"So he yelled out to death, he leaned his head way back and cupped hands over his mouth and the noise started out right under his belly and rolled around gathering strength. The noise climbed slow, up and up, not holding back at all but rather building momentum and power until it blasted out of his throat nearly dragging his lungs out behind it in the sheer power of the expelled air. He said:
"Maybe next time, you dirty bastard!"
Bobby Teriault, leaned across the skinny barroom table, chin almost resting in his beer. "You're kidding!"
Dan Bouchard drained his mug and leaned back, proud. "No, I ain't kidding. I was right--the hell--there! I never seen anything like it."
Dan knew the price of a good story and wanted his pay. He wiggled the empty mug around in front of Bobby's eyes until Bobby nodded his head, ashamed because he ought to have known.
Bobby lifted his chin at the bartender who lifted his chin at the waitress who lifted her chin at Bobby, but really at Dan, saying with the motion that she'd bring a pitcher right over.
Dan said, "I'll tell you straight that the bear laid in that spot for a full half hour before she got up."
Bobby shook his head. "I know McGreevy died that night. Are you saying the bear didn't do it? Everyone says the bear did it."
Dan filled his mug and smiled at the waitress, what was her name? He knew it, knew her family anyway. "Haven't you been paying attention?" He said to Bobby.
Bobby shook his head as if to clear it, puffing his cheeks with outblown air and smiling one of those forgive my stupidity smiles. "I must have got lost. Tell me again?"
Dan said, "Okay, but this time you get the quick version. "Me and McGreevy was out the Abol dump just drinking and relaxing and watching the bears, right?"
Bobby motioned him to go on.
"There was a sow and two cubs mewling over some boxes of Chinese take-out. Mick started in to talking about how he seen on TV some wrestling guy from the WWF or somewheres wrestled a bear, and how he was tough as them any day. Well, we all know that dump bears on the general just run away when you approach, but Mick had this thing in his head and the more he talked on it, the more his cheeks got flushed and his breathing got quicker.
Pretty soon he was panting almost and then he took ten quick breaths. Don't ask why I counted but I did and it was ten. He took the ten breaths and then he jumped out of the truck and ran toward the mother bear."
Bobby choked from a swallow down the wrong pipe. "Go on."
"The bear ran away! But then Mick got smart,. (If you can call it smart) and he pounced on a cub. Held it fast. Then mom attacked. That bear charged moaning so loud it was a scream, black hair shaking, fat rolls jouncing deadly teeth, just all deadly teeth and it swatted McGreevy across the whole of the dump. I mean that bear, just one swat! Pow! He went flying. Mick staggered up, swaying his head in tiny circles and here came the bear."
Bobby heard this story two minutes before, but he knew bears and he knew humans and he was mesmerized by the tale. Plus, he wanted to be mesmerized. That was why he sat down with Dan--bought him drinks.
"The bear lifted both front legs, like to push McGreevy down at the shoulder, but Mick just ducked underneath and ran around until he was behind the bear. The bear tried to turn, but now Mick was the fast one! He jumped up behind and I don't know how, but got that bear into a full nelson! His teeth gritted together enough to almost grind out a few. His arms was so strained I thought he might pop a vessel, but Mick just held on, held on, screamed out and held on.
The bear yelped and cried and ran around the whole dump. It rolled over onto its back and chased around twisting in circles. It snapped at behind it, but couldn't reach. It jumped straight up and came down stiff legged like you must have seen bucking broncos do, and the breath swooshed out of Mick when the bear did it, but Mick wasn't wresting a bear any more. He was wrestling Death. Death stood on the one side disguised as a cub bear but not fooling anyone and cheered on the bear and all Mick had to cheer for him was me locked in the truck and not even ashamed for not helping.
The bear started twirling circles, tight, digging a trough in the dirt. At first it was going so fast that you could see nothing more than a blur of human clothes and black fur, but slowly the bear tired and when the circles were slower than a toy train set going round the Christmas tree, I saw that Mick was still breathing and still squeezing and still hanging on. His legs were wrapped around the bear's middle for leverage and he was squeezing that full nelson like his life depended, which of course it did."
Bobby dragged his chin out of his beer long enough to take a drink. He smacked his lips. He scratched his head, squinting his eyes to show he was thinking, following the story. "Then the bear laid down right?"
Dan nodded his head, taking a sip from his own mug. "The bear laid down. About two full minutes later, Mick must have figured it was finally safe. He stood up.
He stood up and cast about him, looking. He recognized Death right away. You can't get that close and then go mistaking Death for anything but what he is. McGreevy looked straight up into the face of Death and then…well…he said what he said."
Bobby said, "Well how did he die then?"
Dan smiled in spite of himself. "He was staggering back to the truck when he tripped and fell, from being so tired and a little drunk maybe. Some asshole had earlier in the day ripped down his old outhouse and when he dumped the boards, he left them right in the road. Mick tripped and fell. He landed heart-first right on a shit covered spike. It punctured his heart. He died from a single shitty nail.
Death laughed. The mother bear eventually got up and wandered off."
Bobby drained his beer and lets his jaw drop. "Damn," he said, drawing it out, letting the middle 'am' syllable take some time and carry the message that life was playing unfair.
"Well," said Dan, motioning for another pitcher. "It is unfair, but one thing that almost gets close to fair, Bobby, it that we all die and only an unlucky few expect it.