Friday, September 10, 2010


If you encounter a grizzly, do not run.

That's what Andy had told Sylvia and the others a year ago as they sat around a campfire on their first weekend together in the woods. They were drinking, laughing, and telling ghost stories when Andy interrupted with this unexpected proclamation.

Sylvia looked around quickly, worried she would see a 400-pound mama bear waiting for dinner. Andy smiled and patted her back.

“The most sensitive part of the bear's anatomy is the nose,” Andy continued, and took Sylvia's hand and molded it into a fist. He told them that throwing the hardest punch one could manage right in the center of its nose would send a bear running away in pain. Sylvia laughed at the image, but Andy shook his head and looked somber. The others stared at their hands.

“I remember reading about this guy who saved his life that way,” Andy said while he stroked Sylvia's  arm and stared at the fire.

“He described it like hitting a bag of thawed hamburger.”

No one said anything.

Andy looked up. “Okay, fine, let's talk about something else,” he said, and laughed as he lifted his hands in mock surrender.

“This round's on me.” He went to the cooler for more beer.

Now, after a year of many weekends spent in tents in the woods with Andy and their friends, Sylvia felt comfortable with the inconveniences - and joys - of camping.  As usual, while Andy left for a last visit to the latrine, she spread out the double sleeping bag after packing for the drive home the next day. She was thinking about the appointments she needed to make back in the city when she became aware that the other campers were shouting. What she heard dried up her saliva and made her legs wobble.

“A bear! There's a bear!”

Don't scream or yell. You'll only aggravate the grizzly, Andy had said that first night, ignoring teasing questions about what to do if a ghost attacked.

Not breathing properly, Sylvia pressed both hands across her mouth when she heard Andy's high-decibel cries of fear and pain, cries that ceased after a few moments. Pale and queasy, she could not stop her horrified shout of “No!” as her head turned toward the sounds of snorting and huffing outside their tent.

She regretted packing the cast iron skillet.

As she waited for what might come, Sylvia raised a trembling hand and made a firm fist, thinking of chopped meat.

© 2010 Marisa Birns 


  1. Ooooo, my biggest camping fear. Sometimes I lay awake at night, unable to sleep, thinking about big scary bears.
    But, wow, what a heroine we have with Sylvia The Brave; her tiny fist ready to do battle with an animal at least twice her size.
    Love the story, Marisa, but seriously, you've put me back at least a couple of years in the quest for fearless camping!!!

  2. There's something so vulnerable about camping. I hope Sylvia succeeds in missing the teeth and hitting the nose. Sounds like Andy wasn't so lucky. Great story.

  3. OMG, I am on the edge of my seat -- what happened???!!! Great story, poor Andy, and what a brave woman in Sylvia. Peace...

  4. Shame on you...letting our imaginations run away with us by ending it there! LOL! Great story. Guess Andy forgot his own advice.

  5. Oh, Linda. Wish I could tell you and Laura what happened. But I was too scared to stick around...

    Thank you all for reading. Appreciate your comments. :)

  6. Thawed hamburger for a nose? Grizzlies are such sissies.

    I think she lived when someone wielding a skillet rode by to the rescue.

  7. we don't have grizzlies in the UK, but even then, there's no way in the world I would go camping! He got picked off going to the john, what an indignity!

    Good fun

    Marc Nash

  8. You don't have to outrun the bear. You just have to outrun your friends.

  9. Is that she regretted packing the skillet, or regretted not packing it?

    The darker side of Yogi Bear...brilliantly written!

  10. Thawed hamburger? What an image!

  11. Oh man!!! No fair!!! Great story. We camp a lot, and I'm sure next time we go, this story will be with me. Well done.

    And I agree with Carrie, thawed hamburger is quite the image.

  12. Nooooo - what happened?!

    Funnily enough, in a book about sharks I had as a kid, the advice on what to do if a shark comes towards you is to punch it on the nose - their eyesight is poor and they think they've hit the bottom and turn around, apparently! I can't imagine I'd have the presence of mind to do this in such a situation, or the inclination to put my hand anywhere near the jaws!

  13. Good ending. I wasn't expecting it. In my head, I had formed a completely different ending.

  14. I punch like a girl, so sensitive nose or not, I wouldn't be able to fend off a bear.
    Maybe a BIG hat pin?

    *makes a note to always carry a big hat pin when camping*

    Poor Andy's off screen demise was so much ickier left to the imagination.

    I have a real life bear encounter story, but thankfully it's more of a run away run away...and less of an he's been eaten, he's been eaten story.

  15. Ohhh, that hurts! (I'm thinking of Andy here)

    I want to know what happened too! Not nice missy, leaving us curious like this. :p

    Great story though. I was waiting for a bear attack but as usual you surprised me with the ending. Good job!

  16. Oooh ...

    Did he or didn't he?
    Did she or didn't she?
    Did it or didn't it?


  17. The beginning just begged for this to end in, dare I say, grisly fashion. Interesting to see who crumbles under pressure and who survives, or tries to.

  18. “He described it like hitting a bag of thawed hamburger.” What an image-and so perfectly brought back around at the end. Great story--I'm also hanging mid-air (you did this so well), waiting to know what happened! Very effective.

  19. Anonymous12:10 PM

    Grisly stuff. Latrines - frightening!
    Penny Goring

  20. Anonymous1:01 PM

    Wait... Are you kidding me?!?!?
    I was going to go camping this weekend! What next? What next?

  21. Lawd! This made me think of something true that happened - this guy wanted to "live among the bears" (Drives me crazy when people do this with wild animals . . .)... so, he does and convinces his new girlfriend to join him - she's in the tent getting the cam-corder thing ready so they can record their frolicking with the bears ....

    Then, she hears it - his screaming -

    Later the authorities find the camcorder and they can see her, then hear his screams and the bears grunts and growls - they see her run outside and then hear her screams --
    at any rate, um, that's the last of them - screams stop . . .

    *shudder* -- when are people gonna learn that wild animals are not our pets and not cute and are unpredictable?

    so you didnt' ask for that story, did you? LAUGH!
    Love your writing ....

  22. Kat, that story really was chilling, especially since it's true! And to have it recorded for others to know what happened to them!!!

  23. Hey, bears like to dine out sometimes too, y'know.

    Great work on this. Even if I saw it coming, that ending was so well worded and delivered it made me smile ear to ear.

    Fantastic work, I thought. A fun piece even as it chills to think of the scenario. I know that's hard to understand but you did a magnificent bit of work with a chilling piece.

  24. At least one of them remember what to do.

    I love how you created this. The eeriness of Andy's campire warning, followed by the eventual attack was scarier than any crazed killer tale.

  25. ACK! I thought for sure they were playing a joke on poor Sylvia, but I guess not, huh?

    I've been there - we were camping (when I was around 8 years old) when a bear came snooping around our tent. I took a big breath to scream and my dad put his hand over my mouth and shushed me. We sat still as stone for about ten minutes before the bear walked away. It IS scary!

    Good edge-of-your-seat story Marisa!

  26. Anonymous2:57 PM

    Ooohh.. that last line really sent a shiver down my spine. Never been camping much but you really brought it to life!

  27. Thawed hamburger? Ew. Remind me never to punch a bear.

    Like everyone else I really want to know. Did she get the bear? Did the bear get her?

  28. Woah! So precariously on the edge of my seat I may well fall off!

  29. Great Stuff, Marisa! Edge of the seat and chill bumps kind of great. Love it!

  30. Awesome! And I'm so not going camping again. nope. :D

  31. New rule, never pack until your *actually* ready to leave. Would the bear even come into the tent? I for one have no intention of trying to find out!

  32. I never liked camping, since I was in Boy Scouts. I always thought there was a bear or some other horrible thing outside my tent. After reading this story I will never even think of camping again.

    Good story!

  33. Yikes! And I like that you ended it just this way. It makes the tension scream.

    Excellent horrifying story!

  34. Marisa - shame on you - hightailing it out of there and leaving poor Sylvia to fend for herself ;-) Great story!

  35. Marisa, Thanks for dropping by my blog. Wow, I hope poor Sylvia was okay. If the others are playing a trick on her I hope she unpacks the skillet and gets busy.

  36. Excellent storytelling. Leaving us hanging there at the end was brilliant. We can all decide for ourselves how it ends. Good story!

  37. ... and THAT is why you don't pack up until morning. But you DO hang your food in a tree. Poor Andy, unless it's him up the tree and the food down below...

  38. I don't camp, Marisa... This is one of the reasons ;)

  39. Of course when I was younger, Marisa, I could have taken that bear with no problem! But, now that I'm 60 ...

  40. The thought of meeting any bear in the woods (possibly with the exception of Baloo, or Pooh) gives me the shivers.

    I hope Sylvia can punch harder than Mike Tyson. :D

  41. Anonymous10:45 AM

    Well done! Love the "bag of thawed hamburger" description. Vivid!

  42. Anonymous1:52 PM

    We knew, didn't we .... from the beginning that something was going to happen. But How? and To whom? had us all holding our breath and cowering. You know how to get a captive audience Marisa!

  43. Omigosh, Marisa, you can't leave us hanging! What did the guy do to the bear to make it so mad? Yikes!

  44. Thanks, Marisa. For all you do, all you write. Sending it to you in order to cover all the bases if others haven't.

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