To Kill A Bear
By M. E. Riddle
I was just a boy then, living in the Pacific Northwest, surrounded by trees and memories living life fundamentally and as free as a farmer.
With supplies getting low, the end of my vacation was nearing fast. For days my grandfather and I had witnessed an Elk and his harem loitering in the grass valley below our cabin but never close enough for a clean kill.
This was to be my first Elk, and grandpa wanted it to be perfect.
Wilfred Duran was my hero. Being with him reinforced the notion that I too was going to live long and strong in the mountains hunting and fishing. Grandma Rose had passed years ago and is still mourned, although Grandpa rarely speaks of her.
He continues to live alone in the western Saskatchewan Province, hunting and fishing as well as the occasional contract guide work for 'lowlanders' whom he despises. As we lay in the blind waiting for my Elk my mind began to retrace the journey that brought me here. The memory still haunts me of my parents standing together and alone in the Greyhound parking lot in the rain, watching their little boy's face in the rear bus window leave in a cloud of blue black exhaust. It was then I became overwhelmed with a brief moment of loneliness and despair but this was short lived. The scenery throughout the trip filled my senses akin to a dog with his head outside a moving car's window.
Seeing my Grandfathers beaming face filled me with pride. He was a robust man with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair accompanied with a full white beard. I felt proud to walk with him. We traveled in silence for hours in his military surplus vehicle until he finally asked, "Would you like some hot chocolate?"
"Sure!" I replied, my stomach growling.
My mind was brought back to the blind and the sound of my Grandfathers voice.
"Are you hungry?"
A man of few words, he crawled out of the blind and headed towards the nearby cabin for provisions.
As he left my mind again daydreamed.
I imagined my Elk grazing in a sunlit patch of forest below me, the sunlight illuminating his presence. He slowly lifted his regal head and looked upon me as if demanding respect. A noisy squirrel brought me back to reality. My grandfathers grizzled brow appeared and he was offering me a sandwich. We both ate in silence. He gave me a gentle nudge in my side in mid-bite of the sandwich.
Below us the Elk and his harem magically appeared, this time it was real. They were leisurely making their way up the mountain towards us, grazing and occasionally looking around.
My Grandfather again gently nudged me.
Taking the safety off the rifle I put the crosshairs directly on the Elk's chest, inches behind the shoulder blades. I began to gently squeeze the trigger.
The back of my head was suddenly and violently thrust into the dirt. Beside me, I heard the sound of my Grandfather shrieking over the noise of an oncoming train. In an instant two objects held me tightly on either side until I was spun around on my back.
I found myself looking into the jaundice yellow eyes of a horrific monster whose cavernous fanged mouth and appalling breath removed all sense of the moment. The beast slowly raised his enormous arm and as it came down in slow motion the muzzle of my rifle unexpectantly fired enveloping the head of the nightmare within a large pink cloud. It fell forward onto me while the rifle miraculously remained erect, propping the hairy beast partially off my body while it's head dripped blood and saliva onto my face.
I lay there motionless, listening for the sounds of life from my Grandfather nearby.
Every moment or so I contorted my body to remove myself from under the massive weight of the bear. Weak and in pain I checked on my Grandfather. He lay motionless.
It was difficult to keep my balance as I made my way to the cabin, stopping occasionally to grab a nearby tree and vomit. Fear was replaced by panic.
Sitting in front of the radio I could barely speak
"Where you at son!" the radio kept crackling.
"I don't know!" I kept yelling back into the microphone.
Then I remembered.
"Forty miles North of Star Route Nine!" I shouted.
"North or South Shore!" the voice demanded.
"North! I mean South!" I pleaded, correcting myself.
The voice on the radio informed me help was on the way and to leave the mike open.
Grabbing a sleeping bag I was at my Grandfathers side in minutes. I covered him, carefully making sure it was tucked firmly underneath his body insulating him from the cold earth. It seemed to take hours for the pounding of an approaching helicopter to make its' presence.
In an attempt to console me the helicopter pilot mentioned that I was very brave young man.
These were the last words I remembered.
In the hospital I didn't awaken for days. The doctors said it was the mental trauma. Although my injuries were minor I spent a week there dealing with an unusually nasty bout of blood poisoning.
Grandpa didn't make it.
As an adult I still appreciate the beauty of nature. I have long since forgiven the bear that killed my Grandfather as well as almost destroying me. The bear now lives with me, stretched out on the floor of my study sans bone and muscle.
Somedays, I can still picture the Elk standing in a clearing, a slight dusting of snow on its shoulders with his harem nearby. He retains an air of regal appearance, standing sentry over the mountains, his harem, the birds flying overhead, and all that he commands.
I will remember this experience for the rest of my days.
I have never killed another living creature since.