Wilson's Wildlife Shelter

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Chapter I.IX

My eyes stung. Of course, they had been stinging since the midnight moon loomed overhead, but that was a mixture of fatigue and staring at a tablet for an entire night. The way that my eyes tingled now was new and alarming. I may be an insomniac, but I was a responsible insomniac, and it had been years since my last all-nighter.

But my eyes, though rebellious, did not deceive me. The morning sun was beginning to bring its head up above the covers, yawning and stretching and turning the sky purple. It was 5:30 in the morning, and I hadn't closed my eyes but to blink.

I shut the tablet, stuffed it in my bag. No, I still wasn't tired. But that was no excuse not to take care of myself. I needed food, and I needed a bed, and neither could be found in Tickle Creek, so my only option was to walk back to the road.




I was glad to be able to lay down. The sheets were soft and silky, pillows recently fluffed. The receptionist was warm and friendly in a genuine-feeling fashion. The experience was simple enough to almost leave me feeling less than drained, but there was no force in the universe that could dispel the mood besides sleep — and even that was likely a half-measure.

I felt manic. On one level, I knew what it was. On another, I had no clue. What drove me to a sleepless night of typing? It felt so right when I started. Was I too delirious to remember my past self's reasoning? Did I foresee this and discover it a worthwhile effort? My brain was too muddled to do anything but ask these questions. Even tasks divorced of physical effort felt like lifting cars and running marathons.

I lazily pulled a bottle of pills out of the bag on the floor by the bed, and unscrewed the child-safe lid. I shook out two sleeping pills, put the bottle back, reached for the glass of water on the nightstand, propped myself up on one elbow to get an angle that wouldn't hurt my throat, and downed them both. I placed the glass back on the nightstand and collapsed. Hopefully, that would do me in. Even in my deteriorated state, sleep was held at bay by some invisible force. Some kind of pressure that started as just another teenage phase, and turned into a debilitating lifelong habit.

I looked at the clock and noted that I would be falling asleep at 8:00 in the morning. Who knows what effects this would have on the coming months — my circadian cycles were shaky already.

I turned off the lamp, thankful for a room without windows, clambered under the covers, and huddled into a kind of fetal position. My phone soon tried to get my attention with two mystery notifications, but I couldn't be bothered. Already the drug was whisking me away to an uneasy rest.

My last thought was that I will write in the morning, forgetting that tomorrow had already come to pass.




It was always strange when Tim brought people on hikes with him, because he was often the most enthusiastic about it, and yet moved slowly and struggled greatly. Somehow, he would always be smiling whenever you caught him, whether or not he was walking uphill, one hand to his chest, heaving and wheezing like a thrown stone had knocked the wind out of him. But today, while the kids were out at school, Tim had invited Alice to come with him on a hike.

It was a bit more of a drive than the usual; Tim had taken them up and up into the mountains, to the point that they were beginning to see hints of snow.

"The altitude isn't gonna get to you up here?"

"Hasn't yet!" Tim espoused. Alice found that hard to believe, but she'd rather he come up here with her instead of go alone, so she shut it.

They pulled into a turnout, parked the car, got out, and stretched to loosen muscles from the long drive. Alice would have asked what this was all about, but hour-plus drives just to visit some trail Tim had discovered were not so uncommon, and this was actually closer than some other places he had brought her and the family.

"There actually isn't a trail here," Tim said. "I did some good ol' bushwhacking, I'm carving my own. Hoping to walk it enough times to have it be another one of those unmarked trails that some people stumble across. Always wanted to be that guy. So let's get going!"

Alice chastised herself in her head for not having dressed for cold weather; Tim, knowing well and good where they were headed, still hadn't dressed appropriately. He seemed to be one of those people that were wholly ignorant of the cold. Heat could get to him, but Alice had never seen him wear anything heavier than a thin jacket except when she forced it onto him.

Up here, the trees were sparse, and the terrain was rocky. Though the mountains were steep, Tim had found a lip that was at most times flat, if headed slightly downhill. The sky was clear, the sun was bright, and yet its warmth seemed to neglect them. A large wall of bleached-grey rock, not quite tall enough or steep enough to be called a cliff, gave them something to lean on to their right, and a harrowing drop down into pines accompanied them on their left. Alice shivered violently.

"It's not a long walk," Tim assured. "Just wanna show you something."

Alice nodded and kept up. It was unlike Tim to move so fast, but he seemed extra determined today. But he began to lull, began to meander instead of jog, and then finally he stopped and sat down.

It was a large outcropping of rock that looked like it might crack and plummet at any moment. Almost-white, river-smooth stone poured out from the rock wall and hung over the sharp drop-off, akin in appearance to a mistletoe parasitically attached to a trunk. Tim, of course, chose to sit precariously on the very edge, legs dangling above the mile-high abyss.

"Tim," Alice said, and that was enough to get him to scoot back. "Better."

She walked over to him, and then sat in his lap, much to his surprise. "Hold me," she demanded, no warmth in her tone but a smile on her lips. Tim obliged.

"Cold?" he asked.

"Very."

"Sorry, forgot to tell you."

She shrugged. "This what you wanted to show me?"

"Yes."

The view, in a word, was incredible. The foothills looked like little mounds from up here, the trees like swaying blades of grass. A flock of birds graced the left half of Alice's vision, the sun far to her right, and all around the roads that usually marked a landscape as inhabited were inhibited by the branches and leaves and needles; it gave the illusion of a land devoid of human interference. Tim's thoughts contained the words "wild". Alice's passed over several variants of "holy". But in the ways of conversation, the same word approached their lips:

"Beautiful."

"Isn't it?"

Tim let this moment play out, arms around Alice, head on her shoulder, looking out towards the horizon, loving the world in which he was just an animal among all the others. Today wasn't about the hike, it really was about the destination. Here, Tim thought, he could be forever, and be happy.

"I call it my thinking spot," Tim hummed, voice low as if too loud an utterance might interrupt Alice's experience. "I come up here when I want to think about something."

"It's a good thinking spot," Alice said.

"Mhmm."

"So, what have been your thoughts at late?" Alice asked.

It never failed to amaze Tim just how fast she caught onto subtext.

"Well," Tim started, "I've been thinking of quitting my job."

"Mhmm, and what am I going to have to say to that."

"'You'd better have a plan!'"

"The right answer was 'like hell you are', but that one is an acceptable substitute, so respond to that for a second."

"Heheh, alright. Then yes, I have a plan. Big plan, actually."

"Hit me with it."

Tim stuck an arm out in front, so that it could be in her view, and panned it slowly from left to right while he uttered: "Wilson's Wildlife Shelter."

"Ooo," Alice said.

"Right?"

"Okay, you've got my ears, give me the full pitch."

"Pitch?"

"Yes."

"I don't have a pitch, the title is where the pitch stops."

"Uh-huh. You don't get to quit your job until you have a pitch."

"Aww, honey…"

"I don't want my kids to have an unemployed daddy."

Tim sighed. "Fine. But I need your help on it."

Alice turned her head towards him as best she could. "You do?"

"I do. You know how to run a business, I don't."

"Pah. It's a stretch to call a library a business, but I guess there may be some transferable skills."

"Well a non-profit isn't really a business either, and neither of the two make money, so maybe it'll be… similar?"

"You haven't done any research, have you?"

Alice heard no response from Tim, and something about that made her grin. "Tell you what," she said. "I like this little dream of yours. You don't even have to come to the library; I'll pour through what we have and see if I can't come up with something. Maybe figure out some non-profits near us, line up some interviews. Maybe being a government employee will give me some sway? Hopefully we get some confidants who can tell us all the secrets and dirty tricks about how to not make money. Do you still have some friends from veterinary school that you're in contact with? Well…" Alice thought for a second.

"No, you don't," she concluded, "not really. Hmm. That will be a problem. I know you're not bad yourself with animals, but you're definitely nothing official. And does this small community really have a wealth of veterinary options? We're not so far from Portland; we'll probably have to outsource from there. And of course, this all hinges on there being enough wildlife around here to rescue in the first place. Do you really think there are?"

Tim knew from experience that was a rhetorical question, and answering would throw off her flow.

"Well I guess we'll have to research that, too. I bet you'll be a great help in that department, just from your hobbies and interests, but it wouldn't hurt to get in touch with maybe some park rangers. Milo McIver State Park is really close. What do you say we make a day of it, maybe, next Saturday? I have a fencing tournament this weekend."

No response. "Tim?" She turned all the way around and found herself face to face with a wild, glowing smile. Immediately, he pulled her into a long, rough kiss, and when he pulled away, he said:

"I love you."

Alice's back straightened as her excitement peaked, and she mustered up a compliment of equal value: "I find you fascinating," she replied, and the two fell back into a tight embrace.


* * * * *


In the next one to two years, Alice and Tim fully developed the plan, a plan that Alice tried to keep a secret from everybody and that Tim tried to tell to as many people as possible. They utilized skills they both already knew, and cultivated skills that neither had ever developed, such as all the necessary abilities for hiring people (advertising job openings, assessing skill, interviewing, etc.). It was a lot of work, and became the thing that they did whenever they had nothing else to be doing. Many a late night were spent at the dining table, drinking coffee and pouring over applications, mail, writing notes, making a plan for what to do with the budget… and many trips were made to discover the costs of the necessary implements, talk to people in the know, gain advice, compile advice, discover how to act on said advice. Even more time was spent going over the current budget, wondering how much money they would need to start with, how to get this money, if it was feasible even to do this with the kids still in the house. Tim once said that he wasn't going to wait 10 years. Alice decided not to argue the point.

Tim's enthusiasm and vision spurred everything on. Alice's planning made everything fit into place. That may be unfair to say, but it's the truth. Despite being Wilson's Wildlife Solutions, they were definitely Alice's blueprints. Tim assisted, but Alice carried. And in two years, they were ready to make the riskiest money investment of their lives. Tim knew it. Alice really knew it. But this was the dream. And if this didn't pan out, Tim figured he had it in really good with the Farm Supply.

"A coder?"

"Yeah, general tech-head too. Fuses, electrical grids, kinda my thing."

Tim leaned over to Alice: "Did we put out a call for techies?"

"No," the applicant said, "but you're gonna need one. Trust me. The internet boom is happening right now. My whole family's involved in the industry, and it doesn't take an economic genius to know that this is a sort of revolution. You're going to need a website eventually. It's like a library at your fingertips, except you're not gonna have to order anything. No offense."

"None taken," Alice said. "I'm integrating a computer into my library right now. Useful tool."

"But it's going to be more than a tool — or maybe just the most life-changing tool you've ever experienced. In any case, my brother lives in the area, told me that this might be something I wanted to get in on, so…"

The ground-team was compiled, and included such characters as the soon-to-be web-designer Gary Harp, Tim's longtime friend and coworker Albert Westrin, and veterinarian Sarah Gardner. They began with a host of people who could not commit to full time employment, but would be happy to volunteer. Such people included Gary Harp's brother, Justin, his girlfriend Feather Fanucchi, and names of others that are no longer with us (either in this area or on this plane), and while I would love to honor each and every one, I'd like to keep this concise where possible.

The stage was set, and everyone was anxious. On the 20th of January, 1997, Wilson's Wildlife Shelter was founded. The building needed some renovations, but they were, for all intents and purposes, up and running. Hearts beat fast, from seen and unseen peoples, gears started turning, and adventure started happening…


* * * * *


"You hate to see it," Sylvester said. "Poor unfortunate creature."

The unfortunate part of this line of work was, of course, seeing all the circumstances that keep a wildlife shelter working in the first place.

"Looks to have been hit by something really big, probably died right quick, if not painless than the pain was mercifully brief. Look there, seems that it was hit head on," Marie replied.

"That it does."

Since Boring is not an official town, it didn't have an official beautification department in its local government, the type of in-place system that got rid of roadkill. If I remember correctly, Portland's government was in jurisdiction of the roads, but they didn't do anything if no one reported anything, and that was extra uncommon. So, Wilson's Wildlife Shelter filled that hole. It already fit with other parts of their operations.

"They're cowering just behind that hill," said the old lady who had called them.

Syl and Marie walked over, careful not to spook the animals, and soon saw a group of three fresh fawns, confused and aimless, waiting for their mom to get back up, not knowing that they were staring at their new parents.

"Looks like these ones are ours, now," said Marie.

"Mhmm. That mom looks really heavy. Mind calling Gary, checking if anyone's available to be sent over? We need two trucks anyways; don't want these babies riding next to their dead mom."

"You got it."

And they were named Clovis, Buck, and Lafaunda.


* * * * *


"Best we can figure is that it wasn't eating."

"What?" Tim scratched his head. "What does that mean, Sarah?"

"Well, it means that their food source is really scarce, which is alarming. Except that it's not, there are plenty of healthy squirrels everywhere. I would say maybe it's got brain damage, but it's been eating what we give to it, so it's hard to say. We would have to follow it around in the wild. Is that worth it?"

"Ahh, I don't know. I am…" he now itched at his beard. "I'm going to say to not worry about it. Unless we find another one. Maybe it got trapped somewhere. But if it's eating, it'll be in and out of here in no time, right?"

"Maybe a couple days, you're right."

"Good then. Keep it up, Sarah."

"No problem."

In the coming month, they would find three more squirrels that had somehow decided not to eat, despite the abundance of their food sources. The incident was strange, but they did save that one squirrel, and it never came up again.

And that was named Sam.


* * * * *


"Burned!?"

Laura stood in front of Tim's big nature-chic wooden desk, which was covered in profiles for a myriad of animals in their care. A computer mishap, from a volunteer touching some things in Gary's system that she wasn't supposed to touch, rendered all the Critter Profiles marked as still in their care. They were all printed and sorted that way, and now Tim had to go back and reprint each one that shouldn't be that way. It wasn't a whole lot of work, but it was tedious. Tim didn't know all the animals under their wing — he'd given up trying that after a short while. Plus, he found himself most often behind his desk.

"To a crisp, sir."

Tim didn't like how Laura called him "sir", but he had given up that battle. "And my boy saw this?"

Anders timidly half-hid behind Laura's imposing stature. Seeing his dad upset made him uncomfortable.

"It's not worse than the gore we were expecting, sir. Better, even — not a lot of features could be made out, looked like an oddly shaped log if anything…" She observed Tim's mouth-open, brow-creased expression and decided to change the subject. "It was just more surprising, is all."

"Out of the water, too."

"Probably pulled out by a bear."

"But burned."

"Through and through. Scorches on the ground around it, too."

Tim leaned back in his chair. "People are cruel."

"You think it was people, sir?"

Tim gave her a bemused smile. "You mean to tell me there's some other explanation? Lightning doesn't do that."

Laura shrugged. "I guess not, sir."

"Alright. Maybe I'll send Anders with someone else next time, get him to see some less confusing human activity. Don't want to raise a misanthropist, hohoho."

He really did laugh like Santa Clause, too. "But, sir—!"

"Don't worry, I'm joking! I love that you like to take Anders with you. Maybe get Robin, too. Would be good to get him out there."

And that one was colloquially referred to as the Fire Fish.


* * * * *


Caleb looked on in awe at the bird in enclosure three. It was tall, had a downward curving bill, stood on one leg, and was performing a balancing act on one foot. Oh, and it was pink.

"A flamingo."

"I told you I wasn't shitting you."

"A flamingo."

They looked at each other for what felt like an eternity. Then, Caleb turned back to the shrimp-colored anomaly. "Those aren't native to Oregon."

Dan broke into uproarious laughter. When he had recovered: "No, no they aren't."

Caleb, though more awestruck than humored, began to chuckle just from proximity to such a jolly display. "Maybe I really did see a zebra," he said.

"Maybe, man. Maybe."

And that one was named Miracle, and there's an entire story about how they got it back to its homeland in Bolivia. For another time, maybe.


* * * * *


"Tim," Alice said. Tim looked up from the cabinet drawer in the tiny, cramped little closet that used to be able to house all of their files but was requiring expansion. Manila folders lay scattered about the floor.

"They are organized, I know what all of these files are and where they have to go, so please don't comment on my messiness, because —"

"No, Tim. You need to come see this."

And then she just left. Her tone felt grave, but that may have been an aspect of how unreadable she could appear whenever she wanted to be. In any case, she was gone from view.

"Alice?"

No response.

Tim got up from his work, and hoped he actually did remember what all those files were when he got back. He followed her through their long, lime-green hallway that smelled of the paint they had recently brushed it up with. As he went, he noticed that both Gary's and Albert's office doors were open, and he heard a commotion in the main hub.

Hearing hushed excitement signature of a new coveted animal recovery, he sped up his pace, his curiosity ever-growing. Once he reached the hub, he noticed that the lights were out.

"What's going —"

"Shhh," someone who he couldn't see said. "It's sleeping."

"What's it?" Tim whispered as he approached the small, silhouetted crowd.

"Our new baby bat."

"Show her to Tim," he heard Alice whisper from within the group of people. It was a late night, most of the volunteers should have left by now. And yet there was such a crowd, that he could hear them move out of the way, and there suddenly seemed to be a dim glow that lit someone's arms well enough that he could make out the way they cradled a small blanketed body.

Tim approached slowly and quietly, wondering why a baby bat would be sleeping during the night. Maybe baby bats just slept a lot, he thought. And then the person extended their arms and handed them the baby. In that motion, Tim could tell that the faint glow was associated with the blankets, and he had to ask: "What's he wrapped up with? Why's he got a nightlight?"

"She," someone corrected, "and we didn't wrap her up with anything."

"Aww, poor thing." Tim didn't seem to hear the comment, and instead got that warm, fatherly feeling he always got when cuddling a small animal close to his chest. Especially when it was sleeping. "Little orphan's gonna be an orphan no longer." He pulled the blanket aside just a little bit, and lightly scratched its head, only to notice it had no ears.

"No ears!?" It was an exclamation despite the breathy, low voice. No one responded, and Tim noticed now that everyone was crowded around. "What's so special about this little guy?"

And then it opened its eyes.

People gasped.

They were pupilless, a bright yellow-white, like a cream color, and at once Tim understood the source of the glow. It was like two flashlights had replaced its eyes, and were now illuminating everything that they looked at. Or like a pair of suns embedded into its face.

Then, it closed its eyes and gave a big, squeaky yawn, from which Tim saw the cream-colored tissue that made up the entirety of the inside of its mouth, all the way back to the back of the throat, emitting that very same light, that pouring of bioluminescence like nothing Tim had ever witnessed before. He looked up at all the faces around him, stunned into silence.

"H-hi, little guy," Tim struggled to make eye contact with the floodlights, and scratched its head again. "What… are you?"

And that one was named Blind.




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