Pawprint at Ground Zero

Bear awoke.

The dream slowly faded. Bits and pieces of it scattered away like confetti in the wind, leaving him with the gray fog of awareness. His paws and muzzle were cold. For a moment Bear marveled at this new feeling, it had been a long time since he had felt such earthly pains.

The veil of sleep slowly lifted. His vision blurring from gray fog to mottled light forms. He shook out his neck and stretched his aching shoulders. More aches and more pain to wake him. He pulled his paw back and buried his cold muzzle in his warm arm fur.

It had been a long sleep. Bear struggled to remember his last awakening. His thoughts drifted across those muddy fields where he had last been called to collect his bounty. Bear thought a moment on the different places he had visited. The thoughts saddened him. After a few moments of sadness, he dismissed them with a snort. He was to awaken again, as he had always.

Bear stirred, placing his paws against the cave floor and gently pushing up. His forepaws ached with the sudden weight and his shoulders felt stiff. But with a mild chuff of annoyance, he lifted himself up.

He shivered as the cool cave air passed through his fur. His skin tingled where he had lain against it for so long. After pausing to stretch his back legs and to scratch an itch, he sat back and stared blearily at the wall. Slowly, his senses awakened.

Time passed, as it does endlessly. Bear grew restless and wandered out of his den.

Those who could see are mostly gone. The sight of Grandfather rising would have awed them. Bear wandering from his cave looked like a ghost emerging from the ground. The air seemed to ripple around Bear's edges, as if the very world had trouble coping with such a powerful spirit.

The sight of any Bear spirit is a great one. But to see this spirit would be more fearsome than one could comprehend. As bear emerged from the ridge, it would look like the very mountain came alive. Bear was larger than those ragged peaks from whence his mother had given birth to man and bear. The greatest of the great browns was called to task. What could possibly call such a giant beast?

But, who can see anymore?

Bear wandered his way out into the valley. The land was beautiful in the setting sun. The mountains rough and hewn by time. The ground below littered with houses and with trees, making a speckled mat whose colors shifted with the sunís rays.

His paws, being of spirit, did not damage the countryside. They left no city-sized prints. They did not crush the houses and trees that seemed to disappear beneath them. Perhaps the people that were in his paw-crush as he lumbered by for a moment felt the intense presence or dark purpose. Perhaps not. Maybe it was just dismissed as a mild shiver.

Bear sat down, his shadow darkening the set of mountains behind him.

Looking down at the city that lay between his forepaws, Bear marveled at the impressive sight. It was a testament to the invention and durability of humanity. Miles and miles of steel and glass, it shone in the setting sun like a pile of diamonds. The roads like wistful and errant threads all met to weave the sparkling mass of silver into a tapestry of humanity and life.

Bear chuffed sadly at his task before him. The air near the city smelled a little acrid, but the sunset out over the water seemed to purify it all. Bear squinted at the mass in front of him. He couldnít see it, but he could feel the millions of individuals who were going on through their daily business. None of them were aware what was to come.

Bear knew in some ways but not in others. Bear knew to come to collect his brothers. Those who had been birthed from the earth without fur. Bear didn't know why he was sent to collect them all.

Bear could never fathom the object hurtling through-near space. Tiny packages filled with small amounts of poisonous metal. Bear didn't see the main capsule break up in the stratosphere, releasing dozens of small capsules.

Bear just knew that he had been called. What the cause was for the calling was unimportant. His size deemed him to be the collector of the big harvests. His ursine brethren took care of the smaller one. Long ago he gave up mourning his calling to end life. He could not change his charge. And that realization made it a little easier to collect his brethren at the end of their journeys.

Bear raised his paw over the mound. It seemed to be shimmering and shifting in the setting sun. The shadow of his paw stilled the shimmer, as if the very life of the city paused in preparation of what was to come.

It was time. Bear reared his paw back, his shoulders and arm rippling as he gathered his strength. The spirit world seemed to swirl in brace for impact.

In the physical world a few saw the incoming streaks and wondered if they were odd planes or meteors. A few gifted with sight, caught a glimpse of Bear hunched over the city, his paw falling in a powerful strike.

Bear swatted hard. As he had been taught since a cub, to slam his paw hard on his prey, to kill them instantly. In the space of a heartbeat, his giant paw-pad crushed most of the city into nothingness. Almost in overlay, he perceived the explosion and mushroom cloud on the physical world and marveled at it for a moment, his follow through weight setting on his paw.

Bear didn't really care what was causing the massive death that had called him; the beauty of the destruction was only a momentary diversion from the task at hand. He came to collect the souls.

Under his strike, the city disappeared effortlessly. Millions of souls were torn from their bodies. This city itself and its mortal vehicles were slagged in the fission of heavy metal. The paw and bomb impacted the city in unison. It's steel and glass jewels slagged into molten rock and sand. It's souls released to their immortal pursuits.

Long ago, in the desert of Nevada, scientists had worried of a chain reaction and it's following effects. On the first bloom of their fiery flower, they desperately hoped that their horrific flower would never be used to kill.

Desperation ends. The flower bloomed. There was no scream. There was no time to scream. There were heat and impact waves. There were shock waves and heat waves. There was no longer life.

Bear's paw settled in itís print. The dust arose to its pregnant cloud. Bear felt his job finished. His charge was collected. Bear yawned into the setting sun whose view was being obscured by the growing mushroom cloud. Bear turned around and went to head back to his den.

Centuries later, the survivors would marvel and visit the sight of death. It appeared as one huge crater, with a row of five craters to one side, and a small one to the other side. Multiple warheads would be the explanation. Multiple craters were their footprint of death. No one would ever admit to the wistful thought of the paw-print of bear.

It was the scene of countless instant deaths. It was the paw-print of Grandfather.

Story is © ????, Bennie
Many thanks to David Rockwell for his exhaustive research into Native American beliefs concerning Bear and to his ability to retell them coherently.
Thanks to Gary Coulbourne for lighting the fire.
Thanks to Samuel Conway for the pen and inks.

This story is copyrighted. Links may be made to it freely, but it is under no circumstances to be downloaded, reproduced, or distributed without the express permission of the author. Address inquiries to