Here’s a Story About a Girl and a Bear
by Holly Day
The little bear opened his eyes to sunrise. Just over the horizon, the most glorious outpouring of pink and gold was filling the sky with the same chaotic color scheme as when you drip drops of ink slowly, one at a time, into a cup of clear water. Threads of hue darted out on all sides, and then there was the bright yellow disc of sun climbing out from behind the hills and into the pink sky, and then the sky was blue. It all happened so quickly that the little bear had hardly time to think, “It must be morning!” before it was.
“I didn’t know they let bears in here,” said a voice to his right. A girl in a light blue dress was spread out on the ground next to him, and if they had awoken inside a house and in a bed, he would have assumed that they had had sex together, even though she was still dressed. But since it was outside and there was enough space between the two of them, and even more if she had just recently rolled closer to him in her sleep, the thought didn’t cross his mind. She was very beautiful. She had long, straight blond hair that spread out like the straws of a very clean and beautiful broom around her shoulders, while her dress reached down just past her knees and was exactly the same color as the sky. “I thought this place would be for people only.”
“I’m not really a bear,” said the bear. He sat up and pulled off his head, which wasn’t really his head but just a fake bear head. Underneath the bear head he had short brown hair and white skin and pink cheeks and brown eyes and he was a boy. “I’m just dressed like one for the party.”
“It must have been an awful party. They only let dead people in here. And, for a moment, I guess they let dead bears in here, too. Or people dressed as bears.” She held her arms out to the boy, hands turned upside down, as if trying to show him something, then frowned. “I cut my wrists up super bad,” she said. “In a whole bunch of places. It was really gross and gory. But you’ll just have to take my word for it.” She drew lines all over her bare wrists with an outstretched finger. “Here, and here, and here.”
“Yuck.” The boy had known a few girls who had threatened to cut themselves, usually over the telephone or shouted through a closed bathroom door, and a few who had actually cut themselves, but they had just made little marks that bled and lot and ruined their clothes but didn’t do anything worse than that. He generally stayed away from girls who cut themselves or tried to kill themselves, but since he appeared to be dead right along with this girl who said she’d done it herself, he didn’t feel he had any real moral high ground to stand on, although for the life of him, he couldn’t remember ever wanting to die. It must have been an accident. A horrible accident. He tried to remember how he’d ended up here, if there had been even one moment from the night before where he’d stood in front of a mirror with a razor, or held a bottle of pills, or leaned over the edge of a balcony with dark intent. He had gone to a party. That’s all he could remember.
The girl had already climbed to her feet and was hopping and dancing around in little circles, a stupid smile on her face. “I feel so light and free!” she exclaimed. “This is exactly how I thought Heaven would be!” As she spoke, little red flowers sprouted in her footsteps, exactly the color of fresh blood. After a moment, the red flowers were joined by little white ones and little purple ones.
“I don’t know why you think you’d get to go to Heaven.” The boy’s grumble sounded a little bit like the snarl of a small bear, one about his size. “Don’t you go straight to Hell if you kill yourself?”
“Not if you have a very, very good reason for it!” sang the girl. Now she was running around the meadow, her arms out like the wings of an airplane. “And, oh, I had such a good reason!” She stopped running and grinned at him. “Do you want to know why I did it?”
“No,” said the boy. He did not want to know at all. He wished she’d just shut up. He didn’t want to talk about death at all. He turned and began walking away, afraid she would tell him. Since the two of them had appeared in the same place at the same time, he was afraid her explanation would have something to do with him. He was almost positive he had never seen the girl before, but then again, he couldn’t remember how he’d died, so he couldn’t be sure of anything anymore.
“Suit yourself!” sang the girl behind him. The boy felt something hit him square between the shoulder blades, and even though he was pretty sure it was a rock, the layers of the bear costume were thick enough that it didn’t hurt enough to make him stop or turn around.
There are few things stranger than retreating in solitude, dressed in a bear costume, wondering how one died. The boy had resigned himself to being dead, although he held onto the faint hope that he wasn’t actually all the way dead, and that he might be rescued from whatever had put him here and brought back to life. He remembered being in a really good mood the last time he was alive. It was going to be a fun party. His friends were going to be there. He didn’t remember getting to the party, just remembered knowing he was going to go.
Suddenly, the sky opened and the limp figure of someone barely wrapped in a white sheet plummeted to the ground. The body landed so close it almost hit him on the way down. The boy stepped back in alarm, and as he did, he noticed another body falling from the sky, far off to his right. This one was just wearing regular clothes, no white sheet. So this was how they got here. They just fell out of the sky.
He gingerly stepped past the body that had almost hit him just as whoever it was began to twitch awake.
“Oh, no,” said the voice of the man or woman still hidden under the white sheet. They sounded very tired and very old. “Where am I?”
“You’re dead!” The boy dressed as a bear hurried past the body. This was a conversation for that girl who liked talking so much, or someone else. There were bodies falling all over the place now, and surely one of them belonged to someone who wanted to share stories about being dead.
“Thank you!” said the person under the sheet. The boy wasn’t sure if the person was honestly happy to be told he or she was dead, or if it was an automatic response born of a lifetime of trained politeness. He didn’t really care which one it was.
After a few minutes, the onslaught of falling bodies slowed, then stopped entirely. The boy wondered if the falling bodies were on some sort of timed delivery system, or if they were falling somewhere else now. Perhaps they fell out of the drifting clouds overhead, like rain. Perhaps he would wake up soon or be resuscitated or whatever and he wouldn’t have to worry about the answers to any of these questions at all.
“Perhaps someone thought you were a real bear and shot you,” said the girl. She had hopped and skipped behind him this whole time and now she was hopping and skipping and blocking his way. “You wouldn’t have bullet holes in you here, since I don’t have any marks on my arms. Were you in the woods, walking around on all fours, and someone shot you?”
“No, I wasn’t in the fucking woods.” She was so tiresome! “Why would I be in the woods? I was getting ready to go to a party.”
“In the woods?”
“No. Shut up.”
“I suppose it’s not that great a bear costume.” The girl eyed him critically. “I mean, if you were on all fours, at night, in the woods, you might look like a bear, but up close, you look more like a cartoon character.”
“Well, I know I wasn’t in the woods.” He actually didn’t know this, but he had no idea how he could get from his house to the woods and not have any recollection of doing so. He vividly remembered looking in the mirror, drawing a little triangle on his nose with a cheap eyeliner stick he’d just picked up at the drugstore, wondering if he should draw big black circles around his eyes, too. The was almost the last thing he remembered. He also remembered opening the front door of his house and stepping outside.
“I always loved going to parties in the woods. I went to a few. When you grow up, they stop bringing marshmallows and hotdogs to the parties. It’s always, oo, I’ve got beer! like you can do anything different with beer in the woods than you can do with beer at home. It’s kind of boring.”
“Shh,” said the boy. He stopped still, thinking. He opened the door and stepped outside. He could hear the squeak of bats flitting after mosquitos, could smell lilacs blooming in the gigantic grove across the street. The party was walking distance, so he started walking.
“And then everyone gets drunk and starts pairing off because that’s what you do, and it’s the woods so there’s that whole danger-thing, where you don’t know if the guy you’re making out with is going to throttle you and leave you for dead behind some tree. I hate that part,” said the girl. “I never got how danger was supposed to be some turn-on.”
“Shut up!” He could see the house where the party was, just down the street. All the lights in the house were on. He reached into his pocket to pull out his phone to let them know he was on his way. The truck swerved around the corner and he didn’t have time to move. The headlights looked like two big yellow harvest moons bearing right down on him. There wasn’t ever any traffic on this street. Kids liked to ride their bikes down this street. No one ever stopped to look when they crossed this street. There wasn’t supposed to be a truck. There had never been a truck before. This was virgin territory for gigantic trucks.
“Fuck!” The boy stopped walking. “Jesus Christ, I got hit by a fucking truck.”
“Oh, crap!” The girl started laughing. “You got hit by a truck? So that’s how it happened? I’m so sorry. What a stupid story.”
“It’s not funny!” said the boy. “I got hit by a truck wearing a fucking bear costume. I died wearing this stupid bear costume.” He tugged angrily at the zipper and pulled it all the way down. He was only wearing his underwear under the costume. He only wore his underwear underneath because he thought he might get lucky and didn’t want to have too many clothes to take off. “I’m not going to spend my entire afterlife or whatever wearing this stupid thing.”
“Take it off!” The girl reached over and pulled on the sleeve of the costume. “I’ll take my dress off, too. I always hated this fucking thing. I only put it on because I thought it’d look especially tragic to be found dead in it. I didn’t think I’d have to keep wearing it after I was dead.” She tugged her dress off over her head and stood in just her bra and panties. It was a matching set, white with tiny pink flowers on it, made of cotton. It looked soft and functional.
The boy stepped out of the bear costume and stood there in his underwear, also white cotton, functional. “I can’t believe I got hit by a truck,” he said. “It was going to be an awesome party, too. There was this girl there. I drew this nose especially for her.” He pointed to the little black triangle he was sure was still on his face, then wiped it off with his bare arm.
“Very sweet.” The girl giggled, licked her finger, and rubbed his nose vigorously. “She would have loved it.”
Holly Day’s writing has recently appeared in Analog SF, The Hong Kong Review, and Appalachian Journal. She currently works as an instructor at The Richrd Hugo Center in Seattle and at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.
Image original: Museums Victoria