Gradually Jasper let his bones slide back into place. Like peeling open a sardine can his fur separates from his skeleton. Sickeningly his stomach churns and then quiets as he sheds his wolf body. The dark brown fur starts to decay quickly without a blood supply to keep it alive. On his hands and knees staring down at his hand he watches his claws turn yellow and then milky white. A thin line breaks them at a normal human length. Within minutes he’s back to a human body, he eyes remaining a soft glowing gold color. The glowing color would remain for several hours after his transformation. Shaking he manages to stand and stumble his way toward his discarded clothes. As quickly as he can without toppling over he dresses. Once dressed he takes the time to take care of his shed fur, pulling it far into the bushes away from the campsite. He could smell fresh blood in the air, hanging on the wind. A dark crimson circle forms just above his ass. The blood seeps into his pants and soaks his belt. Pulling his shirt tail down over the spot, he hopes to hide it from Zara until he can take care of it himself. Limping he makes his way to the tent. Poking his head into the mouth of the tent he can see that she’s holding a dark grey sweater to herself. Forgetting his own injuries, he goes to her tenderly taking the sweater from her and wrapping it around the wound before tying it firmly.
“Are you okay?” He questions. He knows that asking her is probably pointless. From her pale face and sweat peppering he could tell she in fact was not okay. Giving her the opportunity to choose if she was okay seemed like a good idea though. Jasper has to fight the instincts to brush hair away from her forehead.
Instead of a tall, rugged man there was another wolf. It was a reflex to try and get away from this wolf as wolf. As Zara watched through a pained, confused mind it was [i protecting] her. Why was a wolf protecting her and after saying Jasper. Where the fuck was he anyway? The panic and confusion was rising, threatening to take her with the wave. If it did the pain would grow worse, possible more blood loss, and whatnot. Even now she could feel the warmth of the blood on her skin. The strong scent making her sick to her stomach.
Watching the wolves leave one by one, rather, forced away. The first thing she did gag a little before finding something for the bleeding before it got worse. The old, gray sweatshirt had fading letter saying Sherwood Athletics Department. It had been Zach's that she used so often over the years that she adopted it.
Pressing the sweatshirt to the wound she groaned. Stop bleeding, clean out the wound...God..she was going to die out here in search for her dumb ass brother.
"I'm going to kill that asshole brother when and if I see him next..." Zara muttered to herself. Before hearing the sound and nearly jumping a foot in the air. The same wolf that protected her.
"No, no...no more wolves..." she said pressing the sweatshirt harder into her shoulder with a visible wince. The connection ought to have been there. Still, she was blind to it. People didn't change into wolves.
Zara’s voice calling out to Jasper brought his attention to behind him. Backpaddling to the campsite with the black wolf snapping at his face and throat Jasper rushes to protect her. Every animal instinct refuses to let him turn his back on the injured wolf, but his duty to his client screams for him to protect her. Lunging backward away from the wolf’s long sharp teeth, he enters his tarp tent behind Zara. Hunching his shoulders and hips, he steps over her protectively covering with his body. Yelping in pain and feeling his knees buckle, Jasper lets the black wolf claw at his back legs and hips. Jasper’s thick fur protects him from most wounds. The little grey wolf yips in surprise at Jasper, kicking pine needles and dirt into his eyes as she leaves the tent in a hurry. Stretching his neck along his right side, Jasper snaps at the black wolf. Pushing forward and exiting the tent through the other end he frees himself and wheels on the large wolf once again. Dragging him from the shelter and from Zara.
The small grey wolf, having distanced herself from the commotion points her muzzle to the stars above them. Her haunting howl echoes throughout the dark forest. Blackbirds take to the sky, their wings flapping hurriedly. The black wolf snaps at Jasper’s sloping hips and bent legs a few more times before turning and looping up the small hill the grey wolf had found. Together the pair leave just as mysteriously as they had appeared. Groaning mentally and panting Jasper lowers himself into a sitting position. His hind legs are bent with human decency to cover himself and his head is hanging limply behind his shoulders. Blood drips from his mouth and nose mixing with clear thick saliva in the dirt. A cut ear flicks toward his shelter as concern for Zara rouses him. His gleaming eyes search the shadows before he stands and limps his way toward the tent. He peeks around the corner, checking on her before completely letting his guard down.
It wasn't so much as an 'oh my God' moment as it was more of a 'what the fuck' moment. One minute she was hearing her mom give light curses for not calling sooner, the second the phone was dropped. It hurt like a bitch, she noted, before giving a yelp of pain. The wolf didn't seem eager to let go at first, then it destroyed the phone, not that it mattered that moment.
Somewhere in the back of her mind the words of her dad came back. He was a park ranger, from a young age they had been drilled about animal attacks, first aid and survival. They would spend a great deal of time in the Washington woods. There hadn't been a dominate threat, still he made sure they knew what to do.
The pain of the bite was life fire in her arms, muscles screaming in pain. It wanted to have her panic but she had to keep her cool. Taking deep breaths, her slender hand looked for anything heavy.
Finding something heavy and cold, it didn't matter what the hell it was. She swung it with her good at the wolf with a good whack. Retracting her limbs to her torso. If there was only something sharp nearby...not that she wanted to resort to that.
[b "Jasper!"] Zara called out, a tone of close panic in that single word. Grunting in pain she refused to look to the wolf, as survival guide, if she had to she'd cover her face. Just not yet.
Shoving harder with his hind legs and biting down harder on the other wolf’s shoulder, Jasper manages to free himself. Scrambling to his feet as quickly as he can, he puts his back to his shelter. Limping on his right front paw now, the black wolf second guesses himself. Considering whether it was worth it. The wolf had a job to do. Not doing his job meant mortal injury or death. Lunging forward, Jasper plants his teeth firmly in the already injured shoulder. The black wolf mouths at Jasper’s shoulder blades. Using all of his strength Jasper pushes the black wolf back in the direction he had come from. High pitched yelps and barks emit from the bushes where the pair snap and claw at each other. A smaller grey wolf inches forward from across the field. Taking advantage of the commotion in the bushes, the weasel-like wolf wearily crouches and pokes her head in the mouth of Jasper’s tent. Her glowing gold eyes flash in the dim light as she locks onto her target. In two short bounds, she latches her short yellow teeth onto the forearm of the girl, making her drop her satellite phone.
As the girl begins to struggle the grey wolf steps on and crushes the little phone. Feeling the girl’s blood drip down around her teeth and lips, the wolf lets go in disgust. Jasper pins the black wolf against a nearby hemlock. Pinning his ears, baring his teeth, and growling he threatens the wolf. The black wolf snaps at Jasper’s snout making him release the wolf. The pair drop to the ground continuing to growl and snap at each other. Instincts prevent them from going at each other again. Neither one of them were seriously hurt, though they would be limping for a while. The black wolf keeps Jasper distracted.
The mountains was a strange place. They were fickle in deciding what the weather could be. One moment could be clear and the next was either snow or rain. In Washington snow was a rare thing, but rain was a commonplace event. This change in weather didn't bother Zara greatly having developed an immunity for changes in weather.
Rising in a languid manner the woman walked over to her tent pulling out a blue and white plaid long sleeve shirt before slipping it on. Finding the jacket next she hadn't even noticed the chance in his behavior until hearing his tone.
"What's going on, Jasper?" Zara asked puzzled furrowing her eyebrows in confusion. Slowly grabbing her bag that had her supplies she made her way to the tent, leaves crunching beneath her boots. "Tell me what's going on later, okay? I don't like being left in the dark."
There was a whole lot of dark going on here, too. Between the disappearances of the hikers and the scare the people had in Whitehorse.
Settling down in the makeshift tent, she listened not understanding much of the noise going on. Jasper would explain, right? Now there was only the sounds of the trees being swayed by the wind.
Taking out the satellite phone, she took a breath before calling her parents. She could at least feel somewhat confident in this situation.
A thick blanket of cold falls on them. With deft fingers, he unbuttons his sleeves and rolls them down, the worn fraying cuffs stopping before his wrists. Tenderly he fingers a spare string dangling off the fraying edge. Quietly he looks up to match her curious gaze. Her excitement over the story made him smile. A childlike light entered her brown eyes, igniting them and making him want to spend all night telling her every tale he had heard as a child. In the blackness of the forest around them, within the shadows of alders, birches, and spruces, a thin twig snaps loudly. Jasper’s gaze flicks away from hers, hair on the nape of his neck and on his arms prickles. His shadowed eyes scan every dark split in the forest. A stirred blackbird takes to its wings high above them, gliding with a shrill caw on a wind they could not feel. Internally his wolf ears flatten against his head, his alter ego swiveling its head wildly. A wet earth smell rises on the wind quickening Jasper’s heart. Turning completely still and staring out passed his triangle tent he misses the six foot black shadow crawling toward them. The predator’s three-inch claws dig into the soft needled earth with each step. Jasper’s wolf acting like a sixth sense for him starts to snarl and struggle against the mental chains he had put him in. Letting out an almost inhuman yelp, Jasper drops his head to his hands as a skull splitting headache starts behind his eyes. The ear-splitting pain circles to his left and right temple, clashing headlong into itself like a head-on car collision. Clasping his hands on either side of his temples, he attempts to hold himself together for Zara’s sake and his own. The black looming shadow senses the other wolf within Jasper. Raking a yellow-gold eye over Zara’s face, he quickly recognized the almond shaped brown eyes and think nose, the puckered lips and slopping shoulders.
“Zara…” Jasper chokes, managing to clamp his teeth down on his tongue to quiet a wild growl. “Go to my tent. Stay there until I call you.” He pants standing. Frantically he strips his clothes. Trying to save any piece he can. Beneath his skin his bones are slipping from their human positions. Years of transformation have made this process a dull ache, his spine pushes against his skin until the smallest detailed ridges can be seen. His corpse-white knuckles press harder against his temples, causing black and purple spots to blot out the fire. He cannot remember standing, but he now found himself pressing an elongating shin and dislocating knee to the soft earth. Breakfast threatens to roll up his throat and leave his mouth in an unnatural hurl. Unable to stand fighting it any longer, Jasper gives in. The pain in his head dissipates and the dark red-brown bipedal wolf consumes all conscious thought. As naturally as breathing his fingers shortening and curl into a clawed paw. His nose shifts and his skull reforms, his hips narrow as his shoulders widen and then set farther back. His feet lengthen and brown unequal hair sprouts all over him. Fangs push and rip their way into his snout, his dark green eyes open to reveal their new green-gold color. Jasper stands six two in his wolf form. Spinning on the shadowed figure, he is watches the long-curved nails split the thin nylon fabric of Zara’s tent. The small tent, shreds like ripping paper. Black lips pull away from moon-white fangs as Jasper warns the other wolf, his thin whip-like tail low and still. Standing to his full height, he hopes to intimate the other male. Carelessly the black wolf crushes Zara’s tent with a single step, the bowed poles snapping gunshot loud. With each hollow report Jasper’s haunches rise.
Lowering his head at the heavier wolf, Jasper threatens him by snapping his jaws together. Lunging startingly at Jasper, the rival wolf attempts to clamp his jaws down on him. Rising his right paw Jasper pushes on the black wolf’s chest as he is thrown back against the place where he had been siting. Spit flies at his face as his enemy attempts to grab any part of him. Jasper’s back feet hook above the wolf’s hips, his left paw grabbling at the exposed right shoulder, finding purchase in the flesh there. Thick red blood rains down on him as his own teeth fight to grab the wolf’s throat. The wolf manages to dig into Jasper’s side, splitting the flesh like cutting into a slap of beef. Howling with pain, Jasper pushes harder, trying to force the other off of him.
It would seem crazy to others to wear a tank top after a long day of hiking. It was already cold, there was bugs swarming everywhere, and now he legs was beginning to feel the day. Giving a small sound she slowly sat down on a rock. It was comfortable enough, just barely though. She had several of those meals but opted for more of a snack. Her stomach wouldn't appreciate anything heavy after a long walk.
Listening to the story she gave a thoughtful look and sound, peeling the plastic off she took a few bites. "This is a Native American tale, isn't it? Those are amazing. If I got this right...you are talking about werewolves of shape shifters, right?"
To her it was a story, a natural tale of people that didn't understand the world around them. Slapping her shoulder from a mosquito she looked to him with keen, curious brown eyes.
Driving the last stake into the ground, Jasper finally straightens and then turns slowly to find Zara. He could see her just across the fire, the bright orange glow lighting their small campsite. Each tent flanked the fire, protected from the rising embers and smoke. Finished with setting up his shelter for the night, he grabs his old backpack and picks a spot close to the fire. The flames lean toward him and threaten to burn him if he got too close. He crosses his legs and rests his hands on his knees for a few minutes, letting the fire warm him and provide him with a sense of comfort. Pulling his gaze away from the flickering flames, he watches her finish setting up her tent. Her request floats over to him on the wind. The elders in the village had sat around a bigger fire, telling the old legends as though they were there witnessing it themselves. Briefly he wondered if he would ever get that old, if he ever would live that long to recount the old legends to bright eyed children transcending into adults. He knew he couldn’t tell it as well as his elders could, but he always attempted for his clients’ sake.
“You’ll have to forgive me, I’m not good at telling legends like the elders are.” He pauses and then waits for her to join him in the fire’s protective glow. While he waits he pulls a can of beans from his backpack. Taking his hunting knife, he rips the can open and then pushes it near the edge of the fire on a small bed of coals. He waits for his bean to start to steam before rotating them.
“Before the creation of man, there were only animals. Because of her intelligence and patience Raven was named keeper of the moon, stars, air, and water. Because of his strength and wisdom Wolf was named keeper of the sun, sky, light, and earth. Together Raven and Wolf created all the animals in the world. Everything from the smallest mouse to the tallest elephant. Raven said one day to Wolf: “We need something to feed all of the animals.” So together they created all plants. Everything from the smallest mushroom to the tallest tree. This was perfect for Raven, she would fly all day and night and watch the animals while Wolf sat on his tall mountain and looked down. Wolf would watch Raven circle the wide flat plains and dip her feet into the cool river water. Wolf couldn’t fly and so this made him jealous. In secret Wolf sculpted horrible monsters out of clay, their entire purpose was to destroy Raven. These monsters that Wolf created were completely useless and mindless. Frustrated Wolf stomped his paws in the clay, this made him feel a little better so he did it again and again. Wolf stomped the clay so many times and so hard that he cut the bottom of his paws. Wolf’s blood dripped into the clay and the clay started to move, to take its own shape. That is how Man was born. Man was a savage, killing everything it saw and others of its kind. In order to keep Man a secret from Raven Wolf gave Man a piece of his heart. Man became strong and wise like Wolf, though Man was still missing something. Wolf gave Man half of his heart and because of Wolf’s jealousy Man twisted into a horrid creature with a long snout and sharp teeth. Man now had four legs and no arms, razor sharp claws and ate solely meat. Instead of a mostly hairless body, man was covered in thick course hair. This creature was half human and half wolf, sharing the instincts of a wolf but the lacked self-control. This horrible creature slaughtered everything and destroyed everything it came across. All of the animals of the world ran to Raven and told Raven what Wolf had done, how he had grown jealous. Raven flew to Wolf and demanded that he destroy Man, that he fix what he had done. Wolf refused as he had grown to love Man as a brother. Raven, to save all of the animals, gave Man half of her heart and gifted him with willpower. Willpower gave man the ability to think for himself and to make decisions, whether they be good or bad. Willpower also gave man the strength to change between the horrible creature that had sharp teeth and claws and human. As time moved on and the animals forgot how to speak, as the mountains shrunk and the rivers widened, humans forgot they had the ability to turn into monsters. Many humans stopped using their animal instincts all together. Only our people remember now.” Jasper finishes.
It was difficult to remember that life could take a slower more simple pace. The woods didn't give away time like her office did, that was all time, between articles, editing pictures, and then the traffic. Time didn't include her social life , and an on and off ex. It was actually resembling spaghetti at this point.
At least she knew the wrist band worked against mosquito. Bugs weren't her favorite thing, especially when trying to eat her. Okay with the lack of conversation. It was actually quite amazing compared to the chatter of the office.
Zara hadn't realized that she was to tired of her day to day life until midway through.
Giving a sound of relief when Jasper announced they'd be stopping for the night. [b "Good, I was beginning to think my lungs might burn away. Much higher elevation than Washington."]
Zara worked on her shelter, one of those quick tents that was small but worked. Placing the tarps underneath and on top. Glancing over Jasper from time to time, he was truly amazing. It was sexy really seeing how well he did that.
Taking off the jacket, and long sleeve shirt, she placed them inside the tent, remaining in a tank top. It was the quickest way to cool off, she'd get another warm shirt when the time came.
[b "What local legends are there here? Almost every place has it, especially the tribes,"] Zara asked curiously.
Quietly their conversation trails off like a wandering fox. Jasper found that he took a quick liking to her easy-going personality. Unlike other humans he’d encountered she was along for the ride, not trying to pretend she knew everything and surely not trying rush him. The rain didn’t bother her and the bugs swarmed around her head and arms, though they didn’t land on her like they did him. Her gently curving lips tantalized him though years of practice and mistakes had taught him not to sleep with those that pay you. Zara proved to be different than what he’d expected. Her personality was covered with a thick fog that he desperately wanted to uncover. After a finishing, the rest of their short break listening to the forest chatter and watching the sun slowly dip behind the trees, Jasper started to lead again. The forest opened to a special place in the mountains. Humans and glaciers have cut down the trees leaving behind a wide flat piece of land. Hip high grass stretches toward the cloud colored sky. The openness of the clearing allows Jasper to correctly gage how much time they have left. Without much thought, he continues on a trail that had long disappeared, now leading from memory and from his sense of smell; not that he would ever tell her that.
Half way through the clearing, Jasper pauses again. The grass had just started to reach his belly button when he’d stopped them. Taking a sharp right turn, he decides that they probably wouldn’t have enough time in the day to make it to his shelter. Jasper had kept their pace light and making sure to break frequently in order to avoid her getting fatigued. Usually he would keep pushing his followers until they started to mention pain in their legs or feet. For reasons unknown to him he made sure that she lasted the day, or at least a few hours longer than most.
“We’ll camp here tonight. If it starts raining I’ll move us deeper into the forest.” Jasper’s voice had deepened as the sky had darkened gradually. Just on the outside of the clearing he sets his old backpack down and hangs his hooked hat on a nearby branch. Slipping the dark brown vest off, and hanging it close to his hat, he feels a weight lift from his shoulders. His vest was heavy simply because of everything he carried. Jasper’s father had taught him to pick up old batteries and lint from laundry matts. Many of his button pockets held rusted strews, bolts, nuts, and a few bent nails. Another pocket held needles in a tiny Zip-lock bag and black thread. Setting his backpack down Jasper unzips the biggest part and pulls out a tiny collapsible rake. He quickly clears the area of anything that might catch fire before collapsing his rake and replacing it in his bag. Expertly he picks out the quickest burning twigs and mixes them with seasoned dry pine. The pine would be slow to catch, though it would burn slow and warm. It didn’t take long for Jasper to get a few embers glowing in the fading light. Not wasting anymore time he turns to his bag and pulls out a glossy silver tarp. He then pulls frayed yellow rope from a side pocket of his bag and loops the rope around two pines. Draping his tarp over the rope that he’d stretched between the two trees, he creates a temporary simple tent. He pulls the flaps of the tarp to the ground and makes tension by staking the corners of the tarp away from the center line the rope created. His mini shelter wasn’t perfect, but often it kept him dry during a light rain and kept the dew off of him in the morning. Most animals were too afraid of his wolfish smell to get too close.
In a way, Jasper acted like a dog on a walk. Every sound seemed to have his attention for a second before it went elsewhere. When he looked as if he was all there his expression said otherwise. It really was curious leaving her to wonder exactly what was keeping his attention elsewhere. Nature was lovely, and often quite loud. Such as now there was more noise than the woods around her parents home.
Of course, White Horse was the closest town. The next was some fifty miles away or so. Zara still didn't quite understand appeal of such an isolated town and living. To the tribes it was just how they lived- it was a simple state of mind.
[b "Baby hikers, eh? Everyone needs to start somewhere. Well, be sure to thank her then. It's good to have a conversation here and there,"] Zara gave an amused smile before thinking on that.
[b "It started with my parents. They met in Mexico when my dad was visiting this village. Mom was always off on some adventure. Still, they fell in love, and she moved with him to Tampa, Florida. We were born not too much later than that,"] Zara began, it was a long story for a simple question. [b "They weren't happy there so we moved to Oregon where he became a park ranger. Zach and I were always with him or by the woods at our house. It was just second nature for us."]
It seemed so simple explaining but there was a content, happy expression on her face with a matching smile. There was some wistfulness when it came to Zach.
[b "He works as a guide, and extreme sport guy...I work at a wild life magazine as a photographer,"] Zara concluded with the story giving a small chuckle. [b "That's the end of it I swear."]
The tall trees around them swayed lazily in the breeze. Her questions causes his mind to hesitate. Quietly he chews the inside of his lower lip, kneeling and touching the tips of his fingers to the damp ground. His fingertips stir the moss coloring the ground and causing a blast of earth to assault his senses. While trying to formulate a proper answer, one that would let her get to know him and ease her, but no reveal everything about him he checks the ground for the smell of his people. Slowly standing and looking around carefully, listening to the birds and a single forest mouse running through the brush he smiles softly.
“I don’t really know when I officially started being a guide.” He answered her finally. He moves to the side of the trail and picks a fallen hemlock, its once blue short needles turning dark red brown as the tree dies and decays. Jasper pulls his jeans up a little, bunching them around his thighs. Resting his elbows on his legs and leaning forward on them, he takes on a quizzical expression. His thick dark eyebrows knit together for a moment before he continues.
“As a young boy I’d always went along with my father when hikers had children. That way my father didn’t have to worry about watching them as closely because they were with me and I was told to show the “baby hikers”, as my father often called them, the forest and make sure they explored. It was my father’s way of keeping track of me too I suppose. When I grew to an age where adult hikers trusted me to lead them I started doing short trips. By short trips I mean to the falls or to a view point in the mountains, the trips would last a day at the most. I guess one could say I never “became” a guide,” Jasper uses the index and middle finger of each hand to create air quotes, “I just did it. It’s just something the village does often, we get paid so we don’t mind.” He shrugs slightly, glancing at her.
“I learned to be “civilized” from my Aunt who used to own the barber shop in town and she taught be about town life, how to act in public and what was considered polite. Without her I would probably be a savage.” He laughed gently at himself, he knew he was rambling, but he hoped that by telling her this she would forgive him of some of his indiscretions that were sure to rise. He also hoped that it would quail her curiosity a little.
“What about you? What makes you backpack through the mountains? I know this isn’t your first time, you handle yourself well.” He compliments.
There was a special corner in her memories for Sherwood. It was not as high up as they were in the Yukon, it did not have the same feel. There were visible resemblance along with a small town feel that made her reminisce. Sherwood had been where they had been famous for finding themselves in predicaments that couldn't be explained. There was never a time her parents asked what they were thinking, just dragged them back to the house and grounded them.
While she had gone to Redmond, just outside of Seattle, for work. Zach had stayed there to do what he did best. Still they visited each other and talked every other day.
Following behind this very able man, she felt sheepish for starting to lose her breath, and feeling her muscles beginning to ache. Granted, this was a higher elevation which made it more difficult.
Hearing his question, she looked to her water bottle and nodded. [b "My water bottle is still full,"] Zara responded with an absent nod. Her focus drifting between thoughts of her brother, and loving the way the moss clung to the ancient trees and rocks. There was a river close by, she could here it faintly, though she didn't remember the name of it.
Taking the moment to give her legs a rest, she took a drink, taking in the nature quietly. [b "How long have you been a guide, Jasper?"] She asked curiously. Small talk would make it less awkward, or equally, but she was curious. There wasn't a need for a life story but she could know him a little better, too.
Patiently Jasper waits for Zara to make her phone call before continuing an old brown trail the wolves use to get into town. The rain falls on the small town of White Horse in a sparse mist, thinly blanketing the paint peeled buildings. Looking behind them, Jasper takes a moment to imprint the sleepy town into memory. Jutting and broken a concrete road cuts a curved path through the valley. June’s Grocery store stands with plywood covering one broken window, above the door a small bronze bell hangs from a rusted chain. June’s husband, the one who came home from the military on a massive ship, has died leaving his son and granddaughters to keep the old place going. Just to the right of June’s in the hardware store, the bright eyed young man has turned into a father for all local youth fixing their toys on a budget. Across from the hardware store is what used to the barber shop. Jasper’s aunt used to own the place. Aunt Tilly would give free haircuts to the “wilders” and she would slip candy into children’s pockets as they left. At one time, the outside of the building was bright blue with cartoonish ladies painted on the side, the inside was a bright pink with black and white checkered floors. Everything has rotted away now, nothing is as bright as it used to be. Turning his back on White Horse had always been hard for him. Jasper remembered the tiny town as how it used to be when he was child. Even then the life was flickering out of the traffic light and the Old Party bar was dying. Jasper never got the chance to knock back his first alcoholic drink with his father, like his father had with his father and his father had with his father. When Old Party bar closed her doors for the final time, a tradition died and the town with it.
Doggedly Jasper followed the dark trail out in the tall pines. This time of year, the grass was more yellowish-brown than green, though the winter rains would breath life back into the foliage. He wished the rain would bring life back to White Horse. Above them in the canopy of stretching branches lined with spikes birds chirped irritably at the rain. Their fathers soaked with mist made it hard for them to fly. Behind him Jasper could hear Zara following him up and away from town. Her quiet breathing allowed him to think and make a short game plan. He would take her to where she needed to go, show her the sites. He would then lie to her, telling her the abandoned watch tower he planned on taking her to was where she had received the call from. When Zara had first contacted him, telling him what she wanted to do, he had set this plan into motion. He went out and bought granola bars, quick campfire meals, and a few essentials that one would need hiking though the Yukon. He’d made a trip out to the sun-bleached watch tower and made sure to make it look like her brother had stayed there. He checked the phone, making sure it worked and made sure the radio didn’t. He then made a campfire near the base of the watch tower, far enough not to be seen immediately, but not too far where it was hard to find. Jasper had enjoyed a meal at the watch tower, purposely leaving the meal wrappers behind.
Branches reached for him ripping at his clothes, his old backpack, and his hair. Jasper tramped on, not minding the walk as he’s made it a thousand times. Licking his lips, he tastes the moist air and lets the dampness clog his lungs. The sun climbs higher in the air and tiny black and white flies attack his bare arms. Mosquitoes buzz around his ears and nose following the sweet smell of his breath and searching for a place to land. Dully he blinks one away from his right eye. Unlike Zara, Jasper didn’t need to stop to break, he didn’t need water as often, but that didn’t make him forgetful of her needs. He made sure to check on her trailing figure ever so often, glancing over his broad shoulder as he lead her higher into the forest. The only roads up the mountain were old logging roads, quickly being reclaimed by the mountain and impassible. This left them with the only option of walking up the ever-sloping trail. Jasper’s calves had not yet begun to burn when he stopped them. He stood for a long moment silently, glancing left then right. His nostrils flared, taking in every scent. The deer were still a long ways off, so was the water.
“How full is your canteen?” He asks her. For a moment, he’d forgotten the word. For the first time since they started the walk he turned completely to face her. His face was blank of all emotion, a neutral slate of tanned skin, hard straight features, and dark green eyes. He regarded her coolly, He couldn’t be sure if he’d heard her drinking water or not. Usually he kept a close eye on what his hikers were doing, how much they ate and how much they drank, but he’d been lost in the damp beauty of the mountain and his own thoughts. They were to the point when the trail grew lighter and harder to see. There were smaller, narrower, game trails splintering off the main one. Many of the wolves used the game trails as a way of going unnoticed by common humans. If one acted like an animal, then one must be an animal Jasper thought silently to himself; quoting one of the elder women that had helped raise him.
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