What, if he had a gun?

Real life story

By Serge Skudaev ©

If someone tells you bears wander along the streets in Siberian towns, don't believe them. I lived there for more than 30 years and never saw such a thing. But incidents do happen...

Once, my friend Dmitriy and Alexander and I were going to the Taiga [the Siberian forest] to collect Siberian pine cones for their nuts (and they are delicious--well worth a long trip on an over-crowded weekend train). On the train, we fell in with a seedy-looking old fellow wearing heavy rubber boots and old padded jacket of undefinable color with a large hole burnt in one side. He peered at us slyly through unruly locks, originally red but now graying, casing our new light jackets and white sneakers. He grinned.
"Do you know," he said,"there are many bears in the Taiga this year? I met one face to face three week ago while picking raspberries. The bear was so scared that he piled on the moss. Bears always lose control when they're scared," he confided to us knowingly, gesturing for emphasis. "Fortunately, he ran away."
Rudely, Alexander asked,"What about your pants?"
"In my place, yours would have been wet, but mine were dry," the old man insisted stoutly.
Continuing on his theme, the old man told us of a bear attacking a woman in the woods. When the bear caught her, he said, she pretended to be dead. The bear then dragged her to a pit and covered her with leaves and branches. When he left she crawled out and tried to run away, but the bear followed her trail, caught her again, and went through the whole process again. She lost consciousness, but finally woke up and was able to escape and get to the train station. She was covered with cuts and scratches and bruised all over.
"Since then," he said,"I have carried a gun with me in the woods".
He leaned down, pointing to his bag under the bench, where the end of a rifle barrel barely stuck out.
"Do you have a gun with you?" he asked. "If not, I'd advise you to get one!" Just then an intelligent-looking middle- aged man jumped into the conversation.
"Excuse me," he said, "I'm a doctor and want to tell you about a case I was involved in. I live in a small town north of here. Three years ago, two geologists from our town were lost. They went into the Taiga in late Fall and didn't come back. There had been rumors of a man-eating bear in the area, and a group of hunters who were looking for the geologists killed a bear and brought it back to town for investigation. I dissected its stomach and found human remains."

For the rest of our journey, the mood was somber. I found myself a little hesitant to go into the forest after hearing these accounts, but didn't want to show my fear. Soon, we got off the train and started into the woods
When we entered the forest, the sun was not very high. Huge pines shielded us against the sunlight. We walked along the winding path, smelling the mushrooms under the moss. Here and there we could see red drops of foxberry. Sometimes water squelched under the moss. As we began to tire, the path led us to someone's camp. We saw a tent and a handmade wood table. There were empty cans and aluminum tinware. A tendril of smoke still rose to the sky. A bearded man came out of the tent. Yellow pine-needles stuck out of his disheveled hair. His handmade wool sweater was spotted with resin.

"Hi! How are you?" we greeted him.
"Hi! Folks!" He answered,"do you want some tea? I just fixed some." We couldn't refuse and so he invited us to the table.
"Sorry guys," he said,"I don't have bread. I had some, but a bear found my food store and ate all the food.
"Really!" Dmitriy exclaimed.
"Oh! We have bread," Alexander said,"We can give you some."
"Thank you, I'm going home. I was lucky, He couldn't open tinned goods. He just crumpled them, so I have food. When I saw him, I took a gun and shot over the bushes to scare him away. I'm sure he is still wandering around. Be careful."

We learned from our new-found friend that the cones we had come to pick were in short supply due to the depredation of an unusual large bird population.
"Damned birds!" said Dmitriy.
"What about bilberries?" I asked him, "Last year we picked up a lot right around here."
"Me, too" he answered, "But this year there is nothing. You have to go much further back in the forest. Yesterday I met a man who had picked up about twenty liters. I've been here a whole week and I'm going back to the city now. Good luck!"

We decided to change our plan about the nuts and go for bilberries instead. When we reached our destination, the sun had already set. We quickly built a hut of branches, covered it with plastic, and made a campfire. After dinner, which included a delicious soup with braised meat and beans, we felt tired and quickly fell asleep.

The cold woke me up during the night. Our campfire had gone out, but could see that snow had fallen--the ground was white. I decide to rebuild the campfire. I remembered that not far from our hut there was a dry pine laying on the ground, so I went over to gather some branches. When I started to break them off, I suddenly heard a terrible shout.
"Bear!" I was briefly paralyzed with fear, then turned toward the yelling. Dmitriy was standing beside our hut. Brandishing his axe and pointing at me, he once again shouted,"Bear!"
I wanted to yell,"It's me! But I couldn't yell. I ran toward our hut, wheezing. Alexander came out, and seeing me running, seized a big knife which he waved about.
"Where is he?" he asked me nervously.
Finally, I found the ability to speak. "There's no bear! It's me! I cried.

We laughed for a long time. "No bear!" But suddenly, I thought,

"What if there had been a gun?"

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