Fiction: The Bear by Jim Russo

Why would a bear suddenly appear in Brentwood Village on a Thursday afternoon and begin mauling/killing/consuming denizens willy-nilly?

Why this particular location? This village of Brentwood, an affluent nook of shops and eateries? Don’t bears prefer wooded areas with ample vegetation and rivers swarming with salmon? Aren’t they into caves? Do they not like to feast on the carrion of deer, caribou, and other assorted forest creatures? Does Brentwood Village offer anything that bears enjoy besides The Golden Drop, a locally-owned establishment that sells a variety of organic honey flavors? Was the bear drawn to Brentwood Village because of the aromas emanating from The Golden Drop? And then, once noticing/smelling said denizens thought, Hey, while I’m here?

How did Asim Farooqi, the first victim, a 31-year old law clerk who was planning to meet his girlfriend of three months at Au Bon Pain for coffee and a pastry treat, not see the bear as it approached him? Was he so enraptured by the sight of the before-mentioned girlfriend, sitting by the front window sipping her Chai Latte, her face lovely and perfectly framed, locket-like, within the “O” of “Bon”, that he failed to notice the eight-hundred pound carnivorous mammal flanking him from his left? What does it feel like to have your arm torn from your torso? Does confusion outweigh the pain at first, confusion over the fact that something familiar and reliable (the arm) has been replaced by something not so (blank space)? Did Asim know he was about to die? Was he embarrassed by his own screams, which denizens described as “high-pitched” and “very upsetting”? Does he know that some of these denizens, even now, days later, are still haunted by his screams? If there is a heaven, does Asim laugh when he hears this? What was he thinking about in his final moments as the bear consumed his lower intestine? The before-mentioned girlfriend? His umma? What cryptic meaning lies behind his last words, heard by several denizens cowering nearby? “Profile conduit plums racetrack”? How might these last words offer us an explanation for all that has passed?

Should we examine the scientific classification of bears in general? Kingdom, phylum, domain, and such? How about taxonomic rank? Has anybody looked into that? Is there something in a bear’s genome or cell nuclei that sets it apart from other apex predators? If you were to transport a tiger to Brentwood Village and let it wander freely about as the bear is doing right now, would it conduct itself in a comparable fashion? Indiscriminately mauling/killing/consuming? Would a tiger rip the face off of Jeanette Gonzalez–a 47-year-old recently divorced mother of two who had just decided to go ahead and buy a solar wood kiln on while waiting in line to purchase a camel leather tote bag at Habit Footwear and Accessories–in a way similar to the bear’s method of face-ripping-off? Sort of a lazy half-swing, as if brushing away a pesky fly, followed by a series of harder strikes, as if to say, What are you still doing here, face? Or would a bear’s behavior be considered anomalous and freak out even the fiercest of apex predators? If, say, we were to show a King Cobra videotape of this incident, would the King Cobra mutter something like, My God or Oh, the humanity, and then slither off as disturbed and bewildered as we are?

Perhaps off-topic, but what would become of Jeanette’s fledgling ceramics shop on Etsy? Will Etsy be made aware of Jeanette’s death and remove the shop from their site? Or will customers excitedly order hand-crafted mugs and vases and bowls only to be disappointed when they receive an email explaining that their order could not be processed at this time? When the solar wood kiln arrives at the Gonzalez residence in a week or so, will the sight of it on the porch send Jeanette’s children, fresh from burying their faceless mother, into further paroxysms of grief? Or will they gaze upon the kiln and somehow feel, or believe, or want to believe, that her creative spirit now exists within the apparatus itself? And what of Jeanette’s former husband? Would her death posthumously mend the rift between them? Would he no longer resent his ex’s passion for ceramics, no longer say to his therapist that he “wished to be held as tenderly as the raw clay on her wheel,” and instead grow closer to his children and look back on his and Jeanette’s relationship with bittersweet affection?

Are the police planning to return anytime soon? Is anybody else concerned that we have not seen them since Day One, when they arrived with their sirens blazing and then proceeded to stand at a safe distance to point, cross their arms, and shake their heads disapprovingly as the bear smashed its giant head through the window of Maria’s Italian Kitchen and dragged out Elsie Lewin, a 39-year-old financial advisor who was in the midst of a 4-Cheese Ravioli dish with a side of garlic bread because it was her Keto Diet cheat day and why not go big, you know? Did anybody else hear the young, doe-eyed officer gasp when the bear found Elsie’s femoral artery and clamped down hard, shooting a geyser of dark blood into the air that in the early-afternoon light reminded the young, doe-eyed officer of the hot lava bursting from Mauna Loa observed by him and his wife from the safe vantage of a helicopter on their honeymoon three years ago? Did anybody else see the young, doe-eyed officer wobble a bit and then take a seat on the pavement as a sergeant, his voice amplified by a bullhorn, asked the bear for its list of demands and grievances? What all could be done to avoid further bloodshed? When the bear offered no response–most likely because it was busy mauling/eating/consuming Elsie–did anybody else see a faint smile slip across the face of the sergeant, a twinkle in his eye, as he ordered his men to fall back? When they drove away, sirens no longer blazing, did anybody else get the heebie jeebies? A feeling that things were no longer as they once were? Or are we being paranoid? Are the police merely biding their time, formulating a plan, maybe assembling artillery and other large weapons to take down the beast?

Will Bob Pedesto, a 74-year-old retired lawyer who was in the process of refilling his wife’s prescription for Lisinopril at CVS, where he is now trapped with nine others, emerge as the unlikely hero that will galvanize the rest of us to rise above this nightmarish intrusion and take back our community? Is he correct in claiming that a bear will cower if you “stand tall and let the damn thing know you mean business”? Why is there conflicting information about this particular stratagem online? In the history of man versus bear, don’t you think that by now certain tactics would be confirmed as viable or disavowed as inane? As Bob stands at the pharmacy doors about to enter the battlefield, the nine others arranged around him like a sort of Christ and the Penitent Sinners with fohawks and botox, do we take solace in his steely gait, his sensible haircut, the way the mid-afternoon light through the window casts upon him a luminous glow? Does the speech he is making fill us with hope and inspiration and assurance that tomorrow will be a brighter day? Is he perhaps including too many famous quotes, quotes that he is accessing on his iPhone mid-speech, from a site called “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”? “Fear is the path to the Dark Side”? Is Bob laying it on a bit thick? When that other customer begins playing “Ride of the Valkyries” on his iPhone at full volume in the midst of Bob’s speech, does our hope start to wane? Is it then that we notice the rosacea on Bob’s nose and cheeks? The tremor in his right hand, the hand that holds the iPhone? The way he stutters on the word “power” when he says, “Courage is the power of mind to overcome fear”?

Does anybody know Bob’s wife? Will somebody contact her?

Does an explanation for this event lie not in the scientific classification of bears as a species but rather in this specific bear’s history? Is there a traumatic incident involving humans in this specific bear’s past that accounts for the enhanced aggression? Did this specific bear escape from a zoo/circus/wildlife park in which it was mistreated and/or abused? As a cub did this specific bear witness the slaughter of its family–papa, mama, kid sis–by a band of avaricious poachers? Did this specific bear flee into the night and vow revenge on these bipedal bastards? If so, again, why this village of Brentwood? Are we not good-hearted, progressive denizens? Do we not support PETA, ASPCA, and other acronymical organizations that support the rights of animal species far and wide? Do we not engage in solemn reflection when those commercials appear on television, the ones in which the camera slowly zooms in on a caged lion or seal or the desiccated remains of a bird whose insides are filled with bits of plastic and tubing tossed about not by us but by simple, small-minded folks who vote for the wrong people? Do we not wait a respectable thirty seconds or so (allotted time for said solemn reflection), then say something like, “Such a shame,” or “Sarah McLachlan…whatever happened to her?” before turning the channel to something lighter–a rerun of Two and a Half Men, for example–because you have to find joy somewhere in this awful world? Is this specific bear attempting to tell us that solemn reflection is not going to cut it anymore?

Is it reasonable at this point to consider alternative scenarios that would potentially lead to our escape and survival? Scenarios that might require us to take a brief moral/ethical hiatus, a sojourn if you will, to a dark place that we will no doubt gloss over, or even elide entirely, in guest appearances on late night television or within the pages of a nonfiction best-selling account of this horrific event? How can we distinguish ourselves from those monsters who currently inhabit the Spellbound Studio, a boutique shop that, according to its website, “provides its clients with all wonders of the metaphysical, including sound and energy baths”? What explanation do they have regarding their treatment of John Smith, a 24-year-old Uber driver who had just finished lunch at Subway after dropping off a customer at YaYa Yoga and had managed to slip inside the Spellbound Studio once the hubbub commenced? When the occupants of Spellbound Studio decided to exit en masse, was it a coordinated maneuver to push John Smith toward the bear and then run in the opposite direction? Or was it a split-second decision, a decision made out of sheer terror and a tacit admission amongst themselves that John Smith, despite seeming like a nice young man, was not one of their own? Not a denizen of Brentwood Village? That if there were to be a sacrifice, then John Smith–unfortunately, regretfully–would have to be it? Why did the bear choose to toy with John Smith, not mauling/killing/consuming him right away but rather stepping on his neck until his tongue lolled out on the left side of his face, a tongue that in the deepening shadows of the late-afternoon light looked as black as sackcloth? Is it our imagination or did the bear lock eyes with each and every one of us in that moment, its gaze at once menacing yet coldly indifferent, or perhaps menacing in its pure indifference? As if to say, Yes, this is who I am. Who are you?

Shall we draw straws? Pull names from a hat? What orchestrated form of sortition can we create in order to live? What burnt offerings are we prepared to make that will allow us to still wake up tomorrow morning and feel human? Is there a higher power at work here? God? The Government? A Shadowy Cabal of Psychologists known for conducting diabolical social experiments? Are we being tested? Is the bear’s sudden appearance in Brentwood Village meant to engender deep contemplation on the nature of existence? Will this ordeal make us stronger, more engaged, more empathetic citizens of the world?

What’s that, you say? What do you mean, there’s nothing sudden about the bear’s appearance? What do you mean, it has always been here?

Jim Russo is an English teacher living in Los Angeles. In between grading papers, he writes screenplays and short fiction. He’s repped by Gavin Dorman at Schemers Entertainment.

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