I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the THE YEAR OF THE BEAR by Douglas J. Lanzo & Ambassador International Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!
About The Book:
Title: THE YEAR OF THE BEAR
Author: Douglas J. Lanzo
Pub. Date: November 1, 2022
Publisher: Ambassador International
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
Find it: Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, TBD, Bookshop.org
A remarkable story of a bear and the coming-of-age journey of a teenage boy.
Thirteen-year-old Jason is on the cusp of manhood, striving to fi nd his place at school and at home—especially after his mother has abandoned them and his father is left to deal with his own anger. When Jason and his father encounter a bear while out hunting, they shoot and kill it, not realizing that they have left a cub without its mother. When Sasquot of the Penobscot Tribe, a part of the Bear Family, discovers what they have done, he decides that Jason needs a lesson in caring for God’s creatures. Thus begins a year that Jason will never forget as he begins to care and train the cub in order for it to survive. As Jason forms a bond with the bear, he, in turn, learns valuable lessons for life.
“Fans of classic, enthralling adventure (and I’m one) are in for a rare treat.”-Josh Lieb New York Times best-selling and Emmy Award-winning author of I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President
A pained, bloodcurdling sound pierced the quiet of the cool, cloudless night. Startled and roused from his slumber, Jason sat upright and strained to hear what had awakened him. He saw the floodlights of the main house suddenly illuminate the front porch and heard the husky voice of his father summoning the dogs. Like a soldier called into battle, Jason leaped from his bed, descended the farmhouse ladder, and grabbed his pellet gun. The family canines flung the front door wide open as soon as Jason had opened it a foot. Mitch, an aggressive German shepherd—lean, young, and muscular—burst out first, followed by Max, an immense but good-natured Newfoundland. Quick on their heels, lanky, thirteen-year-old Jason, dressed in flannel pajamas, sprang out into the night.
“Son, this way!” his dad shouted from the vicinity of the sheep pen, half a football field to his right.
Max waited for Jason to get his bearings, then contentedly bounded beside him as Jason ran at full speed toward the pen. Mitch, meanwhile, streaked yards ahead of them barking loudly, ears perked and tilted forward in anticipation.
Jason could see sleek, dog-like shadows darting for the woods beyond the farm gate. He counted four shadows in close succession making good time out of harm’s way. A fifth labored to the edge of the woods, with the rump of a limp lamb hanging from its blood-soaked mouth. She measured two-and-a-half feet tall and almost four feet long, a beautiful specimen of the gray wolf and the alpha female of her pack. She instinctively understood that the dogs posed a mortal danger to her and did not respect the hierarchy of her wolf pack. Jason, for his part, realized that a chase to the death had just begun.
Both dogs sharply adjusted course and rushed for the she-wolf. Alarmed, the wolf dropped her meal and snarled as she turned from her enemy and then bounded into a forest path in pursuit of her departed pack. Jason’s dad took aim and fired his rifle at the fleeing predator. The shot glanced off the wolf’s tail, causing a yelp of fearful surprise.
“Blasted sight!” his father mouthed, adjusting his rifle on the run.
Having nearly caught up to his dad, Jason entered into the bowels of the foreboding Maine forest. An abundance of wildlife hid, hunted, and lurked close to the forest trail he followed toward the blue-gray mountains looming to the east of Moosehead Lake. The air was crisp and clear. Even from this distance, Jason could see the moon’s ghostly sheen shimmering upon the lake’s restless surface. The full moon bathed the lake in a tremulous luster of pale white.
Gazing back at the trail, Jason witnessed Mitch and Max disappear around an upcoming bend. Cloaked in the darkness of the dense underbrush, the dogs relentlessly pressed on in pursuit of their prey.
“Remind me to set more wire along that pen,” his dad instructed as they continued yet deeper into the forest. “We won’t see the last of this pack of wolves until we take a couple down. They’re smart enough that’ll scare them away for a while until their hunger drives them back.”
“I’ve never hunted a wolf before,” Jason observed shyly.
He had seen and shot eastern coyotes, which thrived in these Maine woodlands on snowshoe hare, porcupine, and white-tailed deer. Wolves were a far superior predator, capable of bringing down a full-grown moose. Their power and hunting prowess commanded Jason’s respect.
“You’ll kill your first one tonight then, son. Mitch had a good jump on her, and it won’t be long now before they scrap. I’ll hand you my rifle when we close in.”
Excited barks could now be heard not more than a quarter mile ahead. Then, just as quickly as they arose, the barks ceased. Jason and his dad sprinted for the next bend and rounded it expectantly. Vicious snarling arose from a furious tumbling ball of furry forms before them. Eyes wide open, Jason was nearly knocked off his feet by the powerful combatants. Mitch snapped his jaws at the she-wolf’s haunches while Max struggled to get a jaw-lock on her neck. With a Newfoundland’s bite strength, one jaw-lock could be deadly.
“Jason, put down your pellet gun and take my rifle!” his father instructed, moments later deftly tossing Jason his rifle.
But his dad immediately realized the problem. There was no way Jason could get a clear shot at the wolf in the midst of the dogs’ attack. “Down, Mitch! Down, Max!” he commanded at the top of his lungs.
Mitch obediently retreated from the she-wolf, but Max remained engrossed in a life-and-death struggle with his haggard opponent. His father had no choice but to attempt ripping the 150-pound dog free of his quarry. Pulling with nearly all of his might, his father’s muscular arms rippled with tension as he finally managed to separate the outmatched wolf from her would-be slayer.
Having nervously watched the action, Jason now gripped his dad’s rifle, cocked it, and took deliberate aim. His trigger finger trembled backward, but before he could fire, a bellowing roar froze his body in fear.
Jason’s father shouted, “No, dear Lord, please! Jason! Turn around, now!”
Jason turned his head to see a full-sized black bear on its hind legs, claws menacingly swiping through the air. Survival instinct assumed control. Jason instantly dropped to the ground, rolled away from the bear, and fired at the blurred attacking form.
The shot must have hit flashed through Jason’s mind as the bear roared in anguish.
Apprehending the grave danger to their masters, Mitch and Max abandoned their she-wolf prey and cagily barked threats at the wounded titan. The bear’s eyes flashed with the deadliest mixture of fury and terror. Jason lay on the ground only a few feet away, mouth agape, hands trembling with fear.
His father fired the pellet gun at the bear’s eyes, blinding it in one eye and causing it to swipe at nearby forest saplings in disoriented rage. Swiftly, the dogs moved in for the kill. In a coordinated attack, Mitch and Max lunged at the bear’s trunk-like legs, only to have Mitch shaken loose with one powerful kick. Max, the stronger of the two canines, struggled to maintain his viselike grip on the brawny, shifting quadriceps of the towering creature. The bear’s razor-sharp front claws swiped at Max, drawing blood that spurted out onto Max’s thick coat along his back. Shocked, Max fell sideways to the forest floor. Mitch cowered back, barking but overpowered with fear. Jason reached for his dad’s rifle but felt nothing, his mouth wide-open in speechless disbelief. He flung himself face down in desperation.
Protect the head! Protect the head! Jason’s survival instinct commanded.
He placed both hands over his head, fearing the worst.
A bullet whizzed overhead, shearing the tense forest air. The bear let out a roar of excruciating pain. Then the bear bellowed in pain and fell on its fours, then its side, writhing in agony.
From his prone position, Jason saw his father’s eyes flare with intensity as he cocked back his rifle and took aim at the grievously wounded creature. A sure shot, his dad fired again. The bear’s head abruptly dropped, ending its misery.
The shot reverberated throughout the forest, echoing eerily into the quieted night. Jason mustered the courage to lift his head from the forest floor and surveyed the scene. His amazed eyes stared, riveted to the listless body of his fallen foe. His mind felt as though it were emerging from a state of suspended animation. Then, in one wrenching moment, it snapped back to reality and recalled Max’s plight.
Jason swiftly turned to Max, his first dog and fiercely loyal companion. Max appeared to be seriously injured. His blood flow had to be arrested within minutes, if not sooner, or else he would fall into shock. His dad tore off his shirt and tightly wrapped it around Max’s back to staunch the blood flow.
“Son, help me lift Max and carry him to the farmhouse. We’re going to have to tranquilize him and stitch this wound as soon as possible. Come on, boy, you can make it,” Jason’s father almost pleaded to their dog.
Head crestfallen, Mitch followed the anxious train back up the forest trail toward the farmhouse. The excitement of the chase had abruptly dissipated for Mitch and his masters. Jason and his father barely even noticed that the she-wolf had managed to lumber away in pursuit of her pack with relatively minor injuries. Her battle scars would mainly be psychological. Once contact with her hunting companions was restored, she, the pack’s dominant female, would have to endure the humiliation of licking her wounds before her hunting companions.
Meanwhile, the black bear, Maine’s king of the forest, fearing man and man alone, lay motionless in a bed of saplings that had snapped under its prodigious weight. It would not rise again. Its entrance ironically had saved the wolf from imminent death at the cost of its own life.
Why had the bear attacked? Jason silently questioned. This was the first black bear attack he had heard of occurring in Piscataquis County in two years.
“What should we do with the bear?” Jason innocently asked his father.
“Leave it to rot. I hope that carcass is picked over three times by the time I lay sight on it again.”
Jason shuddered, recalling the bear’s bellowing roar and flashing black eyes—eyes from which Jason had cowered in fear. But strangely to him, he did not hate the fallen bear. He only asked himself what had provoked the bear to attack them, without arriving at an easy answer.
Jason would question Sasquot, his father’s wise, old farmhand, as to why this had occurred when Sasquot arrived in the morning. Sasquot would explain what spirit had guided the bear to act so violently—whether fear, anger or revenge. This unassuming man observed the ways of the wild, speaking few words but saying much when he did. He possessed an uncanny ability to predict nature: which stags would clash for mating rights and which would prevail; whether a moose would charge an intruder or, unphased, continue to feed on water lilies; and when an eagle would make its final swoop for unwary prey. Growing up, Jason had watched what seemed to him nature’s savagery and beauty through Sasquot’s knowing eyes. But never had he seen this.
Jason and his dad labored to carry Max from the forest trail past the agitated pen to the farmhouse. His dad had tended to injured livestock and cattle for years. Thus, the farmhouse held a store of medicines for treating sheep, cattle, and other animals, whether sick, injured, or in heat. The first floor of the farmhouse functioned primarily as a toolshed for his dad’s carpentry work and the second floor as Jason’s summer loft and getaway.
Not long ago, this same farmhouse had stabled four prized horses of Jason’s grandfather. The last had died only last year, a trophy-winning chestnut stallion with a passion for hunting, riding, and jumping. Jason had ridden Untamed Heart since he was four.
As they hurriedly carried Max into the farmhouse, Jason noticed that Max’s body was unnaturally cold to the touch. He seemed either unconscious or in shock, his chest registering rapid, shallow breaths.
Jason’s eyes welled up with tears. “He’s not going to make it,” he sobbed softly.
“He’s a fighter. Let’s lay him down right here, son,” his father indicated. His father pointed to a worktable covered with cloth and immediately began to go to work after they had gently laid him on the table. He scrubbed his hands and forearms up to his elbows in a large, metal sink and signaled Jason to get the medical kit. Jason pulled the heavy, metal kit down from some oak shelving and placed it on the makeshift operating table beside Max. In a matter of less than a minute, his father had removed a syringe, a dose of Novocain, the tranquilizer alprazolam, a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, an electric razor, a pair of latex gloves, a stitching needle, and Ethilon sutures.
“We’re going to have to hold his legs up as much as possible to increase blood flow to the heart and keep his blood pressure up,” Jason’s father explained as he pulled the clear latex gloves on snugly.
Jason nodded, gently grabbing hold of Max’s two hind legs while allowing Max’s two front legs to rest against his chest. He watched intently as his father readied the tranquilizer and injected a carefully measured dose into the right side of Max’s hip. Max let out a pained whimper in instant reaction to the injection.
“Easy, boy,” his dad coached soothingly.
Jason prayed that Max would react well to the injection and not fall into a state of shock. He knew his father had little choice but to risk the potentially precipitous fall in Max’s blood pressure, given the need to immediately clean, stitch up, and dress the wound.
His dad gently untied the shirt he had wrapped around Max’s injury minutes earlier. Fortunately, the blood had clotted sufficiently to proceed with the stitching. Jason’s father plugged in the electric razor and began shaving off Max’s fur around the wound, revealing three long, razor-like cuts caused by the fierce swipe of the bear’s claw. Jason readied the hydrogen peroxide and assisted his father in cleaning Max’s lower back in preparation for the stitching. Max jerked his body away from them and had to be held down as the sting of the peroxide flared through the exposed area and temporarily overwhelmed the relaxing effect of the tranquilizer.
“Okay, now for the hard part. Try your best to calm Max as I stitch him up,” he instructed.
Jason stroked Max’s head and neck and whispered soothingly that he would be okay. Max was only four-and-a-half years old in human years—in the prime of his life—and he had many adventures awaiting him if he could only pull through this ordeal.
After fifteen long minutes of suturing, the longest of the tears, a nasty-looking twelve-inch gash, had been completely stitched up. Max’s skin color, which had begun to turn a pale shade of blue, now appeared ruddier. His father diligently completed stitching three more minor cuts along Max’s back.
“Let’s wrap him up in a blanket and carry him into the house,” his father said.
Jason climbed up the farmhouse ladder and, soon afterward, climbed back down bearing a blanket from his bed. His dad gingerly lifted Max up while Jason loosely wrapped him in the warm, wool blanket. Once Max had been comfortably wrapped up, Jason helped hoist Max off the carpentry worktable without subjecting the freshly stitched wounds to any contact. Mitch, who had watched the stitching in agitated silence, whimpered plaintively as he followed his masters back to the house and into the den. By the time his father had stoked the fire and rested Max within the radius of its rekindling warmth, Jason was fast asleep on the couch dreaming of chasing wolves into the forest.
About Douglas J. Lanzo:
An award-winning and featured inspirational author published in Vita Brevis Press’ bestselling 2021 poetry anthology and Café Haiku’s upcoming 2021 Fifth Poetry Anthology and featured in WestWard Quarterly’s Winter 2021 issue, since 2020 Douglas’ poetry has found homes in thirty-eight literary publications across the U.S., Canada, England, Wales, Austria, Mauritius, India, Australia, and The Caribbean. A graduate of Harvard College and Law School, where Douglas enjoyed writing editorials for The Harvard Crimson and articles for various other Harvard publications, he has published professional legal articles throughout his career. A General Counsel by day and writer by night, Douglas resides in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with his wife and twelve-year old identical twin boys, fellow published poets, enjoying nature, traveling, biking, tennis, and chess.
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