Ann Hillesland ~ Bears

She dreams of bears. Her par­ents’ snores become growls. The bears’ nut­ty, grassy scent hangs heavy in the night air. Their big, fur­ry bod­ies warm her cot in the kitchen.

She tastes their dream por­ridge, dense with fresh black cur­rents and hazelnuts.

Her par­ents have for­bid­den the for­est where she used to roam, deny­ing her the damp pines, the dank decay­ing leaves, the jew­el-bright blue sky between branches.

Instead, she stirs soup, sweeps the floor, wash­es cups and plates while out­side the trees dance to a wild wind.

It’s safer,” her moth­er says. “Those bears almost ate you up, Goldie. And some­day when you’re grown, you’ll have a home and a man and chil­dren of your own and will need to fix food and wash dish­es for them.”

Het future sounds as drea­ry as her present.

That night, in sleep, she roams with the bears through the for­est as they eat black­ber­ries, splash into fast-run­ning streams, crash through thick­ets bathed in sil­ver moon­light.  Looking down, she sees not hands and feet, but great clawed paws, her limbs encased in warm fur. She throws back her head and roars loud enough to shake trees.

She wakes, ears echo­ing with that dream roar. Her par­ents sigh and snore in their bed­room. The kitchen fire has burned low, cast­ing lumpy bear shad­ows into dark cor­ners. She blinks and sees only the shelves with bowls and cups stacked in neat rows, the patch­work quilt she helped her moth­er stitch, the half loaf of brown bread she will slice for the fam­i­ly breakfast.

Through the unshut­tered win­dow, a rustling in the under­growth. A snapped twig. Heavy breath. And then she smells them, like an open sum­mer mead­ow with a musky under­tone. Bears.

She creeps to the win­dow on bare feet, flicks the cur­tain cor­ner aside. The yard yawns emp­ty in the cold blue moon­light. The rus­tle comes again and eyes gleam from the under­brush. With a snuf­fle, a bear steps into the clear­ing, huge, lum­ber­ing, shoul­der mus­cles bunch­ing. As he moves into the open, anoth­er bear fol­lows, small­er, then anoth­er, just her size.

The bears have found her.

The bears cir­cle the yard once before com­ing to stand in a row, look­ing at the win­dow. The biggest one growls, a rum­ble she feels in her hands and feet and chest.

She peers out at them as they look at her. She should feel fear, but instead her heart races exul­tant as a March stream.

The tidy kitchen recedes as she watch­es the bears’ silky fur shim­mer in the moon­light, their breath steam and bil­low into the night air. The small­est bear yips.

She slips out the win­dow and steps toward the bears, her breath a sav­age sil­ver cloud, bare toes paw­ing the earth. She moves for­ward, for­ward, gain­ing speed as she goes, burst­ing into the moon­lit clear­ing. Feeling just right.


Ann Hillesland’s work has been pub­lished in many lit­er­ary jour­nals, includ­ing Fourth Genre, Sou’wester, Bayou, and SmokeLong Quarterly. It has been select­ed for the Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions, nom­i­nat­ed for a Pushcart Prize, and pre­sent­ed onstage by Stories On Stage in Davis and Denver. I am a grad­u­ate of the MFA pro­gram at Queen’s University of Charlotte. My web­site, includ­ing my blog about vin­tage hats, is at