We are Characters within Our Tales

I’m feeling a little mischievous.

I arrived home from teaching my Life Stories class, took the dog for a “break,” ate lunch, and sat down here to scope out what assignments come next and what other bloggers might have said and done in my absence. Here on WordPress, a lot can happen in a short amount of time and this afternoon was no exception.

Maybe it was the sandwich I ate or the breeze that’s cooling things down but I’m feeling feisty. Yet, if I’m honest,  I suspect my attitude comes from giving the Life Stories class.

Today I spoke about how the storyteller/writer is a character within the story told and I used a couple of examples from different people. Here’s  an excerpt from one of my own Life Stories . . . it’s still a little rough.

A Rainforest Campsite. Photo by Lenee Cobb
A Rainforest Campsite. Photo by Lenee Cobb

Taken from The Kodiak Bear story:

By the time we skewered our third marshmallow, things had quieted back down.

Headlights cut through the darkness. A loud engine again intruded upon the silence and this time, instead of continuing past our little off-road, the vehicle stopped directly above us. Consternation clouded our faces as we waited to see what would happen next. A door opened, a dome light went on, and people’s voices were saying things we could not quite understand. Things were tossed upon the ground. We felt the thwumps of these things as they hit the forest floor. Within two minutes, the doors slammed shut and the vehicle turned around and left. A lone flashlight snapped on and beamed down the hill upon us. It was intrusive and we frowned back at the torchbearer. We turned away but watched out of the corner of our eyes as that beam swung back and forth, ever closer to us, on its way down our little off-road.

The light holder beamed into our campsite. “Hello!” He said. The arm that did not command the beam was stuffed full of camp gear. He was followed by a lithe shadow, which also offered a friendly greeting. We nodded and murmured a greeting of our own, but only because we felt we had to.

We watched these two gangly teens go about setting up their camp while we toasted our marshmallows. They were a talkative pair. “My name is _______. This is my friend, ________. My parents dropped us off here so they could camp alone. I am 15, my friend ___ is 14. I have camped before.”

Hmmmm, I thought, David’s age.

“We come up here every year. Blah blah blah.”

They knew there were three of us and that we were a family: sister, brother, and sister’s kid.

They set their tent up first. Then they hiked back up the hill, gathered even more gear, and brought it down. This included one battery-powered ghetto blaster. They picked out a cassette and plugged it in. Instantly, any quiet integrity of being in the out-of-doors vanished.

Punk rock blasted the forest darkness with loud inharmonious notes of “First I pop a blue pill, and then I pop a pink pill and then . . .”

I was pissed. Even good music was frowned upon by me out here, but this, this was not music. This was noise pollution! Offensive to everyone and everything. Small wonder their parents had dropped them off to fend for themselves for the weekend. It was intolerable. Then, I’ll be darned if those two boys didn’t turn the danged thing up full bore and leave their site to “go get some firewood.”

“David,” I said, “We gotta do something.”

“I agree sis, but what?”

“We gotta figure out a way to either shut these guys up and/or chase them far away.”

“I know. I can sneak up behind them and do my cat call. That should be enough to perk their ears and get them to turn off that damned music.”

Now, I have to tell you that all his life, David had been the monkey of our family and this was not just because of his comic attitude. He could navigate trees with ease. Also, his preferred style of music happened to be heavy metal acid grunge and, he can do one helluva catcall. He can scare the shit out of you by sounding exactly like a cougar in full temper. And he was in full temper. He loathed punk rock with a passion.

I said, “Great idea! But what if they have a gun or something?”

“I don’t think they do. They’re the same age as me, and I don’t. I want to try.”

There was no moonlight, and David’s dark blue jeans and brown bomber jacket would blend in fairly well with the surrounding shadows. Even in this dark forest, however, the dead white of the highway logs showed up in just enough ghostly luminosity that David could maneuver around the woods easily. While we were planning, the two young campers got their fire lit and shouted out their conversations with each other over the roar of pill-popping lyrics. Would the song ever die? Even Big foot must be getting a headache by now. Between the dogs and these punks, all our hopes of spotting wildlife in the morning were dashed. It was payback time.

Dave leaned down and told Greg, “You just keep quiet, try not to laugh, and look real scared.”

Apparently, nothing about the newcomer’s conversations was confidential. They skipped from talking about the most popular slut in school to wondering what wild animals lived in these woods. I couldn’t help but smirk.

Dave looked at me with that cockamamie grin of his and said, “This should work. Oh, and remember, if they ask where I’m at, just tell them that the last time you saw me I had gone up the road in the dark to get some more water from the waterfall’s pool.”

David
David “The Cat.” Photo by Lenee Cobb

I glanced across the way. The boys next door had their backs turned to us. I glanced back at David but he was gone. I looked down at Greg and smiled at his wide-eyed anticipation of our upcoming shenanigans. I gave him a quick wink and we waited. It was not a long wait. Dave had positioned himself somewhere towards the northeast of their campsite, opposite of where our camp was from them. Greg and I heard a distinctly chilling “Grwheeeerh!”

The boys heard nothing. Again and again we heard it and the boys, having drowned out all sounds except their punk rock, still were oblivious to the ever-stalking cougar. Finally, there was a break in between dreadful songs. A forceful “Grrrweerrh!” filled the void.

The next song began. The friend stopped mid-sentence and jumped to look behind himself into the shadows. “What was that? Did you hear that?”

“No. What did you hear?”

“I dunno. Probably nothing.”

The next “Grrrweerrh!” was loud enough to barely make itself heard above the ghetto blaster. Dave had moved downhill a little, more towards the southeast side of their camp.

“There! Did you hear that?”

“It was probably a bear.” The experienced one stated. “We got bears here.”

“Bears? What kind of bears?”

“Kodiak bears.”

Oh really, I thought. Kodiak bears, for those of you who don’t know, are pretty much located on a specific island in the Aleutian chain called, get this–Kodiak Island. Now Alaska has brown bears, and grizzlies, and Kodiak’s of course, but Washington State supports only an occasional grizzly in the northern cascades and neither of the other bears of brown color. The only bear on the Olympic Peninsula however, is your typical black bear. Of all these bears, the black bear is notoriously less predictable and therefore sometimes more dangerous than his larger cousins, although their smaller size and cuddly appearance can fool some of the people some of the time. So, I couldn’t help but wonder if this bit of knowledge the experienced camper was sharing had been inspired from the photograph of the Kodiak bear on the round can of chew I’d seen him dipping into earlier. A real comedian, this know-it-all. I gave my six-year-old a quick and whispered education.

“Kodiak bears?” We heard the rookie ask.

“Oh, yeah. They mostly keep away from people though.”

This must have pissed David off. He was very proud of his cougar imitation. As if to set these greenhorns straight, another “Ghrrrwheeeeeouw!” split the air from the shadows just north of us all.

Both the boys jumped. This time David’s call was loud enough to start the dogs uphill and at the far side of the road barking up a storm.

“Turn it off! Quick, turn it off!” The young camper-pro yelled.

The rookie did so. Now they both scanned the blackened woods with their backs to their fire. Greg and I watched their alarm with pleasure, allowing a marshmallow Greg had in the fire to catch flame. The sudden flame and sizzle was shook until it died.

I asked, “Would you like another one?”

He shook his head no. He didn’t mind them tasting like charcoal.

A low “Wheeeeeouwrrr!” sounded from just above their site.

“Whatever it is, it’s circling us!”

“Yea.”

“Whadda we do? Do Kodiak bears eat people?”

“Naw. Hey, I know, we’ll scare him away. Look for some rocks!”

Oh shit, I thought. Now they’re going to throw rocks at David. I got to protect my little brother.

Those weren’t just small pebbles either. Those two boys were scared. They’d picked up the fire pit rocks and they chucked them quick because they were hot.

“No Kodiak bear is going to scare us away from our camp spot!”

“Here! Take that you smart-assed bear!”

“Ghrrrwheeeeeouw!” replied from further north in the woods.

I scrambled to find a few rocks of my own to throw. Not at the boys, and not at David either, but I had to do something and I did have a strategy. I would wait until I heard Dave make another call, and then I’d discreetly throw my small rock where I didn’t think Dave would be. That way, those boys would hopefully throw the rock where they heard mine land, thinking that was where the notorious Kodiak was at.

“Plunk.” My little pebble rustled into its new-found home beneath a patch of bushes just to the northeast of their camp site. (I am not nor ever have been a long-distance thrower. Besides, there are so many trees here, anything I threw for distance would likely bounce off of one of them and ricochet back to hit someone with my luck.)

“Did you hear that? It came from over there!”

“Shit, it’s close.”

“I don’t think it is acting too scared of us.”

By now, the dogs uphill are bellowing. But besides them, a few moments of terrifying silence descend. Then, just southeast of their campsite a sudden blood curdling “Ghrrrwheeeeeeeeeeeeouw!” split the woods like banshee from the depths of hell.

And I again discreetly toss another pebble into the brush just slightly. The two teens didn’t so much as consult each other as they ran up the hill to me and Greg, huddling up to the each of us for protection. The know-it-all looked at me wide-eyed with terror, “Did you hear that?”

I had my lips compressed hard and my eyes were a little wider than normal. Not out of terror, but so I could shake my head without laughing. My stomach gave a little hiccup in protest but I just bit down on my lips harder. I didn’t trust myself to speak.

“Ghrrrwheeeeeeeeeeeeouw!”

“You heard that!”

“Uh huh. Sounded like a cougar.”

“Cougar? You think that’s a cougar? Man. Lady, that is a bear–a Kodiak bear. Hey, you got a gun or anything?”

I took a deep breath and composed myself. “No.” I whispered and shook my head.

“Well what are you going to do?” They asked me. Get this, they asked me. I had to chuckle a little tiny bit.

End of excerpt

We are all characters within our Life Stories. There is no getting around it. May you have as much fun writing them as you did living them.

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