When she finally came out of it, Beth stayed on the bed, belly down, hands tucked like two crumpled leaves beneath the pillow. It was winter, and where the heavy curtains nearly met the sill, she watched the black line of glass turn cold indigo. Not counting the afternoon Emma had had to shake her awake in the back of the snowcat—because she wasn’t sure it had really happened then, and she wanted to be sure when she counted—seventeen times Beth had woken from a night’s sleep or a nap and been unable to move. After those first terrifying episodes, she’d stopped trying to fight it and had finally learned to let it pass: feel her heart beat against the thin mattress, count the small thumps, a helicopter in her chest revving and relinquishing but never taking off, until by some flick of a switch she was released. Now she pushed herself up from the bed, and like a wet dog, shook herself all over.
This was Beth’s third winter working at the Old Faithful Lodge, and as in previous years, it was part of her job four days a week to drive a snowcat to West—the town of West Yellowstone—carting departing tourists, loaded down with snowshoes and cross-country skis. She would drop them off where their cars were parked just outside the gates and pick up a fresh load of interlopers for the ride back in. The snowcats varied: some were old yellow Bombardiers with the sloping shoulders of a 1940s field ambulance, while others were modern touring vans stripped of their tires and retrofitted with rotating rubber belts like bulldozers. The machines were huge and unwieldy, and, aside from snowmobiles, the only way in or out of that part of the park from October through May.
Each morning, Beth wished she could have one leg of the journey to herself, especially the trip out. The snowcats did their first run of the day just as the sun was coming up, the best time to spot an animal. To entertain the tourists as they rode the two slow hours out of the valley and toward town, Beth would keep up a steady naturalist’s patter, directing [End Page 137] her passengers’ gaze to the buffalo and elk she’d passed a hundred times before. The herds wallowed in snowdrifts or grazed near the Firehole River, which, because of the thermal springs that fed it, never froze over, even when the temperature of the air dropped well below zero. Steam would rise off the water as swans and ducks paddled playfully in the warm currents. And Beth would announce it all through the microphone she wore like a headband over her knit cap: the eagle who made its nest in the notched snag a mile down the road from the lodge, snowshoe rabbits that flung themselves into the path of her dawn-dimmed headlights, coyotes trotting lightly across blown fields of snow that her own heavy boots would have fallen through right up to her thighs. But what Beth really wanted to see, what she was convinced she would only ever see alone, was a wolf.
It was Thursday, Beth’s day off, and though she wished she could sleep, there was no going back now. Instead, she ran a toothbrush over her teeth and then zipped her parka up to her chin. Outside, the path from the employee cabins to the lodge was icy with tracks that had melted and refrozen every day for the last week. Beth carried her skis with her as she avoided the ice and cut across the plowed lot to the employee cafeteria; she’d catch breakfast with the Thursday crew, maybe even see Emma before she hit the trails.
But when she pushed through the wooden doors, there was a cluster of staff members gathered at the far end of the room. Beth’s boots echoed and dropped chunks of slush as she crossed the pine boards to where the group stood quietly.
“This isn’t an official search yet,” Emma announced as Beth reached them. “But I plan to...