Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Wolf in the Chair

Once I happened upon a blond child weeping bitterly as she stared up the dusty slope of an off-season ski run. I couldn't see much worth crying over. Sure it looked a little ugly, a great wide swath of dirt and rock running through an otherwise pristine pine forest, but it's an acceptable trade-off. Recreational use of parts of our wilderness tends to do more good than harm in the long run as far as awareness and preservation for the rest.

Ah, so the naiveté of youth. I chuckled and patted her on the head. "Dry up little Ma'am, sure this one section looks kinda slashed and ruined, but it's an acceptable trade off--recreational use of parts of our wilderness tends to do more good than--"

She roughly jerked her head out from under my hand and glared up at me. "Shut up, I know that. That's not why I'm crying."

"Oh, it isn't?"


I went back to studying the slope, more intently this time. Squinty-Eyed Gunslingers pride themselves on their observational skills. I didn't want to ask, I preferred to figure it out.

"Um, you were picnicking at the top and you forgot your doll up there and your mother says there's no time to go back and get it."

She gave me a dirty glance and continued crying. I nodded resolutely to myself and got down to the business of some serious observation. I crouched down, resting my weight on boot heels and a fist. I absently rubbed my stubbled jaw with the other hand and tasted the wind with long, slow nostril breaths.

"Okay, your father used to be ski lift operator here but last winter he lost his job when he showed up to work drunk, forgot to adjust the speed setting and accidentally killed the children of a visiting foreign dignitary and so now your family has to move to Des Moines in shame."

She slowly turned to face me, contempt oozing from every pore. "Are you stupid?"

"Depends on who you ask."

She stared into my eyes a long time, evaluating my worth. Finally she stretched a pale arm up the slope at the line of motionless ski lift chairs. "Count down four poles from the top. Second chair below the fourth pole."

"I see it."

"That chair is inhabited by the spirit of an old timber wolf."

I laughed in her face. I couldn't help it. "What did you just say little Ma'am?!"

"Just look at it."

So I did, and I'll be damned if she wasn't right. That chair was inhabited by the spirit of an old timber wolf. He howled his anguish down the dusty track and it nearly split my mind in two. I really don't know how I could have missed it before.

I slumped to my knees and stared up at the child. Not a trace of squint remained, my eyes were now wide and pleading. "How the... why..."

She wiped her eyes with her knuckles. "His joy was running free and strong up and down mountains. Last winter he knew he was dying so he inhabited that ski lift chair with his spirit-" Her voice broke and she was consumed by sobs for a moment. When she spoke again it was in a near whisper. "He didn't know when the snow is gone they turn it off."

I screamed my grief into a blue sky. My shirtfront was fast becoming as mucus stained as the child's. In a tearful terror I reached wildly for her arm. "Child!!! What the hell are we going to do?!!!"

She sadly shook her head. "Hand over hand up three hundred yards of cable, bolt cutters in back pocket, cut the chair down..." She buried her face in her hands. "But it can't be done. No one is that strong."

I nearly knocked her over I leapt to my feet so fast. "Oh god Child--I'm Latigo Flint, don't you know? Okay, your job is to shout encouragement and keep track of how far I've gone and how many chairs I've yet to go!"

I was fifty yards up the mountain and a hundred feet in the air when my strength gave out. Many bones were shattered and the bolt cutters punched a new asshole for me in the small of my back. The little girl ran to my side and stood over, concern twisting her perfect face. I stared up through hemorrhaging eyes.

"Child, I fell."

"I know, I saw."

"I'm not going to be able to try again for at least a week, maybe longer."

"I understand."

Then her parents started calling for her from the lodge and she had to go. I got a little lonely just lying there and tried talking to the wolf in the chair, but he was a wolf, and wolves don't speak English. I decided it didn't matter and talked to him anyway. I taught him the lyrics to Van Morrison songs and he taught me how to howl in anguish.

When it rained we drank. When the buzzards appeared we shuddered.


At 8:04 PM, Blogger Dave Morris said...

I once bantied about possible cures for brucelosis with a stapler that was inhabited by the soul of a sheep. Just prior, I had consumed a fifth of Irish cream (shut up) and sniffed glue.

At 8:07 PM, Blogger katiedid said...

I'm certain you drank booze of some sort, but what did the spirit wolf drink?

At 8:20 PM, Anonymous FallenRanger said...

You were, as I recall, raised by wolves were you not? While I appreciate your need (and pain) in trying to teach your ghostly companion english, would it not be simpler to converse in wolf-speak? After all you can't teach an old dog new tricks and I imagine it would apply to dead dogs too.

Oh wait! Timber wolf. No such mention of timber wolf. Of course the dialect would be different, I mean the accent alone...

At 9:58 AM, Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

"Depends on who you ask." Great for breaking me up again, Mr. Flint.

(You know, I think I've read this story before, maybe in "Last of the Mohican Lobos." Maybe they still got copies at Amazon.)

At 11:02 AM, Blogger Cindy-Lou said...

Did you teach him Into The Mystic? I think the spirits of old timber wolves love that song.

At 11:39 AM, Blogger Blog ho said...

i think that's one of the only human friends you've ever made.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger tabitha jane said...

thanks for the compliment latigo, if face paint is all i need to be sexy, i'm buying a whole bucket!

was this the same ski slope that kid relish used when he was skiing on kittens earlier in the season? that might explain what drew the wolf to that particular slope . . .

At 12:02 PM, Blogger slarrow said...

Oh, no, Latigo. You've found a soulmate, only this time it was she who was born too late.

As all the world knows (or should), the great tragedy of your life is being born 150 years too late. But you've now found someone of the female persuasion who not only is in tune with the wild loneliness of a despoiled wilderness in general, but she was actually attuned to wolves so strongly she could see their spirits. What is that but a metaphor for seeing into the heart of the great raised-by-wolves Latigo Flint himself?

Alas, she is but a child. Had she been but a mere twenty years older, I'm certain this story would have had a different ending. As it is...

Tragic. Simply tragic.

(and she's blonde, not a redhead. She could have saved you from The Dream. Loss piled upon loss....)

At 10:05 PM, Blogger Latigo Flint said...

I've had a night or two like that Dave. I feel you. I hear where you're coming from.

Katiedid, I'm pretty sure the spirit wolf drank of the tears of his ancestors as they tumbled from the forests in the sky. (Apparently that's the good shit right there.)

Like a steel trap your mind is Fallenranger. I was in fact raised by a pack of Mackenzie Valley Wolves. This is a species of large wolf commonly found in Alaska and western Canada... and certain stretches of the San Gabriel Mountains above Pasadena, CA. As you noted, the two dialects are most dissimilar.

You are welcome Old Hoss. It has become practically all I live for now. (That was a sad book. It sells out every time Amazon commands another run.)

You see it clearly Cindy-Lou, that brings me joy. ( just like way back in the days of old)

...That didn't perish, don't you mean Ho? (Oh wait, most of the animals do too, don't they?)

This is a possibility I never considered Tabitha Jane. I think perhaps you are correct. (And you're welcome.)

Now you're dangerously close, Slarrow, to making a gunslinger weep. Let me up off your soft couch. I cannot face this painful truth you speak any longer.

At 11:40 PM, Blogger Ghost Dog said...

What?! You mean you didn't just slap thigh, shuck iron and break that chairlift cable with a well-placed round from you authentic replica Colt Peacemaker?

At 8:43 AM, Anonymous FallenRanger said...

Katiedid, since no one else has made the joke (for reasons of sanity if nothing else) allow me...

"I'm certain you drank booze of some sort, but what did the spirit wolf drink?"


I'm off to die now

At 5:55 PM, Blogger MJ said...

Waitaminute.... I think I saw that very wolf spirit!!! I was watching karaoke the other night and thought to myself, "Now how does a wolf spirit know 'Brown Eyed Girl'?" Thanks for shedding light on an otherwise confounding situation!

So, yeah, I guess he's back down from the chair, safe and sound, and has rerouted his mountain romps to include the WeHo Barney's Beanery on Sundays.


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