I was sitting in my corner booth, as usual on a Friday night. I was on my third beer. Fourth? Third? Third.
I finished it with a long sip and wiped the suds off my beard. It was around then when I saw him looking at me. I knew why. I could see it in his stare. He was looking at my scar.
From eyebrow to chin; it was quite noticeable. Thirty-two stitches’ worth and hell of a lot of pain. Tremendous pain.
It was a college boy. It wasn’t uncommon. Ever since the campus nearby became dry, there’ve been more and more of them. I don’t blame ’em. I remember my days being young. I remember them well. I was just like the boy staring at me. Young and stupid. So horribly stupid. I had more stubble than that boy, though, that’s for sure.
The kid ordered two beers and carefully walked them over to my booth. He sat down and slid me one. My usual reaction would be asking him politely to go to hell. I don’t like newcomers sitting in my booth. I knew why he was staring earlier, but why he abandoned his friends to talk to an old bear like me was beyond me. And his breath reeked of tequila.
“Excuse me sir, *hic!* but I just couldn’t help but notice your *hic!* scar.” The college boy took a long draw of the beer to rid himself of the hiccups. “There has to be a story behind it. And I just get so damn *hic!* curious. How’d you get that scar?”
I hated telling the story. It brought up a lot. I considered downing this beer in one long chug and telling him to go away. I also considered making up some fake tall tale, stretch it out real long, see how many beers the kid would buy me. I don’t know if it was the fact that it had happened on a cold night like this, or maybe it was because I saw so much of my same young stupidity in this kid, but I opened my mouth and began talking.
“When I was your age I lived close by to here and – ”
“Did you go to Chauncelor U?”
“Chauncelor U didn’t exist when I was your age. Don’t interrupt.”
“Quit callin’ me sir. Jus’ shut up and liseten up. This story is a lot. I lost a friend that night. Just let me tell my story. And keep the beers coming. Okay?”
“Sure thing *hic!*”
“Well, years and years ago. I had a best friend named Mikey. Our moms had hated each other, so naturally we did what all seven-year-olds did. We said to hell with our moms and became closest friends.”
“I would have given my life for Michael Quinsberg. We were the closest two friends could be. He would’ve been my best man if I’d ever found a girl to get over this ugly mug. As we got older, our favorite thing to do was hunt with each other. Didn’t even have to talk. We just enjoyed each other’s company in silence. We shot at everything, rabbits, squirrels, deer, sometimes wolves if they were too close to the town. But our favorite game was bear.” The boy looked at my scar with his eyes widened.
“It was a late winter night like this. Just when they were coming out of hibernation. This was when they were most dangerous, they wake up hungry. Hell, we didn’t care. Up in that tree stand with our guns, we felt invincible. I think really we were just too stupid to care. We went up in the stand around four in the afternoon. We brought plenty of food to stay up there as long as we wanted. Good old Mikey, the bastard loved food. It showed with his belt size, too. He brought so much. It was so cold we couldn’t smell it much at all. But the bears, they could. Son, do you know the point of a tree blind? You ever been hunting?”
The kid shook his head.
“Well, the point of a tree blind is to keep you out of sight and high up off the ground. Unnoticed until you’re ready to take your shot. But, with a pack full of sausages it’s hard to stay unnoticed by hungry bears. And bears aren’t cute and cuddly like people think. They’ll rip you to pieces.”
“I- Is that what happened to your friend?”
I stared bullets at him.
“What did I say about interrupting. Shut your mouth if you wanna hear my story, will ya?”
The boy stayed silent.
“Good. Well, it wasn’t long before a grizzly came around. We stayed deathly still, but it smelled the damn food. Did you know that bears could climb trees? They can. Damn well, too. The beast grabbed the supports of the blind, which connected it to the tree. And when those broke, and the whole floor dropped out. Mikey fell with it, landed right next to the grizzly. I hung on like this. One arm on the blind, other holding my gun, my legs dangling about. Let me tell you about this bear. It was the biggest I ever saw. It was so big it coulda stood up and pulled me down if it wanted to. Its paws were as big as your chest. It had claws so long it could cut you to ribbons. It was huge. I was hangin’ there, terrified. But the bear wasn’t looking at me. Mikey was on the ground playing dead, but didn’t the bastard have more food in his pockets! The bear started sniffing him and Mikey couldn’t do a thing. I tried my best to line up the shot so it wouldn’t hit Mikey and I fired.”
The boy sat forward in anticipation as I took the final sip of my pint. He waved for another round and I continued.
“The shot grazed the bear, didn’t do a damn thing but make it angry and have me lose my grip on the blind. Now both Mikey and I were on the ground and I had a sprained knee. Luckily, now the bear was looking at me. It stood up as tall as could be and roared as loud as it could. Its paw was raised to tear me to shreds. I looked it right in the eye and without even lining up my shot, pumped my shotgun and shot it right through the heart.”
“Wait, you killed it? How’d Mikey die? Was he on the other side of the bear? How’d you get the scar then?”
“We walked out the forest as fast as we could and came here.”
“This exact booth. He sat exactly where you’re sitting. We drank pint after pint after pint thanking the lucky stars we were alive. It was the happiest and the drunkest I’ve ever been. We felt invincible. So damn invincible.”
“Mister, I don’t get it. How’d you get the scar? What happened to Mikey?”
I stood up and grabbed my coat.
“I tried to drive us home.”
I put money for the drinks down on the table and walked out into the blustery winter night, hoping my tears wouldn’t freeze.