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The Snarling Beast

by Victor Gente Delespejo 

Posted: 06 November 2007
Word Count: 1489

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Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

We were exhausted. Marching around in snow and ice for one whole day can do that to you. And not just any whole day - a whole early summer arctic day...

We had been up since three in the morning, chasing after shots for the documentary. It had been terribly windy throughout the day, gusts slashing across the plains relentlessly, whipping the land with sleet and making it impossible to get decent views of the landscape. We had tried but it was pointless; with our ability to work impaired, our self-defences naturally went down and we eventually felt the full sting of the bone-biting cold. It had been a truly exhausting day in every sense of the word.

When we finally came back to camp, it was just after midnight and almost dark. You see, we had run into trouble with one of our snow sledges. It had broken down in the middle of nowhere, and all five of us worked on it relentlessly. We were not leaving it there, and we were definitely not leaving anyone behind to work on it while we got back to camp to get more tools. The problem was simple enough - some trouble with the fuel pump - but it gave us hell before it finally got its act back together again.

Smashed with fatigue and a long day's frustration, we cooked something up in a flash and guzzled it up like wolves. Then we hit the sack. Running late on a deadline and in desperate need of those shots, we needed to catch some much-needed rest, for tomorrow was not going to be any easier. The weather seemed to have it in for us. The gusty winds were not subsiding - in fact, they were getting worse - and our chances of shooting good film were slim and thinning.

As soon as I closed my eyes I started drifting away. I thought I heard someone ask: 'Did anyone wash the dishes?' Then nothing. Just the sweet embrace of a deeply-needed summer night's rest in the warmth of a heavy-duty sleeping bag. Outside the wind rasped, stirring up the snow and blowing it across the endless plains. Inside our little hut, though, there was absolute peace and comfort, warm and accommodating, and a slow-burning stove. It felt like being with family. I began drifting into a cosy dream...

I don't know how long I'd slept or how deep I'd been, but when the door banged I felt I had been ripped away from something soothing and thrown headfirst into something terrible. I scoured around, hearing the others jumping out of their sleep and reaching for their Mag-lites too, their legs rasping noisily inside their sleeping bags. Then came another bang, much louder than before, followed by a growl... a coarse, menacing growl.

I flashed my Mag-lite towards the door and saw it shaking under the pounding of something beastly outside. With my stomach crunching up in knots, I fell to the ground and shone the beam at the bottom of the door frame. Two pairs of paws were standing behind it... white paws... their white hairs frozen into small short pleats, covered in ice crystals, refracting the light into the dark night outside. I blinked. At the end of each paw long claws were pushing out, tearing through the icy ground.

'Get the gun... Get the fucking gun!'

Somebody rustled through our things, looking for our single-barrelled shotgun.

'The slugs... where are the goddamn slugs?'

Tin cans and utensils were flying all over the place along with maps and camera equipment and what have you as we scraped frantically around the small room.

'Get the goddamn gun... hurry up!'

'I'm trying to find the slugs. Where the fuck d'you put'em?'

'There, in the bag... on your right... somewhere there!'

The bangs on the door were getting louder and the growls more menacing.

'Hurry up goddamn it!'

'Got 'em! Oh shit... these are film rolls! Fucking film rolls!'

'Cut the crap and find the slugs, goddamn it! Look, there they are, behind the stove... there, behind the...'

Suddenly the door broke open and a claw entered the room, followed by a frothing snout. Its jaws unhinged, breathing out steam and unleashing a bloodcurdling roar that flooded the room. Then a beastly body began to make its way through the entrance, barging into the hut slowly, etching its way through a crackling doorframe. It was huge... huge and uncompromising. A mighty polar bear.

'Oh shit shit shit shit shit... fuck... oh fuck...'

Somebody threw a heavy can of food at her. It hit her on the left shoulder and made her back up half a step. But then she went berserk, letting out a howling roar of pain and fury.

'Stop throwing things at her, you'll make her furious. Stay perfectly still.'

'And what? Wait for her to just leave?!'

'Yeah... yeah... just lay perfectly still ...'

'No! She's already inside you moron. She's here and she's hungry. She ain't leaving unless we throw her out. Attack her!'


'Attack her or die. Come on, attack her! ATTACK HER! Show her who's boss.'

'Are you nuts? Lie down - '

'Come on... make her fear us... throw those cans at her like we mean it and snap at her... like we mean business... stare her down... threaten her, attack her... GO ON... GET OUT... YAAA... YAAA...'

Another can of food spun through the air and struck her in the leg. She growled and stood up on her back feet, towering over our heads, roaring like an earthquake.

'Now goddamn it... it's now or never... throw everything you got and scream like madmen... scream goddamn it, SCREAAAM... YAAAA... YAAAA...'

We suddenly began snatching whatever we could get our hands on and started throwing stuff at her... cans, forks, papers, knives, cameras... screaming and yelling like mad wild dogs.


We could certainly feel the effects of this primal mentality. A transformation was taking place. We began making harsh noises that made no sense. With every growl she made we growled five times back. Our minds stopped thinking in rational terms and another kind of intelligence began emerging from the depths of our ancient brain circuits. An animal intelligence. An urge to fight our foe on equal terms. A surge for survival.

She began hesitating. Her growls were not so confident anymore. Not so menacing as before. Her steps were shorter and lighter. We saw the change in her and reacted to it without any thought. It was time to just fight back and reclaim our space.

We assaulted her immediately, like a ferocious beast... five different sets of eyes glaring back at her from five different directions... five heads lashing out at her mercilessly... five sets of teeth jumping at her from everywhere, sometimes in unison, other times in relentless waves, one after another... after another... after another... and then back in unison, like a surging tidal wave... like a ton of raging bricks. We were frothing at the mouth, yelling and snarling like mad, jabbing our way into her, edging our way onwards... She began to back away.


And in one furious surge, we assaulted her with everything we had, throwing a barrage of sundries at her and trying to scratch her eyes out with our claws, furious at what she'd tried to do. She turned around and took a couple of steps back, then growled once more. But this was a different kind of growl. She was now defending herself, carving out her retreat. We pushed on, banging on the walls with our hands, stomping on the floor, making a racket with our tools. She backed down, out of our hut and into the great wide frozen, and then slowly disappeared into the gusty thick night. We stood in front of the door for quite a while, yelling towards her direction, chasing her away, into the desolate distance. Our yells were now turning into cheers, comprehensible cheers. Grammar and meaning were beginning to flow back into our communication. The animals within us began to evanesce and our human capacities slowly settled upon us once again. We started laughing and fooling around, making fun of each other and of how we had all just shape-shifted into a pack of wild beasts. We even laughed about the fact that no one bothered to go for the slugs once we had driven the bear back out the door. We laughed, but we didn't wonder why. We knew now. As long as we snarled together like one ferocious beast defending its family, nothing could threaten us. Not even a hungry polar bear.

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Comments by other Members

tusker at 15:45 on 07 November 2007  Report this post
Hi Victor,
Full of suspense. A fast, frantic read. God, it was cold, wasn't it?

Becca at 17:24 on 07 November 2007  Report this post
Hi Victor,
Not sure you needed to round up the ending in that way, how the men acted stands in its own right, I thought.
I have to say that I smiled at the phrase 'something beastly outside', it sounds so sweet, posh mothers call their children 'beastly.'
He falls to the ground, but is he standing at that point? I had him sitting up in his sleeping bag and flashing his torch towards the door.
I really liked the description of the bear's feet.
'...and what have you..' this sounds like you can't quite be bothered to find the right words. Ditto 'barrage of sundries'. What is a sundry?
'We suddenly began...' this makes it sound as if it happened to the men outside their own will, it's another of those phrases like 'the sun continued to set', or we did this and then we did that. You could just have written we snatched.
I enjoyed reading this. I think in terms of publication you might have trouble with the use of sentences in capitals, it tends to suggest that you have no writerly way of making the sentence really important, so it would go into the ragbag with what I've said above.

Victor Gente Delespejo at 14:47 on 08 November 2007  Report this post
Thanks for the feedback Jennifer and Becca.
With regards to beastly, well, to tell you the truth, I never thought of it like that, and am now wondering whether to leave it as is (for reasons completely different to my original intentions, since it may indeed ring cute-ish rather than ominous).
As for our character falling to the ground, I mean to say he falls to the ground (not from his feet, or from a standing position) but that he just falls to the ground. I find your comment interesting, for it reveals that we are very adept to perceiving one action through its opposite counterpart, or its most common antipode, and that creating new dimensions is a demanding process that has to go through the lens of uncertainty as to how something could have happened from a new position or perspective. In fact, I am now wondering whether I need to make it clearer that he fell flat on the ground from his sitting position to see through the bottom of the door, or whether the description should be left as is coz it is valid and accurate in its own way, even if not immediately apparent. Perhaps a different word would be more appropriate, such as "threw myself on the ground..."?

Becca at 10:56 on 09 November 2007  Report this post
But threw myself on the ground suggests height. Why not have him stand up in horror, then it would work.
I like beastly too.

Nella at 18:38 on 09 November 2007  Report this post
This would be a really scary situation. I'm not sure, though, if this is a scary story, or a humorous one - I could imagnie both very well.
If it is a scary story, my feeling is that the "telling" takes too much away from the building tension. There is a long passage where you strictly relate the story, then there is the dynamic passage in dialougue where the reader might start to feel as scared as these people are. But the tension is negated again in a way by the laughing and fooling around at the end.
One thing that confused me was this: the story is set in the lonely arctic, but when the characters are at the height of their fear, they seem to feel that the bear is threatening their families. ?? The families aren't there (or are they?), so why are the characters fearful for them?
Just some thoughts...

Victor Gente Delespejo at 18:13 on 10 November 2007  Report this post
The line on families, parents and babies, was born of a previous ending, where there is a clarification for it at the end, namely, that if killed, then their loved ones would be left behind to suffer their loss, and they were not about to let that happen to them. Representative of an outmost sense of altruism in the face of certain death, this ending was subsequently scratched coz I felt it to be too contrived in the way it was presented as an afterthought at the very end. Yet, I left the line about the families untouched in order to allude to that sense of ultimate altruism, which is quite rare to find. Perhaps I shall add a clarifying line to make it salient. Thanks Robin,

Terry Edge at 15:46 on 15 November 2007  Report this post

There are some exciting passages in here. You convey well the sudden switch between a warm, peaceful, scene, to one of savage violence. However, I do feel this needs a lot of editing and rewriting if it's to be truly effective. These are some of the problems I had with it:

Point of view character. We know very little about the narrator of this piece (other than that he or she is part of a documentary making team), not even his or her name. If you don't centre us in the main character--to provide an emotional investment for us--there is no reason not to use third person. In fact, that would be better, since in using first person, we feel cheated that you haven't given us any 'personal meat' to chew on.

Setting. I have no idea where we are, other than the Arctic. But where are they in relation to towns, landscape, the ocean, etc? Setting is important, since it provides reason for characters to be in it, which in turn affects their actions. More importantly, why are they there? We need more than the fact they're making a documentary for us to care about what happens to them. What kind of documentary? Are they there illegally? What, in short, is it about this particular team that will spark our involvement?

Tone. This is related to point of view, in that because we don't really get inside the main character, the tone is uneven. At times, it's rather like a detached narrator (like the author's voice), at others it's more involved. The point being that I don't think you're in control of this variety--it's dictated by you not having lodged your viewpoint at the right emotional point in the main character. How do you find that point? Well, it's directly related to what they most want; what they are struggling to achieve; what they are most frightened of losing. But we never know what this is with your MC, other than obviously not wanting to be eaten by a bear. Why is he/she there in the first place? What is he/she desperate to achieve (personally, not just as a member of a team that's after shots), that this bear's actions will threaten?

Prose. You use a lot of clichés--stomach in knots, hitting the sack, bloodcurdling roars, etc. Try to find fresh, original, ways of expressing the same things--this not only makes your prose more interesting to read, it sparks up the reader's respect for you as a writer. Similarly, you use some careless similies--likening the party attacking the bear to a 'ferocious beast', for example, when that's exactly what they're facing.

Also, your prose is often not very clear, the first two paragraphs for example:

We were exhausted. Marching around in snow and ice for one whole day can do that to you. And not just any whole day - a whole early summer arctic day...

We had been up since three in the morning, chasing after shots for the documentary. It had been terribly windy throughout the day, gusts slashing across the plains relentlessly, whipping the land with sleet and making it impossible to get decent views of the landscape. We had tried but it was pointless; with our ability to work impaired, our self-defences naturally went down and we eventually felt the full sting of the bone-biting cold. It had been a truly exhausting day in every sense of the word.

'Marching' is a misleading cliché here. Okay, it's the kind of colloquial description of walking someone might use in actual speech. But in a written story, even in the first person, the reader's mind is snagged on a word like this, since they have to work out whether or not you mean it literally. Same for 'exhausted'.

'Whole day' is problematical too. Do you mean they walked for 24 hours? If so, that would need explaining, since it's hard to believe. Or do you mean from morning to evening, in which case, you have to tell us what that means in this setting--3 am, for example, is not the normal starting time of day for most people.

If the weather is so bad, why are they marching around all day? Surely, they'd just give up for the day and try again when the weather changes.

I don't understand why not being able to work means their self-defences were down. Defences against what? You imply it's the cold, but aren't they marching around?

Still on prose . . . avoid capitalising words for emphasis--it can only lead to needing even more emphasis, such as using bold too, and triple exclamation marks (which in fact you resort to). I don't know if you're planning to submit this but unfortunately, any agent or editor will scan down, see those effects, and conclude they're signs of an amateur approach. The point is, your use of words, grammar and punctuation should imply and transmit emotion; using hammer-blows of capital letters, etc, just numbs the reader's sensitivities.

Anyway, these are just a few initial thoughts. I hope they help in some way.


Victor Gente Delespejo at 17:23 on 18 November 2007  Report this post
Thanks Terry,
you have given me many parameters to focus on. They are very useful and revealing.
I'll have to have a think about them.

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