The Polar Bear Had Walked miles from the shores of the Beaufort Sea to the Arctic Oil Camp. The sea ice had thinned, the seals were scarce. The bear was hungry. After marching across the windswept January snow, he arrived at the camp on the second day.
The lights of the camp shone like a beacon in the winter’s darkness. Large flood lamps made pools of light around the massive camp that was stacked on pylons ten feet above the frozen earth.
The bear moved easily underneath the living quarters of the camp. The structures were stacked three high and radiated out from the main buildings. Humans were active inside. The bear’s keen sense of smell picked up food, lots of food.
He could pick up the smell of a seal three miles away, even under the ice. The camp was a sensory overload. Bacon, grits, potatoes, beef, and the smell of frying eggs assaulted his senses. His stomach ached. He had not eaten in many days.
Large machines hummed from the generating plants, and trucks moved constantly to and from the camp. The smell of food was mixed with that of diesel and gas that powered the large camp. A twenty-four-hour commercial laundry shot off clouds of steam.
His last meal had been a tub of lard. He had scared a cook away as he was about to drop the lard in a rubbish bin. The lard had been licked down to its last bit of goodness before it froze. His large tongue had made short work of the meal.
Now he moved cautiously below the living quarters of the camp. Metal stairways led away from emergency exits every twenty feet. He moved between them, using them as cover', always aware of the humans and the threat they posed. They were a source of food and a source of danger. His massive paws walked the fine line.
He had been shot twice with rubber bullets from a shotgun and frightened with an air horn by the humans. The bear had not liked the experience. He tried to keep away from them but close enough to their food. If he waited by the stairs, they would drop things when he rushed at them.
He was waiting patiently now, under a set of stairs. The fierce wind ruffled his fur. He put his nose down between his paws. He did not sleep. His stomach growled as his hunger increased.
A noise from above startled the bear'—a crash of metal and a loud thud that pierced the Arctic night. A large, dark object bounced twice down the metal stairs and landed in a heap at the base.
Startled at first, the bear backed away from the noise and the object, but curiosity and survival eventually moved him forward. The object was a human. It lay in the swirling snow. There was no movement.
The bear approached slowly—his first instinct was always to protect himself from injury, the second was to survive. He nudged the body. There was blood on the forehead, the eyes stared. The bear looked only briefly around before accepting this offering of warm meat.
What should have been a feast for the hungry bear was rudely interrupted. Oil workers getting ready for their 7:00 a.m. shift had looked out the windows of their rooms. It didn’t matter that the grey Arctic dawn would not appear for another four hours—the habit of looking outside in the morning is ingrained in humans.
What workers saw at first looked like a National Geographic moment: a large polar bear outlined by halogen lights from the building feasting on something. Then, as one, the workers realized the something was a human. They jammed the camp switchboard with calls.
Security guards rushed to the door, grabbing their Arctic survival gear and shotguns loaded with rubber bullets. In minutes they stood outside the door, the large bear below them. One crouched on the second uppermost rung, the other stood.
The first rubber bullet hit the bear in the hindquarters. He spun around, still on all fours, his mass covering the body, his coveted prize of food. Another shot rang out. It echoed amongst the two buildings. This one hit the bear in his shoulder.
He stood. He could now see his attackers on the stairs. Ten feet of white polar bear rose up, his massive paws raised in defense of his meal. The third shot was directed in his chest. The oil workers who watched from their rooms above could hear the woof of air that escaped the bear.
The bear had had enough. The humans with their rubber bullets had knocked the wind out of him. He dropped down to all fours, and with one longing sideways glance at the body, he ambled away. A short distance away, he stopped under the buildings, in the shadows, and watched to see if the humans would give him back his dinner.
The security guards cautiously made their way down to the body and began radioing for backup. There were no signs of life left in the body, and the Arctic cold was already tuning it to ice.
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