I told this story at the Tenx9 Nashville Storytelling event last week – Theme: Courage.
It was 3am. Not a sound in the house. But suddenly everyone awoke with a small shriek, sitting straight up in their sleeping bags, half asleep, hearts pounding.
Then we realized the loud, creepy, frantic laughter of a man’s voice was coming out of the Tickle Me Cookie Monster doll my friend had unknowingly rolled over on. Of course we all died laughing and went back to sleep.
It was my birthday…my sweet sixteen slumber party… The doll was a gag gift from one of my friends that year, but that was the first – of the two – traumatic experiences from that party.
Colorado is beautiful in the fall, and that next afternoon was perfect weather for being outside. We jumped on the backyard trampoline, playing Simon-Says-type “add-on” games, and double-bouncing each other until we got tired and just sat in the middle, talking about boys and school, and whose hair was the prettiest and how we loved each other’s fingernails… and so on.
But then we heard something weird.
It wasn’t dramatic. My friend just said, “Did you hear that?” and we all got quiet. She said she heard some kind of rustling under the deck, about 7 or 8 yards from us. It was dark and shadowy under there, the way it sloped down the little hill our house was on, and we couldn’t see anything from where we were sitting. We didn’t hear it, so we passed it off as a squirrel or something. My friend insisted that it sounded much larger than a squirrel. We shrugged and kept talking.
A few minutes later, we all heard another sound, and it was definitely the shifting of something much larger than a squirrel.
You’ve gotta understand that we lived in a cabin in the middle of the woods, on private property that used to be a camp, and we regularly saw giant raccoons and various wildlife, and this included the occasional bear. Raccoons usually came out at night, sneaking around the trash, but bears… kinda do what they want, whenever they want, right?
We have a picture of a bear – in the middle of the afternoon, leaning up against that trampoline – arms resting on the metal bars as if he was thinking of claiming this activity for his next birthday party. But thankfully that was a few years before mine.
But I realized that bears had come to this very spot before, and so I wasn’t ruling out the possibility that one might be underneath that deck.
I called out to my mom hoping she was right inside the door, but she must have been downstairs on the other side of the house, because nobody came at this point. My sister was inside, but there was no sign of her, either.
We had only heard these two noises, followed by several minutes of silence as we all whispered trying to guess what it was, and what we would do.
We started thinking maybe we were just being silly… I mean, the noises had stopped, so maybe we were being hyper-dramatic over nothing.
Then we heard a shuffle and a low, quiet, halfhearted growl.
We shrieked and moved in closer to hug each other. I immediately started yelling for my mom and sister, over and over.
Eventually my sister opened the door and I said, “Get Mom! There’s a bear under the deck!” Color drained from her face and she frantically turned around and ran inside.
8 yards of ground between us and the steps to get back up the deck and back to the door to the safety of the house.
The courage came from my friend Jennifer, who was plotting what she would do to protect us all. The plan was this: She would run to the steps, grab the broom beside the door, and… …I don’t know, beat him to death with a broom?
I don’t really remember what her plan was. I just remember that she was the hero in all of our eyes.
My mom rushed outside and asked us if we were sure it was a bear.
“Yes! It growled! …It’s bigger than a dog…”
My friends were talking about seeing a shadow at this point. “It moved! It’s a huge shadow!” And we all screamed.
My mom said she was going to call 911 for animal control and yelled for my sister to call my dad.
She said he probably won’t bother us if we don’t bother him, and she asked if we had food with us. I said no, and she seemed relieved and tried to comfort us.
Then she went inside and disappeared with the telephone.
Meanwhile, our eyes stayed glued to the shadowy figure. It didn’t move and it didn’t make any sound. Jennifer kept talking about her broom idea and said if it moved one more time she was gonna make her move. Several minutes went by and we saw no sign of my mom or sister, except for the occasional glance out the window as they held the phone to their ears.
Suddenly there was another passive growl and shuffle, and Jennifer said, “I’m going!” and we watched in fear as she bolted off the trampoline, ran up the stairs and grabbed the broom.
I still have this image of her on the deck, pivoting, arms raised, knees bent, like Granny Clampett defending her property.
We expected the bear to tear out of the gate at this point and gobble us up, and so I suddenly became brave.
My bravery was a little different than Jennifer’s, though.
I screamed as I ran up the stairs, passed Jennifer in all her glory, and ran inside, leaving my friends on the trampoline to die.
I’d like to think I was just being smart, that I could do more good inside, trying to get answers and relay some hope to the people outside… :-/
As I talked with my mom and sister about what was being done, when dad would be home, and if animal control was coming, I looked around for anything that would offer more protection for everyone than just a broom.
As I got closer to the door, I looked out the window and noticed the demeanor of the girls on the trampoline had changed.
They were now huddled in a circle, holding hands, praying and crying together.
The whole ordeal had gone on for at least 20 or 30 minutes already, and we were all at a loss for what to do now but wait.
Then my mom started acting weird and giving strange answers for questions I was asking, and my sister was shrugging her shoulders and looking at my mom like something was wrong.
“What’s going on??” I asked.
My mom was pacing, mentioning something about this having gone on too long, and I was like, “I know! Is animal control coming??”
Then my dad jumped out from under the deck.
My dad who is slightly smaller than the size of a bear. My dad who sounds like a bear moving around in crisp leaves. My dad with the deep voice and apparently amazing talent to growl like a bear, and who thinks these kinds of jokes are hilarious.
This is not the only practical joke he has played over the years, but I believe that was the first big one.
I did learn something about courage that day. I learned that my friend Jennifer had the most impressive heart of all. And I learned that I’m incredibly selfish – or, courageous and brilliant.
And I learned my dad is evil. ;-D