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Where It's Safe: A Short Story

The short-short story below titled, Where It’s Safe, is part of the collection of 100 short-shorts I mentioned in my last blog post.

Dylan, the main character in my upcoming novel, Outside encounters a bear while working through some wilderness-survival tasks in Alaska. Where It’s Safe begins to describe just how dangerous a human-bear (or human-dog) interaction can be. I lived in Alaska for six years, and…let’s just say I learned a lot.


Where It’s Safe

         The newcomer and his wife were high on a mountain slope, resting. They had loaded a backpack with plastic containers which they’d filled with wild blueberries. Now they were sitting quietly watching a grizzly bear on the slope opposite them.

         They had known such a thing might happen, and so they had taken their two dogs along.  The dogs were big, brave, courageous dogs who would alert them at the slightest sign of danger.  And they were off their leashes so they could run around and scout.  If a bear was in the area, the dogs would smell it and would bark like mad.  So the couple sat resting on the slope, content in the knowledge that their precautions had been wise.  Still, they were keeping an eye on the bear, which was miles and miles away. 

         Thus far it had been a day of surprises.  When they’d first arrived, the sides of the mountain had looked smooth, as though they were covered with turf from a giant golf course.  But they had been mistaken: what appeared to be a smooth carpet of grass was actually alpine tundra, which was more like an ocean of jagged bird nests.  And though the slope appeared steady and flat, it turned out to be covered with deep folds and rises, all of which were covered with the same green shrubs and plants.  It had been difficult climbing into and out of them.  Now, hours later, they were exhausted and in need of rest.

         Sitting on the slope they watched the bear make his way across the opposite slope.  At such a great distance he seemed a tiny speck of a bear.  Sometimes he would disappear.  When that happened, the newcomer and his wife realized the he was crossing one of the folds, just as they themselves had done when they were climbing.  But they were amazed at the way in which the bear seemed to disappear so completely. 

         In truth it troubled them that they were looking at a grizzly bear.  But they had the dogs, and so they were confident that they’d be warned of any danger. 

         It was at that moment that the dogs came bounding up over one of the rises on the slope above and behind them.  The wife called the dogs to her, and they came to her happily, tails wagging.  She rubbed their heads and sides and told them to go ahead and play.  So they did.  They were loyal, intelligent dogs - dogs who knew it was their job to investigate and explore, who knew how to make lots of noise if danger approached, and who would always come back if they ran into trouble.

         The dogs ran up the slope, stopped to look back at the couple, and continued on again, disappearing behind a rise.  But within a minute they came back, their heads appearing before their bodies.  They were like two dolphins appearing and disappearing amid waves of green.  They were staying close because they felt the need to be near their family. 

         On the opposite slope, the bear reached the top of the mountain and disappeared over it.

         “What do you suppose would happen,” said the newcomer’s wife, “if the dogs found a bear on this side of the mountain?”  She was sitting on the ground, buckling one of the straps on her backpack.

         “They’d probably bark at him,” said the newcomer, feeling the wind on his face.  “Isn’t this view spectacular?”

         She was quiet for a moment.  “And then what do you suppose they’d do after they started barking?”

         “I think they’d probably keep barking,” he said.  He turned and looked at her.  “Listen, I know you’re thinking that there could be a bear behind any of these dips and rises.  And you’re right.  But we have the dogs, so we’re safe.  If there was a bear in the area, they’d find it.  They’d sniff him out and then they’d let us know by barking.”

         She held the buckle between her fingers thoughtfully.  “If they found a bear, and started barking, what do you think the bear would do?”

         “I don’t know.  Either run away or chase them, I suppose.”

         “You think he’d run away from two dogs?”

         “Sure.  Bears hate loud noises.”

         “And if the bear was hungry?”

         The newcomer shrugged.  “Those dogs are too fast for a bear.  He’d never be able to catch them.”

         She smiled.  “You’re right.  They’re fast as lightning.  They’d run right back here to us where it’s safe.”

         The newcomer hesitated, and his wife’s smile dropped.

         Fumbling for the leashes and gathering their things, they thought it best not to speak.

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