The Bear Trap

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Sixth grade camp comes with a briefing on how to avoid bear traps. Our coach is a college freshman who never got over his war with pimples; he reminds me of my cousin.

"If you see metallic teeth," he says, "you just step around it."

Then he steps sideways, like he's demonstrating the fine art of how to walk. I know elementary schools aren't "the good old days" of getting cracked by yardsticks, and sitting in perfect lines, yet I can't help but feel a little miffed he's teaching us how to walk.

"Metallic teeth," Belle whispers before puckering her lips.

She sits on one side of me; Zora sits on the other. Angelica's behind me. We're outnumbered by groups of boys, which makes us giddy.

Zora flails her hand in a half-raised, half-attention-starved manner; we know she's a latchkey kid, so other than the couple of school bullies, like Boogery Kyle, none of us neighborhood kids bother her about her arm-swinging.

Her energy drives Mr. Pimples batty, though; when he finally finishes his explanation of bear traps, he turns to face her, then he huffs like my grandpa. "Yes, Zora?"

She wrinkles her nose as she asks, "Why don't you just take the bear traps out of the woods? We won't step on them if they aren't there."

"They're there for your safety," he tells her.

I'm regretting I didn't take up Mom's offer to chaperone our cabin. As I look around, I see no adults; just my terrified and excited peers, plus this college doofus.

"Why are bears even here?" Jimmy asks. He coughs on something in the back of his throat; I think he's trying to sound like his Dad when he gets serious or mad.

"Yeah," Michael says.

We all know Michael takes anti-depressants. Kyle beats him up for it, then Jimmy beats up Kyle. Everyone's scared if they speak up about that complicated dynamic, they'll get added to the beat-up gang; and we'd like to not get trash-canned in junior high. A low profile is key.

Michael continues, "Didn't the colonialists choose the animals that live in the Mars Forests? So why'd they'd terraform our home with bears?"

"Because bears are rad," Kyle retorts.

Mr. Pimples holds up both his hands, kind of like our band teacher, but with more desperation in his eyes, trying to calm us down. "Whatever the reason," he says, "the bears are there, the traps are there—everything's in the woods—and I am warning you to avoid the metallic teeth."

I'm bummed. I wanted sixth grade camp to be about poison ivy, spin the bottle, and telling ghost stories with a flashlight; I didn't think we'd get stuck with bear problems.

♦️

That night, after hiking to a waterfall, then taking turns showering, we headed into our cabins—four of us in each room, three bedrooms in every building.

I'd say I got lucky, since I'm bunking with Zora, Belle, and Angelica, and I'm friends with all of them. Not everyone got to share their room with their best friends.

I wander into the kitchen, like I do every night, at around 2 a.m., and none of the girls say anything, since they know this is my drill. But instead of finding the gentle glow of a fridge filled with yogurt and string cheese, I come upon a bear sitting like a person, snacking on our food, big and hairy and rounded-eared, oversized paws surprisingly dexterous with a candy wrapper.

I glance at the front door. Call it a crisis search for exits. For explanations. And the front door is shut.

But the window we forgot to latch closed?—wide open. So the bear knew to push the window open to eat the sandwiches in our lunch pails. He's a pro, this one.

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