From Issue 12: Ursa Minor (Flash Fiction)

Check out this flash fiction piece from Issue 12 as a sample of what's inside a copy of Tahoma Literary Review.

Ursa Minor

By Craig Foster

Lars Barker-Brown was species non-conforming, a state that had suited him well for some weeks. He hadn’t been born a bear or felt as one trapped in something like a man’s body. But it was time to explore creative alternatives to being socially adept. His ex-wife’s wedding was approaching and Toastmasters had completely failed him.

The idea of bear hit after stumbling across a blog on the Ursine Diet, which consisted of plants, fruits, nuts, insects, honey, salmon, small mammals, and carrion. He was eating most of these already and figured the rest would be easy to add.

It was a start.

Bacterial genome transplantation was a long-term potential way of converting from homo sapiens to ursus arctos horribilis, but he wasn’t made of time. And even Lars could picture being in the crosshairs a couple of autumns down the line. Perhaps the fur and teeth weren’t necessary.

The claws, though.

There was something in those.

He recalled Nietzsche's assertion that the mind and soul are completely illusory products of one's physical brain and body. Cursing his decision to be a philosophy major all those years ago, Lars damned the man and turned his attention as usual to the internet. He found an upcoming retreat just outside Jasper devoted to discovering and embracing one’s spirit animal. It was a haul from Calgary but those hours would be more affordable than what he’d spent on attempts at speechwriting. In an uncharacteristic fit of self-assurance Lars selected the Second Wind lifetime membership option and punched in his credit card number.

The weekend was something other than he’d hoped, in that the company’s set of rituals initially revealed him to be a marmot, or perhaps prairie dog. It was only after hearing a forced growl induced from a false hypnotic state that the group’s spiritual coach conceded there might be some measure of bear in Lars.

Maybe a nice cinnamon cub.

It was enough.

 *

The wedding took place at the Gaddis Rowing Club, a stronghold for the Barkers and scene of many a power play. The banquet hall’s walls featured crossed oars with many of their names and exploits burned in.

The new husband was Owen Barker-Finch, an assistant coach with the university’s crew team and a Mr. British Columbia runner-up from thirty years ago. He had a cleft chin that was losing its depth, and dimples stripped of any charm they might have had during a speed-fueled youth. The steel-grey eyes held strands of rust that radiated from coal circles. The nose was knocked to one side, the left nostril caving slightly. Lars thought of marble busts he’d seen in art classes – yet another waste of time – and imagined this man as the brief victim of an attempted chiseling.

Barker-Finch’s ears, ragged cups sprouting tufts, seemed to want to detach from his head. All the same, Lars suspected they picked up on danger. Reasonably alert. Not that listening would matter.

He pegged the guy for a lemur and liked his chances.

 *

At the reception Lars readied himself, conjuring a recent moment in those woods near Jasper that could guide him.

A microphone was passed around the room and people in various states of frivolity and affectation offered commentary. Lars caught only a few words. His name popped up a couple of times, followed by a kind of applause, hand gestures, and some whistles. He dropped his head and focused on his bare feet, seeing only paws and claws.

A work colleague of his ex-wife’s finished an anecdote and Lars stood. He raised his arms toward the ceiling and lumbered toward her. Amid muffled groans and giggles, she handed over the mike with a mock bow.

In moments of self-doubt these past few weeks he’d looked up bear behavior, just in case the spirit left at the wrong moment. He’d learned that when two unacquainted bears come face to face, the rituals of snorting, chomping, huffing, and false charging can serve the same purpose as people’s more genteel efforts. Prevent aggression. Possibly forge friendship.

It was nice to know, but he didn’t want to send the wrong message.

He raised the mike and locked eyes with the new husband. Standing as high on the balls of his feet as he could muster, Lars issued a low growl that morphed into a sputtering grumble, then a spastic, choking cough. A burst of laughter hit the back of his head and he heard Gawd, it’s the picnic fiasco all over again. Christ on a stick, the little dipshit. Lars turned toward the offender, snarled, and pulled his lips back to show gums, a couple of which were bleeding. Goddamn oyster shells. He hated himself for breaking the diet on this of all days. A fly landed on his lip and he slapped the crap out of it in an impressive show of reflex. Reeling, but alert enough to try and make this seem entirely intentional, he carried the move through into a vigorous rub of the weedy scruff he’d managed to grow over cheeks and chin these past weeks, adjusted his glasses, wheeled back toward the groom, and reeled off a few good rumbling snorts and huffs. Felt the spirit shoot straight from his eyeballs right to the center of the man’s forehead. In a blinding flash of courage and complete abandonment of self he grabbed his crotch, roared, and false-charged the wedding dais.

 *

When he came to, Lars found his ex-father-in-law and various other no-longer relatives standing over him with oars raised. He exhaled heavily, drew his knees into his chest, and regarded the shine off their shoes. How the hell did they get their webbed feet into the damn things?

They stood wrong. Smelled wrong.

Clean.

As blood dripped from nose to carpet, Lars felt a true transformation take him right to where he belonged.

He closed his eyes, gave a nasty possum hiss, and played dead.

***

Reprinted with the permission of the author 

Craig shared these comments about "Ursa Minor":

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from trying to be something other than our true selves, and there probably isn’t, it’s that authenticity tends to win. Or perhaps that at least playing at candor can lessen the derision leveled by those who clearly can’t see. Don’t get it. Are blind to the fact, the real truth, that there surely is a superior force locked inside us, waiting. Festering. Our genuine being. Which only needs a bit of encouragement. A wakeup call. Our animal spirits will save us from ourselves. Even when they’re absolutely the wrong animals.

- Craig is a writer and artist in Portland, Oregon, where the line between human and animal is always satisfyingly blurred.