The two children were laughing as they tried to catch the red leaves raining down from the sugar maples. A cold wind brought the promise of frost by morning and she shivered as she tried to keep the children on the narrow path. A fall in the river would be dangerous this time of year. When she glanced up, she instinctively reached for the children’s hands. A man, whose untucked shirt was dripping with red, was approaching. As he got closer, he showed a toothless grin, tipped his hat politely, and said…

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)



“Them bears are gonna getcha!”

That’s what Mama always said when I took my little journeys with Papa’s old Winchester into the Kentucky woods. If I ran into a bear, it’d be instant death.

I did run into a bear. It was not instant death, but I kind of wished it was. Mama was wrong for once, but of course I wouldn’t get the chance to tell her.

When it got me, my teeth were knocked out. My untucked shirt was soaked with my own red blood. I was pretty sure I could smell my own torn insides. I was pretty roughed up.

It got me while I was nibbling on some hard tack. She sneaked up behind me when I wasn’t looking.

I figured she must have shared my opinion about Mama’s recipe for a delicious biscuit. Mama taught it to me before she went on to glory a while back. That recipe and all the lessons were about all Mama left me.

I didn’t think a bear would just hurt a man and leave, but this one did that and took my hat.

I wandered through the snowy woods, stumbling and bleeding. It’s a good thing there weren’t wolves sniffing around there at the moment.

Along the river I walked. There was a clean sheet of ice over the quick water underneath. More instant death. If I fell in, it’d be the end of me.

“If you’re swimming, it’s not early spring.” Mama said that. She sure did try to keep me safe.

I stopped and stared at the water. It never made sense to me – the still ice and the rushing water. It’s like see-through skin on top with clear, cold blood running underneath. I felt uneasy at that thought, so I kept walking.

There was a dark, familiar-looking lump on the ground a good way ahead of me. As I got closer, I realized it was my coonskin hat! If I could run at the time, I would have rushed over to it. Mama made it to keep my head warm. There’s plenty that’ll get you in the deep woods, but the cold in early spring is the sneakiest. Sometimes you don’t expect it, but Mama made sure my head was all right.

The sun started to get low. There was orange spreading across the sky. I’d usually try to find a branch or two to chop by now so I could make a fire. You have to be careful about the falling branches. They’re deadly! Mama told me that’s what got Papa.

I couldn’t spend time making a fire. I had a bear to catch.

Time wasn’t really on my side, anyway. Other times, I’d have maybe even gone home for the night, but I was in a bad way and this bear needed killing. So, I kept marching. I had maybe an hour of light and a little less time of strength in my ripped-up body.

When you’re moving around the hill country, you do well to keep an eye out. I’d normally walk on the ridge that gave me the best view all around. Coming around a blind corner was a good way to meet up with a big, hungry creature. But when your insides are dripping out, you got to do what you got to do, so I kept on the riverside trail.

I walked around the bend in the river, right before my good summertime fishing spot. I figured that’s where I’d be if I were a bear.

There she was. The lady herself was right in front of me. I took aim with my repeater rifle.

She stood on her hind legs and looked straight at me. It was nice. You’d have thought that she had some kind of respect.

I had a bead right on her throat. One clean shot and that would have been that. I don’t know what good it would do for me, but it felt right at the time. I put some tension on the trigger.

That’s when two cubs waddled out from behind her. Their fur looked so fuzzy. It had to be softer than anything I ever dreamed of feeling. They were stumbling, but they weren’t afraid. They weren’t upset. They had their mama.

I suppose she was just a mother defending her children. I understood. A mama has a need to take care of her babies.

I lowered my rifle. It really wouldn’t do to leave young ones so small without a mother.

What would have been the point? I didn’t have much left in me, to put it nicely. It’s not like I was going to make it home with a fresh hide.

I tipped my hat and said, “You have a nice dinner, ma’am.”

I sat down in the snow.

I shook my head.

Them bears…