One day in winter, during that blissful dead stretch between Christmas and New Year’s, Chris was startled out of a deep sleep. He reached for his blaring cell phone, squinting at the painfully bright screen.

by Yinan Chen

2:14 AM. His boss, Jake.


Chris was on vacation. Why was he getting this, and not the scheduled on-call guy? Chris answered, fully expecting to grumble “Look at the schedule” and hang up again.

Before Chris could say a word, Jake growled, “Get out here.”

“Huh?” Chris struggled to comprehend around his grogginess. “To the office?”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

Chris thought about mentioning he was on vacation, but something in Jake’s voice told him he already knew, and didn’t care. “What’s wrong?”

“You’ll see.”

“Not even a hint?” Chris asked. “Can’t I just remote in, or—?“

“That’s about the last thing you can do, son. Now get out here.”

Jake hung up, leaving Chris befuddled. Never before had even the most dire emergencies mandated his physical presence— especially not at 2 AM, during the deadest time of year, while he was on vacation. What could possibly be wrong?

Well, nothing for it but to throw on the nearest set of clothes and head down there.

Chris drove through pitch blackness on deserted roads. It felt like a dream, but the most bizarre details were yet to follow. Cop cars and trucks filled the company parking lot. Chris pulled up as close as he could, and noticed the smashed window on the side of the office building.

There must’ve been a break-in, he realized, stomach sinking.

Fortunately, they backed up all their important data offsite, but a lot of hardware was likely missing. Maybe Jake needs me to take inventory and provide what’s missing for the police report, Chris thought. He was glad no one would’ve been here during the robbery— and doubly glad he’d taken his laptop home over vacation, in case of emergency. Now it seemed as though he’d spared it from emergency.

He exited his car. Despite the commotion, it wasn’t hard to find his boss. Jake stood alone, cigarette clenched in his teeth, observing the police work.

“I’m here, Boss.”

Jake greeted Chris with a terse nod, exhaling a stream of smoke.

“This sucks. So what’d they get?” Chris asked.

Jake smirked a little. “‘They’ nothing, son. It was a bear.”

Chris’ jaw dropped. “What? No way!”

Jake nodded. “Near as we can figure, the sumbitch saw something he wanted, or got spooked by traffic. Busted in, went tear-assing through the office.”

Chris needed a few seconds to process this. Upon closer inspection, he noticed the trucks parked nearby were in fact from the local Game and Fish Commission.

“I love Arkansas,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Can we go in?”

It was like visiting a crime scene: flashing cameras, cops, Fish and Game people, and others who weren’t easily identified on sight. Insurance adjusters maybe, or the owner of the building. Maybe an unrelated bystander or two just marveling at the spectacle.

The office looked more like a trailer park post-tornado. Cube walls lay askew. Desks had been cleared from the inside out. There was Mike’s famed candy stash, all over the floor.

Chris wondered if he was still back home asleep, dreaming. His cube hadn’t been spared, but given the drawers held no food, the bear hadn't seemed as interested.

Jake hovered over Chris’ shoulder, and kept right on smoking inside the building. Who was going to tell him no?

Chris cursed, then turned back to Jake. “What do we do, Boss?”

“Grab as many pictures as you can. We’ll need ’em for insurance. Worry about the rest later.”

Chris shook his head. “Can you imagine if someone had been here?”

Jake said nothing, glancing at his feet.

Was someone here?!” Chris cried.

“No, son, but you got me thinking. Supposing something like this happens again, and someone were around…” Jake glanced back up, frowning with purpose. “What we need here is a mitigation strategy.”

By the time Chris returned from holiday break, the chaos was a strange memory. Broken glass vacuumed up, cube walls resurrected, candy stashes replenished. New hardware had been ordered, and was on its way. The shattered window had been replaced—

—and in the kitchen, just above the mini-fridge, Jake had thoughtfully added a shotgun.

“I love Arkansas,” Chris muttered, retrieving his coffee.

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