In the Absence of Honor by Jim Proebstle

by Jim Proebstle

The sound of KC growling shocked Jake out of a deep trance and onto his feet. He must have fallen asleep on the couch before shutting the cabin down for the night. A glance at the clock over the antique bookstand told Jake it was 1:45 AM.

KC’s hair bristled on his neck, and his lips were starting to curl, baring his teeth. The growling deep in his throat became more intense. The door to the lake was closed, but some of the windows, covered only with screens, remained slightly open.

Over KC’s growls, Jake could hear something in the yard near the house.

He ran to the front door. Locked it. Ran to the three-season porch door and locked it, too. He needed time to think. Is the bear coming back? Even though he had not seen evidence of the bear since his arrival, he should have figured it might return. How can I be so stupid?

‘Goddamn it!’ Jake exclaimed realizing his shotgun was still back in the Yukon until the sheriff completed the investigation.

He turned out the lights in the cabin to give himself a better view of the night outside. The halogen yard-light over the garage lit up most of the area on the open side of the cabin. But the side of the cabin adjacent to the thick woods was pitch black.

‘Damn,’ he muttered. ‘Where the hell is the flashlight?’

Jake made his way to the kitchen groping the counters where he remembered last seeing it. He knocked over a beer bottle startling himself, surly attracting the attention of whatever prowled outside. Finally, Jake’s eyes adjusted to the darkness. He saw the flashlight inches away. He grabbed it and stood motionless. Time was frozen. There was no escape. Jake felt his pounding heart could be heard throughout the cabin.

Minutes passed.

The noises stopped.

He decided to check things out further. Maybe, whatever it was had lost interest. After all, bears around the cabin had never caused a problem in the past.

He retrieved an ax handle he always kept in the bedroom for protection from an intruder. Flashlight in one hand and ax handle in the other, he moved around in the dark cabin. His weapon wouldn’t do much good against a bear, but he could be dealing with someone involved in the Two Fingers incident. With a person, the ax handle would do considerable damage.

He saw nothing in the yard. As he listened, however, he definitely could hear something prowling around. Whatever it was, it sounded heavy. Bushes were being rustled without concern for noise. Then Jake heard guttural sounds distinctly identifying this intruder as a bear. He went to the bedroom to use the flashlight through the window. He opened it quietly to avoid the flashlight glare from the glass.

With his nose close to the screen, he began shining the light along the edge of the woods. About twelve feet of property separated the cabin and the trees. Suddenly, in a rush toward the cabin and the light, the bear challenged and rose to his hind legs.

Jake gasped.

Cinnamon bears are normally three to four hundred pounds and five to six feet in height. This bear was double that size, the largest Jake had ever seen!

His pounding heart and involuntary, rapid shallow breathing triggered a fight or flight response. Every muscle in his body tensed. He was scared.

‘What should I do?’ he whispered, wishing someone could hear. The bear’s aggressive posture at the mere sight of the flashlight was not a good sign. The Sheriff was at least an hour away. Ken was out of the question because of his back and Bud was pretty old for this kind of thing. Not exactly the SWAT team he needed.

In another instant, Jake thought of Tom Faulkner, at the Cedar Lodge and Fishing Resort. Tom hunted bears for years and had lived on the peninsula since he and his wife Cheryl purchased the resort four years ago. He would know what to do.

The phone seemed to ring forever. When Tom finally answered, it was from a deep sleep.

‘Tom, this is Jake Lorenz. I’m sorry for waking you, but I’ve got a big problem at the cabin and need some help.’

‘What’s going on?’ Tom grunted.

While explaining the situation to Tom, Jake could hear the bear move from the side of the cabin on to the front porch. With the windows partially open, the smells of leftovers from Jake’s little dinner gathering floated through the air-like an aromatic welcome mat for the bear.

Jake heard breakage and a loud impact at the front of the cabin. He turned the cabin lights back on and dropped the phone to see one hell-of-a-large bear ripping the door off its hinges. It entered the cabin roughly fifteen feet away from where he stood.

KC attacked the bear before it was through the door. Mayhem instantaneously broke loose. The bear retaliated. Its fury was unbelievable. It turned and raked its immense paw at KC, narrowly missing. Jake grabbed some dirty pots and pans from the counter and began banging them wildly, instinctively trying to distract the bear away from KC. The growls from the bear, KC’s barking and Jake’s banging created an explosion of sound.

The bear steered his course for the kitchen with its garbage can still loaded with steak bones and table scraps. Jake noticed the shank of a hunter’s arrow buried deep in its left shoulder. The discussion with Bud of an injured bear from the hunting season flashed through his mind. This bear had only one goal’complete his feeding drive for hibernation. At this late date, anything would do.

Jake had to get out of the kitchen or he would be cornered. He grabbed the butcher knife and climbed onto the pass-through counter. He would time his exit with the bear’s entrance into the kitchen.

Bears were nocturnal feeders and rarely attacked a human. Jake knew that this bear was different. Desperate for food, suffering from a serious and likely infected wound, this bear was dangerous. God, how he hoped Tom was on his way with help!

Suddenly the bear’s annoyance with KC’s barking and aggressive provocation escalated into full retaliation. The bear abruptly rose to his full height and let out a terrifying roar. KC reacted instinctively and attacked at the animals flank. He sank his fangs deep into the bear’s flesh.

The bear’s enraged reaction was unbelievably quick and powerful. With deadly force, this eight hundred pound crazed beast turned and attacked KC. Jake did not know what to do. To his horror, the bear struck a deadly blow at KC with one paw, knocking him across the room. Not stopping with this sure fatal strike, the bear continued ripping at KC, crushing his neck in his jaws, shaking him like an old dust mop.

Jake surveyed the cabin’s great room for anything that would help him in his defense. He saw the fireplace tools first and thought of moving toward them while the bear moved away from KC’s lifeless body and back toward the kitchen garbage. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw something far more useful’the antique ice-fishing spear hanging in the corner near KC’s body. The galvanized steel spear was seven feet long, about seventy pounds, with six, eight-inch, Poseidon-like, forked prongs at the end. These fishing spears were designed to be released through an ice hole, while already in the water, in order to deliver a certain strike on a large walleye or northern pike.

He knew it was prudent to stall the bear if at all possible. In all likelihood, Tom would be there soon with a rifle. But, Jake couldn’t hide, and the cabin was small. The bear headed toward the kitchen. Only the garbage stood between him and a sure mauling.

When the bear entered the kitchen, Jake completed his crawl over the pass-through counter back into the great room. Without hesitation, he headed for the spear. Choking his emotions back, he stepped over KC’s body and quickly removed the spear from its hanging position.

Sounds of the bear rummaging in the garbage stopped in less than a minute, and Jake saw the beast turn the corner of the room toward him. This bear was a rogue who had learned to live on meat over many weeks. Jake braced himself in the corner with the spear while standing over KC. Jake, no longer afraid, was pissed off like never before. This bear had violated Jake’s final safe-haven. His anger over Jan’s death, the loss of his job, the events over the last few days, and now KC’s destruction, detonated within him. The bear rose to his hind legs to face Jake. The emptiness of the bear’s eyes displayed no human connection. He roared one more final insult directly at Jake before his attack. The bear’s breath, hot with rage and stench, brought bile to the back of Jake’s throat. Long strings of saliva ran from the bears open jaws. He moved in for the kill.

The predator within Jake took over with the bear’s attack. He lunged at the bear with the strength and determination of his entire being. Jake screamed at full force under the frenzy of his own attack. All six forks of the spearhead entered the front of the bear’s neck. Combined with the weight and force of the bear’s charge and Jake’s own power, the spear buried itself into the base of the bear’s skull, completely through its neck, directly at the brain stem and atlas vertebrae.

The counter-force of the bear’s attack sent Jake crashing backwards onto the floor next to KC.

# # # # #

From the moment Tom got Jake’s call, he was in constant motion. Finding his pants and shoes seemed to take forever since he realized Jake’s true peril and imagined various scenarios involving a bear attack.

Tom had been hunting in the general area of Jake’s cabin over the past several months and had noticed bear tracks of unusual proportion, easily twice the size of any normal Minnesota bear. He had hoped to set a trap for the bear by baiting an area near a tree stand he used for hunting before. He never even got a glimpse of the animal.

Tom knew that if this was the bear that Jake now faced, he was in real danger. Something had to be terribly wrong for a bear of this size to be on an aggressive feeding pattern this late in the year in an area inhabited by people.

As Tom grabbed his 30.06 rifle, he instructed Cheryl, ‘Call Ben and Jim right now. Wake’em up and tell to come-a-runnin-no matter what.’

Tom knew these dirt roads like the plumbing in his resort and took every turn like a seasoned NASCAR driver. He didn’t want to lose control of his pick-up and only make matters worse for Jake, but he sure wasn’t going to be late either. Within ten minutes, Tom covered the six miles of winding dirt road, but he feared he wasn’t going to be fast enough.

The grass on the long driveway to the cabin, wet with night dew, slowed Tom down even more. He was sweating profusely. Finally, the lights of the cabin were in sight. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary from his view in the truck one hundred yards away.

He slammed on his brakes and the truck skidded across the lawn. Leaping out of the cab, Tom heard the most incredible roar from a bear he had ever heard in his life. Simultaneously, he heard Jake scream with equal strength, ‘You mother fucking bastard!’

Tom rushed the cabin door with his 30.06 loaded and the safety off. Entering without concern for his own safety, he felt the cabin actually shake under the violence of the attack.

Rushing past the kitchen, he entered the great room just in time to see the bear fall, with its full weight, on Jake. He raised his gun to shoot, but there was no way to immediately separate Jake from the bear. They went down together. The bear crashed on top of Jake like a deadfall. He could see Jake’s legs and a shoulder sticking out from underneath the bear, but the rest of his body was smothered and motionless. As he approached, Tom saw the spear, all six tines, sticking completely through the bear’s neck, just like Zeus himself would have killed an attacking sea monster.

Regardless, Tom put the barrel of the rifle into the ear of the bear, not risking that he would hit Jake, and squeezed the trigger. The shot blew a gapping exit hole in the bear’s head. Brain matter and blood covered the floor and stairwell. If the animal wasn’t dead before, it was now.

Jake had blacked out under the weight of the bear. The intense sound of the rifle shot so close to him, however, was an instant wake-up call. Within seconds he was frantically trying to get out from underneath the massive hulk. With his heart racing, his body covered in sweat and blood, and the sound of Tom’s voice yelling for him, he realized he was all right, even though his face was buried in the bristled hair of the bear’s neck and he could barely move under its weight.

‘Are you okay, Jake? Are you okay, Jake?’

He actually wasn’t sure. For several seconds he caught his breath before he answered. ‘I think so,’ he said in a muffled tone from beneath the bear. ‘Thank God you’re here!’

After Tom struggled to pry the weight of the bear partially off of him, Jake was finally able to wiggle free. In that moment, Jake saw KC, a grim reminder of reality. He picked him up and cradled his mutilated body in his arms.

The adrenaline receded, but Jake couldn’t stop shaking while holding KC. There was nothing else left for Jake to grasp on to. He felt completely exposed as the tears of a lifetime emptied once and for all.

copyright 2004, James Proebstle

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