Ella and the Bear

In my novel, Stolen, there are mentions of bears living in Arcadia.  Wren remarks on the danger they pose, Ella recalls an incident with one in particular, while Polly laughs about Wren's warnings.  An early version of Stolen details Ella's bear encounter.  The scene didn't make the final cut, but bears became an "inside joke" device in my Arcadian chronicles.   (For example - though Polly questions their existence, she turns out to be something of a bear herself.) There's certain to be more bear mentions in upcoming books, but in the meantime, enjoy the following cut scene in all of its unedited glory: 

stolen, jessica titone, watercolor, painting, bears
Artwork copyright Jessica Titone. 2018.

When I crafted my first usable fish trap, I knew the perfect location to set it - the widest part of the stream that fed the pool where we swam.  I'd had my eye on it for some time and wondered why Wren had never employed on t
here before. 

I'd decided to place it in the deepest part of the stream, where, I imagined, the best fish were sure to be caught. Boots kicked off, I stripped down to my shirt and knickers and waded as far as I could.  Unable to touch bottom, I sucked in a deep breath and dove in head first.  Through the murky water, my vision extended only a foot in front of my face.  The current was stronger than I expected. I took a good deal of stroking and kicking to reach the bottom.  I grasped onto some plants and set about securing the trap. I floated out of my grasp.  I snatched it back quickly, clenching my jaw as I doggedly worked to affix it to the foliage.  

I stayed down too long. My lungs were wracked with spasms as they screamed for oxygen.  When at last, the trap was anchored in place, I shot up toward the surface, gasping for breath as I broke the water's plane.  Preoccupied with breathing, I hardly noticed that the water was carrying me downstream until I heard Wren shout from the bank.  I made a splendid, spluttering, last minute recovery to keep from being swept away while she watched on in horror.

"What were you thinking?" she chided when I pulled myself up on land.

"It's fine," I told her. "I'm fine. One rough moment, yes. But everything's fine now."  I flashed her a smile.

We returned a few days later to see what, if anything, it had caught.   Recalling the earlier incident, Wren began to remove her boots, I put out a hand to stop her and said, “Let me.”  She opened her mouth to argue, but I promised her that I'd learned my lesson the last time.  It was my trap, after all, and therefore, my responsibility.

It took two tries:  one to untie it partially before refilling my lungs with air, and a second to pull it free. I swam to the surface, sloshed to the bank, and tossed the heavy trap down with pride. 

“Well done,” she murmured, surveying the mass of fish writhing inside the woven basket.

I knelt down and undid its clasp, eager to count how many I’d caught.  “See, I told you that spot was a winner,” I said to her.  “I  knew-”  I never got to finish that sentence.  There came a sound that could only be animal in nature.  A quick glance around revealed a bear standing a few feet away. 

It was only a baby: brown, fuzzy, and no bigger than a dog.  It eyed the fish, waiting for its share.  I glanced down at the fish and then back up at the bear.  I felt a shade indignant at giving away what I had worked so hard for.  I shoved the fish back inside, pressed the trap to my chest, circled my arms protectively around it, and stood to walk away. 

A warning came from behind. “Ella, leave it.”

“Leave it?  What?  No!  Why?  It would feed us for days!”

“I know.  Leave it. It’s not worth risking your life.”

A flame lit within me.  This was the first time I had accomplished something on my own here.  I’d worked too hard to have nothing to show for it.  I tightened my grasp on the trap, staring down the bear with my best show of dominance.  “I can do this,” I said.  “I’m twice its size. I can outrun it.”  I backed away slowly in preparation for my retreat.

Her reply came laced with an edge of panic. “It’s not that little thing I’m worried about.  It’s his mother, which I’m sure is around here somewhere. You won’t outrun her.”

“I don’t see her.  I’ll at least have a bit of a head start.”  I made a motion to leave, but the instant my back was turned, I heard a bone-chilling growl.  The mother bear.  For a split-second, I was paralyzed.  When the danger of the situation jolted me back to life, I glanced back over my shoulder, but did not release my prize.

 “Ella, don’t you dare.”

But I did dare.   I planted a foot to run, still clinging to the trap.  I heard a low, muttered curse escape her lips. Then, quick as a flash, she sped toward me, knocking the trap from my hands. It broke when it hit the ground.  Fish spilled out everywhere.  She grabbed hold of my arm and pulled me into a desperate sprint away from the bears.

We ran and ran until my legs shook and my lungs were on fire.  When I failed to suck in breath fast enough, I begged to stop and rest.  My muscles quieted, and in time, so I was able to breathe and speak normally.  My first words were to mourn the loss of the trap and fish.

She regarded me with a look of incredulousness.  “I believe you meant to say, ‘Thank you for saving my life.’ You can make another trap, and there are thousands more fish in the stream.”

I bit my tongue so that careless words couldn’t fly out.  A scowl tugged at my mouth.  Finally, I was able to compose myself enough to say, “Yes, I’m sorry. I behaved badly.  Thank you for saving my life.” 

Her eyes rolled at the lack of sincerity in my tone.  “It’s fine,” she said, with a shake of her head. “Ugh.  Let’s get going.”

She was right.  Just as she always was.  I was a selfish, fool girl, and I’d nearly gotten us killed.   The sting of my incompetence did not go quietly.  Once I was curled I bed at night, I relived the scene in my mind, embarrassment pecking away at me.  You don’t belong here, I told myself.  I resolved then to leave any survival matters to the expert and stick to what I knew. 

So, when the day’s work was finished, I gave myself over to practicing ballet.  I gave up relaxation, rest, and even food for the sake of my routine, clinging to the notion that I’d be back in London soon, and that nothing of Arcadia would matter. 


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