Fiction: Canis ignis

An essay by Derek Bradley, as provided by Cory Swanson
Art by Leigh Legler

At first, the wolves were shot. People didn’t want to come into the park and see the majestic herbivores chased to their demise by hungry predators. So they were eradicated.

Unchecked, the deer and elk tore the hell out of the ecosystem. So many hungry mouths to feed, they yanked the vegetation up by the roots. There were floods and mudslides, with nothing to hold them back.

The humans, never a part of this environment in the first place, decided to bring the wolves back. The wolves brought back the vegetation, and the landscape flourished again.

That’s how I viewed myself as a ranger at Yellowstone National Park. Humans had royally screwed this place up in so many ways. How do we as people enjoy a place like this without destroying it?

That was the million-dollar question, one I’d wrestled with over the course of my career, rising in the ranks. Here we are, the self-aware invasive species, cursed with understanding the beauty and complexity of all that surrounds us even as we inevitably destroy it.

There I sat in my daily wrestling match with this question when Jason stormed through the door. “Mr. Bradley, there’s a fire in the southwest corner of the park,” he said, out of breath.

Fire. The other wolf. A natural part of the cycle. Without fire, the dead vegetation builds up. Certain trees won’t seed. The land is supposed to burn from time to time. But lord knows you can’t let Yellowstone burn. “Deploy the resources. Get a perimeter going. Don’t let it spread.”

“Yes, sir,” Jason barked.

“And none of that ‘sir’ shit. This isn’t the military.”

Illustration of a wolf, illuminated by flames.

I flipped the slide to show a striking image of one of the wolves carrying a long stick with flames caught mid-dance on both ends.

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Winter 2020 collection.

Ranger Derek Bradley grew up in Laramie, Wyoming, and received degrees in forestry and zoology from Colorado State University. While working up through the ranks of the Parks Service, he wore out a couple trucks, a couple marriages, and a couple good dogs. He misses the dogs the most.

Cory Swanson lives in Northern Colorado with his wife, two daughters, and an old blind dog named Kirby. When he’s not working himself to the bone teaching tweens how to play band and orchestra instruments, he can be seen camping with his family in his tiny trailer or traveling to strange worlds in his head in order to write about them.

If you would like to witness a nearly middle aged man attempt to navigate the perils of social media, you can find Cory on Facebook under the handle @speculativemeculative, on Instagram @coryswansonauthor, or at his website,

Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at

“Canis ignis” is © 2019 Cory Swanson
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Leigh Legler

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