone out in this weather. It would be a suicide mission even for the most seasoned of men.
Roy and Joanne had never witnessed weather like this, and they were humbled in the presence of its power. They had expected cold and snow, but hadn’t considered this type of situation, and right at this moment, both Roy and Joanne wished that they were back in Los Angeles where the weather was warm and winters were green.
The fact that Johnny had gone looking for Chris within an hour or so of his disappearance had been a double edged sword.
On one hand he now had two members of his family to worry about. But on the other hand it gave him some small measure of hope, that if anyone could get Chris safely through this storm, it would be John Gage.
It always amazed him and filled him with a deep sense of pride whenever he watched Johnny handle himself out in the wilderness.
Johnny had the most incredible instincts of anyone he’d ever known. It was a true gift that his younger brother possessed.
Even in the five and a half months that they had been here in Swanton; Johnny had already developed a map of all the trails and woodland areas in Franklin County inside his head. He knew instinctively how to navigate through the wilder areas.
It was those instincts and his ability to gauge a situation and deal effectively with the immediate problems at hand; that were giving Roy and Joanne the hope they were now desperately clinging to.
Roy wasn’t willing to write them off just yet. After all everyone had done that when Johnny had been taken hostage on that bus eighteen months earlier, and he had once again shown his skill and acuity for surviving seemingly impossible situations.
For what seemed the millionth time, Roy found himself giving thanks to God that he had met John Gage.
Their friendship had grown far beyond anything either Roy or Johnny could explain, or even totally understand. Their relationship was both bold and subtle at the same time. It ran through their veins… it wasn’t something they actively thought about from day to day. It was just there… like an invisible presence.
They both knew that they only needed to reach out and that special something that made up their friendship would be there. They could literally read each other like a book.
Johnny wasn’t just his friend and partner or even a brother… because while it was true that Johnny was family… he was also much more; he was an extension of Roy himself.
John Gage had the biggest heart, and was the most forgiving man he’d ever known. He always had Roy’s back, even on those occasions when Roy’s own actions hadn’t returned the favour.
He still felt guilty about how he had first reacted to some of Chet Kelly’s pranks that had been aimed against Johnny… and he had also felt badly when he remembered how he had reacted to Johnny’s trying to help them out by giving Joanne, Mike Stoker’s spaghetti recipe.
Johnny had time and time again shown himself to be the better man in the forgiveness department, on other occasions as well.
Like the time Johnny had, in the heat of the moment, made a bet over a baseball game. Roy had been one of the first men to get on Johnny’s case about how much money they might be out of pocket, making Johnny feel bad about it.
But when the tables had been turned and Roy had, in the heat of the moment, made a last minute change to his bet at the race track which had resulted in all the men losing money; it had been Johnny who had been the first to step up and tell Roy not to worry about it, and defend his actions; which had in turn spurned the others to agree with him. All because Johnny didn’t want Roy to feel bad
But over time, Johnny had changed the way Roy acted both at work and at home. He had discovered that where he had at one time tended to have a superior attitude at times; he was now more aware of how his words and actions could hurt others… especially Johnny.
It was true…Johnny Gage had been good for him, and good for his family.
Roy had mellowed out both at work and at home. Even Joanne had mentioned it on several occasions.
Roy sat and starred out the window at the wall of white that was on the other side of the glass in Joe Early’s penthouse condo and prayed that God was watching out over his son and little brother, and that he would return them back to the fold safely once more.
~ ~ ~
The next time Johnny woke up, he could tell it was now daylight. There was a hint of light coming in through the sealed vents in the bivy tent. He looked down at his watch and seen that it was now just after eight a.m.
He propped himself up and glanced over at the sleeping child beside him. He was disappointed that his head was still pounding. He’d hoped that some sleep would have lessened its severity.
Heaving a sigh, he gently shook Chris awake.
“Hey kiddo, the storm is over. It’s time to get out of here.”
Chris sat up sleepily and then grinned.
“Good, I’m ready to get back to civilization.”
“I have to admit that as much as I enjoy camping, that in this case, I’m more than ready to get going too.”
Rather than put on his chilly coat, Johnny had grabbed their coats and Chris’s snow pants and had slid them inside their vacated sleeping bag, using it’s residual warmth to warm them up. He made Chris stay inside the bivy sitting on top of the sleeping bag, while he went just outside the entrance of the den, cleared a small area and quickly used the tinder he had gathered the afternoon before to light a small fire.
Using some of their remaining water in their canteens, he heated up some water and using the instant packets and a small tin cup he kept in the pack, he made Chris some instant hot chocolate and fed him some more nuts, raisins, and dried fruit.
Then when Chris was done, Johnny rinsed out the cup and made himself some instant coffee, to wash down his share of the breakfast, and to swallow down his last two Tylenol.
He had put his own boots on cold, but had held Chris’s near the fire for a moment, in order to take the worst of the chill off of them.
By the time he was finished, their coats were warmed up enough to put on.
Johnny then quickly packed up everything and extinguished his small fire, and the two of them set off for home. It was just after nine in the morning.
The sun was shining brightly, and after being so long in the relative darkness of the den, both Chris and Johnny found the brightness of the sun shining off the snow, hurt their eyes. It would take some time for their eyes to adjust to the glare.
The storm had caused many deep drifts and covered up a lot of the landmarks Johnny was used to seeing… which had dramatically altered the look of the landscape. Johnny took a few moments to get his bearings and re-orient himself to their surroundings before he took hold of Christopher’s hand and started off.
They had been walking for about a half hour, plowing their way through deep drifts and picking their way through the bush. It was a hard slog, and Chris soon grew weary and began to lag behind and stumble.
Johnny himself had to stop and take a drink several times, and eventually Johnny found himself carrying Chris through the deeper sections of the drifts.
“This isn’t the way we came is it Uncle Johnny?” the child asked.
Johnny shook his head.
“No Chris, we aren’t back tracking. We kind of wandered off the beaten track to get here, and for me to take you back to where we came into the woods off of Gardner’s farm is a good three hour hike. Longer when you factor in that walking through these drifts will slow us down a lot.”
“I know a quicker way out of here. It comes out on the edge of the road that runs between my house and Trent’s house…it’s also about an hour shorter.”
The strenuous walk had caused the two of them to walk on in silence. Sometimes Chris walked and sometimes Johnny carried him.
Johnny made a mental note to himself that this year for Christmas he would buy both of the DeSoto children and himself a pair of snow shoes. He’d get them out in the snow and get them used to using them. But for now he trudged along carrying Chris, without the use of such a luxury.
They went on this way for over two hours, before the trees thinned out and the two weary travelers found themselves standing on the edge of the country road, surrounded by open farm land.
The winds were still gusting strongly off and on in the bright sunlight. Out in the open the wind chill was very cold. The gusts would occasionally send small snow devils scudding across the open sections of land around them.
The first time Chris saw one heading their way he tensed up and clutched at his uncles hand in fear.
“Don’t worry Chris. Those are just snow devils… or snow tornadoes, and they are harmless enough. But they are cold if they hit you,” he winked.
Slowly the two of them plodded along the road, heading towards home, where Johnny was sure there would be a lot of anxious people waiting for news about them.
Johnny looked at his watch and noted that it was now approaching noon hour, and he realized it had taken him almost an hour longer than it normally would have to make their way out of the bush.
~ ~ ~
Roy and Joanne had been anxiously waiting for the word, that the snow ploughs had cleared the highways that lead from Burlington to Swanton. The blizzard had finally blown itself out just before six that morning, and it was almost eight in the morning when they finally got the all clear to travel.
Joe Early quickly offered to drive them up himself. He too was worried about both Chris and Johnny’s health and wanted to be on hand, because he was sure both would need medical care… if they were found alive, and not frozen to death.
The police chief, his deputy and a large group of local men had all converged at the Gardner home where the police chief, Ted Cooper, had set up a temporary headquarters for the search teams that had set out at first light.
The search parties had all set off from the same point that both Johnny and Chris had entered into the woods.
Roy, Joanne and Doctor Early arrived in Swanton before nine that morning. Their first stop was to talk to Ted Cooper, the chief of police and the head of the search team. There next stop was out to Johnny’s ranch to check in with Dixie, and Jenny.
It was decided that Roy, Joanne, and Doctor Early would head back over to the Gardner farm and Dixie would remain back at the ranch with Jenny.
The search teams had no idea what direction to look in. The blowing snow had completely obscured any sign of the missing pair. The only information they had was that John Gage had said he was going to head north, and then west if he had no luck in locating the boy.
They had no way of knowing that Chris had veered off to the east, and that Johnny had altered his course in accordance with Chris’s movements, so that the search party was actually looking in the opposite direction for the missing paramedic and his nephew.
~ ~ ~
Johnny and Chris had been walking along the edge of the road for fifteen minutes when they found themselves at the edge of Johnny’s own property. The two of them were plodding up his long lane, exhausted from their long trek through the deep snow, when the door to the guest house on Johnny’s property flew open and Dixie came running outside in her sweater and shoes and pulled them both into a joyful hug.
“Thank God you’re alive… are you hurt? Come inside and get warm… I have to call Roy… I have to call Ted Cooper. There’s a whole town in a tank of misery worrying about you two. They’ve been searching since sun up.”
Dixie’s questions and proclamations came out so fast and furious, that Johnny didn’t have a chance to get a word in edgewise.
Before he knew what was happening, he and Chris were being ushered inside the guest house, where Jenny flung herself at them in tears.
~ ~ ~
Roy and Joanne were standing in the kitchen of Evelyn and Frank Gardner’s farm house. Their kitchen had become command central.
Joanne and Roy stood by numbly, while they mindlessly kept drinking cup after cup of coffee, as it was thrust into their hands.
They had grown tired of pacing back and forth, and Joanne had run out of tears to cry for the moment.
Roy was barely holding it together after Ted Cooper had told him that he wasn’t going to be allowed in on the search. Ted had pulled Roy aside and tactfully tried to tell him, that if the news was bad (and he feared it would be,) that Joanne and Jenny would need him close by.
Roy and Joanne had both moved into the Gardner living room where they sat on the sofa feeling lost and helpless. They were still sitting there when the phone rang in the kitchen.
It was less than a minute later when Ted Cooper came into the room and excitedly informed Roy and Joanne that John Gage and Chris Desoto, had just walked up the lane of the Gage ranch five minutes ago, and were currently in the care of Dixie McCall; and that Roy, Joanne and Joe Early had been requested to head over there straight away.
The next ten minutes were the longest of Roy and Joanne DeSoto’s lives. They gathered up their belongings and put on their winter coats. They waited impatiently while Ted Cooper made the necessary call to his deputy over the two way radio, so he could inform the search party that the lost had now been found, and that they were currently waiting over at the John Gage ranch, so the search parties could all return home again.
They had had to wait a further five minutes while the Police Chief and Joe Early cleaned off the snow that had accumulated on their cars over the last few hours.
The Chief himself escorted the DeSoto’s over to Johnny’s ranch while Joe followed close behind.
All in all, it was almost twenty minutes after they had received the call from Dixie before they finally arrived at the quaint stone guest house on Johnny’s ranch that was now the home of Dixie McCall.
Both Roy and Joanne were out of the car before Ted even had a chance to shut the engine off.
They raced up the walkway to the cottage and never even bothered to knock on the door. The moment the couple stepped inside the front door Chris flew across the room and launched himself into their open arms.
For the next several minutes the only sounds in the room were that of the tearful, but joyous reunion of the child and his parents. As they examined every inch of his body to reassure themselves that he was okay.
When they finally pulled apart Roy’s eyes immediately scanned the room until he found Johnny. The first thing he noticed was the paleness of his face, and the painful squint, that was the usual tale tell sign that his partner was plagued by a painful headache. His clothing was rumpled and disheveled and he looked tired … tired but happy, sitting beside Jenny on Dixie’s sofa.
As soon as their eyes met, Johnny stiffly rose to his feet. Everyone in the room could see that the man was clearly hurting and exhausted.
Roy rushed over to his side, and then pulled him into a tight hug.
“Saying thank you just doesn’t seem to be enough little brother.”
Roy’s voice was heavy with emotion.
“You better sit back down Junior; you look like you’re dead on your feet.” Roy urged.
Johnny shook his head wearily.
“I’m alright Roy, it’s only a headache.”
Joanne came over to his side, still holding on tightly to Chris’s hand.
She reached up with her free arm, and pulled Johnny close and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“God Bless you Johnny Gage….thank you so much for saving Chris’s life.”
When she pulled away, she first looked at her husband, and then she turned to Joe and Dixie.
“He feels a little warm to me.”
Johnny sat back down heavily onto the couch.
“I’m okay guys… it’s just this plagued cold I’ve had for the last little while has decided to settle into my sinus’s… but it’s nothing serious… I promise.”
Roy went into instant mother hen mode, as he felt Johnny’s forehead.
Jo’s right, Johnny; you do feel a little warm. I think maybe it would be best if both you and Chris went into the clinic and let the Doc here give you both a good once over, just to be on the safe side.”
Chris looked over at his uncle. He rolled his eyes and grinned.
“I told you that’s what dad would say, when he seen you.”
“Yes, you did, sport, and I’m not even going to argue with him about it."
Johnny turned to look at Joe Early.
“The truth is Doc, I’m wondering if my cold hasn’t turned into sinusitis. The headaches have settled in really good behind my eyes, and into my jaw. It’s bothering my ear and it’s making my teeth ache. If you could give me something to ease the pain and pressure a bit, I’d be grateful, because I can’t seem to shake it on my own.”
Joe came over closer to Johnny, and like the DeSoto’s had done a moment before; he reached over and felt Johnny’s forehead. He looked him over appraisingly and noted the dark circles under his eyes, the sallow hue of his skin, and the obvious signs of the pain that his sinuses were causing him.
Joe shifted his gaze back toward Chris DeSoto. The boy appeared to be fine, but like Roy, he decided it wouldn’t hurt Chris to be checked over, just for good measure.
“I’ll tell you what,” the doctor said.
“Why don’t we all take a drive into the clinic in town, and I’ll take a look at the pair of you.”
“We can divide up. I’ll take Johnny, Chris, Roy and Joanne in with me, and Dixie can stay here with Miss Jenny.”
It was at this point that Johnny interjected.
“I agree with most of what you said Doc. But I don’t think we all need to double up. If you ‘ll just drive me back to the Gardner’s, I can pick up the Rover and drive myself into the clinic.”
Roy began to shake his head negatively before Johnny even finished the statement.
“No way Junior; we’ll get the Rover tomorrow, but tonight you go in with the Doc.”
“The Rover is only next door at your neighbors’, and right now, you are exhausted and not feeling well. That’s not a good combination. How many accident scenes have we been called out to, because someone was driving when they really shouldn’t have been … because they were too tired and their reflexes were too slow?”
“The roads are still not in the best shape, and you need to be on high alert when driving on icy roads… especially roads with occasional whiteouts due to blowing and drifting snow.”
Johnny raised his hands in a show of surrender and in the end, he allowed Joe to drive him into the Swanton clinic for a checkup.
~ ~ ~
It was several hours later, and Johnny and Chris had been checked out and given the police Chief a complete account of what had happened over the last twenty four hours.
Johnny was now sitting quietly beside Roy on the sofa in the DeSoto living room.
The aroma of coffee filled the room, as Johnny held onto the steaming cup of liquid in his hands.
Joe Early had confirmed Johnny’s suspicions that he did indeed have a pretty serious case of sinusitis. He had also been running a mild temperature of 99.8.
The good doctor had given him something stronger for pain relief, and he had also prescribed a ten day course of antibiotics.
He had given Johnny the first dose in his hip, to get it on board and into his system as quickly as possible. Then he had sent him home with a prescription for the rest to be taken orally.
Just as they had suspected, Chris had come through the entire ordeal unscathed, other than being tired, and hungry. The doctor had advised Roy and Joanne to keep him home from school the next day, just to give him a chance to rest after his harrowing ordeal. Other than that, the boy was good to go.
Joe had also pulled Johnny off duty for the next week in order to give his body a chance to get the rest it needed to help fight off his illness.
After he had handed down his verdict; he had taken the group back as far as Roy and Joanne’s home in the village of Swanton.
Once he had dropped them all off, he had gone back home to Burlington from there.
It was now just before five in the afternoon, and Chris was in his bedroom lying on his bed in his pyjamas reading, after having a long hot bath and a good meal.
Johnny had been cajoled, into spending the night at the DeSoto’s before heading home to his ranch.
Johnny made a futile attempt to beg his way out of staying, but he quickly realized he wasn’t going to win the battle, so he finally acquiesced and had availed himself of a hot shower and a hot meal. Once the meal was over and he had been properly medicated; Joanne had sent him into the living room to sit and rest on the couch.
Shortly after he was seated, Roy had brought him out a hot mug of coffee, which is how he ended up in the position he was in now… lounging on the sofa and sipping at his drink.
He slowly slouched down, folding himself into the center cushion of the couch, while his sleepy eyes, lazily watched the big fat fluffy flakes of snow falling out of the sky and onto the ground outside the big picture window in the DeSoto living room.
He had always thought; even as a child back in Montana; that watching the beautiful, gentle snowflakes fall, was one of the most peaceful, serene experiences you could have.
As he sat watching them meander their way down to blanket the earth in a silent shroud of white; he couldn’t help but marvel at the wonder of Mother Nature, and her mysterious ways… especially her sudden mood swings.
As he sat there, warm and comfortable, and thanks to his medication, pain free; he could hardly believe that this was the same snow that had less than twenty four hours earlier been so wild, fierce and dangerous.
He physically shuddered when he thought about what would have happened to Chris, had he not been so close by when the boy had gone missing in the woods the previous day.
Roy noticed the shudder and mistook it to mean that Johnny was still cold. He quickly produced a blanket and tossed over Johnny’s legs.
Johnny realized Roy’s misinterpretation of his shudder, but rather than let Roy in on what he had been privately thinking, he had played along with him, and pulled the blanket closer around his body.
He looked over at Roy and a slight smile played at the corners of his mouth.
“Thanks,” he said pointing to the blanket.
Roy and Joanne had thanked him profusely for what he had done many times that afternoon.
Not to mention the fact that they had fussed and fawned over him so much that it had actually become embarrassing, … until he had finally begged them to stop.
He and Roy now just sat on the couch side by side in companionable silence.
Neither one needed to use their voice to communicate what they were feeling inside.
Presently, the combination of the medications, the full stomach and the warmth that came not only from the blanket, but from having his family close around him, caused Johnny’s eyes to grow heavy with fatigue and he soon fell fast asleep.
~ ~ ~
For his part, Roy had also been doing a lot of thinking privately.
Some of those thoughts had mirrored Johnny’s own…with one exception.
In his particular version of those ruminations, he had not only pondered the what ifs over what he would have done if he had lost his son, but he had also been going over and over in his mind, what he would have done if he had lost his little brother as well.
But Roy had also been thinking about something else all afternoon.
It seems that while Johnny was in having his shower, Roy, Joanne, and Chris had had some quiet moments alone in their kitchen.
Ever since they had arrived back home from the clinic, Chris had become quiet and brooding. He clearly had something on his mind, and both Roy and Joanne were anxious to find out what it was that was bothering their first born. So while the three of them were alone, they gently prodded and coaxed the boy until he finally told them what was on his mind.
“Uncle Johnny saw his parents get killed… didn’t he?” the boy blurted out.
Of all of the things they were expecting the boy to say, that was definitely not on the list.
Roy and Joanne exchanged worried glances and began floundering about what they should say next. The silence hung heavy in the air, and it was Chris who broke the silence.
“Last night, he had a nightmare and he was talking and crying in his sleep. He was telling his mom that his dad was dead, and he was begging her not to die too….”
“I already guessed that his parents were dead a long time ago, when he was sick with that monkey disease.”
Roy and Joanne let him continue on without interrupting his train of thought.
“How did it happen? … I know you guys know… I was afraid it would make Uncle Johnny sad if I asked him about it.”
Roy sat down and pulled the boy up onto his lap. There was no way he was going to tell their son about the murders. There would be time enough for him to learn how hard and cruel life could be when he got older. He didn’t want him to lose his innocence just yet.
In the end he simply said;
“One day when his family was out driving they had a bad car accident. His father died right away, and his mother died later that night. Your Uncle Johnny was hurt too, but not seriously enough that he was unconscious, so he saw them both die.”
He hugged his son in closer to his chest and he continued on.
“I’m glad you didn’t badger your Uncle Johnny for answers, son. You were right, it does hurt him very much to talk about it, and both your mother and I are proud of you for taking his feelings into consideration and coming to us with your questions instead of him. I trust we can count on you to keep this just between us?”
Chris nodded and then he looked up into his father’s eyes.
“How old was he dad?”
Roy sighed … “He was only ten Chris.”
Chris nodded his head to show that he had heard. After another extended silence, Chris stood up and hugged his father, and then walked over and hugged his mother.
“I’m really glad you found him back when you were first looking for paramedics dad… and I’m even gladder we adopted him.”
And with that the boy had padded off to his bedroom to read.
That had been two hours ago now, and the conversation; and his son’s final words were still swirling around in his head as he watched his partner; … no ... his little brother; sleep peacefully on the couch in front of him.
He slowly made his way over to where the blanket lay on the floor where it had landed when it had slid off of Johnny as he had slumped down.
Roy gently maneuvered Johnny into a more comfortable sleeping position.
He smiled down at the young man, and tucked the blanket back around him, as he thought about Chris’s parting words only a short time ago.
“I’m gladder too Chris,” he whispered.“I’m gladder too.”
For those unfamiliar with the term lee side…. It is basically a short form of leeward…or the sheltered side. Meaning they are sheltered from the winds.
The Great Lakes regions of Canada and upper U.S. are extremely vulnerable to Lake effect squalls and blizzards.
Even though it may sound odd for the lee side to be affected badly by blizzards and squalls, being the sheltered side…just the opposite is true.
The winds pick up in intensity as well as moisture over the open bodies of water… (Especially before the winter freeze up.) They then deposit or dump the system over the first bodies of land they come in contact with, which are located on the leeward or lee side of the lake.
All equipment or survival scenarios in all of my stories have been tried out by me personally over the years in my experiences living in the wilds of Canada and doing camping at all times of the year including winter (and living in the snow belt region).
The Coyote story is based on an incident that happened to me and my siblings when I was a child, only we knew that coyotes don’t hunt humans, and so we just stopped our game and watched as they ran back into the bush, then we resumed our game of kick the can.
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order.
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