Aiden could not believe how big the forest was. It was not just full of trees. There were ravines and streams and rocks, too. Lots of rocks. Aiden enjoyed climbing over the first few, but it was beginning to get taxing. The bear was much better than him at it.
“Your fur jiggles,” Aiden said to the bear as it climbed over a rock. This was not an insult, but an observation. He was at the age of Verbal Assertation. His opinions were not kept quiet; his basic observations were not kept to himself. Every object or animal he saw was automatically classified as a mister. Mr. Tree. Mr. Bush. Mr. Scary Looking Thing That Squirms In the Dirt. Honesty was at the core of every conversation. If there was a wide tree in front of his path, it was ‘a fat tree’. If there were two squirrels climbing a branch together, they were ‘in love’. And if it ever rained, well, God help him, that was ‘Jesus’s pee’.
The bear, however, was different. It was not Mr. Bear, or sir bear, or ‘big fluffy’. It was just bear. That was the name Aiden had given it, and that was the name the bear answered to. It was not a he or she, a what or a who—it was simply bear.
“How long have you lived here, bear?” Aiden asked.
The bear was walking extra slow after crawling over the rocks. Aiden wanted to go faster, but he dare not be rude to the bear.
“Long time, huh. I thought so. Want to guess how old I am?” Aiden got in front of the bear and walked backward, holding up his left hand. “Five. Do you how to count to five?”
The bear kept its gaze forward.
“Come on, it’s easy. I’ll show you.” Aiden made a fist, then started to count, holding up the correct amount of fingers until he got to five. “Do you want to try?”
The bear mumbled.
“No? Why no try?” Aiden could see that the bear was not interested in counting to five, so he turned back around. He started to tell the bear about his mom, about the adventures they had together, and the adventures he had playing alone with his toys. He wanted to tell the bear about the accident, but it felt better to think about the things before, the things that mattered most in life.
“Want to hear something really cool?” he said, making sure to elongate really like a trombonist going from position one to seven. He picked up a long stick and used it as a cane. “Last year, I got to go to Disney World, and there was this one part that is full of bears. They are bears like you, real and everything, only did you know that these bears can sing and play music too? I didn’t know that bears could do that, but these ones did. I can’t remember all the songs, but one of them went like this.” Aiden began singing and hee-hawing his way through a country song, butchering the thing to no end. If there had been any animals nearby at the time, they would have covered their ears and retreated. “How come you don’t play any music? Did your mom never teach you?”
Aiden’s legs were on fire and he wanted to rest. An idea popped into his head, a dangerous thought that he did not want to think about too much before realizing how foolish it was. He got close to the bear, and in one motion, climbed on its back. The bear stopped and let out a loud growl. Aiden thought it was going to buck him off. He used his hands to grip tufts in the bear’s fur.
“Tally-ho, bear!” Aiden shouted, pointing his stick forward. “Tally-tally-ho!”
The bear started to walk. He felt like he was on a carnival ride. “This is fun!”
The trees started to whistle. The wind was picking up. A storm was coming. They needed to find shelter.