Updated: Mar 3
I’m being followed by a bear.
It’s been after me for years, ever since I was a kid. It’s not a proper bear, I know that – even if I lived in a country that actually had them, you wouldn’t mistake it for a real one. It looks like a child’s drawing brought to life.
Which is, I think, exactly what it is.
It appeared for the first time when I was twelve years old. I was always a well-behaved child. I was never in trouble at school, except for one incident with my chemistry teacher, Mrs Sanderson. She had loaned me a textbook one day, as I had left my own at home. Once I had finished the various questions, I’d absent-mindedly doodled a picture on the back cover, as I often did with my own copies.
I’m sure you can imagine what the picture was.
Mrs Sanderson was beyond angry, far more than seemed reasonable considering my crime. Even if I had been used to being shouted at, which I was not, her incandescent rage would still have frightened me. I cried, and I became terrified of her class, until I was eventually moved to a different one. I didn’t see her so much after that, but on the rare occasions that our paths crossed she would stare at me with a strange expressionless face.
A week later, I saw the bear for the first time.
I was lying in bed, trying to sleep. I was meeting up with my friends the next day and I was excited, which was keeping me awake. As I tossed and turned in the dark, willing myself to relax, there was a creak behind me and light suddenly spilled into the room. I looked over at the door.
It had opened a crack. I sat up in bed, not yet alarmed, expecting my little brother to appear and inform me of some nightmare or another. But he didn’t.
I climbed out of bed and walked over to the door, assuming that a breeze must had pushed it open. I reached out a hand to close it…
And I saw something staring at me through the gap.
It was the bear. It had a misshapen round body, with stumpy legs of different lengths. Its fur was patchy, as if it had been scribbled on, and its eyes were just small black dots.
It was completely wrong, a totally impossible thing, but whilst it did look like the picture I had drawn it was clearly alive. I could see the rise and fall of its torso, the saliva dripping from its oddly shaped mouth, and the glint in its little dot eyes.
I heard a ragged grumbling breath and the door began to creep further open before I finally screamed, slamming the door shut as hard as I could and throwing myself back into my room. My parents ran in to see what had happened, and they held me as I wept.
They didn’t believe me, of course. And who can blame them?
I told myself that it hadn’t been real, that I’d just imagined it. My humiliation at the hands of Mrs Sanderson was still fresh in my mind. It was easy enough to believe, especially for someone as nervous as myself, that the bear had just been a remnant of that trauma, soon to be forgotten.
But that was only the beginning. I saw the bear everywhere; at windows, behind walls, staring at me from doorways. If I was alone it would move closer to me, those horrible dot eyes staring me down, its gaping mouth hot. As soon as someone else appeared it would disappear, apparently driven away for the time being.
My parents were eventually forced to accept that I was seeing something, even if they could not see if themselves. They had witnessed my reaction to seeing the creature first-hand.
Therapy followed, which didn’t help at all. Once I was persuaded that it was just a hallucination it became easier to pretend that I didn’t see the animal. It was scary but not dangerous.
Although I made sure that I avoided being alone.
I think that my life progressed as normally as it could, considering. I left school and I went to university. I had hobbies and interests. Dating was a little more problematic. My close friends already knew about my difficulties and were largely accepting of my madness, but it was a difficult subject to broach with new people and it wasn’t something that could really be hidden from a boyfriend.
However, when I was nineteen, I met Arthur. I was out at a bar with my friends, celebrating the end of our exams when I saw him looking over at me. He had thick dark hair, blue eyes, and a gentle shy smile. We hit it off immediately, and spent the whole evening talking and laughing together. At the end of the night I gave him my number and found myself actually hoping that he would call. Even if it would mean eventually having to tell him about the bear.
To my excitement, the next day he did and we arranged to meet up for dinner. I was enjoying myself immensely but the whole time wanted to bring up my hallucinations. I knew I wouldn’t be at ease until it was out in the open but I could never find the right time.
He asked me out again, this time to watch films at his place. Maybe there, in a more intimate setting, I would find the confidence to be honest?
I arrived at Arthur’s flat on a Saturday evening. It wasn’t the nicest place I’d ever seen but not much more run down than my own student flat. He welcomed me and told me to make myself at home.
‘How long have you lived here?’ I asked.
‘Not long,’ he replied, ‘A few months, now.’
The place was certainly lacking in personality. It looked more like he’d only been there for a few days. The place was nearly empty beyond a few items of furniture and there were no personal items to be seen anywhere. Arthur handed me a glass of wine and sat next to me on the threadbare couch. He smiled at me and in that moment he looked so gentle and sweet that I knew I had to just come out with my story.
‘Arthur,’ I began, my voice shaking a little, ‘There’s something I have to tell you.’
‘Oh dear,’ he said, quietly. ‘Is this where you tell me you already have a boyfriend?’
I shook my head. ‘No, nothing like that. You see…’
How to do it? Better just to get straight to the point.
‘I’m being followed by a bear.’
Arthur blinked at me.
‘It’s not real,’ I added, quickly. ‘It doesn’t even look real. It’s a hallucination. I’m probably schizophrenic and I see a bear.’
He ran a tongue over his lips. ‘I see.’
My stomach sank. I had totally botched it and he was about to freak out.
‘What does it want?’ He asked.
I opened and closed my mouth. ‘What does it want? I don’t… what do you mean? It doesn’t want anything. It’s not real.’
He tilted his head. ‘How do you know it isn’t real?’
I stared at him in surprise. ‘Because there aren’t any bears in England. And it looks like a child’s drawing. And no one else can see it.’
He gazed at me and then turned away to place his glass on a small wooded table. He looked back. ‘That doesn’t mean it’s not real.’
I was utterly confused and just sat there, glass in hand, not having the slightest clue what to do or say. But then Arthur, for no immediately obvious reason, made a strange noise.
Then he stood up and turned his back to me.
He was standing a little oddly, hunched over as if he was sad. ‘Are you alright?’ I asked, tentatively.
He didn’t say anything.
Suddenly I heard a small noise, as if something had dropped to the floor. At the same time, Arthur’s hand snapped up to his face. I looked down to see what had fallen and saw, lying between Arthur’s feet, a glass eye.
‘Arthur,’ I said, feeling numb. ‘Your eye has fallen out.’
Slowly he turned to face me. He had his hand pressed over one eye but the other was locked onto me. Or at least it was for a moment. Then it began to bulge out of his head. With a quiet “pop” sound it fell from its socket and landed on the floor next to its twin.
My heart was pounding in my chest as I looked back up at Arthur’s face.
At the two dot eyes that now stared back at me.
‘Nhhh,’ he said again, as if he had forgotten how to form words properly.
And then his face slipped. Skin slithered from around his eye sockets and I saw something underneath that looked like dark wet hair. Arthur reached up and gripped the skin in his hand, pulling on it. It seemed to be moving over a protrusion of some kind, a snout maybe, that hadn’t been there before.
I don’t remember much of what followed. My last clear memory is of my glass smashing on the ground as I leapt to my feet and darted towards the door. I think that maybe I recall him lunging at me, and his body splitting open as he did, but that might have come from the nightmares that came later.
Then I was out through the door and running down the street.
I didn’t tell my friends what had happened, nor my family.
Sometimes I wonder if I should try therapy again, but in my heart I know that it won’t help. Besides, it would mean having to see another stranger.
And who knows what could be hiding behind their eyes?