The next morning it’s Monday. The day that Jolena doesn’t have to work and she sleeps in late. When she saunters to the kitchen to make herself some coffee, she is startled when she sees Joe standing against the kitchen counter with a cup of coffee in his hand. “Good morning Jo, did you sleep well? You want coffee too?” He asks her. He seems to have a lot of energy; it may be because of too much coffee.
“Joe, you are still at home, what are you doing here, don’t you have to go to work?” Jolena asks with a frown.
“I am working from home today,” he tells her while grabbing a new cup and pouring coffee in it. After he gives the cup to Jolena, he picks up some of the papers that are spread across the kitchen table to make some space so she can sit.
After plopping down on her chair and taking a sip of her coffee Jolena asks: “Did you call Ava yesterday? What was her reaction?”
Joe sits down across Jolena and closes his laptop to look at her. “I did. She would love to work there. She is meeting with the head of the clinic next week, to get acquainted. She has some doubts, though.”
“What does she doubt about? It’s perfect for her.” Jolena shakes her head, she doesn’t understand, really. If she gets an offer like that, she wouldn’t doubt a second.
“Well, because of the distance, she would have to move to Miller Creek.” Joe explains. “Traffic is not a joke, and the last miles are all dirt roads without any streetlights, going up the mountains. I visited my sister a few times and when it’s dark, it’s really not pleasant to drive there. Ava doesn’t want to move that far and is afraid she will miss us too much. There’s nobody she knows over there. And because it’s a closed off community, there is little known about the people that live there. So, I get that she is hesitant about it.”
“I think I understand,” Jolena thinks a second before continuing, she is curious about the people in that community. “You have been there, though, what do you know about these people?”
“Not much, when I wasn’t with my sister, I was hiking on the Grey Mountains.” Joe answers. “The people there don’t like outsiders. Other than the staff from the clinic I only met one man who was like the leader. He works here in Litchley; he owns the Anderson Corporation in the city centre.”
“Christopher Anderson?” Jolena asks, surprised.
“Yes, you know him?”
“Not personally, but I have heard of him. He is one of the most infamous businessmen in town. He is said to be a hard man, not nice to work with. He is making millions, so everyone wants to be on his good side. What would a man like him do in the bush, though, I don’t get it?”
“I don’t know what he is doing there, but he is more there, than he is here in the city. He has his staff that sees to his business when he is out of town and they contact him when he is needed. That’s all I know,” Joe says with a shrug. He opens his laptop again and searches through his mess to find one particular paper. “Sorry, I have to get some work done. Can we talk more later?”
“Sure, sorry for distracting you.” Jolena answers, she walks towards the kitchen door, “I am going to the store for some groceries later, do you need anything?”
“No, I’m good, thanks,” Joe says. Jolena walks into her bedroom to get her keys and her phone. She keeps thinking about the community in the forest. She takes her laptop and sits down on the edge of her bed to look for information about it. There is little to know. Some news articles about incidents with wolves near Miller Creek-Station.
When Jolena steps out little while later, her phone rings. “Ava! How are you?”
“Hey, Jolena, I’m fine, thank you. I was wondering if you’re at home right now. I would like to come over and have a chat.” Ava asks very straight to the point.
“I actually just stepped out to get some groceries. When I get back, I have some time,” Jolena says. “You can come over and we can get some take out if you like. Like old times, just Joe, you and I.”
“Sounds like fun,” Ava says enthusiastic, “I’ll come around four then, I’ll bring the wine.” “Okay, see you then.”
Jolena is back home an hour later when she meets Joe in the kitchen again. He is still working on his laptop, with an even bigger mess than there already was when she left. “Hey, I’m back,” she says, “Ava called, she’ll be over in a couple of minutes to hang out.”
“Hm, are we going to get some take out?” Joe asks. “That was the intention, yes, she wanted to talk.”
They both look up when the doorbell rings. Jolena walks to the front door and lets Ava in. They hug each other and then stumble into the kitchen. Ava runs to Joe with her arms wide to give him a bearhug. “Oh, my goodness, I can’t breathe,” Ava complains smiling, “don’t squeeze so hard”
“Ava, my love, I missed you!” Joe teases, “how are you today? Did you think about that job offer?”
Jolena grabs some glasses and pours in some soda and hands them to Joe and Ava.
“I did,” Ava says, “I’ll be going there Wednesday to meet your sister. We’ll discuss the details about the job and then see from there. Your sister seems genuinely nice, by the way.”
“She is,” Joe says after he has taken a sip of his drink. “Will you be going on your own? Do you want me to go there with you? The roads in Miller Creek are very dark at night.”
“That is not really necessary. I can sleep there and come back after breakfast the next morning.”
“Well, I hope you will like it there. The woods there have really something magical about them.”
Jolena finally joins the conversation as she says: “I wish I could come along. I could really use a little outing to get rid of a bit of stress. From what you tell, it must be nice to explore the woods.”
“It is nice to hike there, yes, especially the trails that go up the Grey Mountains. But only when it’s light, when the sun doesn’t shine, it can be very mystical there.” Joe says followed by the rumbling of his stomach. He pats his stomach. “Are you guys hungry, because this guy definitely is, do I order already?”
“Sounds good,” Jolena says and Joe picks up his phone, walks out to call for food.
“Would you like to come?” Ava asks Jolena, “do you think you can get two days off from work?”
“I don’t know,” Jolena sighs, “I could really use some time off. But I don’t want to be a burden. I am not invited after all.”
“I’ll ask Adina. I could tell her that I don’t feel comfortable to travel alone.” Ava suggests, “I could use some mental support and the travel would be more fun as well. Taking Joe wouldn’t be as fun, I think.” They smile.
“I will call the manager from work tomorrow morning. I hope she’ll give me some time off,” Jolena says.
It is incredibly early Wednesday morning when Jolena’s alarm rings. Normally she would hit the snooze button for a couple of times before she gets up, but not today. She quickly gets up and gets herself ready for the day. She fills a backpack with some clothes, shoes, and the toiletries she needs. She also takes her phone, her wallet and her keys and puts them in a small handbag. Yesterday she asked for two days off and surprisingly she got it. She informed Ava and Ava made all the arrangements. They are going by train instead by car, and they will be picked up by someone from the community. Joe wasn’t really happy with her going with Ava instead of him, but he understood that she really needed this.
The train ride is very relaxed. They talk about the love life of Jolena, or rather, the lack of it. Ava tells Jolena that she really needs to go out more often. She thinks she needs to see more of the world. When they arrive at Miller Creek station, the station where they have to get off, it is grey and drizzly outside. The station is small and looks a bit rundown. It looks like it is not used much. The station is surrounded by the woods, everywhere they look there are big, tall trees. In the distance they see the massive Gray Mountains. Big, strong, majestic, and indestructible. As if they are trying to touch heaven. You only can be feeling submissive when you look at them.
At the end of the platform stands a tall muscular man. When they get closer, he steps forward, stretches out his right hand and introduces himself. “Good morning, my name is Danny. You are Ava and Jolena? I am here to pick you up and take you to Miller Creek.”
“Hi, I am Jolena,” and she takes his hand to shake it. “Ava,” Ava says, and she shakes his hand as well.
He stares at her for a moment, still holding her hand. “Mate,” he whispers, but Ava and Jolena don’t hear it.
“Well, you can let go now,” Ava says with an amused smile.
“Err, yeah, sorry.” He seems a little bit distracted, nervous almost, his cheeks turn red. He quickly turns around and walks them to a black SUV. The girls don’t notice his nervous behaviour as they hand over their suitcases and he throws them in the trunk. Then he opens the front door and steps in behind the steering wheel.
“Fasten your seatbelts please and hold on tight,” he says, “It will be a bumpy ride.” His gaze is on the road as he tries to avoid the big holes in the dirt road, but sometimes his eyes shoot to the right where Ava sits. “How was your train ride?” He asks.
“It was fine.” Ava answers, “it was actually extremely comfortable, there were hardly any people on the train. And there weren’t any delays either.”
“You were very lucky, then.” Danny says, “on this part of the track, there are delays almost every day.”
“Why is that?” Jolena asks curiously from behind.
Danny tenses a little, but not enough for the girls to notice. “There are a lot of feral wolves around here. They hang around on the tracks and therefore cause delays.”
“Wolves?” Ava asks surprised, “will we be seeing them?”
“Maybe, but it is not very likely.” Danny answers.
“Are they dangerous?” Jolena asks. “Some are, some are not. You can’t tell. The wolves around the station are definitely dangerous, but there are some further into the woods that are amicable.”
They drive for another half an hour when they see a big white brick building appear through the bushes. “Is that the clinic?” Ava asks enthusiastically.
“Yes, it is actually. It was recently renovated. It looks good, right?” Danny says proudly. “We will visit it later, but I will show you first where you will be staying.”