This is the seventh chapter of `Bear Hunter'. A new chapter will come out every week. Any comments or questions can be directed to the author at nothlit(at)hotmail(dot)com

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real people or events is entirely coincidental.

Bear Hunter
Chapter 7

    I followed Matt into the woods, breathing in the fresh, cool air of late morning. It smelled like pine needles, and wet earth. As we started walking among the trees that bordered the coast, I looked back once to see Matt's house standing at the edge of the tiny strip of land, surrounded by the sea on three sides. This entire area was almost postcard-perfect. The quiet, cool woods we went into were no exception.
    Tall, thick conifers grew everywhere, blocking out the sunlight in many spots with their thick, green branches. The ground underneath our boots was soft with a thick carpet of fallen pine needles that the rain had gathered and compacted into an even cover that muffled our steps pretty well. Not many small plants grew among the shadow of the tall pines, and I was able to see quite far in any direction as long as there weren't many tree trunks in the way. Overhead, some birds sang and I heard a couple of seagulls off to the south. The sky had cleared up and was now a bright shade of blue, with no indication of further rain that I could see. However, the cold wind that picked up at regular intervals had the smell of rain in it. I just hoped that if it did rain, it wouldn't catch us out the open.
    Matt went ahead as we threaded our way through the evergreen forest. He seemed to know his way around pretty well, since he walked without hesitation in a particular direction that I guessed was straight north. Even though he was walking quickly, he would stop at regular intervals to check on the mushy ground, or touch a particular tree trunk. He was very quiet and he didn't speak, so I didn't make any conversation and instead tried to guess what the hell he was looking for. I didn't see any signs that the bear had come this way, but Matt could obviously see something, since he would change direction every now and then according to what he spotted. I tried to spot some bear tracks or at least a scratched tree trunk that bore claw marks, but I didn't see anything of the sort. The heavy rain had washed away most of what would be considered tracks, and my respect for Matt grew when I saw that he was a really good tracker. He was sure of himself, moving stealthily through the woods. A good hunter.
    We walked in silence for maybe an hour, following the gentle rise of the terrain as we went further inland. At one point, Matt stopped and backtracked, looking at the ground like a bloodhound who has lost the trail.
    "Everything okay?" I said. I voice sounded strange in the stillness of the forest.
    "He was here," Matt told me. "But he didn't follow on up to the hills where his summer lair is. Something must've made him change direction. I just can't tell where he went."
    "I would help you look, but I have no fucking idea what you have been doing so far."
    Matt grinned, kneeling down a suspicious-looking patch of ground where something had disturbed one of the rocks lying among the pine needles.
    "Because of the rain, I am mostly looking for things that would tell me whether a large mammal has passed by recently. There are no tracks, obviously, but once or twice I've been able to spot some small indentations on the ground where something heavy stepped passed by. I also have a pretty good idea of the routes Ben takes in the summer, and even though it's late autumn I can guess where he was going from just a couple of signs. This time of year, most bears are looking for berries, honey if they can find it, and anything they can steal out of a dumpster. They have to eat practically all day so they can store energy reserves for the winter."
    "Right. They hibernate."
    Matt walked around in a wide circle for a while, looking. Eventually he found something he liked, apparently, because he started heading west with a decisive step. I shifted the heavy backpack on my shoulders so it wouldn't dig into the side of my neck like it had been doing and I followed him. We were deep in the woods now, and I was totally and thoroughly lost. Without Matt, I wasn't sure I would be able to find my way back to the house. I had the general idea that I had to head south to get there, but we had taken many little turns along the way that had confused me as to where exactly the house lay. Not that I minded; I liked being out in the wild. I've never really liked big crowds. I guess that was part of the reason why I chose to come to a tiny little town in Alaska rather than head on to a big city when I was running away from the people that had killed my grandfather. After all, the town I'd grown up in had been small. Everybody knew everybody else. Up here, it was pretty much the same thing, except you had all this raw wilderness right at your front door, begging to be explored.
    Matt and I followed whatever trail it was he had found, walking through the forest with the rifles slung around our backs. Matt had loaded his, and I had done so too, just in case. I didn't want a big, mean black bear thumping through the woods at the last possible second and getting the jump on me. I was a big guy, but a bear was another league entirely. If I ever had to fight one without the element of surprise, the fight would be over pretty soon.
    "Hey, Matt," I said, keeping my voice reasonably low.
    "Yeah?" he asked, looking back briefly.
    "How will we know when the bear is close? I mean, aren't they supposed to be able to move real quiet when they want to?"
    Matt nodded, and slowed down so he would be walking by my side. "That's true in some cases, but we will see the bear long before we hear it. I wouldn't worry about a surprise attack if I were you. Bears are really shy for the most part, and they will only attack if you corner them or they if feel threatened in some way. They are pretty elusive, though, which is part of the reason why tracking them or hunting them is such a pain."
    "Yeah. Most of the hunters back in town are too lazy to actually get in here and track a bear the proper way. What they'll do is bait a predetermined location; sometimes a hollow tree trunk, sometimes an empty barrel, or even a broken-down garbage disposal bin. Most things will do nicely to attract bears, but if you really want a bear to find your bait fast, then you use slightly rotten meat. Bears have a really good sense of smell. That's why you can't approach them when you are downwind from them. You got to keep the wind on your face at all times so you can properly sneak up on them. When you bait a location, the easiest thing to do is select a hidden spot that is protected from the wind and where you are sure to have a clear shot at the bear when he comes to investigate. Then all you need is patience. Most bears are curious by nature, so they will go up to the date even if it smells of you slightly. After that, you just take your shot and kill it."
    "That doesn't sound very challenging," I observed, jumping over a particularly big rock in my way. I could hear a stream flowing somewhere nearby, but I couldn't see it yet.
    "You're right; it isn't. My father used to hate baiters. He used to say it was unfair and downright stupid. If it had been up to him, nobody would have ever killed a single bear for sport around here. I agreed with him in that baiting to hunt was lame, but that was it. I enjoy hunting; I like the challenge, and the rush of adrenaline you get. Only when I hunt, I track my prey the old-fashioned way. Just like my grandfather taught me."
    "Do you shoot for the head?" I asked him.
    Matt chuckled. "Ever seen a bear skull? It's really thick. A good rifle will kill a bear if you manage to get a headshot, but it's a pretty small target and bears are always moving. If you try to go for the head, you risk missing and alerting the bear of your position. After that, it's a matter of whether you can reload and aim fast enough before the bear finds you and tears you to pieces with his claws. So no, I don't shoot for the head."
    "How do you kill one, then?"
    "You aim for the lungs, and the heart. The best shot to take is right when the bear is broadside to you, not knowing you're there. If you manage to get both lungs in single shot, the bear will suffocate and die pretty quickly. If you get the heart, then the kill is instantaneous. Best way to get a high-quality pelt, with minimum chances of dying horribly."
    I grinned. "You really know your stuff, Matt."
    He nodded, and pointed ahead. "There's the stream."
    I looked and, sure enough, there was a small stream flowing through the woods just ahead. The sunlight broke through the tree cover around the stream, allowing for bright sunlight to hit the forest floor. I didn't see any animals around the water, but I did hear many birds. No sign of a bear, though.
    "You think he crossed it?" I asked.
    "Yeah. Ben has a small cave he sometimes likes to visit near the edge of his territory, close to the coast. It's at the foot of a small hill about a mile away from the abandoned lighthouse. We should head in that direction. We'll probably find him before nightfall."
    "Abandoned lighthouse?"
    "Yes; there's this place that used to have a lighthouse back in the fifties. You can see it from my house, actually. It's been abandoned ever since they built the new lighthouse further down south, but most of the building still stands. When I was a teen, I used to go there with some friends from time to time. Best place to get blind drunk and/or high. Nobody ever knew we were there, not even my dad. It's not too far from the house, actually. About an hour's walk away. Faster if you go by sea."
    We crossed the stream soon after, and I had to take off my shoes so they wouldn't get wet and then waded through the icy cold water of the stream. On the other side, I put them back on again. As I was doing so, my stomach rumbled.
    "I could use some food right about now," I told Matt.
    Matt nodded, and sat down next to me. "You're right. Let's get something to eat. What's in the backpack?"
    I took of the backpack and set it between us, opening the zipper.
    "Here's most of the canned stuff I could find. Tuna, spam, I think even some beans. Take your pick."
    "I really need to go back in town and buy some decent food," Matt said, picking up a tuna can and opening it quickly. "I haven't had fresh fruit in ages."
    I opened a can of beans and began eating. Living as I had for the last three months, on the run, eating right from a can had become second nature to me. "Maybe we can pick some berries from the forest," I suggested. "There's got to be some around here, maybe in the bushes."
    "Dude. Stop channeling Little Red Riding Hood," Matt said, his mouth full of tuna.
    "Shut the fuck up, Matt."
    He laughed, and I had to smile. This little trip into the woods was fun; I had to admit it. I couldn't remember the last time I'd just hung out with a buddy like this. It felt good, somehow. Like it was something I had been missing, only I hadn't really known I had.
    When we were done eating, I stuck the empty cans in a bag and stuffed them back into the backpack. I realized I hadn't thought of bringing anything to drink, but then I saw Matt was drinking right from the stream. I blinked. Back where it came from, if you drank right from the stream you would end up in the hospital.
    "Are you sure that water is safe?" I asked Matt.
    He looked at me like it was the stupidest question anyone had ever asked. "Try it."
    I did, nearly where the stream and cupping my hands to get some water. I then brought it to my face, and drank. It was cool, and refreshing. It tasted a little weird, but not bad. I drank my fill, wiping my beard with the back of my hand.
    "You were right," I admitted. "Better than bottled spring water."
    "Told you. Let's get going, Sven. I want to catch that bear as soon as I can."
    "Sure, but now it's your turn to carry the backpack."
    We continued walking through the forest, and Matt was just careful as before as he analyzed every little detail that could tell him where the bear had gone. He already knew where his cave was, and we were heading in that general direction, but the fact was that the bear was very likely to have gone somewhere else entirely, and so he needed to be on the lookout. I spent the time following Matt a couple steps behind him, and looking around in case I saw a bear. Once I spotted something that might have been a porcupine, and one time I scared a rabbit out of its den. No bear, though. We walked around in careful, wide circles for hours and still nothing. It was late afternoon when we finally got to the area where the bear's cave was. There, Matt stopped, pointing to the barely-visible mouth of the cave that lay maybe 300 feet away.
    "Over there," he said in a low voice. "He might still be there, resting."
    "I don't see anything," I told him. "This place looks pretty peaceful."
    "Let's go down and investigate."
    I readied my rifle. "I'm right behind you."
    Matt led the way down to the cave, which was partially hidden by a fallen tree trunk that was overgrown with moss. He edged carefully around the trunk, heading for the mouth of the cave. He was perfectly quiet as he moved, and I did my best to imitate him. I could have sworn the cave was empty; the mouth was pitch black, and nothing stirred within it. Still, I was careful. If something jumped out of there, I needed to be ready to shoot.
    Matt looked back briefly, and then went inside the cave. I opened my mouth to stop him—even I knew enough about bears to know that you never, ever wanted to surprise one cornered in his own cave. However, Matt went in just the same. I wanted to follow him, but I stayed behind just in case. I didn't hear any growls, or any shots, so I assumed the cave was empty. For now. Sure enough, just a couple minutes later, Matt came out, shaking his head.
    "You do realize that the bear could have been in there, right?" I said.
    "I knew he wasn't in the cave. I just wanted to go inside to check for signs of the cave had been occupied recently."
    "Nothing. Ben must have taken some other way through the woods. We're probably going to have to double back, try and find his trail again."
    I looked up at the sky; it wasn't long before sundown.
    "So what?" I asked. "Do we return to the house?"
    "No way. We are too far away, and besides, Ben's territory is pretty big. He might be twenty miles away from here by now. We'll just make camp somewhere around here and resume in the morning. Just not near this cave, though. Some other animals might come sniffing around in the night. There aren't many dangerous animals in these woods, but I don't want to take any chances. A couple months ago I heard that there was a stray pack of wolves sighted not far from here, further north. Come on. There's a good spot not far from the lighthouse. We can get there before nightfall."
    I nodded, and followed Matt through the woods again. After about twenty minutes, we got to a clearing among the trees that looked as if it had been used as a camping site many times before.
    "I used to come here with my father when I was younger," Matt explained. "It's a good first camping site when you want to go deeper into the wilderness."
    "I haven't camped out since I was ten," I told him.
    "Yeah," I said, as Matt dumped the heavy pack on the ground and began to take out the parts of a small camping tent. "I went with the Boy Scouts. My grandfather wasn't big on camping. He used to tell me if I wanted to go camping, I could just take a blanket and sleep out in the fields of the farm. He wasn't much of a nature-loving kind of guy, which was ironic given the fact that he was a farmer. Whenever he went out on a trip to the woods or whatever, it was to kill something, not to appreciate the beauty of nature. So yeah, I haven't been out camping a long while."
    "You remember how to set up a tent?" Matt asked me handing me a couple of long poles.
    I looked at the poles and raised an eyebrow. "Um, no. You set it up. I'll watch and learn."
    Matt smiled. "Come on. I'll show you."
    For the next half an hour, I tried to set up the goddamned tent according to Matt's instructions. It was harder than it looked, and at one point I bent one of the supporting poles by accident. Matt just directed me, and refused to actually set it up himself. He was getting a good laugh out of my camping-related ignorance, and I must admit it was kind of fun. When I eventually got the small tent up properly, I crossed my arms over my chest and looked at it proudly.
    "Not bad for a ten-year-old Boy Scout," Matt commented with a snicker.
    "Hey Matt?"
    "Shut up, or I'll have to tie you up again."
    I had meant it as a joke, but to my surprise Matt said, "That might be fun."
    I blinked, thinking I'd heard wrong. By the time I had recovered from the surprise, though, Matt was already rummaging through the pack, looking for something to eat.
    "I call dibs on the trail mix," he said, taking out the bag of nuts. "You can have some delicious canned beans."
    "Ugh," I said. "Okay. But tomorrow we switch."
    We had our meal, and by the time we were finished the sun had already gone down. Matt yawned, stretching. He went off into the woods, presumably to take a piss, and I put away the garbage while he came back. I was just done putting everything away when he came back.
    "Are you sleepy, Sven?"
    "Not really. It's way too early for me."
    "Me neither. But we can't do anything until morning. What you want to do?"
    I opened the pack again and felt around with my hand until, at the very bottom, I felt the bag I was searching for. I took it out, and showed it to Matt in the fading twilight.
    "No way!" Matt exclaimed. "Where did you find these?"
    "At the far bottom of your pantry. They're expired, but I think we can ignore that."
    Matt reached for the small bag of marshmallows that I had found and took it. "I wonder how long those have been there. I don't even remember buying them. I wonder if my dad..."
    "I'll start the fire," I said quickly, to cover up Matt's sudden introspective silence. I hadn't meant to make him think about his father.
    Matt nodded. "You know how?"
    "Hey. I have a lighter. It doesn't get easier than that."
    I gathered some medium-sized rocks that were lying around the place, and arranged them in a small circle a few feet away from the tent. The rocks were blackened on one side, which indicated they had been used to contain a fire before. Next, I gathered lots of dry twigs and a few bigger branches that were not horribly wet from all the rain, and I piled them inside the circle of stones. I used my lighter to set fire to the whole thing, and before long I had a pretty decent bonfire going on.
    "Again, not bad for a ten-year-old Boy Scout," Matt teased me. "You picked a lot of green wood, though."
    "So what?" I said, sitting by the fire.
    "So, it's going to smoke a lot. Unless you did it on purpose and you want your marshmallows well-smoked as well as roasted."
    "A little smoke never hurt anyone, Matt. Here. Hand over the bag."
    Matt tossed the bag at me, and I tore it open, taking out three marshmallows that weren't as fluffy as might be expected. Then again, they were expired.
    I picked a long, thin twig and skewered the marshmallows on it, one after the other. Then I handed the bag back to Matt, who took some for himself and did something similar. When the fire was big enough, I set the marshmallows over the flames, turning them slowly.
    "I guess my father did buy them," Matt said eventually. "He liked these things a lot. When I was little, we would always take at least two bags with us whenever we went camping."
    "Sounds like fun," I said sincerely.
    "I guess," Matt said, his eyes on the fire, but his look far away. "Before my mother passed away, my father had used to be a pretty cool guy. He used to love to tell me scary stories when we were out in the woods together. I always ended up getting really scared, at least when I was still a kid, but I loved those late-night story sessions. He was really creative, too; I'm sure some of those stories he made up himself. I mean, if even half the things he told were true, these words would be crawling with ghosts and zombies and strange, half-dead creatures."
    "Like what?"
    "What you mean?"
    "Tell me a story. One of those your father used to tell you."
    "I suck at telling stories."
    "Come on, Matt."
    "No way. I really suck."
    "Well, you can try not to."
    Matt thought about it. It took him a while, but he nodded eventually.
    "Okay. Here goes."
    "Hey, Matt? Before you begin."
    "Your marshmallows are on fire."
    Matt tried to put out his marshmallows as I roared with laughter. My own marshmallows were crisp on the outside already, and I took them out of the fire, taking a few small bites to test their temperature. I took a huge bite out of the first one when Matt finally got his charred marshmallows to stop smoldering and began to tell his story.
    "Okay, this is supposed to have really happened about a hundred years ago or so, over by the lighthouse. There was this watchman who lived there, minding the lighthouse on his own. He spent most of the time up there alone, and he almost never went down to the town or anything. He had a niece that lived in town, who would bring him the supplies he needed from time to time on her boat. She was the only one who saw him regularly, and the only one he trusted. The people in town said the man was strange, always talking to himself whenever he was at a tavern or walking through the streets. He wasn't dangerous, but he was weird enough that most of the people preferred not to talk to him.
    "One night, there was a huge storm. The wind was so strong that it took down a couple of trees, and blew the roof off several houses. Back then, the town had been built much further inland, so the waves didn't reach any of the houses, but the watchman's niece saw how bad it was from her window and worried about her uncle, all alone up by the lighthouse. As the night got darker and the wind howled even more, she thought she heard a loud, unexpected sound over the howl of the wind. She wanted to go out and see what it was, but she couldn't leave her house at all that night. She had to wait until the next morning, when the storm had finally blown over.
    "When she was getting ready to sail out on her boat to go to the lighthouse and check on her uncle, several other people told her that they had also heard the loud noise in the night. Some people thought it might have been a ship crashing against the shore, and an old sailor practically swore that the sound they had all heard was the sound a thick wooden hull makes when crashing against rock. All of this was worrisome enough, but then the watchman's niece noticed something even more disturbing: the lighthouse, the top of which was usually visible from the town, could not be seen. She left in a hurry, fearing the worst. The sea was still a little choppy, but she made it around the coast fine, until she got to the lighthouse. There, she had to stop. She had expected to see that, at most, the top of the lighthouse had been knocked down by the wind and the waves. She had not expected to see the complete scene of destruction that was spread before her eyes.
    "There were bits of wood and still-recognizable parts of a huge ship floating all around the small bay where the lighthouse stood. Seagulls were flying overhead in huge numbers, and some were landing on floating things that made the watchman's niece cry out in revulsion when she saw what they were. Shocked, she led her boat to shore and hurried to the lighthouse, afraid for her uncle. When she got there, she saw the door was open. Inside, it was dark, and when she called, nobody answered.
    "She went all the way up, to the place where the huge lighthouse lantern usually stood, ready to be lit every night. She looked for her uncle everywhere, but she couldn't find him. She even tried to go up to the last level of the lighthouse, but parts of it had crumbled and she couldn't get past the narrow, winding staircase.
    "Scared, she hurried back out of the lighthouse, thinking that perhaps her uncle had been injured and had tried to get the town on foot. She planned to take her boat and looked around the coast for him, but when she got to the beach she saw her boat was not there. She also saw, with increasing horror, that the waters around the bay were clear, empty of debris.
    "She couldn't believe it, but no matter how much she searched, she couldn't find any sign of either her boat or the huge wreck that she had been sure she had seen when she had first arrived. The watchman's niece realized, too, that unless she found her boat again she was stuck on the lighthouse until the next day. It was too late to try and reach the town by walking, and the nights were cold. She looked back at the empty lighthouse, and something made her shiver.
    "She spent the remainder of the day looking for her boat and her uncle, but she didn't find either. At last, when the cold began to get uncomfortable and the light began to fade, she had to go into the lighthouse to take shelter. She found a small lantern, and she lit it, taking it to the room where the much bigger lantern should have been lit by her uncle by now. She didn't know where he kept the fuel for it, though, and so all she could do was huddle in a sheltered corner of the lighthouse, with her small lantern by her side. She was hungry, and cold, and as the night fell it began to rain again.
    "She must have fallen asleep, because when she woke up the rain was falling outside, hard. As she rubbed the sleep out of her eyes, the watchman's niece realized she was not alone. Her uncle was in the room with her, looking out to sea, standing by the huge lantern that was blazing with a big fire, shining its light out into the dark waters. The niece tried to talk to her uncle, but he ignored her. She stood up, timidly, and walked over to where he was. He was talking to himself as he usually did, but this time he was only repeating the same sentence over and over again. I should have warned them. I should have warned them. I should have warned them.
    "The girl tried to make her uncle react, but all he did was stand there, repeating that line over and over again. At last, scared that he wasn't talking to her, the girl touched her uncle on the shoulder. The contact made him react, and he looked at her as if from far away. I know you, he said, almost to himself. I should have warned them. Now they will take me. Leave now, or they will take you too.
    "The girl told her uncle that everything was all right, and that he should walk away from the window and come over to where she was. Her uncle ignored her, and the storm outside raged with such force, and the wind blew so strongly, that a sudden great gust of cold wind knocked the small lantern out of her hands, and blew out the huge lantern in the middle of the room too. She was left in shadows, unable to see anything. All she heard was her uncle's voice, repeating the same line over and over again. And then, faintly at first, but getting louder all the time, she heard another voice, answering him. It was a voice that sounded like a chorus of voices. You should have warned us, the voice said. You should have lit the lantern. Now you will come with us. And the girl, too.
    "The girl, terrified, tried to go to where her uncle was, stumbling in the dark, but she hadn't taken more than three steps when two pairs of cold, strong hands seized her by the arms. They dragged her away, into the cold, raging storm, and her cries were silenced only when she was dragged beneath the waves, to join those who had died when their ship that crashed on those treacherous rocks.
    "And they say that, sometimes, when the wind is blowing hard through the ruins of that lighthouse, you can still hear her screaming, calling for help."
    Matt finished his story, and it took me a couple of seconds to realize it was over. I had been so intent on listening that I had forgotten my marshmallows and now they were cold.
    "That's a good story," I told him. "And you're really good storyteller."
    Matt grinned, the light of the fire playing on his handsome features. "My father told me that story a thousand times. I know it by heart, right down to the inflections he used in each part. When I was younger, I used to beg him to tell me that story, and I always ended up terrified afterwards. Particularly when we camped around here, with the lighthouse so close. I don't think I had the guts to actually visit the ruins until I was like fifteen years old. It was a little disappointing to find out that the ruins were mostly crumbling bricks. There were no skeletons, no strange relics from one hundred years ago."
    "Well, your father sure knew how to make a spooky story."
    "Yeah. He had a knack for it. He used to say one day he would write all his stories down, but he never got around to it."
    Matt's look was sad, and I left him alone for a while, not wanting to intrude on his memories just then. His father had died a very short while ago, and the pain must have still been fresh. I went off into the woods to relieve myself, and when I came back Matt was still sitting in the very same position, looking into the flames. I wanted to do something, but I didn't really know what. I even went as far as to reach out for his shoulder, intending to maybe offer a reassuring pat, but then I thought better of it and I went into the tent instead. Matt wasn't long in joining me. He put out the fire, and then climbed in, zipping the tent shut behind him. He settled down next to me. Both of us were going to sleep with all our clothes on, since we hadn't brought sleeping bags and all we had was a thick blanket underneath us and another one to use on top.
    Matt settled down eventually, his warm body next to mine. He was silent for so long that I thought he had fallen asleep, but then he said, "I'm going to get that son of a bitch, Sven. He's going to pay for what he did to my father."
    "I hear you. And I'm with you."
    I felt Matt's hand reach for mine in the darkness, and take it. I was surprised, and tensed up involuntarily. Matt gave my hand a quick, rough squeeze and then let go.
    "I know. Thank you, Sven."
    After that, he was silent, and eventually we slept.

    It must have been very late at night, or really early in the morning, when the noises made me open my eyes. I couldn't see anything; it was completely dark inside the tent. Next to me, Matt was sleeping, his breathing coming regularly and evenly. He had edged closer to me as he slept, for warmth I suppose. Quietly, so as not to wake him up, I sat up, listening.
    At first, I didn't hear anything. I just sat there, controlling my breathing, and tried to recall what it was that I had heard that had woken me up. The noises did not resume, however, and after a minute or so of waiting motionless in the dark, I began to drift off again. I even went so far as to lie back down next to Matt before I heard the sound of a branch snapping. I sat up again in a hurry, and I heard a kind of deep huffing, somewhere outside. The noise was followed by some scratches and then a loud crash of cans falling on the forest floor.
    "Matt," I whispered.
    "Huh?" he mumbled sleepily.
    I grabbed his shoulder and shook him slightly. The huffing noises were coming closer.
    "Hey Matt."
    "What?" he said, yawning.
    "I think there's something outside."
    "What do you—"
    He didn't have time to finish. The huffing sounds turned into a loud growl, and the next thing I knew something heavy was crashing through the tent.
    "Look out!" I yelled, vaulting for the entrance to the tent. Somehow I managed to unzip it and I rolled away, right as something big and hairy noticed me and headed straight for my fleeing shape.
    It was so unexpected I actually froze up, half-standing, as the shadow I could barely see in the darkness of the night approached, huffing menacingly.
    I think I only had time to register Matt's voice yelling, "Bear!"

    The next chapter will come out next Tuesday!
    If you like this story, make sure to check out my other Nifty story, `Learning with a Man' at: