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.
White Horse was the small Yukon town that was expected. The population was not a lot, they looked worn, not even blinking at the terrible weather turn. She imagined there was not even 10,000 people here. The street they walked down was a hodge podge of eras of buildings. The houses were single level homes with a weathered look.
Instead of finding it depressing, Zara loved the look of it. This was what was real in most towns. It was opposite of others. They looked for the prestine and new, while Zara was eager to climb through rubble to get the picture.
The rain at least was lightening up. Looking to the woods, it was intimidating, knowing the stories.
"I'm going to make a call before we go. Just to let my parents know that I made it okay," Zara told him, taking out her cell phone. It would be useless on the trail, that was why she had a satellite phone for when on the trail.
Taking a few steps away, she dialed her mom's number, waiting anxiously. There would be words but she knew her parents were just worried as she was.
Quickly he joins her back outside by the exit. He nods when she tells him she’s ready. Adjusting his bag on his back he blinks at her for a few seconds. Something about her made him hesitate, he wasn’t good at communicating with humans. Turning suddenly he starts to exit the diner, pausing long enough to hold the door open for her as he walks out first. Quickly he glances left then right before making a short jog/run across the street. The diner’s front opened directly to the sidewalk and then a two-lane main street litter with patches of asphalt on concrete. The road looked like a toddler had drawn on it with a giant magic marker. Once across the street he turns to watch her, turning his back to the thick lush forest. He wanted to take the quicker way up the mountain to his little shelter before the rain really started to hammer them. A maroon van with thumping bass passes between them. He glances right then left before nodding to her, telling her that it was fine for her to cross.
Above them the clouds let a few drops escape them, but held off. Behind him the forest breathed with the wind and whispered lowly to him. Taking a deep breath, he breathes in every scent the forest has to offer. Deer munch on leaves and anything green they can find on the ground, their scent floats on the wind. He could smell the snow runoff trickling between rocks to join the larger river. Bugs instantly buzzed around his ears and tickled his nose, shut his eyes by battering his lashes with their wings. Pulling his hat closer over his brow he attempts to protect himself from their annoying habits. Mosquitoes land on his forearms and neck, searching for a single drop of blood. Greedily one sucks the blood from the back of his hand.
This was a fool's errand. Zara knew she was going down a rabbit hole after her brother. There was nothing to say in her defence other than it was her brother out there and he was still alive. It was beginning to rain though she was immune to rain, she did live in Oregon and currently in Seattle.
There went his chances of getting laid by a cougar. She chuckled about that before gathering her bag and waited for Jasper to use the bathroom. So the guide was a little different. No one would help her even the officials.
Noticing the glances towards her and after Jasper. Something told her that they were not welcome. Most of the population was Native Americans, some other colors. They were possibly nervous what was happening in those expanse of lands.
When he came out an waited patiently. "I'm ready."
Zara was eager, he could smell it on her and could hear it in her voice. Jasper glanced down at the watch keychain on his backpack. They still had plenty of time, but they would be racing the rain out of town and half way up the mountain. The rain didn’t bother him. The cool water on his skin made him peaceful and cleared his mind, made it easier for him to think instead of following his instincts blindly. Their waitress appears and gathers the crinkled bills with a scowl on her lips. Jasper looks up at her and offers a weak smile. She glances at him and then picks up their receipt and leaves.
“We can leave whenever you’re ready.” He answers her. Sensing her urgency, he grabs his hat and places it on his head, covering his disheveled hair; sticking his fingers under the brim he brushes what little bangs he has to the side. The patrons around the diner appear to relax when the notice the dark man getting ready to leave. He face is familiar here, so familiar fathers hide their wives and their daughters. Teenagers seek him out for a cheap thrill and for a possible drink. Jasper didn’t go out of his way to make the people of White Horse happy nor did he go out of his way to piss them off either. Many of the older populace understood that he was of a different kind, a different species possibly. Seeing anyone with them made them nervous.
He nods to Zara before standing suddenly. He takes a quick glance around before picking up his bag from off the floor and swinging it over his right shoulder. He starts toward the exit, but makes a hard left entering the men’s room quickly. He drops his bag by the door, turning to lock the door behind him before moving to the single urinal.
While she was not as familiar with the events happening here, Zara wasn't completely oblivious to them. Somewhere in her mind it seemed a fools errand to chase a man that was willing to jump into the abyss over a belief. That man was a part of her. They were split in different ways, they needed each other.
Finishing the coffee, she looked towards him pensively. Dully noting the waitress, she shrugged it mentally off, she didn't care. During this time Jasper could do whatever the hell he wanted as long as she got to where she wanted to be.
"Well, that's great then," Zara replied with a bright smile, perhaps too much eagerness. There was the trace of fear, both for herself and finding her twin dead. "When do we leave?"
Like Zach, she would dive in and hope for the best. It seemed to work out for him in most cases. Placing the papers back in her bag, she picked at some of the food.
This would come back to get her in the ass later. For now, she just wanted to find out and bring back Zach.
Jasper understood her need to know what happened to her twin. He understood her need as a primal one, something that was so engrained into her that it would eat her alive if she didn’t fulfill the need. He taps the highlighted path on the map some more, his mind is traveling the paths soundlessly. Carefully he was picking the best route for them to take to the site. Quickly he glances up at her as she tries to explain herself, even though she didn’t need to. He nodded, acknowledging that she had spoken and letting her know that he had heard her. With great care, he folds the well-worn map back into a rectangle and places it back in the small zipper pocket. Naturally the zipper catches as he goes to close the pocket, this takes a few moments. In those few moments, the waitress returns with the bill. Straightening, he nods gently at the woman whom lingers for half a second too long.
Curiously Jasper watches her leave, he studies the sway of her hips and the way she walks slightly bent. The woman wasn’t unattractive, she was just several years older than he. He wondered what it would be like to lay with her, obviously she would be more experienced than he, but he wondered if the stereotypes were true. With an arched eyebrow he returns his attention to Zara, knowing that she probably noticed his perverse attention toward their older waitress. He wondered if she considered him perverted or rude. Leaning back in his chair again he takes the check before she could reach for it. Instantly his eyes scan the total and the prices of everything. The entire meal cost less than thirty dollars so he considered it a value meal. Reaching in a jean pocket, he pulled out a few crumpled bills and attempted to flatten them on the edge of the table. He fishes through another pocket for a couple of quarters and damp folded ones. Why the tip dollars are damp are a mystery to him, unless they were still wet from when he crossed the river.
“I’ll take you wherever you want to go.” He murmurs to her, concentrating on getting the twenty dollar bill to flatten to his satisfaction.
The hot coffee was a welcomed present, the food, wasn't that much though. Giving a smile to the waitress she watched Jasper having a sinking feeling of where this was going. The reports was not pleasant from what she researched. Hell, she had even called to see about an investigation but there had been some polite, but lame ass excuse not to send someone there.
That was why she was there, Zara would find out the truth one way or the other. It would be impossible for her to live without knowing what happened to her twin.
Taking a sip of the coffee, it stopped the horrible words from escaping her mouth. It didn't stop the pained expression. "He actually did it...that bastard...if I find him, I'm going to kill him myself."
Zara had gone along with his beliefs for years but when it came to hunting them, she stopped there. This time he had done it on his own. Running a hand through her hair she gave an exasperated sigh.
"I still want to go, at least most of the way, it's hard to explain but I need to make sure," Zara added after a minute, her expression turning determined. She would find out. "At least before it gets too much."
Hearing that she had the coordinates, he reaches into the smallest part of his bag and pulls out an old dog-eared map. Pushing his empty plate to the side he makes room and spreads out his map. The night before in what little moonlight he had he’d used a fading yellow highlighter to mark several paths up the mountains and around the areas they had discussed. Each path leads directly to a victim sight or passed one. With a cheap red pen, he’d circled a few areas where wolves had been spotted in abundance and where hikers had reported seeing strange humans walking around. Jasper smoothed one of the creased corners with his thumb, running the rough pad over the crease and bending it backward.
He leans over and glances at the coordinates. His trained eyes quickly scan the margins of the map to find the correct longitude and latitude. The coordinates that she gave him were miles away from where he’d highlighted. In fact, the coordinates she gave him put her brother a few miles away from the heart of what he was afraid of. Deeper in the forest is the opposing pack’s main den. Together the main families live in a tribe-like village. This village guarded their secret with their lives and defended laws protecting humans. The opposite pack wanted control and the valley for themselves. Carefully the village placed themselves between the valley and the opposing pack.
His dark thick eyebrows pull together as he studies the map. He knew the forest better than some that had lived there all their lives. Jasper made a meager living by guiding white families to see the waterfalls or occasionally elk. During hunting season, he took men with massive guns bear hunting and pointed them to the most rewarding rams. Tracking through the forest for a young boy followed by his twin sister was a new one. Most humans stayed away from the mountains now that people have gone missing, later found with organs missing and bled dry. Many of the victims had been eaten by something. Jasper’s trained eye knew that one of his kind had killed the humans, eaten parts of them, and left the rest for scavengers. Gently he taps the upper most part of the highlighted paths.
“We need to start there, the most recent victim was found there.”
It was easy to tell the true outdoors man by clothing, items, and how they looked. There was the sort like her that had knowledge, did some hands on work, but otherwise went outdoors three to four times a year for backpacking with her parents and brother.
This man lived the outdoors, possibly literally in every term of the word. The dirt and how rough his hands were. Of course, the scars were strange. Noticing that her eyebrows furrowed before letting it go.
The waitress had been working hard on him, Zara wouldn't blame her, either. He was a good looking male if not a little bit odd. She gave the simple order of coffee with eggs, hash browns, and bacon. Not that she would eat all that.
"Of course," Zara answered pulling it out of the Burgundy bag. The twin looked much like her, only male, and hopefully taller. "I also have the coordinates of where he called me last, say...two and a half weeks ago. It's really not much but it's all I have. Other than twin sense..."
The twin sense was vague. It took everything to not think on what could have possibly happened. He was alive and that much Zara knew, just where was another story.
Jasper’s gaze didn’t go unnoticed. Her full pink lips pulled into an amused smile that caused a little bit of humor to swell in his chest. He couldn’t help but smile a little in return. When she mentions his beat up old backpack he glances down at it. Giving her a halfhearted shrug. The backpack had been a constant in his life and is covered in his smell. At night he can easily find it and use it as a marker. Licking his lips to wet them, he watches her. He doesn’t want to make her uncomfortable, but he didn’t want her to let her guard down. Something in her eyes made him protective over her. He could see the innocence of not knowing about his world. Her question pulls him from his thoughts.
“The waitress?” He questions, knowing that is who she meant. He spoke more than necessary to get used to the sound of his own voice again rather than for her benefit. “No.”
When Zara accepted his offer for food he lifts his dark-skinned hand. His nails were rounded and dirt packed under them. Several scars crisscrossed the back of his hand and the bottom of his forearm. Quickly the waitress notices him, she finishes up her short conversation and makes her way to them. The waitress grabs a menu from a nearby table and brings it to the table. Gently she sets the menu down in front of Zara. She pulls out her pad and paper before asking her what she wanted for a drink. While waiting for Zara to answer Jasper takes a sip of his coffee again. He waits for the waitress to walk away with her drink order before locking her gaze with his own. He dark green eyes stare at her, his dark brown hair disheveled and long, and his beard was cut unevenly and close to his face. Politely he takes his hat off and sits it on the table beside him.
“Did you bring the case pictures?” He asks her quietly. He leans forward on his forearms. He wanted to see the pictures in good light.
There was no ignorance to the elements of his gaze in her mind. It really came down to the fact that she did not care. A look did not mean anything until it went further. It was worth noting, for future references though. Zara couldn't help but give the remnant of an amused smile.
"Lucky guess, mostly it was the bag. You'd think that survivalist would upgrade, but no, it's like lucky gym socks," Zara finished that amused smile. "Yes, I am. It's nice to meet you."
He was handsome, no doubt, every bit rugged from the strong smell of earth to the leather quality of his skin. He seemed to be paying attention to everything. What could be so interestingthat that someone would pay attention to that much. The next words brought her thoughts back into focus.
The idea of food wasn't desirable but of course she knew that it was a good idea. "A little food sounds good, thank you," Zara said, placing her bag down carefully. Looking to the waitress she rose an eyebrow. "Friend of yours?"
As tempting as it was to jump into business but she knew better. It was difficult since she knew her brother was in trouble.
There was a beauty in her plainness. Her large brown eyes reminded him of doe’s eyes, her dark hair fell in thick waves. Her clothes hugged her in all of the right places though they still left a lot of to the imagination. Jasper stayed away from the valley and the valley stayed away from him. Avoiding civilization made Jasper restless and lustful. Quickly glancing back down at his half-eaten breakfast he listens her heartbeat. Boldly she sits across from him before asking his name. For all she knew he could be someone entirely different, part of him admired her courage and stupidity.
“Yes.” He answers her shoveling another bite into his mouth. Leaning back in the dinning chair he looks at her closely, challenging her seriousness before nodding softly to himself. Taking his paper napkin his wipes his face and beard before licking his lips one last time.
“You’re Zara.” He states. He could tell that she had spent a great deal of time outside, that her body was used to the elements. Outside the weather darkened to a grey and thick rain-heavy clouds rolled in over valley from the mountains. He could smell the bacon sizzling on the griddle and the earth readying itself for the rain. Worms wiggled themselves to the surface only to be crushed by car tires. He could smell sweat clinging to her skin and the smell of pine clinging to her hair. She wasn’t from around here.
Taking the final bite from his breakfast, he finishes the plate and then takes a hot sip of his coffee. Within a few moments of finishing his plate his flirtatious waitress appears once again. With diner worn hands she takes the plate and gives Zara a harsh glance over her shoulder.
“Are you hungry?” He asks her gently, his voice deep.
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