The Fireman and the Bear
by Karlene Jacobsen
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Jim trudged through the muddied forest carrying on his back the rescue kit he picked up from the fire station. I don’t know why I need this, who am I going to rescue in a burned out forest? His frustration added to the misery of the unusually dry, hot summer in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. When he volunteered to help with the Newberry fire department’s battle, he had no idea what he was getting into. It had been nearly a week since he had a full night’s rest. The fire demanded the rescue teams give it their full attention or face certain calamity, no exceptions.
The only humor Jim could find at the moment was his attitude when he arrived in Newberry.
“Are you ready? It’s man versus beast out there.” He was told as he settled in a week ago.
“Man versus beast?” He laughed, “I fight fires everyday in Chicago.” He thought about how primitive these people must be to think a fire was so tough. Oh well, I’m here; might as well make the best of it. He had heard of raging fires before, in California. Upper Michigan should be a cinch to master; after all it does not get as hot as California.
Finally back at the bunker, Jim rifled through his duffel for a pen and notebook. He usually carried one with him to chronicle memories. Until now, he did not think he would have anything interesting to write.
Carrying his notebook with him into the mess hall Jim found an uninhabited corner where he could collect his thoughts. It was abnormal for him to pass by the food-line; however, his stomach still churned from the visitor he met in the afternoon. The metal folding chair sagged under his hulk-like form when he sat. The pen rattled as tremors controlled his hand. But he was intent to get the account written down while it was still a vivid memory.
“It was not long after lunch when I heard burnt timber crrrrunch… crrrrunch… crrrrunch… then a low rumble. I froze, unsure if I should run or stand my ground. Holding my breath, I mouthed a soundless prayer. “Dear God, please let it be another fireman.” I did not want to think of the other possibilities. There had been several bear sightings this past week, and although the stories were cool, I did not want to meet one face to face. My eyes had been sealed shut as I pleaded with God for my safety. When the movement stopped, I pried my eyes open, hoping the intruder had simply left.
“Instead, I found myself staring at the belly of a giant black bear. My heart climbed into my throat, and smashed its rhythm in my ears. My mind reeled. ‘What was it they said to do when confronted with a bear? I can’t remember!’ Panic seized me. I stood, paralyzed.
“I swear I saw the bear smile and lick his chops as he considered his meal. He lifted his right for-foot. ‘Is he waving at me? Oh man, I’m losing it!’ I think I was hallucinating. ‘So this is what it feels like right before you die!’ Certain this was the end; I breathed a good-bye to the world.
“While the bear waved at me, I heard someone, or thing-I could not be sure, screaming. It did not sound human. Then there was a thunder crack. There it was again… and again…
After the third crack of thunder, the bear attacked me. He commenced smacking me and holding me down.
“‘Snap out of it, man!’ One of the other firefighters was on me until I stopped flailing about.
Jim closed his notebook and put his pen down after he finished telling the story of regaining his senses and realizing the bear had been scared off when one of the DNR officers fired his weapon. He could not tell of the humiliation he felt when the others joked and teased the rest of the day and he was too embarrassed to write that it was he who was screaming. The chair groaned as he leaned back, stretched his muscled arms and then locked thick fingers behind his head. He closed his eyes, intent on painting mental images of his family at home waiting for him to return.
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I think you invented a new style... Man vs His Own Panicked Imagination. Well written. You are an excellent writer.
It was well-done, though I agree....better Man vs. Nature if you actually paint the scene of him facing the bear. Also, you described the forest as "muddied" and "dry", which I would think a contradiction in terms. Other than that....great job! Nice writing. :)
Wonderful! The rattling pen is exactly what is experienced in adreneline let down. Got a little confused as to exactly what happened until you explained it in the end. I liked the way you protrayed the 'city boy' in the wild.