Tyler and Chuck built a crude stretcher from poles that they cut from the trees. They got Nathan up from the side of the ridge and onto the roughly made conveyance, and turned back for home. Nathan tried to walk to the stretcher but howled in agony as he did so, ashamed that he had cried out but Tyler and Chuck told him what incredible courage they thought he had, and they meant every word of it. In the end he had no choice but to allow himself to be carried all the way back to the Ranch. The snow that had first hit Nathan in Canada was working its way south it seemed and had already reached the ranch. When they reached the cleared pasture at the back of the house, Caroline came buzzing over the field on the snowmobile.
"Oh my god! I knew something like this would happen! Damn you, I told you so!", she shouted, angry and worried all at the same time. Caroline got off the machine and then she saw the bone sticking out of Nathan's trouser leg. "Oh sweet Jesus"! she cried.
"Its okay mom, I really can't feel it too much now", said Nathan which only made it seem far worse to Caroline who said, "I'll go call for an ambulance", and she raced back to the house.
Tyler would have taken him to the hospital in the helicopter that sat on its heli-pad but Caroline wanted a proper ambulance. It took nearly an hour to get there, by which time Caroline was frantic with worry, convinced that her son could lose his leg. The medics checked him over and gave him a drip for the pain but said that there was some mild frostbite that would soon recover and the leg was not infected. They also said that he had lost a lot of blood and so it would be a good idea for one of then to come too, if they had the right blood, just to be on the safe side. Tyler and Caroline both went with the ambulance, and one of their drivers followed in a UTE.
"Well", said the doctor, smiling warmly at them both, "seems like we live in a world of good blessings today."
"Will he be okay doctor...I mean....his leg ?", asked Caroline with a tremor in her voice.
"You bet he will. That is some tough kid you have raised there. We are going to reset the bone of course and it should heal just fine. We do need some blood though - he has a very rare group. I took the liberty of checking our records and it seems that both you and Mrs King have the same group as your son., so either of you can donate ?", he said to Tyler.
"Maybe we both should so that you can have some on hand ?", said Caroline.
"That would be very good of you, mind you I can't guarantee that the blood you give extra will be reserved for your family. It err...doesn't really work that way. Follow me and a nurse will sort it out for you both. We don't often get rare blood offered so I am sure you are very welcome. I guess its fortunate too that we don't need to use rare blood so often either. Have a nice day", and the doctor left them with his nurse. As a matter of routine, DNA samples were taken, analysed, and the data added to a growing database.
By the time Nathan returned to school he was already a hero if not the beginning of a school legend. He hobbled back to his class on crutches, his leg encased in a white plaster cast. When he went home that day, there was hardly a patch on the cast that did not bear a message and the signature of a pupil - everybody wanted to sign their name and ask him about the accident. This time the news media did manage to corner him because a story like his, a young boy with a broken leg surviving out there in the wilderness was just the kind of ‘all American' tale that wowed the readers. Reluctantly, Nathan answered the questions and the newsmen clicked away with their cameras. The story made the Television news but not the headlines of the newspapers that ran it, and it was never picked up outside the USA. Like all news stories, good or bad, the interest soon died down, especially when Challenger 9 - the twenty-second Space Shuttle, was launched the following week on October 30th 1985.
Nathan had an extra and very welcome fourteenth birthday present; he had to go back to the hospital to have the cast removed. His leg had healed with no problems at all and an X-ray showed that the break was knitted together nicely. He was advised to go easy on the leg for another month or so and then to use it more strenuously in stages. Although there were no complications, for the rest of his life Nathan subconsciously favoured his unbroken leg and always had the slightest of limps. As far as Bear hunting was concerned, he could not wait to get back out there and find another one.
Tyler was at a main board meeting, his last duty before he took a break for Christmas. This meeting was for the members of the highest level of all that controlled the vast international conglomerate that was, Crown Industries Inc.
"Tyler, we have received disturbing reports concerning our Oil revenues", began Louis Beauchamp, a resident of New Orleans who could trace his ancestry back a few centuries before the French Revolution, when his family fled France to escape Madame Guillotine and start a new life in what was then a very new country. His was a colourful story as befits his dramatic character. In heated debate he would stand and wave his arms about wildly to push home a point, his voice burning with passion for his beliefs. Louis was ultimately as far up the tree, or maybe derrick would be more apt, that any manger could reach for the group's Oil interests - the buck stopped on his highly polished ornate desk, in his New Orleans office.
"You better fill me in Louis".
"Our experts have been projecting the impact of the North Sea oil fields that the British are opening up."
"Well I would hope so, we have more than a few installations of our own out there. What is the problem ? I thought we were doing well out there - the figures look good."
"I don't need to tell you Tyler how difficult those fields are."
"No you don't Louis, I've been out to see some of them a few times now. It seems to me that the guys who work out there are much like the guys who opened up America, but if it was my choice I would take my chances with any Indian over the conditions those guys work in. Its no wonder they earn so much, and no wonder they go a bit wild when they take a vacation", said Tyler wryly, remembering a few drunken nights in Aberdeen in the company of a gang of North Sea oil men taking some shore leave. Those men worked in atrocious conditions, but when they partied, boy could they party.
"At the moment the UK is exporting oil which is great for them but not so good for us and everybody else who wants to sell it to them. Now they are developing vast gas resources and you can bet that Mrs Thatcher will be selling that off too. All of this impacts on us in the long run."
"Yes, but its a world market. Everybody wants gas and oil. We will never run short of customers, that's for sure. You know how we Americans love our big automobiles", said Tyler with a smile.
"Our guys don't think that the reserves are as big as the Brits think they are, but there is another issue they have identified, and it is one we would be wise to monitor. There are noises coming out of Russia that the whole Russian empire is imploding. If that really happens it could open up the Russian reserves, which are massive."
Tyler turned to Gunther Lecke, the shrewd Swiss-German who headed all the corporations in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. He spoke heavily accented English and was a big man both in company position and physically. Always perspiring heavily in any weather and with cheeks that were usually flushed, he often appeared to be under some invisible terrible stress or strain, but he was razor sharp and had an almost physic feel for the shifting moods of the countries in the Eastern Bloc. From his office at the top of a glass walled tower in Frankfurt he could look East to the border which was only thirty miles away. "Gunther, what is your feel on this?".
"There is a strong underground movement called ‘Solidarity' in Poland led by a guy named Lech Wałęsa,. He is getting a lot of support from the workers right now. Then of course, the new guy in Russia, Mikhail Gorbachev, seems to be hell bent on changing the whole face of the Communist world. He his talking about something he calls ‘glasnost' which I understand means ‘openness' but its anybody's guess how the Russians interpret that. What is for sure is that the Russian state itself is in danger of collapse, and if that happens the rest will all follow like dominoes. That could then open up the Russian fields. Okay, we know its there, but it has to be got out of the ground and then transported. At this moment in time there is simply no means to get the stuff out other than tankers by sea or road of course. Whose tankers ? Its a very volatile time, that's for sure."
"We don't have anything in Poland so I don't see how this ‘Solidarity' deal is of any interest to us".
"If Poland throws out communism, things could become very different."
"Do your sources think that possible ? Won't that just be another Hungary, with the Russian tanks rolling in all over again ?"
"As I said, Tyler, right now its anybody's guess, but we need to be ready to move at a moment's notice because if we miss out you can be sure that our competitors will not."
"So Louis, you say that the Brit fields may not last as long as we thought? Do you have any figures for that, any new projections that we can work on ?".
"By 2000 we ought to be thinking really hard about where we get our oil from. We think that we will be more or less finished in the North Sea by then, but so will the Brits be which is good for us because then they will want good old Texas crude".
"Or Arab", put in Tyler.
"Yes, obviously Arab, but that is a whole different ballgame. I think Rasul is better placed than me to talk about Arab oil", Louis replied, turning to a swarthy skinned man on his right. Rasul bin Tariq controlled all Middle East interests for Crown Inc. He was short in stature, a good four inches shorter and Tyler, and his build was sinewy, lithe with hardly any body fat. Whilst his eyes were a deep dark chocolate brown so common among Arabic people, his nose was not the more prominent ‘hook' that so often stereotypes the Arab character. He had an aquiline nose more like that of a Roman Emperor, and was dressed in an immaculate dark blue suit with a white shirt and contrasting silk tie. What he shared in common with everybody at the table was a sharp and incisive business brain that ranked him, as them, amongst the best in the world. Unlike the majority seated, Rasul kept no fixed office preferring to rove the Middle East, popping up in the most unexpected places.
"Alas, the Middle East is as troubled as always. As far as we know there is no problem with the oil reserves, but many Arabs look to the day that they will hold the world to ransom, when their precious oil is all that is left. There is a man, Saddam Hussein who rules Iraq with fear and terror, who could be dangerous not only to us but to the whole world if he is not tamed. The man is a maniac and his sons are worse, monsters. My information is that he has his eyes on Kuwait. If he should invade then we cannot yet say what effect that might have on oil supplies, but we have a considerable investment in that state - I am sure I do not have to remind you gentlemen of that." He looked around the table for nods of confirmation.
"I have heard talk of research into alternative fuels. We are a long way I know from electric automobiles, but how about the work on converting vegetable oil into some form of Diesel that can run an engine ? Anybody hear about that ?
"Yes, I have some information on that", answered Gunther, "a very interesting development. The process has been around for years of course, but a method for mass-processing rapeseed oil was published a couple of years ago. I have heard that an Austrian company called ‘Gaskoks' has been active in South Africa where they are trying to get a hold of the technology. There are some South African agricultural engineers who have perfected the process. I understand Gaskoks are already looking for land to build a new plant in Europe".
"Do you think that this stuff could ever compete with mineral oil - that its viable ?"
"Something has to be. The oil will not last forever", Gunther replied.
"Okay. Well we have a lot to be watching right now. I want more information about this company, Gaskoks - I need to know how well they are financed, where they stand right now, what they reckon their factory will produce, all the usual background. We may be powerful but even Crown Inc can't influence Russia so keep in touch with the people we have in case an opportunity arises out there. As for the North Sea, for now the output levels are fine. They hit a record 3.31 million barrels a day this year, and next year, well who knows ? One thing I am sure of though, I won't be filling up with frying oil for a few years yet. Have a good Christmas gentlemen", said Tyler, closing the meeting.
Tyler looked at his watch as he left the boardroom. It had been the very last of a week of meetings that had become something of a tradition in the company, over the years. During the run up to Christmas all the senior managers and the junior managers that they selected would be called to some location for a kind of brain storming combined with a review of any pressing business. This year there had been some developments in Oil that needed some attention, the year before the focus had been on the growing electronics businesses. Since the whole week was not given over to meetings and briefings, to be asked to attend was something of an honour for work well done, and the location was always a surprise. This time they had all flown business class to Bermuda for the week. The Americans from the East coast states had the shortest journeys and Tyler had a flight of just over eight hundred miles to his home. ‘With any luck' he thought, ‘he would be home that evening'.
Christmas was spent quietly that year at the ranch in New Hampshire with Nathan being made to rest up his leg, and only gradually exercise it back to normal use. By the time he returned to start eleventh grade he was his old self. He began to look around with a view to a University which was now only two years away. Tyler became very busy once again, more so because the pre-Christmas conference had proved to be very accurate in its forecasts of troubles ahead, and oil prices crashed to a quarter of their previous high. All thoughts about alternative energies and in particular the Austrians and their rapeseed were put on hold for the time being. Tyler was away in the Middle East when tragedy struck at the ranch. Standing on the steps of the ranch house, the land all around for as far as you could see was King land, but Tyler was never a mean man. He did not encourage people onto his land because he valued his privacy above all else, but he knew that with such a big tract of New Hampshire (part of Maine too) bearing his name, it was inevitable that people would sometimes stray onto it. As long as they respected his privacy and his land he had no problem with that at all. All he asked was that they took their trash with them, they made certain all fires were buried and they only killed for food. As a result, a number of lucky people knew of his attitude and would roam the forest, usually from early Spring to late Fall, but never in the harsh winters.
Nathan still had a hankering for a Bear and often rode through the woods in search of some evidence of the Grizzly that nearly killed him. He knew that the animals could be territorial and he was hoping that ‘his' one was too. If he could find out where it was now, where its den was, he would go after it again. He was up near the Canadian border again, quite close to the fence break that he had passed through in the summer when he stumbled upon a camp. His horse was a gold Palomino and he could ride almost as soon as he could walk which was almost as soon as he could ski. The horse spooked as he broke into the clearing and Nathan leaned forward to soothe the nervous animal. There had been one tent, from the looks of it and oblong shaped khaki canvas type, but most of the canvas hung limply in tatters, shredded by the paws of a large animal. The remnants of two sleeping bags, shredded the same way, were strewn across the ground, white clumps of kapok filling stuck to the surrounding bushes. A backpack was hanging from a tree, no doubt put there to keep it safe from animals, but it had not been placed high enough and it too was in tatters, its contents flung all over. The wrappers of some food lay around, no doubt they were in the backpack.
"Hi there!" Nathan called, "anyone around ?", but there was no reply. He saw tracks leading away from the camp and followed them slowly. After a hundred yard or so his horse began to get very skittish again and so he got off her, and tied her to a root. Taking his rifle which he carried in a holster fixed to the saddle, he went cautiously forward. "Hello ?", he called, but his voice softer. He almost fell over the man. His face had been completely torn off and one arm was missing altogether. A sharp claw had disembowelled the man, his white intestines hung out like obscene sausages. From the condition of what was left, it seemed that he had been tossed around like a rag doll, and Nathan hoped that he died quickly. Most kinds of his age would have thrown up right there but it did not bother Nathan - he looked around for signs with an almost complete detachment, his senses sharp to any disturbance. There were some animal droppings that were very cold, so they had been there for some time, but he knew for sure that they had come from a Bear, and then he found some tracks. The paw prints were big, very big, this was a very large Bear indeed. It was then that he heard her. Nathan heard a very low whimper. At first he thought it was an animal, hiding in the brush, but he heard it again and knew that it was a human cry. "Hello ?", he said softly in the direction if the noise."Hello ?", as he explored further. He saw a large fallen tree trunk and went to sit on it a while when he heard the noise again, and it seemed to be coming from inside the tree. Nathan dropped his head over one end to peer inside and there, curled up in a tight ball, he saw her.
"Hey, I won't hurt you, c'mon out", he said gently, offering her his hand.
The girl was shaking visibly, pale and unkempt her fair hair was matted with rot from inside the hollow tree trunk. Her red shirt was ripped, but not by sharp claws, it looked to Nathan more like she had caught it on something. Even the blue jeans she was wearing were soiled and ripped. Then Nathan realised that he could smell urine and faeces, a human smell, not an animal one. "How long have you been in there ?", he asked her, "you can come out, it really is okay", he offered. She turned at last to face him and despite the traumatic state that she was in, he could see that she was very pretty.
"Th...three...days I think", she said in a voice so soft he almost couldn't hear her.
"Was it a Bear ?". He wasn't ready for her reply; she began to scream loudly, then scream and sob at the same time taking huge gulping breaths of air in between.
"Whoa. Its okay now. There's nothing out here but me, and besides, I have a rifle. Can you come out ?"
"I'm sorta stuck", she said in a croaking voice. Three days cramped inside the confines of the log had set her limbs such that she was finding it hard to move. She had eaten nothing in that time and the only moisture she had been able to reach was the damp insides of the tree. She had managed to break of small pieces of the rotten wood and suck some moisture from it. "Okay, here's what we'll do. We have to get you out of there and its too far to go back to the ranch and fetch help."
"The ranch ? You live around here ?", she said in surprise. "I thought this was just wilderness and forest. Me and Brad. Oh my god! Brad! Is he okay?" she suddenly yelled at him. Nathan realised at once that Brad must have been the body he found.
"Brad didn't make it. My name is Nathan, Nathan King. I am coming in now so don't you worry none. I need to see if I can help you turn sideways so I can get you out. It will probably hurt a bit. Is that okay with you ?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"Here, drink some of this, not too much or you will just throw up", said Nathan passing a water bottle to her.
She took some careful sips then said, "I know you. Are you that kid that broke his leg last year ? It was around here someplace wasn't it ?"
"Yeah, that was me. What is you name ?"
"Lauren Harper, and the guy I was with was Brad, Bradley Cole".
"Okay Lauren, now if you're ready I need you to twist around as much as you can. Give me your hand so I can pull you out."
It was a difficult struggle but Nathan managed to get Lauren out of her hiding place. She walked with some difficulty, her legs still badly cramped. Nathan took her a circuitous route back to his horse, making sure that he avoided Brad's body and the campsite.
"Is this where you broke your leg ?", asked Lauren.
"No, I was about thirty miles north of here. I only came back today because I am still looking for that old Bear", replied Nathan with a reassuring smile.
"North ? You must have been in Canada then ?"
"I guess I was, but in winter it all looks a lot different".
"You're a big guy for, how old did the news say you were, fourteen ?"
Nathan coloured up, blushing furiously, "I'll be fifteen in December".
"Okay. Sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass you" she said, smiling for the first time since he had found her, "I guess I was lucky you happened by."
"You know, even Grizzly Bear's don't usually attack humans unless they are angry or hungry".
"I think he was angry, real angry. Brad and me heard some shooting earlier, that would be a few days back, when, when..." She broke off and began to sob again.
"Its okay", said Nathan with his arm around her. She took a deep breath and finished explaining what had happened. "We had made camp, intending to go East into Maine the next day. The Bear was huge and it was bleeding from one shoulder, so we reckon it was hit by one of those hunters that we heard. It tore into our camp and...and got Brad....and I could see right off that Brad was...was dead. The Bear tore at his face and...it was so horrible and I just ran. We had no guns, nothing. I found the tree trunk and crawled inside. After a while the Bear came looking for me and it put its head right inside the tree, just growling and looking at me but he was too big and I crawled in as far as I could get. The Bear hung around for most of the day before he gave up, but I was too scared to come out in case he came back."
"You did the right thing Lauren. I'm sorry about your boyfriend".
"Oh Brad wasn't my boyfriend, we were just buddies on a hiking trip. To tell you the truth, Brad was gay, but he was the best friend I ever had."
"I'm gonna take you back home and then some guys will come right back for Brad. Can you ride ?"
"Yes, I grew up in Arizona and did a lot of riding there."
Nathan got Lauren up onto his horse and then swung himself up behind her. It was a good feeling as he put his arms around her to hold the reins, and he wished he had been just a bit older, but she was right out of his league, he thought.
"So...er...you and Brad at University together ?"
"Yeah, first year at Princeton."
"Really! That's where I want to go, year after next."
"Cool! I might see you there", she said. It turned out that she had only just started at Princeton and was only eighteen months older than Nathan, who when he found that out was hoping he really would meet up with her again one day. ‘Eighteen months might matter now, but not when they were both undergraduates', he thought.
The horse was clear of the woods and cantering now, through the cleared pastures and fields at the back of the ranch house. As soon as Lauren first saw the ranch the was impressed but as they got even closer she became astonished. It was the biggest ranch house she had ever seen, apart from at the movies. She saw the helicopter sitting in the raised heli-pad, the huge stable block, the barns and the corrals. She saw the fleet of expensive cars that seemed to be just laying around, and then she saw one or two of the security men who patrolled closer to the house. It was all very different from the ranch she grew up on in Arizona. Nathan helped her off the horse and into the house. It was furnished as befits a ranch house, in a western theme but everything was of the very best quality if not authentic, and put together by a designer who made it look like a home that could be lived in and enjoyed rather than a tacky showpiece.
"Mom!", shouted Nathan.
Caroline was upstairs, and as she came down in answer to Nathan's call she saw the filthy and bedraggled girl standing beside him. "What happened to you ?", she asked in alarm, and then to Nathan, "what happened ? Where did you find her ?", but before he could answer she turned back to Lauren and said, "what is your name ? Where are you from ?"
Lauren was struck by Caroline's beauty and the genuine look of concern on her face, "My name is Lauren Harper. I guess you must be Mrs King", she said and extended her hand.
"Caroline", replied Nathan's mother, shaking Lauren's hand, "what happened to you?"
Nathan explained everything that Lauren had told him and Caroline listened with growing horror. Looking at the girl she could see that Lauren was very pale and still in shock. She insisted that Lauren use their bathroom to take a good long soak and found her some fresh clothes to wear, reckoning they were of similar size. While Lauren was bathing, Caroline called the Doctor, their personal Doctor, and the Sheriff. Meanwhile, Nathan went out to find some men that he could guide back to the camp site. The doctor arrived first and after checking Lauren out he gave her a sedative.
"She just needs a good rest now", said the Doctor, "I guess you will want to move her to hospital ?"
"No, I won't hear of it. She can use a guest room until she is okay to travel", replied Caroline at once.
The Sheriff was miserable as he mounted his horse - he did not ride well and was not looking forward to his job that day. It took the small party the rest of the day to reach the camp site which upset the Sheriff even more because they decided to camp there for the night. Sheriff Johnson was not a happy man.