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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/2072080
Rated: E · Short Story · Action/Adventure · #2072080
When a soft July evening settles over the bush country, you never know what will turn up.
PIPE DREAMS



BEAR BACK


A Short Story

Nicholas Cochran



Gary possessed an uncommonly strong back; so strong that several people at the market thought that he might just have been the first man to raise a cow over his head every day, beginning shortly after the calf was born, until he proudly sprouted muscles everywhere but his teeth.

And Gary was also uncommonly strong-willed; some said stubborn, others thought him arrogant, and there were one or two who thought Gary was just plain stupid; dumb as dirt.

* * *

When Arthur steered the old Caddy toward the white fence beside the bunkhouse, he expected to be greeted by at least as couple of the guys.

It was after seven; stars were being lit; carefully, one by one. Subconsciously, Arthur wondered just what time the heavens popped the billions and billions out for the show.

But Arthur wasn’t much one for pausing to reflect on cosmology; in truth no one could ever remember Arthur reflecting on anything but his food.

The man had the appetite of a dozen twelve year-old boys. As a result of this prodigious hunger, Arthur weighed well over three hundred and sixty pounds, which he stacked on top of a measly five foot five inch frame. He could have been a high draft pick in the circus industry a hundred years ago; of course he was simply rotund by today’s standards.

Arthur had some brown hair left on his fat head and two huge ears that hung almost to his shoulders, mainly because his neck had disappeared back around two hundred and sixty.

But what Arthur lacked in good looks, he made up for in joviality.

Arthur was sometimes sporting a strange brand of smile that made his face appear broken in certain lighting, and in twilight those brimming smiles of his took on a rather ghastly effect, such that no woman could stand to be alone with Arthur for more than a couple of hours, even if paid double. And most left the lights on at night for the next three months.



* * *


Gary Alder was part of the right-of-way crew for the Majestic Pipeline Company.
Gary and his mates were paid and fed handsomely to clear trees and undergrowth along the Company’s right-of-way, an undertaking that went on ten hours a day, seven days a week; and if you didn’t show up of a morning, you were automatically unemployed.
Breakfasts were often two rashers of bacon, a dozen eggs, six large pancakes, milk, coffee, toast with sides of beans and hashbrowns.
Lunch was two or three sandwiches; colas and milk; three pieces of pie, brownies or cake; and fresh fruit.
Dinner varied in fare but not in size; the men appeared to be injected with a powerful essence that resembled jet fuel in an afterburner, and they barreled out the screen door of the dining hall, full of sound and fury.

As Arthur approached the bunkhouse that housed thirty men, most of them pipeline lumberjacks, he sensed a new emotion for him; fear.
He paused to listen for any sounds coming from the open screen windows. Nothing.
He eased back some on his haunches, adopting a semi-crouch, as if he expected a mountain lion to fling itself off the roof of the bunkhouse and knock him over before it slashed his throat.

Arthur shot a reflexive glance in the vicinity of the roof, and seeing no airborne puma launched from the summit of his quarters, he accelerated and was in front of the side entrance in a few steps. The screen door was closed; the main door was half open. No sounds, except the perpetual buzz of the vampire mosquitoes. Arthur swallowed with difficulty. Sweat now ringed his eyes and streams were beginning on his sternum and in the small of his back. If he’d had a neck, that would be sweating too.

Far off in the forest, a jay was scolding. A smell of pine bathed the mid-July evening.

Arthur thought he smell smoke.

* * *


Gary Alder was twenty-nine and had been married for eight years to Debbie. They were the appreciative parents of two boys and two girls; all under nine. Clarkesville was home to Gary, and a place where he always felt elated; overcome with joy.

Gary had followed Arthur from the equipment yard where they had both filled their vehicles from the two-pump station that was unmanned and scarcely deserved the title of ‘station.’ A single-storey greasy structure was the Majestic repair and service center. Gary pulled up to the second pump just as Arthur was leaving the first.
As a result of this timing, when Gary parked next to the bunkhouse, no one was outside.
Gary saw Arthur’s Caddy along with a couple of dozen other vehicles belonging to other axe-swingers, but none of them were occupied.

An eerie calm lay over the entire area; and the depth of this silence rendered even the mosquitoes mute. The lack of any animate sounds prickled Gary’s spine, while a current of dread edged around the corners of his rational mind.
For a reason he could never make clear, Gary suddenly sensed a danger; a new danger; an unknown menace.

But he was tough man of six feet five inches and two hundred and fifty pounds. He had always possessed the abnormally strong back and had never been afraid of anything, even as a child. From his earliest memories, Gary had never been afraid of the dark; he even loved the dark. As a small boy, he believed that the dark was an animate presence in his bedroom and he would talk with the dark until sleep or dawn put him down.

But here—now—was something that Gary had never experienced; it wasn’t a fear of the unknown, but a fear of a force that encompassed both the known and the unknown; Hamlet’s remarks to Horatio leapt into his thoughts.

Was this the confrontation with The Might that had recently been discussed on “Nova?” One of the many invisible mysteries now being unveiled, the Might is the summation of all things anywhere, both visible and invisible and the enjoyment of many people comes from the manner in which humans are maneuvered by its power.

Gary was now at the side door. The screen door had been ripped off; the main door was hanging in a collection of splinters. Gary jumped onto the steps and through the doorway, quickly looking right and left.
Nothing.
No one.
But from the far end of the bunkhouse came a low growl; a noise that caused Gary to crease his brows and gulp in a slug of air. He instinctively began to run down the aisle between the bunks; past the washrooms; then the latrines and then . . .
There it stood: A grizzly bear, standing at least twelve feet tall and—it seemed—about six feet across.

Behind the Grizzly was the rec hall where a game of stuke would run every night while beer and booze were downed in jumbo quantities; lies were told with no fear of repercussions; and where—at least one time during the evening—you would hear versions of “ I’ll go the thousand I owe.”

Gary quickly guessed that all his mates were sealed behind this door with every table chair and body pressing against it to stall the advance of the killer bear.
“You guys in there?”
From behind the door of last resort seeped choking, gagging shards of sound which Gary interpreted as ‘yesses.’

The bear turned and lowered himself to a crouch which made him only nine feet tall. Then Gary heard a moan to his left.

He swung around. Back against the north wall of the bunkhouse he could barely make out a huge pile of thrashing flesh. Gary thought it was two or three men who had either avoided the bear or been flung there while the bear clamored after bigger game, consisting of twenty men, all well fed and full of bear vitamins.
Gary was torn; the moaning men or the trapped men?
This forced pause in his thoughts returned the main event to his brain; what about the damn bear?

For no reason worth pondering, Gary ran the twenty feet to the wall and as he came up close to the moaning mess, it staggered up and revealed itself as huge Arthur.

“Art! Jesus, man, what happened?

“That goddamn giant threw me here, swiped me to one side as I went to the door for the guys.”

His voice was only a squeak of fright and trauma; his left arm hung at a broken angle; a collarbone stuck up through the skin; blood was all over his coveralls. “It’s huge Gary; that mother is colossal; I didn’t even reach its body; its goddamned paw is the size of my gut, and like a sledgehammer; what the hell are we going to do, man?”

“Can you walk?”

“Yeah, barely; my legs are ok, it’s all in the upper . . .”

The volume of the terrifying, roaring growl shook the bunk beds and set the Coleman lanterns swaying.
Gary was afraid one would fall and start what would be a fatal fire.
Both men suddenly saw the terrifying shadow of the beast as it lumbered with a sense of conviction, and a satisfaction that it was about to have dinner.

“Here, quickly Art, it’s our only chance. We have to knock it down; back or sideways; anyways, so I can swing an axe at it,’’ and Gary took an axe from beside the first bunk at the wall, stuck the handle through his belt and started toward the center aisle.

“But, Jesus, man, how are we going to knock it over; Christ, man, that goddamned thing weighs a thousand {/i}pounds or damned near; we’re toast; you’re nuts!”

“Shut up Art, goddamn it, just shut up and get ready to hold onto my shoulders.”

“What?” a thin piping breath, “hold you how; what the hell, Gary; Jesus, man what the . . .”

“Just shut up Art—goddamn it—and hold on.”

And in one fluid motion, Gary clutched and lifted all three hundred and sixty pounds of the mammoth lard ball of Arthur.
Gary held onto Art’s thighs while he raced forward with all the frustrated anger and hatred he held for all those who had offended or criticized him; with every thought of mayhem and destruction that he had quelled over the years that had prevented him from killing someone.

Gary eyed his target and drove Art’s feet-first-blubber into the raging giant as it reached the side aisle.

Any doubt in Gary’s mind that man is the product of evolution, disappeared the second he saw, received and understood the message of surprise that captured the entire head and eyes of the grizzly. Within those two seconds, they communicated at a preternatural level, and their conversation was not alternating back and forth; it just ‘was’; all at once.

And Gary had the last word “ yippy ki yay, motherfucker.”

The behemoth instantly lost its balance, failed to recover and couldn’t prevent itself from crashing to the floor. Art’s huge feet, tree trunk thighs and three hundred and sixty pounds of suet had done the trick.

Before the bear’s head struck a bunk on the way to the floor, Gary had dropped Art, slipped out the axe, and buried it between the sad, dying, understanding eyes of the beast. A second blow landed in less than a second.
Gary’s strike had again called upon all the reserves of rancor he had kept bottled up all his life, ever since he was the biggest baby; the biggest kid in Kindergarten; all the way through school, and into life.

With flailing paws and a wondering look of congratulation, the grizzly just sat unsteadily on the floor for a moment, then rolled onto its side, and with an evolutionary whimper that startled both Gary and the gaping Art—died.


Neither a wiser Gary nor a slimmer Art ever went hunting again; but they encouraged their children to find, to stalk, and to shoot all manner of game . . . with a camera.
© Copyright 2016 Nicholas Cochran (cochran at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/2072080