Nora woke in the middle of the night. Something had pulled her from sleep. She listened, but all she heard were the normal sounds of the forest. Under the shelter, the fire had burned down to crackling embers and the gentle breathing of the woman beside her eased the fear that had awakened her. The plastic barrier 4B had put up rustled gently in the wind and she wondered if a gust had snapped it to stir her. Then she realized the rain had stopped. Perhaps the comparative silence had roused her. She settled back into the warmth of their bed and would have drifted back to sleep if not for her awareness of the arm wrapped around her middle and the leg thrown over hers. Like the night before, she and 4B had gone to sleep lying apart, but somehow during the night they had drifted together. The contact was familiar this time, but it elicited a new awareness that kept her awake.
4B shifted in her sleep, pressing more firmly against Nora’s side, and Nora pressed back, careful not to wake her. She felt almost claimed by the possessive hold 4B had on her, and she liked it. She wasn’t sure she should, but she tried not to overanalyze it and closed her eyes.
She was almost asleep when something brought her back to full awareness. It was the same thing that had woken her before, and she lay quietly waiting for it to happen again.
There it was.
A scraping sound against the metal of the wing. Just two feet away from her head. She tried to think what it could be. It wasn’t the familiar sound of the pine branches swaying against the shelter. It was too close to the ground. Nora stared into the darkness at the angle of the wing against the soil. It sounded like something was digging. It got louder. There was the sound of dirt being pushed away, then a snuffling grunt.
“Bear!” she shouted and sat up, grabbing the longest, thickest branch from their dwindling firewood pile. She hit it against the wing as close to the sound as she dared to get. She yelled unintelligible words. She beat the stick against the metal so hard, it broke and she grabbed the longest half and began to beat it again.
“Wh-what is it?” 4B sat up behind her, alarmed, still dazed from sleep.
“Bear!” screamed Nora, continuing to bash the stick against the metal, swiveling her head to watch the open sides to see if the bear came around.
“Git! Shoo! Go away!” shouted 4B, adding her own stick to the banging.
Nora kicked, beat, and yelled until her legs grew tired and her arms grew weak. 4B did the same. She had no idea how long they railed against the intruder as they kept their eyes peered for any sign of it coming around to the open sides. When nothing more happened, Nora stopped, motioning for 4B to do the same. They listened for any sign indicating the bear was still around.
Their heavy breathing and the wind whipping up from the ravine were the only sounds in the damp night air.
“Do you think it’s gone?” whispered 4B, dropping to the ground and pulling the blanket up to her neck, looking around furtively. “Was it really a bear?”
“I’m pretty sure it was. It sounded big,” replied Nora. Her voice sounded hoarse from the screaming. She crouched next to the fire, casting glances at all the open sides, and threw more wood on the embers in the fire ring. The fire roared to life, and she listened for further signs the animal was still lurking about. After a few minutes, she retrieved the travel flashlight from her backpack and, summoning the courage to poke her head out from beneath the shelter, she shone its pale beam into the dark. She felt extremely vulnerable standing in the ring of light cast by the fire, but she didn’t want 4B to know how scared she was. The flashlight barely made a dent in the darkness, but she could almost make out shapes around her. Nothing stood out as she tried to discern rock from animal. When she was convinced nothing was moving, she ducked back inside.
“I think it’s gone. It’s pretty dark out there, but I didn’t see anything. I think we scared it away.”
“God, I hope so! What happened? How did you know it was out there?”
“It woke me up. I think it was trying to dig under the wing.”
“Why would it try to dig under when it could have just walked around?”
“I have no idea, but that scared the crap out of me,” she said with a tremulous laugh. Her adrenaline had left and she started to shake as she sat back down on her side of their camp bed and pulled the blankets over her legs. As she situated the blanket, she saw something near the log next to the fire.
“How stupid am I?” she said kicking the blankets off and leaning forward to pull it toward her.
“What?” asked 4B.
“It’s my fault. I must have dropped this when I was putting the things from dinner away!” said Nora, looking at the plastic beef jerky package she held in her hand. With a disgusted grunt, she threw it onto the fire.
“Do you really think it was after a piece of trash?”
“Bears can smell food from hundreds of feet away. Leaving that lying around was like inviting him to dinner.”
Nora scoured the area for anything else that might attract a bear.
“Hey, don’t beat yourself up about it.” 4B rested a hand on Nora’s shoulder.
“I thought I was being so careful.”
“Can you imagine what would have happened if it had come around to the open side, instead of trying to dig under? You were lying right there,” said Nora, indicating the open side of the wing. The only thing between her and the wild was a haphazard assortment of items blocking part of the opening. It wouldn’t keep anything out that wanted to come in. She felt so vulnerable and visible where they were.
“I don’t want to even imagine it. You shouldn’t either. It didn’t happen.”
“God, I’m such an idiot,” whispered Nora, as she sat back down on top of the blankets next to 4B. She’d endangered them both. She grabbed the sweatshirt she had left next to their pallet, buried her face in it, and fell back onto the blankets. “Ugh! Such an idiot,” she repeated. She was cold, but didn’t care. The adrenaline from the scare was still coursing through her veins and she wasn’t about to try to go back to sleep. Not after such a terrifying experience. One that she had caused. She felt so stupid.
“Relax,” whispered 4B. Nora felt 4B lie down next to her, and the sweatshirt was removed from her face. Nora kept her hands in fists over her eyes. 4B coaxed one of Nora’s arms down so she could nestle close to her, like they’d been right before the scare. Nora breathed out and lowered the other arm, trying to relax for 4B’s sake. She stared at the light of the fire dancing on the metal above them. Her self-recrimination didn’t go away, but the distraction was helping.
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