Tuesday, 29 September 2015
Last One on the Ice (Winner of the LSE Creative Writing Competition 2009)
If the Dark Ones caught her, she would almost certainly be Taken Away, and then there would be no more bears in the Great White Den. And no bears in the Great White Den would be bad – very bad, so bad she couldn’t imagine.
She raced across the ice. Her powerful paws thwacked against the Great White Den and sent spray into the air. This was what she loved: the pure joy she always felt when running. The cold whiteness beneath her paws, the chill wind whistling through her beautiful white fur. This was what bears were for. And she knew it.
She crested a huge ridge of ice. She stood magnificently on its top, her dark eyes seeing all as she surveyed her kingdom. Kingdom of the ice bear.
But there were no other ice bears left. None across the entire Great White Den; she had been looking for them ever since she was born. But they had all gone, and she didn’t know why.
The Sun had been hidden completely. The Dark Cold was everywhere over the Great White Den. She didn’t like the Dark Cold at all. When the Dark Cold came, ice bears had to hide in horrible, dirty Cramped Dens in the ground. They were no place for her whiteness.
Reluctantly, she turned her back on the beautiful white landscape. Her paws dragged along the ground and she slowly made her way over an ice slope. She crawled slowly into the Cramped Den, slipping underneath the whiteness into the strange, dark cramped-ness of the den. Sighing softly, she heaved her great white bulk into the Cramped Den and settled as comfortably as she could manage. Her fat reserves would hopefully last during the Dark Cold.
She closed her eyes, gave one last feeble growl of joy to the Great White Den, and sank into a long, deep sleep…
She woke up, and almost immediately she banged her head on the roof of the Cramped Den. After her long sleep, she was squashed and uncomfortable and very hungry and thirsty. The pain in her head began to seep into her bones and her white fur.
Growling, she rolled onto her back as much as she could and scrabbled about for the top of the Den. There was ice above her, but it wasn’t ripping under her claws like it should. She was stuck.
Growling in frustration, and weakening with fatigue and hunger, she continued to chisel away at the ice with her strong paws until eventually the roof of the Cramped Den crashed in. The light from the Sun streamed in and almost blinded her.
She sniffed, shook the ice till it slid off her stomach, and clambered out of the den. The blazing glory of the Great White Den was there to await her, as it always was and always should be. She roared her thanks to the Sun for coming back, as it always did and always should do.
Without wasting any more time, she leaped to her feet, struggling slightly, and slid all the way down an ice slope. Sliding down an ice slope was so enjoyable that it made her shiver with pure pleasure. But something was wrong...
The Sun was just as bright as it used to be, yet it seemed to be biting her fur even more than it used to. The ice wasn’t quite as cold, and chunks of it were breaking off. All around her there were fewer ice slopes than she remembered, and to the left of the Great Ice Ridge there were five or six islands of ice, instead of only two. There were bits of ice breaking away from her. The truth crashed down on her like an avalanche: the Great White Den was getting smaller.
Her insides wrenched like Seal Prey that isn’t quite dead yet. How could the Great White Den get smaller? How could it not stay as it was? The Great White Den was eternal and unconquerable. Nothing could make it their prey. Not even the Dark Ones.
She shuddered with anger as she thought of the Dark Ones. They had terrifying dark faces and thick dark fur. They stood on two legs, which was just wrong. They ran too, fast but not as fast as her, and sometimes with their yapping creatures running in front of them. The Yappers were a bit like the white foxes she sometimes saw. But now there were none of those left, either. If there were, she didn’t see them anymore.
She hardly saw anything anymore. Except the Dark Ones.
Softly, she slipped into the icy blue water. It was even colder than it used to be. Why? she wondered, as she used the strength of her great paws to move through the water. Of course she didn’t feel the coldness of the water too much, because she had her beautiful fur which stopped her from freezing. But the Dark Ones would feel it: they hated the water and sometimes they would lose their breath if they were in the water. Dark Ones didn’t often lose their breath.
A Yapper which had lost its breath not long ago floated beside her. She snapped at it, but it wasn’t worth eating: it had lost its breath too long ago. Then she realised what this meant: where there were Yappers, there were Dark Ones.
There was even less ice around here: surely there had been an ice slope beside the Great Blue Mound on the northern shore? Surely there had been more than seven floes of ice beside the Six Ice Islands? The Great White Den was getting smaller.
She jerked awake. Instantly she was on the alert. Something was near, and something dangerous. She could sense it in the water. She could smell it in the air. She could feel it in the very marrow of her bones.
They were coming. The Dark Ones were coming.
She swam for her life. The water whooshed past her, dragging at her and laughing at her fear. The water used to be her friend. Now it was her enemy.
Everything was her enemy. The water, the air, the ice…and the Dark Ones.
She passed a huge ice floe and panted with exhaustion. The breath was coming harsh and rapid from her jaws. She hadn’t eaten for a long, long time and was feeling very hungry. And she feared that if the Dark Ones came, she wouldn’t be able to swim away from them.
Then she heard it. The long growl that is the sound of the Floating Den. The Dark Ones used these huge Floating Dens, terrible and ugly, to swim through the water. Floating Dens were used to capture seals and sometimes even bears. And the Floating Den was coming her way.
She panted. She swam as fast as she could. Ice chunks cut her sides as she got further from the eastern shore and blocked her path. The water came at her in waves and sometimes dragged her under. Everything was going against her, and for the Dark Ones.
She growled with anger and rage. The Floating Den was almost upon her. She made one last supreme effort, snarling as she propelled her body forward through the freezing water, but then she could hear the snarls of the Dark Ones above her and everything went upside-down.
She was being pulled into the air by the Dark Ones – some kind of strange Den with little holes in it. She struggled as hard as she could, but the little holes trapped her paws and her muzzle. The Dark Ones were controlling the Den with little holes. They hoisted her up and onto the land of the Floating Den.
Snarling, she managed to get out of the little holes and leapt free. She grabbed one of the Dark Ones and ferociously attacked him with her forepaws. She slashed and bit, but the strong paws of Dark Ones dragged her off and she was thrown away from the Dark One she had been attacking. The other Dark Ones surrounded her, holding long claws in their hands and other claws that made loud, banging noises. She cowered in terror.
A few months ago she would have been able to crush the head of a Dark One like tossing a lemming aside. But she was freezing cold from the water, she was shattered by fatigue, and she could stand and fight no more. The Dark Ones knew it, and she knew it. There was no strength left in her arms and legs.
Suddenly the rough paws of the Dark Ones seized her, dragged her and the Den with little holes far off down the Floating Den, and then they threw her into the dark. She gave one last growl – and knew no more.
Now she was in a new Den. It wasn’t cold at all. There was very little ice, just small blobs and chunks of it here and there. She was surrounded by walls with little holes in, just like the strange den that captured her back in the sea of the Great White Den. The little holes were tough and strong.
This new Den was very strange. She couldn’t get out of it, and it was so very small compared to the Great White Den. Lots of Dark Ones would gather round and look at her, tall ones and little ones, smiling and pointing their forepaws at her. They were not like the ones she knew. She could see Dark One Cubs, and Dark Ones with very little fur on, and Dark Ones with all sorts of prey in their hands.
She thought she was there to make the Dark Ones happy: they liked to watch and enjoy what was not theirs. At Light she prowled her new Den, snapping and giving a show to make the Dark One Cubs squeal with delight. At Dark however, the Den where she was kept was silent and she was alone.
She would stand erect on the ice. She would raise her muzzle and howl her weakened glory to the Small White Dens in the sky, the ones which faded in and out and shimmered like the waters of her home lapping on the White Den.
She was the last white bear in existence; her howls took on a mournful note and she dropped her great muzzle. Then she looked up at the Small White Dens again and wondered how long it would be before the Dark Ones claimed them also for their own.