The Life and Death of Bobby Jak is a fictional book about a man–a legend–referenced in my book All Roads Converge (a work in progress). Without giving too much away, the novel takes place in a world where nightmares live in the dark recessed of the world, where even being awake won’t keep you safe from them. Out in the Wilds, however, those nightmares have been allowed to exist unchained for long enough that they’ve taken corporeal form. There aren’t many brave enough, or stupid enough, to venture into the Wilds, yet alone make their homes among their wastelands and jungles.
by Curtis A. Deeter
From the writings of Bobby Jak…
Kilo Undecim 21st, 1009
Had me another encounter with a vile wolf early this mornin’. Can’t say I enjoyed it. Bacon and coffee woulda been a much better start to the day, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Don’t get me started on these mean summbitches. You bet your ass I’ve taken a few of these out in my day, but it’s never been easy. Whew. Let me tell you, if you ever wondered what staring Death in the face would be like, try huntin’ yerself a vile wolf. You’ll learn fast Death is one ugly mug. And worse breath.
They used to roam in packs, vile wolves, but vanishing food stuffs and increased competition have turned ‘em into solo animals—lone wolves, if you will. Eevolution, or whatever it is those scientists call it.
They also used to hunt unicorns too—only natural predator—but I haven’t seen one of them babies in a decade. Mmmmm, good eaten on unicorns if you can get past their tough hide and avoid them damn spikes stickin’ out their heads.
But vile wolves… my best advice, stay clear of them suckers at all costs when you see ‘em. If you see ‘em.
I’ve gotten a lot of scars of the years, I’ll show you some of the better ones sometime if you buy me a beer or three, but if anyone ever tries to tell ya a scar’s from a vile wolf, don’t trust ‘em. Vile wolves don’t leave scars, they leave caverns. What they don’t leave is survivors. Don’t worry, their venom’ll kill ya within an hour or so. It’ll be the most horrendous pain you ever felt, but you won’t feel it for long.
I awoke from another night of fitful sleep to the stench of deathly decay. To say I was still perturbed—both in my dreams and in my waking world—by the omnipresent gray-violet that overtook the entirety of our lives would be a dangerous understatement of blissfully naive proportions. Such naivety could no longer be allowed. Not while any desire to live remained.
I allowed my eyes to close again, my focus to drift off to other places—the griffin skin rug in front of our hearth where cedar logs hissed and smoked, filling our home with that fresh, woodsy aroma, the lines and creases of my wife’s body, the timbre of my daughter’s play. If only I could fall back asleep, free from the newly accustomed night terrors, I could have it all back for a few fleeting moments.
Instead, a bloatfly alighted on my cheek. Another on the tip of my nose. One crawled across the veins on my neck. The sweet stench of death drew closer. Hot breath warmed my face.
Bobby Jak stood between Death and myself. From my back, laying on the cold, damp ground, looking up at an impossible angle, he looked like a giant. Like the shadow of my guardian angel.
I couldn’t hear my breath over the shrieking swarm of bloatflies, but I could hear the low, wet snarl of a creature I’d never seen before. Nor could I believe such a foul beast could exist. Despite my ignorance, I knew the beast should not be crossed by any man.
Bobby Jak, hunched down in a wide-legged squat, was unlike any man I’d ever met before. He was rocking gently from side to side, snarling right back at the beast through born teeth, all the while maintaining strict eye contact. The beast’s own emerald eyes watched, sizing up its prey.
I caught a brief glimpse of it between Bobby Jak’s legs. It was wolf like, but no mere pack animal, with obsidian fur that stuck out in mats across its spindly spine. At least twice the size of normal wolves, and double that in mean, it was down on its front haunches, foaming black-green at the mouth. What remained of its jaw—half the lower mandible had been violently rent from the rest by an animal my imagination refused to conjure—was all fury and small, razor-like teeth.
“Shh, shh, shh,” Bobby Jak was saying, this time not to me but to the beast.
He lowered his body almost imperceptibly, still not breaking his gaze.
Slowly, cautiously, the beast moved closer. Its tail, ending in a bloodied stump, swished back and forth across the sandy ground.
Bobby Jak raised one arm and pointed at the creature with two fingers.
“Right here, buddy. Attagirl. Nice and easy, now.”
While I was gripped with terror, noticeably shaking and unable to as much as speak, Bobby Jak was calm and collected. I’d grown to expect such an air from him. He’d proven himself to be a jovial enough companion, but a consummate professional and an unflappable psychopath out in the Wilds.
The beast dug in its hind paws and crouched even lower. Any second, I knew it would spring on its victim, onto Bobby Jak, tearing his flesh from bones. The worst part, there was nothing I could do about it.
Then it sprang.
“Zeke. Do it!”
As it lifted off the ground, sending clouds of dust in every direction, Zeke, Bobby Jak’s best friend and right-hand man, leapt down from the bough of the yucca tree we’d erected camp under. He was wearing a filtration mask and streaking downward with knives clutched in either fist.
Bobby Jak drew the femur from his side, a weapon I always thought odd, and fell backwards, taking the brunt of the beast’s weight as it pounced on him. Holding the bone out in front of his face, he maneuvered the beast’s snapping mouth away from him and held it strong. The veins in his muscles pulsed. Green-black saliva burnt through his jerkin, leaving small craters in his skin.
It pulled back, coming in for another strike from a different angle to get around the bone. Bobby Jak twisted to lodge the femur firmly between its jaws once more. This fight continued, man and beast both struggling to kill or be killed. One by avoiding the sharp bite of Death. The other by avoiding the sting of hunger.
All the while, Zeke worked his way through the beast with his knives. He stuck it repeatedly, making his way from the tendons between its trapezius all the way down to the inside of its front legs. The beast didn’t as much as whimper.
After scrambling away from the skirmish, I leaned against the trunk of the yucca and panted to catch my breath. From relative safety, I watched in petrified horror. There was something utterly disturbing about the tenacity of the hunter and the brutality of the prey. The stench, now like rotten eggs, was overwhelming. It took all my constitution not to lose my stomach.
Then, it was over.
Zeke slid off the creature’s back, hitting the ground with a loud thump, and rolled away from its dead carcass. He let his knives drop from his grip.
Bobby Jak thrust with the femur, beast still holding it in its jaws, and kicked the dead thing off him with both legs. It landed just as loudly right next to me, its tongue dangling out across its bloody cheek. The green-black saliva oozed, sizzling the flesh and fur around its lips where I could see layers of calloused skin.
I lost my stomach.
Both men—victorious and, most importantly, alive—exchanged glances and burst out laughing. Their laughter careened across the barren landscape, echoing off the great rocky dunes that surrounded us. They laughed long and hard. They laughed, I thought, because they didn’t know what else to do.
“You okay?” Zeke asked, stripping off his mask.
I took a deep breath, exhaled, and said, “What in the fuck was that.”
“You’re lucky to be alive, kid,” Bobby Jak said, giving the beast a firm kick in the ribs. “We all are.”
I regarded the corpse, then the mask in Zeke’s hand. We used them in dust storms, sometimes when traveling through the bogs, but I’d never seen him wear it otherwise.
As if he noticed me questioning it, he said, “Viles excrete a potent sedative through glands on their shoulders. Or somewhere. Not really sure, to be honest. Must have been a response to always getting attacked by smaller critters from behind. Whacks a wallop of a punch. A single breath of the stuff will have your legs like jello and your arms heavier than lead.”
Bobby Jak lit a cigarette, stripped off his jerkin which was still steaming in tendrils from the holes burnt into it, and tossed it over the corpse of the vile wolf. Scars covered his chest in rivulets of white.
“Venom’s worse. They brew that shit up in their stomachs. Strong ‘nough to burn through mostly anything,” he said, patting the femur that was back at his side. “Wyvern bone’s ‘bout the only thing I’ve found that keeps long enough. Even that’ll dissolve away if’n you wait too long.”
He handed the smoke to Zeke, unzipped, and relieved himself on the carcass. Warm liquid splashed off fetid fur, flecks splashing my face.
Still, I couldn’t find the courage to move. I know I should have been ashamed, but I was too afraid to feel anything besides numbness. This wasn’t the first deadly beast we’d encountered out in the Wilds since I joined them, but it had certainly been the worst.
When he was done, Bobby Jak zipped up his pants, took the cigarette back, and bent over the carcass. He looked at me, grinned, and stuck his fingers into the vile wolf’s mouth. Remnants of the green-black saliva sizzled on the skin of his fingers, but he didn’t pull back. Instead, he clenched his jaw and ripped out a yellowed incisor. Blood spurted in streams from where the tooth had been.
To me, he said, “Gotta’ take a trophy or it didn’t happen, eh? Ain’t no man worth a damn’d believe me otherways.”
“Sun’s comin’ up, boss.”
Bobby Jak nodded. “Get up scholar boy. We gotta’ move.”
I had no other choice. I scrambled up and followed them further out into the ceaseless, golden sands of the Wilds. I didn’t lose anything that morning, but I did gain something: a new specter to haunt my nightmares.