On a swollen tundra a woman skins caribou—warm blood drying on her hands. Summer in the Arctic. Slicing hide from muscle, crimson flesh glistens in the midnight sun. Her fingers work carefully, wasting nothing.

After peeling the hide from ribs and belly, she slices the carcass neck to groin. The woman pulls organs—careful not to puncture stomach or bowels—and sets the insides on the lichen beside her. Looking up from the steaming gut pile, across the North Slope, she thinks of him. The woman wishes she could shut off the dull chest pains. But there'd been love there.

Remembering the grizzlies she saw not too far back her calloused hands move faster. The smell of fresh blood could make them curious so she finishes the skinning and bends to the back straps, slicing flesh away from spine. As she thinks of him once more, the pain sharpens to a point.

The woman lays the back straps in her pack and quarters the animal. Cutting the sinew and muscle away from shoulder bone to separate the front legs from the head and torso.

As she thinks of the man's smile she hears a grunt from behind, grips the knife tighter and turns, but it's just another caribou. A hundred yards off. A rogue bull, separated from the herd, sniffing the air at the scent of the carcass. He shakes his massive rack and stamps his hooves as if offended. Then, forgetting she's there, the bull drops his head to browse the tundra for lichen.

How long was she distracted? Thinking of the man from Pueblo instead of her own survival. She needs to move quick before her next interruption bares fangs and claws.


She met him a year ago, at a bar in Caņon City, where he tried to strike up conversation, and though he was attractive with broad shoulders, a friendly smile, she felt annoyed. Rushing to pay her tab, the woman had just been trying to get back up to the Divide. She wasn't interested in men. Even those with warm eyes and soothing voices.

Still, he followed her all the way to the door of the Tumbleweed that day, begging for her name. Pathetic. Despite her frustration he'd seemed different. Not just trying to bed her, there was something more there. And even that day she'd sensed it, though she pushed the feelings aside.

Then seeing him at the sand dunes months later? A strange coincidence, though she didn't admit it to him. As she works her blade around a hind leg she thinks of the horseback ride up to the cabin. He'd asked about her life, where all she'd been. Everywhere, she told him, but when he didn't let up she recalled a few places and he actually listened when she offered what little she'd been willing to share. Weeks later he still wanted to know if she'd finish one of the stories she'd started. The kind that began somewhere in the middle and trailed off way before the end. It was sweet that he'd asked and it threw her off that, unlike other folks, he really wanted to know.