Saturday, November 6, 2010

"In Ravenscrag's Shadow" - Chapter 29

In Ravenscrag's Shadow
Davis L. Bigelow
Copyright 2010
Chapter 29

Twin nostrils flared and then relaxed. Moisture glistened on the black tip of the brawny snout. Rhythmic slumber was the exclusive activity that presently occupied the silver-tipped bruin. Suddenly the grizzly’s beady eyes flickered open. Raising its enormous head, the bear sniffed at the gentle airwaves that wafted by its improvised bedchamber. The human’s scent was in the air!

The big bear eased effortlessly to its feet, scarcely making a sound. Its bushy bulk stood hidden by the low scrub that grew at the feet of the narrow strip of trees near the north end of Green Canyon. It moved cautiously forward, caressing the leaves of the low bushes with its soft hair. Its experienced senses were now on full alert. The grizzly was ready and willing to defend itself should the need arise. Its large nose poked into the grey afternoon light. Its dark eyes peered southward along the dirt trail. Then the big bear froze.

Glen McPherson shuffled up to the old Larch tree. Before he began the short journey, he had strapped the pressurized bottle of pepper spray as well as Stan’s hatchet to his belt. Not particularly well equipped to encounter a bear, at least he had two weapons at his disposal. Glen felt for the weapons and nervously looked around before uniting the rope that held the backpack aloft. Nothing moved in the canyon. Hand over hand Glen’s gloved hands controlled the decent of Stan’s dangling backpack. This would be the pack’s final partnership with the useful tree. The wary Scot eyed the claw marks that gouged the smooth, creamy white bark and looked around again.

The grizzly watched and wondered. “A strange creature is this human!” The man began to approach, but then stopped. “Why had he stopped?” Then the unimaginable took place. The unusual item, hanging from the large tree he had clawed, somehow fell slowly to the ground. The sight was amazing. The human had powers the bear lacked, yet the small human looked so puny.

Limping to the base of the towering tree, Glen tussled the pack onto its front so he could access the exterior zippers. On his trek from the travois to the tree, he had decided that some things would have to be left behind. The travois was already weighed down, and any extra load from the second backpack would only make Glen’s life that much more difficult.

The contemplating Scotsman unceremoniously spilled the pack’s entire contents out onto the ground. He scrutinized the cache. The two men had eaten little from the stock of food they had packed in. Glen’s mouth began to water. Both men were hungry, but Glen had expended considerably more energy than his friend had. “How much food should I take?” Glen wondered aloud, tearing open an energy bar and greedily gnawing on it. “We should make it back to the truck by tomorrow night.” The small man rubbed a dirty hand over his bristling moustache and beard. “But what if it takes us a little longer?” Glen shook his head and furrowed his brow. “For sure we’ll need one more breakfast and lunch plus supper tonight and maybe one for tomorrow night.” Glen selected four freeze-dried meals and set them apart in a pile. Next, he grabbed four packages of dry soup, four packages of instant oatmeal and four energy bars. “Ok.” He said, still talking to himself and pointing at the empty air, “I already have a pot on the travois, as well as our bowls and spoons.” Glen shed his hat and ran his fingers through the tangled remnants of his once-thick hair. He nodded and then pulled the tent poles and pegs from among the strewn equipment. Glen eyed the pile of food and gear and put his hat back on. “That’s not very much stuff.” Glen selected two pouches of instant juice and two packages of powdered milk and added then to the newly formed pile. “Ok. That should do it.” He said, stuffing the food and tent pegs into a mesh bag.

Still laying in the grass, slated to be left behind, was the remainder of the food they had thought to enjoy. The weary hiker placed the excess grub against the base of the Larch tree. He added their second pot and outback oven to the pile before scanning what remained. “We no longer need the folding saw either.” Glen paused to stare at the two piles, screwing up his face a little. “It looks like a peace offering to the god of claw marks!” Glen muttered sarcastically, looking up at the scarified the tree and then glancing around again. The small man frowned and blew out a breath. “I guess our lives are worth more than a bunch of replaceable stuff.”

The worn Scotsman stuffed the priority pile into Stan’s pack. The food and gear fit loosely. Glen gathered the rope from the tree and zipped it into the pack. Standing, the wiry man hefted the light pack from the ground onto his shoulders. He easily fastened the waist and shoulder straps and cinched them up. Then, sweeping the canyon with his eyes, he turned southward.

Beady, unblinking eyes continued to observe. The human rummaged on the ground a while. Then, suddenly, the small man arose and lifted the unusual item onto his back. With a fleeting backward glance, the human tramped away, leaving the bear to wonder what bizarre spectacle might next present itself. The grizzly sniffed at the air again. “I smell food.”

In Glen’s absence, Stan’s breathing had eventually returned to normal. The big man watched his friend hobble to the towering tree and lower the dangling backpack. The trussed man was tired, but not exhausted enough for fatigue to overcome his pain and send him into the blissful realms of slumber. In fact, his throbbing leg and ribs were making it difficult for him to even relax. Stan continued to stare after Glen. “My ordeal is not remotely near its conclusion!” The big man thought darkly. “Glen will return in a minute, and my pain will become unbearable once more.” In response to his thoughts, Stan let out a low groan. ”Steady Stan!” He tried to bolster his resolve. “Surviving takes precedence over pain right now!” The big man closed his eyes willing his thoughts to be positive. “You can make it Stan.”

After some time, Stan saw Glen rise from the dirt and put on the backpack. “My time to rest is just about over.” The big man closed his eyes again and tried to relax. “Dear God, please help me to survive this day!”

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