Otto 'Bear' Harris stepped out of the shower and glanced at the 'My Little Pony' clock. Otto hated the little clock. It disconcerted him and clashed with the royal blue and white tile of the bathroom. The pink color, reminded him of Pepto Bismol. He hated Pepto Bismol. The cloying flavor and chalky texture felt like liquid sandpaper. It reminded him of cleanser. Thinking of it made him nauseous. It was 12:30 a.m., the last Friday in November, the day after Thanksgiving. Elk hunting season began on Saturday.

            He was six feet-five inches and weighed two-hundred-forty pounds. He was naturally muscular and lean. Marine drill instructors dubbed him "Bear.” During close combat training, he accidentally broke the instructor’s jaw. Otto maintained that all he did was block the instructor’s blow, and slap him in the face. The young sergeant claimed a bear mauled him. All through Otto’s time in the marines, Force Recon, and as a detective with the Aurora Police Department, the nickname stuck, he was Bear.

            Bear’s wife, Trina, dozed in their king sized bed. She could feel Bear’s presence in the bathroom. She could not hear him, but knew he was there. He was a quiet man, physically and emotionally.

Damned recon Marine!”

Trina sat up, drawing her knees to her chin. She wrapped her arms around her legs, hugging them tightly. The bedroom was dark - the house - quiet. A white glow undulated through a slit in the drapes. Outside, a rare autumn blizzard swathed the Denver Metro area with heavy snow. A blanket of cold silence smothered the city’s bustling noise. She could hear their Great Pyrenees, Sunka, snoring downstairs in the living room.

            Bear finished toweling off. He padded into the bedroom and nodded to his wife, acknowledging that she was awake. He stole a glance at her. Trina... brilliant... lovely. His divine gift and blessing, his bane and weakness. She is a petite five-one and one-hundred pounds with her hair soaking wet. Her mother was a dusky, Persian beauty, her father, a ruddy Irishman. She is a perfect blend of both, her long radiant raven hair and fine features from her mother, creamy Celtic skin from her father… a Greek statue personified, with full, firm breasts and softly curved hips. A classically trained ballerina, the rest of her body was carefully chiseled and taut. Trina held advanced degrees from SUNY in Systems Engineering and Dance. Gifted with a brilliant mind, a savant at signals analysis, numbers, patterns and waves spoke to her. She used her doctorate to lend impetus to her career and achievements in science. She gave up ballet long ago and indulged in belly dancing to keep her body fit. Bear approved.

“You’re awake.”

He was not surprised. She never slept when he was not in bed.

“Mmmhmm,” she replied.

Bear moved silently about the bedroom, gathering his possibles.

Trina studied his backside as he moved, “Magnificent,” she thought. Warmth spread through her loins.

“I’m taking Sunka with me.” Bear remarked, pulling a pair of black boxer shorts over his tightly muscled buttocks.

“I’m going to the office in the morning.” Trina replied, no longer aroused. Lying down once more, she rolled away from the sight of her husband, giving him her back. “It will be quiet there tomorrow. Everyone will be at home, enjoying the holiday,” she continued coolly.

Bear pulled on a pair of heavy woolen socks.

“Dispatcher at the State Patrol Office says that I-70 is still a damn mess and getting worse. Past the Divide, from the tunnel to Dillon, it's all black ice,” he replied.

Trina squeezed her eyes tightly shut, and slowly opened them.

“I have to clean out my office,” she said quietly, snuggling deeper under the comforter.

The room was toasty. A small fire blazed merrily in the bedroom’s hearth. Trina felt ice cold, like she would never be warm again. She drew neither comfort nor joy from the little fire.

“Rifle Gap got hit hard yesterday. Tobias called from Meeker last night,” Bear said, from inside a heavy cable-knit sweater. “Three and a half feet of snow on the Four Corners... do you think the Defender will be able to make it to The Station?” His head popped out of the sweater.

“My transfer to Gulfport went through,” Trina said quietly, her face nearly buried in her pillow.

Bear went to the cavernous walk-in closet for his hunting boots. “Do you know if the sump company made it out to The Station?” he called, sounding distant. "Tobias said the Elk herds are thick this year. He swears he saw a thousand pound bull with a sixteen-point rack. Can you imagine that, honey?"

"You can't call me at the office anymore,” whispered Trina.

She heard the loud click of the big safe, where Bear kept their long guns. He came out of their closet. His right hand gripped a rifle encased in a richly tooled, floral patterned, leather scabbard. His left hand held a box of cartridges.

"I'm taking the 8mm Remington.”

"I'm not selling the Cherokee,” she shot back defiantly, "it's mine."

Bear gave her a heavy sigh. "Have you seen my orange vest and hat?" He quietly asked.

He knelt on the floor and searched under the bed. Shoulder deep in dog toys, he felt the bill of his cap and pulled. Out came a tattered bill and no cap.

"Damned dog,” he muttered. "Did you hear anything on that new storm moving in? I don’t want to get stuck out there. I might have to eat Sunka,” he joked.

Trina felt Bear kneel on the bed. He nibbled her earlobe, and gave her a chaste kiss on the cheek. She stiffened at the touch of his lips.

"I love you,” he breathed urgently. Bear waited in vain a moment, longing for Trina's affirmation. She remained oblivious, stiff and silent. He rose sharply from the bed. Seizing the rifle, shells and a backpack, he stalked out the door. Trina felt his feet pound down the stairs.

"Come on Sunka! Let's go!” Bear called.

A single resounding bark came in answer, followed by the scrambling of paws. The kitchen door leading into the garage closed with a soft click.

            A car door slammed. The Land Rover's engine started in the garage below. The automatic garage door thrummed open. The engine growled when Bear put it in gear and reversed into the snow-covered driveway. The engine noise hushed when the garage door rumbled closed. Trina strained to hear the engine now. Bear’s departure was absorbed by the heavy white silence, enveloping the night. She tried to swallow the lump filling her throat, wiping a hot tear from her cheek.

Trina asked the empty house, "Where's the trunk with my summer clothes? I want my red, Brazilian bikini."


Sunka opened his eyes at the sound of the car's turn signal. Bear was exiting I-70 at the CO-789 junction in Rifle. The dog felt the car lurch and the tires bite the drifting snow. Sunka let out a soft whine as the man downshifted and took his foot from the accelerator.

"Easy boy, we're almost there." Bear said quietly.

Click click click. Click. Click. Click. Click click click.

Sunka perked his ears at the sound. He sat up in the backseat. The man was rhythmically tapping the gearshift knob with his index finger. Sunka disliked the noise. It made him anxious.

Bear drove north through Rifle. At the edge of town, he turned right on CO-325. Driving cautiously up the narrow canyon toward Rifle Gap, he followed the roadside snow markers. A foot of fresh, unmarked snow covered the road. The snow markers indicated three-foot drifts. Bear was not worried about getting to The Station. His Defender 90 had a short wheelbase and full time four-wheel drive.

"My transfer to Gulfport went through." His mind replayed Trina’s words.

"Damn it Trina. What the hell are you doing?" Bear voiced his thoughts.

Click click click. Click. Click. Click. Click click click.

Sunka moved behind Bear on the backseat. He put his soft white head on the man's shoulder. Bear took his hand from the gearshift. He stroked the dog's muzzle. Thick wiry whiskers tickled his palm.

"We’re almost there big guy. Everything is all right,” Bear reassured the dog and himself.

Sunka closed his eyes and gave a contented sigh.

The snow tapered off immediately when Bear passed through Rifle Gap. The ridgeline of the Grand Hogback channeled the worst of the storm to the south slope. He bore left on a right hand curve, leaving CO-325, passing the reservoir on CO-252. There were six miles left. The two-lane macadam road was not plowed. The snow had drifted over the road eighteen inches deep. The car lurched. Bear fought the steering wheel for control.


He moved his hand back to the gearshift knob and downshifted.

Click click click. Click. Click. Click. Click click click.

Sunka watched the man shift into four-wheel drive low. The transmission groaned, whined and shuddered into low gear. The dog lay back down on the seat, shut his eyes and listened to the incessant tapping.

The sharp left turn off CO-252 at The Station woke Sunka with a start. The snow choked driveway angled down sharply and flattened over a triple set of culvert pipes, set in concrete. Rifle Creek was frozen. Bear turned left behind a windbreak of Norwegian Aspen trees shielding the cabin from the road. The trees were leafless and skeletal in the yellow beams of the fog lights. 

Sunka bounced on the seat, barking impatiently, his tail wagged in a joyous circle. The man was laughing. Bear parked in the carport behind the cabin. He got out and opened Sunka's door. The dog leapt out of the car. He rolled himself in the snow, got up, shook himself free of the icy treat and ran off into the front yard. He capered, zigzagged and sniffed, stopping at the trailhead leading to the old coach barn. He dug into the snow with a gusto born of desperation revealing an ugly garden gnome wearing a red hat. Sunka lifted his leg and sprayed the gnome's face, establishing his presence to the local critters.

Bear unloaded his gear and stowed it in the small, front bedroom. He did not wish to sleep in the master bedroom without Trina. He opened the front door. Sunka was outside, in the white darkness, exploring the yard. Bear observed the dog’s antics for a moment.

“Come Sunka. Come here boy."

Sunka instantly obeyed, making a beeline for the cabin. He barreled past the man. Bear shut the door and got out of the way. The dog took his bed in his massive jaws, dragging it to the front door. Sunka loved the draft from under the door. He would not sleep anywhere else in the cabin.

Bear put dry manila rope, oak chips and kindling in the fireplace. He took a flint and steel from the mantle and knelt in front of the grate. He rapidly struck the flint with the steel striker, sending white-hot sparks onto the rope. Flames burst from the tinder, igniting the kindling. Bear returned the fire-starter to the mantel and went to the bar in the corner of the living room. He took a large, cut crystal tumbler from the shelf. Reaching under the bar, he brought out a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s Private Reserve.

Ah. The good stuff.

Fifty-seven years old, considered the finest bourbon made, he poured three fingers into the tumbler.

Sunka lay in front of the door out of sorts. The woman was not here. She always came to his place with the man. She always gave him bacon when they arrived. He watched the man across the room. He was drinking something that smelled awful. He was making that noise again.

Bear tapped his belt buckle.

Click click click. Click. Click. Click. Click click click.

Bear walked over to the big bay window overlooking the long east pasture. He opened the heavy drapes. Bear sat down in a large, walnut mission chair. He contemplated his whiskey. His grandfather gave this bourbon to his father forty-two years ago to commemorate the birth of his first grandchild. He took in a mouthful of the dark amber fluid. He rolled it on his tongue and pushed it through his teeth. It was rich and smoky, with a hint of charred oak and mash. He swallowed. Cool, liquid fire, burned down his throat. A wildfire blazed in his stomach, filling him with a warm glow.

Click click click. Click. Click. Click. Click click click.

 “Why would Trina want to live in Gulfport? Our life is here, in Colorado.”

Sunka perked his ears at his voice.

Trina had never been to Mississippi until twelve weeks ago. EEI, Eton Electronic Innovations, employed her as Project Manager developing highly sensitive, signals intercept software. They sent her to Gulfport to oversee the system test on new Aegis class Destroyers. It had been raining in Denver. Gulfport was sunny and eighty degrees.

Click click click. Click. Click. Click. Click click click.

She had come back gushing about the place. The friendly people. The food. The warm breezes. The beautiful calm waters and beaches of the Gulf of Mexico.

He tapped his buckle louder, more insistent.

Click click click. Click. Click. Click. Click click click.

Sunka got up, went over to the man and sat next to him. He nudged the man's shoulder with his nose. The man took his hand from his belt buckle and scratched the dog behind the ears. Sunka turned his snowy white face to the man, staring at him with soulful black eyes.

“You miss her too, don’t you? Come on, I know what you want.”

Bear rose from the chair and walked to the kitchen. Sunka followed. He walked over to the refrigerator and removed a package of ready to eat bacon. Sunka made a sound halfway between a sigh and a quiet bark.


The man walked back to the chair with the dog at his heels. He sat down. The dog sat down.


Bear opened the bacon and held out a piece to Sunka. The dog reverently accepted the offering of bacon from the man. Bear gazed out the bay window, across the pasture, toward the Divide. The storm was moving quickly east. The snow had stopped and the sky was clearing.


Bear gave the dog another piece of bacon.

It’s not like it rains and snows all of the time."

He was flummoxed. Trina had been behaving strangely for months. The trip to Gulfport and her unilateral decision to transfer to EEI’s Marine Support Division had floored Bear.


The man gave Sunka the rest of the bacon. He held up his open hand to show he did not have anymore. Sunka licked his hand in gratitude and went back to his bed and beloved draft. The dog closed his eyes and began softly snoring.

Click click click. Click. Click. Click. Click click click.

Bear tapped the tumbler.

“Chuff,” groused a sleeping Sunka.


Trina took out her employee ID badge. Her picture smiled winningly from below the EEI logo. A broad red bar signified a Top Secret clearance. She presented it to an EEI Denver Operations security officer. Signing in, she walked to the entrance of the SCIF1. Trina slid her badge through the card reader, leaned forward and looked into the retina scanner. The electronic door lock made a loud metallic snap. Opening the heavy, reinforced steel door, she walked through the airlock into the SCIF.

The soles of her deck shoes made no sound as she walked down the long, gray carpeted, corridor. The SCIF is spooky on weekends and holidays. The building was nearly silent. A low steady hum emanated from the document shredding room. Federal construction requirements allowed for no sound in or out beyond the walls. The single story building is windowless. Reinforced concrete, exterior walls, are one foot thick. The interior walls and ceilings are Navajo white. Office cubicles are dark grey. Chairs are black. The decor is somber, serious and sterile. It reflects the proper attitude the company encourages employees acquire toward the mission. Trina stopped in front of an ornately carved mahogany door, punched her code into the electronic keypad lock, and entered her office.

EEI rewarded its best and brightest executive scientists, like herself, the perquisite of choosing decor and furniture to their liking. Trina enjoyed her office. It was her sanctum sanctorum. The furniture, like the door, was ornately carved mahogany. A parquet floor, covered with a bright, cloud patterned Persian rug lay beneath her feet. She walked over to her chair, a tall old-fashioned wingback. The oxblood leather matched the mahogany. A one hundred gallon saltwater aquarium sat in the corner nearest her desk. Its sole occupant, Ocho, a Giant Pacific Octopus, was barely visible in his coral lair. A compact bar and entertainment center sat in the opposite corner nearest her desk. The far corners were anchored by twin, bonsai cut, pinyon pine trees. Her office smelled of the sea, leather, lemon oil and fresh pine.

Trina walked to her chair and sat down. She had very little left to pack. After she went home on Wednesday, her secretary had stayed and packed most of her belongings into two file boxes. They were sitting next to the door waiting to go home. She had left the photographs and a fresh rose on her desk. Trina would take the pictures with her today. The rest of the office would be dismantled on Monday and shipped to Gulfport. Transporting Ocho was proving to be impossible. The beautiful octopus was going to his new home at the Denver Zoo on Monday. The rest of her office would be reassembled in Gulfport. It would be ready for her to occupy in two weeks. It took three years and eighty brilliant mathematicians and systems engineers to bring her conceptual design of the new Signals Intercept Notification System, SINS, to fruition. Now she would oversee the installation and deployment of her system in the US Navy's newest destroyers.


Blinding white light streaming through the window woke Bear. He yawned, stretched, threw his arms wide and knocked the whiskey tumbler off the end table. Drops of clear amber liquid pooled on the floor, refracting tiny rainbows of light on the walls. Bear pulled himself up from the low-slung chair. His bladder nagged him for release. He quickly strode down the hall to the bathroom.

Past the stark light glaring through the living room window, fresh snow glistened in the east pasture. An enormous bull elk cautiously emerged from the south canyon. He moved warily out into the pasture. The snow was up to his chest. He leapt, bounding and thrusting his body through the deep powder, working across the dangerous open space. He reached the other side, disappearing into the safety of the dogwood thicket edging Rifle Creek.

Sunka's eyes followed the man's move to the bathroom. His back was against the cabin door. The icy draft caressed his skin through the thick fur. He knew the man would let him go outside soon. Sunka stirred himself. He rose, stretching his paws out in front of him and pushed his hindquarters high. His tail curved in a circle over his back. The dog walked to the kitchen straight to his bowls. He sniffed the empty food bowl, and then lapped up a cool drink of water.

"Hey Sunka. There's the big boy."

Bear walked over to the stove and took up a battered, old steel coffee pot. A tiny flake of blue porcelain detached itself from the pot and drifted down to the stovetop. Bear turned the hot-water tap. He removed the percolator stem and let water flow into the pot. He put the pot on the stove. Striking a match, he turned a knob and lit the burner. A bright blue-yellow flame hissed into life beneath the pot. Bear put fresh Arabica beans in an antique mill and turned the crank. The rich, smoky aroma of the ground coffee beans filled the kitchen. He emptied the coarse grindings into the tin basket, put the percolator stem into the pot, and replaced the glass-topped lid.

The bull elk stood next to the creek. He smelled the water rushing past him beneath its frozen shell. He struck the edge of the ice with his broad, cloven hoof.


Great shards of ice flew into the crisp morning air. Long frozen splinters stuck to the fur on his shins. He struck again.


Chunks of ice skittered in all directions. Water welled up on the surface. He struck a third time.


The ice broke. Frigid water splashed up the bull's leg. The broken chunks of ice were whisked away by the chill current. The noise echoed up and down the narrow valley. The elk bent his thick neck to the freezing water and drank.

Bear filled Sunka's food bowl. The dog sat patiently waiting for his meal. His ears were upright and alert. He listened to the echoing cracks over the noise of the dry nuggets pouring into his bowl. Bear put Sunka's bowl on the floor and snapped his fingers. The dog lost all pretense of decorum. He greedily devoured his food. Bear watched him eat.

"I'm hungry too,” he said.

The bull finished drinking. He bunched his haunches and vaulted Rifle Creek. The high, nearly vertical opposite bank stood before him. He picked his way down the bank toward the bright morning sun and found a narrow break in the bank. He scrambled upward, slipping in the snow and slush, to the shoulder of the road. The elk crossed the empty road in two easy leaps. A third leap put him over the four-foot snowdrift covering the barbwire fence on the opposite shoulder. He disappeared into the dense chaparral.

Sunka finished eating, took another drink, walked to the cabin door, and sat down.


Bear ambled over, moved the dog bed with his foot, and opened the door. Sunka looked up at the man with a silent plea. Bear snapped his fingers twice and the dog shot out into the cold, bright morning. He raced to the nearest fence post and raised his leg in a business-like manner. The man shook his head and shut the door. Sunka lowered his leg and perked his ears, listening to a disturbance in the brush next to the stream. He bounded through the snowdrifts toward the pasture. His nose caught a familiar scent and he turned toward it. Sunka bent his head to a fresh pile of scat. His nose told him it belonged to the male cougar that haunted the area. He did not notice the bull elk climbing the ridge behind him.


Trina kept three photographs on her desk. She packed the gold framed picture of her parents and the silver framed, black and white glossy of her favorite wedding photo. They had been on the far left corner of her desk. The last photograph remained on the far right corner of her desk. A plain, black enameled, wood frame enshrines a photo of an older gentleman and a young boy. The frame has a jet beaded rosary hanging on one corner and a bud vase with a single, yellow rose next to it. Trina stared at the photo of her father-in-law and her seven year old son. She wondered if Bear remembered the flowers and the wreath.


Sunka had been gone for almost an hour. Bear looked out the window at the east pasture. Nothing moved in the long, white, open expanse of the field. He put on his parka and snowshoes and went outside.

He put his hands up to the sides of his mouth. "Sunka! Come!" Bear shouted. His call echoed down the valley.

A few seconds later, he was answered by a faint, forlorn howl.

"Shit. All right. I'm coming."

Sunka beat him to the punch again.

Bear went to the Land Rover and opened the rear hatch. He took a fully bloomed poinsettia and a wreath of holly from the back of the car. Another faint howl broke the silence.

"I hear you. Stop nagging."

He closed the rear hatch. Carrying the poinsettia and the wreath, he began the long trek to the far end of the pasture. On the way down, he cut the trail the elk left earlier.

 "Interesting. I'll have to investigate that later."

At last, he came to the fence line and turned toward the creek. Exactly halfway across the pasture, Bear found the dog. Sunka lay in the snow. His chin rested on top of a little boy's head sticking out of the snow. An old man, hip deep in snow, stood next to the boy with one hand resting on his shoulder. Bear went over to a young noble fir tree planted four years before and reached into the branches for the snow-shovel he kept there. Returning, he shooed off Sunka and cleared the snow from the statue's base. He took a foxtail shop-brush from the back pocket of his jeans. He carefully, lovingly, cleaned the remaining snow from the black, granite statue.

Before Bear stood a life-size, black granite representation of his father and his seven-year-old son. They were smiling at him as if they hadn't a care in the world. Trina had the photo that inspired the piece on the desk in her office. Bear read the words carved between the man and boy's feet.

Pals forever.

Sharing a nap was the best.

We sleep now together, in eternal rest.

Ralph Harris

15 March 1943 - 7 June 2008

"Little Ralph" Patrick Harris

10 January 2001 - 7 June 2008

Twin graves rested before the base of the memorial. Bear placed the poinsettia next to the epitaph. He placed the wreath on a fence post where the guys could see it.

"Merry Christmas." He whispered.

Bear took a rosary from his front pocket and knelt before the statue. Praying the decades slowly, carefully reverent. Fifteen minutes later, he completed the rosary and rose to his feet. He took a deep, shaky breath.

"Come on dog. You been out here long enough."

Sunka ignored him. He turned around twice and lay down on his boy's grave.

"Suit yourself."

It was useless trying to make the dog leave his son. He would not intrude on the dog's grief.

Bear backtracked slowly up to the cabin. Sunka would come in his own time. He took no notice of the trail left by the elk. Tears streamed down the flat planes of his cheeks. The growing lump in his throat made breathing a chore. Reaching the cabin, he looked back down the pasture. Sunka was slowly following his trail toward the cabin, his head down. Neither the dog, nor the man, noticed the massive elk watching them from atop the north ridge.

End Notes

1. SCIF - Sensitive Compartmented Intelligence Facility. An accredited area, room, group of rooms, or installation where sensitive compartmented information (SCI) may be stored, used, discussed, and/or electronically processed. Sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF) procedural and physical measures prevent the free access of persons unless they have been formally indoctrinated for the particular SCI authorized for use or storage within the SCIF.

Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. US Department of Defense 2005.


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