Kyle placed his feet on the floor, immediately pulling them back as a shiver ran through his slender frame. Cold. Why did everything have to be so cold all the time? The only time he felt warm was when he was in bed. Curling back beneath the covers, he tried to think of what on earth could have woken him up at—he checked the clock—five thirty in the morning. Then he heard the buzzing again and reached his hand from under the covers, grabbing his phone before pulling his hand back beneath the blankets. “Hello, Mom,” Kyle sighed, blinking his eyes. “Do you know what time it is?” he asked groggily as his legs started to feel warm again.
“Of course, honey,” she responded brightly, obviously checking the clock as she dragged out her words to fill any possible empty space. “It’s ten thirty.”
“Mom.” Kyle felt his head throb once. “Alaska is five hours behind Florida; that means it’s five thirty here.” He told her this every time she called. For the first week, she’d asked him what time it was when she called. Now she’d just given up and gone back to assuming her time was his time. “Is there something you wanted?”
“No, I just called to talk. I got this new cell phone, and they said I had free long distance, so I thought I’d call, see how you were.” More like find out if he’d changed his mind and decided to come back home, Kyle thought in response, but he phrased it in a much less mom-friendly way. She’d asked him no less than five times in the three weeks since he’d taken the job as a teacher in the Anchorage school system. “So, is it cold there?” she continued, completely oblivious to anything he might have to say. “It was eighty degrees yesterday, and I went with your brother and the kids to the beach. We had a lovely day.” She went on for a while about his perfect brother, Gregory, and her perfect two grandchildren—how cute they were, what they did, the cutesy questions they asked her. Kyle’s attention snapped back when her tone changed. “And do you know what Dommy asked me after we went swimming?” She sounded scandalized. “He asked me if girls had inside penises.”
She whispered the last word, and Kyle completely lost it.
“It’s not that funny,” his mother replied indignantly.
“Mom, you called me at five thirty on a Sunday morning just to tell me that one of my nephews asked you the difference between a whoo-hoos and who-haas”—using the euphemisms his mother had used when they were children—“and for some reason you don’t think that’s funny?” Kyle continued laughing until his gasps moved the covers, letting in a blast of cold air.
“If you’re not going to be serious, I’ll hang up, and you can call me later.” The line went dead, and Kyle closed his phone and placed it on his nightstand before looking around the room. It was still dark, and he chuckled a few more times before burying his head beneath the covers, trying in vain to go back to sleep.
His family all thought he was completely crazy to leave the family home of Bradenton, Florida for the wild and cold of Anchorage, Alaska. There had been days when he’d begun to question his sanity, too, but the people he worked with seemed really nice and almost all of them were from someplace else as well, so they had made him feel welcome. Besides, he’d spent the last three years substitute teaching, trying to get a permanent elementary school teaching position, and every time one came up, it went to someone else for one reason or another. When he’d seen the ad in the NEA newsletter that Alaska needed teachers and that they’d pay to relocate qualified candidates, he’d applied, figuring nothing would come of it. Well, surprise, surprise, they’d called, and after a telephone interview as well as calls to his references, they’d hired him, provided he agreed to study and become certified in Alaska. Unfortunately, they’d forgotten to tell him that they wanted him to start right away, which meant early December, and that the temperatures were already in the single digits—for the highs. Kyle shivered at the very thought.
The furnace kicked in, and Kyle listened to it run, imagining the room getting warmer. Giving up on getting back to sleep, he felt around on the floor until he found his slippers, and then, in one quick move, practiced each morning he’d been here, he slipped his feet into them and pulled on his big, fluffy robe in less than two seconds flat.
He padded down the hall to the kitchen, where he started the coffeepot and huddled next to it for additional warmth until the nectar of the gods was ready. Pouring himself a huge cup, he settled in one of the huge, plush living room chairs. He loved these chairs, even though they dwarfed his five-foot, four-inch frame. But they were comfortable and surprisingly warm. The teacher he’d replaced had been called back “down below,” as he’d heard the locals refer to the rest of the country, because of a death in the family, and Kyle had been able to take over her lease on the house. He’d just been looking for an apartment, but this was an opportunity too good to pass up. The place wasn’t large, but it had two bedrooms, a nice living room, and a huge eat-in kitchen with huge windows overlooking the backyard. There was also a wood stove, and he’d found a massive stack of firewood under a snowdrift in the backyard.
After drinking his coffee, he must have dozed off, because he jerked awake with a cramp in his leg and a crick in his neck. Stretching and gliding his head in a circle, he blinked awake and saw the faint glow of daybreak just lightening the sky. Standing up, he picked up the empty mug from where it had fallen on the floor and walked into the kitchen, placing it in the sink.
Thinking he saw movement in the backyard, Kyle walked to the windows and peered outside, jumping back and falling flat onto his butt as a huge pair of eyes stared back at him. As he watched, a massive head backed away from the window and a huge body lumbered further into the yard to where some vines grew on the fence. It started eating the vines, but Kyle swore it never took its eyes off him.
Panic rising through him, Kyle reached for the phone, dialing 911.
“Hello. Can you please state the nature of your emergency?” a calm female voice asked on the other end of the line.
“Th… th… there’s a huge animal, monster—hell, I don’t know what it is, but this thing is in my backyard, and it’s eating stuff.”
“Is it a moose, sir?” He could have sworn he heard laughter in her tone.
“I don’t know what it is, but it keeps looking at me.” Kyle backed away from the window and saw the thing’s head swivel toward him. “I think it wants to eat me.” Kyle sucked in his breath. “It’s stopped eating, and it’s coming toward the window!” Kyle backed away further, dropping the phone and taking off through the house and back to his bedroom. Diving beneath the covers, he stopped, listening for the sound of breaking glass and the feel of the house being carried away. But all he heard was silence and the soft rumble of the refrigerator kicking in and then the furnace cycling on again.
After a while, Kyle had started to wonder if it was gone and then consider just how long he intended to cower in his bedroom when he heard his doorbell. Getting up, he slowly walked to the front door, gingerly staying close to the wall when he got near the kitchen. Reaching the front door, he peered outside and then opened the front door. What looked like the abominable snowman stood on his stoop. Kyle almost screamed and slammed the door again. Maybe his mother was right and he should just go back to Florida.
“You called that there was something in your backyard,” the thing on his stoop asked in a rich, deep voice, and Kyle backed away as it stepped into the house, barely fitting beneath the doorframe. Kyle waited as a huge coat parted down the middle and a blue police officer’s uniform appeared, and he held his breath as he lifted his eyes up and up and up until he saw the eyes of the handsome huge man.
“Yes.” Kyle pointed toward the kitchen. “It’s back there.” He had no intention of seeing it again. The police office smiled at him and walked in the direction indicated. The man was so wide he almost touched the walls of the small hallway, and Kyle found himself following along behind. Damn, he hadn’t intended on going mountain climbing while he was here, but if they ever made police climbing a sport, he’d climb this one any day. Kyle put his hand over his mouth as if to keep the thought from escaping.
Peering around the corner first, the police officer cautiously walked into the kitchen with Kyle behind him. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s probably just a moose; they sometimes come into town looking for food.” The police officer took a single step into the kitchen. “Yup, just as I suspected, you’ve got yourself a cow in your backyard, and she looks like she’s settling in for a while.”
“Settling in?” Kyle hated the sound of that. “What do I do to get her to go away?”
The police officer turned around with a scowl on his face that almost immediately softened into something unreadable as Kyle chewed nervously on one of his fingernails. “If she proves a nuisance or a danger, I can get a sharpshooter to come out.”
“Don’t kill her! I just don’t want her to eat me.” Kyle peered around the mountain of a man and saw the moose wandering through the yard and up to his bird feeder, a huge tongue licking at the seed.
“Moose are like deer. They eat plants.” The policeman’s voice sounded slightly amused, and his eyes twinkled warmly.
“Oh.” Kyle knew that, and once his brain started working again, his sanity started to kick in. He realized he was standing in his kitchen still dressed in his robe and slippers, and to top it off, his robe had started to drift open in all the excitement. At least he wasn’t cold. “I guess I knew that.” He felt his cheeks color as he realized how he’d overreacted.
“That doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. Moose are strong, and if threatened they will attack. They’ve been known to charge through windows and through walls, especially to protect their young.” The man’s message was serious, but his eyes seemed soft and kind.
“I’m sorry for getting you out here on a day like this,” Kyle said quietly, feeling kind of dumb and remarkably warm.
The police officer looked outside and then back at Kyle. “A day like what? It’s going to be clear, and the sun will shine for a few hours anyway. That’s about the best kind of day we can hope for this time of year.” The officer walked back toward the front door. “I take it you haven’t been up here for very long?”
Kyle shook his head as he pulled his robe closed again. “Just a few weeks.”
“Where are you from?” the police officer asked as he picked up his coat.
“Florida,” Kyle answered. “I’m teaching third grade at Butler Elementary.” He suddenly remembered his manners. “I’m Kyle Feller.” He held out his hand, and the officer took it.
“Russell Upton,” the officer supplied, and they shook hands, “And it’s no problem at all.”
Kyle wasn’t sure about the look in the man’s eyes. Was that interest? Kyle blinked, and the look was gone. He wasn’t sure if he’d actually seen it. Didn’t really matter—it wasn’t as though he was going to see Russell Upton again anyway.
“Don’t hesitate to call if you have any problems. As I said, moose can be dangerous.” Officer Upton winked at him and then began pulling on his heavy coat and gloves. “You take care now.” With a wave and what Kyle thought was a smile, the policeman opened the front door and headed out into what seemed like twilight.
Closing the door with a shiver, Kyle checked the clock and decided that since it was approaching noon, he may as well get dressed. With another shiver, he remembered that he had to do his shopping for the week. Padding to the bathroom, he flipped on the heat lamp and got cleaned up before hurrying to his bedroom. After pulling on his underwear and jeans, he tugged on an undershirt, long-sleeve polo shirt, and then a sweater. Finally, he felt warm. Kicking off his slippers, he put on heavy socks and finally his shoes.
Peeking out his bedroom window, he saw the moose still eating from the platform bird feeder. Kyle’s stomach growled loudly, and he left his bedroom, heading toward the kitchen as his phone rang.
“Kyle, it’s Glenn from next door. Mariah’s in your backyard, so you don’t want to go out your back door.” He sounded excited.
“Mariah? The moose has a name?” Kyle couldn’t stop his smile.
“Yeah, that’s what the girls named her years ago. She really seems to love your yard for some reason. She’s been coming around for years, sometimes with a little one. Anyway, you shouldn’t go into your backyard until she leaves.”
“I found that out already.” He didn’t tell his neighbor about calling the police on a moose; that was just embarrassing, particularly since this one even had a name. “And I had planned to just leave her alone anyway.”
“Good, that’s best.” The line got quiet for a second, and he thought he heard someone talking behind Glenn. “Okay, I’ll tell him,” Glenn said away from the phone. “Martha said to tell you that we’re going to the store, and she wanted to know if you needed anything.”
“Actually, I think I need just about everything. I was going to go to the store myself.”
“Well, you can ride along with Martha if you want. She’s got the van, and there’s plenty of room.”
Everyone was so nice and went out of their way to be helpful. “I’d like that, thank you.” Some company would be nice, and he’d have the chance to learn his way around without doing what he’d been doing so far: getting lost and then somehow finding his way back home.
“Martha says she’ll be ready to go in half an hour.”
Kyle thanked him and hung up the phone. It might be cold outside, but the people were warm and friendly. He could live with that. Thinking of warm, the face of Officer Russell flashed through his mind, and he wondered what it would be like to have him to curl around during the cold nights. Shaking his head, Kyle forced himself back to reality as he opened the refrigerator door to get something to eat.