The wolf ran. The machine in the air chased after him. He ran for the trees as a popping noise came closer and the snow around him exploded. A searing pain burned up his leg. Wolf kept moving through the trees. He found fallen trees and dug into the middle of the dense pile. There he lay as quiet as he could. He could here the air machine go over the trees. He whined as he licked his leg. The bleeding slowed and then he slept.
“Damn Buster! What the hell happened to you?” asked Jerry as he looked at the wound in the man’s leg.
“Some idiot, he shoot and hit me,” said Buster. “Spend two days up that trail feelin’ like hell.”
“I bet. Lucky for you, it just hit muscle. Let me get that cleaned out and bandaged for you.”
“Good. Need get my cabin ‘for the snow comes,” said Buster as he looked out the window. The storm was rolling in and he knew that by sundown that the snow would fill the world.
“This is gonna hurt,” said Jerry as he swabbed the wound. Luckily, the bullet had passed straight through. He heard Buster hiss with pain and did his best to be quick. Then he packed the wound and wrapped a bandage around the calf. “Let me get you some anti-biotics.”
“Fine. Just not those horse pills you give me last time,” said Buster.
“Nah. These are little. Take ’em for a week. And don’t forget to eat with ’em,” said Jerry.
“Okay.” Buster took the pills and the bag of groceries and headed for his cabin.
Jerry watched Buster Walters walk to his truck. “Tough old bastard.”
Buster took one of the pills, ate his stew and then sat down to watch the fire. He knew he’d have to move on soon. Life was getting too complicated. The sheriff had almost towed away his truck while he was stuck in the forest waiting for his leg to heal enough to walk. He’d have to look at a map in the morning and make a decision. Alaska was getting too crazy. Hunting parties weren’t like they use to be. Instead of going for the big game, the hunters shot at anything that moved. Including him.
It had been nearly thirty-five years since he’d left the valley. That dawn had been the worst of his life. He realized he couldn’t face his family or even the cabin he’d lived in all of his life. So, in a moment of panic, he’d run. He’d been running ever since and was about to do so again. Even after all this time, the grief he held in his heart for the loss of Natalie still hurt. He waited until the fire was coals and then crawled into bed. He wrapped his arms around his pillow and fell asleep.
“You sure you want to do this?” Jerry asked a week later. “You’ve been running hunting and fishing parties for a long time.”
“Aye. Going to that Montana, see if I find my son,” said Buster.
“You got any address? Phone number?” Jerry asked. He liked old Buster, but the guy had to be close to ninety and he was worried.
“I got address. Plus, I been there before. I don’ get lost,” said Buster.
“Well, okay. Here’s the money for the cabin,” said Jerry. He had tried to give Buster a check, but the old man refused, and so he handed $10,500 over in cash. He had it in an envelope and made sure Buster tucked it into a lock box and gave him the key. “You change your mind, come on back. I’ll miss ya.”
“Mebbe I come back that Spring,” said Buster. “Mebbe them hunters, skiers go away then. Much quieter.”
“Yeah. All them Yuppies and their damn sno-mobiles,” said Jerry.
“You gon’ help me put all this stuff the truck?” asked Buster.
“Yeah. Otherwise I’ll get all teary eyed and snot nosed,” laughed Jerry. He helped Buster put the last of his stuff in the back of the truck and covered it with a tarp. They lashed it down and then shook hands. Jerry watched Buster head on down the road knowing he’d never see the old man again.
Buster drove for a week. Every time he thought he found a small community he could live in, there would be something wrong. Too noisy. Too cold. Too busy. He just kept driving. When he got to Vancouver, he wondered if the Spinning Tiger Noodle House was still there. He tried to find it, but the roads had changed too much. He gave up and headed for a bank where he cashed a check. The teller was nice enough to let him know that there would only be $10 left in the account. He exchanged it for American dollars. Buster thanked her and got back in his truck. He headed to Washington state.
He drove through Everette, but the quaint Victorian was occupied by a family with three little kids. His nose told them that they weren’t family before he even stopped the truck, so he kept on driving. When he reached the mountains, he turned south.
Late one afternoon, he stopped in a small resort town for lunch. “The Dog Bar?” he thought as he looked at the name. He laughed and ordered some food. As he ate, a woman in jeans and a flannel shirt caught his eye. She reminded him of his daughter Jenny. After he finished his burger, he followed the woman’s scent trail. It led him to the Spoon River Bed & Breakfast. It was one of those big log cabin styled buildings. He made note of it and went back to his truck. Looking around town as he drove towards the highway, he made a decision. He was tired. More so than he’d ever been. If the woman would let him rent a room, he’d stay in this little town. It was fairly quiet and best of all, there were woods right next to the Bed & Breakfast.
Buster parked his truck in front of the Bed & Breakfast, and headed inside. The place was very clean. The smells from the kitchen were making his mouth water even though he’d just eaten. He walked up to the front desk and rang the bell.
The small woman who’d passed the Dog bar walked out of the back and up to the counter. “Howdy! I’m Sam. Short for Samantha, but no one’s called me that in ages,” she said.
“Hello, I’m looking for a place to stay.”
“Well, I have rooms. Upstairs or ground floor?” Sam asked.
“Ground floor,” said Buster. He squinted at the register and fill in things as best he could. “How much that cost?”
“How many days you planning to stay? I got different rates for different lengths of stays,” said Sam.
“Mebbe a week.”
“Alright. I’ll give you the residence rate. That’ll be $300 for seven days. Includes breakfast and for an extra $5, I’ll throw in dinner as long as you aren’t too picky. If’n you are, you can eat at the Dog Bar.” She wondered if he’d flinch at the cost. The man looked older than dirt, and was in need of a shave.
“Well, that be good,” Buster said. He pulled his wallet out and paid with 4 $100 bills. “You keep change, I pret damn good eater.”
“”Alright,” said Sam trying to figure where an old man like that would put an ounce of food. “Follow me and I’ll show you your room.”
Buster followed Sam down the hall to a room on the left. Just down the hall was a door. “Where that go?”
“Outside. Some of my customers like to go for walks. I don’t lock the doors until midnight. She said as she opened the door to the room.
“Okay. I like the woods,” said Buster. He looked around. It was a nice room and he noticed that the doors had lever handles. He smiled.
Sam left him to bring his stuff in while she went back to cooking. Come dinner time, she knocked on his door. There was no answer, so she headed back to the kitchen.
The wolf slipped out of the wooden den. His nose told him other shifters had been here. He ran up into the hills and checked out the land. There were plenty of deer and rabbits in the area. Other wolves too. When the moon came up, he sat and howled to let the others know he was here. A couple answered back, but none were pack. He headed back to the wooden den. Wolf hit the lever latch and entered the den. A moment later, he was back in his den. Curling up on the bed, he turned around three times and fell asleep.