I think it was the evening when the door buzzer went off. I picked up the entryphone but heard nothing. That was odd. When the bell rang again I went downstairs to the door.
Yes, it must have been the evening because the shadows were long, and I'm never awake to see long shadows in the morning, not in the summer anyway. And it must have been the summer. How else would the glorious blue of the sky reflected so well off its dark eyes? It looked at me quizzically, with a slightly fuzzed brow.
I suppose I should have been frightened, or taken aback or something. Instead, found myself wondering how it could have reached the bell. It was so little, about a foot high. Furry. Cute, in a certain sort of way, like a puppy is cute; nervous and bold at the same time. Instantly I felt some recognition and wondered where I had seen it before. It was.... a bear, I suppose, except bears aren't so small, not even baby bears. Maybe it was a Koala. But I seem to remember that Koalas aren't bears at all, and anyway, what would it eat? The bear - let's call it a bear - was watching me to see how I'd react.
I looked in my pockets for something to feed it. That's what I do when confronted with cute things. I found couple of chocolate covered coffee beans and offered them to it. It managed to grap them in its paw, just about, and shovel them into its mouth. It sucked off the chocolate and spat out the beans. It seemed to smile.
At this point I was at a loss. The encounter seemed to be over. I turned to go back inside to finish the writeup I was working on before the doorbell rang. But the bear looked hurt by my actions, offended. I wasn't sure what was expected of me.
The bear extended an arm -- well a leg, I suppose, if you want to be technical, but it was standing on its hind legs only, and I couldn't think of what was being offered me anything other than an arm, with a crude hand at the end; no opposable thumbs or even real claws, just a soft, round pad that felt so comfortable and soft when I held it.
It wanted to take me somewhere; that much was obvious to me now. I let it lead me, stooping to keep its hand in mine which, even extended straight above its head, barely passed my knees. We were going out the front gate when I noticed I was barefoot, but it seemed a shame to disturb the thing. When we got to the Zebra Crossing opposite the pub, I also realised I had left the TV and lights on, but at least I had keys. This was lucky, as my flatmate was in Paris that evening. We crossed the road and walked down past the shop where she always stops me to look at wedding dresses. I was relieved the bear didn't seem interested in them.
We turned there into that wonderful curving road with the incredible views, and I stopped for a bit to gaze, with the bear, out where the lovers always gaze towards the docks, the city and the hills, a man behind a woman, arms around her, in the sun. The bear, next to me, hand still in mine, stared up at me with that look of pure understanding that only animals and small children can achieve. I wondered what it was that it understood.
We went down the steps and headed up along the Avon Gorge towards the bridge. A few passers-by gave us bemused looks; perhaps they had noticed I wasn't wearing shoes. Near the bridge, the bear stooped to pick up something: a stick. I seemed to be expected to to the same, but all I could find was a broken chair-leg from a nearby skip. We began to cross the bridge when it stopped dead in the middle. I remembered vaguely what this was. It couldn't reach the side; they put up huge barriers here to stop people jumping off. So I had to hold it in one hand and my chair-leg in the other. We managed to drop our sticks at exactly the same time.
Crossing the bridge was more difficult than when the game is normally played. I was looking frantically from left to right, watching for oncoming traffic. The bear, though, led me to the other side of the middle, where the walls of the Gorge rose higher and steeper. His stick had already floated under the bridge down the trickle of a river, and was visible some way on. We waited for two minutes for my chair-leg. It didn't emerge. The bear acted as if he'd proved some kind of a point, and led me onwards.
Over the other end of the bridge, the trees seemed a lot greener than normal. Not brighter green, just greener in some undefined sense. We turned left and headed into the little wooded area that went down the side of the gorge.
It was about then that things started to get strange, because the wood was denser and thicker than I remembered it. After only a minute, I couldn't see where we came in. The bear seemed happy, excited even. There was a spring to its step. I was beginning to get concerned; if it ran away, I'd be lost.
I don't know how long we walked, but it seemed like an age. The sun finally sank out of view and dusk hung thickly in the air when we emerged in a clearing, a few feet across. We stopped, and I stood in the middle while the bear made an odd kind of call, that sounded like it was smacking its lips together.
Slowly, they came. A rabbit, staring at me distainfully, popped up from a burrow in front of me. An owl fluttered down to a branch to my right and gave a sudden "Woohoo". A tiny pig came out of the forest and stood to my left, looking nervous and tensed. Strangely, a donkey appeared behind me, looking up at me with pity. For the third time that day, it was all terribly familiar, somehow.
The animals came in closer, and the bear seemed to smile. And I began to think. A donkey has a nasty kick to it. A pig can do some damage if it runs at you. An owl is a bird of prey. A rabbit - OK, a rabbit is pretty harmless. But I got the impression it was here to watch.
Moonlight glinted off the bear's teeth. They were very sharp, and it was licking its lips again. I was deeply confused now; it seemed like a lot of effort just to eat me; this journey. I thought we were friends. The animals moved in.
In the woods, I thought I saw a tiger moving closer. The bear's crude pads had sprouted vicious claws. It snarled...
I was behind the Avon Gorge Hotel when the lights went on. The sun was high, so I guessed that it was about midday. I shook off the mud from my ripped clothes and began to head home, stopping only to buy some white wine to make the sauce for dinner. Whatever lesson I was supposed to learn that day, it was too subtle for me.