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Wolf-Ely Writing Project: Day 121

(This is the fifth in a series of posts that chronicle my year-long writing project. I'm writing fiction to explore how wolves and the legalization of wolf hunting and trapping affect residents in northern Minnesota. This post is the beginning of my fourth story in progress, an early draft. For more information about this project, please scroll down to Wolf-Ely Writing Project: Day 1, or click here.)


The call came early one November morning, just like any other. Routine trespassing. Or so it began.

“My property’s posted,” Dan Jacobson, a small-potatoes logger said over the phone, his deep voice indignant. “But somebody’s got a trap line on it.”

“Where can I meet you?” John Reid asked.

“The end of my driveway. It’s south of town on 27. Right-hand side just before the Indian reservation.” He paused and added gruffly, “I gotta wolf, too. Live. In a snare...”

Not so routine.

“…and I’m not having nobody point a finger at me for snaring a wolf between seasons,” he insisted. “They’re not my traps.”

“I’ll be right out.” John rubbed the knuckled stump on his left hand where he’d lost three fingers years ago in a domestic violence call. He looked at his watch. 9:12. He sopped up the last of his eggs with a corner of toast and grabbed his jacket with Conservation Officer printed in gold letters on the back.

On the way out, he locked the front door. No one else locked their doors around here, but it was a habit from the city which he could not let go. What if on his return he surprised a drug addict who had taken advantage of the open door, looking for cash and guns? A crime of convenience. A preventable confrontation. Ten years on the Minneapolis police force did that to a person, etched into his brain the violent possibilities of what if?

Outside, the sky shone an intoxicating clear blue, but the frigid air sobered John up and he pulled his black toque over his balding head. Armed with his .223 rifle on the rack, a 12-gauge under the seat, and a laptop computer mounted on the console, he drove his pickup south through Superior National Forest, past Greenstone to the Jacobson place.

John left Minneapolis after losing his best friend, his fiancé and his hope that he’d never have to kill anyone. He gladly accepted the position of Game Warden in this remote corner of northern Minnesota, a dozen miles south of the Canadian Border. The small, isolated mining towns, smatterings of glacial-scraped lakes and forested wilderness gave him spaces in which he could breathe. After more than a decade as a conservation officer—that’s what they called game wardens nowadays—he still welcomed the daily tedium of his 24/7 routine enforcing game laws. It was more like public relations compared to the life and death situations that came with armed robberies, road rage and gang shootings—and domestic violence calls, his least favorite of them all. Not that he liked confronting any desperate person, but when it came to affairs of the heart, well, no one could predict what a man was capable of until love or jealousy tested him.

Five miles later, John found the end of the Jacobson’s driveway deserted.

He turned in and drove a quarter mile through the pines past a black spruce-filled bog. On a rise above the bog sat a  log house with a squat roof surrounded by a thick stand of pines. The sun peaked over the tree tops, casting long purple shadows on the snow. As he got out of the truck, the smell of wood smoke filled the air. A lazy wisp of smoke rose from a stove pipe poking out the cabin roof beside a TV satellite dish. John’s what-if radar sharpened.

It was quiet. Too quiet. He imagined the same stillness in the air when Johns’ best friend Keith, a fellow officer, found the slumper sleeping in a car in the church parking lot. A routine call. The slumper had a warrant for his arrest, but before Keith could reach the squad car to look up the man’s record, he took three bullets in the back.

“Hello?” John knocked on the front door. The busted-out screen rattled. “Hello!” He rubbed his knuckles and counted to ten before following a worn trail through snow and trees to the backside of the cabin.

“Inside my heart there's an empty room,” a mournful voice sang from inside a small pole barn. Young and feminine, the voice cut through the winter stillness like a siren over a frozen sea. “It's waiting for lightning. It's waiting for you…”

“Hello?” He raised his voice as he knocked on the barn door and stepped into the darkness. Before his eyes could adjust, the smell of warm hay and summer pastures filled his senses.

A young woman popped up from behind an interior pen. “Oh!” she cried, a startled expression on her face. Under a blue knit cap, a long blond braid snaked out over her shoulder. Her pale blue eyes were red and swollen. 

“Someone called about trespassing and a wolf? A Dan Jacobson?”

“Jesus,” she said and looked away, down toward her hands where she held clumps of hay. “Didn’t Danny meet you at the road?” Two goats no taller than her knees milled about beside her snatching mouthfuls of fresh hay from the floor. Rays of sunlight streamed in through a small window igniting dust particles in an aura around her.

“No, he wasn’t there.” He held out his hand. “I’m John Reid.”

She dropped the hay, wiped at her face and shook his hand. “Bijou.”

When his eyes met hers, it took only a moment for his heart to quicken. Yes, he was sure. He recognized her kind...


Wendy Skinner is a fiscal year 2014 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.