Animal Trails (I Begin To Pack My Bags)

Lake Ontario in the morning and three days until departure. I followed an animal trail and ended up in a hidden clearing and something about it reminded me of the kind of place that, as a child, I longed to be. There were large alien seedpods protruding from spindly, brittle stalks. They were soft and velvety and wet with dew. I pulled one apart in my hands and drew out the white downy insides and tried to cast them into the wind, but there wasn’t even a breeze and the seeds fell like a clump of fur into the grass.

Last night I had a strange dream. Approaching me with an apprehensive smile, my mother proudly confided that together, my family had killed a grizzly bear. She showed me the carcass – a giant, beautiful animal with glossy fur. They had been forced to take its life, or lose their own. “We had to fire a lot of shots to make sure it was dead,” she elaborated. “We’re going to split the meat into two. It’s a lot of food.” I looked down at the beast, the overwhelming girth of its body splayed on the floor. I didn’t really know what to think.

My mother was happy and her eyes were sparkling. She told me that to include me in the event (since I hadn’t been there for the killing, after all), the family had decided to make a gift of the animal’s pelt. If I wanted it, I could keep the fur, as I would surely make better use of it than anyone else. Hesitantly, I agreed, sensing how badly she wanted me to accept – yet as I stared in bewilderment at the bear, I noticed its head move a little, its shoulders shift. “Are you sure it’s dead?” I asked. “Is this like a dead fish, how it’s still moving?”

As I continued to observe the bear in secret, I grew increasingly certain of two things: that it was still alive, and that it wasn’t a normal bear. I noticed Bee, a young and very pregnant healer, watching it too, tense and alert, sneaking into the room when she thought she was alone, tending to it. She would caress it, muttering softly, pouring water into its mouth. With time – peering secretly through the crack in the door – I watched as the bear rose, with Bee’s help, and slowly morphed into a man.

In human form, he was so sick and exhausted he could barely stand, and half-collapsed into Bee’s arms for support. Tiny as she was and belly huge with child, she struggled under his weight, helping him into a chair. I could see his shoulders shake with grief as he sat down. From Bee’s carefully whispered comfort, it dawned on me that he was suffering from the pain of separation, torn from his human lover by the true nature of his being. Not Bee – looking tired but relieved to have nursed him past the point of shape-shifting – someone else. Someone not here.

With a shuddering sigh, the man fell to the floor, transforming rapidly into that mass of brown fur. The chair rolled onto the ground. I felt the warmth of Bee’s healing, hot and electric in the air, as she gazed down in defeated resignation.

Then I woke up. I could smell snow in the air and the liquidity of the lake surrounding the island was growing more and more profound by the minute. I began to pack my bags.

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