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Prologue

On a late October day, the mournful cry of a loon echoed across the rippled surface of a gray-blue lake in northeastern Michigan. Smoke curled upward from a log cabin nestled against the rocks. Red and gold colored leaves rustled in the gentle morning breeze. Inside the cabin, a warm fire cast shadows on the wall, shadows of a man and a woman facing each other across a rustic table.

Steve Manley slapped the palm of his hand down hard on the table. Chantelle jumped.

"Sorry, Darling, I didn't mean to frighten you."

Looking deeply into his hazel eyes Chantelle knew he meant it. Those same eyes, when they first met on the north shore of Ontario's French River, had told her he was gentle and trustworthy. Time, as always, confirmed her intuition.

"I know," she said. "It means you feel very strongly about an idea that has just come into your head. But after two years of marriage I'm still not used to it."

"I simply can't believe you abandoned your first child. It's not like you. The Chantelle I know and love so dearly wouldn't do such a thing."

Chantelle wondered how she could make this man, who planned everything and always seemed to have everything under control, understand what it was like to be a woman whose life just happened, driven by uncontrollable forces that seemed to come from nowhere.

"Steve, you know me as I am now. But people change. I had to really struggle to survive in those days. I didn't have the luxury of doing what I wanted to do. It's like I went through three phases in my life. When I was young I had to do what I was told. When circumstances changed I did what I had to. That's when I gave him up. Now that I'm with you I do as I please and that means pleasing you."

Smiling, she moved to his side of the table and began running the long fingers of her right hand through his blond hair and down across his broad shoulders. Steve's facial expression relaxed.

"But surely you must want to find him and explain, take away his pain if possible after such a long time."

"Oh, I do. But I just can't do it. It would hurt me too much. I'm sure he was well looked after by those who loved him. Steve, I've had so much pain in my life. The only way I could survive was to shut the door on my past misery and move on. Please don't ask me to go back there again and stir up old feelings."

"Then at least tell me about it."

"How much time have you got?"

"The rest of my life."

Chantelle smiled again. Spending the rest of his life with Steve was exactly what she wanted. But could she talk that long?

"I remember the first day my father took me to the French River that runs at the back of our farm. I think I was about nine years old."

"He said to me, 'There's wolves on that island.'"

"As I looked across the choppy water on that bitterly cold day, I couldn't see any island. I saw maple trees, sporting their fall colors of yellow and red, interspersed with vivid green pine on the riverbank hundreds of yards away."

"As though he read my mind he added, 'What you think is the other side of the river is an island 18 miles long. That's were the wolves be.'"

"Taking the pipe out of his mouth with his right hand he put his other arm around me and said, 'Now Chantelle, don't be afraid none. They only comes over when the river freeze up.'"

"I replied to him, 'But I am afraid, Papa, just knowing they're over there. Can they swim?'"

"Staring at me with his large blue eyes, as if to control my mind, he said, 'Be calm my child. They can swim but wouldn't chance it. That current might take 'em over the chute.'"

"The mention of rapids only made me more anxious. 'Is that what happened to Henri?' I asked him. You see, Steve, my brother had died a year earlier and I needed to know all the details. My father was the greatest of story tellers. At bedtime he seemed to enjoy telling us such vivid tales that we didn't want to go upstairs to our rooms. When he told us a story he could make us feel that we were right there when it happened. Then when we started screaming he would chuckle and say, 'Don't be afraid. I made it all up.'"

"But this time he simply replied, 'We don't know what really happened to your brother except that he drowned.'"

"His answer made me all the more frightened. Something had happened to my brother that I thought could happen to me and I didn't even know what it was I should be afraid of. So I grew up with a lot of fear and insecurity."

"Besides that, my darling, I had no life of my own. I was forced to leave school when I was only 16, at a time when my thirst for knowledge was unfulfilled, and marry a man who ran around with other women."

Steve pursed his lips as he gazed into her blue-green eyes. He gently caressed her cheek and brushed her soft long blond hair to one side. For a moment, Chantelle thought he might kiss her. But rather he said, "Tell me more."

© Dr. Don Ranney, 2010.