amulets against the bear: a list
1. the Leonard shack: an aluminum and plywood shed converted into a “camping cabin” in which we lived. The shack had three small windows, two metal barn-style doors with sliding locks, a brief porch, a briefer shower-curtained-off recess in the corner which housed a yellowed toilet, beside which was a utility sink, rigged counter, “vintage” fridge, and hot plate. There was also a futon, battered plaid armchair, tv with stand, and some sort of cabinet-bookcase thing on wheels, which we draped with a blanket and used as a dresser. Two narrow lofts on each end of the shack housed dirty mattresses and, oddly, a single wooden oar.
The shack was on the higher end of a mountain, a mile at least from the nearest home. Higher up was the holler. We did not want the holler coming down to us; we were still in the news. They came anyway.
2. denial and a lack of confirmed sighting: our landlord, Bobby, told us that the animal we heard snuffling, scratching, and banging against the sides of the shack each night must be a horse. We alternately convinced ourselves that it was perhaps a boar, mule, buck, or moose, although there are no moose in North Carolina.
3. The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer. Our journey went like this: fled the boat shed in south GA, slept on the floor of a spare bedroom in Atlanta, moved into the shack in North Carolina. Unfathomably, through all of this I interned for Lambda, studied for my Celebrant course, and finished planning a wedding.
I found the Bashevis book battered and on sale in Cheapo’s thrift store in Atlanta. All the talk of death, bitterness, sin, and aging was oddly comforting. It also gave me something to do in lieu of sleep.
4. Star Wars, Episodes 1- 6. We watched them all in order to drown out the sounds of the unknown animal exploring the shack.
5. small mountain flowers: D. collected these for me during the day; I pressed them in the pages of the Bashevis book, as well as filled glass bottles with bouquets of them. They were cheery, colorful, and sweetly scented. The sweet scent was particularly helpful as, previous to us, some serious pot-smokers apparently lived in the shack. This is where D. learned what weed smelled like.
6. aluminum baseball bats. We initially brought these as protection against people. We needed them only once. I kept them under the futon, within reach.
7. thrift store kitchen knives. I wrapped these in a towel and kept them under the sheets or in the bear kit. These were for the people, too.
8. the bear kit. We created this after we found the first concrete proof of the bear: an ass-print of crushed clover beside a torn-up beehive. Horses don’t eat honey or sit. The bear kit- actually a large camping stock-pot with a home-drawn label, as we still retained our sense of humor at this point- contained the aforementioned kitchen knives wrapped in a towel, a hatchet, a small hammer, and multiple plastic grocery bags filled with rocks.
9. the bear kit plus. I later added a large cast iron skillet and a can of RAID to blind him with. At this point he slapped at the walls whenever we moved at night. To take a late night piss behind the shower curtain was alarming, to say the least. I planned to blind him, thwack him, stab him, and throw rocks at him until we could make it into the furthest loft.
10. glass bottles on the porch. At this point I’d noticed deep, long claw marks along the crack between the metal doors. One of them had been peeled back- not a lot, but enough. Each night I barricaded the porch with a delicate sculpture of lawn chairs and glass bottles, set to collapse at the mildest step. My plan was to hear the crash, send D.and L. into the loft, shove as much furniture in front of the door as I could manage, high-tail it with our weaponry into the loft, and throw rocks and beat the thing with whatever we had until the sheriff could get there.
11. the internet. I used this to study the likelihood, patterns, and protections against bear attacks. It wasn’t necessarily helpful, although I did learn the difference between black bears (which are actually brown bears with black fur) and Grizzlies. Like moose, there are no Grizzlies in North Carolina. I can say that much for it.
12. bear drills. I moved the bear kit permanently into the loft, sans the skillet and bats. I kept my cell phone up there at night, with the sheriff’s number on speed dial. D. practiced climbing the ladder to the loft. I practiced moving the furniture away from the loft and towards the door. L. practiced dropping the ladder. We made sure that D. could easily find the rocks to throw. For the second time that month, we instructed him to hide and not come out, no matter what he saw or heard. The first time he had to do this was when the people from the holler came. That time, he hid behind the shower curtain and tried to cry quietly, so know one would know he was there.
13. Nightly prep. By this point I had stopped sleeping. I eased my family to sleep with stories and Star Wars. All night I watched over them, a bat in my fists, a little yellow lamp burning. D. slept in a nest of sleeping bags and blankets on the floor, as far from the door as I could get him. I stacked everything but the futon against the door, set the ladder up, read when I could. The refrigerator sputtered into the night, an asthmatic humming. When rats scratched along the roof and walls I beat the plywood with the butt of a broom. Winter was coming, there was no heat; everything wanted in. I listened to the bear, his breathing, the long dry rub of his body against the ridged aluminum. By this point I literally wanted to eat his heart, disembowel and skin him. I wanted a fucking bear rug, to sink my feet into his fur and know my family safe. All night I listened for his footfalls, the clatter of aluminum and glass, the creak of a sagging porch board.
Of course we tried to leave. We had little money and no safe place to go. Everyone we tried to rent from refused us. Bobby, although he misled us with that horse shit, seemed to genuinely care for us. He offered to teach Liam to shoot. He decided I must be a woman. Under the circumstances, we chose not to divest him of this notion.
The bear on the mountain or the alligators in the swamp? This was the choice presented us. The bear who might eat us or the rednecks whom had published their ill intentions, many of them my own relations? The holler was not the first to come for us. They came to his very window as he slept, my precious child, down in the golden isles.
In the end we left the shack, returned to the boat shed, packed, married, and left for good. It has been many months since I’ve slept.