The crash of the thunder and the blinding slice of light were simultaneous. The Camber’s van shook with the impact as twin lightning bolts hit not only a main power pole 50 yards outside the park, but the entrance booth where the blemished-faced Bear Park Ranger was seated. If Roland had had his own surveillance camera focused back on the Bear Park Ranger’s office, he would have seen a lifeless figure slumped over a desk, wisps of smoke swirling from the top of his Smokey The Bear-looking cap and a melted plastic badge fused to the skin on his chest.
The lightning blast was so violent that it severed a major power line from a nearby tower and draped it over the outside wall of the bear park. Combined with the torrential rain, it was throwing out white and blue sparks reminiscent of the Fourth of July fireworks.
To Roland it looked like a scene out of a Hollywood disaster movie. The loose power line danced and twitched in the air like a rattlesnake recently removed of its head, hissing and spitting its death throes of unguided electricity. Occasionally it would make contact with the top of the perimeter wall again and send another shower of sparks along its length like a tidal wave of fleeting blue fireflies.
“Is everyone okay back there?” Eve called.
“Yeah,” from Peter.
“I’m scared, Mommy!” from Missy.
“What was that, Dad?” Peter asked.
“Lightning,” Roland responded. “We just got struck by lightning.”
“Uh, Roland?” Eve’s voice was barely a whisper.
Roland looked over at his wife, her eyes wide and her chin quivering like a scolded schoolgirl. It was the stark look of terror, Roland realized, at the same time he heard a roar so loud it drowned out the thunder. He slowly turned his head, following Eve’s frightened gaze out the front windshield. His bowels threatened to loosen as the grizzly that moments ago had been playfully bathing was now seething. Standing upright in the glow of the headlights, it shook its massive head back and forth, rain and saliva slinging in all directions. Its lips quivered in a ferocious snarl, as its gullet vibrated with fear and rage.
The beast dropped back to all fours and lowered its head. Roland’s mind barely had time to register the relevance between the violent events of the storm and the bear’s fury when the animal suddenly charged the van. Four enormous paws picked up wet chunks of mud as it ran and slung them backward in long arcs. The muscles in its back rippled beneath the thick brown fur as it barreled straight at them.
“Oh shit! Everybody get down!” he yelled.
The grizzly crossed the distance between itself and the van in a matter of seconds. For some reason, probably instinct, Roland found himself pressing hard on the brake pedal as if he were trying to avoid a rear-end collision on the highway. But the van was in park, and the anti-lock brakes did nothing to lessen the impact from the onrushing grizzly bear. It smashed headlong into the front of the van, rocking it on its springs. Dark liquid splashed out of Eve’s soda can and onto her lap from the cupholder on the dashboard. Roland and Eve held on tight in the front, while Missy cowered on the floor between the front and back seats. Peter had tumbled over in the cargo area and bumped his head hard enough to make a golf ball-sized lump.
Immediately a loud hissing noise began from outside. Roland first thought it was a punctured tire, until steam began billowing out of the front grill in the van. He could see it roiling in the light from the headlamps. The bear backed off a few yards and shook its head like a soggy dog fresh from the water…