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Exploring the “What If”

Have you ever been so scared that the hairs on the back of your neck stood up?

As an outdoor adventure-lover, I have faced many challenges: from raging rivers to snowy passes to lightning storms, and though I’ve never come face to face with a bear, I have seen the flash of their shiny coat as they fled from my path. I have smelled their presence, and seen their deep scratches in the bark of trees. I have felt them and heard them. One time, in Alaska, I startled a grizzly, and the sheer terror of this encounter still lurks in my nightmares today.

Even though the bear didn’t harm me, my creative brain wonders: “what if?” I decided to let my imagination loose, and share with you a “flash fiction” (400 words or less) idea that’s been cooking in my subconscious.


The Bear and the Shotgun

My ears throb with the sudden release of adrenaline and my breath becomes shaky and fast. With feet locked to the earth, I reach for the shotgun.

She stands up, all eight feet of her, her dark eyes like shiny buttons, her coat glistening in the low artic light. She is 25 meters away and still chewing on whatever grub she’s found in the tussocks and creek-side shrubs. I know she smells me. So does her cub, who copies his mother and sniffs the air.

I must have surprised her. I walked a short distance upstream to filter tomorrow’s supply of water. I don’t mind the task—one rarely gets the opportunity to be alone in grizzly country. I’m here with a group of scientists studying the glaciers that once filled this valley; we’re armed with chisels and hammers and sampling bags, a flare gun, a custom-built lake coring platform, a shotgun, a pistol, and enough DEET to give us all cancer.

Basically, we’re number-crunching, tree-hugging pansies who still have a soft spot for Bambi. The idea of killing a bear doesn’t come lightly. But in Alaska, if you don’t bring firearms into the wilderness, the locals think you’re nuts—despite the fact that grizzlies rarely attack large groups and that pepper spray really does work. “Pepper spray?” our pilot grunted as he loaded our gear. “That stuff’s just seasoning. You wanna be bear bait?”

So, anytime one of us pansies is alone, we’ve sworn to carry a weapon. Just in case. Tonight, I happened to grab the shotgun. I’ve never fired a shotgun. This suddenly seems like a major oversight.

The grizzly is swaying, shifting her weight from side to side, trying to see me better. I hear her woof-like grunt as she drops to all fours. I wonder if she smells my terror.

She begins to charge, her coat rippling like silk. My breath is high in my chest and my fingers are shaking. I remember this: the hard butt of the shotgun against my shoulder, my legs tensing, on eye closing as the other sights her at the end of the barrel. My finger is on the trigger when she stops in a dead halt. She sniffs me again, her nose up. Her sharp claws click against the smooth stones of the gravel bar as she steps closer, still sniffing. In two steps she could have my head in her jaws. I am crying now, my whole body shuddering in panic and desperation. I don’t want to do this. Don’t make me do this.

In one heaving leap she turns away, galloping through the brush, her cub scurrying behind. The gun slips from my hands and my wobbly legs give way. In the distance, their coats flash silver as they disappear over the ridge.


All of my stories begin with “What if?” because I’m fascinated by the many twists and turns our lives take, and the resulting ripple effect. In Going Over the Falls, I explored “What if I loved surfing and the lifestyle it created for me so much that I couldn’t or wouldn’t give it up in order to be a mom? How would that affect my daughter?” In Love in the Time of Surfing, I explored “What if an estranged family member–one I had pushed out of my life because of his misdeeds–went missing? How far would I put myself in danger to help him?” In Meet Me On the Mountain, I explored “What if my past heartbreaks made loving someone else a huge risk, if I met my soulmate, would I take the leap?” My goal is always to go deeply into the emotions we experience when faced with huge obstacles, be they external or internal, or both.

For a fun daydream, think back to a choice you made in your life and explore the “what ifs” of what might have been. Would you be where you are today?