issue twenty-three

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(500 words)
Helen R. Peterson

Doolittle's End

It was the bear who was chosen to tell him.

"We're leaving."

The man looked up from his dinner, straight into the muzzle of the beast.

"They'll slaughter you. You're all safer here."

"We're freaks here. Nothing to do but talk. Eat from bowls. Talk more. Sleep. I can't remember what it feels like to hunt. To scavenge. This dependence on man, it's not natural."

"And what am I to do, without you all? There would be no one to talk to. No. You can't leave, none of you."

This last phrase was directed at the shadows surrounding the table, shifting, dancing, growling nervously watching the man and the bear volley with words. As soon as the last feather settled, the bear cleared his throat.

"What would happen to us, do you think, if you died? And we were all found in here, surrounding your body? What kind of slaughter would happen then?"

The man slammed his fist into his bowl, a thin green broth leapt out and spread across his face, his trousers, making puddles amongst the floorboards.

"I have been given a gift; man was given dominion over the creatures of the earth! I alone can care for you as God intended! You were but dumb beasts before me!"

The bear reared back on to his back paws and roared.

"And what are you now? A man, talking to himself, slipping in the shit of wild animals, refusing to let them out into the sun, into the air. You have a family, somewhere. A wife, children who must now be grown, yes? And we, we are several generations old now. Our packs, our flocks, they have died out. We are animals, and we were not meant to live so long."

By the end of the bear's speech, the man before him had crumpled to the ground, kneeling in the puddles, weeping, muttering to himself.

The bear came back down on all fours. A sparrow that had been perched on the chandelier above the table flew down and landed on his shoulder.

"We could have just left, you know. We never needed his permission."

The bear shook his head. "He tried to help us in his way. It was only natural to return the favor, try to shake him back to reality. But I am just a bear, what do I know about human psychology?"

The sparrow flew off, shaking her beak, as the bear looked to the shadows and nodded towards the door. Some of the larger shapes separated themselves from the others, became a cougar, a wolf, an alligator. Using their paws, their tails and claws, they broke the door down and scattered, followed shortly after by the smaller animals, coyote, squirrel, fisher cat, the sparrow amongst her flock and various rodents.

In the quiet, the man looked up and recoiled from the sunlight. He got up, showered, and changed his clothes. Swept the excrement from the floor. Then he picked up the phone and dialed 911, before setting the whole house ablaze.


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This work is copyrighted by the author, Helen R. Peterson. All rights reserved.