Interlude II: Mountain Bears, A Sample Chapter from The White Owl
Where we live there are mountains. Not far from where people drive and sit in their houses eating dinner. In those same mountains are bears. They don’t come down very often. When they do they are sickly or old, or just confused. They make messes, they eat dogs, sometimes they are shot or poisoned.
There is a boy on our street who is very afraid of bears. We tell him a bear has come down from its mountain and he cries and won’t come out. We tell him it’s not a bear like that, and that we didn’t really see it anyway.
One day the boy goes to the end of the street where the back yard of a house they tore down five years ago when the boy wasn’t even a boy but some other thing - a thing that crawls and pees on itself and can’t play any games - has become a jungle.
A small one, full of trees and sometimes, we tell him, bears which have come down from the mountains. He doesn’t like it when we tell him this, even though he has learned not to be afraid. Learned that we are not always entirely truthful about these rumours.
But he’s a fat boy, perhaps because he is afraid of bears and does not join us on those walks and hikes between the town and the forest which covers up the base of the mountains like two green hands. We have baked him a pie. It’s not very good, but he eats it anyway because it is very sweet.
We don’t join him. It is too sweet for us and not very big, we explain. And there is poison in it. Not that we say anything about the poison because we’re too excited about the tracks we’ve found, about the strange markings and the ursine scent we think we’ve noticed hanging thick and heavy.
Someone’s dog is missing, but likely it ran away or was run over by a truck. We mention all this, only after he’s had the pie and is feeling sleepy and his stomach isn’t so good - but he’s sleepy most of all, and just a little bit afraid now.
You can smell it, like a memory of those piss-stained days when he wasn’t a boy but a thing that couldn’t play. We take him to the place where we saw the bits of fur and a half-chewed collar. He doesn’t want to go, but we show him.
He cries and now he has peed down his leg like a dog. We laugh though we’re sad because he knows there isn’t any bear. Just this hole in the foundations full of broken bottles and trash and used tires. But he falls down a few times, and cuts his face so we run away.
Later that night we hear the boy’s mother calling. The boy hasn’t returned for his dinner. Have we seen him? No. There’s an old man with a red pebbly nose like a strawberry that’s gone rotten and a baseball cap with a grizzly on it, putting up LOST DOG flyers.
We explain, carefully, having cleaned up all evidence of our baking, and hidden the bottles of poison where the homeless teenagers sleep in the bushes, that we haven’t.
The next week there is a story in the local paper about how a bear came down from the mountains and ate a boy. This is sad but we live near the mountains, and sometimes, bears come down and eat boys.
We could move away but then we’d miss the mountains.