The Social Life of Wolverines

by Elise Atchison

As soon as the car dropped off the raised gravel road onto the rutted two track, Dale yelled, "You idiot! This isn't Moose Creek!"

"I can see that," Jenny said.

"Well, turn around!"

"I can't do it here. It's too tight. I'm sure there'll be a place to turn around up ahead."

They plowed through the tall grass that grew in the middle of the dirt road. The grass swooshed as it disappeared under the car grill.

"I don't even think this is a road, Jenny."

"It's a road. There was a forest service sign pointing this way. It's just not a very well-used road." Jenny laughed.

"This isn't funny. We're going to be late to the wedding."

"Don't worry, Dale. I'm sure there'll be a place to turn around soon."

The brush thickened as they drove up the road. Lodgepole saplings bent forward under the front bumper, thwacking against the bottom of the car. Dale looked back and saw the small trees flattened to the ground, the bark scraped off their spindly trunks, the needles stripped from their young limbs.

"This car doesn't have much clearance. You better just back up."

"I can't back up. It's so overgrown, I can't see where the road is. We'll go off."

"Jeez, Jenny. You better find a place to turn around. The road's pretty much disappearing on us."

They bounced over the rough terrain. The farther they went, the more the overgrown forest intruded into the roadway. Low hanging spruce boughs slapped the top of the car with a steady schwump, schwump, schwump. Hawthorn branches clawed the length of the car with a high-pitched screee-aaawk.

"You're ruining the car, Jenny."

Jenny didn't answer, she just stared straight ahead, looking for the slightest hint of a place to turn the car around. They were only going about five miles an hour when they heard a loud clu-unk, and the car stopped moving.

"Oh great. That's just great," Dale said. He leaned forward and peered at the barely visible road ahead. "Try to ease it forward." Jenny pressed gently on the gas, but the car didn't move. "What about backwards?" She put the car in reverse and tapped the gas again, but the car still didn't budge. "Floor it!"

"That might rip the axle off, Dale."

Jenny turned the car off. They sat in silence for a moment, and then both of their heads jerked up.

"What's that?" Dale said, a slight panic rising in his voice.

"It sounds like music. Heavy metal music, I think."

Dale's eyes widened. "It's getting louder!"

A black truck came barreling around the corner and skidded to a stop in front of them. The truck was rusty and dented, the front bumper hung half off, and a large spider crack zigzagged across the front windshield. It looked like it had been driven off a steep cliff and then dragged back up from the bottom of a rocky canyon. Two men stared at them from behind the dirty glass.

The driver had dark hair, shaggy and matted like a musk-ox. His eyes darted around with a glittery, artificial shine. The passenger looked like he was bald under his baseball cap. His half-lidded eyes slithered over them with a slimy, reptilian gaze.

"Oh great, we drove right into a meth lab."

"Be quiet, Dale. They might be able to hear you."

The music clicked off, and the driver emerged from the truck. He was tall and thin, and he had a weird, intricately-patterned tattoo covering his right arm from shoulder to fingertips. Dale thought it looked like some sort of cult or gang thing—probably a souvenir from prison. The passenger stayed in the car, his round face grinning at them as if he were fondling a pistol in his lap.

"Oh my god. The driver looks like the Misfit. And what do you want to bet that other guy plays the banjo?"

"Stop it, Dale." Jenny reached for the door handle.

"Are you crazy! Don't get out!""

Jenny opened the door and stepped into the grass. Dale slumped down in his seat and locked the doors and cracked the window a couple of inches.

"Looks like you guys have a problem here," the driver said.

"Yeah. We're stuck," Jenny answered.

The driver squatted down and looked under the front of the car. His hand rested on the hood, each fingernail packed with dark soil as if he had been digging in the earth with his bare hands. "You got a jack?"

"No!" Dale yelled from the car.

"Yeah, in back." Jenny said.

The driver went around to the back of the car. Dale waved wildly at Jenny until she went over to his window. "He's going to hit us over the head with the jack and steal the car," Dale hissed in a low whisper.

Jenny rolled her eyes. "Just pop the trunk, Dale."

The driver came back around to the front of the car and placed the jack under the front axle. Jenny stood beside him in a pale lavender dress and sandals.

"You don't look dressed for the outdoors, ma'am."

"We were headed to a wedding at Moose Creek. I guess we took a wrong turn."

The driver chuckled. "Yeah, I guess you did. It looks like you high-grounded on a rock, but I think we can get you moving again." He jacked the car up and called out, "Robby!"

The passenger got out of the truck and ambled over to them. He gave a silent nod as he walked by Jenny. The two men pressed their shoulders against the front of the car and shoved it backwards off the rock. Dale bounced in his seat as the car settled back onto the road.

"You need real good clearance to drive up this road. And four-wheel drive, of course. It's not very well maintained."

"I can see that," Jenny said with a laugh. "I appreciate you guys getting us unstuck."

"No problem. But I'd be a little more careful where you take that car. This truck is a university vehicle, and it's meant to be banged up. But I wouldn't drive my car up here."

"You work for the university?"

"We're grad students. Studying the social life of wolverines. We've been out here four weeks this time. Kind of ready for a shower and a beer, and not necessarily in that order." The three of them laughed, while Dale narrowed his eyes at them from the safety of the car.

"You should be able to make it out from here. We'll follow you and make sure you don't get stuck again."           

Jenny looked back down the road and frowned. "I don't think I can back out of here. It's so overgrown, I can't see where the road is."

"I'll lead you out," the round-faced guy said in a barely-audible voice.

He shuffled around the car and started walking down the middle of the road. Jenny pulled on the door handle and gave Dale an exasperated look as he fumbled with the lock. She put the car in reverse and inched back down the road, following the plodding form of her guide.

When they got back to the county road, Jenny stopped the car.

"Just keep driving, Jenny. They probably wanted us to get the car out, and now they'll shoot us and steal it."

"Don't be ridiculous, Dale. They're grad students."

"You believed that story? God you're gullible. I don't know how you ever made it this far in life."

Jenny looked at Dale for a long moment, then she rolled down her window and yelled, "Thanks!"

"Moose Creek's two miles up that way," the driver shouted, his tattooed finger pointing north.

The two men gave a thumbs up and pulled south. Jenny waved and turned north on the county road. She knew exactly where she was going from here.

BIO: Elise Atchison lives in Montana. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Jackson Hole Review, Willows Wept Review, and The Wordstock Ten. For more information, please visit www.eliseatchison.com.