The bear gave chase, 700 pounds of grunting, lolloping muscle, wet fur, tooth and claw that would bolognese Jack if he stumbled or faltered just a split second. There was a wooded hill close on a hundred metres away, and Jack aimed for it. He was running on fear and instinct, and his knackered legs had more chance of losing the bear in the trees than on open ground.
His earphone crackled as another bullet whizzed past, closer to him than the bear they were aiming for. “You’re going the wrong way,” screamed Leo. “You’re meant to be heading towards us, not fu…”
Jack hit the hillock and scrambled upwards. Seconds after, the beast crashed into the side of the bank next to him in an explosion of bracken, but slid on a muddy enclave, giving Jack just enough of an advantage to pull away. He scrambled on all fours to the peak and didn’t stop.
A flurry of birds swarmed around them, escaping the disturbance of their nest, and as Jack tore through the brush, he jealously flashed a vision of their flight. Rising up through the branches, over the treetops, higher into the pale Alaskan sky, the predator’s roar below him fading into the whistle of the wind. Just fly away from the hardships and dangers of this world, spread wings unfettered from the human vices of greed, malice, vengeance and guilt. Free.
Below, the brush tore at Jack arms, hands, legs, ripped his T-shirt, scratched his face. He stumbled on, and fell. This was it, he was dead. But… silence, no tear of claw on flesh, just the pounding of Jack’s heart bursting out of his mouth. No scream from Leo, as the earphone had fallen out way back.
ITS GAIT MOCKED THE PATHETIC MAN
He leant against a trunk, panting wide-eyed, and looked around him. The hill fell down another bank just below him, where a stream wound it’s way over rocks. It would be beautiful if only…
The bear exploded out of the brush, and Jack leapt forward without thinking. Straight over the hill he flew, hit the rocks on the bank, and rolled. Smack. Ribs cracked, hand bent back the wrong way, knee tore open with a spray of blood. Jack landed on the shiny pebbles of the cold stream and slid like an eel. His battered arms and legs too weak to lift him off the icy wet rocks, he was done.
Behind him, the beast sauntered out of the brush. It was in no rush, it’s prey trapped by their own ignorant clumsiness. Its gait mocked the pathetic man.
The grizzly rose up on it’s haunches lazily, towering seven feet over him, and it’s yawn stretched to a pre-feast roar. Jack screamed and raised his bloodied arm, knowing that he was about to die a cliche. A one syllable expletive and the pose of a pulp fiction damsel in distress.
Then the bullets came.