Bourbon Penn 25

Anthropophages Anonymous (AA)

by Anthony Panegyres

We’re waiting at the gate entrance to The AA Compound as part of the welcoming team on Homo Sapiens Day, a monthly occurrence, officially called “The Day of Visit”. Our housemate, Mick, along with my wife, Liz, hold signs with visitors’ names as the human guests, all paying top dollar, roll in.

“Up higher, Mick,” says Liz.

Mick Oats stretches his arms so all the guests can see his sign with “Dan” on it. Beside him, the comb to my honey, Liz, holds aloft a sign saying “Joni”.

“Welcome – Hi there – Howdy,” we say in true bear-folk style to the homo sapiens, “Keep on down the path ‘til you get to The Great Stone Table.” All three of us arcto sapiens smell one another’s hunger.

Liz looks immaculate. Her groomed coat finely brushed, shimmering golden-brown, no signs of leftover morsels or plants or crawlies. She’s always sublime on The Day of Visit. And although I’m a rare tetrasyllabic arcto sapiens, I can’t grasp why she grooms herself so pristinely for the day. “You look a delight,” I tell her anyway because I love her. “And smell good, too.” If I say anything more figurative in nature, it would stump my beloved.

“Like honey,” Mick agrees. It doesn’t mean a hell of a lot as Mick compares all likeable things to honey.

I love The Day of Visit. Sounds patronizing, but truth is it’s a chance to practice my language skills with outsiders.

The two human guests we’re responsible for have seen our signs and approach with remarkably casual gaits.

“Dan?” asks Mick.

Dan’s short and squat, a solid earthy type with a backpack slung over his shoulders. His odor is warm and well-intentioned. He puts out a hand to shake our paw-hands.

“And I’d say you’re Joni,” says Liz to the human woman.

Joni swivels around in her jeans. If she is Dan’s wife, she is years younger. Perhaps she’s just a friend? Not much fat on her, an athletic type, not worth getting your appetite up over.

Hopefully, she isn’t an arctophiliac, one of those Teddy Bear Lovers. Last month, a homo sapiens visitor rubbed and patted me for the entire tour –no shame at all– right in front of Liz, too. Though the petting was obvious enough, out of a loyal husbandly streak, I never mentioned the visitor’s whispered desires to Liz.

Joni’s scent gives off traces of fear, an unpleasantness the three of us bear-folk will have to stomach for a while. Good thing though, when human bodies are flooded with fear or adrenaline, it seriously affects the taste of their flesh. You have to kill them while they’re calm, completely chilled out. Not that I eat humans anymore.

I’m reformed.

We all are.

“Follow me,” says Mick to our humans. He lopes downhill from the entrance gate along the sole asphalt road.

“You two are lucky,” says Liz, by Joni’s side. “Today, we’re having lunch with the Holy James Davis. Only Ted knows how to say his complete title.”

“The Holiest of Holies, the Great Saviour, James Davis,” I say.

“He’s always had a way with those long words,” says Liz.

“Trisyllabic,” says Dan.

Dan must’ve heard about bright bear-folk in The Homo Sapiens Notebook on Arcto Sapiens.

“Tetrasyllabic,” I add, “but as you may have noticed, I can even get up to five on a good day. Tet – one, ra – two, syl – three, la – four, and bic – five.”

The gate to the AA Compound runs from the sole asphalt road all the way to the garage in front of the Holiest of Holies, The Great Saviour, James Davis’ house. It’s the only entry point to The Compound; unless you’re an otter or a fish. There’s a creek with seasonal migratory salmon, which flows through our grounds, entering and exiting through sluice channels in the stone perimeter-wall boundaries. Holy James has a couple of fancy sports cars too. Goes racing out of The Compound once a week on our Day of Rest.

Before we reach Lord James’ home, we take a turn down a short limestone path, lined with statues of arcto sapiens cubs with names beneath.

“Perfect,” says Joni as we near The Great Stone Table, laden with food for an arcto sapiens lunch. Berries of rich dark blues and blood reds drizzled in honey, legs of lamb drizzled in honey, bowls of salmon caviar drizzled in honey.

Perfect. Euphemism? Hyperbole? But Joni seems pretty genuine to me, which is nice. You see I’ve argued and argued how honey in this quantity is overdoing it for the human guests, plus it just feels so tacky.

“Holy James is here to greet us all,” says Liz. My wife gushes when she says this, as if it’s an unusual honor. It’s weird as Lord James is always at The Great Stone Table on The Day of Visit.

“Dan and Joni, you’ll be seated with us,” I say, indicating the benches nearest to the head of the table.

“Which one is he?” asks Joni.

“Can’t you tell?” asks Liz, and when Joni shrugs her shoulder, Liz points to a human seated at the far end. “Holy James,” she reverently exhales his name.

“Really?” Joni looks over at Dan, who turns his palms outward. “Thought he’d look a little more holy. You know: beard, robes, long hair or shaved head, or even weird headwear. Does he always wear Ray-Bans?”

Lord James stands and we arctos hush-up, the homo sapiens follow suit, then a vibrating rumble arises from us bear-folk. Dan reassures Joni, patting her arm. Our arcto voices shift into speech, joining Holy James in prayer. “Thank you, Holy James, for the food we are about to receive and for the good of our bodies. For James’ sake and in James’ name, Amen.”

Holy James raises his hands, blessing us all. “We welcome all people on this day, The Day of Visit. You can bear witness to AA and what we have achieved through prayer and faith and the 12 Steps. We are humbled to break bread with you all.”

Holy James sits down. Mick and Liz and I fill our guests’ plates high, then pile food onto our own and start to chow down. I notice Dan keeps looking my way. Dan’ll be a talker for sure, which is swell, I often wish Liz would offer me more in terms of conversation – I’ve given up on Mick long ago.

Joni licks honey from her fingertips, “Bit of a nature lover from way back, so I’m looking forward to the tour. I’m especially keen on seeing the woods.”

It’s a relief to hear. You see, now and then we get a try-hard-Emmanuel. In spite of Holy James rigorous inspection of those buying tickets for the Day of Visit, try-hard-Emmanuels slip through, appearing sporadically to pose as visitors, taking pics and filming, threatening to sue our Lord for using us bear folk. The actual Emmanuel, the original, was the only one who braved taking it all the way to The Courts. Well, almost all the way. I assisted our Lord with the paperwork in that case. Even hit the papers, not that bear folk read the papers. It was also all the rage on something stranger called social media. Miraculously, which isn’t overly surprising as Holy James is divine, Emmanuel vanished before the trial began.

Meantime, the miracle man I speak of, Lord James, greets every guest and bear present, like a successful salesman. We bear folk kiss his outstretched hand, a few, like Liz, go further and lick it with long arcto tongues. I always raise a brow at this. At home, when I questioned Liz once about the “licking”, she replied: “Don’t you think Holy James deserves more than a brief peck?”

Mid-meal, Dan tugs on my fur and passes me a note, “Read it later in private,” he whispers. I slip the note into my red polo-shirt pocket – red polos being the preferred wear on The Compound.

After the rounds, Holy James is back at the head of the table, now with a straight jacket on. Today’s miracle is an old bear fave. He wriggles and seems to suck in his breath for an inordinate amount of time. Nobody knows how he does it.

“We had no desire to eat him,” I say to our guests as we all watch our Lord escape. “When we told him the story of our guilt about having eaten humans, he confirmed our belief: A God. A God we could feel and see and hear, sent to save us from our sins. When he proposed AA, we followed him here without question.”

“I’ve heard that AA hasn’t worked elsewhere,” says Joni.

“Hard to hold a bear down when he’s hungry,” I say, but Joni is about to wet her pants, so I clarify. “It’s all in the belief. You see other AA attempts have asked us to believe in a God, one of yours or an unseen alike. Our arcto minds don’t work that way.”

“Having Holy James made the 2nd Stage easy,” says Liz, licking honey from her paw-hands. “The greater power is James.”

“And the other stages?” asks Dan.

It’s the whole stages-explanation bit today. Holy James called me into his office once. “You’re the bear to talk stages. Other bear folk are a little too candid on certain matters. Keep the past consumption of humans to a minimum. Keep it fun. Oh, and Liz is pretty good at it too – great sidekick. Very passionate about what we’ve achieved here at The Compound.”

“Well,” I now say to our two guests, while scooping up some berries, “Stage 3 followed on: we’ve given our lives over to Holy James and his care.”

And I’m glad we have. I guess the old river in our former place was kind of nice, but we didn’t have woods like here, no salmon run, no berry trees, no honey fields; just dull crops – we’d moved away from livestock due to our hunger pangs. Sure, I help Holy James out a little with the paperwork here in The Compound, but in the old place I was snowed under – the only arcto truly able to deal with those matters. But I always had this wriggle in my gut that humans were taking advantage of our yields. Weren’t getting the proper price type of thing.

Anyway, I’m digressing, let me return to the stages.

“Stage 4 was a moral account, and Stage 5 had us admit our sins to Holy James and someone else. We’ve not only all opened up to each other, but also to many humans on The Day of Visit.”

“I’m happy to share with you those I’ve eaten,” Liz says beatifically.

“I’d like to stick with the stages for now,” Dan sounds tentative, “if that’s okay?”

“Stage 6 was when we prepared to ask Holy James to remove our defects.” Our Stage 6 defects are largely appetite-based, but Holy James tends to focus on eating homo sapiens, even though most of us haven’t eaten a human in many years. But whenever we drift to other flaws, Holy James reels us back to the topic, until even a dimwit like Mick understands our biggest defect is our appetite for human flesh.

Liz abruptly bows her head, as per her habit whenever Lord James nears.

“Just about to learn Stage 7,” says Dan to the Holiest of Holies. “Happy for you to join us.”

Holy James’ smile, despite the sunnies, is Lordly.

“Stage 7,” I say, “was when we asked Holy James to remove our flaws, as discussed in Stage 6. You know, human flesh type of thing.”

“And I suppose you have,” says Dan to Holy James.

“Let my sleuth speak for themselves. They’re the ones being saved.”

“I’ve not eaten another human since I was saved by Holy James,” says Liz. “I’ve not craved to either. You’re both safe with us. No guest has ever been eaten on The Day of Visit.”

Think we did have one guest disappear though, a try-hard-Emmanuel type. Cops were all over The Compound searching for “traces”, even though any bear could smell that he’d been long gone. We arctos put his vanishing down to another miracle of Holy James.

I cut back in. “Stage 8 was when we made lists of those we have to make amends for. It was tricky as we believed we’d dined on them all. But Holy James here pointed out that we could also list the friends and brothers and sisters and parents of those consumed.”

“So you feel real remorse?” Dan states it as much as asks. Dan’s a bright spark, no trouble at all keeping to monosyllabic and disyllabic words for Liz and Mick. Usually, I’m called on to provide synonyms for the two.

We all nod. I hope we don’t appear overly eager.

“And Stage 9?”

I pause. I’m never sure when we’ll go through, or even begin, Stage 9. Everyone else in The Compound is fine with that. Only I ever ask questions. “Stage 9 is not mine to speak of,” I say, bowing my head in deference to the Great Saviour.

Joni and Dan both turn to Holy James. “Stage 9 will happen. It involves making direct amends … The lists from Stage 8 are ready, but it’s hard, humans who’ve been hurt aren’t yet ready to speak to my sleuth. They don’t have faith.”

“Or there are legal reasons,” states Dan.

“We pray though,” says Liz with pride. “We pray and improve our conscious contact with James. As we know him. He has gifted us the knowledge of his will.”

“You are a shining model for all,” says Holy James to Liz.

We set off on the tour, leaving Holy James at The Great Stone Table. Dan peppers me with questions the whole time about Holy James and The Compound.

“Aw, too cute!” says Joni, as we arrive at the tour’s first stop: The Cub Yard on the verge of the woods. Dan and Joni get right in there, giving the cubs a good pat, happily earning a few scratches play-fighting with them. Joni giggles when the cubs lick her face.

Berry-picking is a regular for homo sapiens on The Day of Visit, so I’ll skip that bit, most people know what it entails.

Dan and Joni accompany me, Liz, and Mick to the optional parts of the tour too. Firstly, the buzzing honey fields. Only a few homo sapiens ever go there – suppose it’s a lot of trouble with the whites and nets and smokers.

But later on what’s impressed us most, in spite of the warning, is that Joni and Dan are the sole humans game enough to watch us bear folk fish for salmon. An event where we arctos tend to get aggro and engage in disputes. I’ve been mindful enough to remove my polo to keep Dan’s note dry before I begin to flip salmon from the creek on to the bank. The pair of humans sit by a trunk on the riverbank and watch us jawing and clawing each other as we vie for the best spots. Even though the place is a bear utopia – Holy James has found us a celestial place of residence – it warms us no end to see these two humans viewing arcto-folk in what The Homo Sapiens Notebook on Arcto Sapiens claims is our most dangerous, primal state.

“Good folk, those two,” I say to Mick and Liz afterward on the lounge at home. Liz fastidiously combs her fur.

“Good as honey,” agrees Mick.

“I’m off to see Holy James,” says Liz, once fully groomed. “I wish to receive his blessing.”

I’m fine with that. Some arcto folk want to be constantly closer to God. Plus, Holy James has an arcto-sized spa.

After Liz has left, I retrieve the note from my pocket.

Beware of James. What’s happened to your farm and holdings? I’ll come back in disguise next month on the The Day of Visit. Look for the beard.

“What’s it say?” asks Mick.

I scrunch it up. “Just a thank you for hosting them.”

“Sweet,” says Mick.

“Like honey?”

“Like honey.”

“Feel like an early night,” I say while rising from the couch.

“No group prayer to Holy James?”

“I’m beat. I’ll give thanks in bed.”

I lie in bed, racking my head over the message. Dan came across as honest, not a try-hard-Emmanuel at all.

What does it matter that we moved? All bear folk here agreed to Holy James managing our old farm, and we, in turn, would be saved by our move to The Compound. The shift’s been so beneficial – we still farm, only in a more natural way. Honey and berries feel right. We couldn’t care less about the old place now. Why would we when life on The Compound is a Bear Nirvana?

The “Beware of James” part of the note is what I keep returning to. We always get junk like this, but not from decent folk like Dan. They’re the more crazed try-hard Emmanuel types. Is that why I’m dwelling over the note? There’s no reason to. Loads of food where we now are, more new cubs than ever before, and there’s land aplenty to gambol around in.

Still, I’m finding it hard to nod off. I overhear Mick in his bed, reciting The James’ Prayer before sleep, “Our James, who art in The Compound, hallowed be …”

And later again, Liz slips in. The silver moonlight through the open window arrives with her.

I playfully pat her rump as she settles on the bed.

“Not tonight, Ted.”

“It’s been a while.”

“I’m tired, that’s all. Holy James had much to gift me this night.”

“Sure.” Although I don’t quite understand. We used to bear-romp whenever the chance. Her coat glows a wonderful rubicund under the wash of moonlight, “I love your face. Barely unchanged since we met.”

“Love you too, Ted,” she says. “Almost as much as Holy James. And he has news.”


“Holy James has a brother who’s coming to live in The Compound.” She rolls over away from me. “Sweet dreams.”

Strange how The Holiest of Holies hasn’t ever mentioned a brother before.

Liz recites a prayer to Lord James twice, before she nods off, while I, sleepless, admire her silhouetted figure. Although, it isn’t really her figure I admire, we are both getting older after all, rather I venerate the warmth of our love, our faithful devotion over the many years.

• • •

A few weeks later, at noon, after a fruitful day of salmon fishing – ripe with caviar – The Holiest of Holies, James Davis, holds assembly at The Great Stone Table. He announces what Liz has already told me: his brother is rolling up to stay with us.

Holy James asserts that his sibling is a fellow Lord who will serve the sleuth.

“With due respect, Holy James” says Mick Oates, “I won’t believe he’s a Lord until I see him with my own two eyes, hear him with my own two ears, and smell him with my own two nostrils.” We rumble in agreement, all except one bear. There’s plenty of puffing going on too, expelling air by narrowing our muzzles and protruding our upper lips.

Mick echoes all our thoughts: bear folk have a penchant for the literal. For years, humans have been trying to proselytize our people. Our lack of imagination, when compared to homo sapiens, means that we bear folk, although conservative-minded, have never been drawn to God or religion in general. We’ve rebuked all attempts from evangelists and missionaries to have Jesus, Vishnu, Krishna, Allah, Jehovah, Zarathustra, Yu-huang or Buddha in our lives. This has affected previous attempts at AA elsewhere, as an integral element of AA involves believing in God (or a God-like entity) as a greater power, and for the AA sufferer to give their life over to a Higher Power’s care. Without visibly seeing a Higher Power, the notion of AA was only ever a fantasy. That’s why we thank James. We’ve seen him in action. But this brother, well we’ve never seen him do anything. We haven’t even met him.

“Who are we to doubt, Holy James?” argues my wife, naturally the sole bear without objection.

We bear folk grumble again until Holy James holds aloft a placating hand. “I know how you feel. And you will see my brother in his holy flesh and judge for yourselves. But please, if you are still troubled by him, have faith in all the Stages we’ve covered. Stage 1 first and foremost.”

Mick leads the chant, and all soon join in: “All bears are without power over human flesh. All bears are without power over human flesh. All bears are without power over human flesh.”

The next Day of Visit, Holy James requests that I wait to welcome the human guests at The Great Stone Table, rather than the entrance gate.

“It’s an honor,” adds Liz.

“But I like to welcome the guests at the gate,” I say, “and I have to be there this time.”

“Look Ted,” says Holy James. “You’re brighter than the rest of my beloved sleuth. Out there, there’s a bit more trouble than usual. Protestor types, try-hard-Emmanuels, who want to ruin what we have here. Who don’t believe in us and our ability to change, to grow. So we have to be extra vigilant.”

I mute myself. The connotations of Holy James using trisyllabic and tetrasyllabic lingo reflect his profound respect for me.

Meanwhile, Mick has also been given unusual orders: His role is to ensure that no humans return for a second visit. “We need to provide The Day of Visit to as many new people as we can,” Holy James reasons now to all of us. “Mick, roar if you need to scare any returned away.”

I wait at the table, brooding over the new rule. I haven’t forgotten Dan and his niece. Dan’s beard won’t suffice to make it through The Compound. Arcto-folk can smell right through any visual disguise.

Still, when the guests arrive down the path bordered by statues of the cubs, there’s my short man, with his new beard, being guided along, and what’s more, he certainly doesn’t smell of Dan. It’s as if he’s rolled in dog.

Holy James greets all. Bearded Dan introduces himself as “Ben” and in what isn’t the norm, he doesn’t sit where he’s meant to, but makes a bee-line for me. Another human guest shrugs and moves to sit in another spot.

It’s the usual splendorous spread on the table, and there’s an added bonus of an overweight guest sitting in the corner. His wonderful fatty lining arouses all our appetites.

Mick sniffs the air furiously. “Something doesn’t taste right,” he says. Mick’s nostrils, all the while, flare open and closed. He instinctively begins to grumble.

Meanwhile, Dan, finger over his lips, passes me a postcard.

I covertly slip it into the pocket of my polo-shirt as Mick begins to sniff the human guests, and our human guests respond with uneasy smiles.

“Smell something faintly familiar,” says Mick. Eventually Mick’s sharp nose leads him to Ben, AKA Dan. Mick remains there sniffing, then opens his maw wide and roars in Dan’s direction.

We’ve all been on the receiving end of a bear roar: canines on display, waves of putrid hot air, spittle dripping. More theatre than anything else, we puff when we want to intimidate, and huff when frightened. Roaring is the most effective tool in our kit though, and it’s working: the homo sapiens quiver, a few leap away from Mick, others are at the edge of their stone benches, ready to follow suit. The tasty adipose guy clasps his hands together in prayer.

“Best be off,” I whisper to Dan.

Dan skedaddles up the road, legs pistoning away.

“Should I eat him?” calls Mick, trailing after Dan with a couple of theatrical growls.

“No,” calls out Holy James. “Think he’s leaving.”

The entire day ends up a fiasco. Most visitors leave following Dan’s flight. Those who remain reek of fear the whole time, and the few guests who do brave a tour to The Honey Fields get liberally stung.

I’m so disappointed by the day’s events that it is only later on in the evening – after Liz leaves to receive the Gift from Holy James – that I recall the postcard in my pocket. Mick watches on as I pull out a pic of a place titled Jim’s Regal Resort and Casino. Ostentatious buildings – a place for real high rollers – with a river flowing through the manicured grounds.

“What’s that?” asks Mick.

“Pic from the guy today. The one you scared off.”

“On Holy James’ orders.”

“Thought it’d be something more,” I say, abandoning the postcard on the table.

“Well, well, well,” says Mick, “look what they’ve done with the old place.”

“Old place?”

“Yeah, here in the pic. Never forget that river from my old cubbing days. Pretty tacky now, hey? Humans sure have a way of messing up.”

I stroke Mick’s broad back, delighted how disyllabic Mick has recognised our old farm. “The compound we’re on now is honey compared to what they’ve done to the old home, isn’t it, Mick?”

I decide to lope down the asphalt road to the Saviour’s home. Once there, I catch faint traces in the air of an arcto on heat. I go down on all fours and creep, following the intoxicating scent, paws padding softly around first to the side of the home, and then to the Saviour’s bedroom window. Mating grunts. Sex scents. Arcto and human.

I imagine Liz’ long arcto tongue. What it might be doing. My coat bristles over exactly what “receiving the Gift of James” might entail.

Vison blurred, it’s all I can do to prevent myself from barging in and leaving a trail of ruby behind me. Instead, I slap the earth with my two front paws, and charge off through the woods; clawing trees on the way, bowling over shrubs. On reaching the cold brook, I dive in, and begin to maul salmon. Soon, I’m consumed by it all, flipping fish on to the shore without care, not even chowing down, I’m twisting and leaping, snarling and lunging, at anything that moves.

After exhausting myself, I lie there panting. A couple of otters come out to investigate – a few minutes ago they would have been in peril – but I barely have the energy to flap a paw at them now. My fury abated, at least for a time. My lungs heave like bellows until they gradually slow, settling into a rhythm of pensive sorrow.

Clouds blanket the moon and the light turns murky. The minutes turn to quarter hours, and then one gray hour follows another. I fall asleep.

Later again, the moon lights up the river and surrounding trees, awakening me, beseeching me to listen: an epiphany arriving on a gentle night breeze. The place itself breathes its sanctity to me, its natural purity, its divine nature. The woods whisper cajolingly, with all the fragrance and aromas of their paradise: the rich skin of salmon, the sweet scent of honey from afar, the ripening berries and their piquant flesh. I resolve to keep my maw clamped up forever about the whole Liz and James fiasco as I know with a rich, sweet, ripe, piquant certainty that all of us bear folk have finer lives here than anywhere else.

I reach home as the sun rises to find Liz all weepy. She tells me she’s leaving The Compound. I raise a brow as Liz says, “All will be explained when his holy brother arrives, but I’ll be going with Lord James.”

I reckon her grief sincere.

“I love you, Ted. But I wish to follow in his footsteps. Holy James and I will return to the old place.”

I could rant, point things out, Hell, I want to, but there’s more than a sole bubble being popped at risk here.

When the new car, with Holy James’ brother, arrives, all the arcto folk head straight for The Great Stone Table. We wait there until Holy James arrives with his brother, who certainly looks and smells like our Lord, plus he wears the same sharp Ray-Bans. The bear folk listen on as Holy James announces his pending departure, only he calls it his “leaving” due to the trisyllabic nature of “departure”. He’s also taking Liz with him – she is a token, so as not to forget us all. “But, I assure you, my brother is also divine. So, you will want for nothing.”

Mick is the first to huff. Others follow, some huffing, several puffing. All due to our distrust in the divinity of the seen, but unwitnessed, brother.

Once the thunder eases, Liz reminds us all that “Holy James can only speak the truth.”

“Lord, you can’t leave your sleuth,” says Mick, pounding the stone bench. “And that’s that.”

“I’ll leave this arvo,” says Holy James. “But the program will remain with my blessing.”

Bears huff and puff their disapproval once more. In the end, the unverified Holy Brother says to Lord James, “Maybe it’s best if you stay the night?” We hush to hear him. Holy James shakes his head and tells his brother he has: “vital things to attend to that can’t wait.”

“If you have to go, come back tomorrow to see how things are,” says his brother in a stench of distress.

Lord James nods to his brother, and I see him mouth “I promise you,” before he turns back to address his sleuth: “And now for you to witness my divine brother. Please feel free to inspect the tank and cuffs and chains.” A tank is filled to the brim with water, and the Lord’s brother is handcuffed. Most bear folk are curious, so they check out the tank and the cuffs and the heavy chains. “You are free to chain him too.”

Once a few bears have wrapped him in heavy iron, the brother is tossed into the tank. “Hold your own breath,” Holy James says to us all, “to witness his divine nature.” We try to but after a couple of minutes we’re all done. Yet Lord James’ brother exits after a divine four minutes, free of his chains and panting.

We roar our applause.

After packing her belongings, Liz wraps her arms around me to say farewell forever. “You get it, Ted. This is such an honor.”

Part of me, a part I don’t like, wants to rip into her, another almost equally despicable part wants to return the embrace. In the end I pat her a few times on the back.

They zoom out of the compound a few minutes later. Roof of the sports cabriolet down to accommodate Liz’s torso.

After the arcto folk have returned to their homes, I sneak over to Holy James place.

All it takes is a knock on the door and the new miracle man welcomes me in.

It’s a pleasure to pick him up by the throat, bear-puffing away. My taste buds won’t mind a bite either, although a trail of urine, exiting from one leg of the brother’s jeans and trailing down a boot, indicates he’d already taste overpowering.

Like a child with a ragged doll who’s lost favor, I shake James’ brother around in the air. I think of cuffing him whenever he whimpers, but don’t. After a short while, I drop the Saviour’s brother to the floor, and put a foot-paw over his chest.

“Please, don’t eat me,” says the bug-eyed newbie, trembling like a mouse in the cold.

“It’s okay. The game’s not up for you.”

The brother continues to plea for his life. And I repeat myself: “The game’s not up for you. You’re to remain here and follow in your brother’s footsteps to become the Saviour we all need. I swear not to say a word. You’ll have to do the same … Are you even really his brother?”

He gulps as he nods.

“I want time alone with your brother tomorrow. Just to discuss a few things, nothing drastic. You’re to stay at mine until tomorrow afternoon. Mick’ll keep you company. Otherwise.” And I open my maw as wide as possible.

You might think he’d snitch, but then again you’ve probably never been bear-handled.

The following morning, I’m up and ready, watching for the return of Holy James’ car. I’ll have to be the first to see him. After he wheels in and parks in his garage, I briefly contemplate knocking on the door, but cave it in instead. I rush inside, growling. Holy James, who must have just sat down on the sofa, cringes.

Satisfied with the effect, I change to a civil tone. “Howdy.”

“Now, Ted, don’t do anything rash.”

“Breathe easy. I wouldn’t hurt a fly.” Despite my entrance, I want Holy James calm.

“Mean it?” he points to the front door.

“I swear on Holy James. It’s okay. I know the plan.” His odor of panic dissipates a touch. “Bit of theatre,” I say motioning to the wreckage of a door, “but that’s where it ends. In fact, if we go out to the spa and chill, I’ll offer you a deal you can’t refuse.”

Holy James shrugs his shoulders and leads me to the spa out back. We settle into the warm water. “I’ve always carried Stage Two with me: The Greater Power is James,” I say over the sound of soothing bubbles. Holy James only stinks a smidgen now, almost undetectable through the tang of chlorine. “I want it to go as planned. It’s you who removed my flaws. Stage 7 purged me of sin.

“Guess I’m saying I also want you to take good care of Liz.” The last line about Liz almost chokes me up, but I find my way through.

“I will Ted. I promise. I’ll always look after my sleuth.”

“Least there’ll be a new saviour for all to follow here. You’ve built us a real paradise.”

Holy James spreads his arms, resting them over the spa’s ledge. “I have led you all to paradise. One in which all those of faith can share.”

I prevent myself from licking my lips. The distance between us could be closed within a second. Holy James’ flesh smells tantalizingly calm.

And it is closed in a second, I snatch the Saviour’s arm while holding my other paw-hand over Holy James’ mouth to keep him quiet. I bite into the limb, piercing a smidgen; enough to drink the blood of Holy James.

“Keep quiet?” I ask after withdrawing my canines. Only his nick still bleeds, powdering the water, making me heady.

Once James ascents with a nervous jerk of his head, I remove my paw-hand. Maybe I’ll come back with a bandage, maybe not? It’s not the deepest bite. But then again, the spa bubbles are turning into a rosé wine, perhaps I hit an artery?

I hop out of the spa and shake myself off, spraying chlorinated water. Holy James eyelids grow heavier. He’s slumping over, head drooping closer to the chlorine. I remove his bleeding arm from the water and lean it over the side. No use wasting good blood is there? What’s a slurp or two? So, I indulge a little. I nudge Holy James, let him know how I’ll take care of his minor cut. But there’s no response. His eyes shutting, breathing fainter. And with every sip, or scull, he further fades.

Until there’s a body all for myself, which is best devoured while fresh. That way there’s only a matter of draining and refilling the tub. Hiding the clothes, not a fan of hair either.

As I leave his home, bear-folk are gathered at The Great Table. There’s already a hubbub of excitement about the brother. I make my way through the tales of the holy brother’s miracle. The sleuth has a new focus of worship.

I take off through the woods, attempting to alleviate a little of the hurt from Liz’s leaving. It won’t take away all the hurt, of course, and I am hurting, awfully hurting. If Liz does return to The AA Compound, my gut instinct is she’ll soon fall for our new deity, though whether he’s a Teddy Bear Lover like his brother remains to be seen.

What about the truth you might ask? The old place? The brothers’ lack of divinity?

Well, all I have to do is focus on safeguarding the Heaven we’re now in and the beauty of verisimilitude. I pull imaginary puppet strings, James’ brother my figurine.

Verisimilitude: that’s a six-syllable blessing.

Anthony Panegyres’ stories have appeared in The Best Australian Stories, The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror Vol. 2 & 6, Overland Literary Journal 204 & 214, Meanjin Quarterly, the award-winning anthologies Bloodlines and At the Edge and elsewhere. His most recent story homes include the anthologies: We’ll Stand in That Place & Other Stories; The Sky Falls Down: An Anthology of Loss; Changing Tides, and Spawn of War and Deathiness. He has been shortlisted for a number of awards, including The Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Story. Although more comfortable with prose, he has also had nonfiction published in The Guardian, and the Overland and Meanjin websites.