Harking – Prologue

Biking along the old cutline, she sees it at the last second, a bear’s distinctive shape silhouetted against the backdrop of cured grasses and golden aspen bordering the railway tracks.

“Noooooo,” she screams, braking suddenly and jumping off her bike, the sound of a distant whistle lending urgency to the moment.

Throwing herself into the thicket, she claws her way through, grasping alder and wolf willow as she pulls her body up the steep embankment and races across the open stretch of meadow toward the bear.

“Go. Get out of here,” she yells, her heart pounding. But the bear makes no movement away from the small mounds of grain spilled among the railway ties.

Her cries are lost to the shrill call of the mile-long freight train, barreling past the Palisades as the engineer makes up for lost time. A few kilometres farther and he will have to slow the train down for its approach to town and the massive railyard.

Screaming at the top her lungs, the girl races closer. Now she can make out the well-defined hump and she’s certain the bear is a grizzly, her grizzly.

The train is still more than a kilometre away but she knows only too well how quickly it can eat up the distance. Even when he sees the bear, the engineer will not be able to stop in time.

But the bear remains focused on the bounty of free food, slowly working its way from pile to pile, and the girl’s efforts, amid the roar of the approaching diesel locomotives, make little difference.

Finally the bear looks up, first at her then down the tracks toward the solitary, blazing light that is fast approaching.

“Go. Get out of here,” she screams once more, barely able to hear her own voice over the train’s whistle. Running for all she’s worth, her foot catches on an upturned root and she cartwheels into the ground, tumbling and rolling, her bare legs burning, as she skids to an abrupt halt.

Lifting up on her elbows, she manages one final glimpse of the bear as the locomotives roar past. As she buries her face in her arms, the train rumbles through the valley and around the distant bend at the base of the mountain.

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