A few days ago, sitting at my computer with jack for ideas to write about, I popped onto *shivers* facebook and asked the good people there to throw their best at me. They would give me the meat and I’d make it into a meal. So, a few friends and a relative tossed the following my way:
A circus…with a bear, dinosaurs, a farm, (and a litany of other items that I narrowed down to) boy scouts
With the gauntlet officially thrown down, I laid a little word-play smack down on those knuckleheads and, lo, the first few pages of “Anatoli and the Bear” were born. I do thus give unto you those first few pages. I haven’t edited much. Pretty much just threw words at the paper and let them stick where they may. I like where it is going though and am itching to get back to it. Here it is:
Anatoli and the Bear (W.I.P.)
The tracks were quite clear. They led away from the carnival cage, moved in a slight staggering line towards the tree line, and disappeared into the dark clumps of pine trees about fifty yards from the muddy wagon tracks marking the farthest boundary of the traveling circus. Anatoli rubbed at his brow. He had already examined the lock. It was bundled up in a snake’s coil of chains and appeared to have not been damaged. He picked it up and turned its dark metal over in his hands. The mechanism arm turned without effort and easily slid back down into its socket and, as Anatoli placed his key into the device, it locked without difficulty. It was certainly not a malfunction. He looked at the keys resting in his hands, the only keys to the animal cages and entrusted to only one person, himself. He rested his hands against his hips and looked around at the quiet stillness of the morning. The wind coming down off the nearby mountains rustled the canvas walls of the big top and they murmured through the cold air.
“You have lost the bear?”
Anatoli turned to find Mischa staring at the ornately carved and disturbingly empty cage. Mischa was the lead of the clown troop. A squat little man, his height not holding much of an advantage over the breadth of his shoulders. His hair, though usually hidden beneath an old tramp’s hat he would wear during performances, sprung wildly from around his near perfect circle of bald giving him the appearance of an unkempt monk.
“Someone has let him go,” Anatoli said. “Look, you can see a set of footprints. Small. A woman I would think.”
“This will not be good for you,” Mischa said, bending down to look at the pattern of bear tracks and footprints in the mud. “You only have one job, Anatoli. Just this one job.”
“I know,” Anatoli sighed and he walked over to the edge of the wagon wheel grooves and stared down at the pair of tracks, one animal and one human, below him in the snow. “I suppose I will have to follow these. The snow will help.”
“Yes, the snow will leave good tracks. Especially the bear.”
“They will not have gone far.”
“No,” Mischa nodded. “The bear is slow enough and if the woman is wearing these shoes.” He pointed down at the small imprints in the muddy ground. “If she is wearing these shoes, the deeper snow, closer to the mountains beyond those trees, will be too much of a burden.”
Anatoli walked back over to Mischa’s side. The old clown dug into the pockets of his night-coat that hung loosely off his stocky frame and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He offered one to Anatoli. Despite the early morning, Anatoli took one and leaned in towards Mischa who had made a box of matches appear from another pocket. He lit the cigarette and Anatoli took one long slow drag. He looked at the tiny ember and then back to the woods behind him.
“Why’d you suppose she took the bear?” he said, tossing the remainder of the cigarette down into the mud and grinding it into a brown smudge with his boot.
“I do not make much money, Anatoli,” Mischa said. “Cigarettes are not so easy to come by.”
Anatoli reached into his pocket and pulled out a small handful of kopecks and gave them to Mischa.
“For your cigarette,” Anatoli said.
He blew into his hands and continued to stare out over the snow, over the footprints, and into the thick stand of trees.
“As to the woman,” Mischa snorted, “I try not to understand them. It only makes my head hurt, friend.”
“I will get the bear,” Anatoli said, turning on his heels quickly and fiercely striding across the rutted ground towards his trailer wagging a finger up in the air. “And this woman,” he shouted back over his shoulder. Mischa shrugged, dropped the coins into his pocket, and finished his cigarette before walking back towards the main circus tent.
Anatoli climbed the small ladder into his circus trailer. He rummaged through his meager belongings and began to stuff a few things to carry him should the woman and the bear have gotten further from the tree line than he would have supposed. Into the pockets of his overcoat he stuffed a few pieces of dried meat and a hard roll. Considering that he was dealing with a bear, he grabbed his knife and strapped it to his belt, threw on a pair of shin-high boots, and then strode back to the cage. He looked out over the snowy field leading to the tree line, followed the path of their footfalls still fresh in the snow, and then marched through the thigh-deep drifts to follow his quarry on their journey into the wilderness.
The first few steps into the pines at the edge of the forest were difficult as he pushed his way through the smaller trees that grew there. A few moments later though, he stepped through the last wall of brush and emerged into the more open understory of the larger trees.
The woman and the bear’s tracks were easy enough to follow. They moved in a a low curving arc through the woods towards the foothills of the nearby mountains. The snow was thinner here, beneath the thick ceiling of the pines that towered overhead, but Anatoli had no trouble following their path.
With a good half hour beneath his belt, Anatoli reached the first gentle rises of the foothills and continued to track the two as they climbed upward. It had taken longer to this point than he had imagined. A woman and a bear, moving together through the woods, she with possibly no training, did not bode well for either herself nor the bear. The bear himself was, on the other hand, well trained, of Anatoli’s own doing, but ornery and stubborn beyond belief. He had envisioned not having to go much further than perhaps a stones throw from the tree line before he would have found them. She perhaps having a less than hospitable end on the bad side of the bear’s curmudgeonly character.
The pair of tracks still continued ever onward without the slightest sign of a pause or of the two diverging in any way from their path. Anatoli moved carefully through the deepening snow as the thicker forest fell behind him and the hillsides ahead opened into a wide orchard of black-barked apple trees. The snow bit at what small gaps appeared between his boots and his woolen pants. It pushed up under the cloth and scratched at his shin. The insides of his valenki grew heavy and damp.
He paused and looked at his path behind him. Now, a trail of three sets of footprints stretching backwards and disappearing into the dark woods.
He took a deep breath and then began the difficult work of marching his way up through the skeletal apple trees, brown husks of withered fruit dangling from their fingertips, towards the height of the first hill’s rise. He plowed through the now waist deep snow, assisting his movements as best he could with his hands, and approached the top of the hill which spilled out into a wide field of open pasture leading up towards the rocky base of the nearby mountainside. The woman and bear’s path continued and he followed its course with his eyes, up into the snowfield, and towards a single pillar of drifting smoke. It rose nearly perfectly vertical before it dissipated in the stiffening wind that raced down the cliff walls of the mountain.
“Finally, you stop,” he panted before setting off again in pursuit of his game.
He struggled his way through the thick floor of snow, continuing to rise up his body the closer he pushed towards the mountain, and came to a small rise that dipped down into a low valley created by a rivulet of water that in summer must have flowed down off the higher slopes but, here in the hollow of January, was frozen to a stand still. Tucked into the belly of the valley were, gathered in a circle, twelve small green tents and, placed as close to center as it could be, a small fire from which rose the smoke Anatoli had spied earlier. Sitting before each tent was a pair of boys, dressed in field khakis and wrapped in grey woolen blankets. Each boy huddled closely to the fire before them, feeding it a constant supply of sticks and branches from the bramble and brush that filled the valley floor.
Anatoli looked down the embankment before him, as it dipped down into this tiny valley against the mountainside, and saw the footprints, a woman’s and a bear’s, heading down and towards the camp.
To be cont.