September. A Wednesday. Foggy. I woke up to a white-out of fog. So thick I couldn’t see the end of my gun when I balanced it on my shoulder to aim. Not being able to find the target sort of defeats the purpose of hunting, but that little detail didn’t stop me from heading out into the chilly morning mist. It swirled around me. Tingled in microscopic drops on my face.
Made me feel alive.
It was the noise that put a pause in my step. A snort, it sounded like. Maybe a chortle. An unknown, invisible being laughing at me. The whiteness billowed like it breathed, like it was an extension of the thing, the menace that was out there. Somewhere. I could hear it, sucking in air, could even smell its exhale. In and out, the stench of consumed death made my eyes tear and caught in my throat like bile.
I rubbed my eyes and pressed onward, determined to reach the place along the river, the one I targeted the day before. My compass kept me on track as I cut through the atmospheric cobwebs. Determined, I blotted out the animal sounds that assaulted me from I-could-not-tell-where.
Over a rise, the swirling ground cover parted, teasing me with a glimpse of a ribbon of water. Some riffling white patches on its surface, rapids crying to be run. I reached for my scope to see the way ahead. In a nauseating cloud of stink, I saw it, its bared fangs still red from feeding and its mouth a mask of dried blood, remnants of its last unlucky meal. A grizzly.
I stared into its wild eyes, and I knew. I was next. I was going to meet my end. Chomped between those teeth or crushed underneath that rump or shredded by those claws. The manner of death wouldn’t matter. In the end, I would be consumed. The circle of life, one way or the other.
It reared up on its hind legs and belted out a roar of sorts, a deep bass-like thing that reverberated through my core. At least eight feet tall. I was too stupefied to even think about my gun, my mouth ajar at all that raw power. I forgot to aim until it was on its four paws, charging me, jaws chomping.
Back. I ran backward. Toward the edge of the cliff that fell away into the river. I balanced my gun on my shoulder, closed my eyes, and fired.
That grizzly lurched to its side, part of its head sheared away, twitching on the ground. And, I can’t explain it, how those big brown eyes glazed over with a sheen of peace. Without a care, it slipped into the unseen.
I wanted to go with that bear. When Death comes calling, why does He always spare me?