She closed her laptop and headed downstairs. Her father stood on the front porch, the door open, looking down the hill at the dark town. But he wasn’t looking at that. He was looking across the water toward the mainland, where they could usually see the glow of lights from Seattle and Tacoma.
Tonight, the sky was completely dark.
“It’s just a power outage. A storm.” Eden’s mother joined them at the door, cellphone in hand, but her tone anxious.
Her husband nodded at the phone. “Are you getting anything on that?”
Sarah McKay’s mouth tightened, and she shook her head.
Eddie McKay turned his gaze out over the water again. “It’s happened.”
* * *
Eden woke the next morning shivering under two quilts. Her father hadn’t wanted to turn on the generator yet, wanting to conserve fuel. So the power hadn’t come on.
God, she didn’t want to believe that her father was right. As much time as he’d spent training her on what to do in this situation, she’d never believed she would have to put those skills to use. She’d feared it, but never believed it.
Stomach tight, she entered the kitchen to see her parents at the table eating cereal. From the drawn look on her mother’s face and the bags under her father’s eyes, she could tell they’d not slept, or not slept well.
“I’ve called a town hall meeting for eleven,” he told her when she sat with them. “I want the two of you with me. It might get ugly and I want you close.”
Eden pulled the carton of milk toward her. It held some residual chill, but not much. She may as well use as much as she wanted. No telling when she’d get more. So she drowned her cereal in it. “Ugly? Why?”
“They’re not going to like what I have to say.”
* * *
The meeting was called to order in the tiny town hall, whose capacity, as stated on the plaque by the door, was only 100. Since the population of Pontbriand Island was over three hundred, and people were anxious, the mood in the town hall was already edgy.
“It’s finally happened,” Eddie McKay said once the meeting was called to order. “I’m not sure exactly what, if it’s war or a terror attack or just exactly what. I was on my radio last night for hours. Power is out all over the United States, but no one seems to know why. There’s plenty of speculation, of course, that I won’t go into here. Make no bones about it. The United States is under attack, and the safest place for everyone to be is here on Pontbriand Island. What I’m saying to you is, we aren’t able to contact the outside world, not at this time, anyway, aside from my HAM radio, and we won’t be leaving the island.”
That drew gasps of alarm.
“What about supplies?” someone asked.
“We’re in good shape there. I’ve been stockpiling supplies for years, ordering them online, having them delivered, buying non-perishable food in bulk every time I go to the mainland. It’s stored under city hall. We have a plan, of course, for distribution. Also, we have good crops, cattle, deer. We’ll have to be judicious there, of course, but again, I have a plan for distribution. And we’re fortunate to have the ocean. We can do our fishing on the ocean side, away from the mainland.”
“Wait a minute,” said John Rayburn, a local farmer. “I’m planning to sell my crops and cattle.”
Her father looked at him a long moment. “John, right now we’re not sure you have anyone to sell them to.”
“We can send some people to the mainland to see what’s going on,” John Rayburn said.
Her father held up a hand for calm, impossible as terror rolled through the crowd. “We cannot risk sending anyone over there. Even more, we cannot risk people thinking about this island and wanting to find refuge here. We have supplies for ourselves only. Three hundred seven and a half people live in this town.” He gave a small smile to Teresa Rose, six months pregnant. “We need to protect ourselves. I propose we put guards along the coast to watch for boats coming from the mainland.”
“And if they come? What are you proposing?” Phil Mancietti spoke up, his voice shaky.
Her father’s face grew stony. “I propose we send them on their way.”
A chill ran through Eden at his words. She couldn’t envision doing that, not to desperate people.
“I also propose that we turn off the lighthouses. They’ll only serve to remind people we are here, friend and enemy. We do not want to be remembered.”
“Some of us have family on the mainland,” said Mary Jenkins in a shaky voice. “My son is in the Navy.”
“And my daughter Kelly is in Tacoma, and Candace’s grandchildren are in Seattle and Phil’s son at Stanford, and Dr. Hoyt and his family are on a cruise in England. If they can find their way back to us, we will find a way to welcome them. But under no circumstances are we to leave this island. Is that clear?”
Eden’s heart clutched as she met her mother’s gaze. They hadn’t seen Kelly in years, weren’t even sure she was still in Washington. And now, God knew what kind of danger she was in.
The grumbles around them grew louder, vociferous, angry. “You can’t make that call for us.”
“I can, because I’m the one with the supplies. And the guns. And the plan to keep us safe against whatever this is.” He nodded toward Damien Morgan, one of the local fishermen, who signaled to a few other men and left the room. Then her father exited through the back door.
The meeting disintegrated from there, people talking among themselves, a few voices raised in anger, others in panic. The prevailing attitude was shock, not at the situation, but at her father’s handling of it. Even she, who knew her father better than anyone, who had listened to his fears, was stunned by the line he’d drawn, not allowing people from the mainland to escape to the island. She’d known he didn’t want people to leave the island, not only because he believed he could keep them safe, but because he wanted the island to keep a low profile. As shocked as she was, she couldn’t imagine how the people who knew him as their calm and reasonable mayor were seeing him now. She could see the discomfort, the disagreement in the body language of the people around her. Would there be action against him? Or would they believe he could keep them safe?
What did she believe?
She made her way through the crowd after her father. Jennifer Dodson caught her arm.
“He doesn’t mean it, does he? About not letting anyone come?”
“I don’t know. I think he’s just being cautious. I’ll talk to him.” Not that it would do any good, just yet, while everything was so new. She broke herself free and pressed through the crowd.
“Come on, dude,” one of the Rayburn’s sons said to a friend, one of the Wayne boys, she thought. “Let’s take my boat. We’ll go see what’s going on.”
The Wayne boy hesitated. “Man, no, what if Mr. McKay is right? We don’t know what’s going on over there. What if it’s war or something?”
“Then we’ll be the ones to go find out and let everyone know. Come on!”
Eden gripped the Wayne boy—Chris? Carter?—by the wrist. “You can’t do that. Give it some time. We’ll find out what’s going on. You need to listen to my father.”
The Rayburn boy intervened, breaking her hold on Chris/Carter’s arm. He towered over her, though he was ten years younger. “Just because you do everything your father says doesn’t mean all of us have to.”
Shouting outside drew her attention, but she sent one last pleading glance to the boys before hurrying out to see her father squaring off with Vince Lopez, the harbormaster. Eden pressed through the crowd to get to her father’s side. He was using the reasonable voice that got him elected as he defended his decision to have Damien and the others disable the lighthouses on the island.
“You’ll kill people!” Lopez said. “Ships will run aground on their way to the mainland. Boats will sink.”
“And if we don’t, we’ll become a target. We don’t know who the enemy is yet. We need to be safe, just like our families did in World War II. You know it’s true, Vince.”
“What if our families try to come?” Mary Jenkins said again. “How will they find us? They could be lost at sea.”
“I’m sorry, Mary,” her father said, not unkindly. “But we need to think of ourselves first. Once everything is sorted out, we can start thinking about others.”
“Easy for you to say,” Mary’s husband Robert bit out. “Our boy has done three tours. He’s a hero and deserves to come home.”
Eden read the sadness in her father’s eyes and hurried forward before he could say something he’d regret—or at least that the Jenkinses would.
“Maybe everything will come back on tomorrow,” she said soothingly. “Who knows, we may wake up to Good Morning America, and this might all be just a damaged satellite or something.” She hooked her hand through her father’s arm and drew him toward home, partly to get him away from the increasingly agitated crowd and partly to question him about his declarations.
He didn’t want to go with her. She could tell by the resistance in his arm, but he must have seen the urgency in her expression because he turned to follow.
“Dad, I know you’ve thought about this a long time and everything, but you can’t mean no one can come home.”
He gritted his teeth. “My priority is taking care of the people on this island. That means isolating us.”
“Even from our own family members?”
He stopped and looked down at her. “Eden, your sister hasn’t been home in years, hasn’t spoken to us in years. You think she’ll suddenly be in contact?”
“If she’s scared, yes. You know she’ll be scared, Dad.” She shivered just thinking about how vulnerable her sister was, on the other side of the channel. “I want to go get her.”
He started walking again. “Absolutely out of the question. There’s already unrest over there. As strong as you are, as smart as you are, I’m not sending you over there.”
“I thought you and I could go.”
He shook his head. “I can’t leave the island, and if I let you go, others will want to go, as well. I’m responsible for the safety of the people here on this island. Your sister made her choice.”
* * *
The next morning the knock on the door woke them, though Eden hadn’t been asleep long, listening to her parents fight over Kelly. Her mother’s tearful pleas had become angry and doors had slammed. Eden’s own throat tightened as she thought about how her father had hardened his heart toward his own daughter. Didn’t he worry about how afraid she was?
Curious about how could be at the house just after dawn, Eden came down the stairs to see her father open the door. She heard the words “missing” and “boat,” and her stomach dropped to see John Rayburn standing on the porch, his eyes shadowed, his shoulders bent with pain. Beside him, his wife Veronica sobbed into a handkerchief.
Oh, God, no. She gripped the rail and willed this all to be a dream.
“Rick didn’t come home after the meeting last night,” John said. “We drove all over the island because we didn’t want to think he’d be so stupid, but his boat is gone. We’re afraid he went to the mainland. He wouldn’t do something so foolish, would he?”
“Last night he and the Wayne boy were talking about it,” Eden admitted, stepping forward, a slash of pain riding through her as the Rayburns turned toward her. “I told them not to even think about it but they thought they’d go see what was going on.”
Veronica lowered her handkerchief and looked at Eden, eyes bright with betrayal. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
Helplessness washed over her, settling in her stomach. “I didn’t think they’d do it,” she said. “Dad and Mr. Lopez were arguing, and I forgot. I swear, I never thought they’d really do it. They’re just boys.”
Veronica burst into tears. “And now they’ll never find their way back without the lighthouses.”
“They will. They’re smart boys. They’ll be home soon,” her father said, putting himself between her and a suddenly very angry, very big John Rayburn. “They’ll see what a mistake it was and come home. I’m sure of it.”
But they didn’t, not that night, or the next. Despite her father’s protests, another group of six men went to search for them. They didn’t return, either.
The next morning, all the boats in the harbor had been sunk.
* * *
Her father instructed Damien Morgan and his friends to patrol the side of the island facing the mainland at night, enforcing the directive that the residents kept their lights out, and to make sure no boats came from the mainland overnight. John Rayburn and Marcus Wayne joined them most nights, hoping for a sign of their sons.
Eden wanted to throw up every time she thought of how she could have prevented those young men from leaving, and the other men who’d gone to search for them, leaving families behind. What had happened? What had they found on the other side of the channel?
A few weeks after the television signal went out, the sound of a motor carried across the water, and the townspeople gathered on the shore despite the cold of the late November day. They’d fallen into routines—some the same as always, others markedly different, with no communication with the outside world—but an arriving boat caused a stir.
Damien moved to the head of the crowd, watching the boat approach, a rifle braced casually on his hip. Eden moved to stand beside him, tense with the possibility of what he might do. She’d gotten to know him better the past few weeks, since he and her father began working more closely together, and she didn’t entirely trust his judgement. He was more militant than her father, and if he had his way, she feared they’d have martial law. He glanced at her, as if he sensed her intentions, and headed toward the dock. She followed.
The approaching boat was small, but carried seven people that she could see, including three children. Too many people for a small craft crossing the expanse of water. She scanned their faces. None were familiar, not Candace’s grandchildren or Mary’s son Aaron.
Not her sister.
The newcomers powered up to the dock, looking at the sunken boats around them which had yet to be removed. They looked at Damien and his friends, armed and alert. Eden could only imagine their fear.
“What are you doing here?” Damien asked.
“We’ve come for shelter. We thought this would be a safe place,” one man said.
“We’re not taking refugees.”
“Please, we brought food to share, medicine, whatever we could manage,” one woman said, holding the smallest child against her.
“We’re not taking refugees,” Damien repeated.
Eden put her hand on his arm. “Let’s at least hear what they have to offer, and maybe they can tell us what’s going on.”
Damien looked at her a long minute, then nodded curtly before turning back to them. “Just because I’m letting you off your boat doesn’t mean you’re staying,” he cautioned them.
The pilot powered the boat to the dock, tied it up, and shut off the engine. The resulting silence was deafening. The entire town watched as the seven climbed out of the boat and made their way up the dock, the women putting their bodies between the children and the guns.
Veronica Rayburn ran forward and caught one man’s arm. “Have you seen two young boys? Two teen-aged boys, one scrawny and one a farm boy? They left here two weeks ago on a boat. We don’t know—we don’t know what happened to them.”
The man shook his head, and Eden was close enough to see his eyes were haunted.
“No, ma’am, I’m sorry.”
“Is it bad there?” someone else asked. “What happened?”
“Let’s get them to town hall and we can hear what they have to say there,” Eden said.
Damien sent Patrick, one of his friends, for her father and led the way into town. She helped herd the newcomers toward the building. The rest of the town filed in, oddly silent, anxious to hear news.
“What happened?” Eden asked the man who had piloted the boat, the apparent leader. “We haven’t had any news since early November. What caused this?”
He shook his head. “We have no communication, either, so all we know are rumors. But apparently the satellites are out. Some places are without power, but some still have it. The places that do are being overrun by people leaving the cities. There’s no gas, grocery stores are empty, so are drug stores. People are losing their tempers, fighting, turning against each other. Neighborhoods are being overrun, there are home invasions. We didn’t feel safe there anymore, and we’d been here for your fall festival in October and remembered how gorgeous and welcoming it was here. It seemed...safe.”
Terror gripped her as she pictured her sister going through that panic, that fear. Was she safe? Did she have supplies? Guilt swamped Eden as she recalled the fresh eggs she’d had for breakfast.
Eden’s father walked in then. “What skills do you have that can contribute to our community?” he asked without preamble.
The man who’d been speaking blinked. “I—I’m a lawyer.”
Eden’s father snorted. “Worthless now.”
“I’m a teacher,” the woman said, leaning forward around one of the children.
“I can fish,” the second man said, desperation coloring his voice.
“Look around you,” Eddie McKay said. “All these people can.”
“Yes, but I can provide for these people. We won’t use your supplies. We just want a safe place to stay. This is my wife and my two kids. He’s my brother. Please.”
Eddie considered, then shook his head. “No. We can’t use you. Find someplace else.”
The woman with the two kids widened her eyes. “You’d send us back? People are—people are—” She looked down at her children. “The violence is terrible. I can’t risk my children.”
“We don’t have enough supplies to shelter people who come to us. I’m very sorry.”
“The children, then. Can you take them?” she asked, her voice rising. “Please. It’s Thanksgiving. Please.”
Her words jolted Eden. She’d lost track of the days without mail and a regular schedule. How could she have forgotten Thanksgiving, when this year they had so much to be thankful for? Perhaps it didn’t seem it, but they were alive, and safe from the violence, and had plenty of stores, thanks to her father’s paranoia.
Eden knelt before her and put a soothing hand on hers. She turned to look up at her father. “Dad, you can’t. It would be heartless.”
His eyes softened when he looked at her. “I know the consequences, Eden, but we can’t afford to risk our own lives by running out of supplies. They need to go, if they can’t contribute.”
“I can do anything,” the lawyer said, his voice rising in desperation. “I can—any place you need me.”
Her father opened his mouth to say something, but John Rayburn stepped forward.
“I own a farm. My son is gone. I need an extra hand.”
“I’ll do it,” the man said, rising to his feet. “Whatever you need. Whatever you need. Thank you. Please. Please let us stay.”
Her father snorted and spun away on his heel.
* * *
That was the last time her father showed mercy. The boats came with fair regularity. Her father interviewed each—privately now, occasionally with Damien—but without the entire town watching. He sent most away, in tears and pleading, but a few were allowed to stay. A mechanic and a plumber now lived on the island with their families. The additions made the distribution of supplies decrease for every family. Since Eden was in charge of the distribution, she knew the dangers of allowing more people to stay, though sending them away made her feel less and less human each time. The stories the people told, the pleas they made to be allowed to stay, chilled her to her bones.
“Dad, we need to think about going to the mainland and try to find supplies before there are no more left,” she said one morning, entering his office.
He looked up. “We’re fine. And you’ve heard the reports coming from the people who try to come here about what it’s like over there. The supplies aren’t there, either, and it’s too dangerous to send anyone across. Already we’ve lost eight people who tried. We’re fine for now with the Rayburn and Wyatt farms, and fishing. I’m not willing to risk anyone yet.”
She was convinced he was wrong about waiting—the longer they waited, the harder supplies would be to come by. The people on the mainland would deplete them. Since they still had really no idea what had happened, they had no idea when trucks might start running again. Thank God they could supplement their supplies with fish, and almost every family now owned a couple of chickens for eggs. The time of year was wrong for growing vegetables, but carefully rationed canned goods supplemented them for now. She could see them running out of vegetables before the spring.
She hated thinking like this, hated the urge to horde. But she hated the idea of turning frightened people away. If only they had more supplies.
Her father was more likely to welcome people who came with a large stash of their own, but very few did. No one had wanted to believe this could happen.
Eden still couldn’t believe it had.
* * *
“We need to do something for Christmas,” Sarah said one evening over dinner.
They had started eating dinner just after dark to save power. Since they used the generator to cook, it made sense to make the evening stretch just a little longer before shutting it off again and going to bed.
“I don’t think anyone’s exactly in the Christmas spirit,” her husband said with a snort.
“That’s kind of my point.” Sarah set her fork down and folded her hands under her chin. “People need a reason to feel happy again. I know it’s hard, especially since so many of us are missing our loved ones. But I think it would be good for morale.”
Eddie grumbled. “We don’t have the supplies.”
Sarah sat back and looked at Eden. “Eden and I have already talked it over. We can make several dishes that will stretch what we have on hand, supplemented by some fish, and I think it would be wonderful. Very first Thankgiving-y.”
“We can’t do the boat parade or the tree-lighting ceremony. And we don’t have presents.”
“We’ll find a way.” She waited expectantly until he finally nodded.
Sarah flashed a triumphant grin at Eden. “We’ll get to work in the morning.”
Since Eden spent so much time emulating her father, she hadn’t known what a good party planner her mother was. Her mother had wanted her to join the Rainbow Girls when she was growing up, but they’d been, well, too girly for Eden. But as they planned the—Eden didn’t want to call it a party, maybe a celebration—she saw her mother put her leadership skills to use.
And having a purpose helped Sarah push aside her own mourning as she threw herself into the holiday. She recruited several women, including Mary Jenkins and Veronica Rayburn, and the new woman living with the Rayburns, Jessica Vaughn. Together, they planned a meal that would use the least amount of rations. They decorated the town square with a small tree and ornaments, but no lights. They went door to door and collected gently used toys children had outgrown to wrap and pass out. Eden stood amazed at the innovation her mother and these ladies exhibited.
On Christmas Eve, the town square was festive. The women had made candles out of cans of lard and set them on the long tables usually reserved for Fourth of July and other, warmer events. Despite the cold temperature, almost every family attended, standing in line for their servings of corn casserole and fried fish, and home fries. Not the healthiest, or the most traditional, but the recipes fed a crowd.
“Where’s the mayor?” Veronica Rayburn asked, herding the children who’d come on that first boat ahead of her in line.
Eden and her mother exchanged a look of dismay. He hadn’t been particularly in favor of this dinner, but to shun it completely....
“He’s working on town business. I’m sure he’ll come down later,” Sarah said.
But by the time everyone had been served, there was no sign of Eddie. When the reverend stood to offer a blessing and a few words about the true gift of the holiday, when he thanked Sarah and the other women for their hard work, there was no sign of Eddie.
“It’s time now to think ahead, to our new life,” the reverend concluded. “We have all lost someone, but at least we have each other.”
Eden had taken the first bite of her dinner when a cry of delight sounded from a child at the table behind her. She twisted to look as that cry was joined by others.
Eden half-rose from the bench seat as, indeed, a red-suited man with a white beard strolled into town with a sack on his back. He sauntered over to the Christmas tree, where the painstakingly wrapped-and-labeled gifts were placed. The children swarmed him, and when he straightened, he winked at Eden, and her heart warmed.
She’d known her father couldn’t stay away.
* * *
A week after Christmas, gunfire on the coast awakened Eden. Bleary-eyed, she grabbed a robe, shoved her feet in her boots, grabbed her pistol from the table by the door and raced out of the house. Muzzle flares flashed from boats off-shore, answering ones from the island. Her heart pounding, she stopped short, aware she was a clear target in her white robe in the moonlight when there was no other light. She shrugged out of the robe and shivered in her T-shirt and flannel pants, but at least she blended into the darkness.
Who was down there? Her father? Damien? And who was firing on them? People they’d sent away, or people they wouldn’t allow to land? The standing order was that no one was allowed to land at night.
The firing from the island was pretty steady, as the shooting from the boats became more intermittent. Tomorrow they’d be paying kids to pick up shells so they could reload them.
Shouts could be heard from the ocean, more from the town. Eden hoped the townspeople were wise enough to stay inside, out of the line of fire. She was heading down to the shore when running feet approached. She stepped off the road, into the trees, flipping the safety off her handgun before she recognized Joey Delmar, one of Damien’s friends. She stepped in front of him, startling him so that for a moment she was looking down the barrel of his .45, before he realized who she was.
“Thank God, Eden. I was coming to your house. Your father—he’s been shot.”
* * *
Her house became bedlam as Damien and Joey carried her father inside and upstairs to his bed. Blood drenched his clothing. Eden couldn’t see where he’d been shot, or even if he’d been hit more than once. Her mother’s screams rang through the house when Damien pulled her father’s shirt open. The four men in the room and Eden stared at the damage. She didn’t see how her father was still breathing, based on the entry wounds. And she wasn’t sure exactly what to do. She’d helped her father in the vet clinic with animals who’d been struck by cars, but never bullet wounds.
“The bleeding,” she said to herself, and turned to her mother, who started, paralyzed. She grabbed the woman by the wrists and shook her. “We need towels. Lots and lots of towels.” When her mother finally nodded her understanding, Eden turned to one of Damien’s friends, Josh. “Go get Vicky.” Dr. Hoyt’s nurse, the only other trained medical person on the island. “I need her help.” But even she was unlikely to know what to do with a trauma this big.
She knelt on the edge of the bed and watched blood pump from each of the four bullet wounds with each slowing beat of her father’s heart. Her mother returned with towels and Eden pressed one to his chest, causing him to gasp in pain. The towel was drenched in moments and she replaced it with another.
Damien joined her on the bed, across her father’s body, his expression bleak, hopeless.
“Do not give up,” she said through her teeth.
Her father’s eyelashes flickered, and he looked up at her. “Eden. You have to promise me you’ll keep our town safe.”
“Of course, Dad, but you’re going to be fine. We’re going to get the bleeding stopped and the bullets out—” She swallowed the bile that rose with the lies. How would they repair the damage inside? No one had that kind of skill, and they had no place to get it done.
He grabbed her wrist with surprising strength. She looked into his eyes and saw the shadow of something lurking, something that made her want to scream just like her mother, scream until the shadow went away.
“I know I taught you better than that,” he said, his voice gruff. “I love you, Eden. I’m sorry this is the life I’m leaving for you. But I need to know you’ll carry on.”
“I will, Dad.” She cursed the tears that blurred her vision, that obliterated her view of her father as he closed his eyes and breathed his last.
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