The article read, Fatal Bear Attack In Wyoming. A man’s body had been found outside of a cave in Bridger-Teton. Most of the flesh had been ripped from his bones. The man’s name was John Lister.
When I was at university, I spent Australia Day with a girl named Lauren Lister at her family’s house in country Victoria. Lauren and I have since drifted apart, but back then we were close. Her childhood room was very girly, with lace curtains and yellow rose wallpaper which she used to peel back to write the names of boys she liked, as well as anything else she needed to get off her chest. Harry, Lucas, Mum is annoying. I slept on the bottom bunk and stared up at the glow-in-the-dark adhesive butterflies.
Lauren had a brother named John who was still in secondary school and lurked in doorways. He was the kind of person who would have hidden behind a tree at someone’s funeral. I got stuck sitting across from him at dinner, and had to watch him gnaw on a chicken leg until it was bare, at which point he deposited the large bone beside his plate on the faded purple tablecloth and wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his flannel shirt.
He leaned over and whispered to me, “I can’t wait to get away from all this.”
I hadn’t expected him to speak. I don’t think I had heard him say one word since we arrived the previous night. “I don’t know what you mean,” I responded, scooping more corn onto my plate.
“This is bullshit. All this luxury,” he said, rolling his eyes. I looked over at their father who was emptying a third packet of sugar into his coffee. The older couple on either side of him kept interrupting each other as they talked about a local politician they had run into at a bowling alley. Lauren was in the kitchen helping her mum defrost a store-bought cheesecake.
John continued. “When I graduate, I’m selling all my stuff and flying to the states. I wanna drive cross country and have time to think, you know?” He gestured at the devoured leg. “Gotta stop eating meat. This stuff is disgusting.”
“You looked like you enjoyed it,” I responded, wiping my mouth with a paper towel, which I then crumpled and held in my fist under the table.
“I did,” he shook his head. “That’s what wrong with everything. Humans just take whatever they want. We don’t even have to kill for it. We just go to the shops and buy dead animals wrapped in plastic for a holiday commemorating the slaughter of millions of Aboriginals.”
“I don’t think it was millions,” I said. John glared at me.
Lauren came back to clear the table. “Hey Kate, wanna help?” As we stood at the sink scraping remaining food into the bin, she apologised for her brother. “He’s such a creep. You should see what he writes in his diary.”
“You read his diary?” I asked, stacking dishes in the dishwasher.
“Only once,” she said, “when I thought he might blow up the school.”
John ended up doing exactly what he said he’d do. Two weeks after he finished school, he flew to Boston, bought a used Honda, and drove west with a large duffel bag and a gas stove.
The article said that park rangers shot and killed the bear they thought was responsible for the attack. They weren’t certain this was the bear that had ripped John apart. But they killed it anyway. They had to do something.
This is a work of fiction and was shortlisted for the 2018 Peter Cowan 600-Word Short Story Award.