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The Womanless Man, Continued, 5

7 Feb

The Womanless Man

Continued, 5

L. Stewart Marsden

 

Go to previous installment . . .

Go to story beginning . . . 

* * * * *

Stew’s mind flashed as everything about him became slow and surreal. His emotions were panic, curiosity, and wry humor — in that order.

The panic was induced by what he saw in the beam of the flashlight before he dropped it, like a “gotcha!” moment in a slasher movie. Upright, swaying on its massive back legs and clawing at the head of the deer carcass, as though trying to bring the body down from its lynched position, a huge black bear had turned its head in Stew’s direction, its eyes reflecting the light with an eerie glow. Like when all the eyes in a group shot appear white, or red.

Curiosity overcame panic. What was this huge wild thing doing? More importantly, what the hell was he now going to do?

And finally, wry humor. Ah, Karma, he thought to himself. When he was a kid he had read a short story where the animals exact revenge over a trophy hunter. And this was about to become his story. Despite his age, it seemed very short.

Hunter Mauled to Death by Bear After Executing Innocent Deer and Robin

That would be the local headline. And he might even get a short mention on one of the national evening news networks. Maybe a sound byte from Brent. “Damn biggest bear I’ve seen in these parts! And I should know big!” Then a calculated wink and grin for the sake of whatever female viewers had tuned in.

“Stand UP, mother fucker!” ordered Brent, who had awakened and stood, fumbling for his rifle in the dark.

Stew stood clumsily, still encased in his sleeping bag, scanning the ground for the dropped flashlight. He knew the theory: become as big as you can so the bear will be frightened. Brent managed out of his sleeping bag and found his rifle, whooping and hollering as loudly as he could.

It seemed to work. The bear was frozen for the moment, turning his head from Stew to Brent and back again, seeming to think through a strategy rather than doing the smart thing and hightailing it into the dark woods.

Which is what both Stew and Brent wanted it to do. Brent shouldered his rifle and aimed at the bear’s head. The bear jerked its massive head towards the movement. Stew spotted the flashlight, and took advantage of the distraction to pick it up and turn it towards the bear’s eyes, hoping to blind it and scare it off. It didn’t scare off.

“Shoot him!” Stew yelled at Brent, who stood frozen.

“This is no gun for a bear! It won’t put him down! It’ll just sting him and make him mad as fuck!”

“Get the bear gun, then!”

“We’re DEER hunting — I didn’t bring a goddamn gun for bears!” The words seethed in clouds from Brent’s clenched teeth.

All the while the two bickered the bear watched, as though sizing things up. Should he charge? Wouldn’t have to go far. Less than ten yards. Would he go for the guy with the gun, or the guy with the flashlight? Flashlight looked like it would hurt less. He had seen guns before. He had lost family to guns before. But if he charged the guy with the gun, he might be able to disarm — literally — that one with a powerful swipe of his claws. He could run, and be a half mile away in no time, and he considered it. But here, hanging up as if just for him, was enough meat to keep him fat and happy for the next few days — and with hibernation coming up, he wasn’t so sure the opportunity would present itself again.

Wait! What? Stew shook his head to clear the thoughts from his mind. Bears couldn’t think like that! They had no power to reason! This was an animal, and subject to instinct, of which Stew hoped the most important one was the instinct to survive. It was certainly his own at the moment. And Brent’s, judging from the way Brent was shaking, his eyes as wide as saucers.

Perhaps what the three of them thought was, “What we have here is a failure to communicate!” An impasse. A point where lines definitely do not need to be drawn. Some form of compromise. If you do this, we will do that sort of thing.

Not something well-practiced among many groups of late.

Stew thought of his Starter Wife and his Ender Wife. It wasn’t that compromise had ever been needed during the courtship of either. The drive was to please the other. In fact, there was an air of competition during the early phases. Kind of an Annie Oakley sort of thing — anything you can do to please me, I can do better.

The bear huffed, and stood up straighter, the hair on his massive shoulders bristling.

All of this had occurred in under a minute. The clock was ticking loudly. The hands approached straight up on the clock face. Eyes glanced about between the three of them, the deer’s dead eyes seeming to absorb the scene with a glazed look. Muscles tensed, skin twitched, droplets of sweat beaded on the two men’s foreheads. Stew’s tinnitus set the background music tone.

Slowly, as quietly as possible, Brent released the safety from his rifle, and very slowly cocked the gun. The bear riveted its eyes on him, his ears perking to the sound.

At that moment, a log on the fire chose to break in two,  and flamed up suddenly, spraying the air above with sparks. It was like the starter’s gun going off on a race, jettisoning runners down the track.

The bear charged.

* * *

Continued …

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