Told in a voice reminiscent of Room, this nail-biting tale of psychological suspense shows two small children fighting for survival in the wilderness after a terrifying bear attack.
The black dog is not scratching. He goes back to his sniffing and huffing and then he starts cracking his bone. Stick and I are huddled tight. . . . It is dark and no Daddy or Mommy and after a while I watch the lids of my eyes close down like jaws.
Told from the point of view of a six-year-old child, The Bear is the story of Anna and her little brother, Stick--two young children forced to fend for themselves in Algonquin Park after a black bear attacks their parents. A gripping and mesmerizing exploration of the child psyche, this is a survival story unlike any other, one that asks what it takes to survive in the wilderness and what happens when predation comes from within.
About the author
CLAIRE CAMERON was born in 1973 and grew up in Toronto. She studied history at Queen’s Universityand then worked as an instructor for Outward Bound, teaching mountaineering, climbing and whitewaterrafting in Oregon. Moving to London in 1999, she founded Shift Media, a consultancy withclients including the BBC, McGraw-Hill and Oxford University Press. Claire now lives in Toronto withher husband and son. The Line Painter is her first novel.
Excerpt: The Bear: A Novel (by (author) Claire Cameron)
I can hear the air going in and out of my brother’s nose. I am awake. He is two years old and almost three and he bugs me lots of times because I am five years old and soon I will be six but it is warm sleeping next to him. I call him Stick. He always falls asleep before me and I listen to the air of his nose. I can hear my parents’ voices. They are farther away than I can reach and whispering because they think I can’t hear. I let out a squeak to let Momma know I am awake and she says “We’re right here” from too far away. I squeak again and the tent zipper undoes and I can see the sky in the crack. Her cool hand brushes my hair back and her fingers touch my cheek. “Shh, Anna,” she says and the sky zips away again. When I am inside a tent the outside is far away.
The tent is blue and sniffs like dust. My parents have a fire because it is the end of summer and they are cooking something too and not sharing with me. Bacon. I love bacon. My tummy rumbles and I want bacon but it will make Daddy mad. I sniff Gwen teddy bear instead. She is brown and smells like us. I hear the air whistle when it leaves Sticky’s nose. I feel nervous and I don’t know why. The night will be dark soon. And it might be the meat is making my tummy weird. When we were back at the cottage, Sticky was chewing on bacon and he shoved another in his mouth and another and another. When Momma saw she said
“Chew your food” but Stick couldn’t chew because his mouth was all full. He started to go red and his eyes got watery and I thought he was crying. I said “Ha-ha Alex’s crying” and Momma came and thumped him. A ball of bacon came out of his mouth. Momma got Stick in trouble for not chewing and I looked at the meat. It had spit on it. I felt a barf in my mouth. And I didn’t eat that bacon ball but it’s making my tummy feel weird.
The air is cold. I roll closer to Stick. His breath goes in my ear and it is warm. A little piece of light from the fire is having a dance on the side of the tent but only a little because it is not
dark yet. There is no music except Stick’s nose air and still the light flicks and rolls on the side of the tent. I can’t sleep. I tuck Gwen under the covers so she isn’t cold and I creep over to the door. The zipper has teeth that grab onto my skin. I go slow so it doesn’t bite and I open it just a little bit so my face can be out. The carpet here is made of pine needles. They smell like the yellow bottle I use to help Momma clean the bathtub. There are prickle pine trees all around our camp. These are the ones that forgot the needles on the ground. The moon is going to switch with the sun and the moon will have a tail that shows up on
the water. The water is not chop chop chop anymore. It sits quietly in the lake now because it is sleeping. Close to the water, really far away from me, I can see two shadows. I can hear fromthe whispers that it’s Momma and Daddy and they are laughing. Momma leans forward and I see a ponytail like a horse’s hanging down. Her face is smiling and I can see her teeth in a nice way. The only other thing I can see is Coleman.
Coleman is green like grass and he is so heavy I can’t lift him up. We bring him on canoe trips to carry our food and keep it cold. And we use him so that bears can’t rob the food from
us. Bears like our food if we let them and we don’t want to do that. So Coleman holds everything cool inside his body and has a metal tooth in the front that keeps him shut tight. He is really really big and a metal box. Stick and I can both fit inside him like when we play hide and seek at home. We can stay so quiet and hide in Coleman from Daddy and try to stop laughing with my hand on Stick’s mouth. When Coleman sits in the canoe he can’t fit across sideways and so Daddy needs to put him pointing to the front. Only Daddy can lift him up. When Coleman has to pee he has a little button at the side where I can push and his pee comes out and when I see it sometimes I pee too. Coleman is why we camped on the island because he is so heavy and big. The water was chop chop chop because the wind was whistling in my ears and Coleman makes the canoe go tippy. If we went down the path to the next lake where we were supposed to camp then Daddy would have to carry Coleman and the canoe but Momma wanted to be here at the island to see the tail of the moon. Once I tried to pick Coleman up and I can’t.
I whisper hello to Coleman and Daddy’s head turns away from the fire: “Back in the tent, Anna.”
I stay still to make me dream.
“Did you hear me?”
I am awake.
“Last time, okay?”
I poke my head inside and Gwen missed me. She looks lonely and I tell her with my eyes that I am coming. I carefully take the zipper in my fingers. They feel furry in the tips and too tired to pull. Zipper will bite if I don’t watch out. I pull again and the zipper tries to get me between my thumb and pointy finger, the soft part that looks like it could be on a frog. I sit back and pull my hand away. The zipper must be hungry and so I will stay away. I grab Gwen and sniff and tuck her back into the sleeping bag.
I lie on my back and snuggle and the fire is dancing more on the side of the tent because it is a little more blue and gray outside. I watch it and my eyes start to shut but I don’t want
them to. Maybe if Stick is asleep then Momma will pluck me out of bed and feed me bacon. I want to ask out loud but my teeth are too fuzzy. My head is heavy like a rock. My eyes shut
again and I peel them open. I hear a sniff. It might have been from Sticky’s nose but it sounded bigger than that. Stick’s nose must be growing and in the middle of the night it will hog all the air. Something moves on the side of the tent. I see some fluff beside the dancing fire and I think the fluff is Stick’s hair. He has escaped. It might be his little white head sneaking out for bacon. A few of his fluffy hairs are sticking up as a shadow just outside the tent. His nose whistles beside me so I know it’s not, but the hair stands up and I think it looks thicker. The hair stands there shaking like my fingers when I am hungry. I watch it and it moves forward only a very little, as slow as a snail. It would be a hairy snail and much bigger and that means it probably isn’t a snail anymore. And the bacon smells and my eyes fall down and now I can open them only a crack. I see the hair move and I think as my eye shuts how did Stick stay sleeping and sneak out of the tent for bacon at the same time?
• "Cameron's resonant plot and Anna's unforgettable voice add up to a novel destined to stay with you long after you've chewed through it." The Globe and Mail
• "[A] gripping survival thriller. . . . But this agonizing odyssey of loss and being lost also has humor. . . . The book's anguished yet hopeful ending provides a touching terminus for Anna and Stick's journey to adulthood." People
• "Claire Cameron manages to create something both quintessentially Canadian and breathtakingly fresh. . .terrifying, beautiful and thrilling." Zoomer