When Mark, the father David scarcely knows, arrives to take him on a weekend fishing trip, David is tense and nervous. His parents have been separated for years, and David wonders if his rugged, outdoorsman father is testing him in some way.But the weekend turns out to be an adventure that neither one of them has planned on. A giant grizzly bear forces David up, a tree, then attacks Mark, eats their provisions, and puts their pickup truck out of commission. David must take charge. He finds a strength in himself he never thought he had, and in taking care of his seriously injured father starts to overcome his fear of him. There's only one problem: Can David get himself and his father out of the forest in time?
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Chapter One: Fear
Fear ... sometimes it is a swift thing. But there are ,times when it is more like a great dark clock, ticking. To David it came that way, out of long-ago years he could hardly remember. For months it would be quiet inside him as his own heartbeat. Then he would have one of the nightmares.
He would dream that he was in some lonely place, listening for danger a man's footsteps pacing toward him. The tall figure would loom up in the darkness, just a silhouette with no real face but bristling pale brows and a glint of teeth in a crooked smile. Slowly he would come closer-and David would wake up trembling.
Even after he was awake he would lie there pulsing with fear, remembering that the shadowy figure had been real once. Because the man in his dreams was his father.
The word seemed strange when David spoke it silently to himself: Father. Other people had dads, nice men who took them places on Sunday, to a ball game or a movie. When other kids bragged, "My pop and me are going to build a boat this summer," David had sort of envied them, but it was a far-off feeling.
Whenever he thought about his own father, the dark image rose in his mind, making him shiver, even in broad daylight. He wasn't sure why-he couldn't remember too clearly all the bad things that had happened in those early days before his father had gone away. He only knew he dreaded the time when the nightmare man would come back and he would have to meet him face to face.
Now the day had come-so soon. Much sooner than he'd reckoned. There had been the letter first, and then the phone call. Mother looking nervous. Finally she had toldhim, "Your father is in town. He wants to see you he wants to take you camping this weekend."
David had tried to brace himself. But he felt pretty puny all loose and scared inside. He had wished for more time, wished he could grow some more before he had to meet this moment. If he just were taller and didn't perspire so much-right now his hands were wet, clenched in his pockets. And under the new blue-checked shirt he could feel the prickle of sweat.
Because this was no dream, now. Right this minute he and this stranger who was his father were sitting here only an arm's reach apart. Just the two of them, busting along in this pickup truck at sixty miles an hour, away from home and the city. Going up into the high mountains together.
Cautiously David risked a sidelong glance at the man behind the wheel. With a grim sort of wonder he marveled at how clearly it was coming back to him-the look of the lean face with its jutting blond brows, frowning against the glare of the afternoon sun. He remembered that frown, all right, but it wasn't half as dangerous as the crooked smile.
He even remembered the powerful-looking hands that gripped the wheel. The arms that showed beneath the rolled-up shirtsleeves were tough as leather. Every movement was so surethe way the man stuck two fingers into his shirt pocket and got out a pack of cigarettes, shook one loose. The way he struck a light from a kitchen match with his thumbnail. Dropping his hand to the wheel again, he spun it easily to swerve the truck off the highway onto a side road.
It was one of those gravel roads, worn down to the ribs. The pickup jarred along it like a jackhammer. In the haze of dust David glimpsed a sign Enjoy Your National Forest then it was gone.
When they topped a rise in the land he glanced back uneasily. Couldn't even make out where the highway was now. Dense pine woods had folded in around them, stretching off on all sides, rising to timberline on the high peaks to the west. Barren and raw, the range was still wearing heavy patches of snow. From back in the city the mountains looked flat, as if they were painted on the sky. Now they took on a terrible, beautiful sharpness-white rimrock towering above ragged deep canyons. A wilderness except for a few rough-cut roads like this one.
They hadn't passed a car since they left the highway. Not many people came up here this early in the season. David shuddered slightly. The man beside him glanced over. Deep under the brows his eyes were a burning blue, like the heart of the match when it had flared.
"You cold or something?" he asked.
"No, sir." David sat stock-still. He hadn't supposed his father was even thinking, about him. It was as if they had been traveling through a huge emptiness-together, but a long way apart. Now, suddenly the truck seemed small and close, stifling with silence.
More memory was beginning to come back, of days when he was little. Fierce words and rough hands. Practically the earliest recollection David had was of being hit. His father jabbing him, poking him in the chest like a boxer. With that grin, saying, "Come on, boy, hit back! Hit back hard!" Once a blow had caught David on the nose-blood all down his shirt front. He could still hear his mother crying, "Stop it, Mark. Stop!"
And there'd been a steel bar in the back yard-he suddenly remembered that. How high it had seemed when his father had lifted him up there, saying in that tough way of his, "Go on, boy, you've got to learn to hang on." And when he had fallen off and gotten the wind knocked out of him, how he had choked to get his breath back. His mother had screamed then, too. "He's too young, Mark!"
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