alternative D.P. with changed POV, bc I suck & wrote myself into a corner. So here you go. Parent text: here
The call saved me from kennel cleaning. Thank God to whoever rang.
I sat in my mock-ffice, in the nook between a dresser that was a stand-in for a kitchen counter, the wall, and a bunk-bed. Across the half breakroom, half guestroom was a real office, and it belonged to Ranger Mark Smith. I tried to listen to the call he just received in the most casual way I could manage without falling over. To be honest, all I had to lean on, was a white plastic folding table behind a cardboard stand with an assortment of fliers and educational pamphlets about the fauna and flora, as well as general information about campgrounds, and some new pencils. Yay.
I just filled my pink coffee cup to the brim, in the hopes of stalling my kennel duties. You read right. The mug even said “Fairest Princess” on the side and it was the mandatory rookie cup or the dum-dum cup. If you forgot your gear, keys, compass, communications, firearm, googles, or some other vital stuff, that helped you survive the surroundings, you were entitled to the pink mug. Every station had one The boys did their best to earn some cheap laughs. I wasn’t mad. I’d do the same.
I took a sip and leaned back. No shit shoveling tonight. Victory!
Why I was so distressed cleaning that thing? The stench. The kennel could smell like a carcass, that took a dive into an overflowing sewer, on the hottest summer day. That smell stuck to the clothes, the hair, the skin as if it was glue. No idea why. The dog was a beast and its dropping resembled bear scat, not dog shit. A simple hose maneuver wouldn’t do the trick.
“Ranger Smith. Hello.” The way Mark tensed up after the first words from the receiver made me stop and listen. That was serious. The air around him changed. “Another kid? When did it happen?” Uh-oh. That was bad.
I changed my mind on the dogshit shoveling. Could I go back? I leaned with my chair further towards the phone. I was the one hungry for some real action not just cleaning trails, looking for mountain lions, bears, or telling wild campers off. An emergency concerning a child was not on my list of fun activities. Still, I felt an oddly euphoric tingle in my stomach. Marks finger poked the calendar on his desk. “Yes. On our way.” He hung up, turned to me, and sighed. “A missing child on a new moon night.” He stared out of the window. “We need help.”
A frown crawled over his face, and I couldn’t shake the feeling, that he had expected something like this. Why? How? Last couple of months, a lot of people went missing. Mark had a whole wall dedicated to their names and faces. He stared them down any opportunity he got. Unresolved mysteries were omnipresent in this station. No matter what, he’d rest his eyes on their smiling faces, sipping his coffee by day, or Scotch after his shift. For some strange reason, Mark felt responsible for each and every missing person in the area.
It troubled him, I could tell. But he wouldn’t utter a word, as if he dreamed them up. The puzzles they left behind were his burden. He was monosyllabled when he spoke if you even got answers at all. He needed his time, I guess. And those people kept being lost. Not one had been found, despite major efforts. We threw everything at them. Helicopters. Dogs. Infrared imaging. Satellites. Cadaver dogs. Hoards of volunteers. Hoards of rangers, and on one memorable occasion The effing Green Berets. Nobody found any leads. As if the earth opened up beneath their feet and had swallowed them.
“Feed the stove a small handful of juniper berries from the kitchen and get our gear. I get Meme and we meet in five outside.” What? Why was I supposed to do that? He rolled his eyes at my confusion. That was nothing new, cause I was pretty much confused all the time. Mark’s exasperated sigh told me, this wasn’t the time to ask stupid questions or any questions, for that matter. “Superstition. Just do it”. I shrugged and did what I was told.
Mark was a legend in the SAR community, and he had his own magic to work the situation. Yep. Those were the exact words. His. Own. Magic. Well, we’d see about that tonight, and I was signed up for a first-row seat. If he needed spices, I was going to be the one dropping those juniper berries onto the amber in the stove. If that was what floated his boat… Sure, why not. Eh, he might teach me what other superstitions he lived by, at the end of the day. Eventually.
Mark left the station and I collected the prepared backpacks for a Search-and-Rescue mission. Ropes, hard hats, hiking poles, headlamps, extra batteries, a medical kit, water, and Mark’s weird tote sack. It was something indigenous his foster mother had given to him. It was still bright outside, but the light would fade faster when we reached the location. Where was the emergency anyway? I took a glimpse at the calendar, maybe he took notes. Funny thing was, today had been marked with a black dot and the word “Einodia”. Huh. I din’t know that place. I needed to google that expression when we got back.
It was Meme’s barking that got me going. It sounded ferocious and impatient. “Comin’!” I hollered to no one in particular.
Meme, a black malamute mix the size of a small horse, barely acknowledged me, and I was happy with that. It obeyed only Mark. Nobody else dared to approach or touch it, including me. Yep. I’ve been scared of Meme right from the first day. It creeped me out. And I continued to call it an “it” because I swear to God, it changed gender. I made a point in looking it between the legs, as far as it let me. Mr? Mrs? I had seen both genders on it, though not at the same time. One day it was male, and another a female. Sometimes it stayed a gender for more than two weeks, sometimes only for several hours.
It must be some kind of prank, Mark was pulling, a damn long one too. I was the rookie for almost three months by now, but he never lost a word about the weirdness around that dog, or the forest in general. I did not ask anything about it in change, to not fuel the motivation for this prank in any way. I faked a healthy amount of ignorance and lack of interest, but I think I worked it out. It must be two identical dogs, one male, and one female. The question that got me scratching my head was: How did he switch them without me noticing? They weren’t exactly forgettable. Plus, the dog seemingly understood every word and could follow conversations. Never seen an animal being able to do that. I got goosebumps at the thought of traveling with it in the backseat, its jaws only inches away from my neck and throat. Ugh.
As I got to the truck, a curious sight greeted me. In the middle of the parking lot, Meme stood on its hind legs, whispering into Mark’s ear. Oh, boy. It did not lick Mark’s ear. It moved jaws and lips as if forming words. What the! Was that something from the native culture? Mark looked up into the afternoon sky and howled. He frickin’ howled at the sky, the clouds, the birds, the parking lot, and the forest around us. What the hell!
Meme was the next to join in, with its abominable howl, that sounded like 3 wolves and a steam locomotive rolled into one. What the hell!
Then they turned to me, acting as if nothing just happened. What the hell!
“This is a tradition. It’s your turn.” I might have stammered a bit, or even whimpered, I admit. But if a thing and a middleaged man ask you to howl along with them, you couldn’t really refuse them, could you? So I stood near Mark, no way I stood near that, whatever that was, and I let loose a tiny “Awwoo” any wolf pup would trump easily. I was shy, okay?
“No, no. This is the time to scream at the world. This is the battle cry we approach the forest with. Put your frustration, your anger, or confusion, or even your love into it. All that you keep under lock and key. Like this.” Mark stretched and opened his mouth to a guttural barely audible scream. The low sound he made wasn’t human at all. It vibrated in the pit of my stomach, the tip of my lungs, the sole of my feet. No human should be able to produce such a tone. He changed the scream into a howl, then a screech. It was the screeching of metal bending under great force, it was the brakes on a freight train, it was the shattering sky, it was a blizzard whistling.
It left me breathless. “You-you…Was that? How!”
The links to the original vs aleternative POV parts: alt. Part 2 Names for Blades - (OP Part 2) alt. Part 3 Sin Eater - (OP Part 3) alt. Part 4 Threshold - (OP Part 4) alt. Part 5 Tainted Blood - (OP Part 5) alt. Part 6 Golden Thread
featured image: by writer, misty woods in Lower Austria