They had hiked miles into the forest, deep into the cool dim green of the Blue Ridge mountains. Kayla’s father had set the tent up near a mountain stream and they hadn’t seen other people since leaving the trail that morning. A fire pit was built near the tent, backpacks were strung up in the trees and perishables submerged in the icy cold of the stream. That night as the adults sat around the fire, she heard her father say he was going to put meat out to attract the bears. She had seen bears before. large black lumbering shapes sometimes raiding the trash cans at the picnic areas, but she had never seen one up close. Kayla pictured herself befriending the bear, sinking her fingers into the thick fur to scratch behind its ears. The bear would carry her into the forest on his back and show her secret things. Her new friend would protect her, roaring his disapproval at her father’s dark temper. She wondered what the bear’s name was.
Kayla wiggled into a sleeping back in the tent for sleep. Her mother smoothed Kayla’s fine blonde hair back and kissed her forehead. She thought her mother was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen and was filled with a fierce, helpless love as she looked up at her. Her mother was unhappy sometimes and during those times nothing Kayla did could earn her mother’s smile. Today she had been happy and smiling though, so Kayla relaxed and fell asleep to the sound of night insects, cracking branches and the uneven drip of acorns hitting the tent.
She was pulled out of sleep suddenly. It was pitch black inside the tent and she was alone. Her head was pressed against the back wall of the tent, and she felt something moving on the other side of the orange fabric. There was a low snuffling sound only inches away, and Kayla felt something large outside the tent, pressing against her head. She froze, feeling it slowly slide across the top of her head. It seemed to take forever to pass while Kayla lay perfectly still, trying not to breathe. She heard odd groaning noises, and moving as quietly as she could, she squirmed her way out of the sleeping bag and crawled to the door of the tent. Whatever was out there was big, and she tried to quell the fear gibbering in her mind. She pushed one flap aside and saw her parents standing by the fire in the darkness. They were silent but her mother saw her and beckoned her near. There was a large black bear on the other side of the camp fire, just past the tent where Kayla had been sleeping. Her mother put her arm around her shoulders, and Kayla rested her head against her mother’s hip, watching the bear smelling the leaves. He seemed enormous to Kayla and his eyes mirrored the firelight.