Spirit Deer 38

Tim’s snowshoes lent speed to his footsteps. When he caught up to the bear, it had its nose close to the snow, doglike, as it lumbered through the drifts with careless strength. Tim remained at a distance. He kept the animal in sight, but made no move to overtake it. The wind lay at Tim’s back, but for some reason the bear did not scent him. Once the bear stopped and tested the air as Tim crouched in the cover of a hemlock, but he seemed unable to get the information he needed from the wind. Tim could see his massive head; the swelling was gone from his cheek. Tim’s blow had done the bear some good by allowing the wound to drain. Now the bear looked less anguished, but just as deadly.

The bear topped a rise and disappeared. Tim followed, taking care in case the bear had stopped just out of sight. He crossed the ridge a hundred yards to the left of the bear’s tracks.

Tim’s deer had been feeding just under the crest of the hill. Now he was floundering in flight from the bear.

The crippled deer tried to cut to the right, but the bear was faster in the deep snow. He closed the gap quickly, and the deer turned away to the left, heading out across a barren stretch of snow.

The deer should have known better. The “clearing” extended tabletop flat for two hundred yards in every direction – it could have been nothing but a frozen, snow covered lake. In his frenzy to escape, the deer hit the smooth snow, floundered, and fell sliding on the ice. The bear galloped after him. The deer regained his feet, only to fall again, then lunged forward and spun around. He had found a mud bar, no more than six feet by four, that rose inches above the ice and provided a tiny island of traction.

Yet, he was trapped. He could stand; he could wheel to face his attacker, but he could not retreat over the slick ice.

He was doomed.

Tim could not allow it.

He moved down the slope at a shuffle with his snowshoes shushing along the snow’s surface. The crippled deer stood with his head down and his antlers poised; he made a splendid figure of defiance. The bear circled just out of range of his lunges. The slickness of the ice did not seem to bother the bear at all. The advantages were all his.

Tim came to the edge of the ice and paused. The bear had not seen him, but when he did his life would be in deadly danger. Yet he could not leave. He had uncompleted business here. The bear circled close and the crippled deer lunged, catching the bear’s nose with his antlers. The bear sat back and turned his head.

He saw Tim.

Startled, the bear spun and lost his footing on the ice. The deer lunged forward and speared his flank. The bear leaped back, then turned toward Tim. Tim stood like a statue, with his spear poised to cast. He had taken his crutch-club and had stuck it into a snowdrift close at hand.

The bear looked at Tim, then at the deer. He turned to rush the deer and Tim cast his spear.

It flew forward in a clean arc, propelled by the extra snap of his wrist, and arrowed toward the target Tim had selected. Just forward of the bear’s hind leg, back from the heavy bones of his rib cage, it penetrated the bear’s belly.

With a growl that shook the forest, the black bear wheeled; the spear shaft quivered in his side. He charged. more tomorrow

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