|“Where we goin’ again, Bud? Huh? Where we goin’?” The two bears, one huge, and one so small he looked like a cub were sauntering through a densely wooded area. The larger one lagged behind, walking almost reluctantly on all fours.
“I’ve told you six times since breakfast. Now c’mon, keep up.”
“Tell me again, Bud. Please?” the big bear whined. He had stopped and sat down against a tree, indicating he would not continue until his friend told him a seventh time.
Bud stopped and looked at him. He knew he should be irritated. He just couldn’t help but feel for his companion. The big lug had a way of getting under your skin, and into your heart.
“Okay, I’ll tell you once more. Then we have to make some time. Deal?”
“Okay, Bud.” His face lit up when he realized he would get his way. “Deal!”
A stern look crept over Bud’s face. “You have to promise this time, Lonnie.”
Lonnie looked down at his big paw as if examining it for ants. “Okay,” he said quietly. “I promise.”
Bud padded over and nestled into the tall grass next to his monstrous charge. Lonnie was older than he but just a child in mind. He would never get any smarter. Bud, no more than a cub himself, had promised Lonnie's mother before she died of a gunshot wound that he would look after him.
“Do you remember that place I told you about, Lonnie, our dream?”
“You mean the place where dare are so many simons? In dat place dat they will jump right out of the river for us? Is dat the place, Bud? Is it?” The big bear now looked at him with a dreamy, excited look. Bud knew that Lonnie knew this story word for word. After a pause, he continued.
“That’s right, that’s the place. It’s a river up north a ways. When we get there, we’re going to settle right down, find us a nice big den and fish everyday for SALMON.” He said the word slowly, feeling his own excitement build. “No more berries and leaves for us, no sir.”
Lonnie chimed in, “Nope, no more leaves for us, just simon from dat river.”
Bud put his small paw on his big friend's shoulder. “It is going to be the good life for us.”
“Tell me about the squirrels, Bud, tell me about dem.”
“Well…,” Bud began, but Lonnie jumped in like he always did, and told his favorite part. ”Dare’s gonna’ be lots of squirrels dat’ live in dem’ trees by the river. Dare’s gonna’ be a hunnerd’ squirrels in every tree an I can play with dem’ if I promise not to break no more of dem’. Ain't dat right, Bud? ain’t it right?”
Bud stood up and stretched. Lonnie copied him, looking ridiculous. “That’s right, you big lug, now come on and let’s get moving. We're near some houses now and we don’t want to hang around.”
Now Bud looked worried. “Houses, like with peoples in dem?”
“Yeah, but don’t worry. So long as you don’t go near them again, we’ll be okay.” Bud stood up on his hind legs and got right into his friend’s face. With Lonnie on all fours, it was all he could do to be eye level with him.
“Lonnie, do you remember what happened the last time you let that overgrown curiosity get the better of you? Do you remember all the trouble we were in because you went near the houses that time?”
Lonnie didn’t answer. He tried to look down at his front paws again. Bud reached up and swatted him as hard as he could across his snout. “This is important, Lonnie. Do you remember?”
Lonnie recoiled; a hurt look crossed his simple face. “Yeah, I remember. Dem people was mad and dey chased us wit dogs.”
“That’s right. They chased us with dogs. And they would have caught us too, if I hadn’t of pushed your big, fat butt across that stream and into the big woods.”
“I remember dem.”
“Good! Don’t you ever forget them, either. We could have been killed. Now let’s keep moving.” Bud wanted to tell him that the real reason they needed to hurry was that he knew people were still tracking them. He had picked up their scent yesterday evening and had forced Lonnie on through most of the night.
They traveled the rest of that day and long after the moon had risen. Bud was tired and irritated at the slow progress and constant delays. Lonnie very frequently sidetracked. If he wasn’t stopping to munch on wild berries, he was off in a new direction chasing after the squirrel that played in the trees above them. At one point, Bud had almost lost his temper when the big bear had walked along a stream's muddy bank, leaving his huge footprints everywhere.
Bud had been using misdirection with zigzags. He had led Lonnie through the roughest terrain and densest woods to try to dissuade their pursuers but the best trick he knew was too complicated for his friend to understand. It would have been much to their advantage if he could teach Lonnie to backtrack by stepping in their own footprints until they reached the stream and then moving downstream before continuing. This was always hard for a dog to track and down right impossible for a human. The maneuver was completely lost on Lonnie.
About two hours before sun-up, his big partner had been too tired to continue. Bud was ready to stop as well but still chastised him on how much time and energy they had wasted chasing squirrels. He coaxed Lonnie under the limbs of a huge fir tree that hid most of him. Bud lay down by the edge of a natural lea, and kept watch until he fell asleep. He never understood why humans always traveled through a field when the cover is better in the trees and brush. It worried him that they were so fearless.
HUMANS! Bud came awake instantly. His powerful sense of smell detected them and they were close. This time, however, he did not smell dogs. That could only mean one thing. The humans were trying to be quiet. He scanned the open field and saw no one. He scampered back to the tree to get Lonnie. He was completely surprised to find his friend gone. It was at that moment that he heard the gunshot not fifty yards from him. Lonnie must have woken up and gone to look for him. When the Lord made Lonnie, He left out a few important things; Lonnie had the brain of a cub and no sense of smell or direction. Bud did not think Lonnie would survive a single day without him. He also thought that Lonnie would someday get them both killed.
He hurried to where the shot came from. He arrived just in time to see Lonnie crush a human under his massive weight by falling on him from a standing position. Lonnie lay still. Bud watched for a few moments, testing the air and waiting to see if there were more humans. He could smell them. They were close but not in the immediate vicinity. He trotted down to see if his friend had met the same fate as his mother had while trying to protect him.
Lonnie was unhurt. He was lying on top of the human as if to keep him from moving. When Lonnie saw Bud he sat up, completely forgetting the human beneath him.
“Lonnie, what happened? What have you done?”
“I was looking at the squirrels in the trees, is all.” Lonnie looked down at his paws, saw the man lying there and quickly looked in another direction. “I’m sorry, Bud. Lonnie is so sorry. I forgot, didn’t I Bud? Lonnie forgot again.”
Bud nudged the bigger bear with his nose. “Get off and let me see.” Bud stared at the human for a long time. “This is bad, Lonnie. This is very bad. They will never stop hunting us now, never.”
Lonnie started to cry. “I’m sorry,” he said in a low voice.
Bud thought for a long time. He kept turning it over in his head but he just couldn’t see any way to fix this. Bud doubted whether Lonnie even remembered why he was crying.
“Do you know what I found this morning, Lonnie?” Lonnie stopped crying and looked at him, curious. “What, Bud, what did you find?”
“Darnedest thing I ever saw. There is a huge river. Simons are jumping out of the water. There is a bunch of trees, too. Full of squirrels, they were, just full of them.”
Suddenly, Lonnie was excited. He jumped up and down saying, “Where, Bud, where did you see our dream? Where is it, Bud, tell Lonnie!”
“I’ll do you one better than that, buddy. I’ll show you. But you have got be quiet and do exactly as I tell you, okay? You have to promise or we can’t go.”
Lonnie stopped his jumping and stood perfectly still. He looked Bud right in the eyes and said, very distinctly, “I promise!”
“Follow me, but stay quiet. Not a peep.” Then he moved off in the direction of the field. When they arrived at the edge of the open field, Bud scented the air. He figured he had just enough time. He turned to his friend. “Okay, Lonnie. This is what we have to do, okay. If you want to see the river with the salmon and all the squirrels, you have to stand right here. I’m going to go over there and find just the right spot. The place where all the best squirrel are and a cave that we can live in.”
“And live the good life!” Lonnie added, enthusiastically.
“Exactly, live the good life,” Bud said. “Now you have to stay right here until you see me come out of the woods on the other side. Then I want you to run over as fast as you can. Okay? As fast as you can!”
When Lonnie had agreed that he would not go off chasing squirrels and understood exactly what to do, Bud edged his way around the clearing until he was exactly opposite of Lonnie, but back where Lonnie couldn’t see him. Then he tested the air and waited. He hoped, given Lonnie’s attention span, that it would not be long.
Sure enough, after only a minute, he smelled, then saw several humans stop at the edge of the field. They were checking the field, searching for them. He looked across at his huge friend. Lonnie was standing perfectly still, watching this side intently. Bud knew that if he left now, Lonnie would hang around here all day. At least, until some squirrels caught his attention or the men killed him.
At that moment, something in Bud’s heart broke. Tears came streaming down his cheeks. He felt as if he were going to die. He took two huge breaths, then closed his eyes and said aloud. “Goodbye, my friend. I’m doing this because I love you.” Then he stepped out to the edge of the field.
Instantly, Lonnie lunged out into the open and started running joyfully across the field. Bud heard his friend yelling, “HERE WE COME, DREAMS! HERE WE COME, SQUIRRELS!”
Bud turned and went quickly into the woods. He stopped for only a moment when he heard several thunderous gunshots boom out, almost at once. Then he was off again. He moved quietly. He zigzagged. When he came to a stream, he backtracked. He used every trick in the book and he did not stop until nightfall. Then, he lay down and cried for his friend. He cried very hard and he prayed that Lonnie, the gentlest soul he had ever encountered, had found his dream and was chasing squirrel in whatever life he was in now.