Part 1

85 11 12
                                                  

My granddaddy told me this story when I was about your age. And now, Angel my boy, I'm passing it on to you. I'm not sure if I can get all the details right, but the real core of it—the bones—that's buried in my brain pretty good. That's what you have to remember, too: just enough to get the point, not so much that you miss it.

A real long time ago, there was a young hunter who used to roam the woods not far from here. He always worked alone, and he wasn't much for socializing. But everybody in town loved him because he brought home more meat than anybody else and never hesitated to share it. The key here is that no one ever had to earn what the hunter gave them. It was just charity. Not the sort of charity that comes from guilt or pity either. This fella just knew bringing home the meat was his job, and he did it. Simple as that.

Trust me on this, Angel: If you can get a really clear, bright feeling in your gut that you're doing your job, that you're doing exactly what you were made for, then you don't need any more reward than that. Just to be alive and full of purpose is more than most people ever have. Don't throw that away just for pay. Money's nice to have, but it can cost you.

Anyhow, this hunter needs a name, right? When my granddaddy was first telling me this story, he tried to get away with just saying "the hunter" over and over like there weren't any other hunters around. But I bugged him about that until he finally said, "Okay, Jim, you want a name? The hunter's name was Jim." I never actually believed that the hunter and me just by coincidence had the same name. It was just to show me that this fella, he could be anybody. So, Angel, you want a name? The hunter's name was Angel.

One day, this hunter Angel was out on a hunt. He'd already been out for two solid days with no luck, but he was tracking down the cave of a really big old bear, the kind that could eat you up and still have room for seconds. Angel had a lot invested in this hunt. The payoff for sneaking up on a bear that size in the middle of its hibernation could be huge. This was the dead of winter, you see. Hunting's not so easy in the winter, but it's about the only time you can hope to bag a full-grown bear. At least back then it was. Bears were bigger, and weapons were simpler. And of course, everything was much colder then, too.

I'd like you to imagine what life was like for Angel's town in the dead of winter. People spent most of the day just huddled up in their burrows trying to keep warm, hoping supplies would hold out. Normally, these people were busy farming or making things like clothes and blankets and such. But for about four months out of the year, the ground was too frozen to work, and all the furs were needed to keep everybody from freezing to death.

As you might guess, the days could get pretty monotonous. That's why stories and music were so important to these people. If you want to keep warm, you've got to keep your heart beating, and if you want your heart to beat, you've got to feel something. If you were to walk past Angel's town in the winter, you wouldn't see much. Just about everything was underground. But you'd feel the earth under your feet pulsing with energy and passion. Now that was some real music back then. Just playing for the sound of it, that's all.

While everybody back in town was dancing and wailing and banging their drums and blowing their flutes, Angel was approaching a cave. The cave. He could feel it. At this point, as he'd practiced, Angel made a conscious effort to separate himself from his body and let the ambient calm of his surroundings soak through him bit by bit. He felt like a very skilled ghost manipulating an empty body so that you'd swear it was really alive. Each step he took had an unreal grace to it, like the movements of a marionette.

Slowly, steadily, Angel's hand drew his rusty blade from the leather sheath that hung across his back. It looked like a machete, but with a jagged back edge. That blade's teeth had torn the guts out of too many animals to count. But always to fill the guts of Angel's family and friends. So the whole process—brutal and disgusting as it was—had a sort of righteousness to it.

Before entering the mouth of the cave, Angel's eyes fixed on a spot where he could hide while waiting for the bear to bleed out. If you ever go up against a bear, locating this safe spot in advance is absolutely critical. When it comes down to it, it's much better to let the bear run off and die somewhere you can't find it than to find yourself in the path of an animal that big, that tough, and that terrified. No use in the both of you dying, is there?

I'll spare you the gory details and just tell you that Angel won the battle that day. As always, it was a combination of luck, skill, and—let's be honest—fighting dirty that gave our hero the victory. Just so you don't get the wrong idea, let me point out that Angel took no pleasure in killing the animal. Quite the opposite. Here's a bit of grandfatherly wisdom for you: There's nothing better in this world than food. And nothing worse than violence. More often than not, the two go hand in hand. It's a shame, but that's just how it is. You can try to minimize the violence—and that's admirable—but sometimes you're just hungry.

Angel followed a long, red trail in the snow and eventually came to the rapidly cooling body of that shaggy white bear. He set right to skinning the beast as quickly as he could manage, knowing that even in cold weather, letting that fatty hide start to rot in place would leave a nasty taste in the flesh. He then plunged his blade deep into the bear's throat and dragged it all the way down to the groin, splitting the animal's rib cage and letting its entrails spill onto the blood-soaked snow. He'd be leaving a load of scraps for scavengers. It'd be hard enough to drag the best meat back without any help. Even the head would have to remain in the snow where it lay. No room for trophies.

Angel in the Cave 🐻Where stories live. Discover now