The detritus of the forest had already begun to cool down in Nelson. Autumn had bled throughout the coast, leaving a film of frost on the leaves of fallen trees. Branches the shade of crude oil littered the trails; more clutter was left flailing aimlessly in the wind. The sky stung with darkness, still not having fully cleared.
This past summer had brought an excess of forest fires that not only slaughtered the trees, prey as well. It left many animals desperate in search of nutrition.
A family of black bears was nestled behind a group of still-standing trees in a cave surrounded by an ocean of large boulders. They were neatly hidden, protected, and warm, far from any humans that may come, seeking game. The cave dripped with frost and debris, but leaves and moss covered the ground bringing much-needed warmth and comfort. This family of black bears consisting of a mother and father bear, and two female cubs; grumbled quietly amongst themselves.
“Papa, I’m so hungry, could we please venture a little farther? Even a little, and be extra careful? Food is so scarce now since the Sun took everything away…”
Kadee was rolling about on the ground, pawing at her feet as she looked up at her father with a hopeful smile, fading quickly.
“We have already had this discussion, Kadee. We will find food soon. We can’t venture much farther out, the humans that camp and hunt are sure to see us. Whether they plan on hurting us or not, we frighten them, remember? When humans are frightened and hold guns by their sides, they don’t always think…”
Matari reached out gently scratching at fur behind Kadee’s ears, her smile returned as she leaned into the gesture. Suddenly, Kala piped in cocking her head to the side slightly looking up at her mother who sat hip to hip with her father.
“What do you think Mama? If we’re extra careful, just like Kadee said? We could look for berries!I wouldn’t mind a nice pawful of cool berries.”
Her mother looked down pulling Kala into her arms.
“I promise we’ll find you berries, my love. We have some extra meat behind the moss, do you want that?” Storme smiled hopefully trying to remind herself when the last time was that she had eaten a wild berry.
Kala shook her head in rejection, yawning.
“It’s late cubs, you need rest if you want to grow into big bears…” Matari’s serious expression quickly changed into a goofy smile, lightening the mood.
The cubs — who were tied together at the heartstrings — wiggled, giggling until they found their favourite spot, paws around each other and yawned in unison. Storme hummed deeply sending soothing sound bouncing against the walls of the cave putting the cubs to sleep nearly instantly.
Matari and Storme sat in silence, not making eye contact with one another, moonlight streamed into the cave illuminating the sleeping cubs. Matari glanced at them fondly, before looking up at his partner. He brought his deep voice down into a whisper motioning Storme towards him.
“We have to go find something. They’ve lost weight on their haunches. That meat is enough for one and it’ll be gone tomorrow. I know that it’s dangerous…but even if it means I don’t eat, they have to. To grow.”
Matari glanced down at his large paws examining the scratches on his pads from searching earlier that day all around the forest close to their home. Storme was trying to think of something clever to protest with before she was interrupted by the low grumble of Kadee’s stomach. Storme swallowed harshly and nodded. Storme and Matari quietly made their way out of the cave trying their hardest to avoid making the slightest sound. Their noses were cold. They made their way past the rocks and through the rubble towards the campgrounds. Those areas had been repaired, or had been saved, and were sure to hold some kind of gem to bring home to their daughters.
Kala, the more active and alert of the cubs awoke as her parents turned a corner behind some trees.
She shook her sister awake. “Kadee! I heard Mama and Papa! They’re going to find food! Aren’t you hungry? Let’s go! We have to be quiet though…or they’ll send us home…” Kala had a mischievous grin on her face, not only because an adventure awaited her, but her olfactory senses tingled with the thought of berries.
Kadee shook her head quickly wiggling her ears trying to wake herself up. She developed the same smile, making it up on all fours as they left the cave to silently follow their parents. Once they had wandered quietly as a secret group of four instead of two, Matari and Storme came close to the campgrounds, peering cautiously at the bushes in search of plants and small animals. They rustled as quietly as they could through the leaves and branches. Kadee and Kala stood still behind trees that stood side by side, watching their parents.
A sound came from the distance. Kala’s stomach dropped and her heart began to race. She glanced over at her sister who had the same fear on her face. Matari looked out, he too hearing the noise. Kala’s adrenaline began to rush through her; she wound up her feet trying to release the energy building in her. She spotted a light, young human man stumbling about loading ammunition into his rifle. He was shouting, his words were slurred and gruff. Easy to see due to his accoutrements were bright in order for other hunters to see him. Suddenly it clicked inside of Kala, he’s a hunter, he’s here to kill. In a moment of panic, as he continued to shout and make his way closer, Kala bounded towards him.
“Kala!” Storme yelled firmly, realizing what was happening, wanting to run after her cub. “No! Why are you here!?”
Kadee who had still been behind the trees made her appearance afraid for her sister now. Kala lunged at the hunter. In just seconds Kadee veered in front of Kala…smoke rose from the gun. Storme fell to the ground, growling, everything overwhelming her. Matari roared at the top of his lungs, running towards the hunter who ran in the opposite direction hopping into his pickup truck to get away. Matari felt the anger settling heavy behind his eyes. He scooped up Kala who cried shaking in shock. He then leaned down, stroking Kadee’s back feeling the blood on his paw. She peacefully lay, her spirit already having flown, no more fear on her face, pain-free. He scooped her up in his other arm, the last time he would hold both cubs.
Before returning, Storme walked further up to the Hunter’s site. As they mourned through their voices and made their way back to their cave, they returned with a multitude of human food, easily enough throughout the rest of the year.
The debris of the forest had already begun to be covered by the juvenile greens of the forest. The trails cracked with rainbows of flowers, spurting.
Two springs have passed since her sister was shot and killed, but Kala continued to persevere independently. She still lived near where her parents raised her, sometimes burrowing in the same cave where she played with her sister.
The cool air of the prepubescent summer brought the black bear back into reality from her nostalgia, a murmur of a voice causing her ears to twitch.
“H-help… please. Somebody…”
She heard a human’s crooning plea a few yards west. Unbenounced to her, the humans had been expanding their territory onto what was previously only for the animals. Cautious, she began walking towards the sound. Something brought her toward the human. Was it the scent? She felt reckless but couldn’t stop herself.
Kala stopped in her tracks when she saw the human, it was the hunter. The hunter that killed her sister. He laid there, with a bloody ankle and a drunken mind, and a soiled look of childhood fear. Beginning to scream as he saw the bear walk closer.
A violent roar escaped and echoed throughout the coast. Breathing heavily, Kala looked at the man with a rampage in her eyes. She turned around. As the young man flailed, trying his best to escape, blurred and dizzy.
Kala walked back to her cave, not particularly hungry today; knowing how she could not kill the man.
Knowing that she would never allow herself to lower to their level.