A camping trip was not my idea of pleasure. I couldn’t wear a dress, and I was sure there would be bugs, but I had to go. I so much wanted to belong. That is important in fourth grade, and even more so when you are the new girl.
April on Bear Mountain can be beautiful, and it can be cruel. I prayed for beauty. No one listened although at first it didn’t seem that way. Warm sunshine radiating from a clear sky, and the first buds of spring gave the illusion of peace and safety. My legs ached before we reached the campsite. No escalators here.
Beside a meadow at the edge of the woods, looking clean, clear, and charming lay the camping area. Our tents popped up with ease, and we had time before dinner to explore as long as we followed the rules.
“Buddy up, use your bear bells, stay in the meadow, and if you encounter the Hermit don’t bother him. Stay together, no exceptions,” our teacher instructed.
“Who is the Hermit?” I asked Nancy.
“He is a character who lives up here, an outcast, scary and weird, but don’t worry we won’t see him. Come-on, I know a place to pick berries.” she told me at the edge of the meadow.
“But Mister Winslow said not to leave the meadow.”
“We aren’t really.” She pointed along the forest track to a sunny area beyond. “You can see the other meadow over there. That’s where the berries are. They will be delicious this early in the year.”
They were. The bear thought so too. We didn’t notice it until it reared up and slashed at Nancy. I’m surprised the others didn’t hear our screams. When we stopped running Nancy’s back streamed with blood, and we were lost. We called, we screamed, no one answered, then the weather turned.
Sunshine changed to wet snow in the time it took the storm to darken the sky. Our light clothes soaked through in no time. A cold wind blew the snow everywhere, and I expected the bear to come stalking out of the swirling white. I was scared to move, scared of the bear, scared of the hermit, scared of the snow, but we had no choice. I supported Nancy as best I could while trying to ignore her blood soaking into my windbreaker. We staggered about until we found the cabin. Desperation made me approach.
“Go away,” a voice growled when I knocked.
“She’s hurt,” I shivered out.
The waft of warm air from the open door beckoned me forward, but the man blocking the doorway stayed my advance. It was the Hermit I was sure. Most of his remaining teeth were rotten. A few sickly tufts of hair still sprouted from his head. He smelt — of lye soap and wood smoke.
“She needs a doctor,” he said, taking down an old fur coat. The storm roared outside as he wrapped us in blankets. The snow was deep now. He carried Nancy, and then he carried us both. His breathing was more laboured each time he paused, and he paused more often as it grew colder and darker. It had been night for ages before we saw the spinning lights of the police cruiser. He handed us off, but refused the offer of shelter.
My father looked for him after, to thank him, but he was never seen again.
© Dave Skinner 2016