August the Second, 1964. As clearly as I remember being pulled from my mother's birth canal like a potato from a drain, I remember that accursed August day, the day I discovered Odin's secret. He and I were visiting a liquor store. Pets aren't usually allowed in liquor stores, but bears were the new exception. After handing the owner a dollar bill, he plunked a bottle of Ms. Carriage whiskey on the counter, then slunk out into a back room as fast as possible. It wasn't hard whiskey, but fuck you, I was seven.
We left the store to a toasty summer afternoon. The streets of Fistwood were mostly empty, as they often were these days. I wrenched the cap from the bottle with a tooth. "Drink up," I said, and poured half the contents down Odin's throat. He shuddered for a moment like a stroke victim. Then the whiskey took hold and he wobbled off the sidewalk and into the street, forcing me to drag him by his neck-fur back beside me. You'd think a bear would have alcohol tolerance. To show him a creature who did, I swigged the rest of the bottle. It affected me little--maybe a volt to my stomach, but nothing to short out the brain. "Let's go to the park." Odin belched in agreement.
It happened halfway there, as strange things are wont to do between one place and another. Herbert wouldn't publish till a year later, but I'll be damned if it didn't sound like a Shai'hulud boring its way beneath us. But these reverberations came rather from a beast on land, a beast, I soon realized, approaching from behind us. Out from the fucking aether, dark and huge as a locomotive, tore the bear goddess herself, a specimen four times greater than any grizzly. Odin's mother. An obsidian queen.
We fucking booked it. Usain Bolt never ran a faster mile; from that street to the park to the play structure, Odin and I ran, ran, ran. And roaring behind us, two stories tall and dribbling foam, the great she-bear closed the distance, cleaving pavement, sending a car into a wall, and shredding the awnings above her. Jesus Christ, that roar. It rattled the brain in my skull. The bear wanted blood.
Using all my remaining energy, I launched up from the bark below the play structure and onto its wooden beams, breathlessly wriggling myself over and out of claw's reach. Odin, meanwhile, clambered up the slide. A few children who'd been using the structure fled screaming.
She slowed to a lumber when she reached the pool of bark chips. Growling, she began to pace around the structure, no doubt assessing its weaknesses, while I looked hard into her eyes. One was black, the other blind-white with a scar down its brow. Here's where your average seven-year-old would've broken down in tears. Me? I threw that fucking Ms. Carriage right into her working eye. She half-ducked, and the bottle shattered on her forehead.
It had taken Odin's mother this long to track him down, but shit, she'd succeeded. How they'd parted in the first place, or how long it had taken her to find them, will forever remain a mystery. Odin looked up at me, pleading like the first time I'd seen him.
The she-bear lunged at us. Normally a building the size of this play structure would disintegrate on impact. And in fact, several of its beams went flying. But after listing a bit and threatening to topple, it thumped back into place, and the she-bear pulled back. You've never seen a bear this big, nor any land-dwelling creature. Her face bore the stamp of mania. She could've plucked up a telephone pole like a daisy.
Before she lunged a second time, a blast went off nearby. She flinched at it. The sheriff I'd seen weeks ago now stood at the edge of the bark-pool, holding a shotgun at waist-level. He cocked it, fired again, advancing toward her in quick, deliberate steps. The she-bear would have none of that.
"Give it here!" I hollered, and opened my arms for the gun. I was much closer, and high enough to shoot her face. The sheriff hesitated too long before throwing me shotgun. It landed in my arms just as the she-bear tore into him, cutting short his screams with a bite that took his head. Blood sprung from his neck in two quick spurts, and he crumpled onto the barkchips. The bear took another bite from his corpse before leaving it to bleed out and then lumbered back toward us. I lifted and cocked the shotgun, half-hoping to dissuade her, half-hoping she'd lunge again. The second half won out. When she lunged this time, I fired right in her face. Howling, she keeled onto the play structure. Odin and I rocked wildly as we clung to the beams. The she-bear rolled off and gathered its energy for a second go.
Here I must gather my own energy for this last stretch of the tale, for it's the hardest to speak of. Don't give me that look, you fuck.
Odin, seeing his mother wounded, left my side and went down the slide to join her. When he reached her, they shared a moment of primal kinship common to many human families. It consisted of Mother Bear swiping a claw across her child's face. Odin didn't retaliate. They growled to each other in bear tongue, then Odin looked at me once more. Don't, I ordered with a glare, but the young bear didn't listen. The she-bear nudged him back the way she'd come, turning her back to the decimated play structure and the gun-wielding boy within it, and the two of them left. They left without any more trouble.
Once it was over, police, reporters, and doctors appeared by the scores. The reporters fired off questions and accusations while the doctors pulled a tarp over the mess of a sheriff. I ignored them all, looking instead at the street through which Odin and his mother last traveled, and then went back home.
And that's the story of my childhood. Well, one story anyway. I see your glass is empty, but you haven't touched your chocolate steak. Eat the fuck up, because I've got more to tell you.
Not about the bears, no, but their story isn't over. As a matter of fact, I kept the shotgun in a padlock case beneath my bed, knowing one day I'd revisit Odin's mother. For now though, our tale of these bears has reached its close, and I will thus move on to other, equally intriguing matters.