a short story by Marian Wilson
([email]pobdjw [at] nidlink [dot] com[/email])

Gerald dropped a box of rat poison into the hole and grinned. He was sure that stupid fox hid her babies there. “Damn varmints,” he muttered through his gapped teeth.

Gerald was a hunter and it didn’t matter for what: ground birds, squirrels, rabbits. He kept some of them for meat. It didn’t take much to get by, no wife or kids to feed. Some people shoot for the racks, then create furniture of balanced glass over a maze of antlers. Others say they like the taste of game. Gerald didn’t try to fool anyone with excuses. He just liked the hunt, the challenge of the kill.

It was before elk season ended and deer season began. He was polishing his rifle when he heard scratching. Through the window, he saw her. The fox! She was a scrawny thing, no bigger than his dad’s old heeler mix. He grabbed his gun. As he stepped outside, a little speck of gray tumbled over the knoll. Gerald ran with his boots unbuckled and his flannel shirt flapping in the breeze. He thought he saw her to the left, just a flash, a blur. He headed over a slab of granite, toward the field where a few stray apple trees grew.

There he saw her. Not the fox, not the little gray fluff-mobile, but something else, something big. The hump on her back and the massive paws told him this was no ordinary bear. She swatted at green apples that were nearly out of reach. Gerald knew he couldn’t shoot her. These bears were “endangered” after all. The forest roads around him had all been closed to protect the beast.

“Look at the size of that Momma,” he thought. “Grizzlies’ll be taking over the country if the tree-huggers have their way. They won’t be happy ’til the livestock’s gone and their women and kids are in shreds.”

He couldn’t shoot. Not like this, not unless she came after him. The bear went on picking apples as Gerald watched her feast.

“Come at me, bitch. I dare ya’,” he yelled. The bear raised her silver head for a second, then returned to popping whole fruit in her mouth with barely a chomp from her yellowing teeth. Gerald rested his gun on his knees. Movement in the corner of the field caught his attention. He turned in time to see the tiny fox dart away.

He looked back to the tree. It stood alone. He wasn’t sure from where the noise emerged, but it was a deafening groan. The first thing to go was the rifle. It flew from his arms as he was flattened on his back. The bear didn’t flinch under Gerald’s pounding fists. The pain was humane and brief.

Later that night, the bear finished her meal and waddled across the field. The fox waited in the wings, then crept out to examine the remains. There wasn’t much left: a blood-spattered leg of jeans, the laces of a shoe, some straggly hair. She didn’t see anything that she could really use, so she turned and trotted away.

[b]Author’s Note:[/b] Marian Wilson is a writer and registered nurse whose stories, poems and articles can be found in Potpourri, RN, American Journal of Nursing, the Dead Mule, Cayuse Press Book of Remembrance, Moondance, L’Intrigue and the Spokesman-Review. Her neighbors in North Idaho include hunters and grizzlies, but she has yet to meet the latter.

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