Deep in the forest, the bear slumbered. It was close to spring, but the smell of the earth waking up hadn’t come to his nose yet. His eyes were still closed, his breathing rumbled evenly. He was not yet scheduled to rouse.
Outside his den, the lights flickered, waiting for him to catch the scent. They tried to flicker by day, so as not to catch any unwanted attention. It was, after all, the bear they were here to collect and only the bear.
One day a fox meandered closer than before, her nose to the air, sniffing. She caught the sweet smell and followed it, but the lights stopped flickering, and seemed to disappear right there in daylight. The fox lost the scent and returned to her own hunt – the rabbit hidden in the garden – to feed her own cubs.
Struggling to hold in their luminous wonder, the lights finally allowed themselves brief flickers again, for their own sanity. They attracted no more attention that day, nor for the next few days.
At last the rains came. They started off softly, gently nudging the earth’s ground awake. The air filled with the scents of soil, leaves and the bugs that had recently returned to the surface.
The bear stirred.
Then he rolled over and went back to sleep. This time the rains fell harder. The sky crackled with electricity as thunder and lightening permeated and the air became much more humid. The clouds rolled in low, leaving behind morning fog as thick as icing on a professionally designed cake. The bear stirred again.
This time, the bear sniffed cautiously in the wind. He caught scent of the lights, their sweetness, and he opened one eye. Seeing nothing, he sniffed again. The scent was there. And it was enticing. But he wasn’t quite ready, just yet.
Instead he snorted, expelling the sweetness from his nostrils and rolled away from the den’s opening. There he closed his eyes and went back to sleep.
The lights flickered outside the den, daring each other to go inside and rouse the bear. He had slept long enough, and his time was now. He needed to come. And the only way to get him to do that, was to wake him up.
Once they agreed, the lights entered the damp den. The bear’s breathing was now laced with the humidity of spring. His wet, sticky tongue hung out of his slightly open mouth and wobbled with every breath. The lights danced dangerously close.
The bear snorted. He pawed at his own nose, in an effort to banish the smell. Finally sick of smelling the sweetness, and longing for a taste of… something, he opened his eyes. With a grunt, he realized his den was no longer empty. Before him, the lights flickered together, the shape that startled the bear to backing out of his den.
He raised his head high up into the air, standing on his hind legs, hoping to get a clear breath full of springtime air. Instead the lights flickered nearby and all he could smell was their sweetness. They lined a path, and he started to amble down it, afraid to cross their trail.
The bear moved faster, hoping to lose the lights behind, but there were always more of them, lining the edges. Realizing the futility of his actions, he slowed, lumbering while squishing his feet in the damp earth. He stopped now and then to nuzzle some of his favorite flowers, or scratch his stiff back on a big enough tree.
When the tower came into sight, he thought about crossing the light path. He stopped, but the lights eagerly flickered, pushing him forward. A part of him remembered this place, from memories that seemed to happen in another time. In his memories a young man with shiny golden hair stroked his young fur. Shaking his head he plodded along, stealing glances at the tower’s astonishing heights.
The lights continued to flicker. Then they disappeared from his sides and formed a circle close to the tower’s main door. The bear stopped.
The lights began to spin in a circle, growing larger, and larger. They seemed to fuse together, and spin together and the bear watched with open eyes.
The clouds moved in, and still the lights circled. There was a loud thunderclap which echoed off the tower’s stone, and the bear jumped back instinctively. When he raised his head again, he was looking at a young girl.
She wore a white dress, with pink shoes and curly blond hair. Her smile was crooked though, and her eyes gleamed devilishly. She put her hand out for the bear to come nuzzle his fur in, and although every particle of his being balked at the idea, his feet moved forward.
She gently stroked his fur and whispered, “It is good to see you my old friend. I have missed you.”
The bear looked up at her, his black eyes reflecting the confusion in hers. “I know I have changed. I am no longer the man you’d recognize. But it is still me, my friend. Only I have something extra, I know. I have the devil inside me.”
The bear trembled slightly underneath this young girl’s outstretched arm. The girl grinned. “Together you and I can be the predators we need to be,” she whispered. “We can kill the bad, and decide about the good. If there is any good left. There’s no more innocence, that’s for sure.”
The bear snorted. The scent was becoming heavier now. He suddenly recognized it as the stench of death. The sticky sweetness of fresh blood spilled.
He tried to back away, but found his feet rooted to the spot. “Who do you want to be?” she whispered.
Within seconds he felt heat searing through his body. Followed by pain, he let out a bellow he was sure would be heard two towns away. His bones crackled, his fur fell away. When he could once again stand, the little girl let out a belly laugh.
“You wanted to be me?” She laughed again, this time even harder. “With all your power, your prowess, and your strength you wanted to be nothing but a man with a kind heart. What kind of predator are you?”
The bear, who was now the blond man from his memory, opened his mouth for the first time to speak. The words circled his mind, but his heart stepped in and took the lead. “I’m the kind of predator that takes only what is needed for survival and leaves the rest. I am no predator.”
She laughed again. “Then you shall be of no use to me.”