I woke up suddenly. A stick broke outside, I think. I stared at the ceiling of the large tent and listened. Maybe it would happen again. There were Kevin’s quick breaths in the damp, musty air. Wind whined through the branches in the trees and sometimes rustled leaves on the ground, but I heard nothing out of the ordinary. I snuck a glance around the tent. I couldn’t see much; the light of the moon was weak and barely made it through the sloped fabric walls. I could just make out the lump that was Kevin in his sleeping bag and our piles of clothing and shoes in the corners. Then everything darkened as a shadow engulfed my side of the tent.
I lay as still as possible, made as little noise as possible in the hope that whatever made the shadow would just go away.
It was too big to be a person, and its breathing was heavy, too heavy and too deep. It sniffed the tent, grazed its nose against it. For all it knew, I was still asleep. In fact, I was asleep. I'd never woken up in the first place, and this was all a dream. Not even a scary dream, just an interesting one. Just a dream. And even if it wasn’t one, you're supposed to play dead, right? Just play dead, and eventually the bear will lose interest. Sleeping is just a healthier version of being dead. I’d just sleep and hope the thing moves along soon enough. I was safe as long as I was sleeping inside the tent.
And it did move on. The sniffing finally stopped; the shadow left the side of the tent. I was relieved. But I stayed asleep. There was no way to know if it had really left or was just hanging around, waiting for me to wake up. Then the tailgate of Joe's truck bounced, and I flinched as something crashed to the ground. Probably the cooler. Damn. I’d told Joe, we all had, that we should’ve eaten the steaks for dinner. What kind of person saves steaks for breakfast? Joe did apparently, but now he wouldn’t get the chance.
Something sprayed across the outside of the tent. Smelled like beer. Sure, bear, drink the beer too while you're at it. Hope you're having a great time. We had our share of it already, had plenty. Joe and Sara in particular, before they absconded into their own tent. I wondered if they were awake, listening to the bear rummage through our camp. I wasn’t. I was sleeping, dreaming. There wasn’t anything I could do about it until I woke up the morning. Anyway, it was just food, nothing truly important. And even if I wanted to, I couldn’t chase a bear off all on my own. It would just go ahead and eat me too. There was nothing I could do.
Eventually the sound of huffing and chewing and ripping stopped, and there was more sniffing. Now what could it want? It just ate all our food.
And then a paw brushed against slick fabric and Kevin and I jumped in our sleep. But there was no shadow, no shuddering of the tent. Good. I was safe. But it happened again, and then I heard fabric tear. Not my tent.
“What the fuck?”
That was probably Joe, in the other tent. He was awake. Should've stayed asleep. Not my fault.
There was a high-pitched scream, probably Sara. More ripping and rustling of fabric.
“What the fuck!”
Joe again. More screaming, both of them. Some growling, some roaring. A zipper was undone and light, rapid footsteps faded into the night. At least Sara was safe. Joe was still yelling. Thudding. Less yelling.
It was a bad dream. A very bad dream.
The thrashing died down. Joe finally remembered to play dead. His tent continued to rustle as the bear moved around, but nothing like it had before. At some point that stopped as well, and the bear found its way out of the ravaged tent.
No more sniffing. Go away. Move along. Safe inside the tent. Please.
Heavy steps lumbered away and soon I couldn’t tell if I was really still hearing them or only imagining that I was. Wind moaned through the branches of the trees and rustled the leaves on the ground. The breathing in my tent slowed again. Huh. It really was just a bad dream, and I’d slept through the whole thing. I really had. I’d have to tell everyone about it when I woke up. But first I’d need to stop shaking.