Chapter 2: Departure
Engines...they all knew what that could mean. It could mean a harmless traveller who found a cache of fuel was passing through. It could mean someone had come to tell them the world was back to normal and they were here to fix the phone lines. It usually meant a gang of roving thugs had come to intimidate and coerce the villagers into giving up food and fuel. There was a drill for this kind of thing: Everyone was to hurry indoors except those with firearms, who would either set up sentry positions at their house windows or go with Renaud to confront the 'visitors'. All in all, it was the wrong time for three cubs and a teenager to be in an empty house without anyone knowing; it would be noticed they were missing, and that would put everyone on edge.
"I'll go and look", said Galvin, "you three wait here. If someone comes in, pull the trapdoor up and keep quiet". The cubs replied only with nervous silence.
Galvin descended the ladder and found a window that looked down on the village's main street.
At least three pickup trucks had pulled haphazardly into the village. Renaud was already walking up to them, flanked by two villagers. They were all armed. From the trucks, another three furs, likewise armed, were moving to meet them. The leader was a rough-looking german shepherd with a particularly cocky gait.
Galvin looked up at a barely audible question from the loft.
"Stay up there!" he hissed. Peeking through the window once more, he saw the leader of the strangers swagger down the road to where Renaud and the villagers had stopped. No doubting it now...if the unkempt fur, scruffy bandanas and lean, sinewy physiques of the strangers weren't indication enough, the guns carried under their arms and over their shoulders declared the intentions of the strangers clearly. They had come to threaten the villagers into giving up food, fuel and anything else the gang wanted.
Slowly, trying to move as unnoticeably as possible, he slid the window up a little, just enough to rest the barrel of the rifle on the sill.
"Galvin, what are you...?" Came a worried voice, louder this time.
Well, it was what he should do, wasn't it? He had a gun now and all villagers who had guns were to take position at upper-story windows. He wouldn't fire unless he absolutely had to...he just had to watch the situation unfold carefully.
Renaud was clearly getting angry...that was a very bad sign. If the horse kept his head, the bandits were usually intimidated into moving on, but if he let himself get provoked then someone always ended up dead, and it wasn't necessarily the raiders.
It would all start any second now...nothing for it. He aimed down the length of his rifle. The german shepherd was quite a distance away, but the shot was clear. That was odd...the wolf's paws weren't shaking at all. He felt like he was meant to do this, like he had been guided to the house, the attic, the gun, all because he needed to be there. An odd mixture of calmness and tension overcame him and he knew that he couldn't stop now even if he wanted to. He pulled the trigger.
The next thing Galvin knew, he was layed out on the floor of the upstairs hall, knocked back by an unexpected force. Before he could get a grip on what had happened, he heard loud shouts and gunfire from the street below, and the window which he had been looking through only a second before was cracked by several bullets. His first thought was that he had been shot, but it slowly dawned on him that that couldn't be...firstly, the return fire had come after he had been knocked down, and secondly he didn't seem to be bleeding at all...bullets made you bleed, didn't they? He couldn't quite remember at the moment. It began to dawn on him that the rifle had recoiled hard into his face as he had fired. He'd have to remember that it did that.
Before the young wolf had managed to properly comprehend what was happening, let alone what to do next, the noise had ceased. Clumsily, he got to his feet and looked through the wrecked glass. The trucks were driving away at speed...the leader and his two henchmen were lying dead in the street. Renaud was nowhere to be seen, but there were two more bodies near where he had been standing...
What had he been thinking? He was sure, just a minute ago, that he would be doing something good. Now, as he lay there, delayed pain spreading across his face, he couldn't understand how anyone could ever think that was a good idea.
Galvin sank back to the floor, stunned. If he hadn't fired...would the shooting have started at all? If not, that would mean...those two people, furs that had been his neighbours his whole life, wouldn't have died if not for him. Shock was beginning to take hold. He thought he was tougher than this. He thought he wasn't the type of person who went to pieces. Looked like he was wrong. He could hear footsteps coming from downstairs, but Galvin didn't have the will to react.
Perhaps that was for the best. If Galvin did have all his wits about him, he might have shot at the bloody, berserk mess that arose from the stairwell like a demon from hell. As it was, Renaud simply found a young wolf sitting under a shattered window looking at him with a thousand-yard stare.
"Ga-" he started, but hesitated. "Er, you! What..." he didn't continue. He was at a loss for words.
"Cubs..." mumbled the youngster, pointing vaguely at the attic. Three pairs of worried eyes glinted at Renaud from the darkness.
"Oh," he said.
Galvin was sitting in his kitchen. His mother had put a thin shawl around his shoulders, but the shaking had stopped long ago. He'd been dreading this...his well-being had been ensured, and now came the inevitable interrogation.
"So...why were you there"?
Galvin didn't answer. It didn't seem worth it.
"Did you convince the cubs to go with you"?
"That's not an answer".
"Well you're not going to believe me if I say no, are you"?
The older wolf sighed and sat down opposite him. "Well, it doesn't matter".
Galvin wasn't expecting that. He was expecting anger, but his mother just seemed...tired. The young wolf had been gazing fixedly at a spot on the floor, but he looked up.
"Something else is wrong, isn't it?" he said. His mother shook her head.
"It's just those poor furs who died today. I have to make sure they're given last respects, but...there's just too much happening at once right now".
"Let someone else do it," said Galvin. This subject had been a point of contention between the two for a long while now. "No-one ever said you had to do it".
"I might have to". That was new as well. She usually outright refused to allow anyone else to deal with funeral arrangements. Things must be worse than he thought.
"I know", said Cornelius, trying unsuccessfully to force himself to meet the gaze of his parents. "I know it was wrong, I swear I won't do it again". A thought occurred to him and he went to his small toy box, retrieved his most treasured possession (a small wooden doll, made for him by the local carpenter on his birthday) and returned.
"Look, here's Lord Stewart. I think you should keep him from me until I've learned my lesson". He was beginning to hyperventilate. "And now, and now, I'm going to my room and I'll think about what I've done". He ran to his room, crazed with culpability. His mother and father exchanged a glance, and shrugged.
"You're not just a child any more, are you?" This was getting worrying. Whatever it was that was preying on his mother's mind, Galvin didn't like it. It was making her behave...unusually. "You were just a pup when he left..."
And that was even more disturbing than everything else. In all the years that Galvin had been alive, he'd known his mother mention his father two, maybe three times. She hated to dwell on the subject. Why had this started now?
"How long ago was that"?
"Twelve years..." he said, dubiously. She have him a blank look.
"Has he been gone that long? It hardly seems any time..."
"Mum, what's going on"?
She sighed. "I'm sorry...everything's getting on top of me at the moment. I didn't know where you were earlier, you know?" and she laughed a single, hollow laugh. "I had to stay in here, knowing you were out there somewhere. You can't imagine how hard it was for me not to run straight out and search for you".
He hadn't been prepared for this. He was ready to get shouted at, he had all kinds of counter-arguments ready about personal freedom and the need to put practical needs above silly irrational traditions. He even had a flimsy justification about how it was better that he was with the cubs than to have them running around on their own, but all that was being bypassed. Instead of angry, his mother almost looked like she was feeling guilty herself. He didn't know what to say, so he said nothing, allowing her to continue.
"Galvin...I know I don't talk like this much, but...when the thugs came and I didn't know where you were, I felt so alone. And...it hit me how much I miss your father".
"So that's what this is about," he said, understanding dawning. He considered a moment and then went on catiously: "I...never asked this before because you never wanted to talk about it, but..."
A heavy silence fell for a moment.
"Why did he leave us"?
"He left us because I was afraid and confused and didn't know what I wanted". This enigmatic reply was spoken with extreme bitterness, which puzzled Galvin.
"I don't understand".
"Galvin...Galvin, I have to confess something".
Rick tried the handle again. Still locked, but you never knew, right? He sat down on his bed, but jumped up again instantly. This was torture! There was a whole world out there, full of potential for a young outlaw/warrior/hero in the making. He could have seen those bandits off if Galvin had let him have the gun. He'd have been like a furious goat (Rick didn't know many other types of feral), charging straight at them, blasting them away left and right. He started to walk back and forth, imagining his glorious assault...
This was stupid! He had to get out there, and do bold deeds and make his mark on the world. He'd go insane like this. He tried engaging his fluffy raccoon tail in deadly unarmed combat, but stopped when he wrenched it trying to execute his special killer move...that hurt! At least he knew anyone would be powerless against him in a wrestling bout--the window! Why hadn't he thought of it before? If he could unlatch it without anyone hearing, then slide it up slowly and silently...
He picked up an old mug that was lying around and sent it flying through the glass, shattered fragments spraying around it like a glittering fountain...of freedom! Rick knew there'd be hell to pay for that later, but it wasn't a proper daring escape unless something got damaged.
"He didn't want to leave us. He wanted to leave the village, but he asked me to go with him".
Galvin could make no reply to this. The shattering of a twelve-year delusion had left him somewhat speechless.
"A stranger came out of nowhere one day...he said he was from some kind of pre-blackout fortress or something and he needed your father's knowledge and expertise. At first, I thought he was just as opposed to leaving as I was, but after a couple of days talking with this man, he agreed to go. He wanted to take me and you with him".
"And you didn't go?" Galvin managed to gasp out. "Why"!?
"The time during the blackout was...hard. Me and your father wandered from place to place, we were always in danger. I was carrying you," here she smiled strangely and met her son's eye for the briefest moment, "and more than once I was sure I'd lost you, before you were even born". She sat back a little. Her face had the look of someone who had been crying, although no tears had been shed. "And then we came here. For the first time in a long time, I felt safe. And I felt you were safe. When the time came that your father started talking about leaving again...I just didn't want to lose that security. So...I told him that if he was going, he was going alone. I wish I hadn't been so fearful".
The young wolf didn't reply to this. Although he was hurt to discover that he had been lied to, or at least allowed to believe the wrong thing, he couldn't bring himself to be angry at his mother, who had her muzzle buried in her paws and was looking so vulnerable. But a strange feeling was beginning to overtake him. The same quiet, tense sensation that he had felt before he had pulled the trigger on the hunting rifle. An idea had taken root in his mind, and even though he knew it was foolish, he knew equally that he was going to do it.
"I'll go and get him," he whispered. His mother looked up at him, not believing what she had just heard.
"I'll bring him back".
"Galvin, it's been twelve years. How? How can you possibly find him"?
"I don't know", the young wolf admitted. "But I will do it".
"You're serious about this, aren't you"?
Dolores was not having a good day. She was sitting in front of her father's stereo, listening to the record that her father only ever played when she had been especially bad. Apparently, there had been some singer before the blackout who had lived roughly forever and made a million and one songs, every single one of which sounded the same.
"Got myself a living, breathing,
Walking, living, talking, squeezing,
Living, walking, breathing..."
There wasn't even any syncopation...
"Dad, can I..."
"No", came the blunt voice from the other room.
The odd thing was, her dad could hear the music too, so it had to hurt him just as much as it hurt her.
"...We might not be the small ones very long", crooned the speakers.
"Dad, I'm really sorry"!
"You will listen to the end of the song".
Tears were beginning to well up in Dolores' eyes. She wasn't sure if she could stand it for that long...
"Going on a winter getaway..."
"You can't go. The village needs you to..."
"Needs me to do what? Fail to catch goats and start shootouts"?
"You can't tell me I'm any good to this place. I got two people killed today".
"Is that what you think?" asked his mother, shocked.
"Don't try and convince me...I shot first. I started the whole thing".
His mother sighed. "You can't blame yourself for that. Those thugs are trigger-happy bastards. If you hadn't shot first, they would have. And then perhaps we'd have lost more than two".
Galvin shook his head. "I know there are lots of reasons not to...but I have to go, after everything you've said".
"And where are you going to start? Are you just going to walk out there and wander around until you bump into him"?
He didn't have an answer to this. His shoulders sagged as he realized that he had no clue where to begin.
Suddenly filled with her usual activity and purpose, the elder wolf rose and began packing Galvin's newly acquired backpack with food.
"All I know," she said as she worked, "is that they were going to a place called Windbreak. They headed East when they left".
She thrust the bag into his hands.
"And you ought to take that rifle. Just don't do anything stupid with it".
He gave her a questioning stare.
"I want him back, too," she murmured. "If you're really going...if there's really nothing I can say to stop you...then I'll give you all the help I can. Just...bring him back quickly".
Galvin picked up the rifle and his father's journal before silently embracing his mother and stepping out into the village's main street. The road was oddly quiet in the soft evening light. No sign remained of that afternoon's violence. Galvin's footsteps were instantly swallowed by the silence. He wondered if he should turn back. Just accept the way things were, try to go back to the normality of the past twelve years. Yes, he should. This was a foolish idea. There was no guarantee his father was even still alive. That was absolutely what he should do. He continued walking, ignoring the voice of reason. The emptiness of the street was disturbed by an unexpected voice.
"You're going, aren't you?" Galvin looked around, and spotted Rick sitting on a fence. "I can tell, you're going on an adventure".
The wolf stared without responding and the cub hopped down from his perch and padded over.
Galvin was surprised. Rick wasn't usually this astute, and there was an odd gleam in his eye. Slowly, he nodded.
"I'm going to get him back".
"And I'm coming with you!" Rick shouted, joyously.
"No you're not".
"I am! You can't stop me there's no way I'm not going we're going together it'll be a great adventure I'll be a hero I'll kill all the bad guys and I'll save your life and you'll save my life we'll find your dad and then he'll..." he ran out of breath, allowing Galvin to cut in.
"Listen, I'd love to have you along, there's no-one that could stand in our way if we went together. But you don't want to be part of my adventure, right"?
"You're going to be a hero with your own quest one day. If you come now, we'll have to share the glory. You deserve better than that". The wolf grinned at the cub, the first smile he'd cracked all day.
"I...guess..." said Rick, reluctantly accepting the logic of Galvin's argument.
"You keep everyone safe, okay"?
Rick watched the pale white fur of his friend fade into the twilight. He wondered if he'd ever see him again...
The raccoon shook himself. Those were unheroic thoughts! Galvin was no Rick, but he was pretty strong. He'd be back. And Rick would be there, making sure he had something to come back to.
His smile faded as he realized that he'd just given up the perfect way to lay low from his parents for the next few weeks.
The pacing's bad...I know I've got a good premise here, but I can't...make it...urgh...
Early days, early days. It should get more interesting from here on.