From the author: First, I didn't realize he was a bear, as he was up on his hind legs, and was dressed in a long, red, hooded cloak.
It was right in front of the fountain in the town square where I saw the bear. First, I didn't realize he was a bear, as he was up on his hind legs, and was dressed in a long, red, hooded cloak. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought he was just a very large man, but when I turned that way, I saw the hairy paws, the long brown snout, and the large roundness of the hunched back. Then, I thought it must be a strange statue of some figure from local folklore, as he did not seem to be moving. But, then one leg shuffled forward, and the jaw opened and closed slowly in what could only have been a yawn. It was a live bear. He was holding his front paws together before him, and moving slowly through the crowd around the fountain as if looking for something. Occasionally, he would stop before someone, and present to them whatever was in his paws. Some looked into the paws before moving on, some didn't, others sidestepped the bear completely, the way they would a beggar or a weeping person, as if they saw this bear every day, and knew he had nothing to offer them. Perhaps that was so.
Curious, I approached. As I neared, the bear noticed that I was walking directly for him, and he turned to meet me. Soon, I could smell him. He had the musky odor of the woods and the river beyond. He smelled of moss and fish and something else that I couldn't place. The smell triggered something deep inside, and for a moment, I thought this might be dangerous. I hesitated, but in the moment I was stopped, the bear closed the distance, and then it was too late for whatever it was too late for. If he hadn't closed the gap between us, perhaps my curiosity would have won out over my sense of self-preservation. Perhaps not.
When the bear was close enough that I could feel his hot breath on my face, he looked down to his paws, and so I did also. He lifted them up, and opened them, his long claws separating as if unzipped. Resting between the calloused fleshy pads was a purple gemstone, so glimmering that it seemed to shine its own light from within, despite the soft darkness of its home. The bear then looked back to me, and caught my eyes. I don't know what he saw there, and I read nothing in his own. They were black glass marbles seemly devoid of any expression. Perhaps I simply don't know how to read the faces of bears. From his stillness, I felt as if he was waiting for me, and I realized then that the bear never moved on from any of the other people he stopped until they had moved away first.
I looked back and forth between the bear's face and his gemstone several times before I made the decision that would change my life.
I reached out to the bear, and took the gem from among his claws.
I wonder: can you read all this in my glassy black eyes?
This story originally appeared in New Realm.