“So, tell me again why a mountain biking weekend requires you to take off half a day on Thursday and a whole day Friday?”
“Pam, we’ve been over this. It’s almost a four hour drive.” Jim Halpert set his messenger bag on the top of the reception desk and smiled down at Pam. He fished around in her candy dish for a cherry flavored Jolly Rancher, but the bowl had been picked clean and all that remained were gross ones like watermelon and green apple. “Yuck. What do you do with all the leftover flavors that nobody eats?”
“Dwight takes all the green apple. I think he gives them to his cousin? I don’t ask. Anyway, you’re pretty much the only one that comes up here and gets any at all.”
“You should get something universally liked. Jellybeans, for example.”
Pam rolled her eyes at him. “Yeah, okay, Mr. Candy Connoisseur. Where are you going again?”
Jim found a lone grape flavored candy buried at the bottom and grinned at Pam triumphantly as he popped it in his mouth. “The Allegrippis Trails out in Huntingdon. Should be fun. Some buddies I haven’t seen in a few years will be there.”
Pam pressed her lips together and turned her nose up at him. “Well. I hope it’s worth leaving me here by myself. Angela has a new cat and Dwight won’t shut up about that show Firefly being canceled, so. Between the two of them I won’t get any work done.”
He laughed. “Yeah, your minesweeper games will have to play themselves, huh?”
The hard line of her lips quirked up into grin. “I’ll have you know that I’ve moved onto solitaire.”
“Nice. Well hey, have a good weekend. See you Monday?”
“Sure. Have fun! Don’t break a leg or anything.”
“I’ll try, just for you. Bye, Pam.” He held up his hand in a wave as he headed towards the main office door. Before he walked left he looked back at Pam and was pleased to see that she was looking at him, too. The last thing he saw as he left work at just past 1:00 on a Thursday afternoon was Pam Beesly smiling and waving at him from behind the reception desk.
The next time he saw her, his life will have been changed forever.
“Hey, Halpert! Long time no see!” Jim was nearly yanked from his car by a short, stocky man who immediately crushed him in a one arm hug.
Jim managed to squeeze out a greeting as his college buddy Zach thumped him on the back. “Hey, Zach. How’ve you been?”
“Great, man, great! Hey, guys, Jim made it!”
Jim greeted his old friends Alec and Matthew and caught up on life after college as he set up his tent and hauled gear out of the back of his car.
“Alec, how’s veterinary school?”
“It’s great. Actually, no, it’s pretty hard. But I love it, I really do. Can’t wait to be done, though.”
“Nice! How about you, Matthew, sales treating you right?”
“Can’t complain. Being a pharm rep is where it’s at, man. How bout you? Sales game good up in Scranton?”
“Ah, you know. I’m making it. It’s a good stepping stone until I find something better. My boss is pretty wild and I’ve got a pretty crazy coworker, but some of the people there are cool.” He’s thinking of Pam when he says it, of her somewhat untamed curly red hair and her green eyes and the way she tilts her head all the way back when she laughs at one of his pranks or at one of the dumb jokes he makes. Something he very decidedly is not thinking about is the diamond ring on her left hand.
“Hey, Jim, come help me get some firewood. And I’m drinking one of your beers since I helped you get your tent set up.”
“I’m drinking one of yours, then, since I have to help your lazy ass pick up sticks in the woods.”
After that, the weekend got good and started and Jim didn’t think about Dunder Mifflin or anyone working there again.
Well, that wasn’t quite true, but thoughts of Pam didn't count.
The foursome spent almost all day Friday and Saturday on the mountain biking trails. Jim was the least experienced of his friends but they’re pretty good about letting him play catch up and by noon on Saturday he thought he’d improved significantly. He decided to head back to camp early on Saturday, though, and left the group to bike without worrying about him slowing them down.
He spent Saturday afternoon next to Raystown Lake with a paperback that he’d been intending to read on his lap, forgotten. Instead, he looked out at the water and compared his life to that of his friends. Veterinary school, pharmaceutical sales, and learning to take over a family business all sounded a lot better than junior salesman at a midrange paper supply company. Plus, they all had a lot more going in the way of romantic prospects. Jim’s luck in that department was pretty dismal, considering that he was more than slightly enamored with a girl that was soundly spoken for. He made a few honest attempts to read his book, but his thoughts kept drifting back to pale skin and striped button downs and a hair barrette that he’d been dying to unclip since the day he saw it, so that he could run his hands through the hair that it held back.
They woke up early on Sunday morning. All but Jim were exhausted and sore from two full days of biking and packed up their campsite to head home. Jim, however, having had extra time to recuperate, decided to hike a nearby trail that had caught his interest in the planning stages of this trip.
“Halpert, you sure about that? 1,000 Steps isn’t a short trail. Or an easy one. And aren’t you beat?”
“I didn’t bike myself to death like you three. I’ll be fine. Hey, keep me in the loop on when you guys want to head out here again. I definitely want to come back.”
“Sure thing, man. Hey, have fun, alright?”
A short while later, Jim pulled into the trailhead of the historic 1,000 Steps trail. It was less busy than he’d imagine for a Sunday morning and he went several long stretches without seeing another hiker. He enjoyed being out in nature, alone with his thoughts, and took his time to reach the summit. After a brief rest during which he took in the spectacular views (and took a few photos on his digital camera, because he thought that Pam might like to paint them), he headed down the trail so that he could head back home
He wasn’t far from the trailhead when he heard the commotion. Something was crashing through the woods just head of him, something big. He froze in place as he debated on whether or not he should run back up the trail, but whatever it is that was stumbling through the underbrush suddenly careened onto the path and made up his mind for him.
It was a bear. A big one. And it was headed straight towards him.
Surprised would have been an understatement. Jim took a few steps back in an attempt to get away, but the path was rocky and he fell backwards onto his elbows. The bear took a few lumbering strides towards him and made a low sound, almost like a distressed moan. Jim had a fleeting thought that it looked sick or drugged or something, and then ceased to think anything other than “holy shit” as the bear fell forward.
Jim jerked his leg away quick enough to not have it crushed by the weight of the bear but not quick enough to escape injury. The bears mouth grazed against his shin and he felt the sharp pain of a cut in the skin. He clamped his hand around it and scrambled away from the bear, now seemingly unconscious in the middle of the trail, as fast as he could. He only stopped moving when he felt the trunk of a tree against his back, and only then did he realize that something else was moving in the woods from the same direction as the bear.
“Look it came, this way!” A voice he didn’t recognize rang out and after a few more seconds, three men burst onto the path. They were dressed in what strongly resembled army fatigues, at least to Jim, and two of them were carrying long barreled tranquilizer guns. Jim stared at them, almost as shocked to see them as he had been shocked to see the bear.
They looked shocked to see him, too, but quickly recovered. Two of them descended on the bear. The third headed towards Jim. “Hey. What’s your name?”
“Jim. Uh, Jim Halpert.”
“Jim, you alright?”
“Yeah, I think. It just scared the shit out of me. Is it--is it okay, though?”
“He’s fine. He...we have a rehabilitation program not far from here. He got out during a transfer from another facility and we’ve been tracking him almost all morning. Fast son of a bitch. But he’s fine, just a tranq or two.” Jim looked past the man talking to him and was relieved to see that the bear was still breathing. It looked peaceful, almost kind of cute. The two men kneeling with it were on walkie talkies and doing what Jim assumed was a field examination. Jim watched them for a moment, curious, before the man checking on him cleared his throat and motioned to Jim’s leg, where Jim still had his hand against the cut that was now bleeding through his fingers. “You’re bleeding. Did it get you?”
The look on the man’s face was serious. Harsh even. “Uh, no. I scraped it on a rock when I was trying to get away. Banged my elbows up, too, look.” If someone had asked Jim later why he’d lied, he probably would have said that it was because of the man’s expression, but the truth was he had no idea why he lied. It just seemed like the right thing to do, like everyone would be better off if he just fibbed a little.
“We have some first aid stuff. Hey, Stephens, this guy got cut up.”
The man named Stephens checked Jim’s leg. Stephens dug around in a backpack and produced antiseptic, antibiotic cream, gauze, and a roll of bandage material. “Elbows okay? Need me to check them, too?” Jim shook his head and Stephens got to work dressing the cut on his leg. “This should be good to get you back down, but you might have it checked out. It could need stitches.” Jim nodded obediently and stood up to leave, more ready than ever to be out of there and back in Scranton.
“Listen.” The third man reached out and grabbed Jim’s arm. “We’d appreciate your discretion with this matter. Can we count on that?”
Jim shifted nervously back and forth. The cut on his leg throbbed a little. “Um, okay. Why? He just got loose, right?”
“It wouldn’t be good publicity for the rehabilitation program we’re involved with. We’ll do a press release after we get him back and make sure he’s safe. We just like to be able to control the story. Understand, Jim?”
“Sure. No problem. Thanks for the bandages.” He surveyed the scene one last time: the bear, prone on the path and breathing deeply. The two men examining it, their eyes focused on their task as they checked its paws and gums and eyes. The third man, the one that wouldn’t let him leave, who was looking at him with that same serious expression. He felt like he needed to say something but he wasn’t sure what, so he just waved like an idiot and hurried down the path.
He walked for another thirty minutes before he rounded the bend and saw his car. Once it was in sight he started jogging towards it, then broke into a flat out run. Adrenaline kept his wounds from hurting until he was a good twenty minutes away. His leg started to ache then, and even though he hadn’t had any intentions of stopping until he’d gotten back to Scranton, he pulled into the parking lot of the first tiny country hospital he saw.
Six stitches, a tetanus shot, and a prescription for antibiotics later, Jim was back on the road. He made the drive back home in record time. Once home, he waved weakly to Mark and headed up the stairs to his bedroom. It was only around 6:00 in the evening, but he felt so exhausted. He couldn’t remember ever feeling so tired. Being attacked by a bear (kind of) and getting a shakedown (of sorts) from an intimidating man in uniform must really take it out of a man. The bed looked incredibly inviting and he collapsed onto it sideways. He fell asleep almost immediately, on top of the comforter and still in his hiking clothes
He woke up a while later with a dry mouth and a foggy head. It was dark outside his window, but other than that he had no idea how long he’d been asleep. He was starving, so he’d obviously slept through dinner. A quick bite to eat, a short shower, and crawling back in bed afterwards sounded like a great idea.
On his way down the stairs, his head got foggier. It started to affect his vision, he realized, as the familiar surroundings of his living room began to blur around the edges. He braced a hand against the wall and felt his way into the room and it’s a good thing he did, because as he stepped Off the bottom stair his vision got worse. He could hear ringing in his ears, or his blood rushing, or maybe his own heartbeat. But it couldn’t have been his heartbeat, because that would have meant that his heart rate had sped up so much that he couldn’t distinguish the distinct lub-dub lub-dub lub-dub sound he knew a heart beat was supposed to have. Instead, it was a constant WHOMWHOMWHOMWHOM that pulsed loudly in his ears. He tried to yell for Mark, but when he opened his mouth nothing came out except a strange sound not unlike the moan he’d heard the bear make that morning. The similarity of the two sounds registered in his head but was quickly forgotten as the sudden realization that he was going to pass out hit him.
As he fell forward onto the carpeted floor of the living room and started to fade into unconsciousness, his last coherent thought was of the throbbing pain that emanated from the cut on his leg and began to spread throughout his entire body. And then, he didn’t think about anything.