We trudge on, I take the magnet off my bear bell and let it jingle as we walk. Gunnar and Mather clap their hands and whistle every so often. My eyes are focused on every shadow we cross. The five of us walk in a straight line, Tom holding up the rear and Gunnar and Mather out in front. The terrain is a mix of grassy open space and pine trees. Footing is easy, though loose gravel and larger rocks are strewn about the path. My eyes dart between the ground and the brush, my shot gun is lowered to the ground in one hand and my other hand is gripping my pack’s strap firmly. Being it the first time I had ever held a gun, it feels awkward and foreign. Every shadow gets two looks from me. I can feel the work up of anxiety in my body. Starting with my heart beating faster, my palms begin to sweat and my breath becomes more shallow. The weight of the pack feels heavier, dragging me down, forcing the air out of my lungs, and refusing to let it back in. Tom whistles sharp and loud behind me. We are all about 5 feet apart when a small black furry figure runs between me and Gunnar. My eyes widen, I turn and search Tom’s face for direction.
He has his gun drawn up and is canvasing the tree line and rocks beside us. I swallow but the saliva doesn’t leave my throat, it hangs there. “Bear,” Tom says quiet enough to get Gunnar’s attention.
“Mather hold up.” Gunnar turns and walks towards us. He has a steady monotone voice that I hadn’t heard him use before. “Where? Where do you see it?” Gunnar is looking in the direction Tom is, my gaze follows. I don’t see a bear, only pine trees and some lower brush.
“You see something?” Mather joins our huddle.
“A small bear, a cub, ran behind Gunnar just now,” I say. Trying not to let my voice quiver.
“A cub? That’s not good,” Gunnar says as he surveys the land around us. “Where is mama?” he says. Everyone draws up their gun and turns their back to each other, except me. My body starts to tingle as the anxiety rushes to the further points of my hands and feet. Guns are swaying this way and that, searching for movement. I’m in the middle, my gun pointed down helplessly. We hold this position for a while.
“Let’s move out, slowly,” Mather says in a flat firm voice. “We are less than a mile from the cabin. I’m gonna run ahead and get the bear spray and the Ranger. Make some noise when I leave, let her know you’re here.” Just like that Mather trots away, leaving me with Tom and Gunnar.
“Hey bear! Yo bear! Hey bear!” Gunnar is calling. Tom makes clucking noise with his tongue and we slowly walk the path that Mather just disappeared down. I hear a crackle of branches and a snort and bark. Finding the noise, we see a grizzly bear not more than 10 feet to the left of us. She was massive. Her matted brown hair clings to her belly and limbs. She rises up on her hind legs, her head was an unimaginable size and her eyes seemed to look through us. Prayers rocket through my head: “Oh God, please don’t let this be it. Please let the bear just leave.”
She drops back down to all fours, grunts, and her nostrils flare as she smells the air. Gunnar throws his hands up and says “Hey bear! Hey bear! We just want to leave bear! Good bear. Good bear.” The bear continues to eye us as Gunnar puts his hands straight out to his side, blocking Tom and I from her path. He then takes a slow step back — we follow his lead. We managed to get another 5 feet away from her by walking slowly. Tom has his gun pointed at her, ready to discharge and end this nightmare. She seems to sense something, and her head rises, she turns and sways away quietly. We stand frozen, Gunnar still with his arms out and Tom still with his gun ready. After what seems like a lifetime Tom lowers his gun and Gunnar puts his arms down and swivels to face us.
“Holy shit. I think I just pissed myself.” Gunnar says with a puff of air over his forehead that tosses his hair.
Tom wipes the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. “I have never come that close to a bear in all my years.” He stands there shaking his head. I’m relieved to see I am not the only one shaken, though I’m more relieved we are out of harm’s way. My anxiety vanishes, but the adrenaline leaves me shaking ever so slightly.
“Can we keep moving.” I couldn’t hide the tears that started to silently flow. I felt sick and tried not to think about my gut emptying in front of these men.
“She’s gone. It’s okay, she won’t be back. Let’s pick up our pace and keep moving.” Gunnar turns from us and starts up the path, I am quickly by his side. If I could craw up under his shirt and hide there until the cabin I would have done so.
A sudden thrashing sound turns our attention behind us. Stumbling backwards and tripping over each other Gunnar and I fall to the ground as the bear lunges at Tom. Gunnar’s gun is thrown a few feet away. The bear swipes a Tom, catching his jacket. The jacket is caught on the bear’s paw and Tom is throw, his scream is cut short when his body hits the ground. Tom tries to raise his gun but the bear is too close for him to get the barrel under the animal. He lets out an agonizing howl as the bear bites down on his shoulder and neck. The blood is instant and the bear begins to shake Tom’s twitching body. Throwing him a few feet off the path. Gunnar’s hands are moving frantically has he tries to get upright. He grabs my gun and scurries onto his knees. He fires several quick shots, at least one hits the bear in the hind quarters. The bear tucks its rear under and turns towards the tree line. She gallops out of our view in a matter of seconds.
Snippet from the novel I am working on. Please excuse grammar errors, I have only begun edits and honestly I’m horrible with grammar. I thought this section would go well with today’s Daily Prompt: Provoke.