Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: The Reader (04/15/10)
TITLE: Bear's Wake-Up Call
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Bear absent-mindedly knocked his reading glasses off his pointy black nose with a clumsy paw as he yawned and stretched. “Oh, bother,” he mumbled. “Why must I be the only one in the entire family to need these anyway?”
He tried to retrieve the thick round orbs in their delicate wire frames, but found his midriff too well padded with fat. “Oh BOTHER,” he said a bit louder. “I can’t move!” While scratching his chin meditatively with one claw, Bear scowled with just a hint of self-retribution. “Hmmmm. All those nuts and berries.” He grunted and rolled his overstuffed body sideways with a decided “oomph” so he could reach the glasses.
While recovering from the exertion, his thoughts wandered outside. “I wonder what’s going on with those oddly peculiar non-hibernating animals now that the weather has turned cold?”
Although Bear typically thought himself a bit nobler than other animals, the observation was supposed to be purely factual rather than critical or uncaring. He perched the glasses on his nose and said aloud, “I prefer seclusion in the mountains, but my life is not theirs, nor theirs mine. Now, what was I doing, old blubbery-fat bear that I am?” He chuckled to himself like a king resigned to forgetfulness in the aftermath of gluttony. “Oh yes. I was pursuing my favorite settle-down-for-the-winter activity: reading. A good book always puts me to sleep. And sleeping is what bears do best in wintertime. GLORIOUS is what hibernation is – absolutely glorious.”
Now Bear thought of himself as a very bright bear, a problem-solving genius, and so had a plan for reading himself to sleep in his very dark hole-of-a-den. He’d left the smallest crack in his leaf-and-stick doorway to allow for a tiny ray of sunshine: the perfect reading light.
With a great deal of effort, Bear strained his bulky frame to reach for a strategically placed book, picked up the gold-covered volume, positioned it on his protruding but pillow-soft belly, and opened the front cover. “Ah yes, The Wind in the Willows. The librarian thought it a good read for a solitary bear like myself as I try to fall asleep for the winter.” He remembered the librarian, a terse, beady-eyed hedgehog with the most unkempt, scraggly fur he’d ever seen. “She could be quite beautiful, I think, if she’d just take care of herself. But that isn’t any of my business. She can be ugly if she wants.”
He cleared his growl-ish throat, nestled his plump, hairy posterior into the pile of dry leaves lining the den, positioned the eyeglasses just so on the tip of his nose, shifted the book slightly so the ray of sunlight hit the top half of the opening page, and began to read.
Bear found the story captivating. “Such lovely animals, really, the whole lot of them. Ratty, Mole, Badger … but I do like Toad the best.” The eccentric, self-absorbed Toad lived in magnificent Toad Hall, and was controlled by untamed, consuming passions. Bear could identify.
After several hours of vicariously reading about animal adventures, Bear’s eyelids grew heavy, as if stones might be weighing them down-and-down-and-down. Engrossed in the story of Toad’s addiction to motorcars, however, he wasn’t ready to hibernate quite yet. “Humph, go away and leave me alone, you stones,” he snorted, but of course there were none to hear, let alone respond.
His leaded lids only grew heavier and heavier and heavier. First he tried reading aloud to keep himself awake, but his vision went cross-eyed and the words blurred like swimming black fish. Next he tried slapping his fat legs, but they were too well insulated to feel the slaps.
“I’ll just have to finish when I wake up next spring,” he said with a yawn, and turned down the corner of the page. “Page ninety-four … (snort) … chaaapter … (sknxx-xx) six.”
“Zzzzzz-zzzzzzz … hngGGggh-ppbhww … zzzzzz … “
The book slid down Bear’s furry stomach and landed with a plop. His chin fell, his snorty little snores deepened to chain saws, and his massive body jerk-jerked with the reflexes that transport a reader into another dimension.
All winter as the sleeping bear shrunk in size physically, he repeatedly dreamt of hosting Ratty, Mole, Badger and Toad to lavish picnics, congenial suppers and decadent banquets. Come March, his spring wake-up-call was one of personal transformation: a call to become a new creature by putting aside his self-centered ways and accepting, cherishing, and serving every animal he knew.
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