Forlorn Hope (open)

The sharp rhythmic pounding carried around the Den. Some of the workers paused in their labours and wondered where the thundering was coming from. Others had already found out and were watching in hushed awe, whispering to each other as the large man with broad shoulders and thickset arms continued to strike the unforgiving metal of the 40 gallon steel drum over and over.

The steel drum had been hung from the tree like a boxing bag, and the drum itself had been twisted and beaten out of shape with each powerful strike of the clenched fists. Sweat dripped from the brow of the blue eyed man, and the veins in his arms and chest began more pronounced with each relentless blow. Those watching could not tell if he was mad or showing off. His face may as well have been carved from marble for the lack of emotion it showed. No sign of pain, no hint of weariness.

He was the truck driver, a giant of a man who was usually in a good mood. He helped cart around crates and shift boxes, and didn't hesitate to assist with menial chores like cutting wood or clearing back the forest tracks around the Den. The other workers liked him. If something needed doing, the big man could be counted on to help. But not today.

No one wanted to get close to him or ask him what was wrong. There were rumors of course. Woman troubles. But no one was brave enough to talk to the usually jovial giant as he continued to relentlessly attack the steel drum.

He'd been like that from two hours without pause or respite. And the fact that his hands weren't bleeding, brusied or cut gave those who watched him cause not to get to close. So they watched and waited. And the sharp rhythmic pounding continued to carry around the Den.

Ezekiel was aware he was being watched, but he didn't care. The one pair of eyes he wished would watch him refused to. He felt used, discarded, abandoned. And the dull pain of striking the steel drum was nothing compared to the pain in his chest. It had been some days since his excursion to the Cabin in the forest with Alyshia and she had not returned his calls, was always busy at work, and could not be found when he needed her most. And it burned him up. Was it something he had done?

The steel cried out in protest as his massive fists struck with the force of sledgehammers. Perhaps the VR had caught wind of his relationship with Alyshia and decided to squash it then and there. Or maybe she had been scared off. Ezekiel didn't know and at the moment he didn't care. It hurt to much to care. So he took refuge in his strength.

Maybe coming to Nachton had been a big mistake. The kinfolks at the Den were nice and all, and they treated him as an equal. But Ezekiel had always hit the road - or the bottle - when the going got tough. And he was through drowing his sorrows in a 40 ounce of Jack Daniels. He had felt needed, wanted - now he felt nothing.

"Alyshia won't see you." The young man at the store had been awkward saying the words, and apologetic at the same time. He had flinched beneath Ezekiel's gaze and Ezekiel had seen fear in the young man's eyes. Like Ezekiel was really going to snap the neck of some store clerk.

The steel continued to buckle and twist on the chain. Ezekiel breathed deeply, sucking in the crisp morning air and threw another jab at the steel drum. The drum shivered and glared back at the man with contempt.

Joey 17 years ago
The banging had his head throbbing because he couldn't concentrate on the canvas before him through it. "Well only one cure for that."

Joey picked up a paint stained rag and wiped his hands as he walked from his room and outside into the yard. There Ezekiel was beating the life from a steel drum hanging from a tree. He had quite the crowd, but nobody wanted to stop the obviously tormented man. Well Joey thought he was tormented until he had walked around the tree and looked at the man's face. Stone cold. Maybe he was just pissed and needed to blow off some steam. Well, Joey wanted to paint and he hated seeing anyone in his pack so...cold and empty.

"You know," He said between blows. "I'm not sure the tree can take much more. If you break it, they'll make you clean up the mess all by yourself."

He offered the big man a smile, but didn't step with in punching range, he knew enough to keep his distance from a man punching at steel barrels.
Ezekiel 17 years ago
Ezekiel didn't hear the man's approach, didn't see him until he opened his mouth and calmly spoke.

The attempt at humour should have fallen on deaf ears, but it didn't. Try as he might, Ezekiel heard the truth in the man's words.

Truth hurt. With a swing of his right hand the steel drum finally cracked and split open, spilling its contents of water over the ground beneath.

Game over. The steel drum had had enough.

Ezekiel breathed heavy as he lowered his hands and stared at the man that stood nearby. By his scent, Ezekiel could tell he was kinfolk, so he owed him at least some politeness, even if he didn't particularly feel sociable.

He became aware that the man with the ironic smile wasn't the only one watching him, some of the workers who tended the grounds and cleaned the Den had gathered around. Ezekiel could see a mixture of fear, awe and sadness in their eyes. He felt ashamed.

Ezekiel swallowed down his shame and managed to smile back at the man.

"I reckon you're right about the tree. You got a name, mister? Folks round here call me Ezekiel."
Joey 17 years ago
Joey watched as the drum gave up its goods, and his pack brother tried to pull it together. He stepped forward his bare feet squishing in the water, and offered a hand. "I have several, not all of them polite. Joey, and it's an interesting pleasure to meet you Ezekiel."

He chuckled softly, as he felt the water soaking up into his jeans.

"So, what'd that barrel do to you that you had to kill it?"
Ezekiel 17 years ago
Ezekiel took the offered hand and shook it. That seemed to break the spell he held over the workers and slowly they began to disperse and go on about their normal business.

Pleased to make your acquaintance, Joey."

Ezekiel unclipped the chain and let the torn drum fall to the ground with a dull thud.

"I couldn't find an engine block to work out on, so this here steel boxing bag became the next best thing, Joey. And to answer your question before you ask it - women troubles. Or more accurately, one woman."

Ezekiel shifted uncomfortably and stared at the silent steel drum that glared back at him accusingly.
Joey 17 years ago
Joey gave the hand a single pump then stepped back when Ezekiel went to unhook the barrel. "Seems to be the source of most things that have men beating up engine blocks and steel drums."

He chuckled softly and moved over close enough to the other were to give him a slap on one big shoulder. "Tell you what, Zeke, can I call you Zeke? Let's go inside and I'll buy you a beer with a whisky back and we can share war stories."

((no permission given to touch, I can change it if needed.))
Ezekiel 17 years ago
Joey obviously meant well, and despite a little voice telling him that drinking was probably one of the worst things he could do right now, Ezekiel wasn't about to refuse a hospitable and friendly offer from one his kinfolk.

I'll pass on the whiskey Joey, but I reckon a beer would hit the spot right about now. Just give me a few minutes to get rid of this here drum and I'll walk back with you."

Ezekiel whistled over at couple of men and quickly chatted with them. One of them dashed off and returned in short order with a wheel barrow. Ezekiel lifted the busted steel drum and carefully placed it inside. He thanked the two men and watched as they wheeled the drum away.

Okay Joey, let's go get something to drink."
Joey 17 years ago
Joey grinned at his new companion. It was good for him to make friends with more and more of the pack, he knew that. He'd just had a hard time of it between work, painting, full moons and now his lovely Ana. His feet squished in the newly created mud as they left the space of the Steel Drum Massacre and headed inside.

He wiped his feet on the rug outside the door and took a towel of the pile just inside the door, he had never wondered why it was there, his guess had been for helping to tame the muddy paw print problem. He used it to wipe off his feet with quick efficient strokes before dumping it into a basket next to the pile and heading into the common area. He got them both a long neck, popped the caps and handed one to Ezekiel. He lifted his, taped the bottom of the bottle to the bottom of Ezekiel's.
"For every wound, a balm. For every sorrow, cheer. For every storm, a calm. For every thirst, a beer."
Ezekiel 17 years ago
Ezekiel scrapped off the mud and dust from his boots, and following Joey's lead, wiped then over with a towel. Very convinient, thought Ezekiel as he followed after Joey.

Ezekiel wasn't big on toasts, and he wasn't about to attempt to beat Joey's pretty set of words. Instead Ezekiel grinned.

"I second that motion. Cheers."

Ezekiel was tempted to down the entire bottle, but on second thought that might make the wrong sort of impression. So he tipped half the contents of the bottle down his throat and let loose with a satisfied sigh and he leaned against the counter.

Thanks, Joey. I mean that. I ain't one to usually wallow in self pity like a big mopey thing. Just the woman I met was kinda special. Like the one, ya know? Seems kinda cheesy, but I fell for her in a big way. And now I can't even get a return phone call. Women."

Ezekiel looked saddened for a moment as he stared at the bottle in his hand.

"Ah well. You win some, you lose some. So what brings you here amongst the kinfolks? Me, I kinda wandered on down from New Jersey for a change of scenery. I been a truck driver most of my life, and a Marine grease monkey for the other half."
Joey 17 years ago
Joey took a pull from the beer, after returning Ezekiel's smile. "Not cheesey at all, man. I happen to have a "the one" on my hands as well. Life's a delicate balance when it comes to women. I can only hope she comes to her senses soon or the pack might run out of steel brums."

He gave Zeke, he'd decided to call the big man Zeke in his head, a wink, and took another pull of the beer.

"I was born pack out in the moutains of Oregon. I got itchy feet and took myself from den to den across the country until I ended up here. I was getting ready to move on again when I landed this amazing job at a dance studio of all places and fell in love with one my bosses best friends."
Ezekiel 17 years ago
Ezekiel took a swig from his bottle. Joey had a fancy way with words, and Ezekiel appreciated the fact that Joey was both insightful and interesting. And he knew all to well about the urge to move from place to place.

"Dance studio, eh? I can balance on a fence post and walk a high beam without so much as a sweat, but try to get me on the dance floor and I'm all two left feet."

Ezekiel laughed. It felt good to laugh again.

"You must know some pretty fancy steps Joey. And good on you for finding yourself a woman to call your own. Just the hanging on part that's hard."

Ezekiel's smile thinned as he thought about Alyshia. He shook his head and downed the rest of the contents of his bottle.

"I never was pack born or raised like a fair few of the kinsfolks are. I hit my Gifter with a truck and she hit me back with this."

Ezekiel pointed to the mass of scar tissue around his throat.

"It looks worse than it really is and sometimes it scares the troublemakers away. Hurt a hell of a lot at the time. But you know the story. Healed up and healed me in the Wolf way."

Ezekiel scratched his head and looked sheepishly at Joey.

"I ain't growed up in the Wolf ways, I had to learn from scratch. But I had a good teacher and I'm a quick study. Ain't to much different from hunting and tracking in human form, course it's a lot easier now that my fine senses can put shame to a bloodhound or owl, and I can take a shot to the chest or head without missing a beat."

Ezekiel crushed the empty bottle in one hand, and opened it to how Joey that no glass shards had broken or even bruised his calloused skin. Grinning, Ezekiel took the remains over to the Recylcing Bin.

I reckon I might have to have a look at that their Dance Studio of yours sometime. Only artistic talent I got is a passion for playing the guitar and the ability to carve all sorts of critters from wood."
Joey 17 years ago
"Well, I don't know about fancy steps. I'm the handy man of the joint. I can shake my ass in a club, but that's about it for me. I'm hoping to hang on to my Ana for a long time to come, Ezekiel and that's the truth of it."

He slugged back the rest of his beer and gave it a careless toss over his shoulder into the green bin. He winced appreciatively at Zeke's scars, he had a few of his own he was proud of. His own gifting scar being one of them. "I was lucky to be raised by my uncle and his mate. They gave me a good home, Gifted me when I was ready."

Joey laughed at the sentiment of hunting a bullets, and gave Zeke a nod at the crushed glass display. He couldn't do the same, but mostly because hurting his hands hurt his livelihood.

"I'm sure Wren would be more than happy to teach you a thing or two. I'll get you a card from my room."

He walked around the counter and got out another beer, more for the thirst than the want of alcohol. "Want one?"

He twisted off his top and drank. "You're a sculptor huh? I paint when I get the chance, and I fix things." He gave a shrug. "Something I've always had a knack for and the Gift made it stronger. Hey I wouldn't mind seeing some of your stuff some time."
Ezekiel 17 years ago
Ezekiel nodded in the affirmative and gratefully took the offered bottle from Joey.

"I wouldn't really call myself a sculptor. I can carve figures out of wood with a knife. Just one of those things I found interesting. Carving out little forrest critters and the like. I got a bunch of them in my room sitting on the window sill. You're welcome to take whichever one catches your fancy."

Ezekiel took a long draught and sighed contentedly.

"And here's to you and Ana. May things go well for you two."

Ezekiel grinned and rolled his head left and then right.

"So you paint for recreation, or fer a living? Give me a story that will last the rest of this here bottle."

Ezekiel laughed softly and waited expectantly.
Joey 17 years ago
"I might just take you up on that. I'm a big fan of critters." He grinned then gave a nod to Zeke's toast.

"Thanks for that."

Joey took another sip of beer and leaned his hip on the counter.

"A little of both. I started drawing when I was a little kid, because I was good at it and it helped ease the pain of loosing my parents. I filled books and books with sketches, and then my uncle bought me some paints and canvas. I took classes on all kinds of art, but I was never good at sculpting. Everything came out looking like squashed frogs with giant noses." He gave a shrug and sipped his beer again.

"I mostly do land scapes. I hide a wolf in every painting as a kind of tribute. I've a fair hand at portraits, but I don't do many. Except I'm working on one right now of my girl. I'm fussing with it way too much, because I want it to be perfect. You know? Anyway, I've got some canvases here if you want to take a look. I need to finish up the scene I did to give the Alpha for Christmas. It just never got finished in time. It still needs one more coat of sealer and I can take it to him. Want to look it over, see what you think?"

Now joey was suddenly anxious to have his work approved by a clan mate. Oh sure, he'd given pieces to his family back in Oregon over the years, but he doubted they would tell him if they were crap or not.
Ezekiel 17 years ago
Ezekiel rubbed his chin.

"Yeah. I reckon that would be just swell, Joey. Not everyday I get to meet someone who's an artist."

Ezekiel finished the rest of the beer and placed the empty bottle in the recycling recepticle.

"So where too, Joey?"
Joey 17 years ago
Joey tossed back the rest of his beer and tossed in it behind Zeke's. He wiped his hands on the rag he'd tucked in his pocket and pushed away from the counter.

"My room's on the south side, so that I get light almost all day."

Joey led the way with ease. The Den wasn't exactly a maze, but if you weren't paying attention, you could get lost. Well, Joey had on occasion, when his mind had been completely preoccupied. His room had been sort of squashed for maximum studio area. The bed was pushed to one wall, with the dresser and night stand next to it. There wasn't a television or desk or other furniture. Just an easel by the bank of windows that poured light into the room, with a stool and a small area full of props and things. The walls had stacks of canvases, four and five deep.

He went to one of the cloth covered stacks and pulled the filmy sheet back. The canvas in front was almost as wide as Joey was tall, and about half that tall. He'd made the canvas himself for this one, with wood from the Longrun. He took it to the easel, set it down and flipped up the protective cover.

It was The Den surrounded by The Longrun, in the beginning of winter, when the leaves had fallen from the deciduous trees, making the evergreens bright and full against their starkness. Twilight gave an eerie glow, and everything held a layer of snow, making the glimpses of color vibrant, almost stark. In the foreground a lone wolf stood looking off into the distance as though he could see the painter and defied him to show something other than what he saw. The wolf had one gray eye and one green, and his fur was dark russet, and a small white crescent-shaped marked the top of his muzzle. Behind and to his left stood a wolf that looked out over the pack behind them, but had turned to see if the other was going to follow, he was a lighter red, and his eye was missing.

Behind the dozens of wolves in shades that covered the wolf fur rainbow, roamed about the open space. Some nuzzling each other, some sniffing the ground, one stood off to the side baying at the unseen moon. Joey took a step back to let Ezekiel get a better look.
Ezekiel 17 years ago
Ezekiel was no student of the arts, and he never claimed to be the fancy sort that could tell a lot about the artist from what he or she had created. But Joey's piece was moving. He stared at it for what must have been five minutes, oblivious to his surroundings as he focused on the picture.

Ezekiel shivered in spite of himself. He had only run with a few Kadzait packs in his time and he'd always been treated with polite refraim, as if his size and wide gait were impediments rather than advantages. Plenty of wolves in the image that Joey had created, but one not struck him as being similar in build and appearance to what Alyshia had described to him back in the Cabin.

Still, it was a moving piece of art. And that was surely the whole point of it. If a grease monkey like Ezekiel could appreciate it, then other more sophisticated folks almost certainly could.

He nodded in approval and gave a thumbs up to Joey.

"I reckon you're onto a winner there, chief. I almost swear the wolves in this image are almost moving, watching you even. It's kinda thrilling and creepy at the same time. In a good way I mean."
Joey 17 years ago
Joey's grin was bigger than he would have liked, like he couldn't control his own face. He turned the stupid grin to the painting and ran a finger over the edge of the canvas.

"That means a lot Ezekiel. I was hoping that it looked like that to more than just me. I think I'll get it sealed today and make a box for it so that I can give it to Xeph tomorrow."

He turned the grin back to Zeke. His head a bit full of himself at the moment. "Mind if I do that right quick. It stinks to high heaven, but not for long. You can look around if you want. It really wont take me that long."
Ezekiel 17 years ago
Ezekiel nodded.

"You go right on ahead Joey, I reckon there's plenty of fine art here to keep me interested."

Ezekiel couldn't peel his eyes away from the painting that Joey had done for Xeph. It really was a captivating piece. He watched as the artist carefully packaged and sealed the painting away.

He sighed. Ezekiel wished he had half the talent that Joey did. Taking Joey's cue, Ezekiel had a look around at all the other pieces of art that Joey had created. It was relaxing and interesting to see what his clan mate had accomplished, and Ezekiel soon found himself lost in the works of art strewn around Joey's place.

He didn't even notice that Joey had finished his tasks and was simply watching Ezekiel.

Joey 17 years ago
Joey pulled a large container from underneath his bed that held several sizes of sleek black collapsed boxes. He chose the largest and held it against the canvas. It would fit perfectly, even with the packaging for the canvas corners. He wasn't shipping the piece, but he wanted it packaged properly incase it needed to be stored for a time. He had no idea what the Alpha would do with such a painting.

He touched his finger to the bottom corner and found that he'd put the last coat of sealer on it already. That surprised him, since he didn't remember doing it. With a shrug, he flipped the cover down and put the styrofoam corners on the painting. He could frame it, but he didn't want any attention taken from the painting, so when he'd mounted the canvas he had made sure to put thin strips of wood along each edge to keep the canvas edges safe.

He'd already attached hanging brackets to those wood pieces. He flipped the canvas over and pulled the piece of wood he'd had custom cut to fit perfectly into the back, out from behind the dresser. He slipped that between the sides of the canvas frame, snug against the front. It would keep the whole thing from ever sagging and make the piece a little less fragile.

With that done, he assembled the box, and slid the painting in. It was a snug fit, but it would slide easily out again. He sealed the top flap of the box, and set it to rest against his bed. He would take it to the Alpha's office later. He turned and watched Zeke as he flipped slowly through the small mountain of his works.

"See something you like?"

Joey spoke in a quiet voice. He didn't want to disturb the other man's thoughts, but he also wanted to know what those thoughts were. And if Zeke found a painting he liked, Joey would let him take it. He had plenty others to sell, and one going to a Pack-mate was worth much more than the couple hundred dollars it would bring at the gallery.
Ezekiel 17 years ago
The picture wasn't large, and didn't strike Ezekiel as impressive as the other pieces on display. But there was something about the small oil painting inside the sandlewood frame that caught his attention.

Like the other wolf images Joey had created, the background kept the theme of nature's forests, cliffs and streams. In this one a slender white wolf sat on its haunches, casting its gaze out across a swiftly flowing river. It was the wolf itself that drew Ezekiel's eyes to the painting.

He had seen it before. Which was ridiculous of course, but the likeness was there. Smaller than most wolves, lean and slender. Ezekiel stared at the painting, and wondered what the painted wolf was thinking. The wolf's sly smile was more disconcerting than reassuring.

Ezekiel nodded as he heard Joey's words and pointed at the small painting.

Definitely that one, she's a beauty."