Camping - part 3

I must admit I am somewhat ignorant in the matter of bears. They must originally come from somewhere up around Chicago, I suppose, and I know from having been to the circus that some of them are smart enough to ride bicycles. Now I curse my lack of education, for as I swing my flashlight around and catch the fierce creature facing me in the feeble beam, its eyes glow with a luminescent red that I find as perplexing as it is terrifying. Could this be a sign of anger? Demonic possession? Even more bizarre, its eyes glow only when I fix it in the shaft of light from the flashlight.

No sign of a bicycle anywhere--great, I've got one of the stupid ones. He stares at me, his furry face as horrifying to look upon as Mick Jagger's. Most ominous is his silence--I've read somewhere that a barking bear is much less likely to attack than a quiet one. I try to remember what to do: stop, drop, and roll? Make a sound like a bear trap? Other than my honeymoon, I have never been this frightened in my life.

"Fred!" I hiss. I glance at the tent, where my son lies sleeping, sprawled among the Johnsons. The walls are so infected with mildew, mold, and gangrene that I am pretty sure the bear can't smell them. "Fred!" I shout more loudly.

"What?" Fred answers irritably. "I said we didn't have any beer."

"There's a bear out here! Get your gun!" I whisper urgently.

"A bear?" he demands incredulously. There is a flurry of sound from within the tent, the boys whispering excitedly.

"You getting your gun?" I plead.

"I don't have a gun. I'm getting my camera," Fred responds.

"Fred! Would you listen to me? He looks like he is going to attack!" Well, actually, the bear has now turned its attention to the cooler and is sniffing at the lid, probably unable to believe that all we brought is beans and hot dogs. But I'm afraid that once I move I'll become Bruce Mignon.

"Okay, okay, let's be calm. Everything is going to be all right," Fred says softly.

"Why are you talking like a psychotherapist? I need help!"

"All you have to do is work your way over to a tree and climb it," Fred assures me. "You'll be safe there."

I look over at the trees, none of which appear any friendlier than the bear. "Have you got a ladder?"

"Dad, how big is the bear?" my son asks worriedly.

I don't want to frighten him. "Big enough to eat all of us," I answer.


The bear suddenly gives up on the cooler and lifts itself up on its hind legs, holding its nose to the air. The only food within sniffing distance is me, and as it fixes me with a cold, unwinking stare I realize it is getting ready to charge. "Fred, you'd better come up with something fast!" I shriek.

"Okay. Okay. I'm going to distract him and you run for the trees," Fred blurts. I hear the tent unzip, and the beam from Fred's flashlight dances out wildly. "Where is it?" he demands.

"There, right there!" The bear is still preparing for his assault. Finally Fred's beam illuminates it. I get ready to sprint.

"What? That's not a bear, that's a raccoon," Fred sputters.

"Do they eat people?"

"No, they don't -- how could it eat people, the thing is the size of a cat!"

Offended by this unfair comparison, the animal huffs off, disappearing into the undergrowth. There's a bright flash of light from the direction of the tent. "Did you get a picture of the bear?" I ask my son.

"No, I was getting you standing there in your underwear and black socks," he tells me.

"I can't believe you don't know the difference between a raccoon and a bear," Fred seethes.

"I think what's more important is that you left the cooler out," I respond archly. "We're just fortunate that I discovered your oversight before a fleet of wild raccoons, more dangerous than any bear, descended out of the night like locusts and stripped us to the bones."

"Cool," the kids breathe.

It's a lesson they'll never forget.

[ by W. Bruce Cameron Copyright © 1998 -- { used with permission } ]


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