The Hero

“Jason, is that you?” Silence surrounded her. She would kill him if he didn’t answer. He knew she was scared of being alone in the woods.

“Jason, it’s not funny, answer me. Otherwise I’m goin’ home and then you’ll be in trouble.” Rosie-May knew that Jason was afraid of her father.

“Okay, Jason, this ain’t funny anymore.”

Yet there wasn’t a sound as she treaded carefully through the trees. Rosie-May knew better than most not to wander off the path in these woods. Her father shared stories of all the wild animals that roamed free and they would sooner rip a human apart than wait to see if it was friendly. Of course Bear Wallace got his name for all the bears he trapped and traded with the other folks passing through going north for the winter. Bear skins kept you mighty warm when the winds blew in with snow following them.

She picked her way through the undergrowth, regretting a little that she had ever agreed to this stupid date with Jason. Whatever was he playing at? When he had suggested they go trapping rabbits, she had been delighted. Every Sunday at service he would smile over at her and she would smile shyly back at him. All the young girls were swooning after him. So when he finally asked her to go hunting somewhat, she had jumped at the chance. Her father wouldn’t agree with the invitation as Jason was nineteen and Rosie-May just short of her fifteenth birthday, so she kept it to herself.

She decided to call out to him once more and if he still didn’t answer, then she would go home.

“Jason Ingalls, if you don’t show yourself in the next minute I’m goin’ home. Do ya hear me?”

Rosie-May was more worried now. He had told her to stay where she was while he went to check on some traps he had set and that he would be back shortly. Well, that was over half an hour ago. She hadn’t heard any hollering so he couldn’t be hurt. She hadn’t heard any shotgun so he wasn’t attacked by any animal, so where was he?

She started on the path home. A wind had stirred and the trees whispered it, their leaves singing its song. Stirrings in the bushes aroused her anxiety. She tried to keep calm and so started humming a Sunday school hymn. A roll of thunder in the distance signalled the start of a storm. Rosie-May needed to reach the clearing before the bad weather took hold or she would have to seek shelter.

The storms that stumbled across this part of the west, unannounced as her father would say, were the most dangerous. No-one knew how long they would last or what they would bring. Why, sometimes the winds would gather up the hay-barns and toss them aside like old Jack would spit out his tobacco. Other occasions they brought rain that washed all the crops away in one giant mud stream.

Picking her step carefully, she skipped over broken branches and thick bracken, all the while keeping her eye on the path that would take her to the edge. Once in the clearing she could run for home before the storm took proper hold and her parents would never know she had been here with Jason Ingalls. She promised herself she would never smile over at him again at Sunday service. Let the other girls have him, he was mean and not a gentleman and to leave her like that alone in the woods, why it was downright rude.

The clearing was not too far away, she noticed the trees were thinning out and the path was not so overgrown in patches. Her breathing became easier. Home would not be far now and she would be in from whatever the rumbling thunder would bring.

“Hey, Rosie-May, stop, wait for me.”

Rosie-May slowed her step. Had she heard her name? But with the shaking of the branches as the wind whipped through them she could not be sure. Was it Jason? Well if it was she would not wait for him, he had treated her horribly. She quickened her pace, the clouds by now were a dirty grey, bursting with raindrops so large they would hop off the ground like pebbles when released.

She didn’t see it approach her. It attacked from behind Jason recounted. He had raised his shot-gun when the bear lunged towards the girl. It was unfortunate that Jason missed the animal. Most unfortunate that he shot Rosie-May instead. But he was only a kid too. What had taken her into the woods at all her heartbroken parents wondered?

They would never know as Jason, the town hero, kept silent.

— Mary Bradford