Bear Necessity

by Aeryn Rudel

The knock on Jerry’s door startled him. He nearly jerked the shotgun’s trigger and blew his TV to atoms. He swallowed, clicked the safety on the Mossberg, and got up from the couch.

“Who is it?” A dark shape blotted out the stained glass panes in his door.

“It is Uri,” came the reply in a thick Russian accent.

“Are you the bear guy?”

A soft chuckle. “Yes, I am bear man.”

Jerry unlocked and opened the door. The man standing on his stoop looked to be part bear himself. He was tall, muscular, with a great black beard and a bald head. He smiled and his teeth shone like pearls through the dark tangle of hair on his face.

“Ah, Mister Harris. I am Uri Shostakovich. I have come to help you.”

“Thank god,” Jerry said. “Your, uh, cousin recommended you.”

Uri’s smile widened. “Ivan is good boy. Now tell me about your problem.”

Jerry pointed to the barn on the other side of his expansive property. It was quiet, but too big for him to manage alone. He paid four men to cut the huge lawn and keep the grounds shipshape. “A drifter got on the property yesterday. Harold asked him to leave, but he went nuts and attacked, like biting and stuff. Harold got sick first, and I guess he spread it to Jonathan, and then Jonathan must have gotten David or Jesse . . .” He began to shake as the fear took hold of him again.

Uri put a heavy hand on Jerry’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. Uri is here. Now, please put your weapon back in house.”

“Are you sure?”

“I have something better than shotgun.” Uri nodded toward his vehicle parked in the driveway, a diesel truck towing a livestock trailer.

“I will go get them, and we will begin.” Uri went to the back of his trailer, opened it, and pulled down a ramp. A musky animal smell wafted out.

“Sasha, Baba Yaga. Come. There is work to do.” The trailer rocked, and two black shapes appeared. The bears were huge, ambling things. Both came out on their hind legs, walking upright. The first, Sasha, Jerry supposed, towered over Uri, who had to be a good six-five. The second bear, Baba Yaga, towered over the first. Its dense fur made it look like a giant ink blot against the blue summer sky.

“Ah, my darlings,” Uri said. The bears walked up to him, dropped to all fours, and licked his face like terrifying overgrown puppies. “Are we ready to dance?”

It was so bizarre Jerry couldn’t help himself, though Ivan told him Uri didn’t like too many questions. “Why bears, Mr. Shostakovich?”

Uri frowned, and one of the bears made an irritated huffing noise. “Because they are good at the work, and they do not become infected after, like dogs or wolves.”

Jerry wasn’t exactly an expert on the infected and in no position to argue.

“Now, you will go to barn, open it, and move away. Sasha and Baba Yaga will take care of the rest.”

Jerry hadn’t gone near the barn since he lured the four men in there with a dead cat and locked them in with a chain and padlock. “Sure,” he said and walked up to the barn doors, digging into his pocket for the keys. Behind him music began to play, classical of some kind, maybe a waltz. He glanced back and realized the music was coming from the cabin of Uri’s truck. The bears were moving in his direction.

As he neared, the barn doors bowed outward and the chain and padlock holding them closed rattled. A hoarse, angry cry echoed from the other side, and Jerry’s bowels turned to water. He fumbled with the keys but managed to get the right one into the lock. The padlock fell away, and he turned and ran. The barn doors flew open.

Uri’s bears moved toward him. They stood on their hind legs again, twisting and swaying to the waltz blaring behind them.

“Hurry, Mister Harris,” Uri called from beside his truck. The bears flashed past Jerry, and he heard a guttural cry. Jonathan or maybe David.

He reached Uri, who grabbed him and spun him around. “Now, you see my darlings. How they dance.”

The bears and the four infected came together as the music reached a crescendo. The bears’ long claws and terrible teeth ripped into the men, though Jerry realized that calling them men wasn’t quite right anymore. They were dead, and what the bears did to them was mercy more than anything. Sasha and Baba Yaga ripped limbs free and broke open skulls as the music played. The infected got a few bites and scratches in, but they were no match for Uri’s darlings. It was over in under a minute, and the bears, gore-spattered yet clearly satisfied, danced back toward them.

Uri turned off the music, and the bears dropped to all fours and licked the blood from their paws. “Now, we must talk payment, Mister Harris. My fee is—” He paused and stared at Jerry’s arm. “What is that?”

Jerry blinked and looked at the bloody gauze taped to his right forearm. “Oh, I scuffled with one of them getting him into the barn. He scratched me.”

Uri’s eyes narrowed and he reached into the cabin of his truck. The waltz thundered out again, and the bears rose up on their hind legs. “That is bite, Mister Harris.”

“No, it’s a scratch.” Jerry backpedaled and his feet tangled under him. He went down on his ass as Sasha and Baba Yaga swayed toward him. The bears closed in, towering, looming, Jerry screamed and joined their dance.

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