The Stranger in the Forest

A strange deer has come into Bambi's forest. Who is he? What does he want. Why does he not even have a name and just how does he know all about Man? He is big, he is powerful, and he is unlike any deer in the herd. With what this deer knows, he may save or doom all the deer in the herd.


9. Strange Company



He woke lying on his unhurt side. The grass he lay on was filled with the stench of blood: his blood. His side throbbed in pulsating pain. He was dizzy, out of breath, and completely helpless. He could not move a muscle. He heard the wind blow above him in the trees, the sound of birds flying overhead, and the buzzing of insects crawling and flying near him. For a moment, other than the pain, things did not feel so bad for a dead deer. Then there came a very strong scent, but it was no scent of Man or deer. It was something else, a smell like dead meat mixed with wet fur. He realized he smelled it before. It was the scent of the bear and he was close by.

He struggled to move, to get away, but the lower part of his body refused to budge. It felt asleep. The bear scent got so close he could smell the damp, foul, odor of the bear’s breath over him.

“Cannot move can you?” he heard the bear growl from above him.

He felt the touch of thick fur on his side and something large loom over him. He looked up into the black furry face of the bear that towered above him, studying him. The mouth was open showing long, broad, and well used fangs to tear meat off of bone.

“You brought Man and his dogs to me. That was not kind of you” the bear said. “Why?”

He tried to call up enough strength to speak, “I wast hit; Man and his dogs followed me; did not know you were there.”

The bear broke out into a smile. “Very well, I understand, but now what am I going to do with you?” he bear growled and climbed over him. He could see the black underbelly of the huge creature. The fur was soft. Like Claris’, but the smell.

“Just do it quickly,” he said. His voice was starting to rattle in his throat. He swallowed hard. “I rather it was you than Man.”

The bear paused and glared at him with those red eyes glowing. “Yes I think you would,” the bear said calmly, almost purring. “I like to eat you. There is enough of you for at least two good meals. But I am full for my winter’s sleep. So no, I will not eat you today. I am afraid all I have for you is more pain. There are two Man stones in your left side. I know about these wounds. Those Man stones must come out. They are what hurt you. If they do not come out, you will catch fever and die. I can take them out, but this will hurt more than being hit by Man. I am sorry for what I must do to you. No matter how much this hurts, you must try and stay still.”

The bear moved over him to stand next to his injured side. He felt the movement of a sharp claw move gently over his side until it stopped where it hurt. Immediately his body was filled with agony; he stiffened like a tree.

“You must be still!” the bear growled. “This will hurt even more.”

He felt the claw again only this time he felt it dig into his side. He felt it go into his body and stop. For a second he thought the bear was going to tear him to pieces, but the claw only went in a short way then out it came quickly. His body was filled with pain. He could not even yell.

A faint, “AHHhhhhhhh,” was all he could manage.

“That is one,” the bear said. “The other stone is deeper, I can hardly see it. I am going to have to go in deeper and this will hurt even more, but it must come out. Prepare yourself, Stranger.”

The claws moved toward his hindquarter, his body was racked through with pain piled upon pain. He felt the claw go in, much deeper this time. A pulse of utter agony passed through him. The bear then quickly ripped the claw out of him feeling like it tore out his insides. A bright light filled his eyes, and then blackness engulfed him.

He came to his senses sometime later, body still racked with pain, but it did not seem quite as bad as before. He tried to move, but he still could not. All he could smell was his own blood and excretions that must have soaked the grass. He was still helpless.  He looked to his side. He saw he was lying on fresh green grass. He could see a depression in the grass covered by his own blood and waste. That must be where the bear dragged him. The bear must have moved him again, but why? Why had he not used those large claws and broke his neck like he did to Talis. It could not hurt as much as he felt now.

“You are still alive,” he head from his other side. “I had to move you from that place of death. The Man stones are no longer in you. Now you must recover your strength. That will take time and soon I will go into my den to begin my long winter’s sleep. The others like the fox, badger, and coyote have not come to finish you. My scent keeps them away. When I go into my den, I will not be around to drive them off. They may come in close. If they do and you cannot stand, they will tear you to pieces and eat you. Do you understand me?”

He nodded his head and he noticed he did not feel his rack on his head.

“My rack,” he said.

“They came off as I was moving you,” the bear told him. “You deer have a strange life. Your greatest protection is your rack and yet you throw them away every winter. It would like me throwing away my claws and fangs. It makes no sense to me.”

What could he say? He tried to raise his head, but the forest starting spinning again and he fell into blackness once more.

This time when he awoke he felt hungry and thirsty. The air around him was cool and crisp. He could see the ground was covered in a layer of bright multicolor leaves. He was still in the same place. The pain in his left side was there, but less than before.

“You woke up again” he heard the bear say. “You are full of surprises. You have lay there for two full days. Now you must get up. You must eat and drink or you will die and you must walk to do that. I cannot help you with this. You must do this on your own.”

The bear was right, he was strong, but without food or water he would die slowly. He rolled up off his side. As he moved, pain shot through him almost as bad as if he had been hit again. He managed to get on his knees. He was upright again.  He pushed down with his legs to force himself up on his feet. His front came up with no effort, His right rear leg extended, but his left leg lagged, Just using his right rear leg, he got up on his feet, but the moment he put weight on his left rear leg, it threaten to collapse on him and filled his body with waves of pain. He tried a step and almost fell onto the bear that was lying outside his large den he had dug into the side of the hill. He caught himself and steadied his stance. He tried another step, keeping as much weight off his left rear leg as possible. He could move, but he was very slow.

“Come,” the bear said and led him to the other side of his den a few lengths. It took him a while for him to get there, but he did.

“See these green leaves,” the bear said and pointed his long black nose to a bush he was not familiar with. “Eat them, they are bitter but they will help you heal, only eat a few at a time. Next to my den here is a small stream that runs down the hill toward your meadow.”

“Meadow,” he said out loud. Claris and the others must think he was dead. “I have to get back to my meadow,” he said and started to turn around.

The bear moved to stop him. “If you try and go down the hill, your side will open, and you will bleed out. The others will smell you, find you, and then eat you alive. You have to stay here until you heal.”

“But Claris and the others think I am dead,” he explained.

“It is better for them to think you are dead than for you to be dead,” the bear growled. “It will take time for you to heal, maybe all winter. Here, near my den, no one should come that can hurt you. You will have grass, and a little further past the trees are acorns and bushes you can eat. It will not be a feast like I have when I eat one of your kind, but it will keep you alive and healing.”

Just taking these steps exhausted him. The bear was right, he never make it down the hill in his condition. He had to stay here.”Thank you,” he said never believing he ever owe his life to a bear. There was one thing that puzzled him.

“Can I ask you a question?” he said to reclining mountain of muscle and fat.

“Go ahead,” he bear said licking his paws.

“I was helpless there. You could have easily killed me and ate my body for food. Why did you not do it? I know bears like to eat deer.”

The bear got up and started for his den. “I am not sure, but something tells me not too. I will think about that as I rest. For now, it is my time for me to sleep. I normally get up during winter. If I find you here dead, I will eat you. When the wind blows and the snow comes, you can sleep next to my den. The wind does not carry the snow to that side because it is stopped by the two tall pine trees. Try and get healthy Stranger. Try and get your leg to move. You will have to learn to run again if you ever want to see that Claris of yours. Good winter.” he said and crawled deep into his den. In a moment he was alone.

The winds turned cool and then cold. The grass turned yellow and lost most of its taste. There were still enough leaves, berries, and acorns around to fill his belly. He ate the leaves the bear told him about. He ate a few every day. They made him sleepy, but it helped with the pain and his wounds seem to heal quicker. It soon became obvious that he would not die from these wounds.

His main problem was moving.  He still hobbled around mostly on three legs, but he learned to move better. It seemed to him that his left rear leg had gotten shorter after being hit, but he realized it was the tightness in his muscles. The muscles in his left rear leg would not move so far or so easily. The muscles were also weak like those in a new fawn. The worst part was when he tried to stretch those leg muscles. The pain was awful, but he still stretched his left leg several times a day. As winter dragged on, the pain slowly diminished to the point he could put more weight on his left rear leg. By the first snow fall he could walk very slowly, but he could not trot or run.

He kept working on his leg and it slowly got better. By the second snow fall, he could walk easily, and even trot a short distance, but a full run was out of the question. That made moving around the den easier and made it easier to feed. The bear awoke right after the second snow and came out of his den at night. He was sleeping and only realized the bear was there when the overpowering scent flooded into his nose

“So I see I do not have to eat you,” the bear said. The bear actually looked to smile.

“No,” he said and got up, and walked around slowly.

“And you can walk, very good,” the bear complimented. The creature then went up and smelled his left side near his wounds. “I smell no sickness in you. I think you will live.”

“I live thanks to all you told me,” he answered, “My thanks to you for that.”

“Any problems?” the bear asked.

“A badger got close once,” he answered, “But once he smelled you in the den, he ran off.”

“Has it been a bad winter?” the bear wanted to know.

“Snow, but not heavy,” he said.

“That is a pity,” the bear said as if disappointed. “When it is cold and the snow is deep, I normally find several of your kind dead.” The bear didn’t seem to mind if his guest liked this conversation or not. “I will go over the mountain. The deer herd over there is not as careful as your herd. I will be back here by the end of day tomorrow.”

He watched the bear go feeling both pleased and curious. He was pleased the bear thought it was a waste of time to try and kill a deer in his herd. He was curious why the bear would go through all the trouble when there was a much closer source of deer meat. He did not see the bear until the rising of the lesser light the next day. Although the bear still looked huge to him, he did note the bear had lost weight during his long sleep. The bear came back looking pleased. He could smell the scent of deer on him. The bear had found something to eat.

“I found a sick yearling that died in the snow,” the bear said calmly. “I ate most of him and left the rest to the others. I am full now and have more than enough to last me to spring. I suppose you are happy I didn’t have to kill it?”

“As I said before, I rather see you kill us than Man,” he told him

“Why do you care who it is in the end?” the bear asked. “Whether it is me, or one of my kind that kills you, whether Man kills you, or the badger, or the coyote. In the end you are just as dead.”

”No,” he said shaking his head “There is a difference.”

The bear motioned him to continue. “As I said before, you kill and eat to live, same as me. I eat the plants and the grass. You eat meat. Man does not kill to live. He has all the food he needs without killing. Man kills for his pleasure, and nothing else.”

“How do you know all of this?” the bear asked.

“For that I would have to tell you a long story that might bore you,” he told him. “You may not like to hear it.”

The large black animal lay down in front of his den as if relaxing. “Please continue, Stranger. I have time before going back to sleep. I would like to hear your story” the bear told him.

“If you wish, it is the least I can do,” he said and got down on his legs to rest. He told the bear the same story he told Claris. He even told the bear about his fight with Kragus and why the others wanted him gone. It took to the time the lesser light had set before he was finished. The bear heard him out only asking one or two questions.

“That is interesting. I had no idea you knew so much about Man.” The bear yawned, but still was impressed with his tale. “You tell an interesting story. I think your herd is foolish. They should not have tried to throw you out. It is hard for me to understand your herd. We bear don’t live in herds, nor do we keep our mates close by. My kind does not get along well with each other like yours does, or at least what you try and do. Now let me bore you with my tale.”

The bear went on about his life. He was born in the hills on the far side of Hilgass’ forest. He had a brother and sister, but his younger brother was small and weak and died their first summer. He and his sister were raised by their mother. He never knew his father, but he suspected he was a large bear that roamed the hills there. He never tried to approach him, because his mother taught them, that he would kill them if he thought they were threats. They followed their mother for more than a full season and she taught them many things. It was she that told him about the healing plants and the Man stones. She learned that from her mother.

There was one thing the bear noticed about himself that was different from his mother and sister. He looked more closely at the forest and the animals than his family. They just tried to hunt. He tried to learn the ways of the animals. At first this was because it made then easier to catch and kill for his food. He continued to watch after he left his mother and sister. After many seasons, he came to know that somehow all the animals were connected together. Some animals ate plants. Other animals ate meat and fed on the plant eaters. Without the plant eaters, they would have little food. Although he ate berries and some plants when needed, his food of choice was meat, when he could get it.  It filled him and made him stronger. He learned he could catch rabbits, raccoons, possums, by seeing how they acted and then planning better ways to catch them. As a result, he never been really hungry even in the coldest winters and so he grew into the largest bear he knew. He had been living in the forest for many winters, he was not sure how many, but he knew it was more than six so the bear was much older than him. As for mates, like him, the bear never had trouble finding a female. He could beat off the males in these forests easily. Like most deer, after The Season, the bear and his mate quickly went their separate ways. He knew he had children and smelled three younger males and two females that may belong to him, but he felt nothing for them. They were just other hungry mouths looking to feed on the same food he did.

“So how do you see Man,” he asked the bear.

“Man is a killer, like me, but unlike me, Man is a different type of killer. I have to catch whatever I eat and kill it. Man reaches out at a distance and kills, almost without effort. If you are right about Man not needing to kill to live, then Man does not belong in the forest, because he is so different from the others that live here.

“This is true, “he told him, “But do you remember when I told you how man gets into his animals and moves?”

The bear nodded silently.

“Well sometimes when Man comes back to his cave, he brings food with him, enough food to last many days. Man then puts that food into hiding places in his Man cave and then feeds off of it. Some of that food is meat, but it is meat that is already dead. All man has to do is eat it.”

“That is interesting,” the bear noted. “So Man has someone else kill his food.”

“Not only that, but when Man gets together after they kill us, they make merry like a new fawns on the meadow. They enjoy the killing and the eating of our flesh. If man has all the food he wants without killing, and he kills only for enjoyment, then Man is not like us. I eat grass for my food. You eat meat. You kill to eat, but do you do find pleasure in killing?”

The bear thought about his question for a moment. “No, like you said, I kill for food I take no joy in killing your kind. It is necessary.”

“Then now you know the difference,” he added.

“Is that what you mean when you say you rather die by me than Man? You rather die by me because it is the Way of All Things as you say, not because some Man is having fun doing it?”

“Yes,” he said almost with relief. Someone finally understood him.

“Then now I know why I did not kill you?” the bear said.

He had thought about that himself and thought he understood. “Because despite our differences, you and I are much alike in the way we look at the forest.”

The bear nodded. “This is part of the answer, but not the whole part. The other part is that we have a place here. Man does not.”

“You are right,” he admitted. “You are a wise bear.”

The bear’s face seemed to brighten. “I hope that is true, Stranger, but there is something else. Another reason and I must think about it. I will talk to you about it later. I can see you are as wise as I heard your herd leader Bambi is. I hope you live through all of this. I like to talk to you again; however I must go back into my cave and continue my sleep. I will see you again at the end of winter.”

He went back to being alone. After living with the herd and Claris for a while, he was not use to being alone again for days on end. Every day he thought about the herd and wondered about Claris, Bambi, and Faline. Were they right now morning his death, or had they already forgotten the strange deer that came to live with them. Claris might have found another male by now. Could Bambi keep the others from chasing her out of the forest? Even if he did go back, would they still want him after Kragus? These were the thoughts that chewed at his inner self as much as he thought the bear would have chewed on his outer self. There was nothing to be done to answer this agony of his inner self.  He still was not healthy enough to run from danger. He had to heal more.

He went back to stretching his left rear leg. He could trot easily, but running was still painful. Every day he ate the leaves of the healing bush and every day he tried to stretch his left leg more and more. It got looser and he got faster. Soon he ran around the area of the den and found he could make quick turns, but he was not as fast as he was before being hurt. He also did not turn as quickly. He wondered if he every fully recover? He knew he had to get better. A slow deer was a dead deer.

There was one more light snow and then the sky cleared and the greater light started to shine warmer. On one night he watched the lesser light rise full, has it had done many times since he had been here. He started to see fresh grass try and break through the leaves on the ground. By now he had started to run at full, but only for a little while before his left leg hurt too much to continue.  The bear could run him down if he wanted to, but he have to try hard. As the grass poked through the leaves of last winter and the leaves started to grow back on the trees, the bear came out of his den for the spring.

“Well, Stranger, you have survived the winter, I did not think you do it, but I am glad you did. Can you run yet?”

He did a short dash across the opening in front of the bear that went to chase him like a fawn would. It wasn’t long before he caught him.

“Slow, but I think fast enough for the others. You are as healed as you are going to get being here. The rest will have to come later.”

“What now?” he asked.

As much as I like having you around, you need to return to your herd,” the bear said looking him over carefully. “You will stay here for another few days to make sure everything is working as best it can; then we will walk down the hill together. After that it will be up to your herd to take care of you. I can do nothing more for you.”

He had waited all winter to hear that.


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