Sunday, September 23, 2012

Devil's Kitchen - Chapter 1

Sedona, AZ, 1990...

Brady jerked bolt upright in bed, heart pounding, blood sluicing, runnels of icy sweat wetting a three-day growth of beard. 

He scanned his Spartan cabin, knew well he’d find nothing more than personal demons lurking in the shadows.

"Sweet Jesus." His voice was dry, raspy.

Though he and Elizabeth had shared many warm and wonderful memories, Hilton Head was the dream that pervaded his sleep, week after week, month after month.

An hour later, he sat alone on the front steps of his cabin, fighting off the effects of an on-going nightmare wherein he is always running toward her, trying to warn her, to save her. He still sees her as she was that night, as she will always be in the asylum of his mind, young and alive, filled with hope and dreams reborn.

Like an unwanted flower, the love they’d shared had been cut down as it began to bloom. 

Thank God she’d felt no pain. The coroner’s report stated that Liz died instantly, feeling little more than a dramatic increase in air pressure and a moment’s searing heat as she was jettisoned off the balcony into the cavernous maw of eternity.

The bomb had been meant for him; Liz an innocent victim of his sordid past, of his association with COMMEX.

He’d rectified that by resigning the following week, firebombing his bridges with Prescott and COMMEX, and moving to Oak Creek Canyon. A partial fulfillment of a shared dream.

But, what he could do nothing about, try as he might, was the never-ending goddamn guilt. If only he’d not stopped for the wine, he might have been back in time to do something, anything for chrissakes. He might even have died with her, which he’d often considered infinitely preferable to a life led without her.

At times like this, he felt emptiness, silent resignation.

He finished his coffee, drew heavily on a Winston Light, and leaned back on his elbows, his face turned toward a brightening dawn sky, his red-rimmed eyes squeezed shut.
"I miss you, Elizabeth,” he said, her name a keepsake knotted in the back of his throat.

He eyed Brady, began his silent approach, moving cautiously out from the safety of the trees, his almost super-natural ability to elude and endure bred by centuries of persecution.

He was a formidable creature, with bright yellow eyes, the kind of eyes that loom large in the darkened corners of childhood fantasies. He closed on the cabin, head low to the ground, moving in an ill-defined pattern, stopping briefly at a series of predetermined points along the invisible perimeter of his territory, never once taking his eyes off the man sitting on the front steps.  

The muffled sounds did not go unnoticed. "Morning, Lobo."  Brady opened his eyes and stared straight ahead, refrained from cocking his head toward the Mexican Gray wolf that stood twenty paces from the front porch. 

It had taken two years for the wolf to accept his presence in the valley. It had been a pup, an obvious orphan--its parents likely killed by poachers or ranchers--when he’d first spotted it.  

The wolf pup proved early on that it was a survivor. Brady often found it snoozing in the mid-morning sun beside a pile of picked over jackrabbit bones. He’d never attempted to care for it, nor had he tried to domesticate it, opting instead to let the wolf remain forever wild, to set the guidelines for their symbiotic relationship on its own terms.

Now, on those occasions when his predatory companion dropped by for a visit, Brady found himself talking to it, speaking openly to it, like he would to a close friend, of those things kept long buried in his heart. And the wolf appeared to almost listen, to somehow understand.

Lobo eyed him, and a low, raspy growl escaped its throat.

Brady turned slightly, cast the animal an expressionless glance. "Come to visit for a while?" He spoke softly, not locking eyes, purposefully maintaining a posture that displayed neither dominance nor submissiveness.

They sat for a while in silence, two Alpha males of distinct species who shared a common bond: they’d each lost a soulmate. Brady had seen neither the dominant female nor the litter of pups for over a year. It occurred to him that he and the wolf were destined to live out the remainder of their lives alone, as Alpha males are considered to be monogamous creatures, known to mate for life.
Moments later, Lobo pointed his shiny, black nose skyward and trumpeted a series of short, ear-piercing howls, then turned and sauntered off into the trees.

“Not today, huh?” Brady whispered. “See you next time, friend.”

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