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.

6 Comments

  1. Bud Smith

    “I start to close my dry eyes but remember I died with them open.”
    This was amazing! I have one request! Don’t make it all a dream, get rid of the dream. You could cut all of this “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.”

    I just thought it was so good with a bear really showing up and the problems with the cat and the complications that kept happening from having to pretend to be dead, oh my god. The one thing I could see you doing a little more of is thinking of a parallel thing to tell while the bear problem is happening, what does it mean to be potentially attacked and killed by a bear in this story and how can it define a person’s life other than being killed? Were they warned? Are they in a place a bear has never gone before? Has the bear gone on some crazy odyssey to attack the woman and the cat? What is her life? Who is she and what is her biggest problem besides being attacked by a bear and how does this encounter help her figure something out about herself? Anyways, this was so cool and I could see it incorporating some other elements but I’d like to see the dream go, please. <3

  2. Benjamin Niespodziany

    Great intensity and panic and fear! Internal anxieties are great here. Like Bud said, wish this wasn’t a dream! Make it real. Maybe include the pee and realize you’ve wet yourself as the bear goes through your stuff. Or one its left. Great pacing and storytelling here. Good campfire one

  3. Kara Vernor

    I’m “very there” in this. I can see everything that’s happening clearly and so it’s easy to empathize with the narrator, to really feel the terror of the situation. Like others, I agree about dropping the dream element, and I agree, too, with Bud that I’d like to see another element introduced. Sometimes writers discuss the difference between an anecdote and a story, and while I don’t put too much stock in that distinction, I think in this case adding another element would help tilt the piece more toward a story, which tends to have more payoff. Regardless, this was enjoyable–thank you!

  4. Saxon Baird

    I think you can nix the dream and just have this situation be as is. I love the idea of someone basically doing everything you’re not suppose to do while camping. And then, of course, a bear comes as everyone warns! But then what if, as the piece hints at, the bear is chill and just eats all the food and gets drunk on the vodka and passes out and then the character has to like either stay in her tent and wait or pick up all her stuff and move on while there’s a massive drunk af passed out bear hanging out. Lots to work with…

  5. Bill Merklee

    Again the details are fabulous. I laughed out loud at the ending but I can also see how this would be a more harrowing story if it was not a dream, as Bud has mentioned.

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