An Alaskan biologist and his girlfriend discover problems with microbes, mosquitoes, moose, madness and murder in this richly described thriller set in pristine Baxter Bog Park located in Anchorage, Alaska.
Arvad Winstor slipped into his parka and gloves and left the safety
of his condo to wander about on one of the coldest nights of the year,
not too far, but seething and angry and not looking around. He
walked about two hundred yards before hearing through his hood an
odd rumbling noise, plainly loud enough to interrupt the fuming in his
head, and he stopped, thinking the sound must have come from near
the trees off the trail.
Often he walked these same snow trails, taking in the northern
lights, and he recalled his visits here in the summers, procuring
environmental data for Kollarhond and Smith, the thankless bastards.
They should treat environmental analysts better, he thought, even if he
was only grade one.
A lingering shape leisurely etched itself in among the branches,
and after awhile in the lights and shadows shifting about, Winstor
could make out a thick neck, a pendulous nose, heavy shoulders, and
he thought he saw the head suddenly lift. A bull moose, a big one.
The wind shifted, making Winstor uncomfortable, the animal
downwind, so he trudged ahead, thinking rather than walking here
with the sub-zero air biting the skin on his cheeks, nose and forehead,
he should be shooting pool on Muldoon.
He'd paid a price hanging around the bar playing nine-ball with the
University people. He was going to work in the mornings with a slow
brain and red rivulets in the whites of his eyes, and he was always
short of cash near the end of the month, behind on the car payments
and barely making the rent on his condo. He'd been losing parts of his
evenings from all the beer he drank on an empty stomach. That's why
he tried staying home with his cat, chowing on burgers and pizzas,
reading The Smithsonian and Tony Hillerman mysteries, and watching
Late Night with David Letterman, a boring routine that didn't give
him the peace of mind he wanted. Most of the time he fumed about
the situation at work, which drove him here, out in the cold.
He looked at the trail ahead, winding in snow around Baxter Bog
Park, and he tried to push his concern about the moose from his mind,
saying to himself, I left the big fella back there, didn't I?
He wished he could leave Kollarhond, walk away from the job like
he was walking away from the moose. He was angry enough to quit,
Kollarhond sticking him in the cold part of the building where there
was no heat. Winstor smuggled his Titan in, hid the cord and the
heater under his desk. Every morning he plugged the cord in and
turned the switch when Kollarhond and Dr. Smith weren't watching.
He figured they wanted to get rid of him, sticking him there,
practically ignoring him.
He hardly thought about the snow glimmering on the frozen bog or
the northern lights irradiating the snowscape, and he did not care
about the green curtains shifting overhead, but he saw how the wind
had blown the branches of black spruce clear of snow. Their dark
shapes reminded him of childhood nightmares, wicked creatures
watching, and he heard his own crunching footsteps, and heard again
the sound off the trail. He looked back. A muffled sort of resonance
this time, and closer. The moose had disappeared, but there were
shadows on the bog to his left, lights to his right off the trail, the
shadows moving under the shifting waves from above, the lights
coming from Mrs. Wentzler's condo over the fence, across the snow.
He focused on the bog. Spiked tops of trees stood outlined one by one
before him, and a nearly imperceptible shape began to move. The
animal had advanced closer to him than he wanted, and condensation
rose about the head. Winstor figured from the angle that the bull was
looking at him, a spark of light from Mrs. Wentzler's condo in its eye,
and he hurried on, stopping when he came to a dark, oblong obstacle,
probably, he was thinking, a toppled spruce lying across the trail from
a recent blow. He looked back, losing sight of the bull, but as he
judged where to step around, he heard a quiet rumble from the animal,
clearly not the sound he would have expected, often having heard
them before. A gust blew across the bog, a shimmering stream under
the northern lights, and as the rush relented and the snow settled
slowly like a silent green veil, he heard the bull's hoofs rise and fall,
saw the animal move from the shadows of the black spruce, leaving
the snow of the bog, heading for the hard pack of the trail. Reaching
the trail, the bull stood broadside, blocking Winstor's retreat.
If only he had stayed inside, done pushups, anything to work off
the anger. Even his `good mornings' to Kollarhond went ignored.
And he couldn't socialize with management personnel, like
Kollarhond's secretary, Emily, because of a policy Kollarhond had
instituted. And he didn't have permission to enter the heated hallway,
the one leading to the Special Section. Winstor looked behind him,
the trail winding into a black stand of birch and willow. Once during
spring break-up he had come here only to turn back because of a bull.
The bull was working an expanse of willow, and as Winstor moved
within fifty feet, the bull swung its head and seemed ready to charge.
Not unusual for that to happen. No problem. He backed off, took
another route home that day. But this particular moose wasn't
guarding its browsing territory; besides, Winstor was walking away
from the animal.
Over his shoulder Winstor saw the hulk move closer, tacking
towards him like a sailing ship. He heard the breathing, saw air from
the bull's nose, tendrils thick in the cold. The bull was coming at him.
Winstor pushed through the snow to the fence and leapt. His boots
sank in a knee-high drift, and he dove forward, landed on his stomach,
got up and dove again. He did not move, hoping the snow was deep
enough to hide him, praying the moose would stop at the fence,
perhaps lose sight of his human form, lying flat.
He could not stay long, the cold seeping through his wool pants,
and he thought of Mrs. Wentzler's condo. He must gain cover under
the porch. The moose might not see well, but its smell and hearing
were excellent. As Winstor pushed himself up, he saw the snow drifts
were in clumps, the depth elbow-high. Standing, he heard the bull
snort, saw the front legs coming over the fence. The animal
disappeared from sight as a flurry swept through, raising a gray and
green sheet of fine glistening snow. Forward Winstor dashed, hoping
the snow ahead was no deeper than his knees.
Fifty yards to go.
As the gust subsided, he heard a long, prolonged bawl, and he
looked over his shoulder and saw the moose hanging back, swinging
his head side to side, striking its hoofs into the outline left in the snow
where Winstor had lain moments before.
The deck porch was ahead.
He threw snow aside and felt muscles in his arms ache, and he kept
digging, hearing the animal's breathing, the hoofs sinking in the snow,
digging until he saw he had gone down enough. The drift broke open:
a hole, leading under the planking.
Winstor wiggled through.
He took heaving breaths, and cold air seared his lungs; as he drew
his knees to his chin, he heard breathing, rushes of air above, and
hoofs battering the decking. The latch of Mrs. Wentzler's sliding glass
door leading to the deck clicked. Winstor heard the wheels on the
bottom of the door roll over runners, the door opening, his neighbor
probably unaware, twenty feet from the animal.
"No! Close the door, call the police! He'll attack!"
She probably did not see, the shape of the animal mixing with
shadows from the trees near the porch. "What on earth are you doing
under there? I saw you digging," she said.
My God, she's scolding me, he thought. "Close the door! Call for
Winstor heard hoofs and a shrill cry from Mrs. Wentzler.
"Call 911! 911!" he yelled.
The door rolled on the runners and slammed. Above his face the
bull's lips began working the spaces between the deck boards, its wind
reaching in puffs through the cracks.
Deck won't support him, he was thinking, must weigh near two
He threw his voice to the opening, kicking his feet out. "Hey!
The boards cracked as the bull stepped off. The animal breathed in
the opening, and the lips sucked over its teeth, seeking his foot, his
leg. Winstor pulled his feet inside and rubbed his cheeks and nose and
tightened his hood strings as, pawing and grunting, the moose
widened the entrance, poking further in. Human scent must have
excited the animal because the pawing became obsessive. After what
seemed a very long time, Winstor could see the bull couldn't get in.
He heard it again climb on the porch, and he cringed as the hoofs
sharpened on the planking, and he squeezed his eyes shut, praying the
cops would hurry, finish the moose.
Oddly, the cold began making him drowsy, and he began battling
to stay aware and alert. The joints in his fingers were hard to move,
nearly locked, and he could hardly move his right elbow and then only
with much effort. He felt a horrible numbness grip his forehead, and
though he fought, his mind began to play tricks and he began to float
off, dreaming of those days when he was a kid with his dog Prince, in
Ketchikan. They had run through the woods and came upon a warm
field. He could smell the golden grasses of the field, waist-high, and
he could see the dog wag his tail and look at him with asking eyes.
The hoofs struck hard, inches above his face, and he thought he felt
his body jerk, but wasn't too sure, since it seemed detached from him
now. He wasn't with his dog, his heart pounding in his ears, and he
heard new sounds, maybe more grunts, and figured the sounds drifted
across the snow from the fence, maybe another moose. He heard the
sound again, muffled, but closer, not moose, people, humans
murmuring. The moose stopped pawing and moved over him,
cracking the wood above his face. The voices grew clearer, but not
the words, and he opened his mouth and made a frail, gurgling sound
he was sure did not reach them, and all the while he could hear them
pushing through the snow, coming closer.
Men's voices. Coming to save me, he thought.
"The trail, dead there."
"Over there, moose on the porch. Fire, fire!"
The blast buzzed in Winstor's head and he thought he heard glass
in the door shatter, but wasn't sure because his ears hummed. Boards
above him cracked, and planks heaved, ripped from two-by-fours
framing the deck, probably lifted by the weight of the animal's fall on
decking hung over the yard. The animal sank in the snow by the
opening. Winstor's feet grew warm, a wave of blood washing over
them, but he knew the warmth would not last long; soon the blood
would freeze. He tasted copper as the odor reached him, and as he
tried to move his tongue around inside his mouth he heard the animal
take a breath and hack, deep from its lungs.
And silence. The bull moose stopped breathing.
Boots crunched close by, the snow squeaking like chalk. Winstor
tried to speak, but he couldn't get his mouth and throat to work, frozen
with fear and shock, and no way could he work his way out the way
he came in, the dead mass blocking the hole. The one way out was
through the opening above, the torn decking. Lights: green curtains
undulating overhead, maddening northern lights. His feet would not
move, encased in the paste. He was sure he would not last long,
dressed like this, not moving, no circulation in his fingers, his cheeks,
his feet, his nose, his ears.
About the Author:
ARNE L. BUE is a lifelong Alaskan. He lives in Anchorage with his wife Shirley.
He is the author of The Lid and Banto Carbon and the Prehistoric Proboscis.
eBook version Copyright 2009 by ARNE L. BUE.
Page Updated August 9, 2015
© 2009 Baxter
Bog Cards & Collectibles, Homer, Alaska