Hold on a second while I stoke the blaze, you fuck. Gets cold as a wizard's balls in these mountains. There. Now, where was I?
Right: bears. When I came back from the quarry that night and got into bed, that bear's fate still hung in my thoughts. Would a lone salmon tide it over? Would it eventually find a stream? Would my parents ever fuck quietly? And so on, until I dozed off. Now here's the thing about bears I've come to realize. You will never, ever fully comprehend their motives or allegiances. Dogs? Your eternal fetch-whores, no doubt about it. Horses? Once you break 'em in, you're their one-and-only. Pigs? Cats? Rattlesnakes? All these creatures make it known whether they like you or hate you. But bears, as the late Timothy Treadwell can attest, might nuzzle you one minute and rip you open like a fucking Otter Pop the next. They're Nature's eternal mystery. Not to mention, fucking awesome.
Here's what happened. The rest of that week went by without consequence. I went back to torturing bugs between chores--worm stretch-racks became a favorite--and gave up the honeybee holocaust. Soon that black bear vanished from my thoughts. Like all anomalies, it lost its strangeness. That is, until one Sunday morning when my parents were busy at Catholic mass, eating their Jewish Santa.
I woke up to a clatter of pans. I wrenched the shotgun from beneath my pillow, loaded it, and descended the stairs to the kitchen. But instead of a human burglar, I found an ursine one, the same black bear from the quarry; I could tell from its stray-dog face and bee-stings. The damn creature was trying to open the ice chest.
(If anyone ever tells you that bears aren't intelligent, tell them to fuck a blowfish. Bears are brilliant, and they will find you if they know you've got food.)
After considering my options--helping the bear or letting it starve--I opened the ice chest, pulled out a rainbow trout, and tossed it to the bear, who ravaged it in half a minute.
"You're alright," I said. The bear grunted. "Your appetite reminds me of vikings, so I think I'll name you Odin, after their God. Sound good?" (I read a lot when I was seven.) Odin grunted again, and this time he looked up at me with a pair of the damnedest pleading eyes I'd ever seen, so I sighed and fed him another fish. After scrubbing bone and giblets from the kitchen floor, I took the bear outdoors and looked it straight in the eye.
"Now listen," I said. "You stay out here"--pointing to the ground--"and don't ever let Pop see you or he'll blow your head in. Got it?" Odin yawned, showing me a set of incisors sharper than anything you'd see on a Cutco commercial. He did this as if to say, Let your father try. Amused, I walked over to the bear and scratched the back of his head. He snorted contentedly, then turned and sauntered back to the forest. That would be the first of his many visitations.
At this point, you're probably wondering why I befriended the bear. Here's why. It's a fucking bear. You have any idea how badass a seven-year-old looks walking around town with a bear beside him? Shit, people give you discounts. And besides, like I said, he was alright. A good bear to be around.
I soon realized after seeing and feeding this bear that you didn't have to ask permission to take bears around. When my parents found out, they told me to "get fucking rid of it," so I looked at them, then looked at the bear, and said in the smoothest voice I could muster, "Get rid of it yourselves" They didn't argue. Pop never got his gun. And for the rest of the summer, nobody crossed us. I remember a pair of meaty Fistwood sheriffs stepping out of a coffee shop, giving us a look of bridled terror, and saying in low tones, "Afternoon, Mr. Jackson," before picking up the pace to their cars.
Alas, we must return to that ursine mystery I mentioned earlier. For at the end of the day, every bear has a secret. And Odin? Let's just say he had a four-legged secret who was coming my way.