I've published this story a few times, so forgive me if you've already read it.
With everything going on in the world I thought it might be nice to have a little escape.
Murder by bear
Julia Hepburn crouched in the snow, peering over the barrel of a modified rifle. Where had she gone wrong? She was a nice, middle-class accountant from Toronto, not a hunter. Maybe, she hadn’t made the best choices lately, and those choices resulted with her kneeling in a snowdrift on the outskirts of Churchill, Manitoba, waiting for a polar bear.
The move to Churchill was the latest in a long list of bad decisions. The people were great, but she was a city girl at heart. She enjoyed wearing her favorite black, patent, high-heel shoes on a daily basis, and reveled in starting each day with a skinny latte from a trendy coffee shop. Those things did not fit in with the remote lifestyle of Northern Canada.
She’d only agreed to relocate to the North because of her husband, Mike’s persistence. He’d received a promotion with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which was contingent on him moving to Churchill. He’d used every piece of ammunition at his disposal to persuade her to join him. First he pouted, and then he charmed. When that failed, he talked about the babies he knew she wanted. Eventually, he wore her down. So she packed her designer clothes into boxes, put them in storage, and then purchased a warm, practical, down-filled coat.
Her ankles cramped. She stood, and stretched her legs. This polar bear hunt was another of Mike’s bright ideas. Every autumn, between August, and November the omnivores migrated to the Churchill area while they waited for the sea to freeze. Some of them scavenged for food too close to town and had to be sedated and relocated.
When Mike asked her to help with the hunt she had refused. What did she know about tranquilizer darts, guns and hunting? But, once again, he’d worn her down.
Jake, the hunt coordinator strode toward her. A conservation officer, he was tall with broad shoulders, and no hint of a middle-aged spread, which was a surprise given he was nearing fifty.
“Are you ready for this?” His eyes narrowed, scrutinizing her.
“I don’t know.” She bit her lip, and then patted her mouth, hoping the damp skin wouldn’t freeze. The nervous habit always irritated Mike.
“You don’t have to take part. You can wait in my truck if you want.”
She glanced at her husband a hundred yards away. His striking features animated as he talked to the other hunters. He was so eager for them to fit in, and helping to rid the community of a nuisance bear would go a long way toward their acceptance. “No, I’ll do it.”
“It’s okay to be scared.” His grey hair lifted in the frigid breeze.
She sucked in a breath and straightened her spine. “I’m not scared, really. I’ve just been a little accident-prone lately.”
“I heard you almost burned the house down.” His brow wrinkled.
“I don’t understand how it happened. I wasn’t using the space heater, and I never put it near the curtains.”
“Was anything damaged?”
“Everything. By the time I woke up the whole house was full of smoke. All our stuff reeks.” She turned her gaze to the snowy landscape, and winced, wishing she had sunglasses to guard against the glare.
“Where was Mike when all this happened?”
“He was at work.”
“It was lucky you woke when you did.”
“Yes, the neighbors were banging on the door. That’s what saved me.” She gave a little shiver as she remembered her close call.
“But one incident doesn’t make you accident-prone.”
“Yesterday, I nearly electrocuted myself.”
“How?” His eyes widened.
“When I plugged in my hairdryer I got a zap that threw me across the room.”
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, but I swear my heart stopped, then started again.” Her hand went to her chest, as she remembered the all-consuming pain of the electric shock.
“I can see why you’re a little nervous.”
“I’m probably being silly.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll only be twenty-five yards from you. Have you loaded the tranquilizers into the rifle?”
“I don’t know much about that kind of thing so Mike did it for me.”
Jake’s radio crackled. He held it to his ear, and then said, “It’s time. Are you sure you’re ready?”
She nodded, and he strode away.
Once again, she crouched behind the snow bank, and stared out over the Arctic Tundra.
At last, the bear appeared, a white, shifting outline. Her skin tingled with a mixture of fear and excitement as he came into view. He walked with a steady gait, his enormous paws spreading as he moved, giving the impression of a large, overgrown puppy, instead of the dangerous beast she knew him to be. He sniffed the air, and then as if catching a scent, changed direction, and headed straight for her. She steadied her firearm, preparing to shoot.
The sound of helicopter blades cut through the frozen sky. The bear panicked, and charged. She took aim, and shot. The tranquilizer dart hit his neck. He did not stop, did not slow. Terror surged through her as she lifted the rifle to her shoulder and fired again. The second dart had less effect than the first.
Her mind flashed to Mike loading her rifle, and in her heart she knew it was useless. He had used the bear to murder her. Her recent accidents were attempts on her life.
It was too late to run. Too late to do anything but pray. In her peripheral vision she caught a glimpse of a figure aiming a gun, another dart struck the bear. The beast went limp midstride. His body smacked the ground, forcing the air out of his lungs with a hiss.
She stood frozen to the spot, watching as the helicopter landed, and men surrounded the huge animal. They checked its vitals, and then rolled it onto a net.
“Are you okay?” Jake stood beside her.
She hadn’t heard him approach, hadn’t noticed anything but the bear. “Three darts, it took three darts.”
“Yes, it did. You were great. You didn’t lose your nerve and start running.”
“Three darts,” she repeated.
“I’m really surprised the first two didn’t work. There must be something wrong with your tranquilizers.”
Julia glared at Mike, who stood on the other side of the net watching her. Hate flickered in his dark brown eyes. Then he turned his back to her, and struck up a conversation with the man standing next to him. At that moment she knew beyond a doubt, he had tried to kill her. She put her nose to her jacket, and sniffed. Had he laced her clothes with scent to attract the bear? Probably. Meticulous by nature, he wouldn’t have left anything to chance. She had no idea why he wanted her dead, but she couldn’t go home with him.
She raced to catch Jake as he boarded the helicopter.
“What are you going to do with the bear now?” she shouted above the roar of the blades.
“We’re going to airlift him to a bay that’s about twenty-five kilometers up the coast.”
“Can I come, and watch? I won’t get in the way.”
He shrugged. “Why not? You’ve earned it.”
She climbed into the back seat not bothering to say goodbye to her husband.
Once airborne, she looked down to see Mike standing below, watching her leave. Did he have another plot to end her life? Was he going home now to put his plan into action? She hoped so.
Once home, he would open the front door, and before he had a chance to smell the gas, he would turn on the light. Hopefully, the explosion would kill him. The small wrench she had used to tamper with the gas line lay deep in her pocket. She would dispose of it while the others were busy dropping off the bear.
When he had urged her to go on the bear hunt she’d suspected he was going to make another attempt on her life. If her suspicions had proved unfounded she would have gone home with him, and saved him.
Marrying Mike was the worst decision she had ever made, but it was a bad decision she wouldn’t have to live with anymore.