This story is by Donald J. Claxton and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
During the Fourth of July 1977 Boy Scout Camporee at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Upper Michigan, boys gathered round a bonfire while their venerable scoutmaster, clad in his green uniform, and covered in colorful badges hesitated to tell them the tale about the hallowed ground upon which they camped.
“Even in the early days of the world the Chippewa say, ‘Keneu, the great war eagle, Wabasso, the female hare, and Mishe-Mokwa, the mighty black bear, roamed these woods along Lake Superior, when the cliffs along the water’s edge were gray and unremarkable,’” he told them.
As the firewood crackled, and the shadows danced against the night woods, he told the boys that though the trees, ferns and grasses made the forests green in summer and dyed them a million shades of yellow, orange and red in fall, and the lakes and streams and springs were as clear, clean, and cold as they are today, “the rocks cradling the great Lake Superior, the one the Chippewa call, ‘Gitche Gumee,’ were not as we see them today.”
The scoutmaster rose and spread his arms as he spoke.
“That is until the day the great war eagle Keneu soared high above the forests and heard cries for help from the young and beautiful rabbit Wabasso. Separated and lost from her drove, she panicked and scampered far and wide patting the ground with frantic thumps.”
The light from the campfire twinkled in his eyes as he hunched over on all fours and spoke with a deep, fearsome voice.
“Not far behind her, a grunting, panting black bear, the mighty Mishe-Mokwa, chased his prey.”
He leaped to his feet and ran in place to demonstrate the agility of the rabbit.
“Wabasso scurried away, trying to hide in crevices and behind clumps of bright green ferns, grasses, thistles, trees, and rocks but to no avail.”
He returned to mimicking the great bear.
“Having captured her scent in the sensitive chambers of his olfactory, the bear closed in on Wabasso,” he groaned.
Returning to his feet, he extended his arms and glided around the campsite.
“From high above, the great war eagle circled over the survival contest seeking a way to help, for he thought Wabasso was beautiful beyond compare.”
The scoutmaster, dropped to all fours again, assuming the deep, vulgar voice of Mishe-Mokwa.
“After a tiring chase, the great bear trapped the rabbit before a wall of rocks.”
He leapt to his feet, put his hands to his face, chattering his teeth. With a high voice, he ran in place.
“As Mishe-Mokwa closed the gap, Wabasso made a mad dash toward the bear.”
The troop leader crawled rapidly toward a pack of boys on the front row, clawing as he went. A few boys screamed. Two retreated and leapt to their feet but their peers demanded, “Down in front, chickens!”
“The ferocious bear’s front claws lunged for the ball of approaching fur, but she slipped away, angering the bear even more.”
With a deep voice, the scoutmaster said, “Foam lined the bear’s gums. A heady froth of saliva and sweat precipitated by the exertion and mandibular anticipation of biting into the flesh of the doe and ripping her to shreds.”
The scoutmaster, on his feet again, tread through a pathway of boys around the campfire.
“Free, the kit scampered up an inclined path, one exposing her to a view of the surrounding vistas—ones the eagle enjoyed daily as Keneu, the great war eagle,” he said.
“Wabasso gasped while noting the splendor of the surrounding view, for she had seen the great war eagle in the skies above and thought how awesome it might be to soar so high.”
The old man took the form of the great war eagle and drifted to his place at the head of the troop.
“Keneu understood what God and the heavenly orbs must suffer as they view the carnage below while they sit suspended in silence overhead. ‘Oh Lord above, how you must suffer as witness to mankind’s squandering and corrupting of Eden. Do you ever regret that covenant with the rainbow?’” the scoutmaster said.
He stopped soaring and reached for his binoculars, looking into the lights of the night’s aurora borealis. “Wabasso is heading for a dead-end! I must stop her!”
The boys gasped.
The scoutmaster became the rabbit and said, “As the doe surveyed the world around her, she cried out, ‘Keneu!’” and the scoutmaster hastened for the boys to call him, too. “Keneu!”
“But he did not hear her. Too much wind filled his ears high above our scene,” the scoutmaster said.
He extended his arms to propel himself high above once again saying, “At the same time, Keneu called out a warning to Wabasso, but his cries did not reach the ground.”
He dropped to all fours and out came his deepest voice. “But Mishe-Mokwa heard the cries of Wabasso and he laughed.
“‘No one can help you,’ he yelled, as he smirked and approached his prey.”
After leaping to his feet, the scoutmaster said, “Wabasso cried out again,” and encouraged all the boys. “KENEU!” they all hollered loud enough to wake the haints of the night.
Returning to all fours, “The taste of fear in my prey makes the meat all the better,” the scoutmaster moaned. “The great bear summited the peak where Wabasso pleaded to the heavens for help. When he reached the hare at the precipice, he grumbled to her, ‘Don’t bother.’”
Leaping to his feet, the scoutmaster yelled, “‘You will never have me,’ she said with certainty.”
The scoutmaster returned to all fours, sweat dripping from his brow.
In his deepest voice yet he said, “Save me the trouble, sweetheart. Jump and I will still find you.”
“Wabasso took another step toward the edge and cried out again.” The scoutmaster shrieked, “Now boys,” and they all called, “KENEU!” He lowered his head telling them sadly, “But she heard no reply.”
Again, down on all fours, the scoutmaster lurched toward young Scouts on the front row. Paw by paw he huffed and puffed. Closer and closer, the options became clear to the boys. The poor rabbit had two choices: let the bear eat her and tear her to shreds, or, jump and die, depriving the great bear of his prize.
“After a moment she turned toward Mishe-Mokwa and shouted, ‘You will never have me.’”
The scoutmaster stood so all could see him.
“She turned, and with all her might, she jumped upward and outward. That’s when Keneu saw relief on her countenance. Wabasso arched upward before gravity exerted itself on her furry frame. She hurled through the air like a four-legged brick yet something akin to the spore of a white dandelion as she plummeted toward the rocks below.”
On all fours, “Mishe-Mokwa roared in anger.”
The scoutmaster rose and assumed the shape of the great war eagle diving. “As she fell, the eagle swooped downward, like a dive-bomber.”
He and the boys made the sounds of a World War II war bird. Maestro commanded a grand pause and the orchestra of boys fell silent.
“With about twenty feet to go, Keneu locked onto Wabasso. They climbed again, heading toward the rocks of Lake Superior. But as Keneu might wings did all they could to regain altitude, the weight proved to be too much. The two became fixed in the same spiral of doom and their two bodies smashed against the rocks at the water’s edge.”
The scoutmaster returned to his squatting position at the head of the pack.
“To this day the great black bear Mishe-Mokwa roams the woods of the Upper Peninsula searching for Wabasso, the rabbit, and Keneu, the great war eagle. He vowed that ancient day to find them. This also explains why the rocks where we camp are forever stained red.”
At three in the morning, the scoutmaster cursed himself for knowing better.
A line of Scouts whimpered at the entrance to his tent claiming to have heard a bear at the edge of camp.
Like the years before, he vowed to not tell the story ever again. But like the camporees before, he did could not resist.