Jason Gardner loved his cabin in the middle of nowhere, he had spent the majority of his life working for Canada Post’s main depot in Calgary but after his daughter had grown up, his wife had passed on and he had reached the day he could retire, he had enough of the hustle and bustle of city life – plus he didn’t miss all the weirdoes that walked the streets of the big city. It was so quiet, so calm, so what the hell? Gardner heard the screaming coming from the butte beside his cabin for a second sooner than his eyes focused on the purveyor of the voice: it was a man, half falling, half running down the butte with the largest black bear Gardner had ever seen damn near nipping at the man’s heels, which seemed to almost be knocking at the top of the man’s cowboy boots from time to time. It wasn’t until the man had almost reached Gardner’s veranda that he could discern that the man had not been screaming like a lunatic but was screaming actual words.
Gardner decided, at the sight of the bear’s fangs and clawed paws almost the size of his own head, that whoever the man was, he wasn’t going to argue with him on what the best course of action was for a situation such as this. He grabbed Mizz Damsel, jerking the catch on the tether leash off and carrying her like a football, headed back into the cabin with the stranger right behind him.
The man pushed Gardner hard enough that Gardner tumbled clumsily headfirst into his overstuffed easy chair, turning around just in time to see the man throwing himself back first into the door, banging hard into the black furred foreleg of the black bear that was intruding into the cabin. The man and the door bounced twice before the door successfully shut the bear out.
Club quickly scanned the inside of the cabin for firepower. He thanked the stars that the man lived simply; the living room contained a wood stove to the left of the door, a couch, an easy chair, three sets of bookshelves and a 27 inch television. The walls were lined with pictures of an older woman, Club presumed to be the man’s wife, along with pictures of a family with a little girl from baby up to about six years old. He saw no rifles or shotguns handy. Club gave a small sigh of relief that he shouldn’t have to contend with the uncomfortable situation of a goddess being upset that her fur coat had a bullet hole in it.
“I don’t know buddy, got any ideas?” Club said desperately as he braced his back against the door. “I’d sure hate to see that little dog of yours become a chicken wing appetizer!” To emphasize the possibility, he let out“oomph” as the door buckled from the power of the bear butting into it. Then the man said the strangest thing, Gardner would later recall, “There ain’t anymore of those things kicking about to make it a plateful now, would there?”
Despite the sheer bizarreness of the question at a time like this, Gardner surprised himself by shaking his head and offering, “Nope, just Mizz Damsel – had a pup but gave her to some woman two days back.”
The door buckled inward again, almost throwing the man forward. “Oh? How interesting,” Club said as he rammed his back against the door. “A woman from around these parts?”
Gardner wasn’t too sure whether this was the appropriate time for small talk, but answered anyway. “I-I seem to recall that Mizz Colter saying something that she came up from Red Deer.”
The stranger repeated back to Gardner in a voice that sounded a lot like disbelief. “Some chick drove all the way out here…for a dog? From Red Deer?”
Gardner held Mizz Damsel closer to his body as the man pushed himself off the door and threw up his hands, letting out a hail storm of curses, seemingly forgetting about the large black bear on the other side of the door. He pulled his dog even closer to his chest, almost squashing her against him when the man threw open the door where the bear stood on its hind legs, its huge maw wide open giving a horrendous roar with its left paw at the ready to bring those sharpened claws deep into the cabin door’s wood.
“He gave the fucking dog to a chick from Red Deer!” Club growled at the bear.
Gardner, ready to say final rights, blanched as the bear dropped to all fours, its forehead, just a moment before crunched tightly to its eyes in rage arched in the opposite direction.
“Red Deer?” the bear said in a voice that Gardner thought sounded as beautiful and lilt as a songbird, “Isn’t that where?”
“Yeah, where you picked me up in your little cyclone!” the man stated angrily. Both men and the bear were quiet, though Gardner was not thinking along the same lines as Club, he was more concerned with not wetting himself.
“Well, at least you won’t have to pay for lodgings on your search,” the bear said thoughtfully. The man mumbled something that sounded rather unkindly, walked purposefully up to Gardner and Mizz Damsel.
“Red Deer!” Club said through gritted teeth as he tugged loose a single hair from Mizz Damsel before walking back to the door.
Both the man and the bear then disappeared from Gardner’s sight, though to be fair, Gardner didn’t budge from his chair until he could no longer hear the man’s voice growling out Red Deer. Positive that the man and the bear was a trick of the mind, Gardner spent the next week thoroughly inspecting the timber of the log cabin for the deposit of black mould.
Club walked the trails of the dog park once he had gotten back to Red Deer, searching for a puppy that resembled either the grey wolf or the breathing version of Tina Turner’s hair if it had been dyed to be the bride of Frankenstein that the man on the mountain had tucked tightly in his arms. It turned out to be fruitless, with the exception of some close calls with the local authorities over some very over protective dog owners. Not knowing what else to do, Club put the single hair he had taken from Mizz Damsel into an incense bowl and burnt it, saying an incantation as it crackled and shriveled to ash. It was a faint trail at best, even Club would admit, but he had nothing else. The incantation set a mystical web that encircled the entire province, if a mystical energy signature was begun by anything with at least a quarter of Mizz Damsel’s genetic markers, the sprites that monitor the mystical emissions would let him know. A week went by, then a month, soon six months had past, and Club had all but forgotten that there was a little rogue Takitawah growing up quickly without a mentor to rein in the storm within that was growing as well.
“Tacky! Take it easy, will ya?” Nikki Colter pleaded as the dog noisily panted, straining against his collar that had a ten foot leash which was being held by her, “You’re going to choke yourself!”
Though the last warm days of fall had just fallen behind her for the cool musings of winter, Nikki’s face was flush and sweaty. Most days she didn’t mind the constant jerking of her arm out of her socket by the twenty five pound ball of energy, but today had been more wearing on her than most. On days like this not only did Nikki regretted her decision to take a health-wise approach in walking the four block distance to and from work, but wished that sometimes she could leave Tacky at home, just using her lunch hour to let him out then back in again. She had tried that once last month though to disastrous results. When she had gotten home at lunch to let the dog out, she had found that to show his disapproval, her couch and chair had long slashes across the bottom front of their cushions, as well as being soaked. That night she spent eighty dollars renting a rug and upholstery cleaner even though when she was up close scrubbing the moist fabric it did not reek like urine, she could think of nothing else it could be – Tacky didn’t drool that much. Even the rips in the fabric didn’t seem right; they didn’t look like teeth or claws had been dragged through. Tacky did not spend the day convalescing at home again.
Tacky had grown quickly in the six months since Nikki had picked him up at Gardner’s place in the mountains; from just over the size of her palm to stand almost half way up her lower leg with patches of black hair with white that flowed down from his back to the floor. Tacky hadn’t lost any of his puppy energy despite the drastic size change; he still pounced and bounced from the moment he awoke in the morning until night when he finally ceded to the routine of sleep. Nikki had his fur trimmed at the beginning of summer but it grew back to floor length in the space of three weeks. Nikki’s budget could not afford the eighty dollar hit every three weeks so she opted for letting the hair grow and hoping that the apartment’s air conditioning would be satisfactory enough to keep Tacky comfortable. Tacky was the quintessential stereotype of a playful puppy, nipping, chasing, fetching, with one exception: Nikki had never heard a sound from him. Tacky had never once yipped, barked, or growled, not awake nor when his little paws were thrashing about in what Nikki assumed was a chasing dream. Josh claimed that Tacky had growled at him and bit him, but with a hint of bitterness to her thoughts, Nikki’s opinion of Josh’s reliability was questionable.
Nikki had met Josh almost three months before, a chance meeting outside the Shoppe – Josh worked for the town and was the maintenance worker for the trees along the street the Shoppe was on. Nikki had watched him for weeks, his slender build bending over, and picking out the snippets of weeds around the tree that lay surrounded by a grate at the edge of the sidewalk. One day, when it had been particularly hot, Nikki took a deep breath and boldly stepped outside with a cold bottle of water and offered it to him. From that day on, until they stopped talking to each other, he would stop into the Shoppe with a coffee for the two of them and they would spend almost an hour talking. Nikki decided after two months of playing passively to make a bold step: she asked Josh if he would like to come over to her apartment for dinner. To her delight, he smiled and heartily accepted.
That night Josh arrived, flowers, candy and coffee in hand. Nikki was surprised at how relaxed she felt around the man as they talked in the living room after a spaghetti and meatball dinner that went off without a hitch; there were no uncomfortable silences, no jitters, it felt right – until Tacky came out of the bedroom, the room that he would disappear to often when the two would arrive home for an after work nap, saw Josh and gave a mucus filled snort as he jumped up and put himself directly between the two humans on the couch. Nikki realized at that moment that Josh and Tacky had never met; every day Josh came into the store, Nikki had put Tacky outside in the dog run out back of the Shoppe to give her and Josh privacy. She introduced the two and excused herself to make the two an after dinner coffee, leaving the man and the dog to get used to each other, failing to notice the thick air of animosity that churned between the two “men” that would hopefully be a part of her life.
Josh watched as Nikki disappeared around the apartment’s living room and kitchen dividing wall. He leaned close to Tacky.“Listen, mutt,” Josh said quietly through gritted teeth, “I’m gonna bag me that pussy tonight –and I don’t need a fucking wing man like you screwing up my play.”
Tacky looked closely at Josh’s face. In the back of his mind, his instincts were calling out to him; there was a challenge to be met. Tacky did not move, but stared at Josh.
Josh picked the dog off the couch and plopped it down onto the wood floor. “Now piss off,” the man hissed, using his foot to push Tacky further away from the couch. Tacky skirted around the man’s foot and went to jump back onto the center cushion of the couch.
“Uh uh, mutt,” Josh said as he put his hand across the middle cushion, causing Tacky to hit his forearm and bounce hard back onto the floor. Josh smiled, his white teeth throwing a mental slap to the side of Tacky’s face. Tacky understood the gauntlet had been thrown down; it was up to him to respond appropriately.
Nikki hummed to herself as she made up the two coffees, complete with whipped cream and began grating the bar of chocolate over the two generous mounds of frothy wispy sinfulness. She felt her cheeks go hot as she wondered what Josh would do if she reentered the living room with nothing but whipped cream over her breasts with chocolate gratings. She was pulled from her fantasy by a fury of curses that made the whipped cream wobble and fall towards her. Nikki hurried into the living room to find Josh standing up, swearing at Tacky who was cowering and shivering underneath the coffee table. She asked what had happened.
“What do you think happened?” Josh snarled, pointing down at the hems of his jeans, a long slash across both legs whose edges were quickly darkening from the blood of the paper cut thin slashes that accompanied the slash in the denim. “Fucking bastard bit me!”
Nikki looked at the damaged jeans. “Tacky bit you?”
Josh’s eyes rolled. “Duh!”
Nikki’s eyes darkened as she noticed that jack knife sheath on Josh’s belt. The ‘dog bite’ was a clean cut, more like that of a knife than punctures then pull as if a tooth had snagged and torn itself an opening. Nikki wondered why Josh would do something like that to himself and then blame a little puppy. If it was some play for sympathy, it sure was fucked up and was doing exactly the opposite. Nikki told Josh that, and any fantasy of making love that night, or any night, with Josh ended. Josh never brought another coffee to the Shoppe after that night. It was a week later and it still played on Nikki’s mind why Josh had pulled that shit on her – was it just a cowardly way to make a clean break with her before anything really begun? Her thoughts were draining her energy more than the day had.
Only a half hour before she closed she had to assertively ask five teenage boys to leave the Shoppe after one legitimate shopper had complained the boy’s crude language and suggestive immoral behavior had upset her. While four of the boys had been fairly easy, the fifth had not been as compliant. He was taller than she was, but with the boy’s dyed black hair, long face and buck teeth mounted on a gangly thin frame made more surreal by the boy’s choice of wearing clothes a size larger than he should be wearing, he reminded Nikki more of a character from “A Nightmare Before Christmas” than a tough kid. The teen had tried to use the six inch height difference between the two of them as sort of a power position, looking down as he argued that it was a free country. Nikki finally reached the point where she felt as if she was simply talking in circles and put an end to the mock debate by telling the teen that she would call the police if he did not leave the Shoppe. He and his buddies did, but the experience had worn Nikki down. All she wanted to do was make something quick up to eat and then lie down and hopefully fall into a sleep where knights wore shining armor and didn’t cut themselves in order to try to get a pity fuck from a fair maiden.
Nikki released her hold of the leash and bent over undid the clasp that was attached to the waiting dog’s collar. Tacky scooped up his stuffed weasel toy that lay in the middle of the living room floor and made a mad dash to the bedroom where he could maul the toy in privacy. Nikki rubbed her shoulder and closed the apartment’s screen door absent mindedly. In her weariness she forgot to ensure the screen had closed all the way and forgotten entirely to close the glass door and lock it before heading to the kitchen to make her and Tacky some dinner.