Hewlitt was a bear. But nobody knew.
Not his beloved wife, Ursula (Major Ursula, to those under her command. ) Not his kids. Ben (who was sweet and gentle) and Adam (who loved anything with enough grisly violence in it). Not any of his employees at the Bachelor Sign Company (their motto : “Your Sign Is Our Sign… of quality! ). Not even his parents, Large Marge and Big Bob Hewlitt (names feared by buffet owners statewide).
No. nobody knew. Because Hewlitt (who had a first name, but nobody used it) had learned at a very young and tender age that when you turned into a bear in the middle of recess because someone smooshed your sand castle, you were rejected by your peers pretty hard.
And by your teachers. And the police. And animal control. And, ultimately, seven difference zoos, three traveling freak shows, and very odd man named Neville.
“Something are too weird even for me. ” Neville had said right before closing the door in the animal control officer’s face.
If he hadn’t figured out how to change back and thus slip his bonds and escape his captors, Hewlitt might have lived out his life in that cage.
But instead, Hewlitt saw a “MISSING” poster with his face on it. So all he had to do to get home was to wait till someone was looking at the poster then wander out of the woods looking dirty and confused (not hard, as he was both) and people couldn’t wait to take him home.
And take lots of pictures. For a few days, he was a star. And he really liked that. It was a lot of fun. Everyone was super nice to him, he got to me on local TV talk shows, and he even got his picture taken with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who was in town to shoot a movie about a big city cop whose new partner was a raccoon, and who possibly mistook Hewlitt for a Make-A-Wish kid.
After a couple of days, everyone forgot about him to go chase after a lady whose cat could yodel, and that was nice too, because by then, Hewlitt was tired of all the attention and just wanted to go home and be a kid again.
But he had learned his lesson, and from then on, he never got angry again. Instead, he channeled his energies into being the funny fat kid everyone loved, and when something made him mad, all he had to do was remember that cage and he could squash it all down inside himself and everything was okay again.
And now, it was his 50th birthday, and he was at his “surprise” party (like he couldn’t smell the cake and ice cream from a block away) and he was happy.
He looked around the local Honeycomb Lodge’s meeting hall and thought about all the people who had come to wish him a happy birthday. There was the wife and kids, sitting there on the stage with him, along with his parents and a random assortment of cousins. The front row was filled with his “other family”, which is what he liked to call his employees, all ten of them. And there were the three Lodge members who were “monitoring” the event, or as much of it they could still see after all the liquor they were drinking. Hewlitt didn’t know their names but he’d seen them around. And there was a half dozen people Hewlitt didn’t know. But they were probably just people under Ursula’s command who he hadn’t met yet – or more like, had met and then forgot.
Hewlitt had a lot of good qualities, but remembering names and faces was not amongst them. That’s why he called everybody “buddy” or “dear” or “Miss” or “my friend. ”
It was an old trick, but it worked.
Hewlitt looked out over it all and was a very happy man. This was what life was about, he thought to himself. Family. Friends. A place in the community. The respect of your peers. And god damn it, love. Love for and love from. That’s all that really mattered.
This happy thought sustained Hewlitt for a while as he sat there, content to let the music and the happy hubbub of the festivities wash over him as he sank into a happy, though-free reverie which was the product of a life well lived.
The half-dozen beers and three glasses of that green punch (Lime Something? Something LIme?) Linda his account made might have helped a little too.
It was during this honeyed moment that Hewlitt’s gaze happened to drift upwards towards the hall’s ceiling, and that’s when he noticed the “decorations” someone had hung on the edges of the rafters up there.
Hunting trophies. Bear heads, specifically. There had to be at least a dozen of them up there. And they were the real thing, not the fake ones the tourists liked.
He could always tell.
The thought of all those poor innocent bears and their humiliating fates dropped into Hewlitt’s good mood like a turd into a punchbowl, and now he was angry.
Why did people have to DO that? he thought. Go traipsing out into the wilderness just to take the life of some innocent animal who’d never done them a lick of harm and then act like they were big tough men for doing it? What kind of sick son of bitch thought killing a live animal just living its life just for the hell of it was “fun”? Some wonderfuil goddamned people we got in this country.
And for that matter, who the hell put them up there for me to see? What kind of mental malfunction caused someone to look at the guy who has bears on his bumper stickers, a bear on his license plate cover, a bear keychain, bear wallet, and three different bear T-shirts (of the ones his life would let him wear, anyhow), plus a huge goddamned bear on his leather jacket, and thinks “You know what this guy wants to see? The decapitated heads of his favorite animal!”.
Guess I should just be glad this wasn’t a baby shower, thought Hewlitt darkly.
Then Hewlitt’s ears twitched as something about the conversation betwen the three Lodge guys who were standing in front of the stage caught his attention.
Did he just hear the word “bear”?
“Yeah, it was a bear all right. ” said the old one. “Big sucker. A sow. Just laying on her back in the sun, legs all splayed out, pretty as a peach. ”
Hewliit blinked away the red haze rising in his eyes.
“Wow. ” said the younger one. “That’s amazing, dad. ”
“Yeah, Dad. What did you do then? ” asked the youngest.
Hewlitt could hear his heart thudding faster in his chest and feel a prickling heat spreading over the back of his neck.
“Well what do you THINK I did? I lined up my shot… took my time doin it too, cause it was clear the dumb bitch wasn’t going anywhere… and then I pulled the trigger and BLAM! blew her goddamned brains right out of her skull. ”
The younger ones laughed.
“That must have been a sight to see. ” said one.
“Wish I’d been there to see that!” said the other.
“Yup. One shot and it was over. One second she was alive and the next bits of her skull were flying through the air. Happiest day of my life. ” said the old guy, with a chuckle.
Hewlitt’s mouth tasted like old coins and his breath burned in his nostrils.
“Is she one of the ones you brought here today, Dad? ” said the youngest.
The old guy gave the youngest a withering “you’re too dumb to be one of mine” look, and said “No, you idiot, because I blew that ugly old bitch’s head up. Kind of makes it hard to mount her head on a plaque. Numbskull. ”
“Of course, then we had to kill her cubs. ”
Hewlitt exploded up out of his chair, sending the card table flying and the folding chair clattering to the ground. The tingling heat all through his body told him what was about to happen, but he was too mad to stop it and too drunk to care.
“You fucking ANIMAL!” Hewlitt growled at the old man, every hair on his body bristling.
“You goddamned, fucking ANIMAL”. screamed Hewlitt in a half-strangled voice as his hairs turned into furs and grew rapidly into a thick, brown pelt.
“People like you who murder innocent animals who never did you any harm are worthless, degenerate pieces of SHIT who deserve to DIE! ” bellowed Hewlitt in a voice like a ten foot demon with a chest cold as his limbs thickened and his torso expanded and his clothes ripped and fell to the floor.
“You’re all a bunch of SICK. FUCKING. ANIMALS giving in to your urge to HUNT and MURDER like a bunch of… CAVE MEN!” said Hewlitt in a voice like the sawing of the world’s biggest log with the world’s longest saw as his mouth pushed forward into a snout and his hands and feet sprouted pads and claws.
“And if there’s one thing I can’t stand, ” said Hewlitt in a voice like a bear trying to talk, “it’s people who CAN’T CONTROL their ANIMAL INSTINCTS! ”
On the last word, the now ten foot Kodiak bear that was Hewlitt let out a mighty roar and slammed a shovel-sized paw into the nearest wall, sending drywall flying everywhere.
He then bolted out of the room and retreated into the darkness of his cave… or the closest thing too it, which happened to be Miss Clark’s sewing room in the basement.
Hewlitt, back to normal (or at least human), thought about all the different ways his life was over now as he crept up the stairs.
The thoughts were painful, but they distracted him from the pain in his tortured body, which currently felt like every cell was roasting over its own, individual BBQ pit.
H’ed never see his wife and kids again. That was for sure. He supposed Chris would end up running the business. Kid wasn’t too bright but he knew everything there was to know about signs. His kids would have to change schools and his mother and father would get kicked out of their country club.
As for his wife, well, he wasn’t too sure about what you had to do to get kicked out of the military these days, but he was pretty sure that “be married to Satan’s Fat Friend” was still on the books somewhere.
As he rounded the landing between the basement and the main floor, Hewiltt saw the water fountain there, and suddenly realized he was so thirsty he could feel it on a genetic level, so he stopped to take a drink there.
The water fountain was from a bygone era where people were smaller, and so Hewlitt had to bend over uncomfortably to use it. As he did so, a thousand red hot strings screamed through his muscles, and he groaned from the pain.
“Looks like you’re hurting pretty bad. ” said a voice.
Hewlitt was busy rediscovering the ecstacy of water as a beverage, so all he did was grunt in agreement.
“Let me see your eyes. ” said the voice.
This was such an odd request that Hewlitt looked up to see who was asking it.
It was the older son from the conversation earlier. Hewlitt stared at him, brain too sluggish to process what was happening.
The man smiled at him, and said “It’s always rough when you haven’t done it in a long time. But if you do it regular, you’ll find…. ”
The man changed smoothly from a man into a fluffy brown bear.
“…that it doesn’t have to hurt at all. ” he finished.
“Hi there Hewlitt. ” said the bear. “My name’s Markus. I am so glad that we finally found you. Now come on… there’s some people you need to meet. ”
“But…. but I’m naked!” said Hewlitt as Markus’ big brown paw gently turned him and propelled him in the direction of the main hall.
“Don’t worry. ” said Markus, with a big bass chuckle as they reached the door to the mail hall and he opened it. “So are they. Hey everybody, look who I found! It’s the birthday boy himself!”.
Hewlitt stumbled into the room after a gentle shove from Markus. And what he saw there stopped him cold.
The whole main hall was filled with bears. Full sized, real life bears. Bears of all kinds. There was a Kodiak sow, a pair of Bruins, a Lousiana Black Bear, a small family of Cinnamon Bears, a vast grinning Polar Bear, and even a Giant Panda, who was taking pictures with his phone.
Hewlitt felt Markus’ big brown paw on his shoulder, and looked up to the see the big brown bear smiling at him.
“We’re all bears here, Hew. Everyone one of us. This whole town is full of bears like us. I’m just sorry it took us so long to figure out you were one too. ” said Markus.
“But…. but how is this possible?” stammered Hewlitt.
“Well, we all knew about the kid who turned into a bear and ran away. ” said Markus. “The news stories got passed around and around until they turned into emails, then into a Facebook page, then into a Twitter feed, and right now, they are prominent displayed on our very own forum page. ”
Markus winked at Hewlitt. “Private, of course. ”
“Amazing. ” said Hewlitt dazedly.
“And let me tell you, my people looked high and low for that poor little bear. “said Markus, looking sad. “We searched the woods and the riverside and the old mine… anywhere we knew bears had been seen. And we were all so busy with that search that none of us paid attention to the news of a kid who was missing. And for that, on behalf of me and the others, we are truly, truly sorry. You were lost for a real long time, Hew… but now you’re home. ”
Markus made a sweeping gesture to the crowd of bears, and in a loud voice said “Welcome home, Hewliit! It is so good to have you back. Ain’t that right folks?”
The crowd responded with a chorus of growls, gruffs, roars, and hell-yeahs loud and enthusiastic so loud that it was a wonder that the roof stayed on.
Markus grinned that big bear grin down at Hewlitt and said “We sure would like you to join us, Hewlitt. There’s just one problem. ”
“What’s that? ” said Hewlity.
“You’re a little overdressed for the occasion. ” said Markus with a twinkle in his eye.
Hewlitt looked down at his naked body in confusion, then broke into a great big smile when he got the joke. With a grunt, Hewlitt shifted into his bear form.
“Now that’s more like it!” said Markus. “Now come and join in the fun. ”
And for that whole night, and many nights to follow, Hewlitt frolicked and played with his new found community of bears, happy as three cubs in a stream.
And when the night was over, Hew headed home. And tired as he was, he knew the best was yet to come.
Because he’d recognized that sow Kodiak bear with the two cubs.
After all, a man should recognize his own wife, shouldn’t he?
And they all lived bearily after.
“Don’t you get it? ” gruffed Hew. “We’re BEAR naked. Get it? BEAR naked!”
“I get the joke, Hew. ” said Markus.
“BEAR naked! I spent last night BEAR naked with a bunch of strangers! And they were all BEAR naked too!” said Hew, busting a gut.
“We’ve heard it before, Hew. ”
(For tonight’s performance, the part of Hewlitt was played by John Goodman, the part of Markus was played by the late great Phil Harris, and the part of Linda the Accountant, whose scenes were regrettably cut, was played by the late Gilda Radner, because if you’re allowing yourself to cast dead people, you might as well go for the best. )