Rich Le Cropane is a repurposed Navy brat who makes his living writing computer software. While he has dabbled in writing for human consumption since his teens, he began to develop his craft in earnest only after his wife suggested that he "shut up and start typing, already." When he's not bossing computers around, he writes short stories and light verse, and rearranges the outlines of two novels he has in the works. Rich lives in Oswego with his very understanding wife and a brace of uppity cats.
Exit Antigonus Followed By Bear
by Rich Le Cropane
The bear chased the man. He chased the man past the befuddled child, who had just been subjected to a rambling monologue of denial and obfuscation. He chased him past the sailors, who pretended not to notice. He chased him through the side curtains and past the startled stage manager, who barely managed to get out of the way in time and watched wide-eyed as a half-ton of fur-covered muscle hurtled past him. Then, like runners crossing a finish line, they slowed to a stop. The bear settled down against the back wall and sat on his not inconsiderable rump, while the man quietly pulled over a chair and sat next to him.
The man turned to the bear and spoke softly. "You were really incredible tonight! It still amazes me that you can move that fast."
"Grrrrrr-rufff," said the bear. He looked from side to side, squinting in the backstage darkness.
"You looking for your snacks?" asked the man. "They're probably where you left them. Everybody knows not to mess with your snacks." He looked off to the right. "Isn't that them, on the floor by the sword rack?"
The bear squinted stage right, and snorted softly.
"Yeah, thought so. I'll go get 'em. Save my seat." He got up and retrieved a large paper sack, which he opened and placed in front of the bear.
After reaching into the sack, the bear produced a small cookie, which he tossed into his mouth. He shook the sack, making the contents rustle, and offered the open end to the man.
"Thanks," said the man, as he reached in for a cookie, looked at it carefully, and then popped it into his mouth. "I love these things."
"Mmmurr-urrrf," said the bear, as he set the sack between them. He pulled out another cookie and munched it.
"Bear, you're supposed to look at them first," said the man.
The bear tossed another cookie into his mouth.
"They're animal crackers, Bear," said the man. "You're supposed to see what animal you got before you eat it."
The bear snorted. "Man, what do I care what animal it is? I'm an omnivore; I'm not picky."
The man pulled another cookie from the sack, and looked at it closely in the dim light. "See," he said, as he held out the cookie. "Panther."
The bear examined the proffered cookie. "Leopard," he said.
"Really?" said the man. "You sure?"
The bear gave the man a hard look. "Yes, Man, I'm sure."
The man shook his head. "It's just a cookie. How can you be sure?"
"Trust me. I know about these things."
"Besides," said the man, "it's beige. How can you possibly tell what kind of cat it is?"
"Can you tell a Frenchman from a Chinaman?" asked the bear.
"Sure. Sure I can."
"How?" asked the bear. "They're both beige." He pointed a curved claw at the cookie in the man's hand. "Leopard."
The man popped the cookie into his mouth. "Well, they all crunch the same." He rummaged around in the sack. "You know, Bear, I was wondering--did you ever actually eat anyone? A person, I mean?"
"Are you nuts?" said the bear. "I'd get thrown out of Actors' Equity. It's in the by-laws." He squinted and peered out through the side curtains. "How 'bout you?"
"Ever eat anybody?"
The man looked shocked. "Of course not!"
"You sure, Man? You get pretty cranky when you're hungry."
"Well, I've never gotten that cranky."
The bear shrugged his shoulders. "OK, OK--I'm just asking."
Out on stage the fourth act was unfolding, and they sat quietly together, munching and listening. The bear looked thoughtful, the way that bears do quite naturally, even when all they're really doing is trying to loosen a stuck fish bone from between a couple of molars.
"Hey, Bear," said the man.
"I was reading an article in Scientific American the other night. Seems some long-hair brain researcher has figured out how consciousness works."
"No kidding," said the bear. "You read Scientific American?"
"Focus, Bear. This guy--Dr. von Trank is his name--says that everything we experience is filtered through memory."
"Yeah--he says that besides our long-term and short-term memories, we have a blitzspeicher, or 'instant memory'. So, like, right now, you're not really hearing me talk--"
"I'm just remembering having heard you talk about a tenth of a second ago, yes?" said the bear.
"Right! You read it?"
"Nah--you know I just look at the pictures," said the bear. "So, we experience everything in near real-time, huh? Cute. Could explain a lot."
"Think about it, Man. The act of remembering gives the brain a chance to mess with things. If consciousness is made up entirely of memories, then--"
"We never get anything straight," said the man.
"Bingo," said the bear. "Old memories get mixed up with the instant memories, and before long you've got hallucinations, schizophrenia, or that tortilla that looked like the Virgin Mary."
"Wow," said the man. "It's a wonder we ever know what's going on."
"True enough, Man," said the bear. "Still..."
"It's just that, understanding consciousness doesn't get us any closer to answering the really important questions."
The man turned in his chair to face the bear. "You mean the 'why are we here, meaning of life' kind of questions?"
"Heck no," said the bear. "Why would you want to know about that stuff for, anyway? Those aren't even questions--they're core beliefs. Look back over your life, Man, or even all of history: give me just one example where belief has been strengthened by truth."
The man pursed his lips. "Well, I dunno..."
"See, you can't, can you?"
"No," said the man. "I guess I can't."
The bear settled back against the wall. "Don't feel bad, Man," he said. "Belief and truth can't exist together; they mutually annihilate. It doesn't even matter if they agree. Truth makes belief unnecessary, while belief masks truth's meaning. Like, it's much better for me to believe that I have a purpose in life, than to know for certain what that purpose is. If I actually knew why I was here, I'd spend my life trying to live up to it, or even worse, resenting it. Believing that I have a purpose is enough; I don't need to know what it is."
"All right," said the man. "So, what questions should we be asking?"
"The really important questions? They're ones like, 'Why does sunshine make you sneeze?'"
The man chuckled. "OK, I get it. Like, why does your nose itch when your hands are wet?"
"Right," said the bear. "Now you've got it! Knowing the reason for my existence won't help me live a better life, but knowing why the sight of running water makes me have to tinkle would make it a whole lot easier for me to plan my day."
The man smiled and shook his head. Out on the stage, the fifth act was winding down. They sat quietly together, listening to the Shepherd and the Clown ham their way through the next-to-last scene. Around them, the other players were gathering to wait for their curtain calls.
The bear shifted against the wall and looked out into the darkness. "'We pay a great deal too dear, for what's given freely.'"
The man reached up and gently scratched the bear behind his ear. "Bear," he said, "I've got a really important question for you..."
"What's for dinner?"
"Like I said, Man, I'm not picky."
"Well, then, when the curtain drops, hows about we take a walk around the block and see what we bump into?"
"OK. I'll be right behind you, Man," said the bear. "Right behind you."
Copyright © 2006 Rich Le Cropane