Maurice earned his M.A. in Creative Writing from Rhode Island College. His stories have appeared in various literary journals, including Suspense Magazine and Bewildering Stories. He enjoys traveling and providing writing tips on his blog. You can learn more at his website https://www.noblecopy.com/blog
THE REVENGE OF MEXICAN REGGIE
The finale of the summer months is a beautiful time in Maine. Some of the leaves already begin to change colors. A brisk return of winter is in the atmosphere, especially when night falls, and families congregate around their backyard firepits. Uncles and aunts relay stories of their own youths, while teens awkwardly kiss someone for the first time near hay stacks. As August winds down, some change the oil filters on their snowmobiles, ready for the incoming blitz of snowy winters. While others, like Sharon, secretly prepare for bear hunting season.
Her husband, Trot, already had bagged himself a male black bear some years back. He had it stuffed, forever-petrified in a most intimidating pose in their living room among the other trophies of eight-pointed buck heads and perched hawks. The black bear, which notoriously had been coined, Black Jackie, by Trot when he pulled the trigger, never went a day without its hairy pelt caressed by the man.
Though hardly mentioned these days, Trot, had lost interest over the years. Hunting, Sharon realized, was a sport of the past for her husband, as he now found hiking small nearby trails to keep busy in his retired age. However, for Sharon, secretly jealous of her husband’s massive trophy, she wanted, needed, to kill one of her own. All too often, when Sharon had arrived home from the grocery store or from work at the gas station, she had found her husband lying on the floor, a beer in his hand, the warm fire behind him crackling low, just staring at the taxidermized carcass. Trot, many times though playfully, would tease Sharon. He knew the only game she had shot was a few rabbits, squirrels, and a deer that limped away still unfound. She, Sharon, being of a rock-solid core taught by her mother, never entertained her husband’s gags. Although, she desperately and patiently awaited the day to nab her a bear of her own—a bigger bear—have it stuffed posing with its mouth around Trot’s bear.
Sharon heard of Trot’s epic dual with that bear so often she could recite his words by heart:
As fate would have it Sharon, the bullet landed that big son of a gun right between the eyes. It was me or him, darn it. He knew it too, you know. Oh, he knew it. Didn’t care either. I could see…you know…he wanted to eat me, not just kill me. It was the way he moved his drooling tongue over them lips of his.
One way conversations like this would go on as they finished their salmon and rice dinners until Trot would stand at attention to salute the American flag hanging from the living room ceiling and make his way to the couch to watch the Red Sox lose to the Yankees.
“Bear spray, Trot. Don’t forget it. You don’t want to end up as bear food.”
“Thank you, darlin’,” Trot said, patting his hip pocket. “Got my Colt .45 right here in case Jackie’s mother wants a piece of me, too.” He laughed. “What’s your plans today? Are you going to take advantage of those extra hours Wilma left on the table? Or are you planning an affair with another man while your husband isn’t around?”
She enjoyed giving Trot’s sarcasm back to him, hoping to hear him cuss for the first time in their marriage. “You have no idea of the men waiting for me.” She laughed. “I hide them around the house. I’m surprised you haven’t found them yet.”
“I do love your jokes, Sharon.”
Sharon grabbed her lower back as she made a face of discomfort. “Probably lay around, actually. Can’t do too much standing today, damn lumbar acting up. Slept weird last night.”
“Been telling you for years to get that herniated disk checked out. What do you have medical for, Sharon? Better use it before those socialists get to it and spread it out to people who don’t need it.”
They laughed and hugged and graced the other with their traditional three-smooch kiss before he left to go on his hike. She stayed by the window, watching the sunrise grown to a brighter orange over her husband’s distance shadow until he disappeared into the morning fog. All day, Trot would be gone. At least until some time in the evening.
Sharon counted on this as she raced to the bedroom to remove her clothes. In the box under their bed rested their hunting camouflage wear. Within seconds, the green and gray pants, the matching jacket, the boots, and the visor all went where they belonged. She slid the box under the bed again and made to the gun rack in the living room.
Choosing the correct rifle was a difficult decision. Trot had taken down his bear with the best: The Pro Hunter series .50 caliber rifle. She reached for it, the tips of her fingers wanting to take it with her, but she stopped. She had used his gun on plenty of occasions to take down fowl. But, if she planned to kill herself a bear akin to Trot’s, she had better use her own gun. No sense leaving room for Trot to ridicule her because, although she finally nabbed herself a bear, she did so with his gun. She took her single shot Predator series with the 28 inch barrel and filled her pockets with enough shells to wield off a small country. Before leaving, she stuffed two bags of trail mix in her backpack and made way down the path of her back yard.
The early morning breeze kept her company as she walked into the woods. Sharon hoped the wind would pick up as the day went on. Garbed in hunting gear and with a satchel of supplies slung around her shoulder made for a sweaty experience she could do without. Living in the northeast since birth, seeing the warm weather go each summer was a gift from nature. The bugs, gnats, and vermin that typically frequented her garden and the crevices of her log cabin was too much to bear sometimes. Stocking up insect repellents and hiding ant traps in every room bothered her so much she wished her and Trot would move even farther north to get away from troubles. But, in only a few years, her retirement was approaching and together they would embark on month long tours of the world. Hawaii and Puerto Rico and France and Rome were all on the agenda. Saving their monies and investing in tech stocks early in the noughties had tripled much of their returns and they would sit around the campfire arguing over which country deserved their attention first.
It was a few minutes before noon when Sharon found herself at their hunting hot spot. The woods seemed to have opened up and left a circle of dirt and grass surrounded by branch-heavy trees that looked prehistoric in nature. She scouted the area, listening to life around her. A cardinal and mockingbird chirped a few times and flew away. She thought she saw the striped tail of a raccoon duck under a bush. The woods were alive. It was as if they welcomed her by not going silent. A quiet scene in the woods is a moment to take notice. Usually, it implies an animal of considerable size and aggression was near. She never had experienced it before, but Trot mentioned it endless times when he spoke of shooting his infamous black bear. It went quiet on me. I never heard it that quiet before. Scared me. She was sure he was simply making it all up to seem more dramatic that he took a bear down. He tended to do that sometimes and would immediately begin laughing at his own buffoonery.
Together, a few years back, they had nailed planks into the trunks of the trees as to give them a way to reach the high branches while waiting for game. It was almost too easy, she thought. These animals don’t have a chance in heaven or hell. Hunting was a waiting game. If you could wait it out and give the animals a reason to come, you could leave with some spectacular venison or even some tasty rabbit. Use patience and your breathing techniques, and you would never miss a shot.
Once she dumped one bag of bait in the grassy circle, Sharon hauled her backpack and rifle to the highest limb she could. She sat, her legs dangling over both side of a branch. She watched the sun position itself through an always westward direction. Taking a few bites of almonds and peanuts from the second bag of trail mix was inevitable. She didn’t want to use the bag herself, but she was getting hungry. Only a few squirrels and sparrows visited her site so far. Unloading her rifle on a small rodent wasn’t worth the trek out there and certainly wasn’t worth such a tiny reward that would surely scare any and all living animals away from her. No, today was a deer day, or, hopefully, a bear day. She hadn’t seen a bear in her area in a long while, but deer were everywhere. They would leap their fence with the greatest ease and nibble at her vegetable garden until there was only pieces of cucumbers left.
She wouldn’t mind seeking revenge on a deer. Any deer, for that matter. A buck, even a doe, was large enough to take pride in killing. Fast and nimble and extremely intelligent, a deer could sense danger a mile away and zip through the forest so quickly, you wouldn’t even see it move. Sharon took the rifle to her eyes and adjusted the scope from left to right, from blurry to clear. Fuck a deer, she thought. She wasn’t going home until she informed Trot they were to attach a rope to a dead bear carcass and tow it up the half-mile trail to their yard.
The day moved on and Sharon found herself scraping the bottom of the bag for crumbs of trail mix. The afternoon sunshine gleamed down at her in all its full glory as no animals came in sight. She could hear them in the brush as they scavenged for food of their liking. Apparently, chocolate candies and raisins were not on the menu for forest animals today.
It had taken Sharon close to an hour to walk the length of the trail. Gathering herself and making way back to her house would take just as long. She wouldn’t be able to tolerate seeing his smirk when he found out her jealousy was strong enough to keep things from him.
The empty bag fell to the ground. Her left boot touched the first step of the makeshift ladder. Then her right boot went next. When she readied herself to take the next step, an overwhelming sense of peace came over here. The birds, she thought. Where did they go? Panning the trees, there wasn’t any movement either. Rather than taking another step, she remained there, closing her eyes, forcing her hearing to take over. Listen, listen, what was out there? Did a deer finally come? Did it have more points than the one already emblazoned on the living room wall? If it were a deer, she might have to take the shot from where she was standing on the plank.
A twig broke. Silence. Then another twig. Leaves on bushes ruffled. A groan, ever so frail, made Sharon, with all her past hunting skills open her eyes. What stood on all fours wasn’t a deer with ten points on its antlers or a courageous raccoon chomping the trail mix. The monster hadn’t noticed her yet, but instead engulfed its muzzle into the mound of bait.
Her rifle was top of the line, best of the best brand. It could blast to bits anything within a half-mile away. It was her protector while in the wild. But, the more she gazed at the massive animal only a few feet from her, she felt her high-powered rifle didn’t mean shit. Even if she could get a shot off before the beast found her in the trees, it might not give her enough time to reach the limb she was at before. And these animals could climb. They were known for it. The documentaries Trot and she watched show these bears were awesome climbers and extremely fast at top speed. Doubt, like never before, flooded her, and she started to feel panic set in all around. She wanted to run away or climb up and yell for help. But that might make it worse. What the hell was she doing out here? she thought. Why did she care if her husband shot a bear or not? She should have been happy for him and that was it. Now, here she was, petrified beyond imagination as a three-hundred pound black bear licked its lips from devouring the last of the bait.
It sniffed the air, not spotting her yet. Sharon saw the empty bag of trail mix at the base of the tree, only feet from her. She pondered reaching to grab it and nearly did, when the bear began to move in her direction. It didn’t run, but it did hustle and sway, moving towards Sharon. The bear stuck its long nose in the bag, inhaling whatever remnants still inside. And when the bag didn’t come off, the bear tilted its head upward and used it paw to swipe the plastic from its face.
The stare from such a primal animal into the eyes of a scared woman made Sharon slingshot up the tree as high as she could go. The bear stood on its hind legs, stretching upward to an impossible height. The animal that was a mere few feet when on all fours became a completely different beast when it decided to reach for her in a bipedal stance. She screamed for help. The bear let forth a roar of its own, its feet and claws firmly planted in the bark, slowly inching its way up in Sharon’s direction.
Either from nerves or lack of coordination in the moment, the rifle slipped from around her shoulder and hung to her wrist, skidding further down. When Sharon took her quick aim, the barrel was mere inches from the furry, midnight-colored pelt of the animal. There wasn’t any special breathing method or complicated rearranging of the rifle’s scope when she pulled the trigger. Firing the weapon now was out of desperation and survival. Wherever the bullet entered was sufficient. As long as it gave Sharon time to get away. The bear roared again, drool swinging from its teeth. The cracking echo of the hammer plunging itself into the bullet in the chamber took over Sharon’s reality and sent her soaring off the tree. On the way down, the red splatter blood makes spurt outward as the bear cried.
Time, afterward, seemed to have no bearing. There wasn’t a moment of passing out and dreaming. Sharon was not asleep, but not awake either. The smell of gun smoke immersed her every breath. It had been Spring Break in Cancun the last time Sharon found it difficult to breathe. The squad of her fellow anxious college roommates whom she partied with all week, ditched her because Sharon had taken to bed a boy who her friend wanted. Sharon, at that age, found it easy to get laid and get what she wanted from others. Lying just came easy.
The night, while filled with laughter and eager drinking games from everyone else who Sharon passed on the streets looking for her friends, reminded her of her dishonesty and what she need to let go to repair her relationships with them. It had been a young man, about Sharon’s age and native to the land who stood by her, wiping her tears on the streets of Cancun. Before long, they were kissing and touching one another in an alley. His English was not great, but he could mime to her. He removed a brick of marijuana from the small of his back. When she smelled the package, it had almost no odor.
Sharon had shrugged her shoulders. “Is it even real?”
The boy responded with, “Regular.” He laughed. “Just reggie.”
They laughed and said: “Reggie, reggie, just reggie, reggie.”
When he reached for a lighter in his back pocket, the young Sharon snatched the brick from his hands and maneuvered her way around the crowd of others continuing their partying. When she arrived at her hotel room, Sharon had made peace with her friends by smoking the package together until there was nothing left. The room reeked of smoke, barely able to see inches of front of their face and breathe any air. They laughed with Sharon about the ordeal and assured the water under the bridge was able to flow once again.
Sharon and her friends left Mexico shortly after to return to college. They never spoke to Sharon ever again.
Smoking had never interested Sharon after that. When Trot had lit up cigars on the back porch and watch the shining fireflies bob and weave over their garden, Sharon never took part.
She awoke to the chirping of birds. The blood that came from the bear still dripped from the bark. The black bear had left the area. Maybe it died in the woods somewhere, maybe it was still around. She couldn’t focus on the beast anymore.
It was only a half mile or so, but her lower back, the same part of her back she had lied to her husband about this morning, pulsated with throbbing pain. Standing, she realized quickly, was difficult that running back home or even walking would prove a milestone of effort. She gathered her effects, keeping the rifle over her shoulder, and used the trees along the path for balance as she hoped to arrive home before Trot. What would she tell him if he was waiting for her? Could she, should she, lie?
Dusk rolled in. The sun hid behind a beautiful assortment of pink and light blue clouds. The woodlands beside her darkened, becoming less easier to see. The pain in her back surged more and more. Only a little while longer, she thought.
What stopped her wasn’t anything she saw or the sudden quietness, but of what she smelled again—smoke. Her rifle’s plume of gun smoke was long over. The shape that came from blackened trees resembled Trot. She smiled, surrendering to her husband catching her. Just be honest and tell him the truth, she thought. You should be glad to be alive.
As the shadow walked closer, she saw the bends of the knees were odd. The upper body was far wider than the shoulders of her husband. And the height, as it stepped forward, was far taller than her average-sized husband.
Sharon fell backwards, her lower back pounding in electrifying pain. The bear stayed on two legs, growling above her, its forelegs arched outward. A shiny patch near its stomach spewed blood. She tried to grab the rifle from her shoulder but couldn’t stop her hands from shaking. She yelled for help, for her husband. No one answered. No one came.
The bear dropped to all fours and positioned its huge body over hers. It wanted vengeance, she thought. She did shoot it and it didn’t die. It tracked her all this time. The moaning bear sniffed her face, licking the tears falling across her cheeks. If it were to ravage her, she didn’t want to see it. Sharon closed her eyes and urinated on herself.
When Sharon opened her eyes, the forest veiled in darkness. She was all alone. The path ended and turned into her yard. The lights in the house were on. Trot sat on the couch, reading a novel.
She took a deep breath and opened the door. Husband and wife embraced without saying a word. They cuddled, about to hear the true story of Sharon’s escapade. After she cleaned up, they sat again.
“I’m ready,” Trot said. “Tell me everything.”
Everything, Sharon thought. “Let’s start with reggie first.”
“Reggie? Who the fuck is Reggie?”