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Sleeping with Bears

Sleeping with Bears
by John Runnette

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There I was, Rudy, tucked into my sleeping bag, mesmerized by the blue glow of the Milky Way, asking myself that typical camper's question. "What's out there?"

This made me the perfect target for creatures that don't have time to question the universe. But, I didn't hear them until their buzzing exploded in my ears, so I was slapping myself silly, and the last thing on my mind was bears because if you've got mosquitoes, that's trouble enough.

And it wasn't as if we were alone. A troop of Boy Scouts was camped nearby, so someone had to be prepared, or should have been. Plus, we were good campers. We tossed our corncobs into the fire, and packed ourselves away, two of us in the truck, and me in a sleeping bag. But just before I nodded off, a noise exploded. It sounded like a train wreck, and no mosquito ever makes that much racket, not even when a swarm of them smells blood.

So, I leaped out of my sleeping bag, but immediately wished I hadn't because the next thing I heard were deep breathes, and it wasn't hard to imagine what breathed like that: something with a very large chest. So, it had to be a bear, or maybe several bears.

Now, this was happening at one o'clock in the morning and my sleeping bag wasn't 20 feet from these dumpsters, and from what I'd already heard, this army of bears had planned a food riot. So that's when I tried to remember every bear advisory ever written. Play dead, or should I run away, or was it just the opposite, run at the bear and let him decide if I should be dead?

Obviously, I wasn't thinking clearly, but when something moved into the bush next to me, my breathing wasn't very regular either, but that didn't stop the scream. The second I revealed myself a coward, though, everything got quiet, too quiet, and I figured out why. I'd probably screamed in the bear's ear.

That's when I turned on the flash light, which was my next mistake, because something with two eyes popped into view, and those eyes were big and brown and about five feet away. My hands were shaking so much the light from the flash light, which of course, I was still holding for dear life, bounced all over the campsite like a UFO, so who know what this poor bear thought. The aliens had landed. No wonder it took to hiding behind a tree. Which meant we'd reached an impasse.

But just for a second. Once I gained control of the flashlight, I shined the light on one side of the tree and the bear, no doubt fearing the worst, peaked out from the other, so I went back to shouting more inanities, like "Go away, bad bear."

Yes, I really screamed "bad bear", which proved I'd lost control, which was probably what this bear suspected all along, that I was either a space alien or just one more dumb camper who'd taste as badly as I shouted. So after my last scream, the bear slipped away, which let my stupidity really take over. I grabbed my hiking pole, charged off to where the bear had been, and shouted more nonsense.

The bear must have thought I was nuts and when I got hold of myself, I had to agree. There I was, a grown man standing in the middle of the campsite, in my underwear, a hiking pole raised over my head, yelling "bad bear". Not a very appetizing sight, unless of course, you're a mosquito.

From the San Gabriel Mountains of southern California, Rudy, this is John Runnette.


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