It is odd that I would be here, in this hospital bed, writing this story. Odder yet, that I am alive yet to tell it. But if I do not, it won't get told.
Camping: it is something I usually enjoy very much, but this night, as many others, I was in enough pain to make it look less than attractive.
My wife slept quietly beside me as I lay awake listening to the noises of the night. A coyote barked and yipped questionably at the moon.
A raven croaked twice, and then was silent, evermore.
I wondered at this because they do not talk in the night.
I cranked open the vent above the bed and felt the cool air enter the camper. I lay back down with a small sigh of relief.
Suddenly, the night became quiet, the air almost oppressive. Even the slight rustlings of the smaller creatures stopped.
Then, I heard something moving about outside the camper, something large, and unafraid. I heard a snuffling then a grunting sound, and as chills ran up and down my spine, I realized what it was, a Grizzly. I reached over to the side of the bed and picked up my Browning .22 automatic and felt, lying beside it, my hunting knife with its three and a half inch blade.
My wife and the rest of the campground slept on unaware of the danger stalking us.
I felt a little foolish as I held the handgun close to me. I knew how effective it would be if I had to use it for protection. It was just about enough to make him mad.
And the knife: I remember stories about mountain men killing Grizzlies with their Bowie knives. But, I didn't have a Bowie and my name wasn't Davie Crockett.
I had heard tales of Grizzlies literally tearing open campers like they were sardine cans, and was still a little apprehensive.
I had seen a female with three cubs once in the back country in Slough Creek in Yellowstone Park and still shivered at the memory. This one however, was a big boar, I was certain of that, as he had been seen there several times before.
Then I felt rather than heard him brush up against the trailer, a soft swishing sound and the trailer rocked a little. I was glad we had a hard side camper, they were pretty safe and this would make a good story to tell in the morning to my friends beside me in their tent trailer."
Hell, I thought, their tent trailer. "I hope he put his cooler with their food in it in their Pathfinder like I told him." I realized then I was holding my breath and let it out slowly and quietly. "Damnit, I thought, he doesn't even have a gun and his wife and son are in there with him."
I lay there scarcely breathing, sweat running down my back.
It was quiet again,... too quiet.
My wife must have sensed something because she stirred and then rose beside me, asking, "What is it honey?"
"A damn bear, keep still."
She tensed beside me and clutched my arm. "What kind of bear?"
"I think it's a Grizzly, stay here and I'll look out the window." I disengaged myself from her grip and slowly and quietly slipped out of bed and made my way to the side window. The moon was up and it was clear and bright outside. A dark shape came into view suddenly and there he was, at least 700 pounds of quickness and meanness. I stepped back as he stopped just outside the window. I swear he looked right into the window at me. I never moved, I didn't even breathe. After an interminable time, he slowly turned and shuffled away, massive head swinging as he went. I crept back into bed and covered up with the comforter, cold suddenly to the bone.
My wife asked, "Where is it?"
I said, "He left."
But neither of us believed it for a moment.
"What about John and Debra," she asked suddenly.
"Just pray they didn't put that cooler in their camper. If they did, it could get bad."
Seconds crawled by, slowly becoming minutes, but nothing else was heard. I prayed he had left the campground and gone back to his mountains. As the time dragged on and the silence reigned, we began to breathe easier. I lay back with a sigh and put my arm around my wife's' shoulders. She snuggled closer to me and kissed me quickly and lay down.
"I think it's gone," I said.
For a long while, it was quiet.
My wife had fallen asleep again and she breathed softly beside me.
I, as usual, just lay there, a part of the night, yet separate from it. Then, I must have fallen asleep myself, finally.
Sometime later, the screaming started:
It was terrible to hear.
My wife jumped up and cried, "It's after John and Deb, do something, honey."
"Do something; I thought wildly, what the hell can I do? I warned the dumb ass, but he never listens." Then, along with the screaming there was this great roaring, bawling sound and I knew I had to help,... no one else would.
"Stay in here, I told her, don't you come out until I or someone else tells you too."
I ran for the door, clutching my automatic in one hand and my knife in the other. As I reached for the door knob, for some reason I grabbed the flashlight off the stand. I literally flew out the door tripping and landing on my knees. The gun skidded out of my hand and bounced in the dirt. I scrambled over to it and scooped it up frantically.
I screamed at the dark bulk at the top of my lungs and something in my voice made it turn then and look questionably at me. An almost comical look passed over its face, and then it turned back to the task at hand. It had ripped a great, gaping hole in the canvas at the end of the camper and I saw my friend's frightened face as he swung what looked like a broom at the bear.
"John, you idiot, get the hell out of there and get your family into the car."
"Leep? Where's your gun, Leep?"
"John, move man."
With that he grabbed his son in one hand and his wife in the other and like a shot was out of the camper and shortly I heard his car door slam.
Lights were going on all over the campground and questions were ringing out from all corners. All I wanted to do then was slip back to my camper and lock the damn door,.... but it was not to be.
I had never seen anything move so fast. One second I was turning to run back to the camper and the next I was being shaken like a damn rag doll. I felt its hot breath on my face and felt and heard my bones cracking and grinding. "So this is what it feels like to die, huh?" Without conscious thought, I swung my right hand up with all my strength and felt the knife go in his side to the hilt. Thinking he was being attacked by something else other than me, he dropped me suddenly and wheeled to face this new adversary.
Somehow, in the second or two his attention was diverted, I found myself scrambling under the picnic table. I lay there cowering, feeling the hot blood running down the side of my head. I could hear dogs barking all around the campground, my own two small dogs in the 5th wheel adding to the clamor.
I remember one or two braver souls starting my way, but the roaring and growling the bear was making changed that quickly. John had started his car and turned it somehow so it was illuminating both me and the bear. He told me later that I looked like something out of Dante's Inferno, blood running down my face and part of my scalp hanging over one ear.
The bear finally spotted me cowering under the table and lunged with bewildering speed at me. The lights must have confused him somewhat because he hit the concrete bench with stunning force, jarring the whole table.
Curiously, I could hear my wife crying inside the camper, calling my name over and over again.
The bear grabbed the concrete seat in one massive paw and pulled with all its formidable strength. I could hear the very foundations creaking and groaning, almost like a living thing in pain.
But, thankfully, it held.
This infuriated the beast even more and suddenly it reached in under the bench and scrabbled blindly for me. I saw one huge paw hesitate for a moment and without conscious thought, I sank that good and true blade deep into it. My fear was so strong that it gave me more strength than I really possessed.
The blade went into its paw and protruded through the other side.
It was almost comical then what happened.
The Grizzly jerked its paw out and shook it like a man that had let a match burn down to the quick.
But, this match stayed lit.
The roaring and bawling it did then must have wakened everyone in the large campground. My wife was screaming out the window by then for someone to help me. "Its going to kill my husband she sobbed, please someone help him."
But, no one ventured out of their safe havens.
I could hardly blame them.
John had his door open by then watching this unfold over the top of it. I believe he would have run to my side if it weren't for his wife screaming in fear crying and begging him to get back in. Their son was frozen, unable to look away. I hoped he would not be affected by this too badly. His mother finally drew him down beneath the window.
Suddenly, the bear became quiet. I saw him crouch down, belly almost touching the ground. He had finally figured out that I was the cause for his pain and it was payback time.
I was tired... so tired, and all I wanted was to be back in my bed with my sweet wife.
I was also getting just a little pissed, too.
He stuck his head under the table; suddenly there he was, right in my face. I had never seen an animal that big so close before and I was certain that this would be the last impression I would carry out of this world into the next.
I had totally forgotten the pistol I still clutched in my left hand. Before I could even bring it to bear, he had me in his great mouth again, worrying me like a dog with a bone. This time, he had me by the leg and was dragging me slowly out from under the table.
Time slowed down then, each second dragged by. It was like I was standing off to the side watching all this unfold with great interest. I thought to myself then, "This poor bastard is dead meat." I lay quietly then and just watched through half closed eyes. I could only see clearly through one, the other was bothered by the flow of blood in and around it.
The bear suddenly stopped worrying my leg and, holding the paw with the knife in it carefully away from its body, he reared above me, then with jaws extended wide reached for my poor head once again.
Just before they closed over me, I turned suddenly to the side and sticking my Browning automatic into its gaping maw, I started pulling the trigger as fast as my one good arm could pull it.
I don't remember how many times it fired, but I do remember hearing the slight clicking sound over and over signifying an empty clip over the bawling and roaring that was going on in my ears.
Then,... all was quiet and I knew I was dying.
I couldn't breathe,... I couldn't see.... I couldn't even hear.
It was almost like I had ceased to exist.
Then, I suddenly became aware of light and noise, and pain,... incredible pain.
I heard sirens in the distance; I knew they were coming from West Yellowstone, three miles down the road. Curiously, I remember worrying about my son, who lived there. I did not want him to see me here like this, torn, bleeding, dying. Someone had a cell phone, I thought.
I learned later that the switchboard in that little town had been overwhelmed with calls, to the police, the fire company, and the hospital. They were too small to have a 911 system.
I felt my wife by my side and felt her hands on my head, blood staining them. "Get this damn thing off him," She yelled. "Damn you all for cowards."
I smiled a little at this;... at least I think I did.
John was there with several others, pulling that damn bear rug off my mutilated body. At least now I could breathe, although the sounds I made doing so didn't sound quite right. It was a liquid, hot sound.
Then the lights and sounds became one as trucks and cars raced into view surrounding us. I remember seeing my son's face looking down at me, hands reaching for mine, tears running down his cheeks "Hold on Dad, hold on."
"Hold on to what," I wondered idly.
Then strong hands lifted me gently up an placed me on a cool white stretcher, even this small effort bringing gasps of pain from that unfortunate thing lying there.
For, there I was again, standing off to the side watching these proceedings with a kind of detached interest. The EMT looked over at his partner and shook his head slightly.
I stood shaking my head also.
The poor bastard wasn't going to make it.
Pity, that, but what do you expect taking on a Grizzly Bear with a knife and a popgun?
I stood with the others and watched as the ambulance raced back towards town, lights flashing and sirens screaming. His wife and son held each other for a moment, and then they walked slowly over to the truck, got in and followed the procession on into town.
I hoped they could drive alright, both of them crying as they were.
Me, I felt fine, relieved almost, at peace.
I wasn't the least bit afraid.
I felt something then and turned to see what had caught my attention. Something or someone was standing beside me, but it was too dark to make it out.
Then,.... I saw a bright light beaming down out of the blackness of the heavens. In the light was a silver stairway with golden steps. I was drawn to this, like a moth to a flame. I walked over to it eagerly and stepped up on the stairway. At least, I tried to.
I heard a voice then, both in my head and coming from the indistinct figure that stood to the side. "It is not yet your time, my son. You have much to do yet here."
"But, I don't want to stay, I want to go home. If I stay it's going to hurt." I felt and saw the figure smile fondly at me. He, it, turned and walked slowly onto the stairway and then suddenly, was gone, along with the light and the stairs. I turned this way and that looking in vain for the stairs; I wanted to, no, I needed to go with him. But, it was not my choice.
The next clear memory I had was of me flying through the night at an incredible speed. I was flashing over trees and water, rooftops blurring beneath me..
Then I was going through walls like they weren't there. Ending up finally in a room with my wife and son standing together, tears on both their cheeks.
I saw myself lying there on the table, and I didn't look good.
My son turned suddenly and said in a firm strong voice," one more time, Doc, please, one more time?".......
The young doctor looked at his nurse and the EMTs and shrugged his shoulders a little as if to say, "Why not?" I watched as they put two strange looking paddles on my bloody chest and pressed a switch. My son stood silently as my body arched upwards towards the ceiling and my new body flashed down and into the old. As I did all the fluorescent lights in the emergency room suddenly blew up into a thousand pieces and then just as suddenly turned into small bits of light themselves, winking out softly.
The nurse shouted suddenly, "Doctor, we have a heartbeat." This brought forth a lot of activity in a very short amount of time.
The next thing I knew I was in a clean, soft bed with cool sheets under me and the young doctor walking away shaking his head saying to himself in wondering tones, "If this isn't the damdest thing I ever saw. One more time Doc, and he'd already been dead for fifteen minutes."
"The damndest thing."
I smiled a little at this and thought to myself, "Doc, do I have a story for you,... but who would ever believe it?"
So, here I am days later, writing this thing down as fast as I can and as clearly as I can remember it. I'm going home tomorrow; my son and my wife are taking me home. And, I am ready.
John and his wife and son were in for a few minutes: he just held my hand and shook all over. His wife leaned over, kissed my cheek and thanked me in a shaky voice, tears in her eyes and on her own cheeks. Her son looked at me in awe and said, "Geez Leep, you killed that old bear just like Davy Crockett did on the World of Disney. For some reason, I found that particular observation just hilarious and laughed so hard the nurse walked in quickly to see what the commotion was about and shooed everyone out.
I fell asleep about then, thinking, "I'm going home tomorrow."
The next thing I remember was my wife shaking me by the shoulder and saying in a worried voice, "Wake up honey, wake up, you were having a nightmare."
I jumped up and looked wildly around and saw------ my wife and my camper and the clock over the bed glowing redly in the night.
"What,... what did you say, I asked?"
"You were having a nightmare honey, something about a bear and John and Davy Crockett. Are you ok?"
I looked at the concern on her face and said, "Yeah, I'm ok, honey, it was just a dream,... but man what a dream I whispered."
She kissed me with love in her eyes and said, "You really need to get some sleep for once."
I agreed with a smile and lay down beside her. I held her close and she murmured in a soft voice, "I love you honey" I answered, "I love you too."
Finally, I too fell asleep.
Sometime later, I awoke. I heard a coyote crying into the night.... and a Raven croaked into the blackness. And, I started to shake....