By and by they found themselves in a dark forest. Sure enough, they didn't get halfway through, when this

All: Big old, ugly, brown bear

Ezra: Smelled that food Thomas had sneaked in his cap.

That bear jumped out of the bushes and charged them both. Them two friends was scared to death! I tell you, Thomas found the nearest tree and scurried up to the top branches, leaving Achilles down on the ground to face the bear alone.

Oooh! Achilles had to use his wits. He remembered what the Elders taught him:

All: "Bears don't eat no dead people."

Ezra: So Achilles, he lay down on the ground, held his breath, closed his eyes and played like he was dead. This

All: Ugly, smelly, big-headed bear

Ezra: Walked over to him real slow, sniffing as he went. Took his snout ... turned Achilles over ... trying to find out if he was breathing. But Achilles

All: Held his breath ... for the longest time.

Ezra: After a while, that bear went off a little ways and hunkered down so he could watch the man. See if he was just playing 'possum. Then he come back, smelled him again. And this time, looked at him, real close. Finally, the bear said,

All: "That man is dead."

Ezra: Turned up his nose and went off in the woods just like he came.

All this time, Thomas just stayed squinched up in that tree ... watching. He didn't do nothin'. He coulda made some noise to scare the bear off. He coulda throwed down some fruit to annoy that bear. Thomas didn't do nothin' to help his best friend.

Even when Thomas could see the bear was gone for sure, he still didn't come down. Instead, he hollered down: "Say! Achilles! What you and that bear been talking about? Him and you seemed like you was having a close ... conversation."

Achilles hollered back, "That bear been telling me ... never trust nobody who calls himself a friend ... and who runs as soon as trouble comes."


And with that, Achilles took off on his own. He had outsmarted the paddyrollers, outsmarted the dogs and outsmarted the bear. And I know he found his freedom.

Thomas didn't have no choice but to go on back to the plantation and take his punishment.

Actress and playwright Charlayne Woodard's other works include "In Real Life" and "Neat."