Stephen Harris' mother was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. She dropped out of high school when she fell pregnant with Stephen. His father had also dropped out of school but was three years older than his mother. Stephen's father's name was Dennis, known to one and all as ‘Denny'. He was a petty career criminal who served his first term in the county jail while Stephen was being born. Denny hung around all the wrong places, drank a little more than he should for his volatile temperament, and when he had drunk a few beers was more than useful with his fists - and feet too for that matter. He was a thin almost gaunt, wiry bigoted man who treated anybody he deemed as ‘unamerican' with contempt and frequently violence, drunk or not. Sometimes he worked, usually in a Lube Shop or fixing tires, but never for very long - he was always on the lookout for a quick score and robbed many an unsuspecting tourist who had strayed from they usual routes to The Smokey Mountains. When Stephen was four, Denny left Karen, whom he never actually married, heading for the West Coast. The last she heard of him he was serving life in San Quentin prison for the murder of a gay couple he took exception too whilst roaring drunk in a bar in San Francisco. He beat them both to death with a broken pool cue. Afterwards he casually selected another cue and attempted to play ‘eight ball', stepping over the bloody bodies when he had to, until the police arrived.
By contrast Karen, Stephen's mother was a gentle woman and it was fortunate that the strongest genes in the double helix that is the DNA blueprint of life were from her, when Stephen was conceived. She had not dated before Denny chanced upon her one day as she sat in the park, reading her text books for the next exam. From the moment he sat beside her, her future was doomed. Karen was not an ugly girl by any means, but she was shy and introverted, uncertain of herself and very naive. Some might have said that she was a plain girl with her straight hair that had never been styled, the complete lack of make-up and her clothes made by her mother who could not afford shop-bought. She came from a family who in retrospect were worse off then she ever was, even when she was with Denny. He swept her off her feet, taking her to the bars and seedy clubs where he was ‘The Man', and introducing her as his ‘Old Lady'. Eventually she fell pregnant but amazingly Denny did not walk out on her. Of course, Denny was still none too keen on earning and honest living either which is why he missed the birth of his son. They were living in two rented rooms above the Lube Shop that he sometimes worked in if they were busy and he felt like it. Somehow she managed to look after baby Stephen and hold down a waitress job to pay the rent, until Denny served his time.
After that first term in prison, Denny turned his violence towards Karen. He beat her regularly but always came back the next day full of remorse and always she took him back. The day came that Denny beat her for the last time. When they manager arrived to unlock the Lube Shop for the day's business he went up the outside stairs to the apartment above to see if Denny wanted a day's work because he was so busy. The door was still open and he found Stephen, then four years old, crying at the side of Karen who lay bloodied and unconscious, on the floor. He called 911 and Karen was taken to the County Hospital. A warrant was raised for Denny's arrest, but never served. While Karen recovered, the Shop Manager looked after Stephen with his own young family, finding the boy a gentle well mannered child, so unlike his father, but so like his mother for whom he had a secret soft spot.
When Karen was discharged from hospital, she headed North and ended up in New Hampshire. All she could afford was a home in a trailer park, but she kept it spotless and saved every penny she could towards a ‘real place'. She still worked as a waitress, taking as many shifts as she could to increase her painfully slow building savings account. She was glad that Stephen found himself a friend in Nathan King, but ashamed of her own roots. When Nathan began to visit she liked him straightway - she had been expecting some spoiled rich brat but found that Nathan was none of these things. She had been twice to the King Ranch where she had been made truly welcome but she felt awkward and out of place, despite their kindness and warmth.
Her world was turned upside-down again in 1985 when there was a hard insistent rapping on the door of her trailer home one day. She opened the door and Denny was standing there. He had served eight years in San Quentin when an internal affairs investigation uncovered huge corruption within the town police force that had arrested him. Everybody knew that Denny was as guilty as hell but the evidence used was proven to be false, planted to ensure a conviction, and one statement had even been submitted and accepted from a police officer who was out of town at the time Denny committed the murders. There was a national scandal surrounding the whole case and when Denny was released, a huge outcry that lasted all of one week. Karen had followed the story on the flickering black and white TV she owned with mounting horror and disbelief, dreading the inevitable day that he would come knocking. The day had come. Denny took all the money he could find, which was not much because she had the wisdom to keep her savings in a bank account which so far, he knew nothing about. He returned later that night, so drunk that he was hardly able to stand, and collapsed on the steps of the trailer. She packed everything that she could carry for her and Stephen, and with tears of regret stringing her eyes, she left. Stephen never saw his father or his friend Nathan again. Denny Harris was shot dead by police during a robbery of a gas station in Bangor, Maine, four years later. The incident made four lines buried inside ‘The Enquirer'. Karen never knew, and even if she had, she would not have attended the funeral, which was carried out by the state and only the Priest was present to see Dennis Harris laid to rest.
In the Fall of 1985, a few months after Stephen had suddenly vanished from school, Nathan was preparing for a hunting trip. When he went to school on the first day that Stephen had not shown up, he had assumed that his ‘buddy' was maybe sick, as he had been once or twice before. That night he called him and the phone rang on, unanswered. Tyler sent one of the men over to the trailer park to make sure that everybody was okay. The man returned to tell Tyler that the trailer looked to him as though it had been ransacked and then trashed. There was nobody there, no note in the mess that was left. Tyler made a few calls and learned that a felon who gave Karen's name as his wife, was back in town. He soon discovered who Denny Harris was and the story behind his incarceration and release, and from that it was easy to put two and two together. Tyler explained what he knew to Nathan who was angry and upset because he knew his dad could have fixed things if she had only asked, but it was too late for that now and his friend was gone.
Tyler had given Nathan his first ‘real' rifle a month or so later. It wasn't supposed to be a consolation for the loss of his pal and Nathan knew that. Nathan was an amazing marksman with his 22 and it was time, thought Tyler, for him to try something bigger. The weapon he owned now was a Winchester Model 70 .308 bolt action rifle fitted with a Zeiss Scope sight. There was another exciting factor this time for Nathan because he was being allowed to go out alone, into the woods that stretched into a wilderness going North far into Maine and Quebec. He had loaded his back pack - a big Bergen style with a bedroll tied to the top. On his hip he wore a hunting knife and water bottle. He owned a cell phone but in 1985 this was only the birth of the technology and it would be no use to him where he was heading. There was no point taking a walkie-talkie either because he would soon be out of range. This trip was almost a rite-of-passage for him, alone in the wilds. Hiding her fears from her adventurous son, Caroline was quietly terrified for him, but Tyler promised her that he would have him shadowed, just in case. Nathan set out at dawn, and an hour later, Chuck - Tyler's ex-Ranger head of security ‘Nam vet, was on his trail.
It was a crisp day. That far North the temperatures were already falling. The trees were magnificent wearing their golden read and orange cloaks of fall foliage. Nathan hiked at a fierce pace, his breath being expelled in long white plumes that floated in the still air as the slowly dispersed. The ‘leaf poppers' would be touring Maine right now but nothing they could see would match the splendour that Nathan saw. Chuck had picked up his trail with ease, but he had to make quite an effort to close the gap and was now only fifteen minutes behind him, breathing hard. Another hour passed and then quite suddenly, Chuck had a problem. It was as if Nathan had been plucked from the surface of the earth - his trail just ended. There were no more broken branches at the side of the trail, no kicked over leaves revealing damp darker leaves beneath. He looked up at the sky that showed in blue patches through the leafy canopy of the trees, but saw no sudden flight of birds, disturbed by the passage of a human. Chuck stopped to listen with a trained ear that was tuned to every sound, but he detected nothing that shouldn't be there. After another hour Chuck had to at least smile wryly to himself - the pupil had outsmarted the teacher, he had lost him. Out loud he said to the trees, "Good going kid. I hope that God is watching out for you", and then he began to make his way back to the ranch.
When he was sure that Chuck was out of earshot, he pushed open the leaf covering that he had hastily made to cover the hollow in which he had been laying, watching and waiting, breathing slowly the way he had been taught. He emerged from the forest floor and it was his turn to smile, "thanks Chuck", he whispered softly before setting out again. That night Nathan was much closer to the Canadian border than he thought he was. Basing his position on his compass and the speed he reckoned he was moving, he made a bad miscalculation. He gathered up some fir branches and made a lean too shelter for the night, inside of which he set out his bed roll. It had been a great first day and he was not the slightest bit worried, enjoying his solitude while he sat for a few minutes and hoped that Stephen was doing okay. Nathan gathered some twigs and made a small fire on which he heated some water that he got from a stream, refilling his water bottle at the same time. He prepared a meal from the rations that he had brought with him, deciding that the next day he would start to hunt and kill what he needed to survive, easing any dependency on the food he carried.
Looking up at the night sky, it was a glittering black ocean of jewels. It seemed that up her there was thousands more stars to see and Nathan lay looking out of his crude shelter for a long time before he allowed himself to sleep. The last thing he had done was to bank his fire right up, and its flames were the only protection he had against any night predators, apart from his knife and rifle. It was the warm rays of the morning sun stabbing down to dapple the ground like a hundred theatre spotlights that awoke Nathan. He stretched and felt no pain, cramp of discomfort at all. Peering out of his shelter he could see two Deer less than twenty feet away but as he watched them they looked so, so right, that he did not even think to load his rifle. He moved suddenly to try and recover his fire from the dying embers and the Deer heard him, running away deeper into the woods. He watched then go and hoped he did not see them again when his rifle was ready, but knew that if he did, he would take one of them. It was just the way things were.
After a light breakfast, Nathan broke camp, leaving shelter as it was since it was all material from the forest anyway, and carried on North, but without intending to he strayed a little to the East, crossing the state border into Maine. He noticed that it was getting noticeably colder but the cold did not bother him. The sky had lost most of its blue and greyish-white clouds were gathering. There was a definite bite in the air but Nathan just found it exhilarating. He blooded his new rifle that day, taking two rabbits that were running together. He hit them both right through one eye, taking the first and reloading in total calm, in time to snap shot the second before it could escape. He carried them as his father had shown him, on a stick over his shoulder ready for cleaning and eating later. By the time the shadows lengthened and it was becoming dark, Nathan was camped at the base of Snow Mountain in northern Maine, no more than five miles from the Canadian border. He cleaned one rabbit which he cooked over another small fire. The other he cleaned, but left the fur on for now, intending to eat it the next day. That done he crawled into another lean to he had made and soon fell asleep. He could not know that already his father was out looking for him, not because he feared that his son would be unable to manage but because he had promised Caroline that on this, his first lone trip, he would be sure to watch over his son. Tyler was not at all angry with Chuck when he arrived back to tell him that he had lost his son because, like Chuck, he quite admired his son for outwitting his unseen hunter. Tyler however was a man of his word and now he was out there with five men, combing the woods, looking for a sign that Nathan had passed by.
Nathan awoke in darkness and at first he thought it was still night. Then he realised that the snows had come early and that his shelter was no buried. It only took him a few minutes to clear the snow from the shelter's opening where it had banked during the night, and once again he soon had a fire going. This time some of his wood was a little too green and Nathan noticed that it sent a small plume of smoke towards the sky that was clear and blue once again. His breakfast was again light, just a few of the fast dwindling rations in his backpack and a pot of coffee that he brewed on the fire. He had not thought to bring snowshoes but that was no problem at all because his dad had shown him how to make a pair from the right kind of tree branches. He spent an hour or so making his new footwear and once pleased with his work, he struck off North again, crossing into Canada an hour and a half later. He saw no border patrol, there was not even a fence or a sign - which there should have been but it was long gone. There had been many border crossings around here during the prohibition era as racketeers smuggled liquor from Canada, and many of the border markings are missing to this day.
He covered almost twenty miles in his snowshoes on the third day. It was getting tough going but although Nathan was only just fourteen years old ( in true age), he was fit, tough and determined. He grit his teeth and pressed on, his single-minded goal, a Grizzly Bear. He had seen the first tracks the day before and now he was going to hunt it down. The last traces he found had been cold but still soft and he knew that he was closing on his quarry. Two days behind him, his father had stumbled by chance on his first camp, spending the night in his son's lean too. He could not know for certain that it was Nathan's camp but he could see that it was very recent and it seemed likely that his son had passed this way.
Nathan awoke to begin his fourth day away from home. He had covered a remarkable distance in that time and was well inside the Canadian border, but he had seen no other person during his trek after fooling Chuck. He had eaten his second rabbit and noticed that game was getting scarce which began to concern him. He decided that the best thing to do would be to turn back if he did not find his Bear or any other game, that day. He was no fool and had no intention of starving to death in the wilderness. The Grizzly loomed up from nowhere - Nathan just did not see where it came from and it was so close that Nathan felt its foetid breath on his face as the Bear threw back its head a roared at him, showing a mouth full of cruel looking teeth. For a split second, Nathan was rooted to the spot in terror. He knew that he must not turn his back on a Bear, but what else could he do ? He was on a high ridge, still climbing, and it was that, that saved him. The Bear swung a huge clawed paw at Nathan which would have torn his face off, but Nathan threw himself blindly from the ridge, hoping that the Bear would not follow - the hunter becoming the hunted.
He tumbled over and over down the steep side of the ridge. As he fell, rocks hidden underneath the snow mantle hit him painfully, and low branches from the trees that he vainly tried to use to slow his descent whipped back across his hands and face raising angry red welts. Somehow, he kept hold of his rifle but the Scope sight was ripped off, the metal of its fixing distorted and buckled. He hit a larger hump in the snow that was another hidden boulder and it knocked what little wind he still had, out of his lungs. Nathan bounced over the boulder and carried on his slide, but his leg twisted beneath him and he felt a terrible pain as he heard it break. The white end of a snapped bone stuck through his torn camouflage trousers and he screamed before blacking out in agony.
When he awoke he felt a searing white-hot pain that he had never known before. It was dark and he was very cold and he knew from all the times he had been out during winter with his dad and with Chuck that his body temperature was falling, and that that could kill him. It was so dark that the air was almost oily, like a thick silky cloud that masked a sky in which there were no stars and no moonlight. Nathan still had his pack strapped to his back which somehow had not been torn free although one strap had ripped itself from the side allowing some of the precious contents to be spewed out as he tumbled from the ridge. His torch was still in the zipped pocket at the side. It was battered and dented and the glass was smashed but it still worked an he shone the beam around for a few seconds to try to see where he was. By its strong beam, Nathan could see that he had landed in some kind of a shallow crevice. At one end there were some overhanging low branches of a fir tree that made a sort of a roof. Gritting his teeth against the unbelievable pain, he dragged himself into the tiny refuge. Reaching up, he used his knife - his water bottle had been torn from his belt but not the knife, and cut some of the branches. He burrowed into the snow which had hardly reached the covered part of the ravine and found a lot of dead twigs. Using the paper covering from one of three chocolate bars he still had, Nathan was able to start a fire which he fed with the dead wood and the fresh green wood he had cut. After a long time he started to warm up so at least he would not freeze to death that night.
He was beginning his fifth day. Nathan was trapped in a ravine. He had some chocolate and could keep a fire going. He could melt snow to drink, until he could no longer reach the snow that is. His leg was broken and although the cold had numbed it a little, it hurt him like nothing else in his life. Nathan had no idea that his father was on his trail - he felt very alone and yet the courage he possessed stopped him feeling sorry for himself or even scared. The problem facing him was getting out of the ravine. To do that he knew that he must somehow splint his leg. It was a tough order, but he was going to give it a damn good try or die trying. The one thing he was not willing to do, was to lay down and die.
"What do you think Chuck ?", Tyler said as they broke tree cover again. Ahead there was just a plain white featureless landscape, "do you think he could have got this far ?"
"I don't know Tyler. You have one tough kid there. He fooled me when I should have known better. The tracks we found look like snowshoes and I wouldn't put it past him to make up his own, once the snows came."
"I was thinking that - I showed him how to do it."
"All the same, it does seem that he is heading North. Hell, we're almost in Cananda".
"I don't see how he could get across the border.", said Tyler.
"It ain't the border that bothers me", said Chuck walking forward a few paces and then kneeling." Take a look here", he said beckoning Tyler.
"Bear ?", said Tyler as he looked at the paw prints.
"Yeah, Grizzly Bear. This time of year they ought to be asleep for the winter. If this one is out still he liable to be hungry and angry, real angry. What kind of gun was that you gave Nathan ?"
"A 308 Winchester."
"308 huh ? Well you know that the kid is the best damn marksman I ever saw, but if he wants to kill a big old angry Grizzly he has to make a perfect shot with a gun that small. If anybody can do it though, I would put my money on Nathan."
"Then we have to go on, after the Bear I guess."
"Damn right", said Chuck. "If I had a team of guys made of that same stuff as your boy I reckon we could have ended ‘Nam in a week. Don't get me wrong, those guys back then were the very best - great guys every one of them, but Nathan ! Well that kid has guts like nothing. Don't worry Tyler, he ain't going easy. We'll find him. Its the Bear I feel sorry for."
The only hope left was that they were right. A few hours later they reached a sign that was warning them that they were at the Canadian Border. Tyler reasoned that Nathan would not have knowingly crossed that line so of he went further north he must have crossed where there were no signs. He and Chuck split up. They both agreed to follow the fence in either direction and if they found a break or signs of a recent crossing, they would fire one shot and wait for the other man to join them. Chuck went East and Tyler went West. An hour later Tyler heard a gunshot. A sharp report that would carry for miles in that ice landscape. It took Tyler over two hours to back track and make his way to Chuck. By then the light was fading fast so they camped at the spot and waited for dawn. Chuck brewed some coffee but neither man had an appetite although they knew they must eat soon just to replace the energy that they were burning in their hunt. As they settled down for a long night, so Nathan was trying to grab some sleep in the ravine. The gap between them had closed to just one day.
When Nathan awoke he felt a bad cramp from his hunched sleeping position. He had not really slept at all, just dozed here and there. His leg was beginning to throb and burn and he wondered if an infection was setting in. If that happened he knew he was finished - he had to get put of there some how. Where he found the capacity from he had no idea, but he did, managing to cut some stronger branches from the tree. He had a change of clothes in his pack so he tore the shirt into strips which he used to tie a rough splint around his broken leg. Twice he passed out from the pain - he did not know how long for. In the end the splint was fixed although he had no plans top try and set the break back into position. He tried that just once, vomiting from the intolerable pain when the ragged bone ends rubbed together. The splint in place he dragged himself to his feet for the first time in two days, At first he felt dizzy, but thought that was because he needed to eat something hot and make some coffee too. Using his rifle as a rest he managed to inch his way up the side of the ravine, which was more like a shallow gully. With one last effort he rolled over the top and screamed again in pain, but he was out.
Looking around him, he was not really much better off. The ravine was way down a much steeper and longer slope down which he knew he had first fallen. He could never get back up and the only other option was down. That way looked even worse, seeming to end suddenly until Nathan realised that it ended because after that there was a sheer drop. He managed to find some more kindling and start another fire. This time he made sure to use a lot of fresh green branches and very soon a great column of smoke was climbing up through the trees. All he could do now he figured, was to wait, and to hope.
It was Chuck who saw the smoke first, a hazy smudge rising up above the trees on the horizon. "Hey Tyler! Do you see that ?", he pointed.
"Do you think it could be Nathan ?"
"Has to be. Who else we seen out here? We found two of his camps now. He is burning green wood to make all that smoke, and that tells me that he is in trouble. If we really move we can make it by nightfall."
"Nathan knows well enough how to make a fire with no smoke. I just hope that you're right, Chuck."
"Bear tracks head that way too."
"Then I guess we really do need to move some."
Both men found hidden reserves of strength. They made amazing time through snow and over rough terrain. After three hours Chuck called a halt. "Whoa! I really need to get my breath. Shoot, when I was younger I could've kept this up all day."
Tyler too was breathing hard, grateful of a short rest. He took his rifle from his shoulder, pointed it up into the air and fired a shot. The loud report of the 44 Magnum round that he chambered echoed back across the valleys.
Nathan heard the gunshot and it told him two things. He knew that sound was his father's rifle and he knew that they were close by. He loaded his gun and fired in reply. Then, such was his spirit, he thought he would have some fun with his father so he set his dented and sorry looking coffee pot on the fire and began to make coffee. Another hour passed and there was another shot that sounded less than a hundred feet away. Nathan fired again.
"Can you smell coffee ?", said Chuck to Tyler.
"Yeah, coming from down there someplace", he pointed to the edge of the ridge, then looked over.
"Hi guys! You dropped by for coffee ?" said Nathan., grimacing in pain at his father.