The next day, Aiden’s mom woke up. The first words out of her mouth were, “My baby.” Aiden rushed into her arms, giving her a hug before the nurses stepped in. They were only there for a little while before he got to climb back in bed with her. He told her everything that happened in the forest.
“You went to get help for me?” she said. “All by yourself?”
He nodded his head, his hair dipping down over his eyes. “I should have stayed with you.”
“You’re here now. That’s all that matters.”
A reporter for the local newspaper arrived. He had heard about Aiden’s story and wanted to interview him for a piece he was writing. He gave Aiden a juice box and a bag of Twizzlers and sat down on a long bench overlooking the city below.
“So, where do you want to begin?” he said, opening up his laptop.
Aiden told him the entire story, about how he had escaped the car seat and decided to look for the Good People, how he met the bear, slept in a cave, tried raw fish, and almost drowned in a marsh with evil seaweed.
“You really rode on the bear’s back?” the reporter asked.
Aiden said uh-huh and took a sip of his juice box.
“Tell me more.”
Aiden told him the same story again, only this time, he got out of his chair and included motions and sound effects. The reporter laughed and laughed, feverishly typing on his laptop. Aiden could tell that there was something the reporter was not telling him. It was the way his face looked every time he mentioned the bear. It was the same look his mom gave when he would tell her about a wild dream. A look of disbelief, not belief.
“You don’t believe me,” Aiden said and crossed his arms.
“Now, where did you get an idea like that?” the reporter said.
“You don’t believe there was a bear.”
“All of us are amazed that you made it through the forest on your own.”
“But the bear helped.”
The reporter thanked Aiden for his patience and time. Aiden thanked him for the treats. After the reporter left, Aiden climbed in bed with his mom. He had left her side once before. He did not think he would ever leave it again.
The reporter arrived home late after working hard on his story about Aiden. His wife, Clara, was in the living room eating dinner.
“You’re late,” she said, eyes forward watching TV.
“I’m sorry. I got caught up with work.” He hung up his coat and went into the kitchen. Leftovers were getting cold on the counter.
“Did you see the boy today?”
“He told me the most incredible story.” He put the leftovers in the microwave. “It’s really a miracle that he made it through the woods in one piece.”
“What did you find out about the bear?”
The microwave beeped. The reporter grabbed his dinner and joined Clara in the living room. American Idol was on. A girl was singing a rendition of “Guiding Light” by Mumford & Sons.
“Let me tell you,” he said. “We sent a group out to investigate the area where Aiden walked. He went a lot further than we originally thought. About fifteen miles. We found his shirt in the marsh. Pretty smart to go that way and not around. Saved a lot of time. We also found the cave where he slept.” The reporter took a bite from his pasta. “But, we never found a shred of evidence that there was a bear accompanying him on his journey. No paw prints anywhere. No fibers on his clothes. Nothing.”
“Didn’t you just say he went through a marsh?”
“And didn’t it rain?”
The reporter almost choked on a noodle. He composed himself. “Yes. Yes. And maybe it washed away the evidence. But, Aiden also mentioned a scar on the bear’s face, the same exact spot where there’s a scar on his mom from the accident. Curious. I’m telling you, we should have found something definitive proving there was a bear but we found nothing.”
The girl on TV finished her song, holding on to the last note for forever. The judges all gave her good remarks. The reporter thought she blew it in the end. Too over-the-top.
“So, you don’t believe him then?” Clara said.
“I didn’t say that.”
“It’s ok. It’s a hard story to believe. Are you going to include the part about the investigation in your story? The lack of evidence?”
The reporter set his plate on an end table and leaned back. “You don’t want me to, do you?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Looks like we’re not saying much of anything around here.”
Clara smirked. She grabbed the remote and muted the TV. “Do you think he made it up so he could cope with what was happening?”
“It’s possible,” the reporter said. “But every time Aiden tells the story it’s the same story. It was the same for the police as it was for me. There should be inconsistencies, things that he wouldn’t be able to remember had it all been in his head. But, children do have quite the imagination. Maybe it was all in his head.”
“Maybe. I’m proud of you for doing the research, getting to the bottom of things. Aiden’s story is very inspiring. I can imagine how popular your article is going to be once you publish it. Knowing how articulate you are, I can see even it winning some awards.”
The reporter blushed.
“But, before you let my kind remarks go to your head, Mr. Writer, remember to always tell a good story,” Clara said. “And more importantly, to have a reason for telling it. I think you will end up finding that the debate over whether or not the bear is real is beside the point. A boy and his mother survived. That’s all that matters. That’s your story.”
Clara stood up and put her dishes in the sink. After rinsing them off, she said, “But if you want to know my opinion—yes, honey, I do believe the bear was real.” She went upstairs and turned on the shower.
The reporter sat in silence. He grabbed his laptop, opening up a Word Document titled The Boy and the Bear. He highlighted the last four paragraphs and hit delete.
“So do I,” he whispered to himself.
* * *