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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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The Snare

Photo by Jessica Weiller on Unsplash
She moves into a trot, remembering dreams of fall when deer hunters come hiding snacks in tents and meat in plastic boxes.


In the wilderness of Tennessee, tucked in a hollow at the base of the Appalachian Mountains, a black bear rolls to her side. A crack of light stirs her slumber. As she stretches, a sour note in her stomach builds into a pang.

Pushing herself from darkness, she stands and tips her nose to the fall breeze: Damp leaves, deer droppings, a campfire. Her three cubs brush against her. She moves into a trot, remembering dreams of fall when deer hunters come hiding snacks in tents and meat in plastic boxes. With a swipe, tents tear like bark, men run. Some boxes flip open. Others require effort but can give way without a shot. The meat’s not warm but can fill cravings and feed cubs.

As she trots toward the smoke, her cubs try to keep up. Her mouth is watering and her tongue wags, tasting the past. A startled doe raises its tail and lopes away. The bear, intent on her goal, does not react. Further on, three crows zigzag and caw overhead, signaling warning.

* * * *

Walter Dakota had lived many lives before he was born for his Cherokee blood ran strong. He learned the old ways from his grandfather, whose own father had been an elder and medicine man. His grandfather taught him how to track an animal and nature’s secrets, that of fire and water, of milk thistle, and the bark of oak and willow. His parents had moved to New York for a better opportunity. When Walter and his younger brother started school, his mother became an expert seamstress and soon tailored suits for men who handled money and power. His father earned a good living in the ironworkers’ union, walking girders in the sky despite the weather. He taught Walter the way of the Cherokee.

In elementary school, Walter got into fights too many times. Once on the way home, two boys pushed his brother into a bush. One boy left with a fat lip, the other a black eye. Another time, an older boy snatched his Cleveland cap and started calling him “redskin.” Before the boy could say it a third time, Walter grabbed his shoulders and pushed him backwards onto the sidewalk. In 8th grade, he got baited into fights three times in a month. After doling out bloody noses, the other kids said he was on the “warpath.” Nobody messed with Walter Dakota after that.

He had set his eyes on Cindy his freshman year, who, in his opinion, was the cutest cheerleader. Because he was shy around girls, he tried out for the baseball team. He started at second base, but really wanted to play pitcher to be sure she would notice. The coach gave him a chance sophomore year, and his fastball was so fast, he beat out six others for starter. He made friends with some teammates, and the coach often let him pitch five innings.

Walter took Cindy to the junior prom, but after dating her a few times, he didn’t find her as enchanting as he originally imagined, and they went their separate ways.

That summer, under the willow, his grandfather spoke as they whittled hardwood crosses. “Learn the hearts and minds of those around you to understand your own, Little Bear, and wisdom will show you her way.”

As Walter matured, he awakened both to nature and the nature of those around him. He delved into plants and biology the way his classmates jumped into video games. He gravitated to pharmacology, and after graduating from New York University, he landed a job at a Manhattan pharmacy. The wilderness still whispered to him like an ancestor, and he spent every vacation fishing and hunting deer. Not surprisingly, ten years at a chain pharmacy in “the city that never sleeps” was enough. He built a cabin near the Cherokee National Forest in eastern Tennessee and opened his own drugstore.

The tail of a recession wasn’t the best time to open a neighborhood pharmacy, but few knew it then. In any case, Walter was fiercely independent, and no one could convince him otherwise. His family knew Little Bear must make his own mistakes and they hoped he could hit the curve balls.

Life proved his parents right: Little Bear was a better pharmacist than businessman. At first, he struggled to build customers and pay the rent. He had two decent years, but across the country, chain stores were undercutting local pharmacies. Six years in, Walter’s was one of the last neighborhood drugstores still standing. While he enjoyed his customers, he was fighting to breathe. He knew how Custer felt as the Cheyenne swooped in to take scalps and bleed men dry.

It had been another slow week, and today was the first day of deer season. Walter packed his Jeep and deer rifle and headed for his spot near the Tellico River. He fell asleep to the sound of an owl and awoke to the cawing of crows. Far off, he heard the growl of a bear followed by moaning. Suddenly alert, he pushed himself from his sleeping bag, donned his clothes, and snatched his loaded Creedmoor.

* * * *

Near the Tellico, bear hunts were on alternate weeks in the fall. But this was the last day of an off  week, so Walter thought a bear might have been attacked, but by what? As he trotted along the path, he detected movement. He slipped behind a rock to survey the scene. An adult bear paced in front of a large oak, yanking its leg. A thick, plastic-clad cable tied to the tree had snared its ankle and tightened with each tug. Two cubs played near an overturned bucket that had held bait.

It pained Walter to see the bear struggling. He hunted small game and overpopulated deer, but never bear. They were fierce animals, but also majestic. Like him, they belonged to the forest. It angered him that the cubs would be left alone. It angered him more because females with cubs were off limits, part of the reason traps were illegal.

Walter waited until the groans subsided, but still no one came. Tuning into his surroundings, he detected the faint smell of fire. He followed a winding trail downhill some distance before coming upon two young men with sparse beards frying eggs outside their tent. Wondering if they could be the trappers, he inquired about their hunting habits, their shotguns and ammo until he was satisfied that they were just hunting small game. Finally he asked, “Heard anything strange this mornin’?”

The blond-haired kid wiped egg on his sleeve and pointed. “Ya, up there. Sounded awful. Hope it stays the hell away.”

“Know what it was?” The dark-haired kid with the blue eyes wanted to know.

“A bear caught a doe in some brambles. She’s got cubs and is fightin’ mean. Better stay out of her way.”

As Walter stepped away, he felt sure about the boys, but doubled back quick to the snare, realizing someone else could be around. When he arrived, the bear was slumped and motionless. Then one of the cubs licked her face and nudged her awake. He decided it was more likely that the trap had been set yesterday, and the trapper would return before dawn to claim his ill-begotten trophy. With the mother laid waste, the cubs would likely be torn apart by coyotes. Walter couldn’t let that happen.

He raced to his Jeep. If he were lucky, when he reached the main road he could reach Fred Baker, the county vet, and return in under two hours. Walter had to drive several miles to pick up a cell tower, but Baker did him one better. He’d head to Walter’s parking area with darts full of ketamine and alpha-2 sedative, and he’d contact warden Wallace on the way.

Baker knew Wade Wallace was more desk jockey than outdoorsman. Should the man ever be too far from a snack machine, he’d be in danger of shock. He asked Wallace for a walkie-talkie, then plunged ahead with Walter. The warden called after them: “I’ll radio base and catch up with you.”

Walter led the silent dash, possessed by nagging doubt. The area seemed quiet as they closed in, but they stopped behind the rock. Walter pointed. Two men were approaching the clearing with shotguns. It was the boys. He motioned to Baker then creeped to the path and hailed them. “Thought I warned you two to stay away.”

“Just taking a look, mister. Don’t see any deer though. A doe you said?”

The bear grizzled, and Walter gave them a wan smile. “Can’t be too sure about folk these days. –That your snare kit?”

The blond-haired boy scrunched his lips. “If I said ‘yes,’ would you back off?”

“Can’t do that.”

The blue-eyed boy chimed in. “Know how much that hide’s worth, mister? We’ll split it.”

“Shut up, Will,” Blondie said.

Walter shot Blondie a look. “I’m not interested in the hide or the money. That bear’s goin’ free.”

Blondie raised his 12-gauge. “No need to split with you then. We got two guns to your one.”

The bear growled again in protest.

“Easy now. A hide’s not worth killing over, gents. And it’s not gonna come to that ’cause here’s the truth: See my friend behind that rock? He’s got a gun trained on you with enough tranquilizer to take down a 400 lb. bear. Of course, you only weigh, what, 150 pounds? Not sure we’d revive you.”

“So we’re even then…”

“Nope, not even close. The warden’s not more than 5 minutes off. Even if you killed us both, which I sincerely doubt, you’d be unconscious. And even if Will here had time for skinnin,’ he’d have to choose which to carry out, the bear’s hide or yours.”

Blondie spit on the ground. “What if we just kill you both then and wait for the warden.”

Walter glanced at Will and noticed his barrel wavering. “That’s a long shot. And I don’t think your friend is down with killin’ people, are you Will?”

“Don’t say a word, Will… What do you suggest then?”

“I’d say it’s your lucky day… You boys unload your weapons, leave your ammo and run. Never come back to Cherokee, and it’ll be like nothing ever happened.”

“If we unload, how do we know you won’t just hold us for the warden?”

“You don’t, but if the warden gets here first, all bets are off.

Will started ejecting his slugs first, and then they both dumped their shells in a pile.

“Now crack your barrels open and run along — quick like a bunny.” Walter watched them scamper out of sight, then started picking up shells. He shouted to Baker: “Hey doc, shoot the bear already.”

“What’re we gonna tell the warden?”

“We’ve known each other a long time, Fred, and you know what? Nothing happened here, OK?”

“You think they’ll try it again somewhere else?”

“It’s possible. But they’re young, and today they got a jolt of God. And hey, it’s not just them or the bear that got away today.”

That day on the ride home, Walter made the best decision of his life. He’d sell his store to the highest bidder and become one of the best game wardens in the history of Cherokee National Forest.                                                                                                          

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About the Contributor
Charles Bins
Charles Bins, Writer, illustrator
Charles Bins is the author of Quirky Stories & Poems: Backwards, Forward & Upside Down published in the fall of 2023. The book is about many things – real and fictional accounts about growing up, pleasure and pain, good and evil, as well as quirky insights into human nature.  As a marketing PR pro, he wrote hundreds of articles for clients on topics spanning business, technology and consumer products. Early in his career, he was a syndicated entertainment columnist, interviewing celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Kenny Rogers and Patty Duke. He lives with his wife, Mary, two cats and a cockatoo in Leland, N.C. Learn more on his website.


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  • D

    Daniel NeizmikMay 5, 2024 at 7:36 pm

    Chuck, I just read this story again this evening. I really liked it. It’s realistic and captivating… one of your best!

  • D

    DougMay 1, 2024 at 9:33 am

    Love the tension you built in this, Chuck. Fantastic story!