The warmth then.
Her warm breath from silent restrained moans as she wonders if someone is listening from the other room. He intuits her modesty, her reluctance to sound the alarms, passion boiling underneath to become steam on windows, on mirrors after a hot shower. There was sweat then. He tastes it from his lips and from hers as she hangs in his arms, his hands grasping her legs locked behind him. The air-conditioning is on the fritz, has been for a few weeks in this beat-to-shit place, and he could almost pass smooth-out right now, and he might do just that if this session continues. A fist or broom bangs on their floor from beneath J.C’s feet but neither one cares as much at this point. She’s letting loose a little more, a little more noise, just enough to maybe call it classy sexy. Stuff dribbles slowly out of her and onto him, from the place we are born from, mixing together with his, something like that primordial soup scientists talk about, trickled down from some headwaters of God. To step back into that melting apartment they once called home, sometime, a time not too far back, reaching for this fiery place broiling in his memories. They are without doubt his warmest thoughts. His warmest place he can imagine.
His eyes pop open and he’s still alive it seems, for a while anyhow.
His hard-on mashes in his pants, and for a moment he has some primal force of pride pulse through his head. It’s nearly zero degrees in these hills and most things out here are only stiffened because they’re dead. Everything above ground is blanketed white, a hefty earthen ivory white, crystallized and creaking, hardening as the temperature drops. J.C looks around him, looks upward to the frozen white halo around the moon, the smoke from his ember breathing fire rising, the aurora’s green lights twirling, and slowly he leans over and chucks a piece of dead wood from the dwindling pile beside him. He gathered wood yesterday, Rex caught them two hefty rabbits the day before that, with a squirrel today that J.C reluctantly smashed with a rock as he watched it fall from trees. This all happened before the major storm came. J.C sent his second to last bullet through a deer that ran wildly off a cliff five days ago, tumbling into a creek, washing down stream for a dozen miles for all he knows. That stream is almost completely frozen now. And after this last bullet, without any ammunition this .30-06 might as well be dog shit. Rex is lanky-lean docile, a German Shepherd sweetheart, more beast on the outside than on the inside. But when the belly growls long enough, that’s when the hunter inside presents itself, the hunters that we really are deep down.
He has little idea where they are since the sky dropped three feet of snow two nights ago, covering any trail back to their vehicle, and once having set up a small camp with fire for hopefully no more than a night or so, six feet more has fallen. He’s been slowly accepting that he’ll die here. Next to him, frozen and as stiff as the cottonwoods and the spruces and the birch, lies a dead German Shepherd. They killed him about sunset last night. The wolves did. There were three of them. He scrapped hard, wounded one, blinding it in one eye from what J.C could see over by the fire, he stood so close to the fire that his jeans caught flame, but even with one eye he got Rex’s throat a few seconds afterward. He must’ve outweighed Rex by a hundred pounds. The other two just watched, waiting in some stealth confidence, their eyes lighting emerald in fixation on J.C. Three wolves are nature’s KO to most any beast. The cruelty of it all is that J.C’s still alive. Left breathing to die another day, alone in the beauty of a frozen hell. He has to laugh at his own stupidity. To not have come prepared the way that he should’ve, to have risked it all in a way that speaks volumes for some sort of unconscious death wish, to have brought his best friend out here in a brazen and careless manner. Another one lost and soon to be dead in the Alaskan wilderness. A cycle we think we know, this life feeding on life. Nature judges not on who and what she consumes.
Blood’s matted in-coat around Rex’s throat, his eyes are gently closed like the cute sleeping pup he was years back the day J.C found him abandoned in some withered trailer park in southeast Arkansas. J.C was bouncing around for work, had a gig at a saw mill in Crossett that was short lived. Rex’s tiny swollen belly was full of worms, rolling in dirt with his brother and sister, occasionally catching a side-eye glimpse of J.C before clumsily galloping over to him. Rex chose J.C, and J.C was honored, so he took the pup with him. He thinks it’s a bit silly, really, a grown and graying man crying about a dog the way he had. He thinks like this because his old man wouldn’t have cried like that. After Vietnam, seeing so many boys die, “‘Cause that’s what we were,” his father would say, “we were boys.” He could never cry about a damned dog again. But J.C was different, and his dad’s hardened shell never changed this about him. The difference now, with the snow building in hourglass fashion, a shaken snow globe settling, there just doesn’t seem much sense in missing the dog this much, exerting energy he truly can’t afford to displace, and reasonably he’ll have to join Rex soon enough anyways, so what’s the point? He knows that the pack smells him here—they know Rex’s body is still here with frozen meat on him, they know one of their own lies dead a few meters out from the fire. That last bullet J.C had he sent through the other eye of that bastard that killed his friend. No, it wasn’t a simple revenge kill, he figured killing one could likely scare the others off. Turns out it worked. He thinks now that he could’ve saved it for himself probably, before they return for him. He roasts the squirrel til it’s charred like jerky, tearing short stringy bites of it, his fingers aching and frozen, the snow connecting like knives in his back.
He recalls back in the day when he laid concrete for a hundred-foot driveway with a heat-factor of 119 degrees. He was twenty or so. A hellish day with humidity smothering the air, he and the old men nearly drowning in heat. “This is the hottest I’ve had in 40 years,” he can hear the old guy’s voice clear as day, with his shirt off exposing his red burned aging skin. J.C always had luck like this. Hottest in forty years. He can see his younger self, laid out there in the scorching grass as one of the other guys yells, “Send the boy home, Terry, the boy’s dyin’. Shit, he may already be dead, HEY, boy!” In his mind, he’s comfortable here on the grass. The sun reddening his arms and shoulders and chest, the chalky smell of concrete in the air. He fantasizes warmth, fantasizes the sun on skin, and then the fire in front of him hisses and flares and crackles. He looks into the embers to see hundreds of eyes of gods or demons or millions of decayed past lives, gaping back at him throughout history. The snow keeps as heavy and fast as it can. He finishes his last meal, not that squirrel would be his preferred last meal, and only if he survives the night will he consider eating dead wolf. These are possibilities all right but he figures he’ll freeze to death if they don’t eat him by morning time. Warming his purpling hands in the fire, his fingers streak millions of pins and needles sparking every nerve. His body begins to tense and ache with this rumbling feeling circling in his gut. Not a rumble in the bowels, ‘need to shit’ kind, but an intuition. When he flipped and rolled his car in the rain years back, there was a feeling he had. Being tossed in the air as glass particles splatter around him, the rain pounding away, there was a feeling then, too. It wasn’t time yet, and somehow his car landed upright in the median. He survived. So it’s right here when he knows that now and then aren’t the same. This feeling is ancient, infinite. Like the animal that goes off to hide somewhere, to die, he knows, he knows it.
A piece of ember pops and sprays to sizzle on his knee. He slowly slips his knife from grandpa’s holster he inherited, a blade five or more long. The eyes flickering behind him are numbered, emerald and yellow, and their feet make no sounds. He feels their presence. Maneuvering in piling snow, reaching beside him to pat Rex’s head, the snow trying to bury him completely, J.C brushes off as much as he can to see his friend’s face. “Good dog,” he says with one hand petting his head, his grandpa’s knife glowing silver in the other. It’s near deafening silence around him other than fading sputtering orange and glittering white, ghostly green smearing moonlight, a distraction for the hunters gathering beneath the trees. “Good dog.”
:Couldn’t find photographer’s name.