I wake up nose to nose with a bear. Immediately after my heart doesn’t stop, my only thought is how I’m going to avoid eye contact and back away slowly when there’s only an inch between my wide eyes and his and I’m lying flat on my back. I’ve heard that you’re supposed to roll into a ball if you can’t get away so he won’t rip your guts out before you play dead. Too late for that. Too late, too, to follow my girlfriend’s advice to leave my pet at home, because I always bring my cat with me when I camp. It may sound like a weird thing to do, but she’s a weird cat.
I play dead anyway, try to make my eyes fixed and glassy. I draw a bead on the thick string of drool dangling from the bear’s jaw. I wonder what his first bite of me will taste like and feel briefly defensive at the possibility that he’ll spit me out.
My cat yowls somewhere above me, and I try to channel to her that bears are excellent tree climbers. She yowls anyway. The bear turns its cannonball head toward the sound and begins to shuffle backward, but not before the wad of slime lands at the corner of my mouth. I want to spit violently, but I have to stay dead.
As I berate myself for my decision to leave the tent flap open for the cat, my mind darts to the picnic table, where I’ve left fruit and cheese and crackers, along with half of my third screwdriver from last night. I’d been too loose in the head to follow the number-one rule for all campers: never leave food out at your campsite. In this instance, however, I decide it was good planning on my part as I will the bear to eat, drink, and be merry while I stay dead and he loses his appetite for my intestines.
Apparently, I’ve been holding my breath for several minutes because it’s all I can do not to heave my relief when the bear backs off to a tasty breakfast. Instead, I carefully let my breath seep through the narrow place between my uvula and my heart, now a fat plug in the back of my throat. I start to close my dry eyes but remember I died with them open. I can’t remember how smart bears are, but I decide not to chance it. I listen, fish-eyed, to the bear wuffling through the food on the table and then pawing through the rest of my gear. I only hope he doesn’t find my bottle of vodka.
The bear belches like a teenage boy on steroids and I hold my breath again until I hear him tromp into the underbrush. I force my heart back down into my chest and lie still until my pulse rate drops out of the red zone.
Ten minutes later, I have to pee so bad that I can’t wait another minute. Just before I start to get up, something dense and suffocating lands on my face. Holy Jesus, he’s back. My heart spasms, the beat pounding in my ears. I wake up to my cat sitting on my face, yowling for breakfast, and I’ve peed the damn bed.