The hole was just there one summer day. We woke up and went outside to feed the animals as usual and it was already blindingly bright and humid as usual but something was different. As we walked downhill alongside the huge stone wall that marked the boundary of our farmland, we could see that the cement that had always formed a perfect seal between two giant, grey boulders had seemingly crumbled away overnight, at least in one place, and there was a kind of small hole, just waist-high off the ground. Before I could even react, you got down on one knee to put your eyes to the hole, and then I heard your terrified, primal scream.
No one in our family had seen or heard anything from the other side of the wall before, despite having lived on the farm for many generations. We had only a dim idea of what might be there, mostly just what the propaganda told us. Of course, we all had heard of the Bears.
Violent, angry, aggressive, dirty, uncivilized… they only want to take what is ours. If you see one, report it. Never talk to them or engage with them. If one tries to come over, under, or through the wall, do not hesitate to shoot it on sight. You will be awarded the golden medal of patriot honor for your assistance to our nation state. We learned this story from the media, from our teachers, and even from our parents. There was no other belief system available in our surrounding culture.
You turned to face me with a look that was immediately written in permanent ink across the slate of my memory. The sun was in your eyes. Your face was bleached of all color. Your hands were shaking, though I doubt you would remember any of that. In a voice that sounded as if your throat were being torn to shreds, high pitched and bearing gritty vocal fry, emerging from the stunned dumbness of your face at a piercing volume, you vomited the word which would haunt our dreams ever after.
I quickly put my own face towards the hole and immediately saw the dog-like, carnivorous mammals. Brown, black, and white Ursidae, straight out of the taxonomy book. There were strings of saliva dripping from their mouths. I could see their yellow canines and their sharp black claws, but what struck me most deeply were their dark and shockingly intelligent eyes.
Your screams had attracted their attention to the hole, and when I peered through, they were already running, directly toward my naked eye, across a large open field, at least a dozen of them. Even though I knew that there was no way that they could get through or over the giant stone wall, I could taste my own fear rising in my throat. I jumped and turned to escape back to the house, and I could see that you were already halfway home, running as if for your life.
I heard a strange sound from the other side of the wall, just before I, too, ran inside. It must have echoed through the hole, which partially obscured the extent of the sounds’ original expression along various wavelengths some time before they arrived in my panicked ears. They could easily have been mistaken for human words, spoken in a close relative tongue of English, in a strong, unfamiliar accent, almost like a growl, but maybe, to be honest, a bit more human. It’s silly, but to be candid I’ll confess that, for a brief, ridiculous, moment, I almost allowed myself to imagine that what I heard was “Look! A Bear!”
Did THEY call US bears?! This, of course, is too much to even contemplate. If those beasts had human language…. if they were really no different than us …why were we constantly at war? The consequences of such an interpretation are unimaginably grim, especially given our circumstances, steeping in the midst of such a wonderful culture as our own, the best the world has ever seen.
And, after all, they looked exactly like bears. Well, not exactly, maybe, a bit less hairy and, ok, less “animal” than I had imagined, and it was possible that I hadn’t remembered the taxonomy perfectly, but let’s be real – they were close enough, with their exposed and hairy chests and their open mouths, and, besides, I could FEEL their hostility and savagery, just as we were taught! So, what else could they have been?
I eventually fell asleep. Nightmares fixated on the chaos of the sound as I tried to remember it, but I watched as it slowly changed, and all ambiguities resolved into the smoothness of distinctly human voices, questioning me for not recognizing their true nature sooner, even as they accessed information in my own mind at their will, and viewed me from the inside, narrating my limitations as a human being. I woke up to the sounds of my own screams.
In the morning we went outside to feed the animals as usual, and it was already blindingly bright and humid as usual but I could feel that something was different. Walking downhill along the path of the stone wall, we could see that the cement between two giant boulders had crumbled away overnight, and there was a small hole, about a meter off the ground.
You looked at me, as if to ask what you should do. But you knew what to do. You always do.