Authors: Elissa Lewallen
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination, or used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2011 Elissa Len Lewallen
All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be used or reproduced in any means without written consent from the author, except in the case of brief quotations included in articles and reviews.
Cover by Elissa Lewallen.
First edition: July, 2013
To my mother and father;
is would not be possible without you.
To Aunt Billie, who never got to read it.
Nobody wants to admit it. Nobody wants to feel it. Pain. That cold, hard thing...just like the Alaskan ice I ran my glove over so many times, thick and dusted with a thin veil of snow.
I know; it sounds like such a strange way to start a story, but it seems like that’s exactly what this stor
y consists of: pain, and all its various degrees of torment…and
Life is like that. It’s bittersweet. So, it’s not all tears, either.
Some of my fondest memories are here in the snow. But, it also contains some of my worst memories. I’ve seen the white snow turn red with blood, a sight I will never forget.
I could never have dreamed what would happen to me when I moved to
Alaska. I had no idea that it would be just as mysterious as it was majestic. Amidst the dense forests and towering snow-capped mountains, there’s a little town called Riverton. And in this small town, there’s a secret.
That secret changed my life forever.
I turned around at the sound of Justin’s excited voice calling my name. There he was, jogging from his big Ford truck, his salt and pepper colored dog running beside him. Big John was over to me licking my face so fast, I didn’t have time to stand up. And the name really suited him; he was huge. I didn’t know much about dogs, but I was almost certain he was a wolf, I just didn’t understand why someone would take a wolf in as a pet. I hadn’t had the chance to ask Justin yet, since I hadn’t been here long and most of that time I had spent in bed sick from the temperature change. When I had left California, it was 91 degrees; when I arrived in Alaska, it was 50. It was kind of a shock to my body. It was summer time (could have fooled me), so I was hoping it would get warmer.
When I was sick, the dog slept on the floor beside my bed, next to my worried Uncle. I had a nasty cold that lingered for a grueling four weeks where I was constantly going in and out of fever. One day it would break, a couple days later I would be burning up again. Even t
hough I didn’t like Alaska, I liked Justin. He quickly earned my respect during that period of time. He had waited on me hand and foot and prepared me a beef stew one day that was supposed to work wonders.
Poor guy didn’
t know I was a vegetarian.
I had thanked him for the stew, never letting him know just how much I hated meat. I kept thinking about the cow it must have come fro
m, as weird as that is. It wasn’t so much because of sympathy for the animal, or even a political decision. Cows just strike me as dirty, smelly, and gross, along with most other farm animals.
Today before he left for the grocery store, he told me that he was going to make his famous deer jerky.
Now that was where I began to feel sympathy for animals; I couldn't imagine eating a deer! They were cute, majestic, beautiful, furry...not gross and smelly like a cow. I had no idea how I was going to manage faking that one. How could I possibly eat Bambi? It was my favorite movie when I was a kid, despite the fact it always made me cry….
I ruffled Big John’s thick fur and then stood up. Big John was persistent, though.
“Now, now! Down boy! Porch!” Justin commanded in a firm voice. Big John sadly dropped his head as he reluctantly walked over to the front door. He sat down on the tiny square porch and patiently waited for us.
I stood up and headed for the porch. I had been swirling a stick in a puddle, watching the ripples when my uncle drove up. I had gotten tired of walking around the front yard after I had cleaned the kitchen.
“I got lots of good stuff for dinner tonight,” he said excitedly as we walked toward the porch together. He had a brown paper bag in his arms stuffed full of food. Immediately I felt grateful for having such a caring uncle; I had heard how expensive groceries were in Alaska. I was so indebted to my Uncle for everything he had done for me, which was one of the reasons why I had cleaned the kitchen instead of going to the grocery store with him. I had to do something in return to show my gratitude. He didn’t have to take me in, but he did. He was a single guy of thirty-five, being five years younger than my dad. He had no experience with kids before me. And, I was a teenage girl at that, which probably made it even more undesirable to take me in. But, he hadn’t hesitated for a second when he first met me at my parents’ funeral. He had walked up to me, shook my hand, and said, “I’m your Uncle Justin, and you’re going to move to Alaska with me. Don’t you worry one bit, I’ll take care of ya.”
As strange as it may sound, Un
cle Justin had a southern accent. Even though he had been in Alaska all of his adult life, he still had the twang from Texas where he and my dad had grown up. Why someone would have picked Alaska to move to from Texas, I had no idea. It was the polar opposite.
Justin had dark, messy blond hair (just like my dad) that stuck out from under his baseball cap, and he had a little bit of scruff on his face, which wasn’t an uncommon sight for him. And, besides loving meat, he also loves John Wayne movies. I had only been here a little over four weeks and already he had watched ten westerns that had John Wayne in them. There were only three channels Justin watched: the local news channel, the sports channel, and the Wester
n channel. And, as if that wasn’t enough to tip me off, there was Big John; John, after John Wayne, of course.
“Even though it re
ally wasn’t dirty, I cleaned the kitchen for you anyway, since you were planning on fixing a big dinner,” I said as I stepped through the front door.
“Aw, thanks,” Justin said awkwardly, but in a very grateful way as he walk
ed up the steps. “Now, you didn’t have to go to all that trouble. Don’t you overwork yourself. I don’t want you gettin’ sick again. You should take it easy.”
I smiled at Justin as I stepped into the center of the light blue living room with all its woodsy, cabin-like decorations that were appropriate with the area he lived in. Even though everything was strange, new, and even kind of scary at times, I was glad I was stuck with Uncle Justin in this foreign place. He was always telling me I
could rely on him, and he hadn’t given me any reason not to.
As Justin told Big John to sit on the couch, he sat his single brown grocery bag down on the little kitchen counter and took off his denim jacket. I headed for the hallway so I could take a hot bath while he fixed dinner. I was a little achy after bending over the stove, scrubbing the old grime from it. It was the only thing in the kitchen that had really needed cleaning.
I walked through the dark hallway and opened the white door that was next to my room. I flipped on the light and everything became coated in a dim, orange glow. As soon as I removed my sweater, I felt twice as cold, even though I was wearing a long sleeved shirt. I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to get adjusted to the weather here, even though mid-sixties didn’t sound like it was that cold.
I turned on the bathwater and started taking off my sneakers. After I had peeled my socks off, I stood up straight in front of the bathroom sink and caught a glimpse of myself in the dim reflection. I did a double take and stared at myself. My tan was already almost nonexistent, thanks to it being cloudy the majority of the time. It had rained nearly everyday last week. This place was draining the color out of me. I pictured my skin in the near future being just as dreary as the overcast sky that hung around most days. My eyes were the same color as the gray clouds outside, only adding to the effect. I ran a hand over my ridiculous brown hood-hair and frowned at my pink nose. I sniffed and turned away from the mirror, not able to stand the sight of myself.
I soaked in the water for a while, just lying there in the warmth. I wanted to stay in the warm water forever. I felt alone, even though I had Uncle Justin. I still felt so empty and strange.
What had happened to me? I didn’
t feel like myself anymore. I felt like a stranger in my own life.
No, this wasn’t my life. It couldn’
t be. I live in California, where every day is bright, sunny, and hot. Not cold, damp, dark Alaska. I was used to looking out my bedroom window to see other houses. Here, all I saw were trees.
I lifted my hands up out of the water to rub my face.
What happened to me?
I wondered again in frightful astonishment.
Tragedy happened. Death. My parents were gone.
Now I felt like I was being crushed by an overwhelming sense of helplessness. How was I ever going to adapt to this place? What was I going to do when the school year started? Thank God it was summer, but what about when winter came? Alaska has a reputation for brutal winters, and I lived in the middle of nowhere.
I achingly remembered my two friends in
California whom I had left behind, but Charlotte was the only one I still had. She had seemed horrified when I told her I was suddenly moving to Alaska. She acted like that was the worst place in the world I could go to. At the time I had thought it wasn’t quite that bad, and that it could be worse. I could be going to a whole other country. What’s wrong with Alaska? How is it any worse than Washington, or maybe Texas?
Now I knew. It was
I silently prayed I would grow to love it in time like Uncle Justin had, otherwise I was going to be miserable for as long as I was here.
Charlotte was already acting like I had made my mind up to move back to California as soon as I had graduated.
“Next year we can share a place,” she had said excitedl
y into the phone last week. “It’s only a year.”
Personally, I didn’
t see how I was going to be able to get out. I was going to have to get a job first in this strange, cold place. How was I going to manage driving myself on icy roads in the winter? What if I had an accident like my parents? The last thing I wanted to do was get behind a steering wheel. And how was I going to get a car, anyway?
I took a deep breath and decided I would just have to discuss it with Justin later.
I didn’t want to think about it anymore. Everything was happening so fast. I needed to calm down and take it one step at a time.
I took another deep breath. This time I held it, and dunked my head into the warm water. For some reason I thought it would clear my head. It only made me feel better as long as my head was under the water, though. As soon as I broke the surface, I returned to my troubles. There was no escaping it.
After my bath, changing into several layers of clothing and drying my hair, I stayed in my room until Uncle Justin called for me. I didn’t wait long for dinner, though. I was just sitting on my bed with my laptop, staring at my e-mail’s inbox, hoping for a message from my other friend in California which would never come.
I quickly turned off my computer and darted up from my bed.
“Okay!” I called as I slipped my sock feet into my warm, fuzzy slippers. I quickly walked out of my room, nearly running. I shut the door behind me to keep Big John out. I loved him, but I really didn’t want his fur on my bed. The last time I left my door open I had awoken in the night to him jumping up on my bed to curl up next to me. I had regretted letting him lay there because I woke up the next day to wads of gray hair all over the burgundy comforter. It was a job getting all that fur off.
I stepped through th
e dark hallway, wondering if Justin would ever replace the bulb that had burned out in the little light fixture on the ceiling. I could see him in the kitchen setting silverware around the table. Big John jumped up into a chair like he was going to eat with us. Uncle Justin smiled at me before getting on to Big John.
“Get down, boy!” He used that same firm voice as he snapped his fingers and pointed to the living room. Big John let out a single airy whine as he got down out of the chair and walked over to me. He wagged his tail as he looked up at me. The way he opened his mouth looked kind of like a goofy smile.
“Hi, boy,” I said as I petted his head. Justin was washing his hands at the sink, so I bent down and scratched behind his dog’s ear and whispered, “Don’t worry. I’ll give you some meat.”
He started licking my face again, making me stand up to escape the smelly, slobbery kisses. I wiped them away with the long sleeve of my red sweater and walked into the kitchen. While I washed my hands, Justin excitedly began telling me about all the food he had made. I looked over my shoulder, carefully listening. Once again, I felt indebted to him.
“I got some corn while I was at the store,” he said as he motioned toward a big bowl of it. I almost heaved a sigh of relief. Finally, something I actually liked. Then he motioned toward his deer jerky and some beef patties he had made, just like the ones he grew up eating in Texas with my dad. I smiled, and then I felt my face immediately fall at the same time as his. We both looked down and took a seat at the table, a kind of quiet understanding not to say anymore about dad, or mom.
It was the first time he had mentioned my parents. It was a good start. Maybe one day we could say a little bit more, and maybe this time next year before I leave, we might actually be able to have a full conversation about them. There were plenty of things I would like to discuss with him about my dad. Just not today.