I had a dream that night. A dream, in the above-cab-felt-bed of our RV. It started like any normal dream, with the thought that everything around me not only happening but also real. I rolled over in my sleeping bag, and peered out the wide and short window of the RV. That quarter inch glass had destroyed the lives of thousands of bugs, their final resting place marked with a yellowish green splatter. It was a window that had once brought me to the Death Star trench run from Episode IV. The glass teleported me to The Last Crusade, where Henry and Indiana Jones fly a biplane away from Nazi aircraft.
And now, as I looked out the window, the window showed me my newfound fear.
There, standing just 20 yards away, was a massive grizzly bear. It stood on a mound, body turned perpendicular to the RV with its head craned in my direction. A groove surrounded it, in my dreaming mind it looked like a sort of religious place: trees ran in a circle around the mound of grass where the bear stood. A ray of moonlight pierced the ominous clouds in the sky, placing a pallid spotlight on the bear and focusing my attention.
My heart raced. The moment had come. The bear in the valley had found me. It must have followed the stink of my terrified sweat and come to our RV. The nature shows had warned about leaving food out. In my mind, the bear was the land equivalent of a shark where something as small as a paper cut would betray your location. I had learned from The Edge not to hang bloodied rags to dry. No food or blood was outside the RV. Perhaps the godless being could smell fear. If it could, I was rank with it.
Without sign or warning, the bear turned its monstrous body towards the RV and began to run. While I had never seen a bear run towards me, my imagination didn’t see this as a problem and filled in the pieces I didn’t know. Massive limbs lumbered with a speed that sent my hairs up on end. It moved with speed and grace, each bounding movement a perfect cycle. With each new step, the ground shook reminiscent of the T-Rex introduction in Jurassic Park.
The bear slid to a stop in the front of the RV, reared up on its back legs then let out a ferocious cry, craning its head back and to the left. Spittle came out of the bear’s terrible mouth in thin lines of silver silk. I clapped my heads over my ears, trying to quiet the deafening battle cry. Bits of food flew from its mouth, adding the bits to the discolored bug splat on the window. Probably some toddler it munched on a few hours prior. Yes, most definitely.
When the bear came down from its 12 foot stature, it slammed its forepaws on the hood of the RV. The motor house rumbled and shook with an intensity scientists usually use the Richter scale to measure. The bear seemed to grow in size, its claws ripped at the hood of the car and tore it to ribbons in a way that would make Freddy Kruger jealous.
I waited for someone to wake up, waited to look out the window and see my father run out there with a golf club, screaming bloody murder for the damage the beast had done to his fourth child.
“That’s mine, you sonovabitch!” He’d scream, 5-iron brandished high in the air like a katana. “Those are Pirelli tires, you furry, good-for-nothing, nincompoop!”
But no one came. The bear continued its rampage on the hood, and moved to the sides and the rear, running its paw across the metallic side of the RV, sending shivers down my spine. Goosebumps littered my flesh at hearing the screech similar to finger nails on a chalkboard. Finally, it made its way to the door on the starboard side of the RV. I could no longer see it, only hear it. It banged its massive paws on the door. The door rattled painfully; plastic and metal creaked and cracked with every strike against it.
And the bear’s roar continued. Like the moan of a dying monster, it wailed into the moonlight of my nightmare. I clutched the edge of my sleeping bag, able to do nothing. I looked around for help. My sister was gone. My mom and dad could not be seen in the bed in the back of the RV. My brother was nowhere to be seen. I was alone.
Another crash hit the door, and this time it didn’t hold. It flew off its hinges and slammed against the opposite wall as if hit by a grenade. One massive paw moved into the RV, then another. The RV’s suspension groaned with the new weight, it shifted to the right as the two ton behemoth moved into kitchen.
The bear reared its ugly head in my direction. Its eyes were dead. Black swirls the consistency of tar moved in sockets with the intensity of a hurricane. The bear panted heavy, tired with the exertion of destroying our RV. Its hot breath hit me like the space heater we used back home after a shower. I could smell its rancid flavor, there was no doubt in my mind now that it had eaten a child.
As it moved closer, I shuffled backwards, awkwardly kicking the sleeping bag off of my legs as I did so. The bear again stood on two legs, and rested its impossibly large fore paws on the above-cab-felt-bed of our RV. It brought a paw down on the sleeping bag, then raked it backwards, throwing it into the back of the RV.
Its breath was close enough to feel hot against my skin. Each pant by the bear was a wave of heat warming the blood coursing through my veins. My heart pounded against my chest, I was afraid it was going to burst, to explode against my ribs and leave a gaping hole in my torso. I moved backwards as far as I could, seeming to travel a miles, and yet the bear’s head still followed.
The black void where its eyes should have been whirled with increased madness, matching the harsh pants of its breath. The bear’s mouth was bared; its yellowed teeth gleamed in the sickly glow of the moonlight. Cheeks pulled back to reveal what looked like a sinister smile.
I hit the window behind me, out of room to run. I watched as the bear opened its mouth even wider, teeth and jaw opened like a steel trap as it moved in on me.
Then, with nowhere else to go, the bear closed its massive jaws on my leg. I heard the crack of my bones, and felt the flush of my heartbeat race even faster.
I woke wet in a cold sweat. I lifted my hand to my heart and felt it race, but felt no gaping hole there. Moving my hand down, examined one leg, then the other. Both intact. I caught my breath, knowing the final thing I’d need to check. Bracing myself and building the final amount of courage to turn around and look out the window that brought me to another place.
With eyes close shut tighter than Fort Knox, I turned around, facing the window where my nightmare started. I took a deep breath, taking in air through my nose then out of my mouth several times and braced as if getting ready to take a punch. I threw my eyes open, not wanting – but willing – to believe that the dream had been a prophecy of events to come.
The world outside the RV was drown in the light of a full moon. Trees and grass were cast in a bluish tint, the grove of trees stood before me as it had in my dream.
But there was no bear. I released the breath I held and drew the sleeping bag closer to my face. I dared not turn my back on the window, lest the bear come rampaging through the forest. My were glued open, not wanting to be taken by surprise again.
And there I lay, till the sun peaked over the horizon and changed the color of the landscape from a sickly blight to a glowing effervescence. Bags hug under my eyes, I felt a pit in my stomach I’d become familiar with in collage after an pulling an all-nighter writing a paper. My eyelids weighed somewhere between two and three thousand pounds. Finally, I felt the warm embrace of sleep cover my body; the perfect amount of warmth and comfort, and fell into the sleep I had avoided for hours. I welcomed the darkness, now that the world had been brought back the light.
“Rise and shine!” My father calls to me, tearing me away from sleep. His head appeared in the same spot the bear’s had the night before. He’s wearing the same sinister grin. “Come on! There’s so much to see! Lickety-split!”
“What time is it,?” I manage to mutter.
“O’dawn’thirty.” He says, looking to where a watch might be, if he had one. “Let’s go! Up-and-adam!” he says one more time, then pulls the sleeping bag out from under me. Sleep deprived and terrified, I rolled out of bed and moved to get dressed.
Like the eyes of the bear in my nightmare, the dream of Yellowstone’s potential was dead. My parents had driven me to a wasteland, a plot of the world devoid of fun or joy. Geysers, and hot springs seeped from the earth’s core, creating a sulfuric, rotten egg smell one might expect to sense when first entering the gates of Hell. Wolves, bald eagles and bears roamed the landscape, waiting for seven-year-olds to let down their guard. When the small child did, the predators would pounce. I was sure of it. The trick was not getting caught. The trick was not sleeping. The trick, I realized, was surviving the week before me. It was the dawn of day one, I congratulated myself for surviving the day and night. Every morning following I marked the days off a mental calendar the same way a prisoner might mark the days in captivity with a tally mark against the wall.
Until the time came where we could put Teddy’s welcoming arches behind us for good, I was stuck here. And today was a day of adventure. Today was the day I’d see first-hand the boiling pools of Yellowstone, and the day I’d meet the park ranger who would forever change my view of boiling water, park safety, and the use of handrails.