The first blossoms of spring were beginning to unfurl when Little Bear popped his head up from out of the melting snow. He breathed deeply and smelt the sweet waft of honey in the air spreading over the forest from the busy bee families hard at work deep within turning the flowers into golden food for their young.
This was only Little Bear’s second spring, but already he was eager to get to work. He had slept soundly as the new grass began to grow up from beneath the ice and the river took in all the fresh water from the melting mountains and began to run harder and faster, it’s crashing course thrumming its beat through their cosy cave. Little Bear knew that for his family, the river meant food. In his sweet winter dreams silver salmon had sparkled as they flipped in and out of the water, throwing themselves against the current and back to the places they were born. As he slept he had grown hungry, and that wasn’t the only part of him that had grown. Little bear was surprised to find that he was quite a big bigger than he had been when he had lain his head down several months earlier. Not quite as big as Father Bear yet, but well on his way.
Little Bear was growing impatient. Mother Bear and Father Bear and Sister Bear had yet to wake and he threw himself around the cave noisily to try and stir them, to no avail. Nudging in and out of the front door he collected nuts and small animals to tempt his family from their still deep slumber, but as they snored on, he was fast becoming tired of waiting for them.
After several days Little Bear heard a yawn. They awoke.
A chill wind whipped through the air and Arlie drew her cape closer around her shoulders. Her glasses frosted with every warm breath she took and when she looked behind her suspiciously as she stalked down the lane they fogged up entirely and she needed to drop them down her nose to regain any semblance of vision.
At last, she reached the entrance to the store. It wasn’t hidden so much as it was merely unobtrusive. The wood was patterned in such a way that it was hard to distinguish from the dirty surrounding brickwork except to an eye trained to see it. She knocked twice, looking behind her one last time to ensure that no one was following her, and as the door creaked heavily inwards she stepped inside quickly.
It was stiflingly hot inside the front room and once again the stark change in temperature obscured her vision and she cursed as she began to unwind and strip her outer clothing layers to adjust. As the glass cleared before her eyes she found herself still squinting into the darkness of the room. The crackle of a fire and its slight light wrapping around the wall from an inner room further towards the back of the building did not provide a comfortable light, and Arlie started as she finally noticed the small figure of the man who had let her in.
“Well, hello,” he croaked, unmoving, staring at her unnervingly. “So nice to see you here Miss Finch, we hadn’t expected you for some time, but of course when you rang, we were happy to have you back…”
“Spare me Starling.” She cut him off coldly. She held her cloak and scarf out and he took them obligingly with a slimy grin.
“This way then.” He beckoned her inside.
He pushed back the chair and it creaked into life, the footrest snapping up from underneath him quicker than he expected and throwing him flat on his back. He didn’t like needing to use the chair. It made him feel weak. If his body wasn’t even good enough to get from the lounge to the bed anymore he couldn’t see much use in it. He closed his eyes and let his head sink into the headrest. It was comfortable though, he couldn’t deny that.
Drifting into an uneasy drug-induced sleep he felt his mind wandering very far away. He liked this sensation, his consciousness drifting up and out of the body that was betraying him. In this state he finally felt that he might even be hungry, but he knew that as soon as he came back down to earth his rolling stomach would disagree. It was frustrating, but also kind of a relief. One less thing to worry about.
He heard a small pair of feet tiptoe into the room and a hushed voiced said “oh,” under its breath, very quietly. He was still in a state of disconnect and couldn’t quite open his eyes, but he felt a pressure as something small and soft and warm pressed up against his side. He felt a small hand gently, so gently, wrap itself through his own large, sweaty, one and he felt a tiny heartbeat flutter along with the heavy plod of his own. Her breathing, fast at first and then slowing to a sleepy pace to match his own, calmed him completely. He peeked open one eye and there she was, his daughter, fast asleep in the chair with him, her warm breath sighing into his arm. This was why he needed his body. He needed it for her.
He drew the apparatus from his pocket and bent to set it up straight. He clicked its brass legs in place and immediately a spark of red shot out from its core and up towards the sky, the electricity in the air buzzing. He ensured the claws of the machine dug into the earth to hold it still and drew a soft cloth over the ruby gem protruding from its centre.
It had taken the better part of the afternoon to climb the mountain and his head had grown light as he ascended until he had reached its sharp peak above the clouds. He knew his soft, laboratory weakened body couldn’t stay at this altitude much longer but he only needed one full blast of power to fill the contraption and then he could leave.
The air around him continued to rumble and it was nearly dark as night as he stood between the lighter, welcoming, layer of cloud below and the menacing storm clouds above. The rubber of his protective clothing squeaked as he moved and the humidity trapped between it and his skin was making him sweat alarmingly. He didn’t know how much longer his body could hold out, or if didn’t get what he had come for, how long until he would be strong enough to attempt it again.
He looked upwards imploringly and drew in a sharp breath as he watched the sky above him begin to light up. The lightning was gathering and he took a step backwards, teetering towards the edge of the peak, as it formed into a ball of electricity.
A sharp crack broke out, deafening him, and shaking the ground. He closed his eyes and when he looked back the ruby tip of the machine glowed a glistening, electric blood red.
“I’m cold.” Geri said for the third time in an hour, loudly, as if expecting someone to do something about it.
“We’re all cold.” Sam spat back, not looking at her. She was shivering herself but she didn’t want to give Geri the satisfaction of seeing it bother her.
They’d been forced to retreat into the cave when the sky had unexpectedly opened up and their picnic blanket, along with everything on it, had been washed away. The weather was supposed to be sunny all weekend, that was why the three of them had driven out to the lake in the first place to spend the day walking the trails leisurely and stopping for a meticulously packed lunch of food each woman had tried to one up the others in making unnecessarily complex. They’d barely gotten into the dips, and hadn’t even unwrapped the focaccias, when the downpour had started and quicker than they could imagine. It had all turned soggy and the basket had filled with water as a small river emerged from the trees behind them and ran down the open field straight towards their meal.
It had been lucky there was shelter nearby at all and the three of them all shrank backwards as loud crack of thunder echoed around them. Kim reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. She turned on the flashlight and stood up to take a better look around the cave. It was shallow, thankfully, and had a musty earthy smell to it from an accumulation of moss at the back. The dripping of the water through the cracks was amplified in the small space and furthering the tension they could all feel developing.
“We’ll have to run for it if it keeps up much longer.” Sam mused unenthusiastically.
Their new rule was silence throughout the house until bedtime. She chopped up the vegetables and missed the sensation of headphones filling her ears, hearing other people’s voices and opinions fill her mind to drown out her own thoughts and worries. As the onions began to sizzle, so loud with no voices or music filling the air, he arrived home and the click of the key turning in the lock sounded too large for such a small action. She leant back from the kitchen to see him down the hall and without hellos they let their eye contact linger. An upward curve of the eyebrow asked about his day and the turning up of the side of his mouth answered. A broad smile told him she was happy he was home and the creases in the corner of his eyes said me too.
They danced around each other, nervous for some reason, the weight of their lack of speech adding an intensity to their every movement, and his hand brushed hers as he reached to take a sip from her wineglass, sending shivers up her spine. She burst out a small escape of laughter and trapped the remainder in her throat, letting it out only through bringing a hand to her mouth and feeling her cheeks flush red. He put the wineglass down and watched her for a moment before heading back down the hall to bathroom and disappearing with the sound of hot water. With her senses heightened she thought she could smell the shampoo even over the food she was cooking and she smiled giddily as she scraped the rest of the ingredients into the pan and watched them darken.
The steam from their opposing rooms mingled in the hall and frosted the windows, noiselessly filling the house.
The market was crowded and Henry had lost sight of Mona. She’d gone off to get a coffee from the stall by the door but he paced back and forth nearby craning his neck over the crowd, cursing the genetics that made him a head below them, and she was nowhere to be seen.
He waited another frustrating few minutes and shot her a text to meet him outside. His grilled cheese was getting cold and his iced tea was getting warm and he couldn’t wait any longer. The chill of the wind met him as he opened the heavy glass doors and he could feel his face flush pink instantly, but with another step outside he hit the sun and the elements cancelled each other out leaving him with a pleasant balanced feeling.
Flipping his sunglasses from atop his head to where they could actually do some good with the glare he staked out a spare table for them to enjoy their lunch and, finding none vacant, vulturishly watched a young trendy couple sipping green juices finishing up so he could take their place. When they left he rushed forward to claim the seats and shot the couple a disgusted look at realising they had left their dirty plates and cups behind when the bin was right next to them. He cleaned them up hurriedly and got himself a bit more worked up than necessary about how they could presume to move through the world that way, just assuming people would clean up after you. He had to hand it to them though, he’d done exactly what they wanted and they probably hadn’t even given it a second thought.
Finally, plate down on the table and tea leaving condensation rings on the wood, he bit into his lukewarm sandwich.