Excerpt of Village of the Ghost Bears by Stan Jones
(Page 4 of 7)
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He was scrambling eggs and frying bacon on the camp
stove when she came out, yawning and pulling on a jacket
against the last of the night chill. That smells good. She
sniffed hungrily. What time is it?
He shrugged. I wouldnt know. My watch is in my pack,
and thats right where itll stay till Cowboy picks us up.
You put away your watch? Im amazed.
Im smitten, he said. And I cook. He waved a spatula
at the eggs and bacon.
Where you been all my life? She squatted, stole a
rasher out of the pan, and ambled to the shore. She stood
looking out over the water, chewing as breakfast popped
and sizzled in the skillets. Nathan, do you think bliss is
achievable as a permanent condition? Or do we just have
to content ourselves with a random series of singularities
Say again, please? In English?
I feel helplessly happy. Think itll last?
I wouldnt know, he said.
Even if it doesnt, I cant complain. I slept like a
Me too. I felt oddly drained.
He dumped the eggs onto their plates, tossed two slices
of bread into the skillet, and was turning down the gas
when she called out.
Hey, look at that! She was pointing across the lake.
He turned and swept his eyes over the water, seeing
nothing out of the ordinary. What
Up on the ridge.
He scanned the crest and saw them, a string of caribou
filing south toward the Isignaq, headed for Jade Portage
and the wintering grounds across the river. From this
distance, they looked like bugs crawling along the edge of
the sky. He was reminded of a phrase he had once heard
an old Inupiat hunter use for caribou: earth-lice.
There was indeed some resemblance, Active saw now.
Plus, as the old man had pointed out, the Inupiat of long
ago had eaten their own body lice as well as earth-lice.
Now that everyone was civilized and bathed regularly, the
old man had reflected somewhat gloomily, body lice were
no longer on the menu, but at least the earth-lice were still
plentiful, and as tasty as ever.
Active went back to the tent and fetched his binoculars
for a closer look. The males were in full fall regalia, with
towering antlers and thick coats of gray-black fur except
for the white capes shining practically incandescent in the
morning sun. The females ran more to brown and gray,
with spindly, twig-like antlers.
How about some caribou for breakfast? Grace asked.
There was fire in her eyes of a kind he had not seen before.
Her Inupiat half coming out, surely.
You bet, he said, hurrying to the tent to uncase the
guns. Well have to cross the creek and come up farther
along the ridge to get ahead of them.
They loaded quickly, slung the rifles over their backs,
and sprinted along the lakeshore to the outlet, then
worked down One-Way Creek until they found a spot
shallow enough to ford.
He was halfway to the opposite bank, eyes on the ridge,
measuring their pace against that of the caribou, figuring
the odds of getting up the slope in time, something about
the creek trying to get his attention, when she called out
He turned. She was pointing at a dark object a few yards
downstream. He had caught it from the corner his eye
before, but in his hurry had passed it off as rocks or a log.
Now he saw what she had seena pack frame strapped to
a figure lying face-down in the stream.
They splashed through the creek, their Sorels taking on
water, and rolled the corpse over. The head flopped
forward with the current, as if the neck were without
bones, and they both recoiled.
Excerpted from Village of the Ghost Bears
by Stan Jones. Copyright © 2009 by Stan Jones.
Excerpted by permission of Soho Press. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.