ALPHA

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Chapter 2: Stitched & Bandaged


11:12 PM MST

I’m startled into consciousness once again with an almighty “BOOM”.

My eyes fly open as Wyatt’s heavy boot makes contact with a wooden door. We must be at his place, but it’s too dark inside to make out anything. I hear the thunk of Wyatt dropping the bear over the doorstep, but he doesn’t look back, just uses his – now free – hand to help me down.

He rests his rifle and the flashlight on a table as I wobble to and fro in his strong grip. He has me by the bicep and without even a word he tosses me to the side. I shout in terror as I fall – thinking the floor is coming up to meet me – but I land rather softly on a mattress.

A pungent scent penetrates my senses and it’s the old, sour kind of dust that crinkles your nose. Wherever I am, I can say for sure that there’s no question about it – this place is ancient.

Wyatt hurries around the dark cabin, lighting a fireplace; and with the flood of light, I’m surprised at my surroundings. His place is not only filthy, but way too small. The entire layout is a singular room with a small bed almost immediate upon entry, and a tiny make-shift kitchen off to the corner. Other than a table and some chairs, there’s literally nothing else to this place. It looks straight out of one of those Heritage towns they take kids on field trips to – a sort of lesson in luxury of modern technology.

As Wyatt rummages through some old looking, hand fashioned cupboards, he pulls out a pot and holds it up as if debating if it will work. Then he dips it into an old looking barrel full of what is presumably rain water, and proceeds to stick it straight into the fire on some kind of hanging, metal contraption that looks like it’s from the nineteenth century.

He leaves it there and then opens a door to a small closet. He pulls out all kinds of old looking rags, giving them a once over in the dim firelight before either stuffing them back or tossing them onto the mattress.

Wyatt’s eyes are dark – too dark to make out in the light of the small fire – but they narrow upon resting on me. “Get that leg up,” he barks. There’s no question to obey, I just do as I’m told and use two hands to help carry the injured leg over the side of the mattress.

It’s a bad idea.

Looking so closely has my stomach turning. The cotton strips from Wyatt’s shirt are seeped with blood. I lose complete control of my breathing at the sight and the hyperventilating just makes me dizzier. There’s further rummaging but my head swims and I have to shut my eyes tight and try not to think about the mutilated gash running the length of my inner thigh or else –

The mattress dips to Wyatt’s weight as he takes a seat near the foot of the bed. When I open my eyes to look at him, he’s setting down a dusty bottle of clear liquid and a cup. I’m hopeful that it’s water but as I reach for it Wyatt whips out a folding knife and starts hacking at the denim of my jeans to completely expose my entire leg. My hand is suspended near the cup, but when he’s done, Wyatt pulls it back and places it on my leg, right above the wound.

“Press down firm alright? I’ll get the water.”

I swoon with a rush of pain from the pressure as Wyatt pulls the boiling water from the pot in the fireplace and carries it over to the bedside. But that’s not all – he’s working a thread into a needle as if he’s about to start sewing a blanket.

“Wh-what’s that for?” I squeak. It’s clear I’m still panicking, and the next words don’t help anything.

“Stitches,” he answers simply.

My stomach turns. “I-I don’t need –”

There’s a sharp look as Wyatt finishes tying off the thread and dips the needle into the hot water. “Yes, you do. You have an open wound, Calix, and if we don’t clean it out and close it up, then you’ll die from blood loss or infection. Is that what you want?”

“Of course… not…”

“Thought so. Pass me those,” he instructs as he jerks his bearded chin towards the bottle and cup at my side. His voice is back to one dripping with authority. I’m not sure if he even realizes the tone change, or if he’s been so far removed from people for so long he’s forgotten how to interact. I consider these things as he opens the lid to the dusty bottle, takes a sniff, and pours a bit of it into the cup. Only when he demands that I hold it do I realize it’s straight vodka.

“Thank my Grandpa for that one,” he smiles at the sour look on my face. “It’s been here ages. I was saving it for a shitty day… never thought I’d waste it on some city kid.”

My dead-pan, unimpressed stare makes his beard twitch in a smile. In the light, it’s easier to get a good look at his fluffy face, and I’m surprised again how young Wyatt looks. His beard – like his hair – is a dark brown. Overall, the entire length is no more than my pinky finger, and combined with his plaid jacket – open and shirtless underneath - he’s giving a new meaning to the word lumbersexual. In fact, he’s really good looking and maybe it’s my blurry, unfocused vision, but he looks straight out of some magazine; like he’s just finished some stereotyping photo-shoot…

Wyatt doesn’t seem to notice, or care, about being observed. He dips a rag into the boiling water, then wrings it out before peeling back one of the sopping wet bloody pieces sticking to my wound and pressing the new one in its place.

The heat is unbearable; the pain is immediate and has me flinching instinctively.

“Hold still,” he grumbles.

“It hurts!”

“It’s going to get a lot worse than that right away,” he says – so stern that it’s as if he’s threatening me. But then he glances back – and his dark blue eyes are so calm that for some strange reason, they help ease a bit of my anxiety. “Just take a deep breath.”

I do just that, and hold it in my lungs as Wyatt tears off the soiled t-shirt strips one after the other. When he’s done, I exhale and the rush of oxygen makes my head swim again.

“I don’t have any painkillers,” he says frankly, placing another hot, fresh rag onto the upper part of the gash. I can tell he’s being gentle – or trying to be – but the wound is full of dirt and bits of forest floor and he also has to hold my leg down at some points to stop it jerking away. It is meticulous work as he applies the rag – soaks it – wrings it out – and repeats over and over.

“E-enough!” I choke out finally after what feels like an eternity. There’s a tightness to my throat that isn’t lost on me – I’ve been close to tears for a while now and – admittedly – some have already escaped beyond my control and rolled down my face.

Wyatt stops – allowing a quick break, but he also gets an idea. His eyes focus on the cup in my hand and then he issues another one of his ridiculous orders. “Drink it.”

“What?”

“That – in your hands. Drink some.”

“Dude, this is straight vodka,” I remind him, but he’s forcing my hands – and the cup – closer to my face.

“So what, eh? You’re on the wrong side of nineteen here, but you’re legal where you’re from. Take the shot, it’ll take the edge off,” he convinces, pretty much tipping it back into my mouth for me. I have no choice to choke it down – spluttering at the sharp sting. It’s burning hot and melts straight through to my stomach, settling uncomfortably.

“What’s wrong with you?” I demand angrily. I’m no genius, but I know the basics of a little something called a blood alcohol level. I’ve lost quite a bit of blood; a straight shot of vodka metabolising in my empty stomach is a recipe for disaster. Yet I relax to the warmth with a breath of relief as the pain eases considerably. I stare wondrously into Wyatt’s eyes, and like a true mountain weirdo, he pets me.

There’s no mistaking it. His eyes even brighten a little as his hand tosses my sweaty hair to and fro.

There’s only one reason for this; he’s a total freak.

I glare over to the wolf that has been eyeballing me this whole time and he growls in response. Without even looking back, Wyatt snaps his fingers and quiets Canuck immediately.

Maybe the alcohol is working quickly, but rather than uneasy, as Wyatt pats my head, I feel amazed. I’ve never seen anyone so rock-steady before. This guy shot a fucking bear, dragged us both back, and is in the middle of saving my life – all like it’s no big deal.

This swelling appreciation isn’t lost on him at all.

“Feeling better, eh? Let me have some too.” He reaches for the cup before I can stop him, takes a hearty gulp and then hands it back, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Just in time for the hard part,” he mutters, taking out the needle again.

“Wait –” I beg, but Wyatt is dipping it in the vodka for further sterilization – as good as it’ll get – and is reaching for my leg.

“Look away,” he instructs – just in time too. As soon as my head is turned I feel a sharp pinch in my thigh. Wyatt’s forcing the wound to close, and with it comes extreme pain as he works the needle into the flesh and begins to sew the pieces back together.

If this is the pain with the edge off, I’m so thankful Wyatt forced me to take the shot. My eyes water with the excruciating sting of a serious wound and to make matters worse, Wyatt is using a new rag to apply the alcohol on site. It’s a terrible, raw, burning kind of sensation that makes me want to sink teeth into my own arm just to stop the urge to scream.

As my vision darkens, I’m aware of a high pitched whining noise that at first – out of delirium – I think is coming from Canuck. But no. It’s me. I’m voicing the astounding discomfort as consciousness threatens to escape my grasp.

“Almost done,” he says. “It’s almost over.”

I don’t know how much longer I can hold on. I’m trying to suck it up but it hurts like fucking hell.

Only a moment later, Wyatt lets out a tension-relieving sigh and I peek back to see him tying off the end of the stitches.

“There – much better,” he says, attempting a grin as he waves a hand in reference to his work. The stitches are uneven and, to say the least of it, not very professional. But they’re holding the wound together and it is, in fact, much better - as Wyatt put it.

“Thanks,” I say, although I know it’s not over just yet.

11:25 PM MST

Wyatt starts to apply the boiling hot rags to the stitches, and after the pain subsides and my breathing regulates, my curiosity rushes back to me.

“You still haven’t told me what you’re doing all the way up on this mountain,” I begin as this complete stranger tends to me.

“Been up here two years,” he shrugs.

“Why? Just because?”

“It’s peaceful up here, away from everything. Simple. Quiet. Just gotta live off the land like we used to,” he explains. “My grandpa built this place with his bare hands, and I’ve been coming here since I was a kid. One day, I just decided to stay.”

“It doesn’t seem so simple,” I comment, glancing around the small room. “It looks like a lot of work.”

Wyatt is silent, not necessarily rejecting this assumption, until he shrugs again. “I guess your idea of work, and my idea of work, are different. This isn’t some regular nine to five – punch in, punch out. Out here, you just have to know the basics and put in the effort. The payoff isn’t some cheque, but instead, another day living the dream.”

“You say you’ve been here two years – is that why you have the beard?”

The questions are pouring out from me just like the vomit earlier. There is a strange need to know as much as possible about Wyatt – it’s possible I’m distracting myself from everything else.

“That’s right,” he says with a proud smile, hand absent-mindedly stroking at the collection of facial hair. “There’s an old blade around here somewhere, but I can’t be bothered to shave it. Keeps me warm – especially in the winter.”

I’m fascinated. The concept is still foreign to me. “I’m lucky to get a hair every few months,” I say wistfully, stroking at my own chin and trying to feel for something – half hopeful. But, as usual, there’s nothing. It simply comes down to genetics. Daxton and Dad are in the same boat…

“You can touch it if you want,” he offers, sticking his chin out slightly. I’m either feeling the effects of the alcohol way too strongly, or all of my inhibitions have seeped out of me via my leg wound. Either way, I surprise myself by reaching out for it.

My fingers run into coarse, yet thick, hair and it’s immediately gratifying.

“Woah – it feels weird!” I comment as my confidence strengthens and I use both hands to comb through the wiry strands. I look closely, trailing his sideburns to see the colour change slightly past his ears; just a shade lighter. “Your hair’s short though,” I continue, distracted momentarily with the choppy style.

“Can’t fucking stand it in my face,” he explains. I scratch into his beard just to feel the hairs in my nails and Wyatt laughs. “That feels nice.”

Before I get too caught up – a sobering spin of my head reminds me that this isn’t normal. I’m just about to pull my hands away when Canuck gives a terrifying bark to my left.

The wild wolf’s yellow eyes are fierce as they lock with mine and all of his teeth are bared – growling and crouching like he’s going to leap forwards. The hands lost in Wyatt’s beard immediately remove themselves and come up to protect my face.

“Fuck off Canuck!” Wyatt shouts with another commanding snap of his fingers. There’s no hint of apology as he turns back and rolls his eyes.

“What’s wrong? Is he – going to attack me?” I cast a wary look to the guarded wolf still watching me carefully.

Wyatt gives a thoughtful noise at my question, and a cringe of fear pulls at my heart; making it hammer with adrenalin. Canuck’s ears perk – his snout sniffing at the air as if he can really smell my fear.

“He’ll adjust. I’m guessing he didn’t like your hands near my throat.”

Wyatt says it so matter-of-factly, it’s amazing. I’m convinced – drunk or not – that this guy knows anything and everything.

“How old are you?” I ask as he continues cleaning me up.

“Twenty six.”

“How do you know all this stuff?”

It’s a broad question, but Wyatt gives another proud grin and I think I’ve said something that has dangerously stroked his alpha ego. “What stuff?”

“You know… like dogs and all this,” I gesture the cabin with a wide sweep of my arm. “You’re really smart.”

“I’m no genius,” Wyatt refutes with a scoff, shaking his head humbly. “Far from it. Give me a computer, and I’ll end up breaking it,” he jokes, and I offer the first smile of the day to him – it doesn’t feel right and is gone as quickly as it came. “But I’ve been around this my whole life, that’s how I know this ‘stuff’. Besides, wolves are different than dogs… their instinct hasn’t been bred out of them. I think if you take the time to observe, you’ll realize how simple they really are.”

I’m not convinced, but I drop the subject anyway as Wyatt finishes with the wet rags and moves on to a pile of clean, dry ones. He fastens a tourniquet at the top of the lacerated area with the strongest cloth to replace the one he tied quickly in the forest. Then, he meticulously wraps the rags, one by one, around my leg before tying the bottom pieces together and completing his bandaging.

It’ll have to do for now.

There’s one last application of alcohol to the top rags – for what I assume is sterilization – and Wyatt admires his treatment with an accomplished look to him.

“Hey Wyatt, you said Canuck found me…?”

There’s a growl off to the side from the mentioned wolf and I debate using his name in the future. Wyatt scratches at his beard before he starts cleaning up.

“Yeah?”

“What were you doing before that?”

“Getting supper.”

“Like… hunting? At night?”

“I was coming back,” Wyatt says with a terrible grin. “Today was perfect – no downwind. I was just tracking an elk when Canuck ran off. You better thank God for that.”

The reminder of food has Wyatt turning to the bear still lying dead in his doorway. After he cleans up – setting everything down on the kitchen table to deal with later – he moves to the carcass and drags it the rest of the way inside.

This has Canuck’s attention as well. The wolf watches carefully as Wyatt pulls it to the middle of the room and then starts fiddling with what looks to be hooks to a hoist. I’m not entirely sure what he’s doing because he is crouched low and concentrating, but after a moment the bear is swung up from a low support beam – hanging dead and limp in the middle of the room like some grotesque piñata.

“Wh-what are you doing?”

Wyatt stares at me like this should be obvious – bushy brows creasing.

“Gotta butcher it,” he says. “If you’re squeamish, don’t look. It’s gonna get messy.”

“Right now?” I ask, slightly incredulous.

“Of course – don’t want it to rot… and I’m hungry.”

He doesn’t waste any more time talking to me. Wyatt turns, proceeds to take off his jacket – exposing a muscular bare back – and pulls out a set of knives from under the bed. With a not-so-reassuring turn of my stomach, I also notice the area directly under the suspended bear is already stained with blood.

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