Polar Bear

Submitted into Contest #135 in response to: Set your story in a town full of cowards.... view prompt


American Contemporary Crime

          Trigger warning: rape

          Bruno was beginning to think it was time to leave Quiverton. 

          Quiverton had been founded a century and half ago in a secluded valley by an eccentric religious sect of extreme pacifists. They did not simply believe in nonviolence and passive resistance to evil. They actively retreated from any conflict whatsoever. As time went on the religious aspect of the community lessened but it was still a place where people came to live if they wanted complete peace and quiet. When Bruno stumbled on the place in his wanderings he found it full of the most pathetic, abject cowards.

          Bruno had been  a bully all his life. He was a big man who knew how to intimidate people. He had found that if you could make people fear you, you could make them respect you. If they respected you they would let you do what you want. He led a wandering life because his bullying usually eventually got him in trouble with the law. He’d done some stints in jail. Even so, the world was full of enough toadies who wanted to “get on his good side” and enough women who found his barbarous ways exciting that all and all his life was good. 

           When he got to Quiverton he was pretty much on the bum. He’d been hitching but the past few miles no one would pick him up so he just walked into town. He was tired and footsore when he saw a sign Lakehouse B&B. The place looked nice. He decided to stay there and think about how he was going to pay for it later.

            It was nice. The decor was almost a parody of “old-fashioned” but it was perfectly comfortable and filled with every amenity. It was run by Dr. and Mrs. Schmidt, two retired academics supplementing their income by having guests in their big, old home. In his life Bruno had been in many kinds of accommodations but he’d never met anyone quite as obsequious as the Schmidts. He had decided he was not going to mention credit cards, ( he had some but they weren’t his ) and was surprised when Dr. Schmidt had him sign the register and showed him to his room without mentioning how he meant to pay. 

              The breakfast the next morning was delicious, blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup, sausage patties, juice and excellent coffee. 

              As he ate Mrs. Schmidt asked him questions: “Did you sleep well?” “Was the bed comfortable?” “Did you have enough blankets?” “Is there anything I can get for you?” “Do you want more breakfast?”

              Everything was fine. Bruno thought maybe he’d stick around for a few days. He walked around town. Everyone was extremely polite but in a rabbity way, as if, they were about to run away at the slightest hint of danger.

              He saw a young skinny guy in a policeman’s uniform strolling casually. He only had a radio on his belt, no gun, no taser, not even a nightstick. What would he do if he encountered a criminal? Bruno began to see that this town had possibilities. 

               He saw a restaurant. He thought maybe a little “dine and dash” might be fun. He sat down and ordered a big meal, ate half and washed it down with several beers. When he’d had enough he hurried toward the door to escape without paying. When neither the waiter nor the host, both of whom had noticed him, called after him, he slowed down. This was just too easy.

               Over the next few days he began to take more liberties with the Schmidts. Soon he had the run of their entire house, he was not only eating their breakfasts but any meal he wished of Mrs. Schmidt’s fine home cooking. He began to ask for things and found the Schmidts would do their best to supply them. Never once did they mention when he should leave or how he was going to pay.

           In town he had gotten used to dining without paying. He brazenly shoplifted anything he wanted in addition to some things he had no use for just because he could. When he encountered a member of the Quiverton police force he intentionally stood in their way so he could watch them scurry around him.

            He began to think of bolder plans. He went into a new car lot and picked out the showiest car, a powder blue convertible. He went into the showroom and asked for the manager. Joe Farley, the owner of the dealership, came hurrying out. Joe was a big man and an athlete. In his high school days he’d been the best player on several of Quiverton’s losing sports teams. He wasn’t as big as Bruno but he was strong enough  that if he fought Bruno he could make Bruno sorry he tangled with him.

            Bruno grabbed his shirt front with both fists and pulled him to him so their faces were nearly touching. “Give me the keys to the blue convertible, now!”

            Joe said, “There’s no need to get physical, sir. Please, let go of me and I’ll get those keys right away.”

            Bruno released Joe who ran to the office and came back with two keys on a chain with a green plastic tag marked “Farley Automotive.” Bruno grabbed the keys away from him and strode out the dealership ignoring Joe asking him, “Sir, would you like me to come with you on a test drive?”

          Bruno stood beside his new car and pushed the unlock button on one of the keys. The door clicked. He got in the car, breathed in the new car smell, and started the ignition. Joe hadn’t pulled any chicanery; Bruno was free to drive his stolen car off the lot. He drove to a gas station, chose the pay inside option, filled the gas tank and drove off.

          Having a fancy car made him even bolder. He became Quiverton’s king (his view) and Quiverton’s greatest nuisance (the town’s citizen’s view.) He went wherever he wanted, took whatever he wanted, did whatever he wanted without anyone trying to stop him. Whatever he did no one tried to fight him, not even the police. No one even grabbed his arm or spoke harshly to him. They just treated him with their sickening rabbity politeness. He began to crave resistance. He began to actively try to goad the cops and other Quivertonian men who looked like they could handle themselves into fighting back by insulting and assaulting them. They would just whine and get away from him as quickly as possible.

          He seduced, no, frankly, raped two of Quiverton’s more attractive women on different occasions. It wasn’t as exciting as he had expected. They didn’t fight back. They just lay there with miserable looks on their faces. It was like having sex with a dead fish. There were men around and he could tell they hated what they saw but none of them did anything. When he was finished the women didn’t even look at him with the exciting hate in their eyes that he saw when he mistreated other women. They just slinked away weeping to some hidey-hole. After the second rape he began to notice that women seemed to be absent when he was around and the ones he did see wore an uncomfortable amount of hard to remove clothing. 

           Bruno began to notice other changes in Quiverton. There were no secret meetings to decide what to do about Bruno. No vows to combine to fight back. No calls to arm themselves. No one in Quiverton owned a weapon of any kind. Long ago the military had found Quivertonians made such hopeless soldiers that living in the town conferred automatic conscientious objector status. The people of Quiverton just aren’t like that but Bruno noticed other changes. 

        He returned to Lakehouse B&B to find that the Schmidts had cleared out. At first he thought they had just gone visiting but after several days it seemed like they were never coming back. They had left him behind in their formerly beloved home.

         There seemed to be an improvement boom in Quiverton. Every house and business was investing in locks and bolts, fortified doors and shatterproof glass. It is truly a marvel how much cowards are willing to spend on passive protection. Poorer citizens had no trouble convincing generous neighbors to help out. A coward is always glad to help a fellow coward. 

           They developed an effective cell phone grapevine so everyone knew when Bruno was coming their way. The streets cleared out. Bruno went to Quiverton’s best restaurant. Money was no object when he never paid. As he approached the door he saw the host quickly flip the sign from OPEN to CLOSED while not even looking him in the eye. This was the dinner hour. It was always open now. He tried the door. It was locked. He tried to shake the handle. It didn’t move at all. He looked in the window. The place was full. Occasionally one of the patrons would nervously glance his way and then go back to their meals. Everyone inside knew he was out there but refused to let him in. Anger welled up inside him. How dare those helpless rabbits do this to him. He pounded the window with his fists until he began to think he might break his hands. He searched for something to throw through the window. There wasn’t much; Quiverton is a neat town. He finally found a smallish rock. He heaved it with all his rage at the window. There was no shattering sound, just a dull thunk as the rock bounced off the window and fell at his feet. He began to go to other businesses with similar results. No one told him to go away; he was just locked out.

           In many ways it seemed like Quiverton was an abandoned town. The Quivertonians put up with the inconvenience of hiding from him but otherwise went about their business. Bruno on the other hand was completely alone. No one spoke to him.  They were behind locked doors. Most everything worth taking was also locked away. He began to get his food from restaurant dumpsters. Even cruising on the empty streets in his stolen car was beginning to seem pathetic. 

            He was beginning to hate the Quivertonians. Sometimes at night, he’d imagine getting a gun (he’d have to go to another town to get it; no one bought guns in Quiverton) and shooting them down at random. He also imagined setting fire to their houses. These thoughts scared him; he was a selfish bully, not a maniac.

            One night he was  at Lakehouse, which was less pleasant without the Schmidts  to look after things, watching a documentary about life in Alaska. There was a segment about a town that was visited by a polar bear. The Alaskans just kept out of its way, let it take what it wanted and waited for it to move on. Bruno realized that here in Quiverton he was no longer a man. The townspeople thought of him like the polar bear, an animal that needed to be avoided and ignored until it went away. 

             The next morning Bruno stole one last tank of gas and drove his convertible out of Quiverton vowing never to return. Without anyone even raising their voice to him, he’d been driven out of Quiverton.

March 02, 2022 17:20

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Michał Przywara
20:41 Mar 06, 2022

That was a fun read. I didn't expect them to weaponize their extreme passivity. Bruno's also an interesting character. He makes a point of saying he could always rely on intimidation to make people do what he wanted, but considering he's socially isolated and always on the road -- fleeing even Quiverton -- it seems like he's never actually gotten what he wants.


John Walsh
22:43 Mar 06, 2022

Thanks for the thoughtful, understanding comments.


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Barbara Burgess
14:00 Mar 10, 2022

An interesting story. I enjoyed the ending. You used the word 'nice' twice, quite close to each other. Whenever I said something was nice my mum always said, "sugar is nice' - so I tried to find another word to take the place of 'nice' - just saying. Some good descriptive paragraphs and a good take on the prompt. Well done.


John Walsh
16:21 Mar 10, 2022

I read it over to make sure I hadn't been lazy in my word choice. I decided to give myself a pass. I agree that nice is a weak word that usually has a more descriptive substitute. In this case, I'm trying to convey Bruno's point of view. Lakehouse B&B is nowhere near the sort of place he'd rather in if he had a choice but it is "nice."


Barbara Burgess
07:50 Mar 11, 2022

ah, I get it - yes, an average place. I think maybe I should have read your story twice over. I was trying to think of the word yesterday and could not find it but your story has a moral to it as well. Good job and well done. Deep writing.


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