Saturday, September 25, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 23

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L.Bigelow
Copyright 2010

Chapter 23

A tiny droplet careened through the subdued daylight. Soundlessly it fell. Pure in character and teardrop in shape, the raindrop bore down on a single silver mound. The mirrored bump shimmered slightly. Dark and light patches of cloud reflected in its wrinkle-faceted surface. It lay out of place in the bland, dismal surroundings. An unfamiliar alien, lying motionless on a familiar landscape, a close encounter was inevitable. The raindrop struck. Its brief journey from the dark cloud was over, but now it began to run over the slick, silvery alien. Suddenly, the extraterrestrial began to move. The helpless raindrop rolled off and at last, landed on the familiar stone littering the canyon floor.

Beneath the shiny Mylar blanket, Stan stirred. His short-lived get together with sleep had been welcome, but now all his throbbings, tenderness and twinges were getting the upper hand. Once again he was forced from slumber by pain.

The big man looked around. From somewhere in his restless sleep he had heard something. “Was that rain?” He focused on the sounds around him. He scanned the dark sky. Only a light wind wafted his way. “It must be just my imagination.” Stan eyed a dark cloud that currently moved directly over his upturned face, hanging like a threatening death shroud. “That cloud looks like it should be letting out raindrops.” The big man thought. “Thankfully it’s still holding back.”

Glen McPherson trudged up the dirt trail. Large grizzly bear footprints littered the indistinct path ahead. Many of his previously created southbound footsteps were now obliterated by numerous ovoids and claw marks. The hobbling hiker swallowed hard. “I really can’t afford to stop and wait any longer than I already have.” The bold Scotsman continued to move northward. “I hope I’m not making a big mistake!” Wary, but resolute, Glen hobbled on. Each bend of the woodland trail harboured uncertainty. “I hope that bear is moving faster than I am.”

A peaceful breeze caressed Glen’s hind parts. He had been limping along for over thirty minutes. Maple Creek was far behind him. “I’ll be at the entry point to the field of boulders soon.” Nervously, his eyes swept the forest around him and the trail ahead. “This breeze is pushing my scent ahead of me!” He scowled. “Perhaps it’s better for the bear to smell me coming?” He shot a glance at the ground. The paw prints were still in the dirt at his feet. They still pointed northward, but he’d read about bears catching the scent of a man and circling around to initiate a surprise rear attack.” The small man’s throat tightened. “Don’t panic Glen.” He whispered to himself.

The limping hiker paused for a moment. Concetrating on slowing his breathing, Glen let the forest’s sounds penetrate. A few leaves rustled. Several birds moved but the sounds of their beating wings were just out of earshot. For several silent seconds, Glen listened. “If a bear is close by, it’s either extremely stealthy or not moving a muscle.” Finally, the small man resumed his erratic stride. In another minute, he limped around the final corner of the woodland trail. At last he could see several hundred yards down Green Canyon. Glen’s breath caught in his throat. He froze in place.

One hundred yards north of where Glen halted stood a spectacle the wide-eyed Scotsman would never forget. Standing on its hind legs, a huge grizzly bear stared down at the small man. The blood drained from Glen’s face. With a crutch under one arm, a red pack on his back and an injured ankle he could not yet use, Glen held perfectly still. His mind reeled for options. He stared on as the massive bruin sniffed for the wind-driven scent wafting from his sweating body.

“Oh God?” The trembling man faintly breathed the words. “Please help me.” For several prolonged and agonizingly slow seconds, the colossal carnivore stood upright. His brown snout poked at the mild air currents. Silver tipped cinnamon coloured hair shimmered like light frost on a ripe wheat field. Glen held as still as the cloud-covered summit of High Tor. “Let me be invisible.” At the top of the food chain, the bear was the undisputed monarch of Green Canyon – or anywhere else it happened to visit. Glen had no aspirations for prowess. If it chose to, the mighty member of the Ursus arctos horribilis family could dispatch him in a matter of seconds. “There is no escape.” Glen breathed out slowly. The vulnerable man held his head still, but his eyes shifted back and forth like a lame field mouse in pit of starving vipers. “The nearest tree, capable of harbouring me is holding Stan’s backpack aloft.” Glen scowled. The tree was on the opposite side of the bear!

Stan sluggishly lifted his arm to check the time. It was eleven thirty. “Where’s Glen?” The big man turned his head and scanned the field of boulders dividing him from his friend. Glen was nowhere to be seen, but Stan’s eyes widened in horror! At about the place where he guessed the poorly marked trail carved its way along the edge of the scant stretch of woodland ambled a massive creature. The animal was heading northward. At 600 yards away and obscured by several clumps of scrub, Stan couldn’t be certain of its exact species but the shaggy-looking, brownish creature was definitely a bear.

Stan stared in shock. He knew that their hiking adventure might lead them to see a black bear, or even a grizzly, but he hadn’t expected the meeting to be in Green Canyon. Stan’s heart began to pound! The extra blood pressure flooded his injured leg with additional throbbing. The big man winced, but continued to stare. “Steady Stan! Steady!”

In the subdued light the ambling bear’s fur had a glint of silver to it. Then, in an uncharacteristically quick motion, the huge bear swung its shaggy head and froze. It stared southward. After several seconds, its nose poked skyward, taking several tentative jabs at the cool alpine air. Then, the bear turned its entire body to face south and reared up onto just its hind legs. The bruin was enormous! Stan’s eyes widened. The big man’s throat constricted. The giant bear sniffed the airwaves again. Towering above the scant scrub that had been its partial camouflage, the bear was in full view. Stan’s worst fears were confirmed. “It’s definitely a grizzly bear!”

Eyes bunged out and unblinking, Glen’s good foot and the tip of his faithful crutch remained glued to the dirt pathway. The booted foot, attached to his wrecked ankle, rested uncomfortably in the middle. Glen’s breaths came in shallow gasps. “If that bear charges I’m a dead man!” Glen slid his shaking fingers down to his side. “But if I die here, this bear will pay dearly first!” Glen carefully unsnapped the polished hatchet and slid the sharpened blade out of its leather holster. Careful not to slice himself, his right hand tightened around the carbon fibre handle. His blood pounded though ready veins. Glen drew in a slow and deliberate breath. White-knuckled, the small man was about as prepared as he could be. “All that remains now is for me to wait and wonder.”

Just out of Glen’s sight, Stan Calderbank lay trussed and helpless on the field of boulders. He too stared with wide eyes. Simultaneously, it happened. For both men, it was as if time stood still. Each shallow breath of the two transfixed men was like the ticking of a time bomb, counting down the final few moments before detonation. Then, with frightening speed, the grizzly bear dropped to all fours and charged.

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