395. The Sum of Fears

If you haven’t read today’s Serial post, go read it first.

We all have our fear-inducing creature, and for me, it is bears. Sharks? Nope. Wolves? I’d pet a wolf if it would hold still for it. But bears have my number.

It all started when I was a kid. The old black and white TV carried two stations, and one of them carried the program Cheyenne. I was eight years old when the series premiered, and big, quiet, gentle, soft spoken, confident Cheyenne Bodie became my picture of what a hero should be.

But there was this one episode . . .

Something was terrorizing the region. No one knew what it was, or even if it was human, animal, or supernatural. It came out of the dark night and killed, but there were never marks of claws on the crushed and mangled bodies. It scared the crap out of eight year old me.

Cheyenne set out to rid the ranchers of the curse. The thing hated campfires, and always attacked those it found around them, so Cheyenne went out alone, built a campfire, and took his place in a tree with rifle in hand. The night wore on — and wore on my nerves. The campfire burned down. Cheyenne left his rifle in a crotch of the tree and climbed down to put on more wood. As he was crouched over the fire, it appeared. Cheyenne reached for his six-shooter . . .

After the gun smoke cleared, we all found out that it was a giant grizzly, his claws burned off from a cubhood encounter with a campfire. Perfectly logical.

That bear still lives in my dreams. Be careful what you watch when you are eight years old.

And if that weren’t enough, there was the Bible. The old prophets who lived there were as real to me when I was a boy as the people who lived in my town. Every Sunday morning I avoided the boring sermon by looking attentive in the back pew, with downcast eyes and my bible open on my lap. There are a lot of exciting stories in that book, and one which was particularly troubling. I quote:

And he (Elisha) went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.

And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. (2 Kings 2:23-4 KJ Version)

Yikes! I was a fervent Christian back then and now I’m a card-carrying bald guy, but it seemed then, and seems now, a harsh fate for a bunch of kids who were just calling a bald guy bald.

Bears still scare Hell out of me, all out of proportion to their actual danger. So when I decided that Spirit Deer needed a demonic adversary to carry it through to the end, there was no question what it would be.

Two Hands and a Knife, which was always in my mind while I was writing Spirit Deer, was a boy’s vision of a long, adventurous vacation in the woods. Spirit Deer is more like what it would really be like if it happened. Two Hands and a Knife, was a perfect boys’ book; mine partakes of the realism I don’t ever seem to be able to shake.

So, a bear. I introduced him early, kept him simmering in the background until needed, and he will be there in a few more days for the climax, when . . .

No, that would be a spoiler.


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