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Wolves in Yellowstone by Lauren Voeltz


I've been watching Dad suffer all weekend in Yellowstone National Park. He hasn't been the same since the divorce.


Our campsite is on a small lot, framed by towering lodgepole pines and underbrush infested with deer ticks.


The last time we came here my stepmom and Dad were newlyweds and I was thirteen–that awkward home, renting both girl and lady.


We had set up our tent in a corner campsite, a cleavage nestled between twin slopes. My stepmom never stopped complaining about the mosquitos.


She's just not made for the wilderness, I said.


Give her a chance, Dad said.


I'll give the wolves a chance, I said. To eat her.


My stepmom snarled at me when Dad wasn't looking, exposing her canines.


A howl tore through our campsite, so I snuck off for a closer look. When I returned, my stepmom pinched the cartilage of my ear with her manicured hand. You're not a hooligan.

While Dad and I sat outside welcoming the night, she stole away to our tent, and snored like a grizzly bear.


Now, I am eighteen, and scared to leave Dad like this. I make him eggs he doesn't eat. I boil water to clean the cast-iron pan, and it spills onto the grate, sizzling. Dad zones out while flames lick the sides of the pan and powdered egg residue peels from its edge like it's shedding an old skin.


I thought Dad would feel free, happier even, without her–the way she slowly snuffed out his passion. But he just slumps in his lawn chair, and retreats into the tent before it's dark.

I stay by the campfire watching the flames descend. Acrid embers cover the stench of far-off skunk spray, carried in by the wind. A buck and doe wander through our site.


I want to wake Dad, but I don't want to disturb his rest. A wolf, with gray fur standing on end, follows the deer's path. I look on in amazement.


While the fire dies, I think of my mother, stolen because of a careless driver, and of my wretched stepmom. I think of Dad, missing out on the thousands of twinkling stars shining against the darkness.


When I go inside the tent, Dad is huddled around a single propane lantern. The tiny flame dances, beating against the glass enclosure.


 


Lauren Voeltz reads, writes, and drinks coffee; all of these (maybe) too much. You can find her work at trampset, reflex fiction, TL;DR, Lumiere Review, flash flood 2022 & Brilliant Flash Fiction. She was longlisted for the wigleaf top 50. Follow her @mattnwife

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