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It was a most curious sight to see in the middle of nowhere, Jana decided, but always a pleasure to come upon. Granted, every state in the union had a few of them, but to see one just lying outstretched lazily in the sun so far from where she was accustomed to finding them was both intriguing and a little hilarious. Damn, she thought, are they really becoming that common or am I just not as able to be astonished by them as I grow older?

The seclusion and solitude she had sought out when she made her annual pilgrimage to Desoto Canyon was to her what high-rolling trips to Vegas and high-kid-volume hair-pulling trips to Disney World are for so many- a break from it all. While she had been many places and done many things to take her mind off the daily grind of single parenting and crappy upper management decisions, it ultimately fell to her annual indulgence of the quiet peace of the secluded cabin and awesome abundance of natural beauty that replenished her soul. To get away from it all, one had to escape more than the hometown pitfalls and humdrum.

She had always come in May because of her vacation time being so regimented and dependent on people with more tenure and clout being able to pick and choose their allotment with impunity. She had ridden out a few of the older hands, medical maladies and retirement thinning the ranks of the older co-workers. Firings and new hirings chopped up the tenure list enough for her to state with finality that she would take in the seasonal change in autumn. Any acre of Desoto in September is worthy of a postcard photo or Ansel Adams print and she at last had the opportunity to visit a heavenly spot of earth.

Her son was safely stowed with her parents and the house was secured as well as could be expected. The more pressing of her financial matters were resolved for the month. Her car ran beautifully all the way into northeast Alabama.

She was completely at ease in the sturdy cabin. It was well furnished with all the necessities. There were pots and pans in the cupboard, a freshly made bed in the bedroom, hot water aplenty, and a huge tub to relax in and allow for quiet leisure and growth of soul. She had bought provisions along the way, stopping at a Food World in Gadsden for canned goods and a few bottles of merlot. Jana was set for seclusion and a peaceful respite.

She had spent the first few days reading, inhaling fully the words of Jackie Collins and Anais Nin, at first. But after a day of alternating looking blissfully out of the window in between text and sips of red, the walls closed in a bit and she decided to take in the views and sights and perhaps shoot a few frames of film. As luck would have it, her quest for life’s simple pleasures yielded the most basic and simple of them all.

Desoto Falls was truly awe-inspiring. It sprang up suddenly from the forest, a towering cliff of falling white mist whose roar shrouded the valley below with scattered rainbows and foggy clouds of humidity that completely overwhelmed the senses of any who come to see its grandeur. The kaleidoscope of bright yellows, reds, oranges and greens surrounded the valley with autumn’s own swirl of psychedelic inspiration. The granite itself was alive, a hodgepodge of lichen and oddly hued mosses having taken up residence on the rock faces eternally made boggy by the omnipresent misting. The fauna had no fear of man here. The multitude of animals living around the park were not hunted and were in fact a bit tamed by decades of peanuts and half-bitten slices of tomato or lettuce haven been throw out to them by gawking tourists.

There were a few tourists here and there. She noted a few hardy mountain bikers, hikers, naturalist stoners, stern game wardens, and the occasional van load of kids whose sour expressions led her to believe that all things being equal, the kids found the Gameboys in their laps much more stimulating than some dumb waterfall. Ah, youth.

She spent a great deal of that second day sitting high on the cliff overlooking the falls below her, thinking about things in general and dwelling on nothing in particular. The only interruption to her natural coexistence with the park was one intrusion by her mother explaining that her kid was fine, the house was fine, everything was fine. It was an unnecessary call, really, but she understood her mother’s need for checking in and was tickled by her description of the tyke’s bumbling and fumbling with sounds and crawling. He would be running circles around the house in no time. Watching a pair of raccoons, one large and one small, dancing around a trash can in search of a morsel, she felt that sense of motherhood strongly. To raise a son alone was always a challenge, but at the end of the day, seeing one’s offspring attain just a little step forward into life was its own attribute. She loved him so.

All this and everything else was thrown carefree into the wind when she saw it. It was on her third day in the cabin, a dire sense of boredom having overrun the rustic qualities of seclusion and her need for exposure to the forests taking her on a much-needed hike off the beaten trail. It was a gloomy day, the lack of sun decimating Zonguldak Escort the rainbows and casting a pale shadowy pallor over the valley. The sky’s pale grey pallor tempered the fiery bright colors of the valley, as if depressing the natural sense of soul in the flora with a pungent attitude of blasé and melancholy lack of rapture. It was in this doleful mood that the entrance of a man’s bright exuberance changed her lack of human touch into a long forgotten sense of need and desire.

“It” was a perfect man. Jana watched the human form from atop a hill, eyeing the stranger as he sat against a large oak, snapping an occasional picture with a long lens that he tossed casually aside as he leaned back against the tree to pick up an acoustic guitar and thumb a few notes. He played the notes low, the windless air denying the sound’s travels up the hill in any substantive way and begging her to cock her ear to receive its song. She did not go to him, instead crouching low in a stand of ripening huckleberries and spying as she would observe a skittish animal. He was dressed in a blue pullover of some kind, an Indian style print etched horizontally in faded black across it. A well-worn wide-brimmed hat of leather shielded the eyes and brow but not the full lips and definitive chin denoting good breeding through countless generations. His casual ease of movement was apparent even sitting down; she could see he had a genteel and calm demeanor that was sexy in that he contained the self-confidence to sit alone and unafraid. He wore well-fit jeans as well and a rugged pair of hiking boots.

She lost track of time and space watching him, as if enthralled as her child would be with a bright noisy toy seen for the first time through infant eyes. There was no sounds apparent to her except the gentle notes of C minor and A sharp occasionally fighting their way up the hill, as if each lick of a string no matter how inappropriate to the desired chord sent a determined soldier of lust floating on humid air up to find her. Nothing in the world mattered to her in that span of time. All thoughts of the world left behind her for so short a time failed to break her rapt attention in the stranger.

A strange wave of compulsion began to take hold of her, a desire to ravish and pillage a source of virile presentation and to have him firmly clutch her lack of fulfillment left unchecked by so many dicey encounters with men who had just been there and not fully transported her needs into accomplishments. So complete was her attraction to a man whose voice she had never heard that she never heeded the approaching grunts of a large mammal sashaying up her trail. The odds of finding a bear in Alabama were small, but Jana and a large male bruin quickly introduced her to the perfectly unassuming man she coveted.

It was a small black bear, shuffling its nose through the underbrush for a tasty sweet acorn or grub worm. It’s eyes were poor and it was as guilty of lack of attention to detail as she for not seeing him approach. The bear was quite used to pillaging the stand of huckleberry bushes along the ridge for a tasty treat without any fear of man. Her quiet crouching and spying immediately gave way to a scream of immense pitch and volume. The bear, used to people’s noises, moaned low and menacingly in return. It did not run away, sensing the panic of the woman and determined to have its way with the berries, human be damned. It stood up and its hind legs and gave its reply to her fear in the form of a low growl that only sent another bout of hysterics thundering down the hillside to the stranger’s ears. Jana never saw the man toss caution and the Washburn aside, pick up a limb and rock and charge the hill. Her eyes locked on the bruin.

“Hey you sonofabitch! Git’ tha’ hell outta’ here! Hey! Hey! Haaaaay bear! Git on outta’ here! Now, you big bastard!”

The wild approach of another human triggered a new level of flight or fight in the bear. It dropped to all fours, unsure whether to listen to reason and run like hell or call the people’s bluff and fight for its rightful share of the succulent berries. Its and Jana’s eyes locked on the angry face of the fast approaching man, his camera swinging wildly side to side and his deep voice demanded to be heeded. Jana could scarcely believe the speed and power of the man’s approach, each long stride fighting to gain uphill ground and succeeding in closing the gap between himself and the threat rapidly. With feline ease he slipped through the underbrush. The bear flinched to its right, grunting loudly to challenge the attacker’s resolve. He kept coming, his ferocity and tenacious assault on the bear’s position emboldening Jana’s adrenaline to pump her full of a previously unknown sense of mettle she had never known. She stomped loudly on the ground and began shaking the shrubbery around her vigorously, taking her own stand against the threat. If a bear’s long face could ever personify the phrase, “Fuck this!” it was in this split second before it turned and dashed away, yelping like a puppy and thudding down the hill opposite from the tall man swinging a limb and demanding to be Zonguldak Escort Bayan acknowledged.

Jana stood transfixed and gaping at the chiseled face and wild eyes of the man as he ran past her without even pausing. He continued past her, following the bear’s path and continuing to yell obscenities at the fleeing animal. He ran for several hundred yards further down the valley, ultimately flailing the thick limb repeatedly against an elm tree that may or may not have been offended by his assault against its old trunk, depending on one’s beliefs in a tree’s thoughts. Still not convinced the threat was eradicated, he threw the rock and the limb high and hard into the last patch of foliage in which the bear had been visible.

Her heart began pounding hard, the adrenaline finally making its presence known completely. The fresh blast of blood rushing into her mind and the glut of oxygen streaming into her veins from her deep breathing made her swoon and she fainted dead away, her last clear thought and vision being a strangers smile turning into concern as she grayed out.

She awoke to the feeling of jostling, the roar of a motor beneath her, and a strap holding her firm against an upright body. Shaking her head and gasping aloud, she realized she had some type of strap around her, securing her to the trunk of a man’s body. His back was damp but there was the scent of sweat that was fresh and oily, not yet dank with time. It filled her with the deep aroma of a long-ago application of cologne tempered with the rich scent and masculinity and leather. Her head was resting on a man’s shoulder, her arms and legs loose and reaching around him. Her hands were palm down on his lap, inadvertently resting on a firm bulge shielded by blue jean fabric. She sat up abruptly, not completely sure where she was or what in the hell was occurring. Realizing she was on a four-wheeler, she latched onto his chest. The nipples were hard, the chest firm.

“Hey!” He turned around and stopped the ride. She fidgeted a bit, not afraid but certainly more than curious about just how and why she was tied to him on a four-wheeler. Instantly, the strap released.

“Are you alright?” She cautiously stepped off the four-wheeler, stumbling a few steps at first but composing herself quickly out of embarrassment.

“I think.” He looked her up and down. Gone was the wild look or rage that had bore into her psyche, replaced with concern and sincere glee.

“You passed out. I thought you would come around quickly but when you didn’t I thought you might be anemic or diabetic or something. The ranger station is just a few klicks farther if you are hurt. My phone ain’t gettin’ no bars out here.”

“No, I’m fine. I think anyway.” The last thing she wanted was a trip to a hospital out in the sticks. God knew what her parents would think if they heard she was injured after a bear attack.

“You sure?”

“Yessir. Thanks for doing that back there. I thought that bear had me.”

“Naw, not really. Oscar is a big titty baby. He just needed a little persuasion.”

“You named him?”

“Shoot no. He’s from a zoo. They named him.” He chuckled at her puzzlement. “If it had been Brenda Lou and her cub though, things may have been quite different.” He grasped at his back, his grip outlining the silhouette of a holstered pistol beneath the pullover. “Things may have gotten intense and tragic. That bitch gets a lil bit moody around the baby.”

“Well, thanks anyway.” The gun and his seemingly casual nature about the incidence intrigued her. He did not possess a deliberate country twang nor the boorish demeanor of the local redneck flavor. He spoke well, seeming to choose his words carefully and with a deliberate understanding of tact. “I’m Jana, sorry I didn’t stay awake to introduce myself.” She felt the blushing come up fast to her cheeks.

“Danny,” he thrust out a tan hand adorned with a class ring of some kind. “Danny Comeaux.” She shook his hand daintily, more interested in feeling his skin’s texture than making acquaintance.

“Hello.” His eyes danced to her. The grey air still filtered our a great deal of color from their surroundings but his eyes were clearly brown. He had a curiously tiny scar just forward of the hairline near his temple and to her hidden happiness, had all of his teeth in good order. It was his bright exuberance of character that once again captivated her. The memory of staring at him as he lounged content and plucking guitar strings returned to her and washed away any tinge of nervousness she initially felt coming to. There was an aura of manly protection and concern for her, not any deviant vibe that should she felt should upset her. She could not know whether for sure he was telling the truth or not but merely she felt safe and gracious. “I had no idea there were bears here.”

“A few years ago, you would have been right. The local sportsmen…” he spat the word “…take great pains to make sure anything they rarely see gets a quick piece of lead. They have been trying to reintroduce bears and wolves in a few places where they have disappeared.”

“You don’t hunt?”

“Not Escort Zonguldak bears.” He laughed a bit. “They are a bitch to clean. Pardon my Cajun.”

“Well, that’s the first one I ever saw outside of a zoo and that is about as close to nature as I think I’m going to get this year I hope.”

“You definitely got a good look at him. I was waiting for him to get a picture.” Oh, Jana thought.

“Sorry to ruin the shot.”

“No sweat. He’ll be back.” He glanced down at his watch. “If you wish, I’ll get you back to your cabin. I need to go back for my guitar. You’re sure you’re okay?”

“Oh yeah, I’m fine. You said we are near the station?”

“We’re closer to the cabins than the station, actually.” He pointed toward the east. “Just across that tree line.”

“If it’s no trouble. I don’t mind hiking. It’s actually what I was doing when I saw your bear.”

“Naw, no trouble. It’s better to go ahead and take the ride. I’m not sure where Brenda is and with winter coming up and the cubs getting big, she may take to poking her nose in your way if she thought she smelled you alone.”

“She would eat me?!”

“Well, they are used to people feeding them, either through trash cans or outright throwing sandwiches. They get a little pissed when they come up on a person that doesn’t chunk ’em a piece of tuna fish. Plus you could stumble up on her and the kids and female bears don’t take kindly to strangers around their young.”

“Like people, I guess.” He cranked up the ATV.

“Occasionally.” His face lit up. “You ever driven a four-wheeler?”


“Here, have at it.” He slid back on the seat.

“Really? Cool!” She eased onto the vibrating bike and began running her eyes over the controls, eager to look as if she was in control. The ATV jumped and lurched at first, but she figured out the throttle quickly and roared through the woods, turning onto the trails he pointed from behind her. The trees and briar patches roared by, the wind on her face slapping tears from her eyes. He rode silently, obviously unsure of whether he could hold onto her and instead grasping the bar behind him and hanging on for dear life. It was a short ride, the first few empty cabins racing by in a flash. Slowing abruptly, the bike lurched and his grip became untenable, instinct taken over and a panicked passenger’s normal motion was to grab the driver. Feeling his broad arms around her midriff, she felt a odd tingle that she dismissed as just girlish notions of lust enhanced by the rumbling motor beneath her. She eased up to her cabin and slowly braked. Finding neutral, she coasted up and stopped at the door.

“Damn that was fun!”

“Glad you liked it.” He slid forward on the seat as she got off.

“I thought you couldn’t have these things in the park. You work here or something?”

“Naw, but since that terrorist attack last week the park is empty and the rangers and me are tight. They know I’m not out grassing things up. You know this is the first time I can remember that the cabins are empty in September. You’re lucky there aren’t too many people here.”

“I come up here once a year usually. I love it.”

“Where are you from?”

“Jackson, Mississippi. I work at a park in the city.”

“Sounds fun. I go through there occasionally on my way back home to visit. I live up in Gatlinburg.”

“I’ve heard it’s beautiful up there in the mountains.”

“Looks about like here, I guess. I’m gonna’ head back down the ridge now.” She felt the compulsion to block his path.

“You staying around here? In a cabin?”

“No ma’am. I have a camper I stay in when I’m on a shoot. I travel a lot with my job.”

“You’re a photographer?”

“More of a writer, but Vanderbilt is sponsoring the bear project in conjunction with the Nashville Zoo and they hired me to come check the guys out.”

Don’t let him go, girl, she thought.

“Would you like to have some dinner? I thought some friends I met here were going to come in to see me tonight but they canceled out. I’ve been bored.”

He looked unsure but accepted her offer. “That would be great. I have a camper full of food and I’m a great cook. Anything you want me to bring?”

“Just whatever. I’ll whip up something.”

“Okay then, seven good?” He shrugged a bit.

“Seven would be great.” Jana’s heart fluttered a bit. “It’s a date.”

“It’s a date.” He smiled earnestly. “See you in a bit…”

The ATV roared and in an instant, Danny was just a dull noise echoing from the woods and a great notion of perfection left in her mind. It was four p.m.

By six-thirty, she was in a rush to complete things. Dashing around the cabin’s tiny kitchen, she forced herself to calm down and finalize things. Normally a demure woman, she was filled with an enhanced sense of desire and expectation that flustered her unexpectedly. She had showered up and cursed herself for not packing something just a tad bit provocative than a pair of jeans and a blouse that she tied up across the belly and shaped to accentuate her breasts. Her hair was fixed well, curled and stacked up with a slight bit of curls dangling over each ear to frame her face. She applied make-up well and fixed her face up well, determined to make a much more enthusiastic second impression on Danny than her first had been. Her legs were shaved, including a light tidying up of the pubic area. No detail too small.

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