Bear Hug

George had raised bears his whole life, but this one was different. He never named the bears actual names – this one was called 15767, or “15” for short. The numbers were some arcane blend of the birthdate, breed, and sex of the bear, a special code that made sense only to George and the people who worked for him.

15 was trying to kill George, but to the photographer it looked like playing. At first George thought 15 was playing too, but he quickly realized things have gone south when 15 started bouncing up and down on his head. This wasn’t a game anymore, but he couldn’t let on to the photographer. Not only was his pride in jeopardy, his entire career was on the line.

The photographer was there for the ad campaign for his business – Bear Protection Services. He needed to get more people to buy his trained bears for their home protection. “Have a bear outside? No burglars inside!” was their motto. The idea was that you’d get a bear to prowl around your property and it would maul anybody who tried to get into your house without your permission. There was a month-long acclimatization period to get the bear to recognize the homeowner and his family. It wouldn’t do to have one of George’s bears kill a client.

But that was exactly what was happening right now. George was getting mauled. The bear was using every move he’d reinforced. It wasn’t like you could teach a bear to do anything that wasn’t in its nature. You just used the parts of its nature that benefited you and reinforce them with treats. But that was part of the trouble. You couldn’t get a bear to stop doing something you didn’t want him to do. Yelling at it or hitting it on the nose just made it angry, and an angry bear was an unpredictable bear.

15 was very angry right now; George could see it in his eyes. They were darker than normal, with no catchlight. It was as if the light had gone out of his soul. Not like there had been a lot of light in this bear to begin with. His temperament was what made him interesting to George. But that very temperament might mean his death.

Fortunately George had years of martial arts training and even more years of backalley brawls behind him. He knew how to kick out from under an attacker, even one who outweighed him by at least 300 pounds. Of course, the first rule was never to let your opponent put you in such a position in the first place, but sometimes that couldn’t be helped. He had planned to let the bear pretend to maul him as an example of what the company’s trained bears could do for their clients. It all started off well. But then everything shifted and got real, very fast.

Now, 15 wasn’t exactly the friendliest bear George had ever worked with. It was a hard balance to work out. Too friendly and the bear wouldn’t attack the assailant. Too mean and he attacked the family. The sweet spot was somewhere in the middle, but that was difficult to gauge with bears. It wasn’t like you could put them through the Myers-Briggs or the Enneagram. George had found some small success in going by the bear’s horoscope, but he never told that to clients. He had a reputation to uphold.

He finally managed to get out from under the bear thanks to a streetfighting move he’d learned in Pittsburgh. If that hadn’t worked he would have resorted to putting his fist in the bear’s mouth to make it gag. He didn’t want to do that in sight of the photographer for fear of seeming to abuse it, but he was desperate. It wouldn’t do to let the bear win this fight, or else it would have been the end of his business, and of George.

(Written 11/5/19)