Takitawah-A Jared Club Story Part I
The struts on the light blue 2008 Escalade jostled and shuffled unwillingly as it drove down the heavily rutted from the spring runoff service road, tossing its lone occupant, Nikki Colter, side to side and up then down as she attempted to keep the illusion it was she not the ruts that were maneuvering the vehicle. Nikki was thankful for the artificial voice of her GPS gently reminding her that she only had three kilometers until her destination, ordinarily the voice irritated her, but out in the boonies that ran along the base of the Rocky Mountains of Alberta otherwise she would have believed herself to be a lunatic for running a fool’s errand in road conditions such as this just to fulfill the selfish need of canine companionship. She imagined that this trip would not had been half as harrowing as it was if she was a local in the area, but she had moved to Canmore only a month before from the decidedly farm crop locked city of Red Deer. At twenty nine, Nikki had felt that she could accomplish all that she could being just one of the many clerks in the mall, so when she saw the ad for a small apparel Shoppe manager in Canmore, she felt it was the only logical step to take. Small was definitely the proper description for the Shoppe, with Nikki being hired it made an employee count of one plus the owner, a woman who health had taken a downturn which left Nikki alone with the exception of the odd quarter day when the owner felt good enough to come in for a few hours. Nikki didn’t mind; it was the type of responsibility she was looking for – being accountable for the look and what went where as well as client service.
What she had not accounted for in her move was that Canmore was more of a way station for those looking to hike or ski in the national park so the majority of her social interactions were temporary but draining to the point that by the end of the day all she wanted to do was to curl up with her lap top and read a hackneyed horror story like “Lac La Biche” rather than go out for drinks at one of the lounges to meet some locals. It had not helped matters that she was more self conscious about the plumpness that encircled her five foot two frame though she had been told often that the light red hue of her hair highlighted how pretty her face was, which Nikki took with a grain of salt as the person speaking usually was focused primarily on her as plump breasts – just before some anorexic woman walked by and the speaker of the compliment’s eyes wandered away with the ass-less stick figure of a woman. Nikki had mentioned her itch of loneliness to the owner one morning and the owner suggested that Nikki look for a dog – a small dog – for companionship. She was more than welcome to bring the dog – small dog – to work; in fact, did Nikki notice the ten by fifteen fenced off patch in the Shoppe’s back area? It used to be a dog run for when she first had moved to town and had felt the same pang. To Nikki it was a sign from God that night in the paper there would be an ad for a Pomeranian/Shih Tzu crossed with an unknown sire to give away. She called the number and talked to a Jason Gardner, who confirmed that he did have a puppy to give away. She felt embarrassed after he had given her the range road to follow for asking, hastily explaining that she was from Red Deer and didn’t know the area well enough, but the man laughed it off with a deep rumble and asked her politely if she had a GPS. She did. He gave her the coordinates that he said that his daughter assured him were the correct one. The next morning she plugged the coordinates she had been given into her GPS and was on her way.
Nikki cursed the service road as it snaked up and down steeply at times the side of the mountain. It had been unseasonably warm so the bottom of the service road had been reasonable, but after several kilometers of an incline upward, the puddles had turned to ruts crusted with the remnants of the winter’s snow fall. The gentleman who was giving the puppy away had assured her it was less than a half an hour away, but Nikki had come to the conclusion that was an estimate for someone who had spent their lives along what passed for roads outside of the main highway. After two hours Nikki finally reached a crudely written sign hung on a tree branch with the words “the puppy is here”.
If the drive hadn’t been so harrowing, Nikki was sure that she would have considered the small log cabin nestled partially into the side of the mountain with a wide oak veranda highlighting the front of the cabin as quaint, with the back drop of mountains on all sides of it save for the half acre front lawn that was almost like a crescent moon abutting the cabin, but with the driving conditionings being as they were, she thought more it looked like one of those camp cabins from the “Friday the 13th” movies she had scared herself with as a teenager. The older tall and husky gentleman clad in well worn overalls and a Budweiser cap with shaggy grey hair blooming from around its brim sitting in an equally old looking rocking chair on the veranda did not help quell those thoughts.
“Mr. Gardner?” Nikki called out as she stepped out of the Escalade.
“That’s me,” the old man called back, “And I’m supposing that you would be Mizz Colter.”
Before Nikki could answer, what at first looked like a motorized mop ran from its hiding place behind Mr. Gardner’s legs and launched itself at her kneecaps, quickly followed by a smaller mop that mimicked the larger of the two. Nikki laughed as the larger of the mop let out a series of excited yips.
“I take it this is momma?” She said, bending down to pet the black and white mop whose height did not quite reach up half her lower leg; the smaller one, just above ankle height, was quiet and held back out of her reach. Mr. Gardner smiled as he stood up.
“Yeah-up, that would be Mizz Damsel,” he confirmed as he loped over to Nikki, bending down to add his hand to the gross motor pampering. “As I said in the ad, she’s a Pom and Shitz cross.” Nikki was surprised that a grizzled looking man with such callous hardened hands would be so gentle with the dog.
“Mizz Damsel certainly is a beautiful dog,” Nikki commented as her hand slid across the thick long fur across the dog’s back. “She seems so dainty to be way out here in the mountains!” Nikki added, giggling as the dog’s pink tongue flicked in and out, grazing her forearm with each of Nikki’s strokes.
“That was a concern I had when I bought the place after my wife passed on,” Gardner admitted, “But except for some deer and the occasional rabbit, I haven’t really seen any predators skulking about except for once. Personally, I think it’s those radio towers that keep the animals away, sometimes I think it even bothers me.” Nikki looked around, she hadn’t noticed it at first, but to the north, west and east of the mini valley up the sides of the mountains were three microwave towers. “But as long as I get Mansbridge at ten and Don Cherry on Saturday nights, I guess I’m at peace with those things standing watch.” Mizz Damsel gave a small snort at attention being diverted from her; Nikki increased her pets to the dogs back.
“The father?” Nikki asked.
“Darned if I know, never saw the bugger,” Gardner admitted, “I don’t ever recall even seeing a stray dog up this far. I figure that a couple of hikers had a dog with ‘em when they were hiking the trails over yonder and the stud just sorta stopped by for a little….” Gardner had about to say something a little guttural, Nikki supposed and had stopped himself before he could think of a more refined word. She could see it in his eyes that he was still struggling, so she assured him that she got the picture.
“I knowd who the pappy is,” said a little voice from the door of the cabin. Gardner smiled and explained that his granddaughter was staying with him for the weekend while her mother was off shopping in Calgary.
“And just who is the little moppet’s pappy, sweetie,” Gardner cooed, once again surprising Nikki with the depth of kindness that oozed from the harsh lined mouth of the gentleman. The little girl, dressed in overalls in much the same condition as Gardner’s skipped over to the two adults, her tightly braided blonde double pony tails bounding back and forth on her head.
“Its pappy is a Takitawah,” the little girl said with the face of a wizened scholar etched on her young face. Nikki could not help but notice that even though the smaller dog was trying to capture the little girl’s eye, she blatantly ignored it for its mother.
“Takitawah?” Nikki asked Gardner, who shrugged.
“It’s an old Native legend of a pack of wolves that have voices so powerful that they can cause a mountain to shake.”
“What on earth for?”
“To make the snow go boom,” the little girl answered before her grandfather could. “They’re very nasty creatures, those Takitawah are. Soon as they open those big ugly mouths of theirs, BOOM and the snow just comes all down. They’s supposed to be good for the, the, ennnnnvirocement – but they are just mean, that’s all they are, just mean.”
She thought the little girl had an unusual way of petting Mizz Damsel, a sort of just dragging her fingers limply through the dog’s thick coat. When the dog began nibbling on the little girl’s fingers, she was such it was a precursor to either a scream or at least an angry word, but it was if the little girl felt nothing. It was when Nikki paid attention to the little girl’s hand that she noticed it had a rubbery texture to it: it was a prosthetic arm. Gardner noticed that Nikki’s eyes had moved from Mizz Damsel to the little girl’s hand.
“Sweetie, could you go back into the cabin and make grandpa nice chocolate milk” Gardner asked softly. The little girl eagerly answered yes and after giving her grandfather a quick peck on his three day old bearded cheek, bounded back up into the cabin. Once the cabin door closed, Gardner whispered his apologies for the girl and her wild tales of the Takitawah.
His granddaughter had probably seen a wolf or two on the many visits up to the cabin and assumed that it would have been a wolf that got to Mizz Damsel. Gardner’s face flushed red as he leaned slightly closer to Nikki and with a conspiratory wink opined that he didn’t think it was likely a wolf would have impregnated Mizz Damsel – after all, you can’t fit a nine volt into a triple “A” slot. Nikki laughed.
“She used to love wolves,” he murmured.
“It doesn’t sound like she does anymore,” Nikki commented.
The twinkle in Gardner’s soft blue eyes disappeared as he checked to see if the little girl had come back out.
“It’s my fault,” he said softly. Any semblance of ferocity that Nikki may have felt about Mr. Gardner disappeared as his strong shoulders sagged. He gave Nikki a sad smile. “Damn old fool that I am, I filled her head about the legend and stories of the Takitawah – but when she and her mother and her father first came up for a visit, she heard a wolf howling and it scared her. I figured if she knew that wolves weren’t some sort of monster, she’d be more at peace comin’ around here.” Gardner’s hand rested on Mizz Damsel’s side, as if the dog was the only thing that kept him from slinking to the ground. Nikki’s followed Gardner’s as his stare went above and to the south of his little cabin.
“Last spring I caught sight of a wolf, a female wolf, prowling around,” Gardner said, his voice barely above a whisper, as if he had forgotten that Nikki sat on her knees beside him. “Never seen one that came this close to here before. Of course, when her parents and her came up that weekend, I had to open my mouth and tell her about the wolf.”
Gardner gave a snort.
“With some fine-tuning of the sighting, of course. She was already half way up the butte over there before I even had one of my boots on. I tried to sort of calm her down a bit, telling her that it was days ago, sure to shootin’, that wolf ain’t going to be anywheres near here, but Mizz Lisa’s like her mother…like her grandmother…once there’s an idea in that head, there ain’t no how of stopping her.”
Gardner stopped for a moment, a small smile crossing his pursed thin lips as he recalled the three biggest loves of his life and their tenacity. He cleared his throat and continued.
“After about two hours of walking, and her folks and I having finally convinced her that we weren’t going to see any wolves, if I wouldn’t be damned that the next bit of shrub that just barely let us sneak by without falling down into Hawk’s Egg Ravine we pushed through was the wolf I had seen, and she was in the middle of birthin’ to boot. I told Mizz Lisa to hush up and just watch the miracle of life – and what a miracle, watching that little white pup come out like it was a slip of butter on a hot pancake.” Gardner’s eyes left the mountains for the briefest of moments to look at Nikki. “But I think little girls have this natural instinct to squeal like hungry piglets when they’re happy.” His eyes went back to the mountains.
“I don’t know who was more scared, the wolf or me, but she wasn’t at happy at having an audience.” Gardner’s eyes seem to mist as the memories began to crackle vividly to the forefront of his mind. “I could see that she had another pup on the way….it’s head was half out…but, that wolf…wanted her privacy. There was at least a hundred feet between us and her but it didn’t take her long to make that we were damn near noses to nose, and even though that little thing was just out of his mama’s womb, it was keeping right up to her…”
Gardner’s hand dropped limply from Mizz Damsel’s fur to his side.
“Shamed to admit it now, but back then, I wasn’t none too pleased that my little girl had married a police officer. I thought Rob was a bit full of himself, the way he always used to bring the family out for a visit in his little marked R.C.M.P. four by four with those damn stupid lights on top – always figured it was sort of slap to the face…having the loggers and hikers coming down that service road and seeing that thing in front of my cabin, making them think that ‘oh, look, there must be some weird mountain man getting himself into a world of trouble’. Didn’t like that he’d come up in uniform either…in a family no one’s more important than the next, you don’t wear some uniform with your gun to make yourself stick out like you’re some sort of slick shit….pardon my language…but now, you know, I don’t think he meant disrespect doing it, I think he was looking to show me that he was trying to earn to take my place as my family’s protector…that he was worthy.”
Gardner began to rub his large palms up and down the front part of his calves.
“He was worthy, by Jesus, was he worthy. Didn’t think nothing of himself, he pushed Mizz Lisa there into Jennelle’s arms and told her and I to get running. I thought he’d be right behind us, but he didn’t. I didn’t even take me more than a couple of winks to realize that Rob wasn’t following. I gave my head a turn and sure enough, there was Rob still where we had been standing, almost off balance but refusing to let that she wolf by no matter how hard she was rising up on her hinds and bashing him with those front claws of hers. I saw that he was trying to reach for his gun. Jennelle had stopped too, I told her to keep on running, that I would get Rob and meet up with she and Mizz Lisa back home. Rob got his gun out and took a shot, a wild shot, that knocked him more off his steady…I tried to jump to grab him, but with the weight of the wolf on him, she had a mouthful of shoulder and that little pup, right on Rob’s pants cuff….I failed to keep my word to the most important people in the world. Like I said, Mizz Lisa, once she’s got her mind to something, there ain’t no changing it. She squirmed out of her mama’s arms and came running back….funny how screams all sound the same, ain’t it? Sometimes you can’t tell if their happy ones or painful ones, whether it’s a man or a little girl or both.”
Gardner’s hands stopped moving, Nikki could see the flesh of his hands turn white from the pressure of squeezing his fingers into his calf. Gardner cleared his throat once more.
“The coroner gentleman told me that he wasn’t certain what had caused Rob more damage, that wolf and its pup or the fall down the ravine. I know he was still alive right to the end, so was that wolf, you could have heard them for miles, I imagine.”
Nikki wasn’t sure what to do, what to say; it was beyond her comprehension to emphasize with what the old man and his granddaughter would have seen, would have been experiencing. Gardner seemed to emerge from reliving his son-in-law’s fall down the ravine.
“I didn’t know that Mizz Lisa was standing there behind me until I heard an ‘aw, how cute’ right beside me and before I could even turn my head to make sure she was alright, there was a squeaky yip and she let out one hell of a wail. The first thing I saw was a small grey wolf pup and Mizz Lisa standing there with blood running from her elbow down. Her mama had caught up just then, and seeing her child bleeding like that, and me laying on the ground facing into the ravine, well you can understand that it was a little too much for Jennelle to handle. It took her awhile to get her mind back to what we had to do, but she knew that we had to get Mizz Lisa to a doctor.”
Gardner released his hold on his calves and swung his hand absent mindedly back to Mizz Damsel’s side and more twiddled his fingers in her fur than petted. Nikki could almost see Gardner inflate with pride as he continued.
“What a little trooper Mizz Lisa was, and even when the doctor told us that he couldn’t save her arm, there was too much damage…well, that little girl in that cabin over yonder there didn’t cry or anything. Could never figure out what had cut through her arm like that. When I took the investigators up to Hawk’s Egg to bring back Rob, I looked around for wire, something that could cut Mizz Lisa’s arm almost clean off, but couldn’t find anything though. Mizz Lisa swears that little grey pup was a Takitawah and that it shot out a chunk of ice as big as a dinner plate and thin as paper out of its mouth when she tried to pet it. If I would have kept my fool mouth shut…” Gardner’s voice faded away. He took a deep breath.
“But I got do what that little girl is doing, going forward, not living in the past so let’s get back to business, so what do you figure, Mizz Colter?”
A.B. Thomas: Nikki was beginning to feel like a lunitic on a fool’s errand running up into the Canadian Rockies in hopes of canine companionship…and maybe she was.