Word spread a few years ago that the price for bear spleens and gall bladders was way up, due to a renewed interest in Eastern medicine. My friend, Eugene, and his buddy Purly Coutermarche joined forces, determined to cash in on some of that action.
Their first foray into the medicinal quality animal parts market was a complicated affair and involved hiring a pack of hounds as well as crossing state lines. It began with Eugene and Purly following five dogs, at a full run, across two streams, over a hill and through a half mile long bramble patch and that is where it ended, with Eugene catching his breath and having a smoke while he waited for Purly to catch up. Together they sat and listened to another man’s dogs fade into the distance somewhere in the next county and together they sneaked away before that man could find out what had happened.
Their second shot at big-time bear-parts bucks came early the next fall when Purly’s uncle, who has a camp up on Cold Pond, called. He rents the camp, a week at a time, to flatlanders, who tend to not secure their garbage which in turn tends to attract bears. One particular bear had begun breaking into cars and Purly’s uncle was offering a hundred bucks to have it gone before deer season which meant Eugene and Purly were already ahead of the game. After negotiating a four-way split between himself, Purly, Purly’s brother John and their cousin Marcel, Eugene could practically feel those twenty-five extra smackaroos burning a hole in his pocket.
The camp at Cold Pond isn’t much more than a shack with a bearskin on one wall, four cots and a woodstove, with a lean-to on one side serving as an outdoor kitchen when the weather is nice. Eugene had been here before and, knowing how things could get inside that shack after a dinner of beans, bacon and corn, chose to pitch a tent just beyond the lean-to. It was serious business, setting up a hunting camp like this but they were settled in by dark, and soon it was time to engage in the age-old hunting camp tradition of drinking themselves stupid.
The boys knew they had a full day of hunting ahead of them so they did not stay up late, hitting the hay around 1:30 a.m. while the moon was still high. Passing clouds caused weird shadows to play across the fabric of Eugene’s tent, and he was just beginning to snore when a twig snapped and he awoke with a start. He sat up and turned to see a great, dark shadow looming over him, weaving back and forth and looking very menacing. It was a bear and Eugene was trapped!
The silhouetted bear grunted and growled while Eugene curled up, trembled and felt like he needed to pee. He heard scratching noises on the nylon and felt the tent frame shake as the bear poked around for a way in and, when he thought he couldn’t possibly take any more, the bear leaned in close and said, “Eugene, I’m going to eat you!”
“Morons!” yelled Eugene as he struggled to unzip the tent door. Thrashing and cursing, trying to get out, Eugene managed to collapse the tent around himself. He also pulled every anchor stake loose and soon found himself wrapped in the ropes, writhing on the ground like a giant nylon caterpillar.
He eventually emerged, springing forth as naked as the day he was born, kicking and swinging, throwing hay-makers and roundhouses. John and Marcel were doubled over with laughter but not paralyzed by it and they easily avoided Eugene’s fury. Purly, however, was wearing his uncle’s old bearskin from the shack. His feet got tangled in the trailing rear legs, the head flopped over his face, he hit a tree and went down hard. Eugene was on him in an instant, kicking and stomping and not letting up until Purly was gasping for air from laughing so hard.
Purly got to his feet and patted Eugene on the back, even as one last, feeble blow glanced off his belt. Then he joined John and Marcel, laughing all the way to the shack and leaving Eugene standing nude in the moonlight with a bad feeling welling up inside. The feeling was regret and what he regretted was that third serving of beans, bacon and corn he’d had at dinner but, if he remembered correctly, this year’s latrine was only about fifty yards to the south.
Eugene barely made it in time, but make it he did, and he actually got comfortable enough, sitting there on a plank across the top of an old oil drum, that he soon nodded off to sleep. (For another adventure involving Eugene and one of Purly’s uncle’s latrines, be sure to check out Careful With That Ax, Eugene)
The moon was down into the trees on the ridge when Eugene woke up. He heard noises coming from back at camp, first the clinking of bottles then the clanking of pans, like maybe the boys were up for a little late night snack, so Eugene finished what he was doing and ambled up the path to join them.
He was surprised to see no lantern as he approached the lean-to but he could see a large dark form moving back and forth. Ducking off the trail and into the bushes, Eugene couldn’t believe Purly would try to pull the old bearskin gag twice in one night but he had to admit, as he crept closer, that Purly was putting on a good show, licking the grease out of the pans like that.
One of Eugene’s many guiding principles is “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice and I’ll kick your ass.” He leapt from the underbrush with a fierce yowl, grabbing and clawing at black fur in an attempt to pull that ratty old rug from Purly’s back. When he was slammed to the ground, Eugene’s first thought was that Purly or the rug, one or the other, sure did stink and as they wrestled around Eugene realized the stink was coming off on him in a big, greasy smear.
Eugene tried and tried to get that rug off of Purly, to expose the charade and show he wasn’t scared, but it was too well secured. Pulling hard on the ears only loosened a few clumps of fur, but Eugene was impressed by Purly’s bellowing as he climbed on his back, wrapped his legs around and started kicking him in the belly. Staying high, Eugene avoided being pummeled by the wildly swinging, floppy old bear paws but he had to hang on tight when Purly began running, charging all the way around the shack and back again twice before crashing into a support pole and bringing the whole lean-to down with a clatter.
Eugene gouged and hit while Purly bellowed and squealed. Then Purly reared up, smashing them both into the wall of the shack and that is when Eugene heard John and Marcel yelling those words he has heard so often, “Stop, Eugene, stop! You’re gonna get killed!”
Eugene laughed at them maniacally, the bastards, always trying to make a fool of him. Purly bounced him off the wall a few more times and then started spinning in circles. Eugene could see the boys had their flashlights and were waving them wildly as they shouted. Their faces spun by as he went around and around, first John, then Marcel and Purly. John, Marcel, Purly. John, Marcel, Purly.
Eugene was relieved to know it was not his friend exuding the horrible stench he was covered with but he found it somewhat disconcerting to slowly realize that he was both naked and on the back of a bear. He had very little time to contemplate this new reality, though, as his friends came to the rescue with flashlights and fists a-flyin’.
Blows rained down from all quarters but not every blow landed on the bear in the mayhem that ensued. Eugene took quite a few good shots himself, including a couple of real slobber-knockers when Purly started swinging his twelve inch cast-iron frying pan and with that additional fire-power the bear was eventually freed from Eugene’s grip.
Dazed and confused, the bear staggered sideways onto Eugene’s collapsed tent. Eugene raised his arms and shouted, charging at the bear, but the bear had had enough. It turned, wrapping some of Eugene’s tent ropes around its hind leg, and ran, dragging Eugene’s tent, sleeping bag and all his clothes with it.
Their happy little hunting camp was destroyed. Broken bottles and ruined food covered the ground. The moon had set, the first light of dawn was showing to the east and Eugene shivered in the early morning chill. John and Marcel were much too small to loan him any of their clothes and Purly feared the stink so, while Purly searched the woods for his clothes, Eugene sat on a log, wrapped in the old bearskin rug from the shack. John and Marcel picked up as best they could and loaded the truck to kill time until Purly came back and when he did he had only a sock, which Eugene put on.
It might have been due to the stench he’d acquired while wrestling the bear or it might have been because of his nakedness but no one wanted to sit near Eugene so he rode out in the back of the truck. He didn’t blame his friends for not loaning him clothes or sitting with him, and he appreciated the stop at the emergency room, but he didn’t think it was necessary for them to hoot and holler, honk the horn and lay down rubber when they left him standing by the curb. He also thought, as he limped through town to my house wearing nothing but a bearskin rug and a sock, that they could have dropped him off somewhere other than the parking lot of the Rutland Wal-Mart.
He knew it could have been worse – things can always be worse with Eugene – but after trying twice and coming up short, Eugene figured if anyone really needed a bear spleen or gall bladder that badly they would just have to get it themselves, and if they could do that they couldn’t have been very sick in the first place.