Tale #43: The Girl In The Bear

In the lands far from here, a forest. In the forest, a cave. In the cave, a bear. In the bear, a girl. In the girl, a heart, and in the dark, it beat, beat, beat.

The bear slept. The girl crept and wriggled and squirmed her way through the bear. She pulled herself up with her hands and pushed herself forward with desperate kicks of her feet, until finally she found herself inside the sleeping bear’s mouth, and almost free.

With a final heave of strength she pushed apart the bear’s jaws and stood there defiant in the great beast’s mouth.

And then, overcome with weariness, she tumbled forward out of the bear and into the dirt and fell asleep against the warmth of the bear’s belly. And all through the night in her dreams she heard the beat, beat, beat of the bear’s huge heart.

In the morning the bear awoke and looked at the tiny thing sleeping beside her, a shapeless lump of gristle and bone, covered head to foot in muck and filth.

And the bear licked the dirt and the blood from the girl’s head and from the girl’s body and watched in wonder as beneath the slow rasps of her tongue her new child began to take shape.

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1. Written between July and November 2016
2. The title comes from the wonderful David Hockney illustration The Boy Hidden In A Fish, which I’d misremembered as The Boy in The Fish
3. The bear licking the girl into shape comes from, well, bears licking their children into shape, in medieval bestiaries

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Tale #42: The Bear In The Cage

In a town not far from here they keep a cage in the town square and in the cage the people of the town keep a bear.

Once, perhaps, the bear may have amused the townsfolk, but now? Now they had jobs to go to, places to be, lives to live and loves to love. They had no need for the bear, had no time for idling by and watching this great beast sleep through the day and through the night and through the whole of the winter and into the spring.

The people certainly had no time to wonder the rights and the wrongs of keeping a bear in a cage in the town square. And anyway it had always been there, or one just like it had.

One day a girl came wandering through the town. She was an orphan and free to go wherever she pleased, but always on her own. It was a beautiful spring day and the girl watched the bear as it roused itself from its exceptional slumbers, and as the sun went down and the square emptied itself of people, she approached the cage, ran her hands up and down the bars, and said to the bear, “Are you lonely?”

The bear thought for a while, and said, “I’m not lonely. I’m trapped.”

The girl said, “If I let you out, where would you go?”

The bear said, “Away, away. It would not matter where, as long as I was free.”

The girl said, “If I set you free, would you take me with you?”

The bear said, “Where would you want me to take you?”

“Away, away. It would not matter where, as long as I was not alone,” the girl said. “Will you take me?”

The bear nodded. The girl opened up the gates of the cage (she had learnt a great many things in her time as an orphan, and opening locks was but one of them) and out of the prison the bear stepped. The girl held out her hand to the bear, and the bear licked it.

“Shall we go?” said the girl.

“Okay,” said the bear, and it opened its mouth wide and in one bite swallowed the girl whole. And then out of the square the bear ran, out of the town, away, away, away.

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Notes:

1. Written between July and November 2016

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Tale #41: (fragment)

They killed our mothers and they killed our fathers and they killed most of our friends and most of their families too. And they burnt down our houses and they burnt down our churches and threw our books into the flames and our clothes and our paintings and our photos and they would have thrown our memories in too if they could. They loaded up their trucks with our money and our food and even our dogs, even our cats. And as they drove off through the smoke with the last of our things, they shouted out to us that now, finally, we were fortunate and free.

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Notes:

1. Written August 2016

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Tale #40: Methods of Torture, Methods of Death (extract)

[A man] so condemned would be taken to the edge of the bamboo forest and laid down upon the ground and shackled there so he could not move. Every day, maids from the village would wash and clean his body, and feed him and give him water from the lake.


When spring came the new growths of bamboo would rise up from the earth and push their way through his body. At the end of the summer his shackles would be cut, the maids would cease to feed him, and he was free to go.

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1. Written July 15th, 2015

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Tale #39: The town, the forest, the past

The forest was a perfect history of the town. The founding mothers (who the fathers were we cannot say) each planted a tree for themselves in the centre of a field, in the form of a circle. They planted a tree for each of their children on the occasions of their births, which in time formed a second circle. And later there grew a third circle for their children, and a fourth for theirs, and so on, until today, until tomorrow.

A child’s tree is planted in sight of their mother’s (as far as space allows) and in this way, for any person alive today, you can follow their motherly line all the way back to the centre, all the way back to the beginning.

When someone dies, the roots of the tree are poisoned. The bark is stripped from its bones, and their likeness carved into the dead wood beneath. Likewise, when a living person’s tree dies, they are poisoned. The flesh is stripped from their bones and their skeleton is arranged outside their home in the form of a tree.

It is said if you walk in the woods on a fog-thick night you can speak to every one.

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Notes:

1. Written October 2014

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