Over the summer, Ormondians wrote short stories to an idea for a story F. Scott Fitzgerald left behind in a notebook, Lois and the Bear. The winning submission is published below and the runner-up will be published online soon. Keep your eyes peeled for further writing competitions.
Loïs ambled towards the tree line in the distance. As he walked his feet kicked up small plumes of dust. The untidy bands of green and brown weren’t actually very far away, but to him they looked amorphous and indistinct. It was scenery that didn’t strike him as being particularly breathtaking, or even nice. Not that Loïs was ever terribly descriptive. He mostly felt unsubstantiated, like he had a burst pipe, or a gas leak. And nothing natural could possibly reconcile that, or promise any sort of consolation. But he wasn’t looking for either of these things. The flattened vectors gradually turned vertical, stood over him, as he walked through the forest’s perimeter.
What had transpired with everything; with everyone, rang clearly in his head. It clanged about in there, providing a remarkably effective, if impolite, spasm of consciousness, every now and then slicing right through the haze that had constituted his procession towards the forest green. This isn’t to say this haze was specific to his current circumstances. It was a generalised, unremitting static, like the hum of the effervescent – and highly alcoholic – mixed beverages he preferred to take with his lunch. But what had happened with…well, with everyone. It stayed clear in his head, and kept interrupting the haze.
As the terrain’s gradient inclined, Loïs felt the strain in his tan, taut calves, and exhaled at the effort required, effort that only an unfit young man can understand. The exertion of his body took precedence over all but the most necessary observations. There was no time for excess, or even for the haze, overwhelmed not by guilt but by physical suffering. And these ten minutes of exercise brought him up to where the gradient softened, generously, into a plateau where the trees became sparse and the dust forced the turf into patches, and he trod, accidentally but exactly, on a rattlesnake bathing in the clearing.
He sat in the clearing distractedly fondling his tensed, sweaty and, most recently, penetrated calf, trying to establish when things had started going…amiss? He cautioned himself. He already knew there wasn’t any specific moment of ignition. Stories start arbitrarily. They have no beginning and they have no end. Sure, he had the snakebite to worry about, and this man versus wild shit wasn’t exactly his bread and butter, but it was of no immediate consequence. These things take hours to set in and minutes to sort out. And besides, the offending party was just a benevolent reptile, trying to make a day of it, blending himself very ceremoniously into the dust in order to enjoy his necessary 16 hours of Vitamin D, and Loïs had gone ahead and disturbed him. It had been utterly fair enough on the snake’s part, to give Loïs a nip. But here’s what he resented. Loïs was flipped off because he’d found once you interrupted the haze with something else, with anything, the unrelated yet nonetheless corollary issue, the one rattling through the hum intermittently, burst through, completely, like the snakes fang through the skin of his now protuberant calf. It’s like the hum got taken out, got beaten up, by the issue at hand (who wasn’t out there to get you), and the real issue – who’d been sledging you from the bench all day – could jog on, raring to go. So he sat, felt the snake’s venom tunnel its way down to his ankle, and regretted, enjoyed, felt at once remorseful and proud about the proceedings that had led him there.
Ruminating on the actual course of events hadn’t been his aim in going bush. And he was determined to make sure it didn’t turn into some play-by-play. He’d already been over everything countless times, emerging sometimes flippant, sometimes pensive. That was the way you took things these days. You got hung up, but you still giggled. And anyway, stand-alone narratives were of no real use. They often sounded or felt romantic, purposeful, and they occasionally hinted at some sort of self-contained tenor, but in the end they were just empty structures. They needed a guiding principle. Without one, they were gossip, they were anecdotal and moreover, they were childish. So he’d struck out to the hills, with two purposes in mind. The first was to come to terms with everything personally; a task Loïs suspected he might have already completed. Which bothered him, because if he had, it was a resolution without integrity and with absolutely no sense of finality to it. Why did it keep interjecting if everything was ok? And was he only really cool with it while it was all subsumed by the haze? The second purpose was of the more considerate, selfless variety. He’d gotten out of town because he wanted to lend the other parties some breathing space. Time heals all wounds, this too will pass, et cetera. As such, Loïs regarded his expedition as undeniably selfish, yet contended that its roots were not exclusively self-interested. Then the bear stumbled into the clearing.
But not the thousand-kilogram grizzly he’d anticipated. This animal was a cinnamon colour, standing as tall as he did himself and weighing twice as much. From his range he could pick out the bears more distinctive features: the introverted eyes, the ears pinned back far on its broad-based skull. Apart from that, as far as Loïs was concerned, it was your standard issue bear, that is, bulky, in every respect.
And this garden variety bear behaved as such. The lumbering creature seemed as unremarkable as everything else he had encountered today. It pottered around, slightly threatening, looking for food or for a rubbish bin to knock over, trying to assess the domain of their shared clearing, and more specifically, exactly what Loïs was. But after a while it stopped, and assumed some sort of rigidly anthropomorphic pose. It stared at him, vacantly, 15 metres distant, and the emptiness inherent in the gaze reminded Loïs of the stares he’d been receiving from some his better friends over the last few months. It recalled something familiar from the alien of the environment, drew the bear into his life, by mimesis.
But Loïs was the alien, and the bear was at home. And it gave the stare he was accustomed to, where he was not alien. It was familiarity out of its proper context. The response he elicited from every creature was common and was universal. The universal. It teaches acceptance better. Principles lack the disinterest they try to command. You can’t yield to terms that lie outside the boundaries they suggest. The reaction you give, you give; the one you receive, you receive, and so on.
This acceptance came, here, in Yellowstone, as the bear stood opposite, and the venom made Loïs faint, cut the hum a little, letting a gentle anxiety set in. But that was ok. Here in Yellowstone, it was so damn quiet and then Loïs felt alright, felt the hum of the earth as it prepared to erupt, three hundred thousand years hence, but for the moment went on trembling beneath his tired feet.