Snowflakes danced across the bleak and barren highway to the frightful howl of the wind. Willie Olson tugged at the lapels of his tattered wool coat and turned his gaze toward the slate gray building barely visible fifty yards away. The hammering beat of “Highway to Hell” bled from a ground-floor window. He poked gingerly at the bruise on his cheek, cursed under his breath, and kicked angrily at the loose powder swirling around his feet.
A truck thundered past, engulfing him in a roiling white cloud. He spat and crossed over to the westbound lane where, on wobbly legs, he began the long trek toward downtown Anchorage and the comfort of the Brother Francis Shelter.
With an ear-splitting headache and the taste of vomit ringing his mouth, Willie struggled to recall the events of that Friday evening: dinner at the Bean’s Café homeless shelter, then smokes and a drink out back with some friends. One of them, Donnie, mentioned a party somewhere on O’Malley Road and a hint of free liquor and pot. Wil- lie had hesitated leaving the familiar surroundings of downtown, but Donnie had assured him
everyone was invited, so he’d hopped a cab, using what little remained of his Alaska Native corporation dividend money.
The party house was right where Donnie had said it would be. Rock music thumped inside, beckoning him to enter. His spirits lifted. He pressed the doorbell, anticipating a good time.
Willie was unprepared for the sight that greeted him as the door swung open: A dozen white college boys glaring menacingly, as ifthe Grim Reaper had come calling. He’d seen those same stares—so searing in their condescension—his entire life.
A big man with a fat moustache, muscled arms folded across an expansive chest, spoke first. “You wandered into the wrong party, friend.”
Willie silently acknowledged the truth of that statement. He was turning to go when a tall slim guy wearing a wife beater and a crewcutcame up to him and, beneath a thin veneer of sarcasm, said, “Don’t mind him. We love our Alaska Native friends, don’t we, fellas?”
“Sure do,” a voice chimed in. Another asked him his name. He mumbled, “Willie.”
There were chuckles. Crewcut wrapped a muscular arm around Willie’s shoulders and led him to a white plastic chair set against one wall and handed him a drink that had the rusty color of whiskey. He smiled and thanked the man.
Maybe this won’t be so bad after all, he thought.
Willie scanned the faces of the young college men as they laughed and talked. Sipping whiskey contentedly, he had begun to mellow. The acrid aroma of weed hung in the air as a blunt made its way from one partygoer to the next. When it was Willie’s turn, he took a long dragand dutifully passed it along. It was good, strong weed. One of the group said it was Matanuska Thunderfuck, a local favorite producedin the Mat-Su Valley.
Sweet home Alabama . . .
The white-boy rock music was deafening, but after ten or fifteen minutes he’d managed to tune it out. Everyone was acting like he was one of them, except for the dude with the fat moustache, whose unrelenting stare made him uncomfortable.
He was well into his second cupful of whiskey when the big man’s voice boomed above the din of the music. “Hey you! Eskimo Boy!”
Willie’s head jerked in the man’s direction.
The murmur of voices ceased.
“Haven’t you drunk enough of our liquor yet?”
Bleary-eyed, Willie studied the man. He’d taken shit from white
assholes his entire life, but he was too mellow from the weed and whiskey to take offense. The music sucked but, hey, at least he wasn’t huddling beneath a wooden pallet in a patch of woods in Mountain View. Life was good. He lifted his cup, as if offering a toast, and smiled impishly.
The big man’s scowl deepened. “I asked you a question, Cochise.”
All eyes were now on Willie, who reached over to set his half-filled cup near the edge of the low glass table in front of him. His aim waspoor and the cup spilled its contents on the pale white carpet. Someone chuckled boozily. Someone else cranked up the stereo.
The boys are back in town, the boys are back in town . . .
Crewcut guy sprang from his seat, glaring at Willie. “What the fuck?”
Willie snatched up a napkin from the table and dropped to one knee to clean up the spill, but, before he could, he felt his body beingyanked backwards. Meaty hands spun him around until he stood facing a solid wall of angry muscle—the big man from the divan.
“What are you doing here?” the man screamed over the music. “You don’t belong here!”
Willie opened his mouth to speak, but the man cut him off. “I don’t want to hear a goddam word, capiche?”
Muscled arms spun him in the opposite direction, and he found himself facing Crewcut, who grabbed Willie by the lapels and shookhim. “You ruined my fucking carpet, asshole!”
Though the guy was easily a head taller than Willie, a nauseat- ing blend of whiskey and weed assaulted Willie’s nostrils as the man spoke. Willie’s stomach churned like a washing machine. Without warning, he vomited on Crewcut’s gray sleeveless SEAWOLVES t-shirt, hitting the green team logo like a bullseye.
Afterwards, he remembered only flashes: a fist slamming into the left side of his face, rough hands dragging him out into the snow. He’dasked someone to call him a cab. The question had elicited laughter. He was told to call his own fucking cab. He remembered, too, the sight of his own blood in the snow, black as ink under the dim porch light. He staggered to his feet and stumbled toward the highway.
The wind howled with a force that seemed to penetrate deep into his bones. He squinted into the darkness for a glimpse of the Seward Highway intersection—he thought he must be close by now—but saw only a white wall of snow.
A sudden gust of arctic air struck him like a giant fist and he pitched forward into the icy pavement. He rose shivering to his knees, anger boiling up inside him. They wouldn’t dare treat him like this in his village, not when his father was a big muckety-muck in the native corporation. In Anchorage he may be just another Street Indian, but in the village, he was somebody.
Fuck ‘em, he thought. Fuck ‘em all.
Willie rose to his full height, spat, and kicked at the snow. He thought about turning around and going back there and kicking allthose white boys’ asses, and in his rage and the howling wind he didn’t hear the truck roaring up behind him until, with a twist of his head, a flash of light caught his eye. He turned and they were almost on top of him—two orbs of blinding white light, racing toward him likecraven monsters. He opened his mouth to scream, but his desperate cry was swept away by the wailing wind.