Gene awoke face down on a rocky beach. He didn’t mind that so much; the stones were all rounded and lemon-sized. They were even sort of comfortable if you shuffled yourself on them just right. And it wasn’t too hot out or too cold, either. There was a light mist hanging in the air and sparkling on his fur and he could hear a foghorn blowing in the distance. In fact, it was a perfect morning to sleep in, especially if you were a bear, like Gene.
Gene would have been very happy to sleep in. Being a bear he was very accustomed to sleeping and thought he did it very well. He did it so well, in fact, that people often said he had a knack for it. Indeed, if it weren’t for a nagging pain in his nose he probably would be sleeping still. Gene slowly opened his eyes. A small crab as blue as the afternoon sky had clamped onto his large, licorice black nose and was slowly dragging him back into the ocean.
Gene snorted at the crab to get its attention. The crab stopped pulling and leaped back in surprise. Quick as a flash it climbed upon Gene’s snout and stared into his big, brown, glaring eyes.
“Do you mind?” Gene asked, making sure to sound very stern so the crab would understand that even if the crab didn’t, Gene did.
The crab blinked twice, looking around nervously but still said nothing. Gene looked up at the grey sky and huffed. He was most annoyed and, besides, his nose was sore. He looked back at the crab. It made a movement that looked like a shrug of most of its shoulders.
“Look, fellow, I’m just getting out of bed. Would you mind waiting until at least mid-afternoon before starting this silliness? After all, I’m a very busy bear and I can’t abide nonsense, especially when it grabs me by the nose before I’ve even had a cup of coffee.
The crab looked at Gene and it raised a claw as if to speak. Gene raised his eyebrow menacingly. The crab quickly lowered its claw then scuttled sideways until it was clear of Gene’s gigantic, shoulders. It then stopped, turned fully a quarter, then shuffled sideways, it’s clickety-clacking, shell-toes slipping on the grey stones until it reached the water and, with a quick glance back at Gene, it disappeared into the surf.
Gene snorted then sat up. He patted his sore nose with an enormous brown paw and huffed in irritation. His bottom was in the water and the tails of his faded blue, captain’s jacket dipped into the sea with every huff and snort. Gene slowly stood up, groaning loudly as he did it. He yawned and stretched and made a big production out of it all as bears are wont to do then turned and then noticed a small brown boy in a bright yellow raincoat staring at him from the edge of the forest that ran along the end of the shore.
He ignored the boy at first, hoping he would go away like most humans do when they see a bear, but the boy stayed put. Gene huffed again and ambled over to a convenient breakwater, found a soft-looking boulder and sat down. Reaching into his right pocket he pulled out a battered captain’s hat and placed it on his head. He peered down at his reflection in the water and adjusted the hat so it sat just so. Then he rummaged around in his left pocket and retrieved a brass sextant with a notebook and pen lashed to it.
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the boy in the raincoat had moved closer. The boy was now crouching behind a large, cedar log that a storm had blown onto the shore. Gene still said nothing. It was obvious to him that the boy was a particular breed of humans called gawkers. Personally he found them to be very rude but not as rude as the picture-taking humans. Gene hated those. One time he had to walk right up to one until he was belly to beard to him. Gene towered over him with his paws on his hips and just stared back. The man became very afraid and ran all the way back to his car with film trailing behind him like ribbons.
Gene raised the sextant to his eye and squinted through it secretly hoping the boy would become bored and go away. He hummed as he looked at the settings on the sextant then peered through it again. Gene harrumphed once then put the sextant down beside him, reached into his the breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out an ornate pipe and a small pouch.
Reaching into the pouch very carefully with his gigantic claws he pinched a pinch of something mysterious and tucked it into the bowl of the pipe. He then flicked one of his claws against the rough surface of the boulder he was sitting on. The boy watched in amazement as the claw lit on fire. He was so startled he had almost forgotten that he was watching a very large bear. The boy moved closer as the bear struggled to light his pipe. This must be a commercial or a television show that was being filmed, he reasoned to himself. It couldn’t be a real bear. It must be a man in a bear suit. The fact that the boy could see no cameras or film people only worried him a little bit but not enough to keep him from moving closer to get a better look.
Gene raised the pipe to his mouth and puffed until it a great cloud of smoke surrounded his head. Satisfied that the pipe was lit he breathed in deeply while shaking his paw to put out his claw. He tapped the end of his pipe against his one of his massive fangs making a mighty snickety-snacking that echoed back from the distant shore like a chorus line of ghostly, tap-dancing lumberjacks. Gene looked at the distant shore with a wistful gaze. With a sigh, he exhaled a curiously fishy cloud of smoke then picked up the sextant.
The boy took advantage at the bears distracted, smoky state and snuck behind a log. Slowly, he raised his yellow, rain-capped head over the top and looked at the bear again.
Gene scratched beside his ear then untied the twine holding the notebook closed. He opened it to a page that was bookmarked with an ornate fountain pen. Gene squinted at the open book then held it out a full arms length away from him, which, on a bear, is a considerable length, indeed. It was apparent to the boy that Gene must be very old, as he had seen his stepfather read things in the same way.
Gene would stare intently at one page for a few moments then he would flip a few pages and stare intently at it again. Muttering to himself, he put the book down and looked through the sextant once more. Gene deftly twisted the dials on the sextant and scanned the horizon through the eyepiece. Meanwhile, the boy climbed upon the breakwater as quietly as he could to get a closer look at Gene. He wasn’t totally sure that Gene was a bear but he didn’t want to alarm Gene in case he was. He had heard stories of bears reacting very badly when they were alarmed.
Gene had become so engrossed in the sextant that he had forgotten all about the boy. He would look through it in one direction then turn and look in another. He shook his enormous, furry head, mumbled something about currents then looked down toward the horizon and right into the face of the boy. The boy was so close he could have seen the wrinkles on Gene’s forehead if it wasn’t covered in thick, brown fur but to Gene the boy was magnified so he appeared several times closer.
“Hello,” the boy said hoping that Gene was a very calm bear. The boy was lucky that Gene was, indeed, mostly calm. The boy was very unlucky in that Gene was very prone to being surprised.
“Ah!” Gene roared in shock. The might of his smoky, fishy roar blew the boy backwards off of the rock he had been perched on. Had the boy not been distracted by the sheer fishiness of Gene’s breath he would have been very concerned about falling over. Instead, he wondered, briefly if the funky, fragrance would ever come out of his clothing. He knew he would have a very difficult time explaining it to his parents.
The boy and Gene would have had a very involved conversation about how best to remove malodorous smells as well as a discussion on whether or not fish was indeed malodorous at all had they not been preoccupied with falling over backwards.
“Agh!” the boy exclaimed as he tipped over one side of the breakwater. Gene said nothing, as he was too busy rolling head over tail until he landed, on his bottom, directly into the sea with a tremendous splash.
Gene sat up, waist deep in the surf with a string of kelp hanging off his hat. He spit out a mouthful of brackish water and fumed. Sitting on a rock in front of him and watching him intently was the same crab that had been trying to drag him into the water. The crab applauded, clapping its claws together in amusement. The crab then moved toward Gene.
“Don’t even think of it,” he said to the crab. The crab shrugged most of its shoulders again then headed into the water as fast as it could. Gene stared at it as sternly as he could manage without hurting his brow. As soon as he was satisfied that the crab was gone for good, he turned his full attention toward the rocks he had fallen from. He glared at the rocks, especially at one on which he had bumped his head. But the rocks were indifferent. They were, after all, made of sterner stuff than even a bear.
Gene looked around for the boy, he was planning on giving him a good talking to about sneaking up on people but the boy was nowhere to be seen. Gene stood up and stomped back over the rock pile. He looked around and soon spotted the boys rubber rain boots followed by the rest of the boy. The boy had fallen off the other side of the rocks and knocked himself senseless.
“It’s a good thing you’re playing dead,” Gene muttered, harrumphing while he squeezed the water from his cap. Then it occurred to Gene that the boy might not be playing. He harrumphed once more, pacing back and forth trying to figure out what to do. He wasn’t sure if he should touch the boy. He had heard that if you touch a human then their mother wouldn’t let them back into their den. He decided to try splashing some water on the boys face.
Gene looked about for a pail or some other container but couldn’t find one. He decided to use his hat. As Gene busied himself with filling the massive hat he was completely unaware that the boy was waking up. He opened his eyes just as Gene threw a bear-sized hat full of chilly seawater right into his face. The boy sputtered as the wave of cold, salty, water washed over him. It was a good thing he was wearing his rain slicker as it kept him mostly dry.
“Stop it,” the boy sputtered, “you’ll drown me!” The boy stood up, holding his arms away from his sides as if it might make him drier.
“Good, you’re alive,” Gene said, “Now go away.” The boy just glared at him as he looked for his hat. It was lying a short distance away so the boy stomped towards it, his shiny, rubber boots made a funny squish-squooshing sound every time he took a step. Gene easily reached over the boy with a massive paw. The boy saw the shadow of a gigantic arm pass over his head blotting out the sun like a solar eclipse. He couldn’t help but crouch down under it and cover his head as the huge, furry white paw and gargantuan, black claws stretched out then gently picked up his yellow rain hat. He held it out to the boy. The boy would later admit to disbelieving friends that he was only a tiny bit afraid but that was days from now and to concentrate on that would only distract from the story at hand.
The boy, once he realized that Gene wasn’t going to swat him, opened an eye. Gene waited patiently until the boy snatched the hat away. The boy looked at it with irritation. His hair was completely soaked, so much so that his hat was dried than his head.
“I often find that a good shake can be quite beneficial in situations like this,” Gene offered, trying to be helpful but still being determined not to feel responsible. To demonstrate he got down on all four of his paws and shook so hard that the trees trembled. He was very nearly instantly dry but the boy, who was still standing very close, was now covered with more water – water that smelled like bear. Gene stood up and wandered back to the rock he had been sitting on, quite oblivious to the fact that the boy was now considerably worse off than he was before.
“There. Now that you have your hat I imagine you’ll be on your way,” Gene said, hopefully. The boy only grumbled as he put the hat back on his head. The boy then squished and squooshed over to where Gene was sitting and sat down beside him. He took off one of his boots and proceeded to empty it. A waterfall of cold, briny, seawater flowed out onto the rocks.
“Well, now that that’s taken care of I guess you’ll want to head home,” Gene said. The boy then took off his other boot and, while staring Gene in the eyes, emptied it, too. As he poured out the water a small fish swam out of his boot. The fish jumped up on its tail, waved its tail at the boy in was not the most friendly of gestures, then hopped into the surf. Gene grinned sheepishly. Bears were used to being wet but it was becoming clear to him that the humans preferred to stay drier.
“Um…” Gene started to say before the boy, who was still upset, interrupted him.
“You’ve caused me an awful lot of trouble,” the boy lectured, “I’m soaking wet, I smell like a bear and there are fish in my pockets!” Gene was taken aback. He didn’t think any of those things was particularly unpleasant but humans were strange creatures.
“What kind of bear are you, anyway?” the boy demanded with one hand planted sternly on his hip and the other shaking an accusatory finger at Gene. “When I call the police then I need to know what you are.” Gene stood back, startled. He was beginning to get very annoyed as this morning was not exactly going as he planned.
“What am I?” he scowled then jumped to his feet. “What am I? I’m a very savage bear who will eat you if you don’t leave me alone.” Gene made a show of baring his teeth and he took a swipe at the air high above the boy’s head. The boy obviously didn’t believe him or was too wet to care. He started to study Gene; at first to make sure he could give a good description of him, but then later out of curiosity. Gene was a very remarkable looking bear. His paws and head were covered with silver-tipped, brown fur while his arms and belly were completely white. Then, quite suddenly at his waist, the silver-tipped brown fur started again and went all the way down to his ankles before changing back to white. It almost looked like gene was wearing a white shirt and shoes. The boy also noticed that Gene was missing one of his massive fangs. Before he could ask about it, Gene interrupted him.
“Didn’t your parents tell you not to talk to strange bears?” Gene asked, in a huff and hoping the boy would go away and leave him in peace. The boy just sat there.
“I think they said strangers,” the boy replied.
“Are you quite sure they didn’t say strange bears instead of strangers? The two do sound awfully similar,” Gene prodded. The boy thought about this for a bit. He knew his parents did say not to talk to strangers and strangers with candy. Perhaps they really did say strange bears with candy, as well.
“You don’t have any candy, do you?” the boy inquired. He wasn’t hungry but he thought he should check just in case.
“What? Candy? What are you talking about?” Gene asked, perplexed, “I don’t have any candy!” Humans could be the strangest creatures sometimes. One minute they were pestering you for food and the next minute they were pointing guns at you and trying to turn you into a carpet.
“Strange? Do you think I’m strange?” Gene huffed indignantly. He leaned out over the sea and stared at it intently but it was too frothy for him to see anything. He gave up after a bit and shuffled over to the breakwater and sat down with a sigh.
“Well, for a bear you’re strange. Bears can’t talk, for one,” the boy said, hoping this was helpful. Truth be told, the boy wasn’t so sure he should be this close to the bear, no matter how much it could talk.
“Obviously bears can talk, it’s just that they have very little to say to humans,” Gene said.
“I’ve seen bears before and they’ve never spoken to me,” the boy said, “I think you must be a most unusual bear to say the least. What kind of bear are you?” Gene stood up and sighed. It had become apparent that the boy would not go away unless Gene tried to frighten him and Gene was not that kind of bear.
“My name is Gene Pizzly and I am a pizzly bear,” he said while extending his paw. “You may call me Mr. Pizzly.”
“I am Anthony MacQin, um, and I’m a human being” the boy replied while hesitantly reaching out to shake hands. Gene’s paw swallowed Anthony’s hand completely and Anthony noticed that the pads of Gene’s paws were very rough but warm. “You can call me Mr. MacQin,” Anthony replied in a most adult manner.
He now fully believed that Gene was a bear, of that there was no question. It was a fact that was as frightening as it was curious. He knew that when people and bears got together the result was often unpleasant but Gene seemed so polite.
“Mr. Pizzly,” he asked. “What is a pizzly bear?”
“My mother was a polar bear and my father was a grizzly bear,” Gene said. “I have a sister who is a polar bear, but as far as I know I’m the only pizzly bear in my family.”
Gene paused for a moment and looked north. “In fact, as far as I know I am the only pizzly bear in the entire world,” he beamed with pride that sounded a bit tarnished around the edges and a smile that looked sad at the corners.
“Are you endangered?” Anthony stared, his mouth agape and his eyes as large as platters.
“Frequently,” Gene deadpanned while retrieving his pipe. He squinted an eye and stared into the bottom of the bowl with a frown. He tapped out the contents of the pipe then refilled it from the satchel he carried.
Anthony was very impressed. He had never met an endangered species before. His fear of being eaten was fading. Perhaps Gene was a vegetarian? He was very close to being awestruck until he saw Gene lighting the pipe.
“Hey,” he said, “you shouldn’t smoke. Especially around a kid,” Anthony stated while pointing at the pipe.
Gene thought this was very rude. He blew a cloud of pink smoke at Anthony.
“You could sit elsewhere,” Gene said while making sweeping motion toward the trees, “It’s a very large beach.”
“I prefer to sit here,” Anthony said while crossing his arms.
“For how long?” Gene asked.
“Until I figure out where I am,” Anthony said. He didn’t feel so brave all of the sudden.
Gene saw Anthony looking at the ground, his lower lip trembling with a sniffle building deep inside him.
“Well, Mr. MacQin,” Gene said very matter of factly, “It just so happens that I have to figure out exactly where I am, too. Perhaps you can wait here with me and keep me company until we figure it out or find a policeman to help us.”
He raised the sextant to his eye again. He squinted through it, looked at the settings then and then looked at the settings once more.
“Besides,” Gene said, “I’m waiting for my luggage.”
“Is that a sextant? Can I see it,” Anthony asked, moving closer to Gene than he normally would have any other bear. The boy had seen pictures of sextants in books and read about them in stories but he had never seen one in real life. He reached out to grab at the sextant. Gene, whose reach was as far as the boy was tall, moved it away.
The boy became very insistent“ Stop interrupting me” he huffed, “I’m very busy.” Gene then used his massive paw to gently push the boy away. The boy slipped around his paw and slithered within reach of the sextant, again. Gene moved the sextant to his other paw but Anthony seemed to be there as well.
Gene was beginning to get annoyed again. He wasn’t used to children and found it frustrating that they always seemed to be moving around. He glared at the boy and growled. A bear growling at you can be very scary. Gene wasn’t normally one to growl and he was especially patient, for a bear that is. “Sit still! I’m trying to find out where I am.”
“You could ask,” the boy said, quietly.
Gene raised a paw, one claw pointing up as though he were about to make a point but instead he wrinkled his brow in concentration and raised the pipe to his lips. He inhaled deeply. The boy thought he did this on purpose, which was partly true. Gene then blew out a string of smoke rings.
“How did you do that?” the boy asked. Gene just puffed on the pipe. The smoke had a curious smell to it, something the boy found strange but familiar. “What are you smoking, anyway?”
“Salmon,” Gene replied as he blew some more rings. “And as a matter of fact I’ve figured out exactly where I am,” he said confidently as he looked at his journal, “I’m in Argentina.”
“You’re in Canada,” Anthony corrected.
“Eh? What? Canada,” Gene mumbled. He turned his journal upside down. “Ah, yes, that’s right. Halifax.”
“Vancouver,” Anthony said a little quieter.
“Ah,” said Gene as he peered deep into the book. “Vancouver?” he asked, just to be sure and a little pink with embarrassment, which is hard for a bear to accomplish seeing that their entire face except for their eyes and nose is covered with fur. Anthony just nodded. Gene quickly scribbled something in the book then closed it with a snap.
"I suppose I should write my mother and let her know where I am,” he said as he pulled a sheet of very formal looking, blazing white stationary out of his pocket. “My mom bought me this because she said I didn’t write enough,” he remarked while showing the stationary to Anthony. Anthony could see that on the top of the stationary was written the following.
“From the desk of:
Gene R. Pizzly
Bear Adventurer and Philosopher”
“I don’t really have a desk,” Gene explained, “but I like the idea of having one very much.”
“What does the R stand for?” Anthony asked while pondering exactly how big a desk would have to be for a bear to fit behind it. Then he wondered how large of a chair he would need, too. In fact, he was thinking about furniture so hard he almost missed Gene’s answer.
“It stands for Rrrrr,” Gene said while writing in a very decorative, cursive script. The boy had only seen writing like that in very old books or at the beginning of movies that were supposed to have happened long ago in a time before people knew how to spell really well. Anthony knew that the writing was called calligraphy, which was a fancy word that just meant pretty writing.
“Rrrr isn’t a proper name,” he said while tracing the graceful curves with his eyes. Halfway down the letter the pen started to run out of ink.
“Not Rrrr,” Gene corrected while pumping a hidden lever on the pen, “Rrrrr. It’s Scottish. I think it was my grandfather’s name.” He tried writing some more but it was clear the pen had run dry. He frowned at the pen and started to pat his pockets.
“You’re out of ink,” Anthony said in a hopeful, helpful tone while pointing at the pen.
“Yes, thank you,” Gene dryly remarked, “You don’t happen to have any, do you?” Anthony shook his head. “Hmm. Well no matter.” He then lifted two claws to his mouth and let out a whistle so shrill it scared cheese back into milk. Anthony covered his ears and hoped the lenses of his glasses wouldn’t shatter.
From far out to sea Anthony could see something splashing over the waves. He stared as it came closer and closer. A silvery shape was jetting over the waves until it shot into the air in front of them and landed with a splash in the water by their feet. Anthony was astonished to see a large octopus frolicking in the sea below. He started to move away from it when he saw Gene moving closer to it.
“It’s okay,” Gene said over his shoulder to Anthony, “She won’t bite.” Gene carefully scratched the octopus on the top of its head. The octopus turned a bright green and curled its tentacles. Anthony crept up to take a closer look. The octopus eyed him warily then lifted a tentacle. Anthony leaned over the water and stared at the octopus. The octopus blinked its green eyes at Anthony then quick as lightning snapped a tentacle up and stuck a sucker right on the tip of Anthony’s nose.
Anthony jumped up; the octopus swung on his nose, leapt onto his head then scurried down around his body until it reached his boots. It tensed into a ball then shot out over the water and dove in after doing a rather spectacular somersault. The octopus then performed a very complicated version of the backstroke, using four of its tentacles as arms and the other four as legs.
“I taught her that,” Gene beamed with pride as the octopus swam closer.
“Who is she?” Anthony inquired while rubbing the tip of his nose. The sucker had left a perfectly round, bright red mark on it making him look like a clown in a raincoat.
“That’s Rover,” Gene replied as he handed the octopus his pen, “She’s my friend.” Anthony watched in fascination as the octopus deftly took apart the pen then squirted ink into the reservoir. When it was full, it put the pen back together and handed it back to Gene. Gene thanked the octopus then continued his letter.
Anthony was astounded. “How did you train her to do that?” he asked while moving closer to the octopus while staying out of range of it’s tentacles.
“I didn’t,” Gene said absently as he pondered what else to write. “I once did a great favour for Rover’s dad. He gave me this pen and promised me all the ink I could use and the freedom to stay in his kingdom whenever I need to.
“Oh,” Anthony replied. Rover turned bright pink then changed back to green. Anthony knew octopuses could change their colour but he’d never actually seen it in real life. He’d never seen a live octopus, either. It was turning into a day filled with surprises. He was so fascinated by Rover he had forgotten all about Gene, which was perfect as far as Gene was concerned.
“There, I’m finished,” Gene said as he double-checked the letter for spelling errors, “Now all I have to do is send it.”
Anthony turned around just as Gene was finishing rolling up the letter. He watched as Gene stuffed the letter into a bottle, sealed it with a cork then hurled it as far as he could over the ocean. They both watched the bottle as it almost reached the horizon before dropping into the sea.
“I don’t know what I did before sea-mail came along,” He remarked to Anthony. He then hunkered back down on a boulder with a huge sigh. “I miss her,” he said as he pulled out his pipe and re-lit the bowl, which by now had extinguished.
“Your mom?” Anthony asked. Gene nodded and blew some more smoke rings. Being a bear, and an adult one at that, Gene was content to sit in silence and watch the waves roll in. Anthony, however, became very bored very quickly. He started to fidget at first; then he picked up some stones and started to throw them into the ocean.
Rover thought he was playing a game and started to retrieve them one by one and toss them back beside the boy. Anthony was at first annoyed but then started giggling every time the octopus returned the stones. This continued for two very long minutes. The stones splashing into the ocean then clicking when they landed back on the shore. Splash. Click. Splash. Click. Splash. Click. Right when Anthony was about to throw his twenty-fifth stone Gene hollered.
Anthony and Rover looked at Gene in surprise. Rover splashed back into the ocean and swam away as quickly as she could. Anthony sat down with an exaggerated, “humph.” Being as old as he was, Gene preferred to move at adult speed, which is much slower than that of a child.
“I’m bored,” Anthony said.
“What? Well go play with Rover over there,” the bear said while pointing further down the beach. Anthony didn’t think that would be too interesting and, besides, Rover was nowhere to be seen.
“Tell me a story,” he said. Gene thought for a moment while stroking his chin in a thoughtful manner.
“A story, eh? What kind of story?”
“What happened to your tooth?” Anthony exclaimed while pointing at Gene’s mouth. Gene winced, his paw covering his missing fang.
“That’s an especially scary story. Are you sure you want to hear about that? Wouldn’t you rather hear about my visit to New Jersey? That’s a fine, relaxing tale full of pine trees and camping,” he asked.
“No, tell me about your tooth. I’m not scared,” Anthony persisted, “I had teeth fall out, too.” Anthony said while pointing to his mouth. Indeed, there was a hole between his bottom, front teeth. To illustrate it further, Anthony whistled through the hole – a feat that impressed Gene so much he tried it himself. No matter how hard he tried, though, he couldn’t make a whistling sound. Anthony just giggled and whistled again.
Gene looked at Anthony and thought for a moment. He tried to whistle once more but without his fang he could only manage a wet phhhht sound. Harumphing loudly he tapped the end of his pipe against a fang that was still there then pointed the pipe straight at Anthony.
“Most stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. Sometimes stories begin at the end and end at the beginning and sometimes stories are all scrambled up and you don’t know when the beginnings, the middles or the ends are until it’s all over. The story of how I lost this tooth takes place near the end of my story and near the beginning, too.”
Gene paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. Being as old as he was, his thoughts were often dusty and hidden in the dark, cobwebby parts of his head.
“You see, Anthony, my tooth didn’t fall out. My tooth was knocked out by my fiercest enemy not once, but twice. The first time was a terrible accident that took me to the farthest corners of the Earth; the second time was in a battle for my very existence. This, Anthony, is the story of how I became a bear adventurer.”