“I’m ready,” Sal said. He reached for the rifle and grabbed extra ammunition pouches. “I’ve got enough powder to shoot two or three of those big bears.” He leaped out of the protective branches moving toward the remaining bear. Paciano and Brother David had to pull him back.
“Sal, be careful! This bear is our only target tonight,” Brother David said.
“I’ve got this rifle, and I know how to use it.” Sal ran his palm on the barrel of the big gun. “Those arrows will only graze him, but I’ll make a clean kill with this, then go after more.”
“Stop, Sal! We only kill the straggler, then the other bears will feel safe to return,” Brother David said. Sal sensed Salina watching him, too. His excitement rose as he imagined the glory of his conquest, being the man who killed the bear and dragged it to camp. The beautiful Salina would cook it afterward—a feast for him and a hero’s celebration.
Brother David broke into Sal’s fantasy, “The men know what to do.” The kill belonged to Paciano, the man whose leadership Sal wanted to challenge. The bear, as big as a boulder, moved toward them. It lifted its huge head, long teeth and claws dripping with saliva. The arrows flew and slowed the beast who moved so close. It slowed as the lassos snared the front paws. When it growled, Sal felt its hot breath on his face. The arrows hung limply from his fur.
“Shoot now!” Blas’s voice echoed in Sal’s ear. Sal struggled to raise the rifle. His arms were weak, and his body shook, making his aim impossible. No longer a distant target, the bear appeared like a massive wall directly in front of him. If it fell forward, it would easily smother him. His hands were too shaky to pull the trigger. He felt a strong man step behind him to lend support and help him grip the rifle. Together they pulled off a shot. Blown backward by the rifle blast, the two men fell in a tangled heap.
The bear let out a roar, then lurched forward just inches from Sal. He heard a second shot from a distant rifle. The bear fell, a dark trail of blood oozing from its ear. Who shot that second rifle?
“Los osos,” the man at Sal’s back said. Paciano helped him to his feet. The other men approached the dead bear. The women stood back talking, excited. Brother David looked beyond the bear toward the ridge where the second rifle fired.
The bear hunt was over, but no one—not even Salina—paid any attention to Sal. He watched Brother David walking toward the marksman who made the final shot, a lone soldier with a rifle.
The hunt did not end the way Sal had hoped. No one celebrated him as the hero. He called out to Brother David, “Did you see? Paciano helped me.” Why would such a man let Sal take the lead?
“Yes, I saw,” Brother David said. They both looked toward Paciano, who regaled his sons with his account of the face-off with the bear. “I saw a man focused on the needs of the tribe. Yes, he helped you, and God helped all of us.”
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