Bear and Girl had hiked up the ravine as Bear wanted to show her the waterfall. The spray from the falls made the glade seem foggy, with clouds of mist rolling through all the time. It made the air cool and the glade refreshing, plus there was a rainbow. It was one of Bear's favorite spots.
Girl found a convenient rock and sat down, contemplating the glade, the mist, the rainbow…and her newest, but perhaps, most important friend, the Bear.
The two friends sat in companionable silence, neither one feeling the need to talk when they had nothing that needed saying. They eventually were covered in spray, and both wiped their faces from time to time, smiling at each other when they did so.
Finally, Bear got up, walked over next to her, and shook himself like a dog coming out of the water.
“Bear! You’re getting me all wet! You bastard!”
She shoved his shoulder. He pretended she was much stronger than she was, and rolled over, groaning.
She jumped on his stomach. “Aha! Gotcha! What are you going to do now, hunh?” she asked.
“Oh…help, help! The ferocious hunter’s got me! What can I do…except...THIS!” And he rolled over, pushing her underneath him, but being very careful not to let his almost 800-kilogram weight crush her.
She started hitting his chest, not hard, but with purpose. “Get…off…of…me…you…big…overgrown…rug!”
He rolled off her, laughing so hard that he couldn’t stand.
She leaned up on one arm, saw him rolling around laughing, then she started laughing. Soon, they were both rolling around helplessly, until finally, neither of them could breathe properly, and started gasping.
Eventually, they both stopped, and lay, one by the other, breathing hard and staring at the sky.
“Wow!” Bear said, “I haven’t done anything like that since…before…” and fell silent.
“Me, too!” Girl said. “At least that long!”
That started them off laughing again.
When they finally stopped, they were both exhausted but happy.
Girl sat up, tailor fashion, and took the cloth bag of trail mix out of her pocket, only to find that it had been partially squashed with the raisins crushed and many of the nuts in pieces. She chuckled, then scooped some of the mess out of the bag, and stuffed it in her mouth. She looked at Bear, who was lying on his back, watching her, grinning. She took some squashed raisins and dabbed them on the end of his nose.
“Hey!” He licked them off. “Mmmm…good. More?” And he opened his mouth wide.
“Uck! Bear! Your breath stinks!” She fanned the air with her hand.
“Well, you try living on a diet of fish and game and see how your breath smells. Besides, I don’t think the supermarkets stock ‘Breath Mints for Pristine Polar Bears’!”
Girl burst out with a surprised laugh. “No, I guess not.” She looked over at him, then stroked his head. “Bear?”
He looked at her, still on his back. “Girl?”
He saw tears form in her eyes, “Thank you. I haven’t laughed…or had anything to laugh about…in, I don’t know how many years! You are a true friend…even if you are an overgrown rug!”
With a laugh, she smacked his side, then jumped up and raced off into the underbrush, following the edge of the river gorge uphill.
Bear scrambled up, and lumbered after her, impeded by his own laughter. He was able to easily track her movements by what seemed like the incredible racket she made, although he probably would have barely heard it if he were in a human body.
Then, suddenly, it stopped, and he heard a man’s voice shout, “Gotcha! And there's no way in the world you’re going to get away this time, you sneaky little bitch! I’m going to fix you so you never can even walk again, let alone run. And we’re going to start right…now!
Bear heard her scream in pain.
He ran as quietly as he could, edging off to the right in order to come at them from the side, rather than head-on.
He burst into a small clearing, and saw a heavy-set man of roughly two meters in height, twisting Girl’s arm well up her back, hurting her, and the other hand tangled in her hair, yanking her head back. A shotgun lay at his feet, closed, and probably loaded.
The man’s eyes opened wide when he saw the Bear. He shoved Girl away from him and reached down to grab the shotgun when Bear barrelled into him, bowling him over.
The man slipped, and fell towards the gorge, but grabbed a low-lying tree root at the last second, checking his fall, but only just, teetering on the edge of the precipice.
Bear walked slowly towards the man, growling deep in his chest, then stepped hard on the wrist that was holding the branch. He heard bones snapping as he let his full weight press down on it.
The man screamed, and his hand opened. Bear removed his paw, and the man, his center of mass still over the canyon ledge, tumbled into the gorge, where he crashed off several rocks before lodging, head in the water, body in a mangled position, one foot trapped between two rocks.
Girl got up and groggily walked over to look. “We…we need to go down and get him! He’ll drown!”
Bear shoved her away from the ledge so she sat, then placed one paw on her leg, pinning her to the ground. “Nope. First, there is no way I would lift a finger – or a paw – to help that scum. And second, there is no way to get to him in time – unless you want to dive into the water and hope you don’t smash your brains out on the rocks.”
Bear looked at her, baring his teeth. “He’s dead, either now, or before anyone, including us, could do anything about it. And…isn’t it better that way?
“I take it that…thing…was your husband?”
Girl’s face showed nothing but shock as she stared at the rim of the gorge, then nodded. “Yes…it is…it was…”
And she crumpled to the ground, collapsing onto Bear’s paw and crying hysterically.
Bear released her but was prepared to prevent her from moving towards the ledge. When he saw that she was overcome with emotion, and wouldn’t be moving any time soon, he nudged her.
“Girl,” he said urgently, “We need to leave. Now. We don’t know if he had anyone with him.… Girl!”
When she continued to weep, he stood, then scooped her up in his paws, and started walking on his hind legs, awkwardly, but still with appreciable speed.
After a few moments of being jolted by Bear’s progress, she said, “Bear, put me down, please. I can walk…I think.”
He laid her gently down, but watchfully for fear that she might run back and attempt some kind of foolish rescue.
She looked at him, then shook her head as if clearing it. “Yes, right. Which way home?” And she wiped her face with the palms of her hands, eyes red, and shock still showing in her features.
“That way,” Bear pointed. She turned in the direction he had indicated and started to jog away, picking her way with care, apparently focused on her footing as if afraid to think of anything else.
Bear loped along behind her. Then, when he was sure she wasn’t going to do anything stupid, slightly ahead of her to show her the way.
After a few minutes, she started to flag, the combination of fear, the ebbing of the adrenaline, and exertion sapping her energy.
“Get on my back and hold on!” Bear said, coming to a stop.
She looked at him, then nodded, throwing one leg over him, then clambered up, moving her weight onto his back and clinging onto his fur. Bear started moving off at a steady, ground-eating lope, and the scene of the conflict was soon far behind them.
Bear slowed slightly after a few minutes but kept up a steady pace until they finally burst into the cabin’s meadow. Bear loped up to the cabin stairs, then stopped and said, “Okay, get off, and into the store room. Now!”
Girl slid off his back and ran unsteadily into the cabin, and thence to the store room, collapsing on the floor. Bear walked into the cabin, pushed the door closed, bolted it, then followed her into the storeroom, closing that door and barring it as well.
Girl was slumped in tailor pose on the floor, holding her head. Bear collapsed onto his stomach, breathing hard, head towards her. She looked up at him, then launched herself at him, clinging to him and sobbing.
“Steady now,” he whispered. “Cry all you want, but quietly, okay? We don’t know if he was alone, or had others with him. Shh, shh, shh…”
Girl clutched his fur, weeping into it to muffle the sound, her body racked with sobs.
Bear put one paw on her back, and gently stroked her.
She eventually cried herself out and stopped. A while later, her breathing became deep and regular. She had fallen asleep on the shoulder of an almost 800-kilogram polar bear, which most people would have found more than a little scary.
Yet she felt safer there than anywhere else in the world.
The Bear blinked when he thought about the paradox of the situation, heaved a deep sigh, and settled down to listen to the outside world, and guard the Girl.
Eventually, he fell asleep as well.
The two friends had found safety in each other’s arms.