Ernie Gibbs stared at the track pressed into the soft earth beside the tiny stream. After a long time, he looked away from it to stare off into the heavy growth of spruce and pine surrounding the trail. It was a ridiculous track to find in these mountains, in this day and age. A hoax? Maybe in Montana, or northern Idaho, but not likely even there. Certainly not in the south-central mountains of Colorado, not in the twenty-first century.

Not even in the nineteenth century. This track was the size of a dinner plate, a large one. The claw-marks extended four inches and more from the toe-pads. The track was deep, more than twice as deep as his booted size ten beside it. A grizzly track, a damn big grizzly track, when there hadn’t been a grizzly in this part of the Rockies in half a century.

He cast about and found other marks. Concealed under the thick, springy layer of pine needles were three others. The needles themselves still had a trace of bear musk under their loam-and-pine scent. It wasn’t a hoax, then. The bear had been drinking from the little stream, and not long ago. It was at least a ten-footer.

Gibbs had been hiking, hunting and guiding in these mountains since he was a kid. He certainly hadn’t expected to encounter anything like a grizzly on this trip. He was two-and-a-half days from the trailhead and a three-day walk from the nearest road. This bear could only be trouble.

“It must have wandered down from up north,” he said out loud, talking to himself in the manner of men who spent much of their time alone. But what did it eat? A big grizzly took a lot of feeding and the mountains this far south were sparse pickings for it. Fish, berries, deer, elk?

Sure, the mountains had all those. Just not enough to feed a ton-plus eating machine. More plentiful would be cattle, sheep, hikers, skiers and snow-mobilers. And garbage, lots of second homes and cabins up in these mountains now, and none of them grizzly-proof. It was early summer, how would such a monster have come so far with no one noticing?

The forest was quiet, but not too quiet. He could hear the rustling of squirrels in the trees, the soft calls of day-time birds, the inevitable tinkling of the water making its way over rocks. Gibbs himself was a quiet hiker, a habit formed by years of tracking and hunting in the trees. If there was a grizzly here, it probably hadn’t heard him, though it might have smelled him.

That didn’t matter, Gibbs decided. He was near the bottom of a small, narrow valley between two shoulders of a mountain. It wasn’t much of a valley and he had no desire to share it with some monster of a bear. Gibbs was armed, he seldom went into the back country without a rifle, but he was hardly loaded for bear. His old aught-six could kill a grizzly, maybe, but not with certainty and for sure not quick enough to reliably see him through a close encounter.

He needed to get out of the valley. Up the switchback trail before him, through the spruce and juniper, past the tree-line and over the shoulder of the mountain into the next valley, his intended path. Or back the long trail he’d just climbed.

He’d seen no bear-sign until he got to this stream. Of course he may have missed it; he’d no reason to scout for claw-marks ten, twelve feet or more up a tree. No, he trusted his woodsman eye; he’d seen no sign coming.

Still if there was a bear—and he was staring at proof—it would most likely be down in the tree cover. There was fuck-all for such a beast to eat above the tree-line. There was little enough down here. Which meant getting up-slope should get him out of the bear’s territory quicker than back-tracking down the valley.

Gibbs pulled out his cell-phone and turned it on. The phone was hunter’s orange; his wife had thought that would make it harder to lose. It had no signal—they never did this far out in the mountains, well, sometimes, higher up. What it did have was a camera. There was no way the rangers down at the Forest Service would buy a story about a giant grizzly this far south, not without some proof.

Complete story available in the print edition of Big Pulp Winter 2010




Michael D. Turner is a writer from Colorado Springs, Colorado. His writing has appeared multiple times in Big Pulp, and in Aberrant Dreams, AlienSkin, Between Kisses, Flashing Swords, Every Day Fiction, and Tales of the Talisman.

For more of Michael's work,
visit his Big Pulp author page


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