The Fuse

December 16, 2010
The man sat comfortably in his rusty old Ford, rattling down the old dirt hiking trail. The midnight sun glared at him from the horizon; the cold summers and colder winters were all he knew. He had shoulder-length hair, a lovely brown color. A pale brown face peeked from the sides of the neatly brushed locks. His burgundy shirt and forest green jacket complimented his dusty blue jeans and white tennis shoes. Popping blue eyes of a brighter color than the sky itself watched the road intently.

In the back of the pickup, a dog sat, quietly observing the dust clouds the tires raised. He was speckled gray, disturbing the ivory peace of his clean coat. His soft green eyes showed intelligence beyond his species, an uncommon coolness from his manner. The back of his tag read “Alaskan Wildlife Association- Officer’s assistant.” The front simply read “Max.”

As the truck arrived at its destination- a house, neatly set back into the wilderness just so- the dog flinched. A soft, cold snowflake had landed on his nose. The engine turned off, the door slammed, and the man called. Max, being the obedient dog he was trained to be, hopped out of the bed and followed into the warm house. “Well, old friend, what shall we do tonight, our first night off in I don’t know how long?” The man spoke with a faint New York accent, remnants from his college days training to be a vet in the rural areas of New York.

The dog leaped onto the sofa, curling quickly onto it and falling asleep. The man shrugged. “Good idea. But you’re in my seat.” He patted the dog and hung up his jacket, dropping his wallet onto the table. The AWA badge on it read “Ian Hamder,” but he knew that wasn’t the name he was born with, having been adopted from an orphanage in Anchorage when he was twelve. A knock sounded at the door. He stood and went to answer it, then admitted a muscular man, shorter than himself, with army-cut hair and a similar uniform. “Harv! How’s it going!” He greeted the man like an old friend.

“Good, except my water line’s plumb froze over. Care to lend me a cup of water?” The man’s hazel eyes twinkled mischievously. “Where’s that dog of yours? I saw him come in.”

Max had identified the visitor and promptly hidden from view. This man was the man who had the cold hands and tight bear hugs. Unfortunately, he had hidden behind the generator-this house was too far out in the middle of nowhere for city power- and his frantic scramble had knocked something loose from the casing. He caught sight of a clear glass tube for a moment before the sound of the machine stopped and he was plunged into the dim light from the windows. A soft shattering noise sounded back up from where the fuse Max had knocked loose hit the ground.

Almost immediately, the air began to cool. This house was old and not well insulated. With no power, the electric heater wouldn’t work, and one might as well have camped outside. Stunned, neither the humans nor the dog moved for a moment before there was a rustling noise. Ian had begun to move to get another fuse. Max knew that once the power was back on, he would be scolded for playing near the generator, one of the few banned actions he had been taught to avoid.

After a few moments, there was a hushed whisper. “That was the last one. I don’t have any more.” An empty box fell to the ground, the cardboard clunking dully against the hardwood floor. The door opened. “I guess we’ll just have to go town and get some then. Come on, Max, Harv.”

After they had all piled into the truck, Ian turned the key. The engine sputtered for a moment, but didn’t turn over. Frowning, Ian tried again, with the same results. “Out of gas. We’re stranded, boys.” Ian turned to Harv. “How about your truck? Any gas?”

Harv shook his head. “I have gas, but the radiator’s blown. That’s why I needed water.” He paused for a moment. “Maybe we could siphon…”

Ian interrupted. “Sorry. Don’t have the means to siphon gas. We could walk, but it’ll take all night and most of tomorrow.” He thought for a moment. “And that’s if we take the shortcut.”

“I don’t see any other way. Let’s get walking.”

So, trailing Max behind, they started up the road, with Ian leading the way. The cold slowed their gait, and even Max knew better than to try to walk through the forest unarmed at this time of year. He feared the distant howls of wolves, echoing to his ears and the ears of the humans. His job was to keep poachers at bay, but he rarely did much else. The very thing he had to protect did not feel the same duty towards him.

So preoccupied were the trio in their thoughts that they didn’t see the bear until it roared in their ears. Harv let out a startled gasp. “Bear! Run!” He scooted up a tree. Ian rolled his eyes at him and just remained still. The bear sniffed at him for a moment, and then meandered away, uninterested.
“Harv, the bear won’t hurt you if you don’t try to hurt it.” Ian looked up after the bear was gone. “Come down. You call yourself a wildlife officer?” After a moment of embarrassment from Harv, they were on their way again. As the cold night grew colder, Ian began to wish he had brought his jacket. It was colder than he had thought it would be, although he knew that it would be chilly. His breath froze a little, and his bare cheeks were turning pink. They had been walking for nearly three hours by now, and were barely farther than the edge of Ian’s two and a half acres. The howling kept getting closer, and Max kept getting more and more skittish. He was tired, thirsty, and hungry, and all he wanted was the chance to lie down and take a nap. An icy wind brought forth unfamiliar scents. He looked up at his master and whimpered. They were here.
Ian grabbed Harv’s arm and crouched, motioning for him to do the same. Ian’s hair blew up around his face and he shivered as he heard a faint snuffling just on the far side of a thicket. He squinted to get a look at the dark gray fur visible just beyond, but when he felt warm, moist air on the back of his neck, he grew pale. Max was growling at him- no, at something behind him. He turned slowly to find himself face to face with the largest of the pack, an alpha male. He looked angry, and a quick glance around revealed a den not two yards away from where Ian squatted.
Harv looked at Ian. “Now run?”
“Now run.” He jumped up and made a mad dash for it, running blindly through the trees as quickly as he could. Barking and snarling from behind kept getting closer until the wolves were snapping at his heels. Even Max was having a time keeping ahead of the angry pursuers, and eventually they got him. Harv managed to escape by luck; running across a frozen river and having the wolves chasing him fall through the ice. Ian kept expecting to slip up, trip on something he hadn’t seen in his desperate flight, but it never happened. Gradually, the chase ceased. They dropped behind, one by one, until the last stopped at the edge of a road. Ian paused to glance back, at the alpha, still snarling and snapping but not daring to come into the street. He took a deep breath, and then a loud noise coming around a bend in the road interrupted his triumphant glee. Before he could do more than turn to look, eighteen wheels of pain ran him down. One escape from certain death ended in the dead-on strike of a semi truck, carrying a load of fuses to Nome from Anchorage.

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NG123 said...
Jul. 28, 2012 at 1:05 pm
I liked the ending, but wouldn't he have heard the truck? The twist ending would have fitted better in a thriller or a scary story. It needs more emphasis on how it's nighttime and a long suspenseful chase scene.
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