Davis L. Bigelow
As Glen emerged from the cab, a broad grin was plastered onto his ruddy face. Stan was smiling too. “Ok Stan, it’s time to leave.” Glen gripped the edge of the truck box and hopped towards the tailgate. “I’ll have you in the bed of your truck in a jiffy and then we’re finally going to high tail it for Midnight Lake.
“Try the… cell phone… first.”
Glen stopped, nodded, and dug into his fanny pack. The small man shook his head and frowned. “Why did I forget such an obvious thing?”
The phone came into view and Glen flipped it open. Stan waited, the top of his head towards Glen, his neck craning to see. “A helicopter ride to the emergency room would be much nicer than a bumpy ride in the back of my truck.” Stan thought as he waited for the phone to power up.
Glen blew out a sharp breath. “The phone’s dead!” His lips pursed tightly. As Glen stared off towards Skull Creek he shook his head again. “It looks like the phone drowned in the river.”
Stan considered, then replied, “Better it… than us.”
Glen stashed the dead phone and hopped to the head of the inclined travois. He bent down and crawled back underneath the front crossbar. Lifting the laden litter one final time, he drew it the last three feet. His smile was gone now, replaced by concentration. With the forward tips of the travois at the truck, Glen lifted them a little more than usual and set them on the tailgate. Half climbing, half crawling over the front crossbar, Glen gained the truck bed and prepared to hoist Stan in.
It was an epic struggle, but finally the top of the travois was most of the way into the truck bed. “We have a problem.” Glen puffed. “The travois is too wide to fit all the way into the bed. I’m going to have to take it apart and leave it here.”
“Not that we’ll need it again anyway.” He rationalized. “It’s just that it would be nice to get to our wives and get some help before we die of old age!” Glen sounded frustrated. His stomach growled and thirst gnawed at him.
Glen withdrew his Leatherman and snapped open a blade. “Since the tent’s obviously ruined, I guess cutting the cords won’t really matter that much.”
Stan regarded his friend. Between the two of them, they had begun their backpacking adventure with some nice equipment – equipment that was expensive. The big man frowned. He understood, but didn’t like it either. “You can… get a better… tent.” He wheezed, trying to apply a bit of healing salve to Glen’s wounds.
“Yeah, I know.” Glen muttered. “But I really liked this tent!” The sharp blade made short work of the lashings, its light slicing sounds nearly covered up by the breeze. “At this point, I guess any tent would be better than this one!”
Glen clamoured out of the truck. In seconds the travois poles lay scattered in the alpine grass. Glen then crawled back into the box and heaved Stan’s remaining bulk off the tailgate and fully into the truck‘s bed. “Finally!” The panting man muttered.
Glen stood erect, stretching. One hand sat on the roof of the cab, while the other massaged the lower regions of his sore back. They were almost there! Glen shut his eyes and breathed in a satisfying breath of alpine air. At his feet, Stan Calderbank lay prostrated on the softness of the sleeping mats, resting, at last in the bed of his truck. Miraculously, the mats had not been punctured during their ordeal. Glen looked down at his large friend, opening his eyes. “Well Big C?” Glen sounded optimistic for a change. “I think we’re ready to make like Skull Creek and flow quickly away.”
Glen looked up, preparing to make a calm exit from the bed of the truck when his eyes caught movement. He froze, an inaudible gasp caught in his throat. Glen’s blue eyes widened. His heart redlined. Up Wynyard Hill, following the trail the two hikers had just scraped into the alpine dirt, lumbered a silver-tipped shimmering mass of fur! Death was coming for them!
Without thinking, Glen propelled his alert body into the air, hands grabbing the edge of the truck box. Like an awkward gymnast at end of an intense performance, the wiry Scot rotated in the air and struck his good foot against the dirt. “Aaaaaah!” The jarring forces swept pain into his damaged ankle, but he mostly ignored it. Stan looked up, bewildered as Glen’s flushed face bounced towards the tailgate.
Terror shrieked in Glen’s frenzied mind. The muscles in his neck were bowstrings awaiting release. His fingers found the driver’s side edge of the tailgate. His bulging eyes never left the charging bruin. From his lower vantage point, all Glen could see of the animal was its massive hump. The bear’s thick hair undulated in the summer sunlight. It looked like a field of ripe grain in the wind. Then, exploding like a jack in the box, the beady eyes of the charging grizzly bear emerged above the edge of the hill.
Glen screamed! The tailgate flew upwards, slamming shut. Glen McPherson pivoted. His stormy eyes fixed on the door of the truck. “I should have left it open!” Determined hopping began in earnest. Then, with sudden abruptness, his foot struck the tip of a discarded travois pole.
Within the bed of the pickup truck, Stan Calderbank lay puzzling over Glen’s strange behaviour. The big man hauled his weary head off the soft sleeping mat, seeking understanding. Then, Stan heard the scream. His heart leaped into his throat. At his feet, the tailgate slammed. Glen’s stricken face turned his way. “Oh no!” he muttered. Like a deadly blow to the solar plexus, realization struck the big man. “Glen’s panic can only mean one thing!” Then the unthinkable happened. Glen’s bouncing, terror-twisted face fell forward and disappeared from sight.
Glen landed heavily. The dazed man was completely unprepared for the fall. His right hand was unceremoniously ripped from the edge of the truck bed while his left somehow got to the ground just before his face arrived. The strewn travois pole dug into the shin of his good leg. The wiry Scotsman rolled over and looked up. “I’m a dead man!”
Paralysed and helpless Stan felt the gentle vibration of the truck’s engine against his back. The view from his vantage point included just a few emerald-green treetops and the black insides of the truck box. He strained to hear, but the world beyond the truck had gone deathly silent. Then his blood ran cold. From just beyond the confines of his metal prison a mighty snarl vibrated the metal under his fingertips! “The grizzly!” Stan heard Glen scream again! “What’s happening?”
Stan Calderbank had never felt such intense frustration. He had never been so utterly powerless. “At least in the tent I was able to fight!” Stan clenched his jaws together and gripped the edge of the truck box. “I have to see!” The big man tried to hoist his shoulders into the fresh air, but the longest of the splints was still lashed firmly to his chest. His fingers flew to the knot. Thankfully, Glen had tied it like a shoelace. Glen screamed again. If it were even possible, this latest scream sounded even more desperate than the last. The knot came loose.
Stan Calderbank’s head and shoulders lifted. The big man’s eyes were wide and filled with terror. Blood pounded in his head. Over the edge of the truck bed the giant grizzly’s massive maw reared into the sky. Stan gasped. Then suddenly, Glen’s fingers slapped onto the black paint near Stan’s face. Big C gasped again! The struggling Scotsman’s face popped into view. There was a bright scarlet smear beginning at his nose and running across his right cheek! The distressed hiker was panting feverishly, but then he was gone.
The grizzly roared. This time, Stan’s gaze riveted on the ivory teeth glinting against the traces of blue that the dark clouds hadn’t quite painted out of the sky. Then the mighty growl died out. Stan heard wood hit steel. The grizzly dropped to all fours. The truck door slammed. The bear snarled again, but this time the sound came from just over the edge of the truck box from Stan’s upturned and unprotected face. “Would the bear climb into the truck bed?”
A powerful blow shook the pickup truck. Stan gasped again and sagged back onto his makeshift bed. His ribs and thigh were throbbing. “Have we come all this way just to die here?” The truck lurched. The engine died. A second blow struck the truck. “Oh God!” Stan prayed. “Please spare us!”