“Mister Bear and His Due: A Retelling of the Aesop’s Fable, The Bear and the Two Travelers”
By T.A. Saunders
Mister Bear just informed me that I owe him seven hundred dollars and fifty fucking cents. Those where his exact words, not my own as he spat them from his mouth. A mouth that looked more like an orifice of some Elder Thing straight from H.P. Lovecraft’s own writings with crooked yellow teeth and jagged, chipped edges. This spitting, wailing maw was attached to an inglorious gray and red beard that swam down the bloated figure’s frame like a monstrous tail.
I explained I would have the money to him by the end of today. I needed to visit my friend Maurice, who owed me almost twice that amount of money. I helped him cover a few overdue car payments last year and I have yet to see that money repaid. Today, Maurice promised he’d pay up.
I picked up Maurice in front of his girlfriend, Sydney’s house. He greeted me with his usual, happy tone. If I had a curvy redhead to wake up to I might give people a happy greeting too. Instead, I live the life of an urban guerrilla, evading a ponderously overweight, rent-crazy mutant. I give Maurice a brief nod in greeting and as I put my car into gear, I ask him what bank we were going to in order to pick up the money. He gave me a curious look and acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about. After reading the unamused expression on my face, he winced and directed me to the bank on Grant Avenue. Maurice’s head flung back into the headrest as I peeled rubber out of suburbia and into the city.
As we were finishing our transaction at the bank and prepared to pull out into traffic, I could see the woman in the SUV behind us trying to frantically get out of it. She was tangled in her seat belt and it looked like the guy she was with was trying to pull her back in to finish chewing on her arm!
While focusing my attention on the road I tell Maurice to call 911. He tells me he left his cell at home. I pull over into an empty parking lot and use my own. Oddly, I get the rapid busy you get when lines are jammed. When I inform Maurice, he shrugs and asks me if I have any weed. My stare writes a legend of disfavor for my oblivious companion, who makes a surrendering gesture with his hands. I give him my phone to keep trying as we enter back into traffic.
When I pull into the driveway of my less than stellar apartment building, I see trash everywhere. Abandoned bags, shreds of clothing and belongings people don’t normally leave outside. I see Mr. Bear out there too, knelt next to Mr. McKinney. I thought he was helping him up at first, because there was blood everywhere. But as I watched him sink those gnarled teeth into the man’s shoulder I knew the only thing he was helping was himself, to seconds the fat bastard definitely didn’t need. Maurice, in his usual inability to perceive the obvious in any situation, opens the door of my car and slams it shut loudly. He mutters something about Baby Jesus and a cheese grater when he finally realizes we’ve stumbled into a damned zombie apocalypse.
Mr. Bear looks up from his tasty meal of tender shoulder meat and looks at us. Some vestige of his once human mind recognizes my car I think by the look on his blood-smeared face. I turn to tell Maurice to get back in the car, but I find my words are only for the dead in close proximity. He took off running and I have a bloated, monster-mouthed biker zombie shuffling towards me. I want to leave, but Maurice just climbed into a nearby dumpster and there was no way to call him back. I’m strapped by morality and I decide I can’t leave him here, despite him abandoning me to what will likely be my end.
I know there’s dead people nearby. They haven’t risen and I don’t have the time to consider whether they will or not. I slowly open my car door and allow myself to flop out, as if I myself just died. Now draped across a half-eaten cadaver of what I think must have been the cute blonde in apartment 213, I can only hope the smell that’s close to making me spew my breakfast is enough to disguise my presence to the gelatinous zombie landlord.
His approach is slow. Achingly slow and every minute he takes to come closer is one more minute I’m fighting to not gag or breath. He leans in and looks at me and the girl from 213. His festering cavern of teeth is close enough to tear off my ear and his spittle napkin of a beard is tickling my nose. I’m going to die because of the idiot in the dumpster.
Just as all hope was about to vanish in a snap of teeth, Mr. Bear stood up again and shuffled off towards the sound of the car wreck. My ruse had worked, no thanks to Maurice who was peeking out of the dumpster and giving me a thumb’s up like leaving me to be sniffed by a zombie was somehow all right. I’m reminded of a fable I read as a kid; something about misfortune testing the sincerity of friends. I untangled myself from the blonde from apartment 213’s intestines and take a moment to vomit, before climbing in my car. I look up just in time to see Maurice scurry out of the dumpster, only to be hit by a runaway bus that careens right down my street. I close my door and start my car without bothering to check on Maurice’s condition. Given the screams and the sounds of tearing meat, I don’t think he has a thumb’s up for me anymore.