The Wrestling Bear
Ben Segal

Look at the sun gleaming off of that bear's fur. It's warming her as she sleeps. Inside of her is a cub that is tiny and hasn't yet developed any fur. Outside of her is a circular cage and a sign that invites any and all takers to come fight the bear. Winners make 100 dollars. Winning means lasting seven minutes in the bear cage.

She is a little bit ragged and the concrete floor beneath her is cracking and starting to grow weeds. To make the fighting fair, her claws and teeth have been removed. The only thing she eats is fish and berry slop from a bucket, slurping it into her mouth with her long tongue. Her paws ache and her gums tend to bleed and the course of her bleeding leaves dry and matted streaks on her cheeks that give her a more savage appearance.

She was outside not so very long before now, and she had loveless sex with a larger and younger male bear and that is why she is pregnant. Her handler doesn't know that his bear is pregnant or even a girl. He calls her Thunder Bolt and tells people that she killed two consecutive Comanche Indian chiefs and that after that the Comanche people regarded her as a god and sacrificed their sick and weak in order to appease her anger and to secure a bountiful harvest. He says that he captured her by cunning in the dead of the night and that now she fights like a demon out of her desire to eat more human flesh. Except, of course, he says 'he' instead of 'she' when referring to the bear.

In fact, he caught her with a steel trap and she fights like she does because he underfeeds her and prods her with sticks to make her angry. She's sleeping now, but soon the prodding will happen and then the bravest of men will pay 20 dollars each for a chance at out-wrestling her. Her handler will make sure things don't get too out of hand and the bravest of men will leave with only a few bruises and maybe a small broken bone and 20 fewer dollars each. Mostly, they'll be happy to have the story of surviving even a minute or two against the bear-god Thunder Bolt.

But today she will face off against a powerful man with a huge red beard and a handlebar mustache and a faded red singlet from his college wrestling days. His wife will be wearing a pale yellow jumper and she will hold the hand of their toddler and watch as the red-bearded man hurls himself at the bear's mid-section. He will not reach her though. She will catch him in her de-clawed paws and lift him swiftly above her head and hold him there. Her handler will prod and prod and try to force her to drop the man, but she will hold him up and all of his exertions will do nothing to loosen her grasp. She will wait like that until the cage is opened for the other men to try to bring her down, but she will wade through them and into the fairgrounds and she will not release the red-bearded man. She will walk with him to the ferris wheel and cut right to the front of the line and take her seat in the little metal carriage. As the wheel brings them upward, the bear will pull the man to her chest and hold him tightly against her and wait like that to reach the ferris wheel's highest point. Then, she knows, she will have to decide whether to jump.

Ben Segal is the author of '78 Stories' (No Record Press, 2008). His short work has appeared in elimae, Word Riot, Acappella Zoo, and others. He helps run Leisure Class Records.

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Photo detail on main page courtesy of trialsanderrors.

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