The bear was large, but I think anytime you see a bear without any bars separating you from it, you will think it is gigantic. Magda’s voice came low and urgent, “Walk slow, go back to the cabin, don’t run. Do it now”.
I couldn’t move. I couldn’t stop looking at those black eyes and that panting mouth. The bear made a huffing sound and stood up on his hind legs. Magda grabbed my arm, hissing, “NOW! Go!”
Survival instincts sprang to action and I walked jerkily toward the cabin, to safety, to safety. I heard brush move behind me and turned. The bear was running toward me. NONONONONONO-screamed my mind-I don’t want to die! I squeezed my eyes shut, screaming in horror, curling my body protectively against the coming assault.
One second. Two. I could hear the bear; why wasn’t he attacking? Over the tops of Magda’s flowers I could see her, waving her arms like mad and hollering her head off, “Come on, bear! Over here, bear!” He gave one last look over at me, crouched in a pool of my own urine, and charged her. I heard her cry out and stood up. I saw the bear’s back above the flowers but I didn’t see Magda. Good God, no.
I ran into the cabin, banging the door right of the hinges in my haste. I snatched up her rifle and ran to where I could see him well. I had never shot a gun in my life and my adrenaline charged arms wouldn’t stop jouncing. I fired at that big black back. The bear winced and turned around. I tried to shoot again, only to find a maddening “click”. He looked at me. His face dripped gore. I screamed at him, I aimed again and frustratedly clicked the emptied gun at his face. He tried to lick at the wound on his back, which evidently was starting to hurt, and inexplicably, he ran off, up the mountain and out of sight. I ran to where Magda went down.
“Naomi”, came her voice. I couldn’t believe she yet lived. I hurried to her side and knelt down, “Oh, Magda, oh, Magda, I’m so sorry!”
“Naomi, it’s okay, it’s okay, I knew it, it’s okay.” Blood filled her mouth then, and I helped her turn her head to let it out.
“What can I do, Magda, what should I do?” I thought of tearing my dress into strips to staunch the bleeding, but the bleeding was everywhere.
“Let me die here outside, Naomi, I love it outside.”
“No”, I choked, “No, I’ll go for help, I’ll run to the trailhead and find someone who can help you.” I sprung to my feet, but her voice stopped me, “Naomi, no. I will soon die, dear one. Keep me company until Jesus comes”.
Her breathing had slowed and the ground beneath her darkened with her blood. “I knew, Naomi, I knew…but time is short, I…”, blood again filled her mouth. She spit it out and, I kid you not, she smiled and said “Gross.”
“I wrote you a letter…it’s in your backpack….guestbook too, it…tell them I love them…I love you,” struggling to fill her lungs, her eyes suddenly focused above her, “Ohhhhh!”, she exclaimed in delight, lifting her head up off the ground, looking for a second like she was intent on standing up. “He’s here, He’s here, OHHH, Naomi!” And her blue eyes flickered and the light in them faded, unfocused. Her body jerked and exhaled. Magda died. I found myself screaming, I don’t know how long. I do know that at some point a man’s hands lifted me up from on top of her wrecked body and carried me sobbing into the cabin. I didn’t care who he was or why he was there. Magda was dead. Magda died to save me. Oh, Magda.
I fainted, I must have. When next I awoke I heard helicopter blades beating the air and a paramedic was sitting at my side taking my pulse. “MAGDA!” I shouted, sitting up and thoroughly startling the young man. I shrugged off his hand and bolted for the door, just in time to see a stretcher being rolled to where Magda died. Where Magda died in my place.
He held me gently but firmly on the arm, “Ma’am, ma’am, I’m going to need you to stay here. I’m going to give you some medicine to help you calm down, okay?” He kept talking, talking, but didn’t he get it? Magda died, there is no point in being calm. My body was shaking, but my mind was clearing. I turned to the medic, “Please, just let go, I’m fine. I’m FINE.” I wasn’t fine, but Magda wasn’t there to make me ashamed of my lying. Magda. Oh, God.
The next few hours passed somehow without swallowing me. In a monotone I mechanically recounted what happened to the game warden, the medic, the police. Magda’s body was flown off to parts unknown, only a dark stain left where she had laid down life. All the while a young mountain-man type paced back and forth in the yard, staring now and then at the place where she’d died and then back at me with a scowling face.
I finally asked the warden who the man was. “That’s Carl, he’s the one that heard the screams. Lives just on the other side of the trail. He brought you into the cabin, don’t you remember?”
“No”, I said, looking down at my bloody dress. Why have I been covered in so much blood, now her blood? “I think I’d better change.”
“Do you need a lift out of here? The chopper will be back soon.”
“No…no, I need to tend to things here, I’ll hike out tomorrow”. He accepted that. Walking into Magda’s home, I ascended her ladder and found two clean dresses tucked in her trunk. There was a yard or two of linen yardage folded neatly beside them; grandma had budgeted just right.
I brought the dress out to the warden and asked him to give it to the mortician; it’s what she always wore, I said. I took the other and headed to the stream, a chunk of beautiful soap in my hand.
to be continued…