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The forest enveloped us before we had even hiked half a mile into its lush canopy. Glancing over my shoulder, I realized I could no longer see the parking lot where our two vehicles were parked alone. Normally the woods didn't scare me, but something had been bothering me since I pulled up twenty or so minutes ago.

"Come on, pokey!" Rachel quipped when she noticed I was falling behind.

"I'm coming," I said, rolling my eyes. "How long is this trail again?"

"Um...a few miles, I think."

"You think?"

"Well, the map I have didn't give the exact length. It's like three or something." She shrugged, jostling her fanny pack. "Not much."

I snorted. Three miles wouldn't be so terrible if the terrain wasn't so hilly. In spite of all the complaints I considered making, I kept my mouth shut the entire way up the small mountain. We paused for one break halfway up to the top to sip on water. An hour or so later, we had reached the lookout point.

"It's gorgeous," I remarked while my eyes scanned the lush land sprawling out in every direction. Off in the distance I could our little town break through the treetops. It seemed so far away from up here.

"Right?" Rachel agreed.

Her hands lifted her fancy camera to her face before I heard a series of clicking. She squatted and turned to get better angles. It seemed like she'd taken several hundred photos after just a minute. Assuming it was going to be awhile, I sat on a small boulder and drank from my water bottle. I retrieved my phone from my backpack to take a few photos of my own.

"These are going to be terrific," boasted Rachel as she started to go through the shots she'd taken. "Sweet. I'm so glad we did this."

"Me, too."

She lifted her head to flashed me a smile. I smiled back, and she strolled over to my boulder.

"We should do this again," she said as she plopped down beside me on the rock. "Here, let's take a picture."

Our heads tilted towards each other and she lifted the camera, holding it backwards, to take a few frames. I didn't want to see the photo; the amount of sweat I had accumulated would not have made for anything photogenic.

"Aww, we're adorable." She attempted to show me one of the photos she liked, but I refused to look. "This is going on Facebook."

"Great," I muttered sarcastically.

"It's for the memories, Hazel. Who knows when we'll get another chance to come here alone again?"

"How optimistic of you."

She stuck her tongue out at me.

We headed back down the sloped trail a few minutes later. We were approaching the halfway point we had stopped at earlier when I heard a strange noise. It was deep, husky huff. Pausing, I turned to face the sound. A brown bear stood off amidst the trees a short twenty or so yards away. He was clearly studying us in cautious curiosity.

"What're you—" Rachel began.

"Shhh," I hissed.

"Oh, God," she whispered.

Every muscle in my body was paralyzed in fear. I tried to assess the danger of the situation. The bear wasn't approaching or retreating. What if it charged us? There was no way we could outrun it. I avoided its eyes in fear of setting off some primal instinct, but I was afraid that doing anything would further endanger us.

"Rachel," I murmured just loudly enough for her to hear, "get out your phone. Get out your phone and call—"

The bear lifted its head and moaned. I jumped at the noise. It sniffed the air and grunted several times. My mind was reeling with all of the ways this situation could go wrong. To think I never even knew we had bears here!

"Hello," I heard Rachel whimper from behind me. "Yes, I this is an emergency. My friend and I are hiking at Black Crest Mountain and—"

A deep-throated bellow sounded from the bear before it took a stride in our direction. Rachel cursed, something atypical for her, and dropped her phone. The bear continued towards us, its head raised proudly. I didn't know what was happening, but I knew it wasn't good.

"Run!" Rachel yelled.

"No—" I tried to say, but her cry seemed to activate something inside of the bear. Its pace picked up very quickly.

Spinning on my heel, I took off after Rachel. Our shoes kicked up rocks and pine needles, and we both tripped several times. I caught up with her, propelled by fear, and then passed her. Tears streamed down my face, and Rachel let out a sob. When I dared to look over my shoulder, I saw the bear was closing on us. My breathing hitched ever higher.

I twisted my backpack to the side while running and dug around in it for my cell phone. It slipped at first in my sweaty grasp before I was able to get a firm grip. Siri came to life on my phone. I breathlessly ordered it to call the police. Just as an operator came on, Rachel belted out a scream. I started yelling through the phone, not even aware of what I was saying, as I watched the bear knock Rachel to the ground.

Blinding fear and panic blasted through my veins. The bear swiped at her head with its paw, drawing a lot of blood. Rachel was still screaming her head off. I didn't know what to. I couldn't think straight, and the operator was telling me to calm down and answer her questions. Somehow, I remembered I had packed pepper spray in my backpack earlier. I threw my backpack over my shoulder and dug the spray can out. It was intended for rapists and weirdos, but it would suffice for a bear too.

My throat ached in protest as I shouted at the bear. It was tearing into one of Rachel's arms now. I switched the safety off the can and engaged the trigger. The spray shot out in a steady stream, first striking the bear's arm and then its head. It let out a pained cry and instantly stumbled off of Rachel. Continuing to scream at it, I ran towards the bear, the spray still flowing. The bear turned and fled.

I collapsed to my knees beside Rachel, staring at her body. Everything was bloody. Lacerations marked her face, chest, neck, arms, and her shirt was ripped in many places. She was alive and gulping for air, probably sinking into shock. When I grabbed her hand, our skin slid against each other in the blood.

"Hang in there, Rachel," I pleaded, sobbing. "Please. They're coming. Help is coming. Just hang in here."

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