What do you smell, Bowser?”
Josh Kueppers, wearing a neon orange stocking hat and carrying a shotgun, chased after his dog.
His voice sounded hopeful as he dreamed of returning home with such a trophy. He’d watched the news the night before and seen reports of a black bear sighting in southeastern Minnesota. So while unusual, his goal wasn’t impossible. At least, that’s what he told himself during the pursuit.
The school bus had dropped the ten-year-old off outside his family’s farmhouse. As he dumped the mail on the kitchen table, he found a note from his mother that said she’d been called to work an evening nursing shift.
She instructed him to bike over to an older friend’s place down the road, spend the night, and go to school with him the next morning. Josh smiled at the prospect of fun.
But his mother’s absence also presented another opportunity. For a hunt. So he threw on his camouflage jacket and was out the door.
Josh and Bowser, a tan mixed breed, ran through a lightly snow-covered farm field. The corn had been harvested, but not yet plowed under. An early cold spell had hit just as the calendar touched October. He stumbled a couple of times before reaching a line of trees growing in a depression in the ground.
His dog bayed, just like a real hunting hound.
Josh’s eyes grew wide.
He held the gun steady, finger on trigger, as he glanced around to see what had attracted the animal’s attention. He didn’t want to be ambushed, although theirs did seem to be the only tracks, so he figured they were safe. He looked upward hoping to face off with a raccoon in the branches … but they were empty. No masked opponents.
He didn’t have enough experience to realize that broad daylight was less conducive to hunting wildlife than dawn or dusk. Bowser barked some more and Josh noticed a hole in the earth that looked curious. He hoped for a bear den. He moved closer, his eyes cautiously scanning back and forth for trouble, when the ground beneath him collapsed.
Josh tumbled downward amid a cascade of dirt and snow. Gradually, through a reassuring gap of sunshine, he became aware of his dog still above, sounding an agitated alarm that he feared would go unheard by anyone else.
Something smelled awful, and as his eyes adjusted to the blackness he realized he was not alone in the bottom of the pit. Fumbling for his gun, he aimed the weapon toward the sky and pulled the trigger in a calculated call for help.
Then he realized the safety was on, and tried again.
Almost immediately, he wished he hadn’t.
Instead of alerting someone of his whereabouts, the shot caused an avalanche of dirt that buried both Josh and the grisly secret beside him.