I found the tracks in the deep snow between the trees.
"Bigfoot. I'm positive." I told my family at dinner.
"A deer or a neighbor's dog, I'm sure. Eat your food, Millie." Mom plopped another spoonful of meatballs on my plate, where they rolled around like bodiless heads in the tomato sauce.
My older brother, Everett, set down his phone and leaned into the table, grabbing the salt and shaking it liberally over his plate as he spoke. "We aren't anywhere near Bigfoot territory." He paused to shovel a forkful of spaghetti into his mouth, slurping up the noodles and getting sauce on his face. "Wouldn't the Abominable Snowman make more sense? It is December."
"Watch the sodium intake, Ev." Mom pulled the salt shaker away from him as she tried to get Johnny, my baby brother, to eat with a fork instead of his fingers.
"The Abominable Snowman is from the Himalayas, dummy." I twirled spaghetti around my fork, wishing dinner was over.
"No name-calling, Millie." Dad set down his newspaper to pick up his glass of red wine, swirling it around before taking a drink. "You’re right though, we're not in Yeti stomping grounds."
I made a face at Everett. He was already back on his phone and didn't notice. I continued spinning my fork as Izzy, our dog, wandered into the dining room. She pushed her nose into my thigh, asking for scraps. I waited until Dad was reading and Mom was busy picking up solitary noodles from Johnny’s tray, then I dropped a meatball onto the floor. Izzy ate it gingerly and looked back up to me as if to say, “That’s all?” I shrugged my shoulders and dropped her another one.
“Can I be excused?” I asked to what could have been a table of face cards instead of my family members. No one looked at or answered me. I grabbed an orange from the fruit bowl on the counter, threw on a coat, and motioned to Izzy. “C’mon, girl. Let’s go for a walk.”
Outside, the early winter darkness added to the quiet of our rural town. I peeled the orange as we headed towards the line of pine trees at the edge of my parents’ property. Izzy ran in giddy zigzags ahead of me. I started to call her back before she ran through the tracks, but I didn't have to. She froze a few feet from the trees; her ears pushed forward and her tail went straight.
I caught up to her and saw why: the tracks were still there, but so was the creature who had made them. Creatures, actually. Two brown bears stepped out from behind the trees, their dark eyes first taking in Izzy, then me.
I heard a low rumble and realized it came from Izzy. “Iz,” I hissed. “No.” She didn't listen. Barking, she jumped back and forth in the snow in front of me. The bears weren't impressed and continued pacing. They didn't advance, but they didn't retreat either. I crouched down behind Izzy and slid my fingers beneath her collar. She stopped her hasty activity, her body still tense.
We can't outrun bears. That’s all I could think as I buried my head into Izzy’s scruff. Juice from my half-peeled orange ran from my fist down to my wrist, where it fell into the snow like pale blood. The citrus stung my dry skin.
Izzy nudged my hand with her nose, forcing the orange out into the snow. She licked the juice off my fingers and pushed into me, knocking me off balance and onto my back. When I sat up, she was already halfway to the bears, the orange peeking out of her mouth. She bent low to place it in front of them and took a few steps back.
I doubt the bears lurked on our property for a dog-slobbered orange, but Izzy’s peace offering proved effective. One of them pushed it around with his nose while the other sat back on his haunches. Izzy trotted over to me, nipping at the sleeve of my coat. I stood up and together we backed away.
Only Everett noticed I’d been gone. “Why are you breathing so heavy?” he asked as I slipped back into the kitchen to help clean up dinner. “You look like you saw Bigfoot.”
Call it a pre-resolution--I'm throwing myself into blogging for these two weeks before the new year (which coincides with my 5th blogiversary). This post was prompted by The Speakeasy #140.