It Is What It Is.

Lookout Pass

by Steven J Holetz


The CRV’s tires slipped once more, and the vehicle slid several feet to the right. Scott
tightly gripped the steering wheel as he felt the tires regain their purchase on the icy road. Beside
him, his wife Jodi placed a hand on the dashboard to steady herself.

               “Would you slow down please?”

               “I am going slowly. It’s just slippery. And your bitching at me is not helping things”.

               Scott’s reply was quiet, but tense, as he tried to avoid waking the kids who were asleep
in the back seat. He glanced over his shoulder at his daughter Alice, her head leaning against
the window in slumber, and caught the gleam of moonlight off her golden hair. Next to her, he
can see nothing of his son Todd but a tuft of sandy brown hair sprouting up from a Spider-man
fleece blanket.

               It was Christmas Eve, and the family was trekking from Seattle for a holiday visit with Scott’s
parents in Big Fork, Montana. They had been making good time on the road, but the snowfall had
become heavy as they climbed
up the final mountain range in Idaho, approaching Lookout Pass and
 the Idaho-Montana border.
Scott turned down the Christmas music on the car stereo, quieting the
Ramones jolly, chugging riff. The car slid once again, eliciting another response from Jodi.

               “You should have put the chains on BEFORE we went up the mountain.”

               “It didn’t seem so bad, and I didn’t want to stop unless I had too. I’m trying to make good
time here.”

                “You know, we’ll miss Christmas completely if you get us killed BEFORE we get to your
Mom’s.” Jodi said, white-knuckling the armrest.

Scott started to reply but held on to the retort as he heard Joey Ramone belt out the classic
line: “Merry Christmas, I don’t want to fight toniiiiiight”. Ah, Joey, once again you are dead right, he
thought. He allowed his stress to dissipate a little before replying, as he watched the dashboard
clock change over to 9:02, mentally calculating what another stop would add to the remaining 3
hours they would be on the road.  

         “Listen, I’m sorry. You are right, I SHOULD have chained up at the bottom. We’re almost to
the top of the pass, I will pull over and chain up there, okay?”

Jodi’s expression softened and she reached out her left hand, laying it on Scott’s shoulder.

 “I’m sorry too. Please be careful”.

 “I will.” Scott said, his face suddenly illuminated by bright headlights as a vehicle passed,
moving in the opposite direction. 


 “Oops!” said Officer Howard, the driver of the other vehicle, as he clicked off his high beams.
 “Sorry, Buddy.”

            “You know he can’t hear you, right?” asked his partner Carl.

 “I do, but it’s the thought that counts”.

            Officer Terry Howard had been a Montana State Trooper for twenty years, and Christmas
Eve had always been one of his favorite nights to work. It was always an easy shift, quiet, maybe
the occasional stranded motorist, but usually just a nice evening. Already the officer was looking
forward to the great big mug of Hot Buttered Rum he’d be sipping in about 90 minutes. Just then,
the car was filled with the voice of John Fogerty.

I see a Bad Moon Rising. I see trouble on the way…

 Terry fished his cell phone out of his pocket and answered. “This is Howard”

 “Hey Troop, this is Caroline over at the Silverlode. Sorry to bug you on Christmas Eve and
all, but Tommy’s down here, and he’s had way too many to drive. Any way you could come and give
him a ride home?”

The Trooper sighed heavily. His brother Tommy had been having a tough time of it lately.
Tommy’s wife had left him about a month earlier, and since then Tommy had been self-medicating
with bourbon pretty regularly. Terry had hoped that a Christmas with the family would help his little
brother snap out of his misery. “Yeah, Caroline, we can. Actually, your timing couldn’t be better.
I’m off in about an hour, and we just crossed over the pass. We can be in Silverton in about twenty

            “Thanks, Troop”

 “No problem at all. See you in a few.”

 Terry keyed off his phone, noticing Carl’s sly grin.

“Really? Bad Moon Rising? You cornering the market on “Suck”?”

“It’s a lot better than that crap you listen to. That’s a great tune right there. A classic.”

“I dunno man, that sucks right there. It was cool in “American Werewolf in London
 though.” said Carl, thoughtfully.

 “Damn straight it was. Funny, I always think of that too.”

 “You want a cool werewolf song? What about “Lycanthropy” by GBH. “Even a man who is pure
at heart and says his prayers at night, can become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the moon is
shining briiiiiiiight!” Carl sang.

“Hahaha. I don’t know that one, but they stole that line from the old Universal Wolf Man with
Lon Chaney Jr. The Frantics used the same line in a tune of theirs as well.” said Terry.

                “Who’re the Frantics”

                “Garage band from Tacoma. They did a great surf tune called “Werewolf”. You should
check it out.”

               “I will.”  Carl said, jotting it down in his pocket notebook as they descended upon Silverton.


               “Whoa!” said Scott.

                “You okay?” Jodi asked.

                “Yeah, I just about got buried in an avalanche of crap,” said Scott, as he shoved the pile of
presents, coats, toys and empty water bottles back into the car. Scott’s care had delivered them to
the top of Lookout Pass with few additional instances of heart-pounding slippage, but now Scott felt
anxious to get the chains on and get moving once more. The CRV was pulled over into the deeper
snow of the shoulder, and Scott hoped he could get the chains on easily, because it was freaking’
cold. He pulled his coat out of the back and shrugged into it, then grabbed the bag of chains and a
tire iron, and gently closed the back door. Scott turned and took two steps to the rear wheel on the
left, kneeling down as he unzipped the chain bag. At that moment, Scott heard it, a wail so primal
and terrifying that it immediately froze Scott in place, chilling him to the bone.

                It was the howl of a wolf that had cut the night air, and it sounded incredibly close. Scott
started to hurry now, and used the tire iron to scrape the snow out from beneath the tire, before
 quickly laying the chains out flat behind it. Then he heard a second howl. Scott picked up the tire
iron and stood up, scanning the hillside behind the car for the source of the sound. All he saw was
a snowy gentle slope which faded into thick forest, the perfect white of the hillside marred only by
a lookout tower fifty feet from the side of the road.  A
spartan structure, the tower was designed to
house the DOT traffic cameras which watched the roads day and night. Scott had actually seen the
view from these cameras that very morning on his computer, as he checked the road conditions
prior to their departure for Grandma’s. A square metal box with windows, it sat another 50 feet
into the air on a metal pipe about 18 inches in diameter, with a ladder climbing one side to the

He thought he could see dark shadows separating themselves from the black of the forest,
and another howl forced him to lunge for the car door. He wrenched it open, jumped in and slammed
 it behind him with the tire iron still clenched in his fist.

 “Did you hear that?” He asked his wife.

 “How could I not?”  Jodi watched the shadows approach from her window. “Are you OK?”

 “Yeah, I‘m just freaked out. I didn’t even get the chains on yet. Let’s just go. I’ll take it slow
down the mountain, but I don’t like this at all. I want to get the hell out of here.”

 “Yeah, OK. I think we’d better.”

 Scott started the car, gently engaging the clutch, but as he had failed to finish clearing the
deeper snow of the shoulder out from beneath his tires, they simply spun in place. Scott revved the
engine twice more, but the car barely shifted. He turned off the engine and sighed in defeat.

 “I guess we’ll have to wait for help.”

 “It might not be too much of a wait.” Jodi said, still watching the shadows. “I thought I saw a
Montana state trooper pass in the other direction a little while ago. Hopefully they’ll come back
before long.”

 “Hopefully”. Scott agreed, as his eyes followed the moving shadows in the trees. It was
probably just his nerves getting to him, but he almost thought he could hear them growling.


               Tommy sat on a wooden bench in front of the Silverlode, smoking his last cigarette,
and trying not to aggravate the pounding in his head and the ache in his stomach. At 6’ 3”
and 250 pounds, Tommy had always been an imposing figure, but despite the time he had
 spent playing backup fullback and linebacker for the Grizzlies, he still had a reputation for
being soft, especially compared to his older brother Terry. That was something that neither
his computer and internet repair business, nor his acting like a drunken crybaby in public
were going to alleviate anytime soon.

                Problem was, Tommy had been absolutely miserable since Shawna left, and every
time he went out for a little fun to try to cheer himself up, the black pool of sadness that colored
his days lately seemed to take over everything. And then he would lose it once again, just like
he had tonight. He flicked his ash onto the snow, and heard the door open behind him.
He turned to see Caroline, the bar’s matronly owner, approach with a Styrofoam cup.

               “Hey Tommy.  Sorry this took so long, things got busy there for a minute.” she said,
handing him the cup. “I made some fresh coffee though. And I got a hold of Terry; he should
be here in just a few minutes.”

                “Thanks, Caroline.”

                “Listen Tommy, I know it’s been tough for you these last few weeks. But keep your
head up. Things are going to get better.” Ah, the joys of small town life, thought Tommy.

                “I want to give you this.”  Caroline took something out from the pocket of her money
apron, and handed it him. It was a smooth gray river stone, which had the word “Whatever”
carved into its face.

                “Whenever I get too stressed out, and believe me, owning a bar is no picnic, I just
take a look at that and remind myself to keep a little perspective. I know you are hurting now,
but soon time will wear down that pain, just like water on that rock, and it’ll all seem like it was
 just a bad dream.” She said, giving him a quick squeeze around the shoulders. “And for what
 it’s worth, I never liked Shawna anyway.”              

               “Thanks Caroline, I appreciate that”. Tommy smiled, as the two of them were splashed
 by the headlights of his brother’s patrol car.

               Tommy stood up, a little wobbly, and started to move to the side of the car. “Thanks
again Caroline. Merry Christmas.” 

                “Back atcha, Sweetie!” she said, and waved to Terry before disappearing back
into the Silverlode. 

               Carl had gotten out of the car, and opened the back door for Tommy with a flourish.

               “Hey Tommy, Merry Christmas. You have the right to remain silent. Particularly if you
are going to be telling stupid-ass stories like your brother here. And don’t you spill that in my

               Tommy smiled in spite of himself, and got in the car.  


“Finally, the cavalry arrives!” Scott said to Jodi. This was answered by a subdued "Yay!",
from the family as he watched the dark colored Montana Highway Patrol vehicle pull to a stop
behind their car. And not a moment too soon. They had been waiting for 45 minutes, and it had
gotten cold fast with the engine off. The family was now all bundled in their coats and gloves and
hats.  Not only that, but it had been several hours since their previous stop, and Scott knew it was
only a matter of time until one of the kids would need to go to the bathroom. He had no intention of .
letting his kids out of the car with the wolves around, so the sooner they got moving, the better.
He watched in the rear view as the Trooper stepped out of the vehicle, snow falling on his wide-
brimmed hat.

Scott rolled down his window to speak to the trooper, and saw the large dark blur slam
into the trooper from behind, knocking him face first into the snow. A huge gray wolf had its jaw
latched on the trooper’s shoulder. Scott saw the steam rising as the Trooper’s blood melted the
snow.  Then the wolf’s head snapped back as three shots split the air. The second trooper
stood by  the passenger door, both hands keeping the weapon trained on the Wolf.

“You OK, Terry?” Scott heard the man call, as a second wolf leapt over the snow bank
on the right, ripping the man’s throat out in one vicious bite, and sending a fountain of blood
exploding upon the pile of snow. The first trooper was back on his feet now, covered in blood,
sidearm thundering. The wolf took several shots in the torso, and yelped in pain before running
off into the trees.    

From his place locked in the back of the patrol vehicle, Tommy could do nothing but
watch helplessly as the scene unfolded in front of him like a horror movie. The front door opened,
and Terry reached in to unlatch the shotgun from its bracket on the dashboard, his left arm limb at
his side.

 “Terry, unlock the door! Let me out!”

 “Oh, sorry Tom” said Terry, panting,and in obvious pain. Tommy heard the click as the
door unlocked, and he jumped from the car, immediately scanning the hillside. The howling came
from all around them now, issuing from the trees like an alarm. Now holding the shotgun, Terry
handed his sidearm to Tommy.

 “How bad is it?” Tommy asked.

 Terry shook his head, clearly badly hurt, and cringed as he racked a shell into the
shotgun’s chamber. His years of training kept his mind sharp despite the pain. “They're still
coming, Tommy. Run and see what's going on with that family, would you?"

Tommy ran to the side of the CRV, speaking to Scott through the still open window. He was
surprised to find that he was suddenly sober. “Are you folks all right?” he asked. “We’re fine,”
Scott answered, “but the car is stuck. We can’t move it.”

  "Theres four of them, two adults and two kids. They're fine but the car is stuck." Tommy yelled
back to Terry. Terry was kneeling to check Carl's body, the shotgun cradeled across his thighs .
thought for a moment.
Damnit! Carl was such a great young guy, and a good partner to boot. How could
this be happening? What insanity had he just stepped into? He wiped his eyes, and awkwardly dug

Carl’s .38 out from the snow one-handed.  He holstered it and rose once again with the shotgun, as
the howling continued around them.

"Quick, get them in the cruiser! We have to get out of here!"

Terry held open the rear door as Scott and Jodi piled the kids into the back seat. He closed
the door behind them and slid back behind the wheel, as Tommy came to a rest in the passenger seat
next to him.  Terry turned the ignition, immediately comforted by the roar of the cruiser's powerful engine.
"Hold on, folks," he said as gunned it, pulling around the CRV and accelerating onto the highway.

The wolf leapt up and slammed into windshield, shattering it into a thousand glittering jewels.
Terry instantly lost his tenuous one-handed control of the steering wheel, and the car spun on the ice,
it's rear circling around to the left towards the roadside divider. The wolf lay pinned on the hood by the
car's momentum car spun, snarling as it lunged at Terry's face. Terry snapped his head back and away
from the threat, as Tommy quickly jammed the barrel of Terry's sidearm into the beast's skull. He pulled
the trigger three times, coating everything in the front seat with blood and brain, the report deafening in the
small space. The wolf disappeared from view. The car then rammed hard, nose-first into the siderail,
it's hood crumping, before it careened away. It continued it's arc, then slammed it's driver side into the
rail a second time, bringing the cruiser to a sudden halt. 

             Terry's first thought was of how beautiful the snow looked, as it fell silently upon the trees on
the hillside before him, the scene framed perfectly though the missing windshield. He was snapped
out of his daze by the quiet sobbing from the children in the backseat. He looked back to check the
family. "Is everybody okay?" Scott and Jodi did a quick inventory. Although they were clearly shaken,
everyone seemed to be in one piece. Tommy was busy wiping the gore from his eyes.

Terry turned the keys. A grinding noise issued from under the hood, but the car would not start.
"The cruiser isn't going anywhere
." he said. Faced still smeared, Tommy shook the bloody rubies
of safety glass from his clothing, and tried the radio. I
t stood silent, the car's battery most likely
crushed in the wreck. Terry pointed up the hill.
"We have to get to the Tower. We can hole up there
until backup arrives”.

           “You heard the man. Let's move it  folks!” said Tommy. He jumped from the vehicle
and wrenched open the rear door as Terry climbed over the passenger seat, dragging the shotgun
behind him.  
The group moved from the car, and quickly crested the 4-foot embankment at the roadside,
which had been created in the wake of so many snowplow runs. Tommy dropped over as well, and
Terry stood atop the pile, holding the shotgun toward the trees. He saw several more shapes leave
the darkness beneath the trees and he dropped over the embankment himself, moving quickly to put
himself between them and Tommy and the the family. “Come on folks, move it!” he yelled over the
incessant howling.

Jodi led the way with Todd in her arms, the Spider-man blanket dragging though the snow
behind them. Scott
held Alice tightly in one arm right behind her, the tire iron still in the otherm as
Tommy followed closely  behind.
They fought through the knee deep snow as they moved towards
the tower. The wolf song was louder now, and added to their urgency. They heard Terry’s shotgun
thunder twice, three, four more times behind them, but didn’t dare turn to look as they pushed on
as hard as they could. After what seemed like an eternity crossing the open hillside, they finally
made it to the base of the tower. Scott saw several more wolves moving toward them from the
treesin font of them, their eyes blazing in the moonlight.  

 The rungs of the ladder appeared to be made of rebar, and were slick with ice. Jodi
took the tire iron from Scott’s hand and used it to quickly knock the icicles from the first few rungs,
then handed it back to Scott. “Hold on a sec” he said, and picked up the dragging end of Todd’s
blanket, tucking it firmly around him.

“Go, honey. Hurry!” 

Jodi shifted Todd around to her back, and with a quick “hold on tight”, began her careful
ascent up the slippery ladder. Scott followed immediately, with Alice clinging tightly around his
neck in silence, just as Terry made it to the base of the tower.

 “Get up there, Tommy. I only have two shells left.” said Terry, watching the three approaching
shapes. “You don’t have much time”.

 “You’re hurt! You go first!”

 “It would take me forever to get up there anyway with my shoulder. Now listen to your
big brother for once and go!”  

 Tommy stared at Terry for a second, and then turned to scramble up the ladder.

 The three wolves approached Terry from different angles, cold eyes filled with hunger.
The first shot caught the middle wolf right in face, disintegrating it’s skull into a fine red mist.
Terry racked the second shot and hit another wolf in the chest as it lunged from his right. He
felt a black ball of panic in the pit of his stomach as he reflexively pulled the trigger and then
heard the dry click. At that moment the last wolf jumped at him from the left, knocking him off
his feet and slamming him hard into the snow, the thing’s teeth latching onto his arm.

Terry heard a crunch and screamed in pain, frantically feeling the ground for any sort
of weapon. He grabbed something, and just as the wolf released him to get a better grip, he
pushed the creature back with all the strength left in his arm. The pain the pain THE PAIN! of
his now shattered shoulder and arm overwhelmed him as he rammed the 2-foot long icicle
through the beast’s throat and into its brain before passing out in the bloody slush.


Up in the lookout, the family heard the scream, followed by what sounded like a
startled yelp. Scott slammed the trapdoor closed, and jammed the tire iron through the door’s
ring handle, locking it. The inside of the lookout tower was bare, the only features a tightly padlocked
toolbox attached to one wall, and a power box in another corner, with several cables running up
through the roof to the cameras. Each wall had a trap door window, the type which could be propped
up with a metal rod which hung from the each windows edge. Several thick plastic panels were set in
the ceiling, through which they could see the two cameras, one facing east and one west, and the full
moon which illuminated the small room.

Although sheltered, the interior of the cube was as cold as a meat locker, and they could all
see their breath rising ghostlike in the moonlight. The family leaned against one wall, while Tommy
leaned against the opposite, gun still in hand, staring into space. The tightness in his chest at the
thought of Terry's last scream made seem his feelings for Shawna seen almost petty. He couldn't
believe his brother was gone, but he had seen the wolves circling. After a few moments, he noticed
the family watching him, and put the gun in his jacket pocket. As he did, he felt it click against
something. He pulled it out, his “Whatever” rock. He had a little perspective now, all right.
He held it tightly in his fist and returned it to the pocket, then looked up at the family.

“Hey. I’m Tommy.”

“I’m Scott. This is Jodi, Alice, and Todd.”

“How you guys doing? Merry Christmas.”

“Could be better. But Merry Christmas to you too.” Scott extended a hand and shook with
Tommy. Then he took a cell phone out of his jacket pocket, and powered it up.

 “Any signal?” asked Tommy.

 “Doesn’t look like it.”

 “Damn. I didn’t see Terry call for help on his radio either. This road will be pretty quiet
tonight. It might be a while until help comes.”

“Terry? So you knew the Trooper?”

“Yeah, he’s my brother. He was my brother. He was giving me a ride home.”

 ”I’m so sorry” said Jodi. They sat quietly for a few moments, lost in thought.

 Tommy spoke first. “You know, the DOT cameras up there are monitored 24/7. If we
could turn them to face the empty patrol car, someone would see it and help might get here sooner.     

 He stood to look in the power box, opening it up to reveal bunches of wire, switches,
and two small monitors, each showing the view from one of the cameras. There were also two
remote controls. Tommy moved the control touchpad back and forth, and heard a whine from
above, but neither picture changed. Scott stood to join Tommy, as Jodi and the kids huddled
tightly under their blanket.

“Look’s like they’re frozen.” said Tommy. If we are going to aim them at the patrol car,
it will have to be done manually.”     

“All right, it’s worth a try. I’m game.” said Scott.

 “No way man, it’s going to be slippery, and you have your family here. I’ll do it.” Tommy
replied. He opened one of the windows, and propped it up. “I figure if I stand on the sills in the
corner of two windows I can reach around far enough to move one of them, anyway.

 “All right, I’ll hold onto your jacket to steady you.” Scott said. Jodi got the kids up and
moved them out of the way. ”Be careful” she said. “If I had a nickel…” Scott answered, smiling at her.

Tommy opened the second window, wiped the snow off the 4-inch sill, and boosted himself
up onto it, wrapping an arm around the corner between the two windows for support. “Here goes
nothing,” he said as he slowly stood up. Scott got a good grip on the front of Tommy’s coat, holding
him fast. 

 From where he stood, Tommy could now see the two cameras, just out of reach. He shifted
 his stance, putting all of his weight on his right leg, as he reached up with his right arm stretching
to grip the camera. He had just turned it toward the road when he felt his right foot slide off the sill
into open air. Trying to stop himself, he frantically grabbed at the camera, his weight breaking it
off its mounting as he fell backward, which sent the camera flying over his shoulder into the darkness.
This is it, he thought, when suddenly he stopped, his fall arrested by Scott’s tight grip on the front of
his coat. He swung his leg over the sill and sat on it, heart hammering in his chest.

 “Oh my God,” said Jodi.

 “Thanks, Scott,” Tommy said, meaning the phrase more than he ever had in his life. 

 “Don’t mention it,” Scott answered, breathing hard.

 “The camera broke off; we’ll have to try the other one.”

 “Are you nuts?” asked Jodi.

 “She’s right, forget it man,” Scott agreed.       

 Then they heard a knock on the trap door.  “Tommy. Let me in.”


 Tommy jumped down from the sill, moving quickly to the floor and removing the tire
iron from the trap door. As he did it burst open, and Terry lunged through it, but Terry was no
longer himself.  In that instant Tommy saw the changes in his brother, but was unable to register
them as they made no sense. The face, once broad and warm, was now covered with fine hair.
The big ears that their dad always used to tease Terry about, now swept back to a point. The mouth,
which was always quick to laugh, now the jaw and nose extended alarmingly, a good four inches
from the stretched  skull, revealing a mouth full of sharp teeth that were snapping at Tommy’s
throat with startling speed.  

“No! No! No!” Tommy screamed, as he tried to force the trapdoor closed, but his strength
was no match for Terry’s. Terry grabbed Tommy in a vice-like grip with hairy clawed hands and
wrenched him towards those dripping, deadly jaws. Unable to pull away, Tommy reached into the
coat pocket and gripped Terry’s handgun. Tommy sobbed, “I’m sorry I’m sorry Oh God I’m sorry!”
as he pulled the trigger six times into Terry’s chest. Terry fell backward but never released his hold
on Tommy, pulling him out through the trapdoor with him as he fell. A stone fell from Tommy’s pocket, a
s he dropped into the blackness, skittering to a stop against the wall next to Scott. 

The unreality of reading the word “whatever” inscribed in a rock snapped Scott out
of his paralysis, and he dove for the hatch. He saw the bodies of Terry, Tommy and the
wolves lying in the snow for a split second before he slammed the door shut and wedged
it once more with the tire iron. Quickly he closed and latched the two open windows as well.
Then he returned to his crying, frightened family, who huddled shivering under their blanket,
and they all tried to ignore the howling symphony outside.


 Several hours later Scott was awakened not by howling, but by the wail of sirens.
His watch read 6 am. We are officially late to Grandma’s, he thought. He climbed out from
beneath the Spidey blanket and opened the floor hatch. He noticed that the bodies of both
wolf and man were missing from where they had lain only a few hours earlier. Scott thought
 of Terry and Tommy Howard and felt a wave of sadness engulf him. He had just met these two
good men, and both were senselessly taken from the world right before his eyes. Yet all sign that
they ever existed had been wiped away, as all of the blood and carnage had been completely
covered by a fresh blanket of snow. Two new patrol cars and an ambulance had just pulled up
beside the CRV and Terry’s car, as a red morning sun colored the snow pink. Jodi joined him
 at the door, and he wrapped his arm around her.

 “I can’t even think how to explain what happened last night, but we’re still alive. Merry
Christmas,” he said.

 “That might be the best present ever,” replied Jodi.


  Copyright  2007 Steven J Holetz

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