The Story of the Bear Man As Told By a Local at the Bar by Matt Micheli

He loved bears. That’s all he talked about. He was so passionate, so…zealous, almost. Well, not almost—he was fanatical. He was an activist, a protector, a savior to them. Poachers beware. Even though there were enough protection agencies and law enforcement already in place to deter poaching, and there was never any documented threat of it in this park.

Every year, he would show up, construct his tent compound and live alongside the bears. Living with the bears, according to him, was apparently something so exhilarating he couldn’t even try to explain it to you; us folks who hadn’t had no way of understanding. And the connection he had with them… He told me this one story of how he came within ten feet of the thousand pound alpha and they locked eyes, and there was this connection of souls, one of the most amazing moments in his life. He said I would never be able to comprehend the feeling, the connection without experiencing it, so he wouldn’t bother trying to explain any further. On and on he’d go about how majestic and caring and nurturing these beautiful animals were and how humans could learn a lot from them.

The questions came: ‘You are unarmed. If poachers do come, how are you going to stop them? And, ‘What if one of the bears attacks you?’

He’d stare into whomever’s eyes who just asked the question. Unflinching, he’d say to them, “I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll die for them.”

The guy bled passion.

‘But what if one of the bears attacks you?’

He talked about this one guy out in Alaska pretending to live with the wolves, and pretending to protect them from poachers, but how that guy was doing it for all the wrong reasons. ‘He doesn’t really have a connection with the wolves. There aren’t really any poachers. He’s after publicity, fame. What an asshole.’ Then, he’d show you videos he had taken of the bears, but mainly of him ranting and raving and protesting alone in front of the camera. He looked like a one-man rock concert. On and on these videos went, with little footage of actual bears and endless footage of his one-man show. He’d record his tantrums on poachers and hatred for hunters. Looking into the camera he’d build himself up into some evangelical bad ass, someone who shouldn’t be fucked with, if they (the poachers) knew what’s good for them.

His life was consumed by this devout love for bears that none of us other bear-less people could even try to understand. And when you or anyone else came within speaking range, you’d become consumed. It’s all he talked about. And this love, this connection with bears, gave him a one-up on everyone else around. He had the story that could not be matched: risking his life every year protecting bears from unseen poachers. He was such the Samaritan. And for all the right reasons too, not like that asshole out in Alaska. He said he wasn’t after fame or any of that and if no one knew of his selfless, courageous, death-defying acts, it wouldn’t matter, because he felt it…that connection. He said if he could save one bear in all of his life, then his life would be worth something. And that’s what mattered to him. He told you about how he sold his story to some television network and how they were putting together a documentary on him to show to the world. He told a few others, actually everyone in the bar, of his newfound TV success, but how it wasn’t important, and he was only trying to save bears.

On his last trip, he took some lady friend along with him. She had been drawn in by the romanticism of his overwhelming passion for the bears, as had many. They set up tent and filmed and filmed. The camera was always rolling. She worked behind the scene, operating the camera, and was rarely apparent at all. Every now and then, you’d hear her giggle from behind the camera at one of his many jokes, before he’d say ‘Cut’ and then ‘We’ll have to reshoot.’ They bathed downstream from the bears, and it was amazing, unworldly. There were no sightings of poachers although the threat was high, so he said.

The camera that recorded the audio was found a few yards from the campground. From what the officials say, he got too close to the alpha on the wrong day. You can hear her desperately telling him to lie down and play dead and then (what sounds like) a woman screaming ‘Help’ and then ‘Run!’

His body—only a few of his bones were left—was found next to one of his blood-covered shoes. His lady friend’s body was never discovered.

He loved bears. That’s all he talked about. And he died doing what he loved: protecting the bears from these ghost poachers that were there but never seen. Honestly, I don’t feel bad for him or his lady friend. I only feel bad for the bears. Because now who is going to protect them?

Matt Micheli is a transgressive fiction writer out of Austin, TX. His first novel won the Wild Card category at the 2012 Halloween Book Festival. He has several short fiction and non-fiction pieces published in various literary magazines: Red Fez, Black Heart Magazine, SYWeZine, Revolt Daily, Manarchy Magazine, etc., with more scheduled to run in the near future. He is a loving husband by night and an unloving retail store manager by day. You will find him either behind his computer or at the nearest bar, either way with a stiff cocktail close by. Email: mattmicheliworld@gmail.com.

Lead image:  “Wrestling with a trained bear / Lutte avec un ours dressé” (via Flickr user Biblio Archives / Library Archives)