Bear came rumbling into the great room of the cabin, muttering to himself. He threw himself down on the rag rug in the center of the room, gave a huge sigh, and closed his eyes.
Girl, who was making herself some lunch, said, “Is everything okay, Bear?”
Bear ignored her.
She walked gingerly over to him and stood nearby. “Bear?”
“WHAT?” he shouted.
Girl jumped back. This was most un-Bear-like behavior. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you – but you seem unhappy about something. May I help in some way?”
Bear collapsed back onto the rug, continuing to grumble, but said nothing else.
Girl walked to the door and peered out, but saw nothing unusual.
She looked back at Bear – who now had one eye open, looking at her.
He lifted his head and said, “If you must know, it’s those damned rabbits again!”
Girl looked out at the meadow in front of the cabin but saw nothing, and no signs of any rabbits. “Sorry?” she said.
Bear heaved another big sigh, then said in a very huffy voice, “I was just trying to lie in the sun on the meadow, but each time I was almost asleep, a rabbit would come over and pull my tail, then scamper away. I could hear the wretched animals giggling among themselves.” He huffed again and shut his eyes.
Girl stared at him. “Rabbits?”
“Rabbits!” he confirmed.
“Bear, I’m sorry, but…aren’t you a lot bigger than any rabbit? Why aren’t they scared of you?”
“Because they’re agile, and I’m not. Sure, I could run one down – eventually – but they’re just barely a mouthful, and not worth expending the energy on. And they know it. Ever since one of them tried tweaking my tail and got away with it, it’s become a game for them. ‘Bullyrag the Bear’ they call it. Or some such.
“Rabbits!” he said dismissively, then shut his eyes.
“Could someone help you with them? Maybe…skreee or whatever your hawk friend’s name is? She could swoop down and grab them.”
“She doesn’t like rabbits. They make her jumpy.” Bear huffed again.
Then, suddenly, he lifted his head. “Wait… I know someone who does like rabbit. He’d be perfect! Oh boy! That’s it!
“Thank you, Girl!”
Girl looked uncertainly at Bear, then said, “You’re…welcome? I’m not sure what I did, but I hope it helps.”
Bear started chuckling. “Oh, it will.” Then he opened one eye. “I hope you like mischievous people because that’s Henry!”
He closed his eye again and was soon sound asleep on the rug.
The next morning, the two friends were sitting out on the porch, watching the shadows move along the mountains as the sun rose higher. Bear had already been out to forage for breakfast, and came back chuckling, but refused to say why. Girl had had breakfast and was waiting to see if Bear would suggest some kind of outing … which he hadn’t so far. Instead, he sat there with a silly grin on his face.
Girl was wondering what he was up to and had finally worked up the nerve to ask him. She turned towards him, and said “Bear…,” then stopped.
Bear swiveled his head to face her and said, “Yes?” but nothing more.
Girl was speechless. There, sitting on top of Bear’s head, was a fox. The fox’s grin matched Bear’s own – yet, Bear did not seem to be aware of the fox.
Girl just pointed over Bear’s head.
Bear looked back behind him, then up, and said, “What? What are you talking about, Girl?”
Meanwhile, the fox was mimicking Bear’s words. Girl giggled even harder, bending forward in the chair.
“WHAT? What’s going on, Girl?”
After gasping, and finally getting some air, “You…you have something on your head,” she was finally able to say.
Bear’s eyes traveled up. Just then, the fox leaned down, gazed into Bear’s eyes, then kissed Bear on the nose.
Bear reached up to grab the fox off his head, but the fox leaped nimbly down to the ground, swaggered over, and climbed up into Girl’s lap.
He kissed her on the nose, too, then turned around, tromping around on her lap, and made himself comfortable.
Bear, meanwhile, flapped his arms as if flummoxed that he hadn’t been able to grab the fox, then straightened up, collected his dignity, and said, “Girl, this is Henry, the Arctic fox. Henry, Girl.”
The fox swiveled to look up at Girl, scanning her up and down, nodded, then settled down and apparently went to sleep.
Bear shook himself, harrumphed, then said, “Henry…as you might have guessed…is a bit of a trickster. He’s just the person I need to fix those rascally rabbits!”
Girl started stroking Henry, who opened one eye, sighed, then closed it again.
“He’s really quite lovely, Bear.” Henry’s face split into a grin, but he kept his eyes shut.
Bear grinned, “You might not think so when he starts pulling tricks on you!”
Girl just looked at him but continued to pet Henry.
That afternoon, Bear lumbered out into the meadow, humming ostentatiously, then settled himself down in the sun-soaked grass, making as much noise as he could.
Girl didn’t see Henry anywhere but suspected he was around. She sat on the porch, rocking, and waiting to see what happened.
A while later, when it looked like Bear had gone to sleep, Girl noticed a movement in the grass, and it seemed to be heading up toward Bear’s hindquarters.
Bear started up, and Girl surmised that something – probably one of the rabbits – had pulled his tail.
Then there was a tussle in the grass, and Henry popped up, holding a rabbit in one paw, a big grin on his face.
He trotted around and held the bunny in front of Bear. Bear reached for the rabbit, but Henry held it away, then thumped his own chest.
“Sure, Henry. If you want the damn thing, go ahead. Too much fur, and not enough meat for me.”
Henry nodded, then disappeared again into the grass, holding the rabbit, which continued to struggle.
Bear settled down and seemed to go back to sleep.
He was settled there for a while when Girl saw another disturbance in the grass and decided that the lesson hadn’t taken, that another rabbit was sneaking up on Bear.
Bear started up again, angry this time, and grabbed for his rear end – coming up empty.
But instead of a rabbit hopping away, it was Henry, sitting off to one side, smirking at Bear.
Bear relaxed. “Did you warn them off?” he asked.
Henry just nodded, then patted his tummy.
Bear settled back down on the meadow grass, then started a bit when Henry climbed up and made himself at home on top of him.
Girl giggled as quietly as she could – but Henry lifted his head, looked at her – and winked.