“Love you desperately, all of you, my little babies!”
Now they were different. They were much bigger in size. Love was pouring out from her.
There was a lot of love for them, protection for them, food she would provide, and a lot for the little ones to learn from her. They were like little tiny balls of life staring into her eyes, making baby-like sounds as they walked around her. It was nice weather for them to come out of their den. Winter was over.
She did what she had to. She was learning herself, she was learning for her first time to be a mother. She was very strict and a little intense, for now. But her senses told her differently. As a loving mother, you had to cherish them, as they are your blood and they are your trouble and responsibility.
Winter had faded away and spring was blooming all around them. They were coming out of a deep sleep and the little balls of energy were facing the real world for the first time.
She was a brown bear. Now, after coming back from hibernation she didn’t look anything like it. She was thin and weak, but she would gain her weight with time. She had gotten pregnant last summer and while asleep, during winter, had given birth to two beautiful cubs. When they came out, they were small and hairless. She wiped them off with her tongue and put them close to her belly, she knew that they would figure out what to do. And they did.
Now it was spring, the forest was turning green; snow was melting quickly, leaving only the tips of the mountains white and the bases darker and darker every day. Rivers were floating downwards much quicker, dispensing thousands of gallons of water with tremendous speed. Even if she couldn’t find anything substantial on the ground to eat and feed her cubs, she would go to the rivers for help.
~ 2 ~
“I don’t want you to go, it doesn’t feel right…” Genia said with something more than desperation in her voice. She was pointing at her belly with her finger, trying to make him understand. “This expedition of yours is ridiculous, I hate you Ronald, but I love you so much.”
“It’s either you hate me or love me and I love the second option. I love you baby, you can’t even imagine, and I’ll be back in no time. Its good money and I don’t have to do a lot.”
“Exactly, you don’t even understand what you are doing. You are literarily snatching or trying to snatch babies from their mothers. I can’t believe that my husband, with a Ph.D. in biology, would do something like that. And to make a point, I am in the same position now and I am asking you to reconsider. What if somebody would snatch our baby from us? What if something would happen to you, for crying out loud?” Genia asked folding her hands across her chest. “Please don’t say that, you do this on purpose, so I will feel guilty” Ronald said and continued “our baby is safe and we are not killing any animals. We are just separating them from their habitat” Ronald said, drying dishes with a towel and putting them away. “What possibly could happen to me? We are using new technology and we will be a significant distance away. We have a good team of professional people and a backup team.” Ronald ended.
“Then why do they need you there? You will not be shooting any animals with your new technology anyway, will you?” Genia asked with sarcasm in her voice.
He continued. “I am a doctor, babe, and I have studied animal behavior and made it my expertise. They simply want me to be around, as a substitute to the doctor that got sick, so I can check on the doses of medicine dispensed, what to feed the animals and when, if they are healthy enough to even be taken at all. People do not realize that the animals that they see at zoos and circuses travel all over the world and are well fed and taken care. They offered me this trip with the promise of paycheck counted in thousands of dollars, a significant amount of money to consider with the added appeal of no harm done to the animals. I promise to you now my cupcake; I will do no harm to any animal.” Ronald exhaled and continued “Babe, you know the money is good, and you know what? I didn’t invent the money; it’s just there and for some reason everyone loves it.”
“I hate your jokes sometimes, especially when you are going away. Give me a kiss and make love to me, now.” He complied.
~ 3 ~
They were traveling for about five days from San Francisco to reach their destination in Alaska. They were in a little town called Juneau. The roads were not yet paved, the sidewalks were made of wood and "mom and pop" stores lined the streets. Ronald felt like he was stepping back a whole century. They were in a cottage near the base of Mount Juneau across the channel; Douglas Island was visible in its magnificent view.
“Alaska… A land of promise! Breathe it in… No, forget that, how about this, north to the future!” Ronald said in high pitched voice standing in the door way, door wide open, his hands spread in front of his body.
“Just fucking close that door and keep it closed” Sean yelled from inside the cottage “come on dude, have some courtesy, would you?” Sean continued.
“All right, all right, you sissy. What? Are you cold?” Ronald asked grinning.
“Dude, how long will we be waiting for you for this shot? C’mon, get your ass over here” Geoffrey yelled in Ronald’s direction.
“Coming, coming” said Ronald closing and locking the door.
“All right” said Geoffrey and continued “all of us here. Sean, James, Ronald” Geoffrey pronounced their names and nodded in each of their direction.
“Geoffrey” three others replied in unison and nodded in return. “Cheers to a job well done and safe journey back home! And cheers to our new member, Ronald!” They hit their flasks together, which produced a dull sound and sipped the warm and soothing liquid for the first time during their trip.
“Okay, okay, listen up” said James after couple more sips from his flask “in case we don’t catch our lovely cubs; I am sure we can dig some gold out of…”
“Nobody digs for gold anymore, you go to the streams and you use a sifter, it’s easier” Sean broke into James’s conversation. “Let’s get sifters and get rich, I have no problem with that” Ronald exclaimed. They cheered and sipped again.
Early the next morning, three groups of six were set up outside Ronald’s cottage. They checked their equipment, provisions and personal belongings one more time. Each person had a rifle, knife and hand gun. Knives were required as a precaution in case the firearm failed. Hand gun for close distance, in case animal did get too close too fast. Each group had only two rifles that would fire bullets, the other four were air activated tranquilizer dart guns. Each person had a backpack with only the necessary provisions to last about a week, a personal medical kit and for the doctors only an additional medical kit for animals they caught, if necessary. Besides Ronald, there were two more doctors on their team. The seventh person on each team was a guide hired from the local town they were staying in. Even though they had maps and compasses it was necessary to have a guide in each group in case groups would separate from each other when they got to their destination. The guides also knew the terrain; some of the passages were filled with traps and could be dangerous. After the last name check, they headed out to the mountain streams. The air was still crisp and it didn’t feel like spring yet but according to the locals, spring was in bloom.
“Interesting, perhaps I have to visit this place during the winter” said Ronald to himself as he looked up in the sky. Ronald exhaled and white foggy steam exited his mouth dissolving into the air.
“What did you say?” asked Geoffrey catching up to Ronald and picking up his pace. “Nothing” answered Ronald and continued “you know it’s my first time? I am not a hunter and I will only be involved if necessary and you on the other hand have done this kind of job for a long time my friend.”
“Okay…I am not sure what you are trying to say” said Geoffrey.
“Just let me finish” said Ronald.
“All right, all right, go ahead” Geoffrey complied and listened.
“I know it would sound kind of silly and I am a substitute for another doctor that was on your team for some time. This group doesn’t kill animals for sport to get their little offspring, right? You use tranquilizers, is that correct?”
“Ronald…” Geoffrey paused and continued “I can tell you yes and no. If it’s a deer or elk or some other less dangerous animal, we use tranquilizers one hundred percent. It will be less likely that this kind of animal will attack you in return. Bears…are a totally different story. Why are we here now my friend?” Geoffrey asked and continued before Ronald was able to open his mouth.
“As you know, bears have little cubs at this time of the year, not other times. If something goes wrong while executing our plan and a massive furry machine approximately eight hundred pounds or more will charge towards you…” Geoffrey trailed off. He wasn’t asking, but it sounded like a question “…you can not hesitate, we have to use firearm and if it fails your knife and had gun is your savior. If possible, thrust the knife under the chin or side of the neck as many times as possible, or better use the hand gun shooting under the chin. Do you know that tranquilizers take time to sedate an animal and before you know, it will be on top of you? This is not a game Ronald, this is a very dangerous job. No, we are not killers; we were hired for this job just as you were, but, we are hunters and we know what to do in dangerous situations. When we get to our destination and when you have a chance to grasp the whole picture in front of you, you will understand how significant your life is to you.” Geoffrey finished and fished out from his left chest pocket bunch of papers.
“Look at these Ronald; this is my bear hunting experience at a glance” Geoffrey extended his right hand to the side in front of Ronald’s chest not even looking at him. “I had an introduction Geoffrey, we all went over it at the HQ when we were hired” Ronald said and smiled.
“This is different, just look at it” Geoffrey insisted holding pictures and shaking his hand slightly up and down. Ronald took the pictures and started to look at them one by one. A few seconds after Ronald stopped abruptly, bent over placing his hands on his knees and started to gasp for air as he hyperventilated. What he saw, were real pictures from Geoffrey’s experience when bear hunting went wrong. Corpses almost not recognizable as humans, bloody, some of them beheaded some of them dismembered and all of them eviscerated. Ronald just couldn’t take it all, it was a little bit too much, but he got Geoffrey’s point.
“I know, I know” Geoffrey said holding Ronald’s torso.
“Hey, what’s up doc?” Sean said passing by and added “you…need a carrot?”
“C’mon Sean, cut him slack, this is doc’s first time and he probably got a better view to the real world of violence through Geoffrey’s eyes” James added and continued “I am glad we didn’t show him these last night. We would be covered in tuna and sardines.” “Oh, fuck you friends. This is what? A gang? And this is my initiation?” Ronald asked gasping for air. Somehow everything was blurry in his eyes and he saw his wife Genia looking at him in the distance, her voice in his head “Please don’t go, it doesn’t feel right, please love, I will not be able to overcome if something happened to you, please…”
As quickly as it had overtaken him, it was gone and his breathing resumed as normal, and the voices were out of his head, Ronald straightened up and shoved the pictures back to Geoffrey.
“That was very informational, thank you” said Ronald with sarcasm in his voice and continued “couldn’t you be friendlier with your coworkers Geoffrey? I was expecting anything, but not something like this.” Geoffrey and Ronald resumed their walk.
“Listen” said Geoffrey “whenever you think something is hundred percent positive, keep it at least thirty percent for negative. Don’t be negative but be prepared to take your regrets and mistakes. What you saw were human mistakes that could have been avoided. Follow the rules and learn from us. If nothing happens and we get our prey and their parents are immobilized due to the effects of the tranquilizers, there will be no bad story to tell Genia. We are using, what that name, mobilion, something like that.” Geoffrey finished.
“Immobilon” Ronald corrected. “Immobilon or M99 a mixture of etorphine and a phenothioazine tranquilizer, very effective” Ronald said.
“Whatever. The pictures you saw were before the tranquilizer gun was invented by Murdoch from Australia or whatever country he was from. Please don’t be a smart ass.” “New Zealand” Ronald corrected. They laughed and Geoffrey continued “but I can give him credit because my business went up and I have a few jobs like this lined up already thanks to Murdoch’s invention. You see Ronald? You feel better already.”
~ 4 ~
She took them to the forest and around. They would have to get familiar with the area. They would have to have berries or roots; they were too young for any other food unless it was necessary. She remembered this from her years of being a little cub. She was cuddling with them, playing with them anytime she would get and with them it was almost all the time. They were little balls of energy that kept her busy constantly.
She showed them how to get roots and which once were good to eat and easy to get. She showed them how to get insects, like ants, out of their nests. She showed them how to use their tongue to get wood worms out of logs or fallen trees. She showed them which mushrooms were edible and later she realized almost all of them were. She taught them a signal that meant danger; in this case the little ones had to climb the nearest tree or hide behind a boulder and stay still. They practiced this exercise several times a day.
The cubs were ready.
They had their territory and the river filled with salmon was included. The only thing that remained to show her cubs, was how to catch fish in the river. She stood up and wrestled both of them to the ground with her one paw. They attached to her paw as soon as it landed on top of them. She tried to take them up in the air, but they were too heavy now. She went down on her back and the cubs crawled up on her stomach. They roared in satisfaction, crawled up her body and nibbled at her neck from both sides. She enjoyed it, like the mother she was, and she couldn’t have had it better. She growled and stood up gently pushing the little ones away to the side. She walked in the direction where the river was, while the cubs kept the pace beside her.
~ 5 ~
“Oh, shit! You said you knew the area!” Ronald was talking loudly to a local guide. “It’s not my fault that he veered off the path. He was supposed to follow us.” The guide said.
They were talking about Sean who had separated from the group and they had now discovered had fallen into a pit.
“Okay dude, I am coming down to get you” Ronald shouted in to the pit strapping rope around his waist and dropping another rope into the hole as a backup. All this took several minutes and Sean was out of the pit. With a broken leg in two places, which required immediate attention, and a couple of fractured ribs Sean would be sent back to camp.
~ 6 ~
Sean had gone off the path just to see what was glowing in a little distance as he sensed ground had opened under him and he felt as if being sucked into a dark hole. There was no coming back and he knew it instantly as he struggled to prevent his fall by trying to hold on to anything possible with his hands. He fell not knowing what waited for him down below and how far he would fall. He felt weightless at one point until he hit the ground hard passing out instantly.
When Sean came to his senses later, the first thing he felt was tremendous pain all over his body. Sean couldn’t place where in particular it was coming from. He felt cold and his body perspiring. Sean moved from the side he landed on to his back and cried from excruciating pain in his leg.
“Is this how I am going to die? Is it? God! Tell me?” Sean whispered. No answer came his way. “I thought so” Sean said after a while “but thanks for keeping me alive.”
Sean was able to get his flashlight to look around and he got nervous. He knew his friends would help him eventually but the smell and surroundings were spine-chilling. He checked himself; broken leg for sure, a couple of fractured ribs and a head concussion. Sean didn’t know how long he had been in the pit and lost track of time completely. Sean groaned and gagged and almost vomited. He coughed and slowly moved his flashlight around. Eight wooden spikes were around him and he landed between them perfectly without touching any of them. Sean pointed his flashlight on them and noticed that they were black in color.
“Perhaps from the amount of blood the wood absorbed during the years from fallen animals” he thought. He touched one of the spikes with his fingers and thought that it didn’t feel like wood any longer, but more like a rock kind of matter.
“Old, very old and it was placed here to catch big animals according to the distance between them” Sean speculated. He tried to move on his back, using his elbows, to get him to the nearest wall and screamed in pain again. When the pain subsided a little, Sean pointed his flashlight around the wall and recognized that if he, for some reason would be alone; he would not be able to escape this hole. The walls of the pit were dug out inwards making a curve from top to bottom which resembled a ball aquarium. It was totally impossible for any animal to get out even if the animal would not have been injured by wooden spikes. The pit walls were greasy and smelled of old blood. He knew this smell as he was a hunter and “…old blood is always old blood and at one point it doesn’t smell…, it stinks like nothing else.” He remembered his old man once said. Later in his life Sean found proof for himself that his father words were true. Sean stretched and touched the bottom of the nearest wall with his palm. It was cold and slimy. Even if he wanted to climb out, he saw no possibility. He brought his palm to his nose and smelled it. It was a familiar smell. Sean came to the conclusion that the walls of the trap he was in were smudged with bear’s fat. The fat of bear lasted for a very long time and was a very greasy substance. Natives had used it in the area for decades for all sorts of purposes. Sean had read about it before in one of the books his father recommended to him. Besides being used for cooking, bear fat if the bear had not subsisted on fish all summer, it could be used as a skin ointment for minor burns, chapped or dry skin. If mixed with good medicinal herbs, it can be applied to treats insect bites, cuts, scrapes and other injuries. It could also be a good substance to condition, waterproof and treat leather or perhaps oiling down a gun and other mechanical parts in emergencies. All this would become a stinky endeavor and render all rubbed with the fat to the putrid smell of dead fish if the bear had eaten a diet of fish all summer. Bear fat also made a good fire starter if it was raining as well as could be used to make small dish candles. Candles made of bear fat is what they had just lit up in their cottage right before they had left. Sean couldn’t remember where or how else it could be used, his headache started again and he felt claustrophobic and cold. Cold sweat formed on his forehead and Sean slowly moved his hands to wipe it off. Sean felt like an animal, trapped inside a cage and he shivered. He pointed his flashlight on the walls surrounding him for a moment and on his broken leg. He thought he heard voices from above. They sounded so far away but comforting. At one point he thought they were the voices of angels who were looking over him. He tried to yell back and as soon as he inhaled as much air as possible into his lungs, a shooting pain went through him and he passed out.
“Wake up, wake up” Ronald said repeatedly slapping Sean’s cheeks lightly.
“Stay with me, stay focused” Ronald continued to talk as he saw Sean struggle to open his eyes. Ronald took out a bottle of water from the right side pocket of his coat and sprinkled some water on Sean’s face. Then he kneeled beside Sean’s sprawled body on the ground. Ronald placed the bottle opening to Sean’s lips with his left hand and placed his right hand under Sean’s head lifting him so he could drink and at least swallow some water.
“What’s going on down there?” Ronald heard Geoffrey’s voice above him. “Is he ok? Tie the rope around him and we will pull him up. Or maybe you need another person down there?”
“No, I’ll be ok. Give me a few minutes” Ronald replied.
A few minutes passed and Sean started to come to his senses. “Sean? Sean? It’s me Ronald. Do you remember me?” Ronald asked.
“I remember, don’t worry” replied Sean and moistened his lips with his tongue. As if on cue, Ronald helped Sean with drinking again.
“I will have to move you a little. Can you breathe normally?” Ronald asked.
“Not fully” Sean replied and continued “I think I fractured my ribs as well.”
“Your leg is broken at least in two places. That’s all I was able to see without fully examining you” Ronald said to Sean with not a lot of enthusiasm in his voice.
“I will have to move you close to the wall and wrap this rope around you”.
“It hurts man, my leg hurts” Sean hissed through his teeth.
“I know. I know my friend and it will hurt even more when we will be pulling you up and out of this hellhole” Ronald said. Ronald got up and walked around Sean. Ronald placed his arms under Sean’s shoulders and slowly pulled Sean’s body into a sitting position. Sean exhaled painfully and rapidly through his teeth.
“I will move you close to the wall now” Ronald said and slowly started to drag Sean’s body. “You see, it’s not that bad. You are holding up very well my friend” said Ronald. Only then did he realize that Sean had passed out again. Ronald quickly tightened one of the ropes around and under Sean’s shoulders and yelled a command to Geoffrey to start pulling. “Gently guys, gently please. He is not in good condition” Ronald screamed “and don’t forget about me.”
~ 7 ~
Ronald was pulled out of the pit a few minutes later after Sean. Sean was getting all the attention he needed from the crew. Ronald helped two local guys build a stretcher in which Sean would be transported back to the town.
“I wish it never happened, but I am glad we didn’t go as far” Ronald heard Geoffrey’s voice coming from behind him. Ronald stood up and nodded as he turned to face Geoffrey.
“Now we are short on one hell of a good shot” Geoffrey continued. “We will have to send at least three people, one of them local, back to town to carry Sean. They would leave Sean to be watched over and come back here. We will have to move slower until they will catch up to us.” Geoffrey said looking down at the stretcher which was ready. “With three people going, they should be able to rotate carrying Sean and save a lot of time, right?” asked Ronald. Geoffrey nodded his head in agreement and added “Another two doctors checked him and said that Sean will be okay. His leg was broken in two places, just like you suspected and three ribs were fractured. Luckily, his concoction, is minor” said Geoffrey.
“He could have been dead for all I know” Ronald said and continued “I saw those spikes- he landed right between them. He is a lucky son of a bitch!” Ronald exclaimed.
“Yes, he is lucky” said James from the distance coming closer to the chatting duo.
“I hope it wasn’t me who jinxed our expedition and hope you are not going to think like that fellows” Ronald continued as James approached them. Ronald put his right foot on one of the rocks sticking out from the ground and slipped. Geoffrey caught Ronald in time and seized him by his arm.
“Wow, wow, wow. You have to watch out. We cannot loose anymore people!” Geoffrey exclaimed still holding Ronald by his arm.
“Take it easy” said James and continued “these rocks and logs are slippery, be careful Ron.”
~ 8 ~
He grew up to be a smart cub and she was proud of him. She registered his behavior, how he was able to learn quickly. He was by far much stronger, faster and cleverer than the other cub. She was trying not to single him out; she just noticed that they were different. Anything she would present to them both, in terms of learning how to survive and how to find food for themselves, he was always better and more accurate than the other. They were on the tree hiding from her behind branches, looking down at her. She was going around pretending she wasn’t paying attention to where they were, but she had. He was looking at his mother from above and sensed that if he jumped from where he was to a limb of the tree in front of him she would not be aware. They were playing their game of survival again on the way to the river. He discovered that he liked it, because their game grew more complicated as he and his brother were growing up. His mother expected them to grow up to be better than she was, more knowledgeable, more alert, much stronger and smarter. He looked at his brother and moved across the branch of the tree where they were hiding. He sensed that his brother was paying attention to him and watched his every move with disapproval and panic but didn’t make a sound. Finally, his brother caught on to his plan and went with it.
As his mother was walking slowly down below, he moved above her on a branch of the tree in opposite direction. To him, it looked like they moved in unison. Every step his mother would take, he would take a step as well, above her. He came to the point where the branch became impossible to walk on and too thin to conceal him. He calculated precisely what the distance was to the branch in front of him, how much torque and strength he would need to reach his destination, and jumped. He flew in the air and landed perfectly on the tree branch in front of him. His mother didn’t even suspect any of what he had just done. She looked up just in time as he landed on the other branch and was hidden by the thickness of it. He climbed down quietly from the tree. He came up behind her without disturbing the air in front of him so his mother would not detect his presence. She walked to the tree where she saw one of the cubs and stood up on her rear legs using her front paws to lean on the tree. She roared and looked up again inviting the cubs to come down in surrender. She couldn’t climb the tree; she was too heavy for it. The only thing she could do was to make a sound that startle her cubs into revealing themselves and coming down. She roared a few more times until one of them appeared from above and started to descent down the tree.
~ 9 ~
She was looking up at the tree when she sensed a pair of eyes looking at her from behind. Then she felt something bite her on one of her legs. The other cub tried to wrestle her from the front. She understood deception immediately. One cub was covering for another, showing himself and trying to distract her attention so she wouldn’t notice his brother. She understood that the smarter one was also teaching his brother. She rolled down on her back playing dead. She felt joy when the little ones growled and licked her ears. They were both on her now. They were nibbling and licking her, slightly biting and scratching her, rolling around on her and jumping trying to pin her to the ground with their paws in victory. She opened her eyes and took them off her in one swiping motion then she licked them in approval. She felt strength in them; they were a team and this fact was very important to her. She felt confidence in them and she adored them. She got up on her four feet and shook her head from side to side leaning slightly backwards and continued shaking with her whole body. The cubs did the same. They were close to the river now. She went off her way to the side welcoming the cubs to go ahead in front of her.
The river was rushing down with tremendous speed, washing boulders off, making them slippery and wet; leaving white foam around them until another wave would cover them and the whole procedure would repeat itself. As they came out of the forest and got closer, he was mesmerized by the amount of water passing in front of his eyes. She looked around and saw other adult bears moving around the rocks in search of jumping or floating things. They were trying to catch their prey and most of them succeeded fairly quickly. She went in front and led her cubs as they got to the river. She found a boulder that was the appropriate size to hold three of them comfortably and jumped on it. At this point she didn’t want to go where all other bears were, she wanted to show and teach them herself, undisturbed from the others. She was the mother after all. She motioned to her cubs to do the same and they followed. She knew the sound of the river would be something new and loud. During the duration of their trip to the river she was trying to prepare them for it. Along the way she had been making loud noises, but nothing had prepared them for the sound they were now hearing emanating from her. She was sitting on a boulder, her front limbs being lightly brushed by the rushing water, covering and uncovering her paws. Her babies were firmly burrowed with their backs against her stomach between her front feet watching the river’s every move, looking up at their mother from time to time. Their little eyes were blinking and heads were moving, but she felt them pushing into her, adding pressure to her stomach as they sought the safety and comfort of her body. They sat like this for some time. She was trying not to rush with them with their new experience as they were magnetized by river’s power and strength.
~ 10 ~
He was looking around and saw other’s that looked just like him but were a little bigger in size, catching something and feeding on it. He separated from his mom and came closer to the boulder’s edge. He looked into the river, deep into it, trying to figure out what he was looking for. Something caught his eye and he looked to the right and then another shadow caught his eyes to his left. He was moving his head around watching something moving in the water in front of him. Dark shadows were all over and he was overwhelmed and struggled with his decision as to what to do next. He looked back at his mother and found her looking curiously at him. He wiggled his tail while looking at her and turned his head back to the river. She was looking at him from a little distance watching his every move. He looked down into the water and moved his head around with curiosity focusing on one of the bears that looked just like him except for being bigger in size. The bear was struggling with something in the water. The creature’s front paws were pounding in the water making bubbles and white foam, and then merging together and quickly dissolving to leave only little strings of water dripping down from the bear’s front paws. In a moment, something came out from the water and hit its surface hard leaving circles and nothing else. The next blow to the water that creature produced was meant to disorient his prey. Big paws were sinking deep into the water trying to get his target. The creature withdrew its front paws out of the water and delivered a viciously violent blows to the place in front of it again and again. Something white appeared on the surface and the creature took it with its paw dropping it on the rock in front. In a few strokes with its front paws, the prey’s body in front of the creature was wide open and after a few deliberate bites it was almost eaten away. He registered the whole procedure in his head and tried it himself. He saw big black shadows below him and struck the water with his front paws pushing down hard. But nothing happened except that the dark shadows that were in the water just moments ago disappeared. He sat down, looked in the water with disappointment and growled. His mother and another cub joined him by sitting down beside him. Moments later he saw the same dark shadows floating down in the water again. He and his brother watched as their mother introduced them to another option they could use.
The day was disappearing quickly and Ronald noticed that while walking towards their destination with others in front and behind him. From time to time he would stop to take a picture with his “Leica” camera. Ronald loved the wilderness and remembered numerous hiking trips he had taken with his friends, classmates, colleagues and people he just met for the first time on that same trip. For some reason, he noticed, the bond among the group was much purer and basic when they were out in the wilderness and open air, outside their normal environment. Being outside their normal environment meant that they carried almost an equal amount of provisions (men carry a little more) in your knapsack, each person in the group has a responsibility, everybody is equal in terms of taking shifts for camp fire or to establish the camp itself. Ronald remembered putting tents together numerous times in many different circumstances that were dependent on the weather. That’s how he got to know Genia. His first trip after the war, and war did make a difference in his life.
~ 11 ~
They were hiking on Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. At that moment they established camp and were having dinner.
“Can you pass me that salad, please?” Genia asked looking directly into Ronald’s face extending her finger pass Ronald pointing to the dish among a concentrated and crowded assortment of foods laid densely across a rug. At the precise moment Ronald had been focused on a list of random questions in preparation for his upcoming doctor’s exam. He was daydreaming about being a doctor committed to healing and helping his generation and not picking out food from a bazaar of food.
“Can you pay a little bit attention Ronald?” Genia asked. Ronald knew Genia from several trips they took as a team, she was a strong, reliable and intelligent person, but he had never had a chance to talk to her or even start a conversation.
“Here you go…” ignoring her question, Ronald took one of the salad dishes and passed it to her. She accepted it and with her spoon close to her mouth took an evaluatory look at him.
“I didn’t ask for this particular salad but it is Okay, don’t worry…” she mumbled turning her head away, looking at the rug filled with food containers. The whole group, exactly twenty two people were sitting around the fire eating dinner and passing mugs around filled with port wine. Ronald clearly remembered how everything started.
“If you don’t like this salad why would you put it on your plate?” Ronald asked looking at her.
“I would save it for you, for when you are hungry. You know the rules. We are all equal but men work much harder carrying things and doing chores women don’t normally do, so I will get my portion of food and whatever I don’t like you can have. So it’s no waste.”
“I don’t like some of the food as well. You can see what you like and have it” Ronald said blushing. If she saw him in daylight she would probably laugh hard, he thought. “You want to do something stupid” he asked as they finished eating.
“How stupid?” She asked. “Stupid enough, c’mon I’ll show you something.” Ronald answered. They stood up and went down the rocks towards the cliff. It took them a good fifteen minutes to get to the point Ronald was talking about. At the end of the cliff was a round opening and waterfall that was usable only during the summertime, at other times it was cold and the water would be freezing. It was summer and the waterfall was gushing but it didn’t mean that the water was warm as at other places at this time of the year, it was frigid. Ronald undressed down to his boxers.
“You want to do it with me?” he asked.
“You mean jump down with you? We don’t even know if it’s safe.” Genia was excited and was trying not to show it.
“Yes. I’ve checked the bottom, don’t worry its safe.” He remembered her stripping down, her white bra and panties glowing and shaping her silhouette in the dark, and taking her hand in his.
“On three, are you ready?” Ronald asked and they started the countdown in unison.
“One, two, three!” He heard her scream and looked at her. At this point they locked their eyes together before plummeting into the water below. Ronald felt her hand in the water. He pulled her out of the water and kissed her while her eyes were still closed. She opened her eyes and looked at him.
“Do it again” she said and he did. They were floating in the water when Ronald asked
“Can I tell you something?”
“What? That you love me?”
“Yes” Ronald felt confused with her question.
“I wanted to tell you something else”
“Okay, tell me”
“What if I tell you that there is a possibility for humans to never get sick. Can you imagine? We would still live as we live now, not forever though, but going away from this world will be easier and more comfortable.” He was holding her body in the water close to his while talking to her.
“How? No way. Is it possible?”
“Have you ever heard of heredity?”
“No. what the hell is that?” She was straight with him.
“In biology, genes are the basic unit of heredity and heredity is the process of passing off traits to offspring from parent or ancestors. This is a short version. If it is manipulated or altered correctly, which we think is possible, my colleagues and I are working on a method of doing so but we on a tight budget. If we can develop a substance, such as a vaccine that could be delivered to individuals locally or globally that could be monumental. The only people who will be targeted are us, which currently present on the earth, after that it’s like a virus, but the good part is, you are never sick and you pass it on to your children when they bourn and they will pass it on to theirs and so on and so forth. What do you think?”
“What I think? I think you should kiss me again. You are worried about going out of this world easy? Not with me…” She laughed and squirted a stream of water from her mouth into Ronald’s face.
Ronald quickly came back to the reality when one of the tree branches hit him on his face. He stumbled a little and regained his pace.
~ 12 ~
The whole group stopped for a break and waited for the other three members that took Sean back to town. Geoffrey was walking around reciting the whole check list to the teams.
“Check your pockets, make sure they are closed. Check your clothes for holes, seams and gaps. Make sure there are none. If there are any, please report it to me so we can check you and fix the issue. Otherwise ticks will get the better of you. Check your trouser hems for it and check your knapsacks if any pockets are open. Keep everything closed at all times. We can make camp here and wait for our members here, so we can cover the rest of the distance tomorrow or perhaps two more days. Remember, the light in a tent should not go off; it should stay on all night. Whoever is on the watch should check to ensure that there is always light present in each tent at all times. I know it’s inconvenient to sleep like this, but its better this way compared to ending up like in the pictures I have in my pocket as a reminder. Anybody wants to see my collection again?”
~ 13 ~
The other three members joined the whole crew at dusk, close to dinner time. They set up tents in a circle around the fire, each tent had a lantern light inside it for protection and better visibility. Ronald was responsible for cold cuts and was cutting salami and different types of cheeses on a wooden board. Somebody was spreading a little butter on the pieces of bread, another was making some soup in the pot over the fire and another pot that was boiling was for water or other needs, others were getting firewood. The woods were dark and uninviting at sundown. You would be able to see only around you, where the light was, and where it ended, it looked like black nothingness. There were different sounds around them and Ronald recognized some of them and was able to point out to one of the guides he was sitting close to and talking with.
“That is an owl right? You hear it?” Ronald was like a kid, very excited. “Yes, you are correct doctor” said Milo the guide frying marshmallows on his stick and drinking hot tea.
“I love this place and everything around it” Ronald said looking up at the sky and continued “this is a clean smell of nature where all the smells come together into one. All the trees, weeds, soil, rivers, mountains and perhaps animals, are all participating together in this magnificent scent that hovers around and stings your nostrils. I don’t have enough room in my lungs to get all of it into me. Since we were here, sometimes I can feel that if I inhale deep enough, my lungs hurt, it’s kind of a weird feeling” said Ronald holding his almost ready to eat marshmallow on a stick.
“This is pure oxygen my friend” Milo said “this is your adjustment period. People around here are legends. We can live for many years just like vampires. Did you see the snow on the side of the streets as we were walking out of town? Did you notice anything unusual?” Milo asked.
“Yes, it was all white and clean even though tracks were moving on the road yesterday and snow is melting” said Ronald.
“Yes, everything is white and clean around here to the point of disbelief.” Milo said. “How so?” asked Ronald.
“We have zero pollution compared to where you are from, and it doesn’t matter at all where you are from. We have zero pollution rate, period. Well, some occasional volcano may bring some dust, but that’s seldom. It took me a whole month to get used to this weather and you are complaining?” Milo grinned and pushed Ronald’s shoulder with his. “Nothing to complain about Milo” said Ronald as he pushed him with his shoulder in return.
~ 14 ~
Milo’s voice was calm as he started to talk again “after you are done with this expedition you are welcome to stay at my place and I will show you around town as you didn’t see much yet. I’ll show you beautiful, breathtaking views that you will never find anywhere else. If you say you love this place without seeing much, well…” Milo trailed off in his line of thought and looked at the burned marshmallow on his stick. Ronald was listening, not looking at Milo.
“Shit! I did it again! I hate this shit!” Milo basically yelled which startled Ronald as well as a few other team members who were sitting close.
“Oh, man. I wasn’t expecting that.” Ronald shivered and looked at Milo.
“I apologize. I just hate when it happens.” Milo said with disappointment.
“Where was I? Oh yes. Well, we need people here as professional as you are, hardworking and you are a doctor, and it’s a big plus. All of us here are hardworking and we are making a difference. And if you are worried that we are not under our “Big Brother” wing” Milo did quotation gesture in the air with his pointer and middle fingers on both hands and continued “don’t worry we will be included as a valuable resource to be united with other states and we will be your biggest brother when it’s done and over. It’s coming and it’s coming soon.”
“I am a doctor Milo but a different kind of doctor. This is nice of you. Thank you for the offer. You see, my wife is pregnant and after we are done here I will have to go, but I promise you that I’ll be back with her and my baby and we will look around. I am sure they will love it here as much as I do.” Ronald said. “I will take your word for it.” Milo paused and continued “Well, my recruitment time will cost you nothing, what you could find here if you are in love with nature, is totally priceless my friend.” Milo smiled revealing his well-kept, pearly white teeth.
Ronald at this point would not know that he would never visit this place again.
The party was finished, not quite a party, but just a little girls gathering. Before everyone left, everything was cleaned and wiped and put away in its place. Unlike boy parties, Genia thought that after a party you should have to wash and clean everything again. Genia sat down in a kitchen chair as she felt exhausted. Genia struggled and wasn’t able to stand up from her chair at first. She rubbed the chair handles with her hands back and forth. She looked up at the ceiling and exhaled hard and loud. Genia felt something was wrong with her. Her doctor assured her that everything looked normal in her test results. She was now in her eighth month, but for some reason it didn’t feel right. She fainted as she was trying to get up from the chair and found herself sitting and looking at her hands once again after regaining her mental focus. Genia lost sense of time for a moment as she felt a little dazed and confused about her surroundings. She gradually got up and went to the bathroom. As she slowly walked, she was thinking that she should call her brother from the downstairs phone when she fainted again.
She was spread down on the floor when she felt a wetness along her thighs. She looked at her belly and noticed a black wet stain on the floor between her legs. She stretched her hand and touched the stain with her fingers. She brought her fingers close to her face and found that they were bloody. She looked at everything around her with disbelief as she couldn’t understand what went wrong and how and when. But the biggest question in her head was why? Why are you doing this to me? Then her thoughts became words.
“Why are you doing this to me? Why? What did I do to you or this “nothing” that wants to live and become somebody? What do you gain in this? Balance? Some kind of balance in our lives? You think my little unborn baby has anything to do with balance when China is growing in its population? Tell me, what should I look for? What signs? Tell me, you are the magnificent one, aren’t you?” Genia screamed with frustration, anger and pain in her voice. She was heaving and hissing looking at herself.
“I love you my angel” Genia whispered to her belly as her lips and voice trembled and she slowly started to cry. Tears were rolling down her cheeks as she was shaking her head from side to side. “No, no, no, no…” Genia tried to speak but heard only incoherent sentences. Genia was kneeling on her elbows looking at her legs in front of her. “Oh my god, Ronald. I am sorry my baby, I am so sorry…” She slowly got up; it took her a while, and bent over with both hands below her stomach like she was holding precious prize. Trying not to let it go, she left her apartment and knocked on her neighbor’s apartment door on the same floor.
~ 15 ~
The mother stood up and came close to the boulder’s age. She waited patiently looking into the fast and murky water that was rushing by her. In one quick motion she extended herself out and with her right paw she tried to snatch her prey that jumped out of the water in front of her. She missed and concentrated. Another jump out of the water and she was on the target. With her right paw she swiped and hit the prey’s body hard as it went up in the air and flew into the rocks behind her, passing above her cub’s heads. It hit a wall of rock before it landed on the ground. He was watching with interest what his mother would do next. He growled and his brother growled too, watching her every move. She came close to the flopping body and hit it with her paw. She pushed it down and tore off a piece from it, then flipped it around and tore another piece and she repeated her steps again leaving nothing on its body. She stopped and looked at them invitingly; they complied and got close to her. She nibbled a little in and around the prey’s head and when her babies were close enough to watch her; she sank her teeth into the prey’s head crashing it and sucked the brains out of it. She turned around, groaned and went close to the water again. She stood in the same position as she did before. Water was rushing over the boulders, rocks and in some cases going around through the ground with significant speed. The sound of water was so deafeningly loud that even she became uncomfortable. She extended herself once again and with one quick motion was able to get another flopping body on the rocks before her cubs. She invited them and stripped flesh from her kill so that her little ones would be comfortable eating it.
~ 16 ~
She stood and watched them with interest. Both cubs came close to her and one looked first at her and then at the fleshy piece in front of him. He licked the fish first to get a taste and after that he licked his upper lip from right to left. He took a bite out of the fish and chewed on it producing a purring sound. After a few deliberate bites, the piece of fish in front of him disappeared. He looked up at his mother who was protectively sitting and watching him eat. She lowered her big head down and extended her neck as much as possible and with her mouth slightly opened she pointed to the chunk of untouched fish. He came close to it and sniffed the fish and around it just like she taught them. He walked around it growling while he looked for a better place to snatch a piece out of it. He remembered exactly where his mother had started and came to the same point and extended his claws. He dug his claws into the fish and ripped a piece of it out and then another. His brother came over and had the rest of it. After the fish became an un-gutted skeleton, the mother opened fish’s skull with her teeth and let her cubs experience another taste.
The mother bear stood up and went to the boulder’s edge again for more food. The cubs ware excited now, their stomachs were full and they were happy wrestling with each other. Even though he was a little bit stronger than his brother he would give him a chance from time to time to win. But as with any cubs, the mother bear kept a constant watch over them. As she turned around and saw that her babies were close to the boulder’s edge, she jumped and pushed them back on the rock just in time to prevent them from falling. She growled with disapproval and disappointment and produced a sound he hadn’t heard before. They looked at their mother as she became furious. She stood up upright on her back legs and roared shaking her head and then dropped down on her front paws and looked at them both. She growled and roared again and then stopped abruptly and exhaled deeply through her nostrils. He felt hot air of her exhalation on his face and knew that this was something different. He never saw his mother like this. He rolled back the last episode in his head and marked it as something to be aware of and not to repeat again. His mother turned around and started to walk with the cubs following her. She went to the place where the river was shallow enough and the current not as strong. Some of the bears were there standing on rocks looking into the water spotting something or waiting, some were walking around in the water. She motioned for the cubs to go where the other bears were but they didn’t move until she went first. He was walking in shallow waters looking around when he spotted a body swimming around. He tried to catch it but the body in the water was faster than he was and he missed. He decided to stay still and observed. After a little while a few bodies appeared beneath the surface and very close to him. This time he was ready and quickly sunk his claws into one of them. He pushed his prey down until it stopped moving and then extracted it from the water and landed on the nearest rock. One other cub, not his brother, was near him and tried to have a piece of fish for himself but he defended his prize by roaring and scaring his intruder away. He repeated the ceremony of eating just like his mother showed him and was satisfied and happy. It was getting dark and as he finished eating he saw that his mother was waiting for him and his brother, ready to go back to their den.
~ 17 ~
In the morning the whole group cleaned up around their camp and they were out towards the river. They heard water from a long distance before, but now they were coming closer, with the sound of the river gaining on Ronald. They stopped and Geoffrey went through a boring but thorough plan for each group, Ronald thought as he listened. Geoffrey assigned a leader to each team and went over everyone’s duties, not precisely but generally based on the circumstances they were in. Ronald listened carefully when his and the other two doctors names were announced by Geoffrey and at one point in his speech Ronald felt a little disappointed.
“Not much to do for our doctors now” Geoffrey said and the whole group clapped and Ronald didn’t know why. Was it because doctors don’t do much in these kind of expeditions unless someone needs help or perhaps it was his first trip like this and he was a newbie to it without much experience, Ronald was thinking looking at Geoffrey as he was talking. Geoffrey continued “be aware of your surroundings, observe, and if you see something out of place don’t hesitate to alert your group mates. A little bit later we will need your assistance, everybody will have a piece of action if you want to call it that. Please don’t try to be heroes, it could lead to a lot of problems. We can’t afford any more snags as we are short on people at this moment. Each of you is a valuable resource. I also would like to point out our new member who showed us yesterday how big of a team player he is. Thank you Ronald! We should all learn from it. And I will keep repeating it again and again. You all need to have fresh heads and be quick thinking to adjust to the situation you are in. But please remember as well that you are not alone. We are all in it together” Geoffrey finished with the doctors and moved on to other members as everybody clapped.
Ronald was listening anyway as he was a part of various trips in the wilderness before and at the end of the day, listening was the key to survival, security and success of the expedition and the team. Ronald made mental notes in his head about everybody’s responsibilities in his group and if the time would come he would be a backup in any situation.
“We are trying to capture bear cubs only, remember bear cubs and not big bears. We will put down the whole family with tranquilizers and as soon as it safe will get the cubs into our crates. I think our distance is good enough for bears not to smell us, but they are very good at sensing everything including danger. Bears have terrific eyesight, so keep your heads down and try not to make a lot of noise. Females with cubs are more sensitive now than ever.” Geoffrey stopped and looked around the group commanding everyone’s attention.
The last thing Geoffrey did was he went over silent signals again. During the whole hike as they would stop for breaks he was constantly repeating signals for his team to remember.
The three groups separated as soon as they reached the point where they could see the river.
Ronald was standing at the top of the hill, mesmerized by the view. To him it looked like he had landed on a different planet. Trees and plants that he never knew existed, surrounded the water like green curtains around the river and way behind the forest, white mountaintops were visible in their magnificent view. He couldn’t believe his eyes that a mangrove mixed with regular forest could be possible. Ronald took a few pictures with his Leica as he felt someone’s hand on his shoulder.
“And this is not it Ronald. This is not it. What you see here is just a little preview to a bigger picture my friend.” Ronald turned and faced Milo.
“This is awesome; I never imagined seeing anything like this. Where are the bears?” Ronald asked.
“It’s too early for them, they will be here soon enough, and when they come you will appreciate the view even more.” Milo replied.
“It looks like paradise. Can you stand over there, by that tree while I take a picture?” Ronald asked Milo pointing at one particular spot.
“Why don’t you and Milo stand together and I will take a picture of the two of you” James offered.
“Nice, thank you” Ronald and Milo replied in agreement. They stood side by side, Ronald and Milo, the river behind them, a typical picture. A few minutes later Ronald’s group settled down to wait for bears.
They were out of their den in the morning and were coming back to the river again. She decided to show them once again how they can feed on fish. The cubs knew their path to the river and practiced their survival skills anytime the opportunity presented itself. They were out of the forest and stopped as their mother stopped in her tracks. She sniffed the air going around with her big head moving in circles like she always did. Her nostrils were puffing air in and out, accumulating moisture on her nose and muzzle. Her mouth was breathing air with snorting sounds, lips moving up and down flapping rapidly as she moved her head. The white vapor of her exhalations created a mist in the air at some point that was disappearing quickly as it mixed and dissolved into its surroundings. He looked at her and repeated the same gestures as she did. She growled and he and his brother did the same. After she was satisfied that there was no danger, she let them enjoy the water. They were the first ones to come out and their mother had no problem with that at all. She knew that time is of the essence when it comes to teaching your cubs how to behave in any circumstances they would face down the road in their lives. After a few winters spent with her she knew they would be on their own. She let them go ahead into the water and went on top of the rocks herself. He went through the shallow embankment and close to the opposite side of the river, his brother was walking towards his mother when it happened.
~ 18 ~
He was under the mangrove on the opposite side when he heard distinct and what he thought dangerous sounds passing above his head. It hissed and swooshed and something hit his brother in the side. He looked at his brother and saw that something protruded from his side and for some reason it was familiar to him. He couldn’t place it in his head where he had seen such a thing before and roared warning his mother. She looked at him and as she did he saw same object appear on her forehead. Now he heard distinct voices coming from above in the distance. He looked at his brother who was shaking and desperately drinking water before he collapsed and laid still down on the rock with his body partially in the water. He found his mother charging towards him, looking at him with a look in her eyes he had never seen before. She looked as if life was ending and draining from her. She couldn’t protect them now, her babies, her beautiful cubs and her blood. She stopped abruptly in a mid-pace and looked at him again. He saw this before and this look was familiar to him, but as his mother taught him, there is no better way to protect yourself but run and run fast, and he did. He saw another swooshing thing appear on his mother’s shoulder and a few seconds later she was going down into the river, falling down the rocks covered with streams of water passing by. He stood still and observed as he calculated possibilities of his survival now.
~ 19 ~
Ronald was watching the whole scene unfolding before his eyes. It was happening so fast that he was confused and only a few seconds later came to the reality of what was going on. He saw and heard a few tranquilizer darts flying out and bears going down in the distance. He also knew that they had one cub and the other one was on the loose. James, Milo and Ronald started to walk quickly towards the river.
He saw a tree that he could climb and hide in and he used the opportunity to do that. He climbed the roots of the mangrove and after he was on the ground he went up the closest tree. Everything was working and rushing rapidly in his head now. His mom’s teachings and the survivals skills she had presented to him and his brother as well as the power and agility they had built up during daily exercises and drills now came into use. He went up the tree and hid himself on one of the branches looking down at approaching figures in the distance. He became silent and still and waited.
Ronald was a little excited by the time they got closer to the place where the little one was hiding. The other cub was taken away and the mom was moved out of the water onto dry ground by the backup team. From a distance, he saw the cub climbing a tree, trying to escape and hide from the intruders.
“What should we do?” Ronald asked looking at the tree where the cub was hiding.
“We can wait him out, like we did before with other animals, and get him later when he is down.” James replied as they walked towards the tree the cub was hiding on. Ronald had another idea in his mind and he revealed his plan to James and Milo.
Ronald slung one of the tranquilizer rifles over his shoulder and tightened the strap until he got comfortable with it on his back. Ronald took rope and folded it around his right fist; he swung the folded rope around the tree and caught the other end of the rope with his left hand. Tree stumps were bare of branches until higher up the tree, making it almost impossible to climb. Ronald practiced this kind of climbing on daily basis in San Francisco. Ronald extended his arms as far as possible and using his boots and knees started to climb the tree closest to the tree on which the bear cub was hiding. He used his knees to hold the tree and extended his hands up, then tightened the rope with his hands and moved his legs up, repeating this process again and again. As soon as Ronald was able to reach the first branch on the tree he sat on it to relax for a second and to catch his breath.
“Spread the tarp” Ronald yelled to the guys below as he put the rope away into one of his pockets and continued to climb. Now it was easier. Ronald climbed a little more to be in parallel with the cub on the opposite tree, he saw him clearly now. Ronald sat down on a tree branch, reached for his rifle and prepared to aim.
~ 20 ~
He went up the tree as fast and as high as possible and concealed himself on one of the branches. He saw someone climbing the tree next to him and the other creatures standing below his tree looking up at him and making noises. This was the first time in his life he felt fear, and he roared and yapped. He saw the creatures below taking his brother away from the river and placing him in some kind of object he didn’t know existed. He saw his mother below being moved and placed on the ground on the other side of the river by the same creatures and they walked away from her, leaving her alone. He roared again and faced the creature on the opposite tree. He knew he couldn’t go anywhere; there was nowhere to hide for him now. He was shaking desperately looking at his opponent thinking about his next move which he realized would be coming shortly. He sniffed the air registering his opponent’s smell in his head just as his mom taught them. He growled in his opponent’s direction grabbing the tree branch with his claws trying to sink them into the wood as if it would make a difference. At the end, it didn’t make any difference at all. He heard the same distinct sound in the distance, the same sound that put down his brother and mom and a split second later felt a sting in his stomach. He looked down where a little dart had entered him and swapped it away with his claw, but it was too late. The fluid in the dart entered him as he was shaking and a second later, calmness and relaxation entered his body. He felt warmth as his claws released their grip from the tree branch and big blue sky and tree tops were in his sight as he fell down with last roar coming out from his lungs. He felt weightless falling down into the oblivion as he closed his eyes and let himself go to whatever awaited for him down below.
~ 21 ~
Ronald sat down with his rifle in his hands on a tree brunch and aimed. He felt uncomfortable in his position but in his head he knew that no harm was done to the animals and he was more than happy. He read voraciously for pleasure and had discovered how tranquilizers were invented and how they worked from a book he had come across. He was fine with what he was doing only because animals were safe and he saw how his professional teammates were handling themselves around animals. He aimed at the little cub in his sight. Ronald took a little breath got comfortable with where he was aiming. He relaxed, exhaled and pulled the trigger on his rifle. He looked above his rifle’s sight and after a few seconds passed he saw the little cub falling down from the tree. His teammates were ready for it and caught the cub with their tarp spread among them. The cub landed safely and was placed in another crate. Their team quota was met, the other team would catch another two bear cubs. The animals would be back in San Francisco and their lives would become different as some of them would go to the zoo somewhere in the world and some of them would be chosen for circuses.
“And I will never see you again my little friend” Ronald said to himself as he secured his rifle on his back and put his gloves back on his hands. He started to climb down the tree and felt one of the branches give out and break under his feet. It happened fast and unexpected and Ronald couldn’t get a grip of the branch he was holding onto. While the little cub had gone down easy and was safe, Ronald on the other hand went down hard. Ronald hit one of the branches below with his boots and slipped on it losing his balance and now he was going down with his head first. Ronald hit his head on another branch crashing his cervical vertebrae as lights went out in his head and he lost his consciousness as he tumbled down to the ground.
The train was approaching Sun Francisco as Ronald came to his senses and he didn’t know where he was at first. The surroundings were unfamiliar to him.
“He is back, he is back!” James yelled to his teammates and in a few seconds Ronald was looking at a lot of faces crowded above him. They were looking at him, saying something that Ronald could not understand and he felt a little claustrophobic. James cleared the air and asked another doctor on their team to look and talk to Ronald.
“Do you know your name?” the doctor asked.
“Yes I do. Ronald. What’s going on?” Ronald answered and at the same time asked the question with frustration in his voice. Ronald tried to move but he couldn’t feel any movement in his hands nor legs. He looked at the doctor in silence now realizing what happened to him and tears started to run down his eyes.
“Fuck! How bad is it?” Ronald asked as his lower lip trembled and he closed his eyes.
“Tell me the truth.”
“Are you ready? Maybe we should wait a little? You are still weak Ronald.”
“Tell me. Now” Ronald hissed through his teeth not looking at the doctor.
“We examined you back in Juneau with a local doctor. We think you will have feeling and movement in your hands back soon enough” the doctor answered and looked away pausing.
“But I will not be able to walk again?” Ronald finished the doctor’s sentence for him. The doctor looked back at Ronald taking his glasses off his face and breathing onto and wiping the lenses like they were impossibly dirty.
“You have to understand Ronald, it’s kind of a miracle my friend that you even survived nearly a thirty feet drop. Can you do me a favor and move your head?”
Ronald looked at the doctor and successfully completed the task the doctor asked of him.
“Very well. Now try to move your fingers.”
Ronald tried and looked at the doctor with questioning eyes as he couldn’t feel anything at all.
“They did move only a little for now. If you exercise them, you will feel them again with time” the doctor said and continued “I will get you a list of exercises before we leave the train. Now, try to move your toes for me.” Ronald complied but nothing happened.
“Okay, that’s enough. You have to relax now.” The doctor stood up facing Ronald.
“I am going to leave you for now but will be back to check on you again.” The doctor exhaled and left Ronald to his thoughts.
“I am really sorry Ronald.” Ronald heard and without opening his eyes knew it was Geoffrey.
“Hey, this is not something you accounted for, even though I should have.” Ronald replied and continued “Please, leave me alone for now, I am tired.” Ronald opened and quickly closed his eyes again and turned his head to the side away from Geoffrey’s view. Ronald felt Geoffrey’s eyes on him and felt vulnerable and selfish for not talking to him, but Ronald wasn’t in the mood to open his mouth.
“I have a telegraph from your house” Geoffrey continued like he didn’t hear Ronald at all.
“You want me to read it or you read it yourself?” Geoffrey asked calmly and quietly.
“Read it, god dam it, read it…already.” Ronald hissed through his teeth as little tear made its way to his earlobe starting at the corner of his left eye, leaving a wet and visible line down.
“It came at the same day you felt down and we got it as soon as we came back to town” Geoffrey was calm in his voice.
“Tell me already, who died?” Ronald asked with frustration thinking that he will never see his grandmother again as she was planning her nineties birthday when he left for this expedition.
“This is from San Francisco Medical Center” Geoffrey said and continued with his voice bit down.
“Wife, child experiencing complications. Come immediately. SFMDC” this is all Geoffrey said looking at Ronald.
“I will leave you alone now buddy” Geoffrey said as he took Ronald’s hand, just like hand wrestles would do, and shook it few times. Geoffrey noticed no power in it.
“Would you like me to stay with you for a while? I can, no problem. Do you need anything?”
“No, I am good.” Ronald responded.
“No, you are not. We have to change you” doctor said approaching from behind. Immediately, Ronald smelled it and got so embarrassed and ashamed to the point of disbelief. He was turned and wiped and cleaned all over his privet parts he could not feel. The feeling was humiliating, but he wanted to get up and walk to the bathroom himself and he tried to move anything in his body constantly since he was awake, but nothing worked.
“Give me some time”
With that Geoffrey left Ronald to his thoughts.
Pain went all over his body and he knew it would stay with him for a while. Ronald whispered a prayer, his grandma thought him, and started to cry, quietly, like a man.
Two years later
“They are coming to our city and I’ll be more than happy to help” Ronald said at the town hall meeting.
“Ok, you have a responsibility and I am sure you will do your job well. How about catching those without tickets? What are you going to do? Whistle them to death?” the organizer of the meeting said. Ronald didn’t care about the joke and let it go.
“I will make sure that the money contributed won’t be wasted and being a selfish person as I am in my situation…” Ronald paused and continued “at list will be thoroughly accounted for.”
“All right! You can help the circus with ticket checking. Looks like we have a volunteer. So, we have everything covered as far as I can recall. And Ronald” the organizer said concentrating on Ronald’s face. “Don’t forget to collect a check from the circus director by the end of the day, every day they are here. And I think they will be here for a week.”
Ronald turned his wheelchair around and left the room holding his right hand with its thumb up while with his left he was wheeling himself out.
~ 22 ~
He had learned a lot in his two years of captivity in a different habitat. He was big and smart; he even had a name now. “Hugo!” she called him and he stood up and went to the front of his cage for a quick briefing session before each performance. She opened the gate and he came out and sat down in front of her. He looked at the bag of treats strapped on her waist.
“No my beautiful. Not yet. Remember, you have to earn it. There will be a lot of people tonight and I’ll be nervous as usual at our opening. Please be generous to me and follow me as we did at our rehearsals. Ok Hugo?” She thought he just remembered his commands when she talked to him, but he knew better. He couldn’t say anything back to her but any conversation she started with him he remembered and was able to recall in his head. He knew that she was from a place called Africa and that she lost her daughter of age fifteen to kidnapping as her home was intruded and her husband was killed while she was out working. He knew that she recently had found her daughter, being far away from her, in one of the orphanages in Africa. Since her daughter escaped her kidnappers a few years later, when her mother had already left Africa and moved to a different country. She was sending her letters as often as she could write them and was saving her money, planning to go back to Africa or bring her daughter back here. He knew that her name was Afi. He also knew that she loved her Caesar Salad from one of the oldest restaurants in town called Tadich Grill only because it came with anchovies and was fresh and crispy. She touched his face gently looking into his eyes then with her two hands she rubbed him behind his ears. He admired her and didn’t know how she would know what he liked and what he didn’t. For example, he didn’t like cabbage and she was trying to do her best to get meat for him. He was able to sit on and operate something with two wheels, called a bicycle and a lot of other tricks that kept the crowds giving them standing ovations.
He remembered what happened to him clearly and how he end up in this situation. He remembered the face and the smell of the person who captured him and at night fall, before he would go to sleep, he would recall it in his head just not to forget.
“Are you ready? That’s us. Be a good boy as you always are.” He kneeled in front of her and she climbed on his back holding tight to his fur as they entered the performance circle.
~ 24 ~
“I understand your concern and this is about the budget and your salary too.” The Director said. Afi was furious.
“Do you realize that we have to keep our animals happy, especially our celebrity? You may not know that, but he performs much better the day after he has had a tasty meal. Did you see how many people were watching him today? Tomorrow, after the talk on the street the crowd will be even bigger. We have to keep him happy and give him what he likes at least once a day during his performances.”
“Okay, okay. I got your point, he does matter, and he is a value. Ask that volunteer, what’s his name, Ronald? To help you. He knows animals as well, he is teaching biology in the university. His life story is interesting and sad too, he told me a little bit.”
Ronald was sweeping the ticket area when Afi entered the tent from main entrance. “Your name is Ronald right?” Afi asked him.
“My director said you are a biologist and willing to help. Well, we need to cut a lot of meat chunks for our performers, care to help? It’s a lot better than what you are doing now.” Afi smiled revealing her beautiful white teeth.
“Yes, sure” Ronald blushed. Ronald extended his hand to Afi.
“Ronald” he heard himself say.
“My name is Afi; I am training bears, in my spare time.”
“Spare time?” Ronald got confused after watching an incredible performance.
“Just kidding, let’s move to the kitchen area. I think our entertainers are hungry.”
“May I ask you something?” Ronald said cutting meat with a special knife that looked like a saw.
“Yes, go ahead” Afi replied, washing something in a sink, Ronald thought it was apples. “How can you do it so perfect and flawless? How did you achieve that with your animal?”
“This is a sixty four thousand dollar question. I don’t think I will be able to answer it. I have been training animals for decades and this bear, Hugo, you saw performing, is different. Sometimes I am asking myself the same question. I think he knows what I am asking him to do and when I show him how he should do it, he does it perfectly. He is an amazing creature, smart and intelligent. As a trainer, I haven’t had a pupil like this in my entire life.” Afi was excited explaining her findings.
“Where did you acquire him?” Ronald asked finishing cleaning a huge wooden board from meat debris and blood.
“Oh, Hugo is an American brown bear from Alaska. We got him about two years ago from one of the distributors here in San Francisco.”
Ronald instantly flashed back on his life two years ago- his losing his legs in a tremendous fall from a tree in Alaska, his wife Genia and the baby dying on an emergency bed while she was in the hospital with a lot of complications during her eighth month of pregnancy.
“Are you okay?” Afi asked Ronald who she thought became spaced out for a moment. “Yes, I am fine, thank you” Ronald answered politely finishing filling pails with meat. Each pail had a name on it and the line showing up to what point it needs to be filled. “Do you need help with these?” Ronald pointed on the baskets he filled with meat.
“No, it’s ok. I can handle it. What do you think I was doing all this time before you showed up?” She laughed, to Ronald it seamed addictive the way she did it, as she picked up two pails, one for Hugo and another one for one of the lions. Ronald giggled in return and couldn’t understand why it came out of him like that. Ronald decided to help Afi by putting meat baskets close to the kitchen door. As Ronald put the last bucket close to the door, he heard a commotion outside the door and a few gun shots in rapid succession that startled him for a moment. Ronald opened the door and went outside. Before him, a few yards away, he saw a big bear dying as he was looking at him.
~ 25 ~
He was laying down in his cage waiting for his food as usual. Afi entered his cage area with one pail in her hand as the other one she already extracted to the lion. As soon as she came close to him, he noticed something in the air, something out of place. Something smelled familiar. He stood up and moved into the cage corner. His pupils dilated as he felt scared and he roared. This scent was from some time ago, back when he was still a cub, a scent that he was coming back to every evening before going to sleep, a scent that he dreaded despite being a big and strong bear now. In his head, he had another chance to protect himself from these creatures that ripped his family apart and gave him this life which he didn’t feel comfortable living. His mother and brother were separated from him but he remembered everything they went through together. He got angrier showing Afi that it was dangerous to open the cage door. He stood up like his mother had done and fell on his front feet hard moving and shaking first his head and his whole body next growling and roaring, saliva dripping down from his mouth. He turned around in the same place in quick succession a few times showing her that he was dangerous, but she opened his cage anyway.
~ 26 ~
Afi opened Hugo’s cage door as she always did and emptied the contents of the bucket into Hugo’s big plate.
“What got into you my big beautiful boy? I never saw you like this before.” Afi said gently not paying much attention to Hugo. Afi felt pressure on her right shoulder and looked at massive Hugo who was looking back at her with anger, feeling his breath on her face. A split second later Hugo’s left paw hit her face so hard that she couldn’t even scream. Afi tried to scream and protect herself from this gentle animal that had became a monster in the blink of an eye, but there was only a gargling sound coming out from her crushed face. She looked down in disbelief and saw her tongue on the ground as blood dripped down what used to be her face. Another strike to her body revealed her ribcage and another opened her abdomen. Startled, she took a few steps backwards from the cage and fell down on her back holding her face with her hands. Hugo was on top of her in a split second. He took her by the neck and shoved her across the passage between cages, like a doll, making room for him. Hugo lowered his head close to the ground, snarled as white foam appeared in the corners of his mouth, and started to move in the direction of the smell. As he walked slowly to the kitchen doors, he heard loud pops and something hitting him in his head, neck and back. He got weary for some reason very quickly and realized that this was the end of his life. He saw his eyes getting bloody. Hugo, big astonishing and smart bear went down hard hitting the ground with his head placing it on his front paws. He saw him for the last time and recognized him immediately but for some reason his opponent now looked smaller, he couldn’t understand why. His capturer was looking at him from a distance as Hugo roared for the last time, white foam mixing with blood in his mouth producing popping sounds. Looking back at him and blinking rapidly, Hugo straightened his legs and neck as he passed away in pain.
Slava P ©