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The Bear of Hero Woods

Being a hunter by blood, I always supposed that when conflict surfaced, a hunter should be the one to resolve it. That was my philosophy. Only, I wouldn't be the one to do it; that was my other philosophy. But, whenever conflict did arise, it was...a clash of philosophies, if you will.

The Bear.

I remember I was sitting at my kitchen table eating a bowl of soup, my wife's best clam chowder, when I heard that a brown bear had somehow made its way into our little suburban town. My wife and kid were upstairs, most likely fast asleep; it was fairly late, after all. I was glancing over at the local news as I ate my chowder, however paying more attention to how much was left in the bowl than anything else in the room. But one thing perked up my ears: information about animals, seeing as how I'm a hunter, I suppose. If I'm interested in something, I'll be more likely to pay attention to it over other things, that's what I've discovered. I'm sure this is still the case for many other people, but that's kind of beside the point right now. I heard about a bear on the news, and my subconscious must have kicked me on the inside of my head and told me to listen. I looked up from my bowl and on the viewing screen was information of a monstrous brown bear that had been sighted exploring the woods around and through our neighborhood. No pictures of it; everyone that had seen it didn't happen to have a camera on them. But they said that it was a bear, and it was big.

Big deal, I thought. It's just a bear. Leave it alone and it will leave you alone. The news seemed to agree with me on this: said that the bear had only been sighted, and hadn't taken any action against the neighborhood. Nobody had been hurt. Give it time and it will eventually find its way home, I thought.

Late at night. What time? I don't have a clue. Time for clam chowder, that's for sure.

The next day, it was just a normal day. Time to get to bed, so naturally, it would be time to pour me a nice bowl of fresh soup from the basin in the fridge. I was eating again, and all of a sudden I heard more news about the bear on the television. I don't even remember turning it on, I thought. But that didn't matter once I heard this: one child who was walking around in the woods to try to naively investigate the bear had not returned since he left, which was early in the afternoon. Now, late at night, no one knew anything about his whereabouts. Parents and residents, said the news, regretfully suspect the bear.

I began to think that maybe us residents of the neighborhood couldn't just let the bear find its way out naturally. I realized that whenever an animal feels backed into a corner or threatened in an unfamiliar or even familiar environment, it becomes much more hostile. Maybe that's how the bear felt. Cornered. Threatened. I felt that maybe the residents needed to do something to help this bear find its way home. Or way out. And, being a hunter, maybe I was the one to do it.

The day after that was another normal day. My wife had seen the same news broadcast that I had seen the night before, and said that maybe I should organize a group of hunters to take care of the bear. I got mad at her, and now I don't know why; I said that just because I'm a hunter, it doesn't automatically make me responsible for lost animals that venture into our territory. We didn't say much after that for that day. I know she was just looking out for her family and neighbors and people she didn't even know...I don't why I yelled at her the way I did.

Later that night, the news made me rethink the words she had spoken to me earlier. The child that had gone missing still had not been found. Quite the contrary: the family of the child had gone missing as well. The news said that the front door had been torn clean off its hinges. Claw marks a foot from first claw to last claw were dug into it almost to the other side. Part of the doorway frame was scraped off, littering the ground with splinters. The same scratch marks were along various walls inside the house, and the back door was hanging on one hinge. There was no trace of the rest of the family.

I stared in awe at the screen. I knew these people; they lived right down the street. Mere acquaintances though, not our best friends. And their house had been invaded. What else could happen, I thought. Could anything be done? The police were already doing as much as they could, and parties of hunters had been sent to search for and kill the bear. Five parties. Nothing more could be done, I figured. The situation will be under control.

The next day I when I got home from work, my wife told me that I had gotten a call from another hunter. I didn't know him, but he heard that I was the best hunter in town, and he wanted me join a sixth party that was being sent to hunt the bear. It was going to be sent that afternoon, early evening. When he called back, I told him that I couldn't do it. I told him that it's too short of notice, and that I had a lot of work to do for my job. I really didn't. I guess I just didn't want to handle the responsibility.

Late at night again, I had my soup. The news had won me over; instinct told me to tune in to it. News: all groups of hunters were to be due back at the place they were sent from at eight o'clock.

None returned.

The town was growing desperate. Over time, it only got worse. To the horror of the townspeople, more houses had been invaded, their residents kidnapped. Nobody wanted to go after the bear. I don't blame them; I sure as hell didn't. My family and I were safe. No need for me to risk my life and for my family to lose a father.

And then there was one day. After work. Opened the front door, looking perfectly normal. Inside...a murder scene.

Blood spattered across the walls, the floor, the ceiling. Furniture upturned. Glass broken. The back door: half of a door on its hinges, cleaved in two pieces vertically. On both halves and on seemingly everything in the house, claw marks.

Even so, I frantically searched the entire house. It was undeniable: my family was gone. It happened in broad daylight, yet none of the neighbors had heard or seen it happen. Police search results turned up negative. Just like every other house invasion in the neighborhood.

I grabbed my rifle and headed out the door before I knew what I was doing. Now I had a reason to kill this thing, I thought. Because it killed my family? Absolutely, but I felt like I always had a reason. I should have had a reason the second my wife asked me to go kill the damn thing. The reason: protect those around me.

I was in the woods until long after it got dark. I told myself that today was my day. To live or die. I would kill that bear or not.

Finally I found him. He was walking past, didn't even see me. When I first glimpsed him, I didn't think it was him; don't really know what I thought it was. But when I realized that the enormous shadow the size of a car was him, I wanted to run away. I wanted to scream. But I reminded myself of what I was doing and why. He turned my way, and that's the last of anything he ever saw: I shot him right between the eyes. He didn't know what hit him. And once he collapsed and didn't budge for twenty minutes, I thought to myself, well that was easy. All along, it was that easy.

I sat at the table eating the very last of my wife's clam chowder. I first thought about saving the last bit of soup until it was rotten and moldy as a sort of memento, but realizing it would ultimately result in me pouring it down the drain, I figured eating it was what my wife would have wanted.

I listened to the news telling of my feat against the bear. They were calling me a hero. Protector of the city.

Hmph. That's what I had to say about it.

Suddenly I heard thumping on the back porch. I was done eating at that point. I listened carefully. Heavy thumping. Shook the whole house. Then it stopped. Growling. It was growling a low, murderous growl. Then a second growl, must lighter and higher pitched, though none less bloodthirsty. A bear? A bear and its cub? I didn't move for the duration. Then I heard something banging on the door. I saw the door, saw it shake with every thump. Heard the deep scratching on the outside, beginning to splinter. Heard the deathly roar and barking.

They'll probably take me, I thought. They'll probably kill me.

Me? A hero? Protector? They didn't know the half of it.





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