The Tiger's Eye: Chapter 1 -- The Bear
It was the week before summer vacation when Anna’s life changed, when she changed forever. She didn’t know why a thirteen-year-old should be having bad headaches and a strange dream several days in a row, but she was. It felt like someone blowing up a balloon in her brain and there was a strange sound, like singing that kept ringing in her ears. But that morning, she woke covered in sweat. There had been a huge explosion and a great flash of light in her dream, and the ringing was so loud she almost cried out. She had a strange prickling feeling all over her body, like she was filled with electricity. The dream was so intense she couldn’t tell where she was at first. In the dream, she had been climbing through a steep mountain forest shrouded in mist. A man was calling her. She could hear him clearly, ‘Anna . . . . Annnna.’ She knew it was her father but that was impossible. Her father had died last year. Anna and her mother were all alone.
Anna fell back against the pillows and closed her eyes, trying to hear the voice or the music again, but all she could hear were the normal sounds of early morning in Long Valley, car engines starting, the garbage truck, dogs barking. As she listened, the pain of losing her father seemed to drown out everything else.
Long Valley was a charming old village surrounded by newer homes and businesses and farms. Anna and her mother, Kathryn lived on the outskirts of the town in a big, old farmhouse in an orchard. Anna loved the orchard. There was a tumbledown shed by a stream at the bottom of the orchard. It might have even been older than the house and was collapsing under the weight of twisting berry vines and fallen branches. Anna’s father had helped her make a little hiding place in the part that was still standing and they would sit inside, watching all the mice, squirrels, rabbits, and foxes who lived in the old orchard. Once they saw a beautiful little coyote. Her father had taught her all about the animals. Anna still loved to sit, hidden inside the shed to watch them. Somehow, she felt closer to her dad there.
As Anna lay there, remembering her father, Tomkins jumped up on the bed and snuggled against her face, purring. Tomkins was Anna’s cat. Her father had given him to her, a tiny, baby kitten, just before he died last year. “Thank you Tommykins, “ she said as tears dripped into his soft fur. “You always know how to make me feel better.”
“Anna, dear. Time to get up,” Kathryn called from the stairs. “You don’t want to be late the last week of school and you still have your chores.”
“Coming,” Anna said as she slowly stood up, expecting to feel woozy. But, except for a stuffy nose from crying, she felt all right, the headache was gone, the singing was gone. She had a little tingling in her hands but that was probably because she had slept on them wrong.
“Trash truck!” Anna said as a grinding noise outside got louder. “Gosh, it’s late Tomkins! Mom will be pissed if I don’t get the trash out in time.” She grabbed her robe and hopped down the stairs trying to get her slippers on.
“Hi Mom,” Anna yelled as she grabbed the trash bag by the back door with Tomkins, right behind her. Kathryn just sighed and went back to cooking breakfast. Anna started lugging the trash and recycling cans out to the street when she heard a loud whistle.
“Hey Anna, check this out,” Anna’s best friend, Alex, yelled as he tried to do a flip off his skateboard, nearly knocking the trashcan into the street.
“Hey Alex, umm – I think you still need to work on braking.”
“Yeah, I’m still workin’ on my one-eighties,” he answered with a silly grin. “See ya later, maybe we can go down to the drugstore after school for ice cream.” Anna watched him go careening off the curb and back down the street.
As she picked up the newspaper and started back to the house, she couldn’t help thinking about Alex and his family. He lived with his parents and his older brother, Peter, in one of the new houses down the street. Thinking about them made her feel even more alone. Sometimes she just wanted to hide in the orchard and never come out, it felt so terrible. Her mom was always crying, when she thought Anna couldn’t see.
‘Maybe it was my fault Dad died,’ she thought sadly. ‘I remember being so angry, when he said I couldn’t have a pony. I told him I hated him. I never did tell him I was sorry. Then he died.’ Anna could feel the tears running down her cheeks. It felt like she was going crazy and her head was throbbing again. She sat down on the back steps and Tomkins jumped into her lap and snuggled against her.
Then she heard a strange rumbling sound coming from the orchard. “Did you hear that, Tommy boy? Maybe it’s that old dog from down the street chasing the rabbits and the deer again. Come on.”
Anna and Tomkins ran down into the orchard toward the old shed at the foot of the hill. But, it wasn’t a dog, it was a bear, a huge, brown bear, standing on its hind legs watching them. Anna gasped and stopped. She felt like she was going to faint, her heart was beating so fast. Tomkins suddenly darted down the path straight toward the bear. “Tomkins! Nooooo!” she cried. Anna wanted to rush back to the house but she couldn’t leave Tomkins. She started walking slowly after him when the weirdest thing happened. Tomkins sat down right in front of the bear and meowed, except it wasn’t a meow. He said, “Greetings my lord.” Anna heard it – he talked!
And then an even weirder thing happened. The bear said “Greetings Lady Anna. We have been waiting for you. We are all in grave danger and need your help. Meet me at the second waterfall tomorrow evening.” Then the bear turned and sort of faded away. Anna ran down and grabbed Tomkins and stared down the path to the stream but the bear was gone and she could hear that strange music echoing in her mind and her head hurt so bad she nearly dropped Tomkins.
“I must really being going crazy,” Anna groaned as she continued to peer into the dark shadows under the old fruit trees.
“Ha!” barked a shrill, angry little voice high in the tree behind her. “You are the only one who isn’t crazy!” Anna jumped and did drop Tomkins as she spun around, looking for who had interrupted her thoughts. There, up in an old apple tree was a gray squirrel. He munched on an apple as he flicked his tail rapidly and looked very annoyed with the world, like all squirrels, who are great critics of history or indeed anyone in their immediate vicinity. Anna rubbed her eyes and looked at the squirrel again. No, he was ignoring her and greedily munching his apple.
“I must be daydreaming,” she thought, shaking her head as she picked Tomkins up and walked slowly back to the house.
Kathryn smiled at her as she set Anna’s breakfast on the kitchen table. “You don’t have much time dear, you will have to hurry if you are going to get to school before the first bell.”
Anna hugged her and sat down to her breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, bacon, juice and milk. But she was too distracted to do more than nibble a bit of toast and sip her juice. She noticed her young mother’s worried frown but couldn’t bring herself to eat.
‘I wish Mom would stop worrying about everything I do,’ Anna thought. She wanted to tell her mother that she had seen a great brown bear in the orchard a few minutes ago but knew that it might really frighten her. And she definitely thought it would be unwise to tell her about Tomkins speaking to the bear, or the bear speaking to her, or the squirrel. But there had to be some explanation.
“Mom, are there still bears in the mountains?” she asked, thinking that this was the safest question she could manage.
“Yes, I believe there are a few, way out in the back country,” Kathryn answered. “Rarely, we’ll hear of one coming down to the farms, usually during dry spells, to look for food.”
“But our orchard goes down to the stream that comes from the mountains. Couldn’t a bear walk down the stream and reach our yard?"
“Well, I guess so,” Kathryn said, glancing fearfully out the window toward the orchard. “I really don’t like you going down into the orchard alone, Anna. All sorts of wild animals can get into the orchard. It isn’t safe. I would rather you stayed closer to the house, darling.”
“Don’t worry Mom, I’m not afraid of animals,” and she gave her mother a hug and ran upstairs to finish getting ready for school, Tomkins scampering after her as Kathryn watched her with a nervous frown.
Anna took a quick shower and dressed. As she brushed out her long hair she made a face at herself in the mirror. “I must have been day dreaming out there. At least that awful headache is gone.” She grabbed her backpack and ran down stairs back into the kitchen, stuffed her lunch sack into her pack, waved to her mother and dashed out the back door to her bike, Tomkins at her heels.
“See you this afternoon, Tommy boy,” she yelled as she pedaled down the driveway.
“Bye, and watch out for that mean German shepherd at the corner,” Tomkins replied.
Anna put on the brakes so fast that she almost flew over the handlebars. “What!” She stared at her big orange cat, her mouth wide open.
“Anna, you only have fifteen minutes!” her mother called from the kitchen window. Anna shook her head and headed her bike out the driveway and down the street toward school, small chills running up her spine as she raced along.
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