The Bear On The Bridge – Short Story Part II

And here friends and followers is the conclusion… if you have not read Part I please click here.

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I finally caught up with old Baker scratching his back beside a creek.  It was quite something to watch him in broad daylight; so relaxed and at peace in his wilderness.  He was rubbing his back up against the rough bark of a tree; eyes closed, lips curled in satisfaction.  When finally he opened them, our eyes met and I thought I saw in them recognition.  Certainly it was not the first time Baker and I had locked eyes.  I had chased him from my orchards with gunfire and clamoring pans more than a dozen times over the years and always he would amble away with a casual sneer.  He saw me as the two legged apple keeper and I went from seeing him as a nuisance neighbour to a murderer.  I raised my .338 and aimed at that spot between his golden eyes.  He took that bullet with an amicable smile.

I thought of old Baker three months later when my wife and I bumped into Tom Yates having dinner at the only restaurant in town with the deceased’s Mrs Yates’ younger sister Alvira.  I thought of him again when we attended their wedding the following Fall and Alvira wore her older sister’s wedding dress ‘in tribute’  she had said to me but to my wife she had said something else altogether.  She had said her sister had been a ‘large woman’ and so the dress was wide enough to hide her baby bump.

Baker started visiting soon after the wedding.  I’d wake up to the sound of falling apples and munching and when I looked out my bedroom window and down into our small orchard he would be there reaching for those apples, the bullet hole clearly visible in the moonlight.

I started doubting myself.  I woke my wife up more than once and asked her to take a look when the munching roused me from my restless sleep in those predawn hours but the occasional bear she spotted she said, was nowhere near old Baker’s size.  Besides she didn’t believe in ghosts especially not in the ghosts of animals coming back to haunt their killers. She said she worried about me and that I should go see a head doctor. Instead I took to checking on Baker’s remains in the post office and was not comforted by the fact that he was still there.  After I had shot him, Tom had Baker mounted as a ‘man-killer’ and put on display at the post office.  Such a big bear the townspeople said would draw in crowds of visitors.  But very few crossed the bridge to come and stare at Baker.

Earlier this year Baker caught up with me on the bridge.  I had been standing there in the half-light of dusk with my hands in my pockets staring down at those two rivers running side by side, wanting to think of trout and pink salmon but instead thinking of Tom Yates and his second wife and their three sons when Baker made his presence known.  He was on all fours, panting and heaving on the town side of the bridge.  I think I laughed at him.  I remember bending down to pick up a small stone and throwing it at him.  I told him I was an old man now.  I told him to leave me alone.  But Baker just kept on staring at me with those golden eyes.  When I tired of waving my fist at him I got into my truck and drove through him and into the wide cedar that stood behind him.

The Bear On The Bridge – A Short Story Part I

A Halloween week treat friends and followers. I wanted to write a different kind of ghost story.  I suppose you are the Beta readers as I have not shown it to anyone else.  I hope you like it.

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I moved to this valley in my twenties to help build the bridge that spans the two rivers we  locals call ‘The Sisters’ but in truth they are nothing more than noisy rivals, eyeing each other, as they incise their way down to the coast.   Back then the belief was ‘build the bridge and the people will come’ but our young town failed to draw in the people despite the promise of potash and a possible mine.

Occasionally we are graced with the presence of scientists and the like who come to count grizzlies and steelhead trout.  We like to regale them with tales of close encounters with bears and man-eating cougars and moose as tall as houses; stories we tell our own children to keep them from wandering deep into the forest.    But mostly this beautiful valley is ours and the bridge is a quiet place.

When I am not home, on the farm with my wife (our only daughter has long since flown the coop and now lives with her accountant husband in Vancouver) I like to stop here on the bridge.

I like it here.  I like it far better than I ever liked living in the city where I grew up.  I like the smell of glaciers and tart berries.  I like the heady odour of rotting vegetation on the forest floors and the green smell of scraggly Douglas fir.  Nothing much ever happens in our town or in the surrounding farms but from time to time the local newspaper will remind us that tragedy strikes unexpectedly and that darkness has the potential to snuff out the light.  Darkness descended when Mrs Yates was taken while hanging out her laundry.  I was interviewed by not only by the local newspaper but later by a national newspaper for my side of the story.  This happened back in the eighties when her husband Tom and I were like bobcats.   Tom was adamant that old Baker had taken her.  Baker was what we like to call around these parts a ‘trouble bear’.  He got his name because of his fondness for eating pie crust from kitchens and fruit from our orchards.  When Tom asked for my help in tracking Baker down I had my doubts.  I couldn’t understand why Baker would take Mrs Yates.  It wasn’t, as they say in those crime stories my wife likes to read, his ‘modus operandi’.  Baker ate pies and apples throughout the valley.  He didn’t take nice ladies doing the laundry.

Sure enough I found tracks leading to and away from the Yates farmhouse but I wasn’t sure they were Baker’s and I told Tom Yates so. But Tom insisted. He said it was Baker because no other bear had Baker’s massive girth or thick auburn coat.  We lost the tracks at the point where The Sisters hold hands to form a formidable bond of gushing water before going their separate ways again two miles south and had to head back the way we came and then east towards the mountains.

There was blood, here and there, dark but tiny amounts spattered on the mushy ground, but not enough I imagined to indicate Baker was chewing on one of Mrs Yates’ limbs as he ambled along.   We finally stumbled upon Mrs Yates body about three days after her abduction lying beside a fallen spruce.  She was partially covered by moss and leaves.  It was like someone had tried to keep her warm and not necessarily hidden.   But it was that surprise- filled expression – those wide empty eyes – staring up at the forest canopy and the sunlight filtering through it that still haunts me.   Her throat had been slashed, possibly by a bear or a jagged knife but otherwise she was remarkably intact.  I wanted to comment on that, but Tom Yates was groaning beside her like a wounded animal so I pressed on and alone.

Collecting Stories

I’m in the middle of a 14 day work shift.  I’m having the kind of month that I just know I won’t survive without my daily attitude adjustment, double shots of Emergen-C and quick intervals of yoga stretches (if I drank coffee I’d be on a caffeine drip).

I had to participate in a 4 day trade show and if you’ve ever exhibited at one of these long 12 hour day trade shows you have an idea of how I’m feeling.  Knackered.

Of course my way of getting through any event or function is to connect with people because not only do I like people but I also like their stories.  Stories energize me.

How do you stay energized in stressful situations?  

photo 1 (1)

I have never had a problem with getting people to tell me their stories.  Of course whether their stories are true or false I wouldn’t know and I’m not sure it actually matters.  I don’t intend to write biographies but I do intend to steal elements of their stories.

Does that make me a bad person? :D

Which makes me wonder.  What is the purpose or intention behind the story-writing?  Do we write because we are collectors and memory-keepers or futurists and mirrors?  Perhaps, all of these?

Over the course of the last few days I have met a man who survived a grizzly bear attack and wears a bear claw to prove it; another man whose father saved a few hundred Polish Jews from Hitler’s invading army (in such an ingenious manner that I can’t believe more decent people didn’t think of it); a young woman who raised all five of her younger siblings on her own and a man who while out hunting for deer was himself hunted by a pack of wolves.

You can imagine how all this has the writer in me buzzing with excitement.  I can’t wait to get a day or two off so I can start planning another batch of short stories despite having to work on two others that require extensive ‘tweaking’.

How do stories wing their way to you?

As if…And Thoughts On Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada and I am looking forward to many things not least the feast that I am to prepare (because no one else volunteered).  This year will be the first time – ever – that I’ll be attempting apple pie. So if you have any advice or tips (like which are the best apples for pie?) please leave me a comment.  Much appreciated :-)

via Penguin Books

Image: Penguin Canada

It will also be the first year we’ll be celebrating without the Mr.  because he’s away on business. It is also why there will be apple pie – Mr. hates apple pie as much as he does anything with coconut which is to say he hates it  A Lot.  He doesn’t even believe in using it as a beauty aid which is a pity really, I love coconut.

So anyway, the boys and I have decided we will end up celebrating again in November with our American neighbours.  I have no complaints.  Life is always cause for celebration.

Our family has been celebrating Thanksgiving for eleven years now despite only living in Canada for seven years.  We started celebrating in South Africa before we knew we had been accepted into Canada and I think this act of faith or practical magic definitely helped pave the way to our new home.    I am a firm believer in ‘acting as if…’  are you?

Of course what made this extra special and powerful is that we started giving thanks BEFORE we got what we wanted.  That’s the secret you see, give thanks not only for what you have (and we all have a lot – don’t believe me? use the bathroom or open a tap) but also give thanks for what you hope to attain as if you have already received it.

We went to a whole lot of trouble to find a turkey in South Africa in November (we didn’t realize Canadians celebrate in October).  We went to various (very expensive) speciality stores and got presented with game meat like grouse, quail and the obligatory South African ostrich but no turkey.  We drove out of the city and into the smaller towns and asked around and found butchers (and farm hands) selling crocodile and wildebeest, which the Mr insisted on sampling.  I tried the crocodile and I’d like to say it tasted like chicken but really it tasted of silt and muddy banks.

We found a turkey in the most unlikely of places.  Or maybe it was likely but we were nevertheless pleasantly surprised. When venturing far and beyond city limits we always stopped at our favourite ‘country restaurant’ for brunch or dinner or anything in between.  That day, we chose a table by the window with a view of the duck pond and the rolling green mountains and – yes you guessed it! – spotted a gobble of turkeys.

The Mr wasted no time in ordering one to the waiter’s amazement.   I hate to think we claimed for ourselves one of those tame ‘petting zoo’ types though I have a hard time imagining a turkey subjecting itself to a few childish pats on the head.

A lot has changed since then.   We noticed when we visited South Africa last year that turkey is sold in most stores.  In fact I got the distinct impression that more people were celebrating their own version of Thanksgiving which makes my heart smile.

To my Canadian friends Happy Thanksgiving! and if you live in a country where they don’t recognize Thanksgiving as a holiday don’t let that stop you from celebrating the harvest and the many blessings in your life <3

The Visitor – A Poem

It’s her breasts and not so much her eyes that draw him in

though if he were a better man  – he reasons -

he would lose himself in those shimmery amber orbs

and not linger on those pale rising breasts

or the autumnal hair

cascading over her left shoulder like a living thing

a possessive sable coveting one perfect pink nipple.

She looks peaceful almost content in that thick skirted

aubergine dress.

She reminds him of an exotic flower – resplendent -

on a hard chair the colour of walnuts.

A warm light lingers in the background

a little fogged but nevertheless encompassing.

He knows little if anything about her

although it is said, she was the artist’s first wife

taken by a plague before reaching adulthood.

He’ll keep returning until he feels he sees her

but in truth she is hiding in that ambient room

under layers of pigment.

Trail Magic

This past weekend the Mr and I went adventuring in new terrain.  Mt Seymour is covered in forest and has as many as forty trails that are popular all year round.

Once you reach the top you find yourself gazing on the magnificent Mt Baker in Washington State.  My cellphone camera did not do it justice but I wanted to share something of the view with you.  I hope you like it as much as I do :-)

Mt Baker

We reached the top via a series of dedicated and winding trails and if you’re ever in this part of the world I highly recommend you visit the North Shore mountains which are part of the Cascades Range.   We weren’t long on Old Buck trail when we came across scraps of cloth tied to a single tree trunk.  What made this particularly interesting was that this ‘marker’ (if indeed it is a marker) is bright and colourful.  There is purple, red and white cloth and for some reason I felt that it was somehow symbolic but of what?  Did it have something to do with tree identification? or did someone fall here or worse?

Mr. was having none of my ‘theorizing’ and so I wasn’t allowed to linger but no worries…I know why I walk in the woods.  It’s for the vital stimulation of my imaginative membrane and not as the Mr. says for ‘peace and quiet’.

A little further along I spotted a purple cloak hanging from a low branch of a tree a short distance from the trail.  It was hanging in such a way that if you are not observant as opposed to attentive you would have walked past it with nary a care. This purple cloak is like one of those velvety cloaks worn by magicians or wizards or deathly-afraid-of-the-cold unicorns. Yes, I know.  You’re thinking I am making this up.  I’m not.  if you haven’t already, read earlier posts to see how I am confronted with intrigue at almost every turn.

I want to add here that I despise litterbugs and that for the most part hikers in our part of the world are decent human beings with a respect for the environment, so it probably goes without saying that I don’t like finding items of clothing (or condoms and beer cans).

Pointing to the tree from which hung The Offending Article, I asked the Mr if he thought Harry Potter was visiting.

“What?”

“Harry Potter? There’s a cape hanging from that tree.” I said pointing.

On seeing the cape Mr. shook his head.

‘Let’s keep moving.”

“Why? you scared of magic?” I think I pulled one of those ‘you’re- a- scaredy-cat – and- I’m -going-to-blog-about-it’ faces.

Mr felt the need to remind that he has ‘years’ of military experience.  Something about ‘reconnaissance’ experience in the field.

“Yeah.  Whatever.  I’m going to look at the cape.”  Off I trudged.

The cloak looks new and clean and is a mystery as is the circle of painted rocks (purple, yellow, red, blue) a few metres from the cloak.   I did take my cellphone out to take a picture but something stopped me.  Was it fear of reprisal from the faeries or a circle of wizards?

“Teenagers.”

When faced with the unknown or the inscrutable and confusing Mr. sums it up to ‘the work of teenagers’.

‘Teenagers, then.” I said, leaving the mystery behind me.creek

Do you have a theory?  I would love to hear from you.

A Not-So-Chewy Tale or Two

When my eldest son was a toddler he had a habit of inhaling critters and swallowing food, so I became an expert at the Heimlich maneuver.  I must have saved his life maybe, seven or eight times.  Once at a birthday party he slid a hotdog down his throat and of course it got stuck.   As every parent knows you can’t keep a beady eye on your children All The Time – it’s just not possible.  You try of course and risk being called a ‘mother hen’ or worse, ‘clingy’ and ‘obsessive’.    That particular day he ran towards me with his mouth open and his eyes wide and I just knew he had done it again.  So I swung him up and turned him face down (that is how you do the heimlich on babies and small children – you don’t crush their ribcages) and slapped his back until the hotdog popped out.  You would think he learned his lesson after that.  Not so.  In fact it got so bad I didn’t cook a sausage or wiener again until he was in middle school (and I still didn’t trust he would actually chew it).

670px-Make-Chewy-Chocolate-Chip-Cookies-Step-11image: wikihow chewy chocolate cookies

Another time I was in the kitchen preparing supper while he was supposed to be paging through his favourite picture book in the sitting room.  He has always been a very vocal child so hearing him sing or talk to himself (or his imaginary friends) while paging through his books was a sign of good behaviour :-)  but silence meant he was up to no good.  So when silence fell like a mantle I stopped what I was doing and caught him stuffing his nostrils with those tiny lead cartridges (or whatever they’re called) for clutch pencils.

I have been very open of the fact that as a child I used to eat well, anything that looked reasonably chewy and harmless.

I ate ants and mud and soapstone (very rich in magnesium by the way) and grass (yum!) and I know this is going to turn your stomach but you may as well know, I ate a couple of garden snails.  My sister and I boiled them first of course.  They were terrible. But we ate them.  We also ate a lot of other ordinary stuff of course.  Like our unfriendly neighbour’s peaches.

The thing is I think I was born with a problem. And my eldest son somehow inherited it.  When I was two I ate three nails.

My grandfather was a carpenter and had one day inadvertently left out a couple of nails on the table in the sunroom where I spent most of my time with my grandmother while my mother was at work.   I never got the answer to the question ‘how did you know I swallowed those nails? did you see me do it?’ but I am glad my gran somehow figured out I had.  I was rushed to hospital in an ambulance with a rosary around my neck and my gran kneeling beside me.

The remarkable thing (my gran called it a miracle, I call it faith) is I didn’t need surgery and the nails ‘passed’ through me without any internal damage.  A year later I went on to swallow a handful of headache tablets (paracetamol) that I discovered in one of my mother’s bedroom drawers.  I had to have my stomach pumped.

Were you a curious and ‘terrible’ toddler?