An empty bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade rattled against the bars to Mr. Bear’s prison cell. The deceptively cuddly brown bear awoke with a start and with winced eyes steadily advanced towards the click click click clack of the bottle. Once within arms’ reach he reached out to grab the bottle but as his claw brushed against the dusty glass, a white hand slunk out from the shadows and ran its arched fingers through his blood matted finger.
The hand was cold but quickly warmed up in his grasp.
“Um,” Mr. Bear sniveled. “Hi Mysterious Figure. I’m Mr. Bear and I’m so happy that I have decided to retire as King of the Forest and — ”
“Can it Bear,” the figure rasped. “I’m springin’ ya from the slammer.”
Mr. Bear arched an eyebrow and threw his monstrous paws to his girlish hips. “Why I was intending on getting out on good behavior! I don’t know if I like you very much stranger.”
“Fuck off Bear, it took me a dog’s age to get down here.”
The figure shimmied into the moonlight and let go of Mr. Bear’s paw as soon as her eyes met his. Her summer dress was ragged, blond hair tied back in a messy knot, the strands lopsided along her round cheekbones, and her blue eyes were almost too wide to be mortal. A smile twitched at the corner of her white whips before she dropped a knee and pulled a saw from her backpack.
“It’s gonna take a second to bust ya loose though, Bear,” she croaked, her voice falling into the deep regret of a chain smoker.
“Ugh. Katrina, that accent is so put-on.” Mr. Bear groaned. “You sound like a straight up, no good crook!”
“Yeah well you’re a murdaher, Bear,” Katrina Jagelski cackled as her rusty saw slipped between the bars.
“Yes,” Mr. Bear was exacerbated as he always was around this young trans woman whom for whatever reason was quite taken by him. Despite his dumbassery. “And it was proven in court of law. I really don’t see why you’re still here. I plead guilty for a reason, Kat.”
“I know,” Katrina grunted. “Don’t mean diddly donk. I’m gonna save ya Bear.”
“That’s touching but please — stop,” Mr. Bear grabbed the bars and poked his dumb bear head between them, looking down on the small figure of this handy creature. “I did the crime so now I must do the time.” At this, Mr. Bear licked his paw with inspiration, for he figured himself something of a genius. Rhyming crime with time? Look what inspiration hath been wrought by his time in solitude!
“That’s no original thought of yours, Bear,” Katrina shook her head to the pippity pop pop of a cell bar. She wiggled it loose and stuffed it into her backpack.
“Oh, well that makes me feel a touch of sadness,” Mr. Bear admitted.
“I’m just having my fun is all,” Katrina rasped. “I been tryna spring ya for three months, Bear. Why — I haven’t gotten to be so rude to a good friend in some time.”
Mr. Bear understood this notion, which was unusual for him because he was very stupid, and he slid his horrible apocalyptic paws down to Katrina’s level. For a moment, the two matched forlorn looks from beady eyes. Mr. Bear opened his annoying maw to speak but was interrupted by the clattering of the second bar.
Katrina’s hands lashed at the bar and pinned it against the wet, stone floor before it could raise more of a ruckus. “Shit,” she muttered. “Bear, that noise is bad news for us.”
“Katrina, why do you insist on calling me Bear?” Mr. Bear asked dumbly as Katrina’s bones mechanically slid into each other one by one like a slinky. She cracked her neck and looked at Mr. Bear with the utmost severity. Frustrated, Mr. Bear cried out. “It’s Mister Bear!”
“I knew you before you was a Mister now can it, Bear,” Katrina quickly hacked a lung and hunched against the wall, her free hand splayed against wet stone. Mr. Bear looked to her pale hand and spotted a trickle of crimson crawling out from her rumpled brown jacket.
“Ye Gods Katrina! You’re bleeding — ”
“It’s laundry detergent.”
“….you’re gonna stick with that?”
“ — yes.”
Mr. Bear shook his head. “Why would laundry detergent 1.) Be on your arm in such an abhorrent fashion. 2.) Be crimson.”
Katrina growled and shoved her hand in Mr. Bear’s face, counting off her answers. “1.) I been trying to get ya outta here using da laundry chute for three months. 2.) Laundry detergent can be crimson, boyo. What brand ya buyin’?”
Mr. Bear went cross eyed at Katrina’s two digits. “Uh — I don’t know, I don’t really think about brands when I purchase detergent.”
“Me too Bear.”
Katrina was once again facing away from him, marching down the dark corridor with the trust that he would be there. So he followed. For what else was there to do other than sit in a corner and think of other words that could rhyme with time and crime — rhyme!
Rhyme rhymes with time! And crime!
“Katrina, I just had a breakthrough — ” Mr. Bear blurted.
“ — so that’s why it took three months. It was hard but I’m happy to be here with you.”
Katrina’s voice was hushed and soft. Fragile. Mr. Bear’s eyes narrowed. “Kat, I totes just did that thing where I space out when you’re talking. How long were you talking?”
“Uh,” she drawled, voice briefly peaking from nerves. “Like twenty minutes I guess. It was a whole thing.”
“Shit,” Mr. Bear frowned. “Sorry, I’m just really, really stupid I guess.”
“True dat,” Katrina echoed hoarsely. “Wait.” She sniffed. “They’re here. The guys I was telling you about.”
“Guys? Methinks we were talking about laundry detergent! Keep with it, Katrina.”
Katrina’s thin lips folded into an ugly sneer and she pulled her jacket closer. “Don’t say methinks. It makes you sound stup—oh fuck.”
Mr. Bear’s maw fell into the frown he had been trying to lift his lips away from this whole time. Facing them was a gallery of ghastly spirits, all of them the murdahed prey that landed Mr. Bear in the slammer. While Katrina readied herself for combat, Mr. Bear itched his chin, wondering how this could be.
“This doesn’t make sense,” Mr. Bear concluded. “I ate all of these people and pooped them into their graves. They should at least smell but my nose don’t detect nary a fecal odor.”
Katrina shook her head and protectively flicked a steel bar before her, legs bobbing up and down with the steady rhythm of battle. She licked her lips. “Dis was what I was tryna tell ya, Bear. Deez goons had been tailing me ever since I decided to break you out. ‘Ere. Take dis.” She expectantly held one of the cleaved off bars over her back.
“I don’t need this weapon, Katrina,” Mr. Bear pushed the metal away. “I got me’ paws! They’re quite adept at killing.”
“I’d rather not think about that aspect of your life, Bear,” Katrina growled
Mr. Bear blinked and looked down at this young trans girl whom for whatever reason had sworn herself in as his guardian. His mouth dry, he stepped into the moonlight besides Katrina, meekly snatching the iron bar, his bristling brown hairs revealing their gray and red tips. “Kat….”
“Don’t fret Bear. I think I can handle the likes of Mr. Stag — ”
Mr. Stag up at front snorted and straightened his tie.
“ — who confronted you in your lawn on the day that started it all.” Katrina asked.
“Yes,” Mr. Bear and Mr. Stag said together.
“Today Mr. Bear,” Mr. Stag threw his hands into the air. “I bring you the bereaved.”
Thirty or so woodland creatures in neighborly outfits stepped forth —
“ — who were all coulda shoulda woulda witnesses to the murdah.”
Mr. Bear grabbed Katrina by the shoulder and snapped her out of her recitations. “Kat, this is my fight, let me — ”
“Bear, stop,” Katrina pulled away as Mr. Stag sniggered. “Mr. Stag already thinks less of me.”
“Your friend is quite doting, Bear. Mayhaps you suckle at her breast every eve?” Mr. Stag cackled and Mr. Bear felt Katrina squeeze his hand.
He squeezed back and she quickly let go.
Still cackling, Mr. Stag waved his hands with great flourish and the crowd of assailants briefly parted for two figures to step forward. Katrina raised an eyebrow; she didn’t recognize these combatants. One was a gigantic blue elephant —
“ — who has Dr. Manhattan powers,” Mr. Bear cried out.
The elephant grinned from tusk to tusk and lifted his trunk to reveal a little blue penis dangling above his maw like mistletoe.
“It’s him and only him that I killed for the greater good,” Mr. Bear explained.
At that, a girl in a flowery dress and hairband with ribbon stepped forth and —
“GLADYS?!” Katrina shrieked. “Wait — Bear, did you kill Gladys?”
Mr. Bear immediately blushed so much that he practically glowed.
“Uh — it was that blind date you set me up on at Thanksgiving dinner. After you left.”
“Bear if you didn’t like her I wouldn’t have left early and everything — ”
“I know, I know, totes my bad — ”
“ — shit!”
“ — yep.”
During this whole comedy of errors, even both ghastly ghouls had uprooted themselves from the pits of Hell, their dead eyes burrowing into the very soul of Mr. Bear.
“Katrina, you need to go,” Mr. Bear said with the cadence of a wise man who had taken to meditating on mountains. “Why do you think the shadows of my past keep attacking you?”
Katrina’s shoulders tensed. “Probably because you are a gluttonous murdaher with a fat shadow.”
Mr. Bear swallowed a lump in his throat as another member of the Pooped-Outta-Mr.-Bear Club sprouted. “These are bits Kat. We’re doing a bit.”
“ — yeah.”
Mr. Stag chuckled to himself.
“We can’t do bits forever,” Mr. Bear’s fingers twitched at his palms. “I may be comically inept and something of a Forrest Gump in how many dilemmas I wander into — but — remember when I rhymed crime and time earlier? Which was clever I might add — ”
Katrina blinked as did Mr. Stag; yet another morsel from Mr. Bear’s slaughterhouse spawned.
“I mean — it wasn’t!” Mr. Bear tried to wave it off. “It was a gag! A bit! The essence of my character enscribed in a li’l joke between friends but look where that has brought us.”
Katrina pivoted to look over at the gallery of admittedly silly baddies; we didn’t even get to talking about Mrs. Carpool who tends to drive solo in the HOV lane. She frowned and didn’t turn back.
Mr. Bear stepped back into shadow. “They may be my murdahs but they’re not my phantoms. Ow could they be? I’m fiction.”
Katrina shut her eyes tight and rolled a fist across her cheek. “I know that Mr. Bear.”
“So let us go and tend to your wounds. Remind me again — ” He lurched forward and raised Katrina’s wounded arm into the air. Her rumpled sleeve fell back to her elbow and his talons scraped across her scabs. “ — what is this crimson?”
Katrina didn’t open her eyes for some time for she could hear the screeching turns of Mrs. Carpool veering in and out of the HOV lane all on her lonesome. When finally even that had passed she snapped awake and found herself brandishing the same crimson in the same place
“Oy!” someone shouted off in the distance.
Katrina glanced up and winced at the dancing light bobbing up and down before her. A brutish hand reached out from the white and dragged her in by the forearm.
A white gloved prison guard leered down at her. “You best not be the laundry chute girl, lass.”
A dark smile pushed away the forlorn cold and a spark erupted in her still eyes; it was laundry detergent after all.
This is from my most recent newsletter. I’m on Tinyletter and every once in a while I post an update with an original fiction story loosely based on what I’ve been publishing lately.