More children’s stories that aren’t for children.
Vasili and his Favourite Bear
Once upon a time there was a little boy named Vasili.
He lived in a little village, in a little vale, in a shadow of a little mountain, nestled in the crook of winter’s elbow.
Vasili was greatly loved by his family and friends and big things were expected of him some day. Yes, Vasili was a very brave little boy and a very wise little boy. Indeed, the only thing greater than Vasili’s wisdom and courage, was his love for his little stuffed bear.
It was a childhood toy that Vasili called Piotr and he carried Piotr everywhere.
His parents said that Piotr had once been a real bear, who Vasili’s mother had hunted over the course of days until finally she had wrestled it into the snow and bashed its head in with a rock until the bear’s blood and viscera had run red across the snow. But Vasili was pretty sure this was just one of his mother’s little jokes and she’d bought Piotr from a passing trader. She was always joking, was Vasili’s mother.
One night, Vasili’s mother put him to bed, saying: “Goodnight, little Vasili. Don’t let the dire bedbugs rip your puny flesh to shreds.”
But instead of sleeping through the night as he usually did, Vasili woke up to find Piotr the bear leaning over him, ticking his nose with his furry paw.
Vasili sneezed and Piotr lept back suddenly.
“Shhhhh!” said Piotr, in an adorable little bear-voice that rumbled like a sudden avalanche, “Follow me!”
And, because he loved his little bear more than anything, Vasili got out of bed and got dressed.
“Don’t forget to put on your shoes!” said Piotr. “It wouldn’t do to go out bear-foot.”
“Ha!” said Vasili, quietly. “It’s funny because you’re a bear. And also because if I put a bear on my foot it would surely rip my delicate limbs apart.”
“Yes.” said Piotr. “That’s why it’s funny. Now come with me.”
And Piotr led Vasili out of his room, out of his house and out of his village, creeping silently past the wards the town’s wizards had put around the walls.
“Where are we going?” said Vasili, wonder sparkling in his voice, for this was the first time he’d been out at night on his own; the first time he’d seen moonlight dapple through the trees and onto the crisp snow, the first time he’d heard the scurry of claws running through the branches over his head.
“We’re going deep into the heart of the woods,” said Piotr the Bear, “I’m going to show you something wonderful there.”
When Vasili went down to the woods, he was sure for a big surprise.
His stuffed bear led him down a long, twisted path, beneath the embrace of thorny branches and across fresh, unblemished snow. The briars snatched at his coat and wolves howled in the distance, but Vasili’s bear puffed himself up until he was the size of a real bear and told him not to worry; he would keep Vasili safe from the wolves.
When they emerged into a clearing, the ground was covered in bright colourful blankets upon which sat a whole group of big, grizzly bears. Vasili turned to Piotr to reassure him, but found that Piotr was puffing himself up even further and was growing into a great hairy, smelly and powerful beast himself.
“Don’t be afraid” said Piotr, “These are all the other teddy bears from all the other villages. We’ve just brought you hear for a picnic. See all the food we’ve brought for you?”
And Vasili looked around and he did indeed see a bunch of picnic baskets laid out across the clearing, each one bound with a thick, iron chain, as was only sensible when you don’t want your food to escape.
“Let’s get started!” cried Piotr, ripping the chains from the first basket to reveal Vasili’s parents cowering within their wicker prison.
All around them, the other bears opened their baskets to reveal the other people of Vasili’s village, quaking with fear beneath the gaping maws and wicked claws of their many bears.
“What’s going on?” yelped Vasili, a shrill cry that ripped from his throat.
“You opened the wards for us, Vasili” said all the bears, as one. “Now we want to reward you with a lovely picnic.”
The bears all turned to stare at Vasili expectantly.
“Aren’t you going to eat with us?”
Vasili looked into Piotr’s fearsome face. He really did love his bear more than anything in the world.
After the bears had eaten, they used handy leg-bones to pick their teeth clean and cleared up the mess from their picnic carefully, leaving not a single morsel of villager for the crows.
Piotr was the last to leave, patting his cub on the head as they walked away from the bears’ picnic.