(Editor's note: If you enjoy this story, I urge you to view the first comment for an inspired remix.)
The most outrageous thing has happened in my apartment building — on the ground floor, where, for the longest time there was a closed-up, unoccupied space, it seems that someone had the bright idea to open a Bear Shop.
Yes, you read that right. Do a double, even a triple take if you want. I know I did, when I saw the sign, but every time I looked back, there it was, same as ever: Now Open! Bear Shop!
What? A Bear Shop? In this neighborhood? There are stray dogs everywhere!
Not for long, I suppose.
And children just wander around. Even if they stayed home, there’s a slum of about 20 families not 50 yards from this ursine-animal vendor.
The shop is done up nicely, I must admit. The last I’d seen of it, maybe a month ago, it was a large plastered room with various debris scattered about. Now, the walls are stylized, textured, dark-pink tile. The ceiling fan’s speed recalls a jet engine. And various spirit containers sit in a hollowed-out shelf along the back wall and in a shiny new glass display case in the front counter.
True, it seems like a safe place. Not only did I fail to spy even a single loose bear—I saw no signs of any. Not one bear, nor a hair or paw print. I didn’t even hear what could be considered a gentle roar.
Obviously, the bears have been well contained.
Now, admittedly, I’m no bear expert, the most extensive study I’ve done of that kind being some heavy petting in my dad’s Olds up at Procreation Point during a spell of low self-esteem back in high school. However, it seems to be common knowledge that the bear is a difficult animal to manage. Not for naught are they considered powerful, ferocious creatures.
“Run! It’s a bear!” is a saying every child knows. There’s a reason you won’t hear “Run! It’s a hare!” And, outside of those from Berrian DC and Dalian Chicago, I bet none of you’s ever heard “Run! It’s the mayor!”
No, there seems to be a general consensus that bears are more than a handful, which makes it suspicious that they would be peddled from a shop that is probably 200 square feet on a dry day, less when it’s humid.
The other suspicious observable is the partiality of the place toward alcohol. And whom’s the alcohol for? The bears? Their handlers? Complaining neighbors? Pesky officials? Victims’ relatives?
That, I have yet to discern. Also, the shop seems devoid of any brandy, bourbon, whisky, gin, vodka, rum, wine, schnapps, cider, liquor, liqueur, arrack, or even toddy.
A lot of cans. And some bottles, I think.
I can tell the neighbors are on edge—they definitely seem to have been drinking more than usual. And that isn’t just an imagined correlation—those who are drunkest are those milling around the Bear Shop the most—obviously, putting themselves in danger for the safety of their fellow man, ready to sound the alarm and provide the first line of defense.
Thankfully, so far, disaster has been averted. No tragic maimings. Nary a close call. Still, something doesn’t add up. Dog shop—sure, this place is filthy with filthy dogs, and some people even own a few of them. Goat shop—yeah, a couple of my favorite upstairs neighbors are goats. Cow shop—now there’s a moneymaker if I ever heard one. Even a monkey shop—sure, you see the occasional Mumbaikar with their monkey on a leash—even in the general compartments of the commuter trains—but you never actually see any monkeys around. Not wild, and certainly not for sale.
Any of these, and I’d have no problem. The raison d’être would be obvious. In fact, their absence puzzles me, now that I’ve given it some thought. But bears—the only bear I can even remember associating with any part of this country is a talking specimen named Baloo.
No, something doesn’t add up, and, as a responsible member of the community and a reasonable member of the human race, it’s my responsibility to pay heed my hunches, and mind my instincts.
For now, this citizen remains wary.