Where the Wolf Roamed

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

When Jet goes into the desert to find his long estranged friend, he finds him living a violent, lawless life on the fringes of society. Will Jet get pulled into his latest mess?

It seems to me that wolves will never be able to live in this world of men. 

 I remember when I was just a kid helping out on my family’s ranch. When I was twelve my dad gave me a rifle, an old 30.06. 

 “Jet,” he’d told me. “There’s been wolves spotted in the area again. Old Ben Sanders up in Falls Creek just lost three calves to ‘em. Says he followed their tracks into the mountains but didn’t get a shot off.  If you see any of ‘em while you’re out there, don’t hesitate to shoot the sumbitch. Remember they’d do the same to you given the chance.”

 So every time I’d go ride out along the range I’d bring that rifle along. For a long time I didn’t see any sign of wolves. There was always coyotes around, yipping and hollering out on the plains all night, but they were always pretty tricky, loud and bold in the dark and slinking back to some brush-filled draw come daybreak. I even saw some bear tracks every once and awhile, big prominent prints in the mud heading to or from the river. But a long time passed, years, and I didn’t see any wolf sign whatsoever, and had begun to think that they had all been killed off. 

 Then one night, when I was maybe fifteen or sixteen, I woke to hear the howling of wolves. At first I didn’t know what it was, as I had never heard anything like it before. Haunting, I guess is how I’d describe it. Eerie, but eerily beautiful. Unsettling. Sent a chill down my spine. 

 It was winter and when I went outside there was a dusting of snow on the ground. The full moon reflected off the snow and the whole night was lit up, blue and cold. I stood in the open doorway and listened to the wolves. After a while they stopped, and I shivered and went back inside. 

 The next day I went out in the range with my rifle. I found the place where they had come down onto the plains and run down an antelope. There was still some remains, a few body parts scattered around. I followed their tracks up draws and creek beds hoping to find their den, but they were sneaky sons of bitches and I never did get a glimpse of one. Eventually their tracks led up into the high mountains, stark and white, and it was gettin’ past time for me to be home so I had to turn around. I don’t know what I’d’ve done if I did come up on one. I guess I would’ve killed it. Given the same opportunity today though, I don’t know. Growing up I was taught that the wolf represented everything evil and bad, that it killed for fun and was just set on making a goddamned nuisance out of itself. Now I just don’t know. It’s a pretty damn hard way to live when the whole world has it out for you. 

 No wonder they were sneaky sons of bitches.

---

 

 Jet made his way along the ridgetop as great rhyolite spires in the hills around him glowed in the setting sun. Chukars laughed at him, hidden in the rocks and sagebrush, and from somewhere came the beautiful, spiraling song of a canyon wren.  Again he heard the hollow boom of a shotgun and he stopped to listen, fidgeting with the strap of the .22 slung over his shoulder. The shots came from the east, towards the Owyba River. After a moment’s hesitation he carefully dropped off the ridge and into the valley below, scanning the ground for bad footing and rattlesnakes. He dug his binoculars out of his pack and climbed the next big rise, where he could see the river below him, broad and shallow and colored by blue-grey clay. He scoped out the baked mud river bank, chuckled shortly, and began to make his way down.

His good friend Evan Ruski was standing tall and alert in the reeds of the clay colored river, shotgun in hand. The carp were spawning and every fifteen seconds or so one would leap up out of the water and Evan’s arms would jerk up with the swiftness of a puma and BOOM, the carp was blasted into oblivion. Jet watched this scene for a few moments before calling out to him.

“Hey Ruski, what happens if one of them Fish and Game people come around?” Evan turned around and shaded his eyes against the setting sun, not yet sure who was approaching him.

“I’ll tell ‘em to fuck off, just like the last ones!”

 Jet let out a laugh and began walking closer.

“And what if they don’t like that answer?”

“I’ll tell ‘em to fuck off again!” He squinted his eyes. “Hell, that ain’t Jet Blackadar is it?” Jet reached the riverbank and dropped his heavy pack on the ground.

“You think anyone else would come near you while you’re wavin’ around that blasting stick of yours?” Evan looked down to see where his shotgun was pointed and lowered it. “Now get up out of that muck, you dumbass.” 

“Hey, fuck you man.” Evan smiled and trudged up out of the river, wrapping his friend in a bearish hug before letting him go and beaming down at him.

“Good to see ya’, buddy.” 

“Ain’t this supposed to be a wildlife refuge?”

“That’s what the Fish and Game guy told me.”

“And you told him to fuck off?”

“In a way, yes.”

“And what did he say?”

“He cleared out pretty quick. I guess dealing with crazy hicks with shotguns wasn’t in his job description.”

Jet laughed again and gazed out across the river at the glowing hills and rimrock. Two birds chased each other across the burning sky, a crow and a magpie, fighting over some bloated animal that had washed up in the reeds by the shore. A lone mule deer buck walked down the opposite bank to the water to drink but something spooked him and he bounded back into the hills. Somewhere in the reeds he heard the flat slap of a carp hitting water.

“Do you have a camp set up somewhere near here?”

“I had one around three miles up the river until I had to run off that Fish and Game dick. I figured he’d call in reinforcements so I up and left. Everything’s in my pack now.”

“How long ago was that?”

“Maybe two hours.”

“We gotta get gone from here. Find some hidden canyon somewhere.”

Evan nodded and grabbed his pack as he slung the shotgun over his shoulder.

“Jet, what the hell are you even doing here? How’d you find me?”

“Your sister got in contact with me.”

“Bullshit.”

“No, really.” 

“Hell, I haven’t seen her in years. How would she even know where I am?”

“I don’t know. Maybe she saw somethin’ in the paper about some asshole living in the wilderness and shooting at Fish and Game officers. Anyways, she said I had to come find you. Said you were a danger to yourself and you were bound to get yourself killed.”

“Well hell, that’s a bunch of horse shit if I’ve ever heard any.”

“I know. I just came to see you is all. It’s been a long time.”

The two men hiked from the river and back into the hills. The sun lowered below the horizon and the world was bathed in mottled tones of purple and red light. 

“So where are you thinking we should go?”

“I don’t know. Somewhere not too far away. Does Dead Pete Canyon sound good to you?”

“Dead Pete Canyon sounds fine.”

The animals of the day receded as those of the night came to center stage. Bats flickered through the sky and crickets chirped. From somewhere not too far away came the hoot of an owl. Scorpions crawled out of desolate cracks in the earth. By the time they reached Dead Pete Canyon the sky was dark and littered with the stars of the Milky Way. Jet set up his tent and Evan laid out his sleeping bag and tarp under the stars. They started a small blaze of juniper branches and tumbleweed and sat around it, laughing and joking and talking about old times.

---

I met Evan in the Dickshooter Bar in the small town of Gouge Eye, Idaho, the summer after I dropped out of high school. It was a shabby little place and like most good things it’s gone now. I was a raft guide there and had just gotten back from a trip down the deep, shadowed canyons of the Lower Salmon and it must have been hot out there because I was awfully thirsty and before I knew it I was drunk. I was feeling pretty confident and started looking for someone to fight and there was Evan, biggest guy in the room, big as a goddamn moose. So I went over to him and I said something about how I fucked his mom last night and he asked do you wanna bring this outside and I said no, here’s fine and then he kicked my ass. Then he bought me another beer and got a paper towel for my bleeding nose and we got to talking and figured out we actually had a lot in common. We were both country ramblers, born and raised in Idaho with a love for all things wild and remote. We both had spent a summer as gillnetters off the Washington coast and hated it. We both had a strong fear of scorpions, black widow spiders, and women, and we were both wandering dirtbags, living out of our cars and looking for work throughout the country. What more could you want out of a friend?

Evan and I traveled together for a long time and had a lot of good times together, but after a while he just became too hard to deal with. Everywhere he went he had to be the biggest and the baddest, had to be the one on top. He would raise hell all around the country, getting into fights and just generally doing some sort of illegal thing and we were always running. He one time hijacked a cop car in Missoula just to show he could. They almost got him for that one. And when I say almost I mean it was really damn close, scary how close it was, but we were able to get the hell out of there just in time. Barely, though. I tried to help him, to keep him out of trouble, but I soon realized that it was impossible, that it was just his nature, that he couldn’t live and be content with a normal life. It wasn’t no use to try to control him, he just couldn’t help it. 

Eventually I was getting tired of always having to be on the run and when I got word that my father was sick I decided it was about time I should get back to the ranch anyways. When he died he left the whole thing to me. I guess I could’ve sold it, but I didn’t. Maybe I thought I’d settle down and raise a family of my own there. That hasn’t happened though.

Evan would call me sometimes but over the years his calls became further and further apart and then stopped entirely. I figured they’d finally got him locked up for good until his sister showed up at my door that one day, years later. When she left I stood in the doorway a long time, then shivered and went back inside like I did when I was a kid listenin’ to them wolves. I don’t know why. It wasn’t cold out or nothing.

I never did find out why he went and hid out in the desert. I guess maybe he got tired of runnin’. Or maybe he finally did something bad enough that he knew he couldn’t run from no more.

---

 

“Ruski, get up.”

It was dawn and the sky was a dark gray, shrouded in mystery, and the high walls of the canyon rose steeply on either side of them. Evan muttered something unintelligible and rolled over onto his face. 

“Ruski damnit, I said get up!”

Evan grunted and rolled back over.

“Goddamnit to hell Jet, what the fuck are you getting me up right now for?”

“I heard a helicopter.” 

Evan was silent for a moment, looking up at him in disbelief.

“A helicopter? For chrissakes Jet, that’s what you wo-”

“Ruski, listen to me! It was circling the area, either that or I was hearing more than one. Have you ever seen a helicopter come out this way before?”

Evan sat up and started working on getting out of his sleeping bag.

“Well. . . come to think of it, no. But that doesn’t mean you have to fuckin’ go and…” he trailed off. “You said it was circling?”

“Yeah.”

“Shit. I think the heat might be on.” Evan clambered out of his sleeping bag and started packing his gear. 

“The heat?” Jet watched for a moment, anger mounting, as his friend paced around the camp and collected his scattered belongings. As he moved he nodded his head to the beat of some imaginary theme song, seeming not only content but thrilled with the situation they were in. Calm Jet, calm. “Ruski, is there something you’re not telling me?”

“Yeah, so I think the helicopter was lookin’ for us.”

Jet clenched his fists and again pushed back his anger. Looking for you motherfucker, not us.WHAT -” Calm Jet, calm. “What have you been doing out here Ruski? If the heat is on then this is the feds, not local or state. I mean they brought a helicopter for chrissakes!” He waited as Ruski knelt on the ground and stuffed his sleeping bag into his pack, nodding and now humming the theme song rolling through his head, which turned out to be Thunder by AC/DC. “Ruski!”

“What? Yeah, yeah, I’ll answer. Are you packed?”

Jet motioned to where his loaded pack was leaning against the canyon wall.

“Great, grab your shit. We should get some distance while it's still early.”

“Ruski-”

“I’ll tell you on the way. You got your truck nearby? We should go there. I need a lift outta here.”

“Ruski-”

“And we need to get water on the way. The river will be too risky. You came from the west? Maybe we can stop by Yeller Springs. The water’s not great, but if you filter-”

“Ruski! You’re not going anywhere with me until you tell me what I’m gettin’ into!” Jet stood in angry disbelief as Evan impatiently shifted in front of him. 

“Seriously?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, so…” Evan cleared his throat. “They’re probly thinking I’m a terrorist right now, but I’m not.” He laughed a little and glanced at Jet, who was obviously not amused. “You see what happened was, I was camped over near the Jack Creek trailhead, oh, maybe a week and a half ago, and I had a good setup. Like a really nice setup. I had been uh… collecting things that I found at campgrounds, so my place was getting pretty comfy. And then these Forest Service pricks, they find my place while I’m out one day, and they must have thought I was a hobo or some shit because they took all my stuff away. So I find their truck a few miles away with all my shit in it and they were gone, must have been working on a trail somewhere. And at this point I’m angry. Like I had just walked miles in the hot fucking sun with no water and no food because these motherfuckers took it all.” He looked at Jet again to make sure he was following, was understanding the anger he felt then.

“Okay, so what did you do?” Jet asked, not sure where this was headed. 

“Well, so yeah these guys got me real angry. So I took my stuff back and siphoned the gasoline out their tank and into an old five gallon paint can I found. I smashed their window and put it in their truck, then covered the rest of the inside with gasoline as well. I made a fuse of sorts with rags and soaked it with gasoline. Then I took out a match and lit it up and ran. And they been looking for me since then.”

There was a silence as Jet took this in, appalled but not entirely surprised. 

“Evan why - what -” he shook his head. “That’s so fucking dumb.”

“You wanted to know.”

“Why did you do it? I don’t understand.”

“I just told you.”

“Yeah, and I don’t understand how any of that warranted blowing up a truck.”

“So can I come with you or not?”

Jet stood for a moment, considering. Don’t do it. You haven’t aided and abetted yet. You can still get out of this without cuffs on.

“Look man - you get caught with me you can plead ignorance, or I can say that I forced you. I promise you won’t go down for this one. Please. You’re my oldest friend.”

Jet looked towards the sky, which was slowly but surely brightening. Daylight’s burning. He sighed.

“Fuck it, let’s go.”

---

 

In the gray light of morning the two men trekked across the steep hills of jagged basalt and sagebrush. A single lonely cry of a coyote echoed across the canyonland, a question unanswered but heard by many, by quiet hills and the swaying junipers, lanky deer and scrawny jackrabbits. It seemed as if the world stood frozen in this moment for a long time. Then a rosy glow appeared on the eastern horizon and the sun in all its splendor rose up and turned the hills to pure gold and the world was once more in motion.

“Why do you go and do things like this? Hell, you ain't dumb. In fact I think you’re probably smarter than me, not that I have anything to back that up. But you could be livin’ a good life right now. Maybe you wouldn’t be rich but you could have a little place somewhere nice, in some little farming town. You could work as a demolition expert or something, put your skills to good use. You could buy yourself some decent clothes, get some real food to eat. Hell, look at you, you could use it. So why do you continue to choose to live like this?”

“Jesus, you actually buy into all that shit? Settle down and get a job in some nice little town? Jet ever since I was just a high schooler I couldn’t go nowhere without getting run off. I robbed a store when I was fourteen and I been like a poison ever since. No one wants me in their small town. You know the charges against me? I can’t get a job nowhere. No bank’s gonna give me a loan. No daddy’s gonna let their little girl run off with me. I don’t got any choices but to live like this.”

Jet paused for a second and thought about this.

“Well couldn’t you just try? Wouldn’t you rather just live like a normal person?”

Evan turned towards him somberly.

“You ever hear of a man named Robert Oppenheimer?”

“No.”

“Robert Oppenheimer was the man who created the atomic bomb.”

“Okay.”

“You wanna know what he said out in the middle of nowhere Nevada as he watched that first nuclear bomb go off?”

“What did he say?”

Evan flashed him a wolfish smile.

“He said, “Now I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Think about that. A normal life? That just ain’t how you get remembered.”

Jet gazed at him silently.

“You ain’t no normal guy, Evan.”

“Never was.”

They trudged on in silence. The sun rose higher and leaned down oppressively on the barren earth. They heard the distant thundering of a helicopter and both men instinctively dove into the brush and waited silently as it passed, then continued on. Burrs snatched at their jeans and thorns pierced the soles of their boots. A hawk soared in a lazy circle high up in the sky, looking for mice or ground squirrels. 

“There’s some storm clouds way off in the west there.”

“I see that. Looks like it’s gonna get nasty here later.”

They traveled over hills and into canyons and draws. They traveled on a ridge above a little valley with a creek running through it. The banks were choked with brush, with junipers and scrub oak and poison ivy. 

“See down there Jet?”

“Yeah.”

“A pack of wild dogs used to have a den down there, not too long ago.”

“What happened to ‘em?”

“A couple months ago some kids came down and shot ‘em all. That night their pups were eaten by coyotes.”

“Why’d they do that?”

“They musta been hungry. It’s been pretty dry this year, not as much game as usual.”

“No, I mean the kids.”

“Oh. I guess they thought it was funny or something.”

Sweat dripped from their brows and soaked through their shirts. They dropped down the other side of the ridge and climbed the next hill. Evan squinted at the horizon.

“That storm’s gettin’ closer.”

“Yeah, it is.”

“We gettin’ close to your truck yet?”

“Yep. I parked it at the dead end near Jug Creek. We should be able to get right on top of the next hill and look down on it, if we are where I think we are.”

“Johnny Law better not be there waiting.”

“I been thinking the same thing.”

“What are we gonna do if there are lawmen on the other side of this hill?”

“Nothing stupid I would hope.”

Ruski reached back to feel where his shotgun was strapped to his pack, as if to verify it was still there. He glanced at Jet with a sort of desperate, trapped look, then straightened out and gave him a reassuring smile.

“Of course. Nothing stupid.” He said, but his eyes said otherwise.

 


Submitted: October 16, 2021

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