Bear swept a meaty paw to move the thin curtain, a young and brilliant hue of sky blue. He pulled out his old toy drawer from behind. Pushed open the wooden lid, adorned with lovingly detailed images of a happy life. A blast of cold air hit Bear’s face and a pale fog seeped out of the chest. It creaked and groaned as it moved. Much like I do, Bear thought. I am old, there is no use denying it any longer.
Dozens of toys were piled up inside of the chest, but Bear paid them no heed. He reached only for the one laying limp on the top.
The toy was in the form of a boy, tousled string-like hair, hooded jacket, mittens, and unseeing eyes. Bear caressed the toy’s hair with a gentle hand, soft like a spring breeze. He smiled gently, which was an unsightly sight to any onlooker. Bear’s teeth were far too crooked and yellow to be a pleasant sight.
Mortus was, and always had been, Bear’s favorite toy. It was in perfect condition still. A tear leaked down his chubby face and splattered onto Mortus’s still face. He flicked his tear away and buried his face into the fabric covering the toy, giving it one last hug.
One last hug with Mortus to mirror his first hug, the day they met…
The day he had found Mortus had been a sunny one, but a curtain of dappled shade was cast about Bear’s features. The sound of leaves rustling was everywhere; curse the summer and its tendency to burn leaves to a crisp. It made it nearly impossible to hunt.
Bear strutted forward on burly, yet softly furred limbs. His eyes glowed with red elation. Both excitement and apprehension hovered in the rising sea of his anticipation. His long, crooked teeth jutted out from his bottom jaw, saliva dripping from their tips. Bear had always hated his teeth with a passion; he had the most severe underbite of his family and all their generations past. It was a subject seldom neglected at family gatherings and dinners, and it was a subject that seldom failed to embarrass him.
He scanned the short little trees for some sign of life, any sign. He touched the bark of a tree with one gentle claw. There was a small scuff mark, barely noticeable. A scrap of bark that was missing and sap oozed from the tree’s wound. It had been made an hour ago, at most. The ferns, brush, and mud were flattened on the trail leading north, but Bear’s eyes narrowed at the sight of it. He leaned over on all fours and sniffed the ground, examining it closely. The tracks on the ground were several weeks old, yet the scuff mark on the tree was fresh.
Bear rose up onto his thick legs, peering into the trees. He could see more marks on the higher limbs of the trees, pursuing a course east instead.
He growled, taking bounding leaps east to catch up to his prey. He was on the trail for a full hour, stopping every few minutes to stand and track his prey’s marks in the trees. Half an hour in, he found a scrap of fabric jutting out on a thin branch. Forty-five minutes in and he found crumbs on a niche in an oak tree.
When Bear finally caught up to the elusive figure, he was crouching near a babbling creek, refilling his water pack. Bear stalked forward, his hands going up to the enormous red ribbon tied in a bow around his neck. It was traditional to make his first kill with his Birth Ribbon. It was aptly colored red, simply for that occasion.
Easy does it now, Bear thought fiercely. Don’t want to scare him off. He stalked forward, paws miraculously silent against the scattered crisp leaves.
He raised the ribbon in his paws, careful not to rip it, and with a sudden jolt, leaped to place it around the boy’s neck.
The boy’s fingers slipped under the ribbon in a desperate attempt to keep his oxygen, but Bear’s strength was greater. He could see the child’s fingertips going white, then purple. His face turned red and splotchy and he gasped for breath. His pulse beat annoyingly, no, defiantly, against the red, twisting fabric. But it soon dimmed, as did the light in the boy’s eyes.
Bear gasped. Then, slowly, carefully, he lowered the boy to the ground. Then he jumped up, his feet stomping about and crunching all the leaves beneath him. He cheered, “I have done it! I have killed!” He reached down and cradled the boy’s body in his arms.
Such a perfect kill. His face remained unscathed, and no blood tainted the body. The only signs of the struggle were the uneven color of the boy’s face and a thick line around his neck.
“Of course, I cannot keep calling you ‘boy.’ I shall find you a name!” Bear grunted in pleasure, tying the red ribbon back around his own neck, albeit much looser than when he had held it against the boy’s.
Bear lifted the body into the air, squeezing him in a tight, well, bear hug. “I shall name you Mortus!”
Bear released Mortus from his grasp and studied him from arm’s length. (Which, for Bear, was quite a distance.) Blue, unseeing eyes. Brown stringy hair piled around his shoulders. A hooded jacket to keep out the cold. Mittens, home knit, and soft as a sheep’s fleece. Unkempt nails, dirt-lined pack, shoes still damp from wading in the stream to get fresh water. He traced every feature, knowing that one day he would be able to picture them clear as day in his mind.
Then he hefted his new toy over his shoulder and started his jolly way back home.
“We shall be best friends forever,” Bear chirped in a sing-song voice.
Bear leaned over and shut his toy chest and shivered. He had avoided opening the chest for a while now. It had to be kept freezing, as the cold drove the rot away. He couldn’t have his toys rotting, now could he?
But when he had felt the aching in his bones reach an inescapable pitch, he knew it had to be done. He had little time left, and it would be a miserable, pain-filled few months.
He bared his crooked teeth, his underbite showing prominently. Nothing he couldn’t handle with Mortus by his side, as he had been all these years. But he wouldn’t have Mortus by his side. He cursed sadly.
Then, with sudden resolution, he threw open the door to the main living hall.
“Teddy Bear the Four Hundred and Ninety-Third,” he called softly.
A young bear waddled up to him, a small red ribbon worn proudly as a sign of what was yet to come. “Yes, great-grandpapa?” His big eyes looked up at Bear expectantly.
“I have come to face the fact that my time on this Earth is limited, and I fear that I may reach that limit soon.”
He smiled, ruffling the young bear’s fur.
“I want you to have this.”
Teddy looked up in wonder. Bear smiled gently, though because of his horrific underbite, it came across as a grimace. His favorite childhood toy was nearly as big as Teddy, though it stood at a mere five feet.
“What’s its name, Grandpapa?”
Bear shuffled painfully, fingering the red ribbon lingering around his thick neck.
Then he smiled wide, his red eyes glowing darkly.