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.
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