by Pierce Nahigyan
The bear stole a balloon.
It was easy. In the woods, of all places, a small boy with hair like poorly sanded gold was toddling behind his mother and his father, their khaki shorts making determined zips up the path, the father carrying a big black pair of binoculars and the mother trailing a laminated map of the park, both talking near as rapid as their strides, heading to the crest of the mountain path. In his tiny pink hand was the electric blue line that anchored the balloon to his body, a big bright red thing, swollen like a lightbulb in the overcast forest, rolling under its gray sky. The bear hit the boy in the small of the back.
The bear, little more than a cub, waited for the parents to cross the trail where it came nearest to the trees and took a running leap at the boy when his awkward sneakers criss crossed in his run to catch up to them. He headbutted the boy, and the boy hit the dirt. The bear knew he had one chance to get it right, and threw his palms together over the electric blue line. The rubbery pads connected; and luckily the boy did not let go of the balloon until his pale face smashed into the dirt and the blonde hair went every way.
They must be giving balloons away at the front gate, the bear thought. Claws together, on his hind legs, he loped back down the path, hearing the parents turn at the sound of the crash to scream at him and the crying child. The bear ignored them, bouncing. He bounced, into the trees, into the dark forest. He kept his claws together, and kept bouncing, feeling the balloon bump the limbs of trees, pine needles, pinecones, brush past them, vibrating these sensations down the line, into his pads.
He kept bouncing on his hind legs, though it tired him, though his hips ached for him to cease. He bounced till the sounds of the parents were muted by the distance and ambient murmur of the woods. He bounced until he was certain the balloon would take him no higher, and looked in disappointment at his prize.
The red balloon hovered in the gloom, a thing alive and yet not living, softly nodding of its own accord, pine needles clinging to its bright, lustrous skin. That it would not take him at least as far as the treetops where the better honey was did not seem so ill then. The balloon was his and that had its own ripe sweetness to it. He lifted a clawed foot in curiosity, wondering, if he sat on the rest of the line, how the balloon might taste if he could reach it with his tongue. When an accipiter dove from the canopy and popped the balloon.
If the hawk had meant it to be cruel he failed to account for the suddenly flaccid latex. The skin plastered to its beak, it smashed into the ground, whereupon it died. The bear ate it, but he didn’t care for it.
After playing with the feathers for a bit, he loped down the mountain towards the gate, hoping to find more balloons, that he might fly today.