ALPHA

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Chapter 19: Anger & Anguish


As tired as he is, Wyatt proves he’s inhuman once more as he stops the sled, takes a big stretch, and then starts gathering large fallen branches and sticks. With the sun disappearing along an invisible horizon, it’s getting chillier, so he puts on his plaid jacket as he works – and he hums.

Then, “It’s been awhile since I put my bushcraft skills to use,” he says, happier than ever for some messed up reason.

I know the word – thanks to Dax – and I shift uncomfortably on the sled as Wyatt starts building a roof over my head. I can’t take my eyes off him as he uses long strips of bark as twine – wrapping sticks together and solidifying the structure. It feels like within minutes he’s got the skeleton of a perfect shelter and then, only a few minutes after that, he’s covered the gaps between them with a mix of leaves and mud.

I stare out the uncovered front – like it’s the entrance of a tent – and hope Wyatt’s done. But of course, he doesn’t stop there.

As I sit, bound to this sled, he gathers some dry kindling and reaches inside his pocket for two stones that he whacks together over and over, aiming the sparks from the resulting impact to the tinder. The fire is slow to start but soon enough it’s crackling nicely and I can’t shake off the feeling of total uselessness when Wyatt makes all of it look so easy. The flames are kind of hypnotic; for an indeterminate amount of time I watch them dance.

Then Wyatt stoops in front of my line of vision and forces me to notice his concerned frown.

“You okay, Calix?”

“Yeah,” I say out of habit – no desire to even think about the question.

“You’re being pretty quiet,” he continues. It is unlike me.

“Guess I have nothing to say,” I offer with a shrug. Ever since being dragged away from that cabin I felt like I left my stomach behind; like I’m being pulled with an invisible rope tied to my belly button.

Wyatt’s smile is soft, sympathetic – and makes me a little angry. I know it’s irrational, and misplaced… but it doesn’t last long. Something about him sitting in front of me, looking so cute and concerned, breaks through and I attempt to shrug the frustration off.

“I know it’s hard for you,” he says with a rewarding pat to my head. “Jesus, it’s hard for me too, eh?” He gestures to the sled. “The last thing I want to do is let you go for any amount of time, but Calix – fuck – it’s the right thing. You’ll see.”

In the moment, I don’t feel like I’ll ever be able to see or understand Wyatt’s reasoning’s and the look on my face makes him laugh; his beard lifts with a smile.

“Calix… you just latched on to the first thing you could. I’ve seen it in puppies and I’ve seen it in you. Your worst fear is being alone, abandoned, and you’ll go to any length not to have it happen – even if it means escaping from your family as long as you can… if it means thinking you’re in love with someone like me –”

His words make me dizzy and disgusted – especially the part about the puppy. I want to say anything to prove him wrong but my mouth stays shut because arguing with him is impossible. I have been dependent… I have been needy…

“But you can’t do that anymore. And I can’t let you either. It was a shock for me too, don’t you understand? Don’t you realize I’ve been up here on this mountain alone for a long time? How do you expect I’d feel, suddenly saving your life – suddenly taking on a responsibility I didn’t ask for? We don’t exactly mix, do we? But I’m going crazy… I’ve never felt like this… I don’t know right from wrong. I don’t have any answers—”

“Shut up.” This escapes me, and I’m even surprised at myself – the venom behind the words is coming from somewhere so deep it’s completely beyond me… all I know is that the more Wyatt talks, the more I feel like barfing. He has some serious balls to simultaneously tell me my feelings are invalid and throw it in my face what a burden I am. “You said you’d keep me… and now… just what… are you saying?”

“Calix,” Wyatt begins in an arduous tone. “We both need space – and time – to clear our heads and then decide what to do from there. I want to be with you – I do – but I don’t know if that’s because of all this,” he gestures the wild setting we’re in, “—or what. If… once you’re reunited with your family…” he trails off, totally unable to finish his own wishy-washy sentences. The way he bows his head a bit to hide his face is immediately concerning, however, and I find myself relaxing some of the tensed up muscles in my body. It’s my first realization that this isn’t exactly easy for Wyatt either, despite how many times he’s said it.

“Tell me your plan,” I say desperately. “Tell me, after I get better – after I give you this space or whatever, and I still want to be with you… what then?”

Wyatt runs a hand through his choppy brown locks and the result is so beautiful I can’t really handle it. My heart starts pounding – beating so hard I feel like I’ve been running for miles.

“Give me your phone,” he says. “I’ll get it charged. If you want to contact me, call it – we’ll talk, I promise. If you don’t want to, just cut the bill.”

It’s hard to come to terms with. There’s an awful, stubborn, spoiled part of me that wants to refuse this plan. I want to fight for him to drag me back to his cabin this instant – I want to call him names.

But that’s the crazy thing with Wyatt.

All of these impulses amount to nothing when I see how serious and calm he’s being – I know first hand how unshakeable his resolutions are. I consider his points are valid. I trust him to keep his promise… and then – if we go through all this and still make it out okay – things between us will be even better than they are now in this terrible predicament where all we have is each other.

“Okay,” I give, reaching into my backpack to hand him my useless phone. As he takes the device and pockets it into heavily worn, shredded jeans, I swallow back a rather large lump of emotional mass stuck in my throat.

Wyatt’s serious side vanishes pretty quickly after the heavy conversation is done. He crawls into his makeshift shelter and lies out on the dirty earth floor beside the sled. The fire’s going, but it’s not that close, and I wonder how cold he is. Canuck lays just beyond the shelter, at our feet, yawning and curling in on himself, and I know Wyatt’s probably just as worn out.

I adjust my position so I can stare down at him and he offers me a sincere smile. He wipes his dirty thumb across my cheek and admires my face in the flickering darkness of our new home.

I know what his eyes are saying when he looks at me in such wonder. It’s the same kind of awed thoughts I had about Wyatt; how handsome he is – how I never thought I’d look at a guy and be attracted to them…

Then Wyatt heaves a massive sigh and it prompts me to comfort him in any way I can. His frustrations are basically mine too…

“What is it?”

“Just… going to miss this place I guess,” he says. “It’s unreal I’m leaving it behind. Two weeks ago I would’a been laughing at the thought…”

His words are slightly confusing. “You’ll be back soon though,” I say, and falter when I see those bushy eyebrows pulling together. “With me, right?” I prompt. “After you… re-supply… and come get me?”

Wyatt’s stare is intimate and steady as he speaks from somewhere deep inside him. “The more I think about it… when you get back and tell them about your brother… they might send search parties. There might be this huge investigation. They’ll be all over my mountain so, no. I think it’s best if we don’t go back any time soon.” It sounds bad, and I open my mouth to protest. What about Canuck? What about the life I grew to love? But then a spark lights up Wyatt’s entire face and he props himself up on an elbow. “Let’s build our own cabin,” he suggests in a dreamy rush, and it surprises me. “Y’know? If all this works out… Calix… I want to build something just for us, with you.”

I can’t even believe this is an option, but I start getting excited too. Wyatt’s enthusiasm is so contagious.

“You can do that?” I ask, but I know for a fact that he most definitely can. Wyatt can do anything he wants to and his eager head-nodding has me smiling so wide it hurts. “With a bathroom?”

He lets out a rough, short laugh that is almost a bark itself. “It depends – maybe if we had a well, or, even an outhouse…?”

“What about a bedroom?”

“Yeah… and maybe a spot for you to draw, or paint, or whatever you wanted. Like a sunroom…”

“And you can have a workshop!” I continue, way too thrilled now as we piece together a rough outline of a future together. My imagination produces a snapshot of it; sunlight streams through an even brighter, bigger cabin where the three of us are together…

“We can do a garden – a greenhouse… I can’t wait,” he breathes seriously. “I want to teach you so much, Calix. How to shoot. How to hunt, fish...”

I’d learn it all for him.

I don’t want to be the miserable, spoiled, useless Calix anymore. I don’t want to be so selfish. Being bed-bound with Wyatt has been eye-opening. I want to help him. I want to be useful. He already does so much for me…

I lean over and seal all of these desperate, crazy promises of our future with a kiss. I roll off the sled – blanket and all – colliding against his chest so I can sleep on him. Wyatt simply wraps me in large arms and squeezes me tight against him. It’s not exactly as comfortable as sleeping on a pillow-top mattress, but the heat of Wyatt’s body is exactly what I need.


AN UNGODLY HOUR

I’m not sure what causes me to stir at first.

Perhaps it’s the bone-chilling temperature of the Canadian elements – so I curl into Wyatt’s body to combat it. Though, I quickly find out it’s more than that.

Howls.

Long, loud howls fill the mountain air and cause me to jerk up and almost hit my head on twisted old branches making up the roof of this shelter. Wyatt takes a sharp breath at my sudden movement – startled awake – and he is just about to pull me in by the neck when another howl pierces the otherwise complete silence of the night.

We lock eyes in the absolute darkness.

Somehow, I can make out every single one of his features and I know a lot about Wyatt by now to know that when he looks like he’s scared shitless, there’s a serious problem.

He rolls me away from him and I have no choice but to wrap the blanket around myself because it’s way too cold without his body heat. As I realize he’s leaving the tent, I reach out for him and hiss his name.

“Ssh,” he warns, turning back to me and pressing his finger against his lips. “Stay here.”

At that moment, Canuck’s instincts take over. He answers the howls with one of his own; shivers roll down my entire body. There’s a familiar feeling of panic now. It stirs in my guts and mixes with adrenaline as I try to come to terms with this dangerous situation, just like the last one – night-time – carnivorous animals…

It surprises me when Wyatt snaps his fingers to silence Canuck and grabs his rifle.

He takes a seat at the entrance of the shelter as if on guard-duty, but then the howls sound again and this time they’re noticeably closer than before.

I’m scared.

All I can imagine is a pack of wolves – snarling and hungry – on their way over right now. The idea of Wyatt shooting them all? I can barely breathe. My lungs are malfunctioning in that way they’ve been doing recently. I feel like I’m watching in slow motion. I try to crawl closer to Wyatt but my leg is stiffer than I realized. As I try to manage it, Wyatt just pushes me back anyway.

“Get back,” he snaps in a very low whisper.

“But Wyatt –”

“This isn’t a joke, Calix,” he growls. “Get back!”

With a final shove, I’m forced onto the sled behind him with little to no visibility around his massive back stationed at the entrance. There’s a strange need to apologize but an even bigger need to hold onto him somehow.

All of that doesn’t matter anyway.

The backwoods are unforgiving. Everything changes in what seems like only a few heartbeats. I should know that well enough by now…

Canuck gives another incredible howl that isn’t cut short this time and I can see Wyatt tensing. He snaps at his wolf again but then there’s the rustling sound of leaves and Wyatt’s on his feet.

“Canuck!” He yells it so loud that the boom of his voice echoes around the small clearing we’re in. I don’t immediately understand what’s happened, but as Wyatt stands, I become aware that Canuck’s taken off.

Wyatt gives chase to his wolf and reaches the edge of the treeline just as a low, guttural scream erupts from me.

“Wyatt! Don’t – don’t leave me!”

Something in my voice compels him to turn around. As dark as it is, I can see the hesitation in his decision as his head turns from the tent, to the trees, and back again. Run after his wolf – his best friend – the creature he’s undeniably bonded to… or stay with me.

“I’ll be right back,” he says urgently – irritably – as he points to the shotgun a few steps away from me. “Use it.”

“No!” I shriek. My heart is pounding so hard I feel my vision blurring with every heartbeat. The panic rises from my stomach and makes me shake. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this terrified in my life – including the time when I was face-to-face with a bear. “I-I don’t know how – Wyatt don’t go! Don’t! Please don’t leave me here!”

“I’ve got to!” he shouts back. “Canuck—”

Another howl. This one long and warbled sounding – many others join but I’m already screaming over them.

“Wyatt!”

“He’ll die out there!” Wyatt yells – and not for the first time I witness the crack in his voice – in his sanity – over this stupid wolf of his. “That’s not – I can’t – Calix I’ve got to!”

“No!” I beg, crawling out of the entrance of the tent and hoping to look as pathetic and vulnerable as I’ve felt since being handicapped. Maybe that will make him realize I can’t do it on my own.

I dry-sob – there are no tears, just panicked breathing that has my lungs heaving against my ribcage.

“Pl-please! Wyatt! Don’t – let me die!”

This seems to make him see some reason. Wyatt stops mid-step and turns back around, pulling at his beard. Then he enters into an occasionally seen berserk mode – kicking at the dried up fire pit. Bits of earth and forest floor are sent into the air as he explodes with something I don’t really comprehend. It is complete fury, and he’s not being quiet about it. His heavy boot almost kicks me square in the jaw as I attempt to get closer to him and when I implore him to calm down he just pulls me to my feet and shakes me.

“Calm down?” he repeats, like the words aren’t in his vocabulary. “You’re ruining my life, Calix!”

I’m stunned. I’ve heard him loud and clear and yet I refuse to process what he’s said. Keeping quiet just allows him to continue on a cruel tirade.

“Ruining my pack – forcing me to leave – now Canuck’s gone – and because you’re fucking stupid and useless on your own –”

The loss of control sends Wyatt into a blind rage and I shrink from him, pulling at his hands fisting the collar of my shirt.

“You said – you wouldn’t ever leave me behind!” I remind him, finding a shaky voice. “You lied, Wyatt!”

“Yeah, well that’s not the only thing I lied about either,” he seethes. “Unlike you, I’ve got no problem lying my fucking face off. I didn’t have the God-damned guts before… I couldn’t do it, Calix. But I’ll tell you now.”

Something about this shoots through all my anxious panicking and I quit struggling.

“What is it?” I ask – voice finally quiet again. In fact, it’s like I’ve barely said it aloud. The words escape with an eerily calm breath.

He’s a man who has lost everything, and he doesn’t hesitate to unleash the next words.

“Your brother’s dead, Calix.”

That tight, constricting feeling in my chest returns – forcing the erratic breathing to come back. There’s an odd kind of ringing in my ears… like a hundred wolves are howling far away…

The look on my face must make Wyatt feel a bit better because he leans in close and menacing.

“Did you hear me? He’s dead,” Wyatt repeats.

My mouth opens, but nothing escapes except wheezing breaths.

“Remember when I found your backpack? Well I found blood too, lots of it, near the river. Canuck was going crazy. So there it is – why don’t you go cry about it?” His hand gestures for me to get back into the tent and out of his sight.

I don’t understand what hurts more. What Wyatt’s saying, or why he’s saying it. The finality of his tone brings all kinds of feelings I’ve been avoiding straight to the surface. Daxton’s dead… because of me…

“I – I – thought…”

“Not like he didn’t have it coming or anything,” he continues savagely. “Looked pretty brutal too, like something dragged him into the water.”

“Stop,” I say – but really no sound comes out at all. My throat is so tight I can barely get air through it. My cursed out-of-control imagination is showing me things I don’t want to see…

“Guess we’re even huh? You lost a brother, and so did I.”

“That’s – not even the same…”

“Yeah, the difference is, Canuck loved me.”

The more Wyatt talks, the more this tight-throat feeling goes away. It is replaced with a bone-shaking wrath that I’ve never really experienced. Before I know it, my hand is curling into a fist. The betrayal is sinking in…

I understand he’s hurting… but to take it out on me so cruelly – after everything –

Something takes over and my fist goes flying; Wyatt is too caught off guard to dodge it. I don’t have a lot of strength but the way my knuckles collide with his bearded face sends a rush through me, and soon I’m trying to hurt every part of him I can grab a hold of. The impulses are violent and overpowering. I didn’t know how much I wanted to tear his fucking face off until I’m scratching my nails down it.

The attack is over within seconds. Wyatt body slams me to the hard earth and takes a strong hold of my wrists. Undoubtedly mad, he screams right in my face.

“What the fuck! Calix you wanna fight?” His fist rises in the air and I know I’m in trouble. I know I have it coming to me and I only have seconds to close my eyes. But when I squeeze them shut and nothing happens, I risk a small peek.

Wyatt is fuming. His nostrils are flaring – blood is seeping from the lines I drew down his cheek – and he just looks so done.

“I can’t wait until you’re fucking gone for good,” Wyatt growls murderously. “No wonder your brother wanted to off you.”

“He didn’t!” I refuse for the millionth time. “If Dax wanted to kill me, he would’ve let me fall time after time! He loves me,” I insist with a very hysterical laugh. It feels good to let it out because when I do I feel less uncertain – less weepy. Though laughing at a time like this isn’t exactly sane. ”I was the one that told him to go, okay? I said, ’Go! I’m tired Dax.′ Just like always… because I was too…” Lazy. Stubborn. Selfish. “So he took what he needed but never came back! That’s on me now! He’s dead because of me and because I never went with him. I promise… I promise he’s good but you won’t listen! Stop pretending you’re better than him!”

Wyatt is uncharacteristically quiet. I expect him to spit out more things that tear my heart to pieces but he seems to have run out of ammunition to use against me. After a long, silent moment Wyatt releases me, stands up and walks to the other end of the clearing.

He sits on a log, and stays there until the sun comes up.

DAYBREAK

Things are worse than they’ve ever been.

My mind is sluggish.

Usually I can’t help the random, fast paced, virus-like thoughts; they control me. But now, sitting with after-shock, grieving for Dax, and recovering from my fight with Wyatt, I worry I’ll never think straight again.

This so-called Mountain Boyfriend doesn’t make eye contact with me. He works to start a fire and get breakfast made, but the meal consists of a few handfuls of dried Saskatoon berries and boiling hot water in a heavily used, ceramic cup.

The absence of Canuck is notable and heartbreaking. I miss his tail-swishing, tongue-hanging companionship. Every second like this just makes me want to escape more and more…

As I munch the food gratefully, I risk a glance at the side of Wyatt’s face. The blood has caked overnight and I try not to get too scared. It looks worse than it really is, I convince myself. Though deep down I fear that I’ve horribly scarred him somehow and it just adds to this gnawing, unbearable guilt. Then I draw my eyes down to my own nails – staring at them in awe. I’m amazed that I was able to do anything like it in the first place.

After we eat, Wyatt is all business once again. He packs up, but doesn’t help me into the sled, and when I’ve finally managed on my own he starts to drag me away.

Complete silence it is, then.

AFTER AN ETERNITY

The sled stops.

I’ve passed the unmeasurable time withdrawing deep inside my mind – focusing on a future without Dax – without Wyatt – and for some reason drawing a blank every time. But now, as Wyatt pauses with the compass in one hand and a backwoods map in the other, he makes a gruff kind of noise that grabs my attention.

“Are we here?” I ask pulling myself out of the foggy stupor. My voice is croaky, having not used it for longer than I can ever remember. I have no recollection of the day, but somehow the sun is in the sky at an angle that suggests it’s already mid-afternoon and a hypnotic image of trees blurring by surfaces.

Wyatt must have been powering through all this time just to get me here in a hurry. He simply nods to my question and gives a grunt of affirmation, pointedly staring away from me as his hand waves at some thinning trees. Squinting, I can just make out the base of the tower on the other side.

He pulls me to my feet and I feel like a thousand worms are wiggling around my stomach as Wyatt leaves me to walk through the underbrush and approach the structure. There is some kind of black box that he opens up, and then he smashes his fist against a button that sets off a whirring, loud alarm.

When he walks back over, he runs a hand through his hair – takes a deep breath – and then turns to me like it’s zapped him of all his strength to even meet my eyes.

I feel so many conflicted things when I look at him. Sad … angry… betrayed… hurt… confused… anxious… on and on it goes… I’m hurting so much it feels like I’m going to explode.

Wyatt sucks in another steadying breath and then he’s kissing me. Or trying to. His lips get about an inch from mine before I turn my head last second. Instead, his mouth makes contact with my cheek and he takes what he’s given. His kiss is way too tender after the fight we had and it sets off that unfamiliar, heated rage from last night again.

“Get away from me,” I snap, pushing against his broad chest.

“Calix I – I don’t want to leave things this way,” he says as his hand reaches out to brush my arm. It sends a sickening feeling of dread down to my toes. I jerk out of his reach immediately and rub at the spot he touched – much as a child would do in danger of cooties.

"You made it this way!” I accuse, suddenly letting that anger I’ve pushed down all day up to the surface. “All I wanted was to be happy with you but you’re right – you’re not a good guy at all.”

Wyatt’s blue eyes are shining. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was close to tears himself but that makes me feel good. There’s a bitter part of my ego that inflates. I want to stab him with my words over and over – like he’s done to me so many times these last few days.

“I know. Please – Calix – I didn’t mean to tell you like that. I really – I wanted to let you come to terms with it over time. I wanted to give you space to do that. I was trying to do the right thing, but I fucked that up. Now I don’t have my cabin, I don’t have Canuck… I won’t have you—”

He reaches out for me again and this time I have to flippantly smack his hand away.

“Don’t touch me,” I seethe. “How can you even expect me to believe anything you say anymore, Wyatt? You just told me last night you couldn’t wait until I was gone for good. You think I feel sorry for you? I don’t want to see you ever again!”

I don’t really know what I’m saying but, it feels really good. Addictingly good.

If Wyatt was a dog, his ears would be pulled all the way back. I see it in the way his head hangs a bit – he even stares at me under the furrow of his brow…

“C’mon Calix… don’t do it like this sweetheart…”

We stare at each other for a few tense moments, until the sound of a helicopter in the distance catches my attention and I glance up to search the skies. They’re fast, I think.

“I’m sorry,” Wyatt says in a rush – prompted by the finality of our situation descending upon us. “I’m sorry for everything Calix. Iwanted to be the good guy you saw me as. I tried – fuck – I really did. I’m sorry I kept taking it out on you… I said things I didn’t mean. I lied to you… I took advantage of you… for God’s sake I almost hit you.”

There’s a flash-like vision of Wyatt on top of me – the darkness of night behind him – with his fist raised. It’s painful, and the hollow, aching rush of despair erases any remaining anger.

“And this is why I said you deserve better. I’m sorry.”

Suddenly, as the helicopter gets closer, I have a million things to say. I want to say I’m sorry, too, for being such a spoiled burden – for ruining his life – for making him decide between his dog and me. And I really, really want to apologize for attacking him… but before I can open my mouth, Wyatt turns on his foot and busies himself with the sled.

“You should go meet them.”

Now’s my last chance. I need to say something…

But my brain falls apart on me. I’m left frozen in place – caught in time between my last moments with Wyatt and the inevitable rescue back to the real world. It renders me completely stiff with indecision.

“Go,” Wyatt’s back insists when he doesn’t hear the shuffling of leaves to indicate I’m moving. “Go!”

It effectively puts my legs in motion but I’m not even sure why, or how, that’s possible. I still feel numb as I walk with a noticeable limp through patchy grass and into a large clearing circling the tower. I’m so rigid – totally on autopilot – that I don’t even look back.

As I move, it’s as if I’m floating in a dream. Things are slow and fuzzy.

The helicopter lands and I see the first responders running over. I hear their voices shouting urgent things at me over the blades chopping through the air. Their mouths move but I can’t process the sounds. One of them wraps me in a reflective sheet and steers me towards the rescue-copter.

My mind is useless.

Somewhere deep inside of it, I’m replaying the scene over and over. The image of a bloody-faced Wyatt – eyes shining – trying to kiss me goodbye.

What happened? Why didn’t I kiss him with all of my might? Why didn’t I forgive him like always…?

There are no answers to these distressing questions – and more – so I shut down, no longer sure of anything.

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