GRISLY • by Gretchen Bassier

There are no grizzly bears in Michigan.

I used to tell myself this when I was out alone, bringing the horses in from the pasture.

Sometimes, it helped.

When the moon was bright, and the animals quiet, it helped.

But whenever the herd was shifting and restless, fixated on something I couldn’t see…

Those times, it didn’t help so much.

The trouble started with a TV show. A couple of documentary filmmakers, up in Alaska, studying grizzlies. Learning where the bears travel, how they behave, what they eat.

Turns out, grizzly bears eat documentary filmmakers.

On camera.

Mom wouldn’t change the channel.

Three rooms away, I still heard every moan, every growl, every… crunch.

Big, hulking brown beast, chowing down on human ribcage.

Not the best image to have on the way out to dark pastures.

No surprise then that every rustle in the trees, every creak, every crackle became the certain approach of giant paws. That the massive, bristling brush pile was suddenly a man-eating monster.

Shadows shifted inexplicably. Horses spooked. A leaping barn cat nearly caused heart failure.

Night chores aren’t hard: fill the buckets, feed the mares, dump the wheelbarrow, spread the manure. It only takes an hour.

That first night, it took four.

No singing to pass the time, either —

If Grizzly was out there, I needed to hear him coming.

No horror like being eaten alive.

“What took so long?” Mom asked, when I finally trudged in.

I didn’t answer. She would have laughed.

Six more nights followed, all the same. Secret, phobic misery.

On the seventh, I sat alone while the rest of the family ate Sunday dinner.

Uncle Jake came late, as usual. He glanced into the kitchen, where the others were clinking and laughing, then spotted me on the couch. He came and sat next to me.

“What’s eatin’ ya, kiddo?”

His eyes were soft, watching me.

Uncle Jake, who put a real snake in my brother’s bed, after my brother put a fake one in mine.

I told him about the bears.

“Aw geez, Megs…” He slung an arm around me, squeezed me tight.

“I don’t know what to do,” I mumbled, my face in his plaid shirt.

“Listen — ” he started to say, but stopped when Aunt Trish walked in.

She looked surprised, thanks to two drawn-on eyebrows.  Her real ones hadn’t grown back from last April Fool’s Day.

“Lookin’ good!” Uncle Jake grinned at her.

She glared, gave him the finger, and walked out.

Uncle Jake turned back to me. “You know there aren’t any grizzlies in Michigan, right?”

“My brain knows, but…”

“Your imagination doesn’t, right?”

I nodded.

“Then you need to put your brain back in charge. Whenever your eyes and ears start playing tricks, just stop, and think: There are no grizzly bears in Michigan. Say it out loud if you have to. You’re the boss, and you don’t have to take this crap.  Okay?”

“Okay,” I whispered.

“Now, who are you?” Uncle Jake asked, eyes twinkling.

“The boss?”

“That’s right. And what don’t you have to take?”

I started to smile. “Crap.”

“You’re gonna be all right, kiddo.” He patted my shoulder and went to warm a plate of food.

That night, my chores only took two hours.

In the weeks that followed, I had good nights and bad nights, but none as bad as before I talked to Uncle Jake.

At the family Christmas party, he asked how I was doing.

“Better,” I told him, honestly. “I think I’m getting over it.”

His eyes sparkled. “I knew you would.”

We couldn’t talk more, because someone shrieked in the kitchen.

Guilt flitted across Uncle Jake’s face, but the sparkle gleamed brighter.

“Rubber band on the sprayer,” he confided, and ran from the room.

Seconds later, Mom charged in.  Face dripping water, she glared steel spikes at the empty spot where Uncle Jake had stood.

I laughed.

Things got better.

On the night of January first, I stood by the pasture gate and bellowed to the sky:

“I’m the boss, and I don’t have to take this crap!”

It echoed across the fields.

Two months into the New Year, another milestone: twenty straight minutes, and not one thought of bears.

Exactly three months in, I started humming again. Elton John’s Daniel rumbled in my throat as I forked manure across the cold ground. There was peace in the quiet rhythm of the work. Peace in the night.

Mares wandered over to nuzzle my pockets for carrots, making me giggle. “You ate them already, piggies! Go away!”

The mares left, disappointed.

I hefted the last forkful of manure.

Warm breath misted the back of my neck.

“April, I told you, I don’t have any…”

I turned to push her away —

And there it stood. All razor claws and matted fur and gaping black mouth pluming white fog. The bear was reared on its hind legs, a giant looming over me.

I didn’t stop. I didn’t think. I just took the pitchfork and stabbed.

All three prongs sank deep into the beast’s chest. I felt the scrape of steel on bone, the pop of punctured organs.

The grizzly groaned, staggering backwards. The pitchfork pulled free.

I ran.

Moonlit ground blurred beneath me. I reached a fence and catapulted over, got to the tree line and just kept going…

…Until I remembered the horses.

Alone. Defenseless. Trapped in the pasture.

I wheeled around, crashing back through the trees.

I stopped at the pasture’s edge.

The mares were safe, clustered in a corner.

The bear lay across the field, motionless on the ground.

Steam rose from its blood-slick chest, but none from its mouth.

I crept closer — timid, then growing bolder — until I stood right over the carcass, a savage song in my soul:

You didn’t get me, Grizzly. I got you.

I poked its ugly face with my pitchfork. The head tilted back.

I poked again, and the head rolled right off.

There was another head underneath it.

Uncle Jake’s.


Gretchen Bassier has written a novel, numerous short stories, and the occasional poem. Her 2011 New Year’s resolution: To actually submit them!


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Every Day Fiction

  • People might want to look at L. Sprague de Camp’s short story “Impractical Joke”.

  • Samantha Memi

    Lovely rhythm to this. Maybe a bit predictable, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment, rather it added to it because I could say: I knew that would happen.

  • fishlovesca

    The writing is good.

    Two stars.

  • I quite enjoyed it, even if I could tell where it was going. Nicely written, and some good flashes of laconic humour. Thanks for the read.

  • Jana Johnston

    Awesome. Enjoyed every second! Uncle Jake took it too far. I didn’t figure it out ’til he was on top of her and I thought, that dick! He was down right mean.

  • Jason Windham

    Yeah, I saw the ending coming from the introduction of that practical joker Uncle Jake. But it still was enjoyable, still well-written. A polite golf clap from me, and three stars.

  • Sheila Cornelius

    Ah,so it was that sort of grisly! The hope that someone might get eaten kept me going through the staccato style, which became irritating. I liked this but it would work better if it were much shorter.

    Sheila

  • I got a kick out of this, but I agree with Sheila.

    Would be interesting to read this again with the paragraphs broken differently.

  • ajcap

    I enjoyed the writing, but I did anticipate the end. The brother being in the grizzly suit would have pleased me more. The foreshadowing would have been the snake in his sister’s bed. A chip off Uncle Jake’s block.

    But as it stands, an enjoyable read. Three stars.

  • I didn’t anticipate the ending at all.

    I enjoyed every single word of this story and some lines made me positively laugh out loud. (“Turns out, grizzly bears eat documentary filmmakers” and the bit out Aunt Trish’s eyebrows in particular.)

    Delightfully gruesome!

  • Oops! “Out” = “about”

  • Rose Gardener

    I loved it the first time I read it and I like it still. Perhaps I just have a grisly sense of humour compared to some of the other commentators.

  • Jen

    I liked this one. I was really glad this didn’t end the way that I expected it would, with our heroine [?] confronting a real grizzly. I loved the Uncle Jake character from the very begining, thanks for this bit of morning humour.

  • Kit

    I thought this was great. Didn’t see the ending coming at all. I wondered if a stab of a pitchfork could actually penetrate a body – I didn’t picture the MC strong enough, the angle seemed awkward and I wasn’t sure how sharp a pitchfork is – but even then I didn’t realize the bear was Uncle jake. I guess I was so caught up in the story I didn’t even question – that’s a good thing!

  • Good one. Yes, I saw it coming (poor Jake), but very well done.

  • John Drake

    I to got the premonition about
    poor Uncle Jake.
    A great five star story nevertheless !!!

  • Douglas Campbell

    I enjoyed this very much and didn’t see the end coming. I did expect some sort of encounter with a real bear. The ending didn’t sit quite right with me, though, because Jake’s death seemed so tragic, so at odds with the homey, humorous tone of the rest of the story. He didn’t deserve it! I think some nasty gashes in his chest, and a lesson learned, would have been enough, and perhaps more realistic, as I too am not sure a pitchfork, jabbed through a bear costume, would kill a person. It might, however, if it pierced the heart. But all in all, a damn good story.

  • I’m with Sheila (#7) and Nick (#8) on this one. Did enjoy the yarn though. Well told and f.u.n.n.y. You have a great sense of humor, Gretchen. If I wish anything different for the outcome, I would agree with Douglas (#17). I think a puncture wound would have been enough “just desserts” for the uncle as killing him.

    Good read, but I’m still going to be on the look out for bears when I go walking (there are actually bears out here). Three, clawing hard towards four, stars….

  • John Im

    now I know why there aren’t any grizzly bears left in
    Michigan. I must be hyper-sensitive but the promising
    humor was somehow spoiled when I read “the scrape of steel
    on bone, the pop of punctured organs”. Humor and horror
    are a difficult mix and I admit I don’t know the delicate
    threshold between horror as catharsis for fear of Death
    and the voyeurism of violence. I have to agree with
    Douglas Campbell and Seattle Jim that it was too much
    violence. If I saw a grizzly bear, I’m afraid I wouldn’t
    bother with a pitchfork or think about defending the horses but probably just split at high speed.

  • Irena P.

    Loved this, a powerful story. Five stars.
    Each line as a separate paragraph was a bit annoying, but otherwise an excellent writing.

  • kathy k

    Loved this. I gave it five stars.

  • Rob

    *****
    Rob

  • Simone

    #17 – The ending didn’t sit quite right with me, though, because Jake’s death seemed so tragic, so at odds with the homey, humorous tone of the rest of the story.

    For me, that’s exactly why the story is so powerful – the ending that took my breath away (no, really!). The writing made me love these characters so much that the ending felt like a personal tragedy.

    Five teary-eyed stars on this terrific piece, Gretchen.

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  • Gretchen Bassier

    Hey, everybody – sorry it took so long for me to respond! (Doubt anyone’s looking at this anymore!) This was my first time getting published, and what a wonderful, scary and slightly overwhelming experience it was! I have to say that everyone who commented was SO respectful, whether he/she liked the story or didn’t, and for that I give you all five stars!!

    One general note about the sentence/paragraph structure before I do individual replies: Several people commented on the annoying, choppy nature of each sentence being its own paragraph, and you are all quite right! One of EDF’s editors, Mr. Towler, had already called me on that, and it’s definitely something I will watch out for in the future.

    @ P.M. Lawrence (#1): I will definitely check that one out! Thanks for reading!

    @ Samantha Memi (#2): Glad the predictability didn’t ruin it for you – sometimes it’s fun to be right :).

    @ fishlovesca (#3): Thanks for complementing the writing, even if you didn’t dig the story. I appreciate you reading and commenting.

    @ Sandra Crook (#4): I’m so happy you liked it! Thanks!

    @ Jana Johnston (#5): You’re right, he definitely took it too far. I love practical jokes, but there is a line, and he crossed it. Glad you enjoyed the story, despite mean Uncle Jake :).

    @ Jason Windham (#6): Sorry you predicted the ending, but I’m glad you were still able to get some enjoyment out of the story. Thanks for reading and commenting!

    @ Sheila Cornelius (#7): Sorry no one got eaten! (Maybe next time?) Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

    @ Nick Lewandowski (#8): You’re right about the style; I might actually try regrouping the sentences just to see what I should have done differently. It’ll be good practice for the future! Thanks for reading!

    @ ajcap (#9): The brother would have been a GREAT twist! Why didn’t I think of that? 🙂 Glad to hear you still enjoyed the story, despite predicting the end.

    @ Debi Blood (#10-11): Thanks so much for the compliments on the humor and the story in general. They made me feel great, and I’m so happy you enjoyed the fic!

    @ Rose Gardener (#12): Glad you got a kick out of it! Thanks for reading and commenting :).

    @ Jen (#13): Nice to know some people did get a surprise out of the ending. I’m glad you connected to Uncle Jake, he was fun to write! Thanks for reading. I appreciate it!

    @ Kit (#14): Like I told Jen, I’m happy the surprise worked for some people at least! I love that you got caught up in the story. As for the “pitchfork sharpness” issue, I can say that they are pretty sharp, but I don’t know if anyone’s been stabbed/killed by one. Internet research time! 🙂 Thanks for reading!

    @ Nila E. White (#15): Glad you liked it, despite guessing the ending!

    @ John Drake (#16): I love that some people like you, who guessed what would happen, still were able to have fun with the story. Thank you for reading, and taking the time to share your thoughts!

    @ Douglas Campbell (#17): I’m so happy you liked it! You’re right that Uncle Jake didn’t deserve to die, even though he did something pretty nasty. The punishment did not fit the crime, but life is that way, sometimes. Accidents happen, and good people die…Thanks so much for reading, and I loved reading your comments.

    @ Seattle Jim (#18): Glad you enjoyed the humor! See my general note about the story’s structure problem, and my response to Douglas (#17) above about why I killed poor Jake :). I love how you wrote “Three, clawing hard towards four, stars” That’s funny 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting, I really appreciate it!

    @ John Im (#19): Don’t worry – no actual bears (or humans) were harmed in the writing of this story. 🙂 Sorry the blend didn’t work for you. I hope you were at least able to get some enjoyment out of the funny parts before the violence set in. If you see a real bear, I’m told you should make yourself appear large and threatening, or else climb a skinny tree. Thanks for reading!

    @ Irena (#20): Glad you loved it!! Sorry about the annoying structure!

    @ kathy k (#21): I really appreciated hearing how much you enjoyed the story. Thanks so much for the comments!

    @ Rob (#22): That’s awesome, thanks so much! (I had to explain to someone that what you wrote was not a bleeped out swear-word!)

    @ Simone (#23): I loved reading your comments, they were so nice! I’m thrilled that you connected with the characters like that – characters are the most important thing to me. Sorry the ending hurt, but I’m glad it made an impact. Thanks so much for reading!

    @ (#24): Sorry, the link didn’t work for me, so I wasn’t able to read what you wrote, but thanks for commenting!! 🙂

  • Jen

    Thank you ver much for the reply and congrats on your first time veing publised! 🙂 Hope to see more from you soon.

  • John Bassier

    Thanks Gretchen, keep it up!
    love
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