Aiden’s neck was all out of whack. His arm felt wonky, too. He must have slept wrong. He sat up and bent his neck to the side. It cracked like a twig snapping in two. “That was a good one,” he said, his voice echoing within the cave. A shadow passed by the entrance. Aiden stood up to see if it was the bear. It was, and it had a surprise wiggling in its mouth—a fish.
“You found another fishy, bear?” Aiden clapped his hands together. “Good for you!”
The bear plopped the fish near Aiden’s feet. The slimy thing writhed around on the rock, trying to find the nearest puddle to catch its breath. The bear sunk its claws into the fish. It did not move after that. Aiden was sad for the fish to go that way, but he also understood that the bear needed to eat.
“Looks yummy,” he said. “Go ahead, eat!”
But the bear did not eat. It stared at Aiden, waiting. Perhaps, it wanted him to eat the fish. Aiden had eaten fish a couple of times in his life—fish sticks from Meijer and half of a fish sandwich from Long John Silvers that he split with his mom. He was not too fond of the taste, but the smothering of tartar sauce over the breading helped. This, though … this was hardly comparable. This was still slimy and raw. He did not know if it was ok to eat it like that. He did not want to get sick before heading back into the woods to find the Good People.
The bear grew impatient and pushed the fish over to Aiden’s feet with its nose. Aiden picked up the fish, unintentionally locking eyes with it. Its mouth agape and dead eyes made him want to gag. He rubbed his thumb over the bottom of the fish. Gooey was the first word that came to mind. He was not sure if he was supposed to bite into the skin or cut it off first. But with what? There was not any silverware nearby.
“I don’t want it.” He tried to hand the fish to the bear.
The bear pointed its head to the sky and let out a loud growl, letting the entire forest know that it was displeased with Aiden’s lack of gratitude.
“Ok. Ok. I’ll do it.” Aiden closed his eyes and brought the fish up to his mouth. He bit into the bottom, pulling off a small piece of flesh with his teeth.
It was awful!
He spit it out and dropped the fish onto the ground. “Ca-ca! Ca-ca!” He pulled up his shirt and started licking the fabric, trying to erase the fish taste that coated his tongue. “Nasties! Nasties!” He did a little dance, stomping his feet and flailing his arms. He thought about drinking the water from one of the nearby rainwater pools, but decided that was a bad idea.
The bear did not have time for Aiden’s bellyaching. It leaped forward and swallowed the fish whole.
“How can you eat that?” Aiden said. “How can you, bear?” His stomach growled, desperate for something to fulfill his hunger.
Aiden and the bear began walking through the woods again. Aiden’s feet squished after each step. The forest floor was a wet carpet beneath his feet. There was a dense humidity in the air that was making him sweat. His shirt was getting itchy and he took it off and tied it around his waist. He started singing nonsense songs, lullabies about the trees and the squirrels and all the things in the world that made him smile. The bear did not join in on the singing, but Aiden liked to pretend that deep down inside, it was humming along.
“Mommy, oh mommy, I love you so. We do things together and it is so fun. We go on a hike and we go swimming. Mommy, I love you so.”
He found another stick to guide him and sliced down every fern and thorn bush that dare block his path. Dead trees were toast. He whacked them and pushed them over, singing, “Watch me, mommy, cut through the trees. Watch me, mommy, I am the best!”
There was a small clearing ahead with a large tree in the center. Green ornaments hung from the branches. Aiden rushed forward and threw up his hands in celebration.
The tree was stuffed with them. He picked the biggest one he could reach and took a bite. It was delicious.
“Oh, bear, you got to try one!” He picked another and fed it to the bear. “Have another.” He fed the bear another.
Aiden had a total of four pears before his stomach tightened up.