ALPHA

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Chapter 3: Fed & Watered


11:51 PM MST

The image of a burly, half-naked, bearded man about to hack away at a dead bear corpse really reminds me how crazy my situation is. I wouldn’t even know where to begin, but Wyatt’s clearly done this before; he’s casually humming as he sets to work and picks up a nasty looking hook and what looks like a fillet knife.

“What are you going to do with the meat? Do you even have a fridge?”

Wyatt shakes his head. “Got an ice box,” he says. “But it’s a lot of work to keep up when it’s warm out. Good thing there’s three of us to tackle this thing.”

“An ice box?” I ask, careful to avoid the hint that I’ll be helping to eat the same bear that was hungry for me an hour ago. Somehow, as starving as I am, my stomach turns at the thought.

“Yeah – sawdust insulated. You put a bunch of snow and ice in there and it’ll keep cool for a while.”

“Can I see it?”

“It’s in the corner.” Wyatt pierces the belly of the bear with the razor-blade hook and I know what’s coming in time to look away. The sloppy, wet noises of guts and gore falling to the floor fill the room and send shivers up my spine at how gross it all is.

As he sets work to skinning the bear, I reflect that this lifestyle is unnecessary and tough… then again I’ve been sheltered and handfed without any responsibility all of my life so who am I to say anything?

12:04 AM MST

Wyatt is using a cleaver now.

If he hadn’t saved me and bandaged me up, I would be really scared of the way he swings it.

Blood is dripping from the hung, skinned carcass; spattering the wooded floor. I consider that adding to the existing stain is probably the least of Wyatt’s concerns. He has pulled out a weird looking bucket that is also blood stained, and is throwing parts of unusable entrails onto it.

After several minutes, he wipes the sweat from his face with his forearm and smears blood everywhere before setting eyes on me. “How’re you feeling?”

I don’t want to admit I’m anxious, afraid, and disgusted. If I tell Wyatt he makes a very good axe murderer looking as he does right now, I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate it.

I swallow back the words and then try again. “Um – alright.”

“Not tired?”

I’m exhausted, actually. I can feel it all over. But I’m also wired with aftershock adrenalin, thirsty, hungry, worried about Dax and a million other things… somehow, I simply shake my head. I have to be thankful to Wyatt that I’m still alive – that I made it against all odds…

12:16 AM MST

When I look up again, Wyatt has made significant process. He has essentially skinned and de-gutted the bear, and the meat leftover doesn’t look like much.

“It was a small bear,” he says bluntly, impossibly reading the look I have on my face. “But we’ll get a good meal.”

My stomach rumbles but I’m still conflicted at the idea of eating this animal. There’s an odd sense of guilt that stirs uncomfortably with my aching hunger.

12:30 AM MST

It’s happening.

Wyatt has since taken down the bear, proceeded to butcher thick cuts of meat and is preparing a cast iron pan over the fire. He’s basically an expert at everything; he pulls a log off of a stack near the door and sets it into the flames to really get it going again before getting up and leaving it to fry.

His next task is getting me a glass of water. Wyatt pulls out a kettle and pours what, I assume, is previously boiled water into an old looking ceramic cup. I’m very aware at his half-nakedness as he approaches to hand it to me. Blood is spattered in gruesome, horrific ways all over his muscular torso complete with abs, pecs, biceps and more. I’ve even noticed the hard tan he has now that my eyes have adjusted to the dim light.

I’m jealous.

I know Wyatt works hard to keep this fit – that much is obvious. I hike and climb regularly, so I’m not exactly unhealthy, but I’m thin with a smaller frame and there’s no way – genetically speaking – we’re even in the same ballpark or that I could ever obtain that kind of body.

There’s no meeting his eyes as I take the cup and try to down it in hurried gulps.

“Slow down, eh? You’re going to give yourself cramps,” Wyatt says, easing the cup from my lips. It’s true that I should be sipping slowly to hydrate efficiently, but with the liquid wetting my tongue there’s a sudden, thirsty frenzy to drink as much as I can.

When Wyatt is back at the fire, I finish the water despite his lecture and watch – fascinated – as he cooks with Canuck lying eagerly beside him. There’s no seasoning; he’s just frying the strips of meat over the fire and placing it onto an old looking plate when they’re ready.

The small cabin fills with the smell of cooked meat, and my mouth waters considerably – stomach growling obstinately.

12:42 AM MST

Wyatt stands with the steaming plate of meat and Canuck presses his snout into his hand, giving a few licks. I have no idea what this indicates, and in fact, my heart pounds in fear of a hand getting bitten off right before my eyes.

But it’s a gentle scene I’m witness to.

The burly, blood-covered man scratches behind his wolf’s ears; by the glint of the firelight, I’m able to make out a very soft expression.

“He trusts you a lot,” I comment quietly.

Wyatt shrugs. “Haven’t you heard the old saying? Dog is man’s best friend, because man feeds dog.” He demonstrates with a cut of the fried meat – lifting it in the air for Canuck to drool over; I’m drooling too. The wolf takes it from him by the hand and I feel a strange sensation stirring from the pit of my gut. I’m not sure if it’s jealousy, or hunger, or a sick mix of both and then some, but I find myself complaining.

“What about me?” I ask, noticing the pout in my voice too late.

Wyatt grabs another piece and offers it to Canuck as he frowns at me. “If I feed you before Canuck, he’ll probably attack you,” he advises – blunt as ever. My dumbfounded face amuses him; the corner of his lips pull up and bring the beard below. “It’s like this,” he begins, raising his hand high above his head. “According to Canuck, I sit waaay up here.” Wyatt wiggles his stretched hand for effect before lowering it to eye-level. “Canuck is somewhere around here. And you?” His hand drops almost below his belt and my jaw opens. “Get it, Calix? You’re at the bottom of the pack.”

“What pack?” I spit out bitterly. “It’s just you and this wolf out here by yourselves!”

Wyatt ignores me, takes another strip of grilled meat, and tosses it to Canuck before returning a grin. “Better get used to it,” he advises sitting down on the bed with me. He holds the plate between us; his dirty hand – unwashed and still covered in blood – reaches for a piece and I can’t help the disgust appearing in my face as I watch him chew savagely.

“Don’t you wash your hands first?” I ask.

He scoffs. “It won’t kill us. Build some fucking immunity why don’cha.” Then he tips the plate in my direction so I get a close up of tough looking brown meat. “Eat,” he says, assuming his “in-charge” voice.

I don’t argue, even though the impulse to do so is pretty strong. I just reach out with tentative fingers and pull back a meaty strip. Wyatt watches me carefully, and I’m suddenly very conscious of his gaze. My eyes are focused on the pattern of the quilt draping the small bed as I bring the meat to my lips and take a small bite.

It’s as chewy as it looks – and has a weird, filmy taste to it. Then again, it’s not exactly bad

The next bite is larger, and I chew even less of the gamey meat – practically swallowing it whole as my appetite increases exponentially. By the time I’m done, I’m ravenous for more.

Wyatt laughs as I take another.

“Whass-sho-funny?” I ask, chewing hard. He doesn’t seem to care about the way I talk with a mouthful – unlike Daxton – because he just grins and shakes his head before responding.

“You’re like a puppy.”

He’s says it like this is supposed to explain everything, but it’s totally lost on me.

“Huh?”

“I don’t know – innocent isn’t the right word…” he pauses to collect his thoughts and then explains. “You have this look like you’re experiencing everything for the first time, and you’re kinda helpless. Like a curious puppy or something.”

“That makes no sense. You’ve been on this mountain way too long. I’m a human being,” I grit out for emphasis. Of course everything here is new to me – I’ve never had stitches, or eaten a bear, or stayed in a cabin with no electricity like a certain weirdo…

“Even that attitude,” Wyatt continues, completely ignoring me. “You’re seriously like a puppy that hasn’t learned its place. Crying and scared one minute, and nipping the next.”

“I was only crying because I was in pain you asshole,” I explain with a glare – although maybe it’s more than that because my voice isn’t nearly as strong as I want it to be and there’s an unmistakeable feeling of embarrassment surfacing. “Stop treating me like one of your dogs.”

“No helping it,” Wyatt shrugs. “I don’t like people very much. We’ll get along better this way.”

I have nothing else to say to that, and instead I help myself to so many pieces of meat that Wyatt has to cook more. With his back to me, tending the fire, I reflect on his words thinking that yeah, maybe it is for the best that we get along.

1:16 AM MST

I’m totally stuffed. Wyatt has cleaned everything up - and wiped himself down - and the smell of vodka is still in the air, but I feel less drunk with the heavy food in my stomach. I’ve also had plenty of refills to my water glass and finally feel exhausted.

As Wyatt approaches he notices my drooping eyes and takes a seat at my side. “Hey – who said you could sleep here?” His grin reveals he’s joking but I’m wary of his wolf that is growling at my side. “Scooch over.”

It’s difficult to manage my leg, but Wyatt squeezes his large body into the space next to me somehow; propping himself onto his side with an elbow and setting his head on his hand, staring down at me.

There are no words as we lock eyes. Somehow, looking away doesn’t feel right – the alcohol, pain, and trauma convince me that it’s impossible. In fact, the longer I stare, the more I realize how irrational it is that I’m in a bed with a dude in the middle of nowhere – and even sillier, how normal it feels. There’s no choice if you think about it… there’s only one bed…

“Hey Wyatt,” I breathe after another few moments of staring. “Thanks for saving me…”

“I’m still kind of shocked about it…” he states, eyes flashing with amusement. The firelight is dwindling, and the dusty cabin is getting steadily darker, but somehow I can make out every detail of his bearded face. “It’s pretty crazy.”

“I know,” I agree earnestly, chest squeezing with a rush of anxiousness at the confirmation he thinks the same. Then, thoughts of Daxton – my family – fill my head; I’m desperate to get back to them. “What’s going to happen next? You’re going to help me find Dax, right? And get home?”

Wyatt hesitates, but at my wide-eyed look, he takes on a re-assuring tone. “Of course,” he says, before becoming uncertain again. “Just… I’m not sure, Calix. This is new to me, you know? I don’t think you’ll be walking right anytime soon – and finding your brother is going to be like finding a needle in a haystack…” Maybe it’s due to the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on – or maybe it’s still the alcohol. Either way Wyatt’s words are completely terrifying. Before I can even splutter out a response, Wyatt continues. “But I’ll try, okay? I promise. I’m not very good at planning… I live in the moment. I don’t have all the answers just yet.”

I relax slightly, exhaling a small breath of relief. “Okay,” I manage to agree, forcing all worrisome thoughts to the back of my head. I turn hopeful after glancing back to Wyatt. “Maybe if we find Dax… we can call for help and they can just come get me here…”

“That can’t happen.”

It’s a sharp, dismissive type of tone Wyatt uses, and I’m immediately aware that he’s serious.

“What? Why not?”

“I’m living off the fucking grid here, Calix,” he starts, almost annoyed. “There’s a price to pay with that and guess what? It’s not exactly legal. Tax evasion… fraud… poaching… they’ll find a way to punish me just because I don’t conform to ‘societal norms’.”

I shoot him a quizzical look – still unsure if he’s annoyed at me, or the government. “So what – then how – are we going to –?”

Wyatt relaxes – scratching into a fluffy beard which for some reason is really hypnotizing; you can tell he’s immensely proud of it. “Once you’re able to walk, we’ll make our way to the radio tower – cast a distress call. That’s really the best hope.”

“You can’t just… leave and get help for me?” I ask tentatively.

“I’d be gone for days,” he emphasizes. “I can’t leave you here, burning with fever to get help – I won’t take that risk.”

“But – this’ll take too long! My brother – h-he…”

There’s that strange petting thing again as Wyatt’s hand pats the top of my head a bit too forcefully – as if simultaneously soothing me and attempting to knock the thoughts of Daxton out of my head. “I already promised – I’ll circle the area with Canuck as often as possible. I can do that if it’s only an hour or two.”

“Really?” I ask, more pitifully than I intend.

“For sure – so what’re you going to do for me, Calix?”

There’s something really strange about Wyatt; he’s so authoritative, capable and honest. Less than two hours in his company and I’m becoming dependent on him. But it’s something more than that… I’m convinced, rather than my leg, blood loss, or state of sobriety – it’s this man that’s making me feel weak.

“Keep your secret?” I venture, guessing blindly.

Wyatt grins, and I’m half-expecting him to pat me again or something, but he just continues. “You know what that means, right? You can’t tell anyone about how you were rescued. You can’t mention me at all.”

Somehow Wyatt saying it like this startles me. I hadn’t gotten around to thinking that far ahead. “But… why?”

“Fuck right off eh?” he complains. “Did you not hear the part about illegally living off the grid and keeping my secret just now?” he snaps. “Listen Calix – when you get home, you’re going to have to make up a story, and lie through your teeth about how you made it out here.”

A part of me deep down understands this, yet… “What if I can’t?” I ask, voice small under the force of Wyatt’s glare.

"You will.”

“I’m not a good liar,” I begin – panicked at the idea. “I don’t know what I’ll say if I’m backed into a corner and they’re asking me all these questions…”

“Then say nothing!” he shouts with a boom to his voice. I shrink away from him instinctively, but he’s already pulling on his beard and heaving a frustrated noise as if gathering all of his patience. When he looks back at me, his eyes are firm but his voice is softer as he speaks. “This is all I’m asking Calix. Don’t screw me over. Don’t make me regret taking care of you.”

It’s true. The only thing I have to do is pretend Wyatt doesn’t exist. It’s such a small, understandable request – he saved my life, after all, so why am I having such a hard time with it?

“Okay,” I agree – but Wyatt is still looking dangerous and so I gulp hard and try again. “I promise, I won’t say anything.” I have no real choice in the matter. Wyatt saved my life; I owe him a lot. The least I can do is honour his only request.

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