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The first time Sandy saw the bear, in her panic she let him inside. She and Henry were in the cabin, about to go for a walk in the woods. Standing by the cabin door, hand on the doorknob, Sandy was queerily reminded of a horror film. “If this were a movie,” she said, “we’d get picked off one by one.” She looked at Henry and wondered which of them would be the first to die. Then she turned the knob and opened the door a crack. A brown flash darted by her peripheral vision. Instead of slamming the door shut, she jerked it open. The big bear lumbered into the house. He was low, lurking, dangerous. He smelled the corners of the room, poked his nose under the cushions of the couch. Fear shot through Sandy’s limbs, making them floppy and useless. Something was off, though; the bear was not a real bear, Sandy realized. Perhaps it was a costume. “Is there a person in there?” she asked the room, which was empty now, save her and the bear. “No,” said the room.
The second time Sandy saw the bear she was standing with Henry on the stairs off her mother’s back deck. A little white dog sat at the foot of the steps, and she called to it. The dog didn’t move. Instead, a great brown bear came around the corner and climbed up the stairs and past her. He wore a striped tee shirt, like he was in the circus. The bear stopped and sniffed at Henry. Terrified, Henry slowly raised his arms in a this-is-a-stick-up pose. The bear mimicked him, raising up his paws. Then Henry curled over into a protective huddle, and the bear ran his gums along the back of Henry’s neck. Down below, the little dog was gone.
The third time, Sandy was prepared. She and Henry went into the country store down the road and Sandy filled her basket with vegetables. Giant zucchinis, bell peppers, acorn squash. She glanced at the cashier and then walked outside without paying. She was hungry, and she needed to eat; surely her crime would be forgiven. Inside, the store began to flood with water. The water rose up, knocking shoppers off their feet. Henry was thrown off balance, washed out of his clothes, as he splashed and somersaulted in the aisle. He floated out into the river that rushed behind them. Two policemen on shore waded into the river and took him by the arms. Sandy watched him from the bushes as they led him, naked, from the water to the muddy riverbank. Henry lowered his eyes as they marched him forward, their hands gripped tight into his armpits.
Interesting, Sandy thought. Familiar. Brown fur flickered through the leaves across the river on the other side. She and the beast locked eyes. Sandy nodded to the bear.
Elizabeth Bernstein‘s fiction has appeared in the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine, the SF Bay Guardian, eleven eleven magazine, and other literary journals. The founding editor of the literary magazine The Big Ugly Review, she also has a short piece in the current issue of Paper Darts magazine, which you can read here. She lives in Berkeley.