He was perplexed. He was staring at the steadily blinking cursor as it ticked away the hours he had already spent writing nothing down. In his mind, he had done everything right. He had disconnected his computer from the Internet, brewed a good pot of tea, schlepped to the quietest part of the house, and really set his mind to writing a new story. It was a process that had worked for him years before, back when he was more prolific.
Perhaps, he thought, he was wired differently now. The same stimuli just weren’t doing it for him anymore, the synapses staunchly refusing to fire as he searched deep inside for the strange stuff that made words flow before.
He had promised her that he would write her a new story. It was what she wanted for her birthday, she said. She had always liked his stories, even when he chased down the silliest of threads. But it’s been years since he last explored the possibilities of fiction, and now those threads seemed far more slippery than before.
He looked at the clock. There were still a few hours to go before her birthday ended. He stretched, and then cracked his knuckles. He didn’t want to let her down.
He placed his fingers tentatively on the keys. He felt a dull ache in his left wrist, the early signs of carpal tunnel, perhaps. He typed a couple of words, neither one have anything to do with the other. But now words were on the page, and that was a start.
He stared at those two words while listening to the silence in the room. The words were “hedgehog” and “tea.” He poured himself another cup of tea and watched the steam rise slowly off his mug. The mug had a tropical design on it, blue and green leaves cutting across a background of bright yellow. He couldn’t remember where he got it, or where it came from. He tried thinking up a story about how he got the mug, but all he got was an image of himself buying a mug from SM.
He remembered that she liked stories that featured talking animals. Her favorite story of all time was Haruki Murakami’s Super Frog Saves Tokyo. He started thinking that he might try to write a sequel to that, when he heard a voice boom behind him.
“I know what you’re thinking,” the voice said. “And it’s stupid.”
He turned around to see an eight-foot tall brown bear standing behind him. His first instinct was to panic, but he realized quickly that the voice must have come from the bear. It is unlikely that a talking bear would mean anyone harm.
“Hello,” he said instead. “You are a bear.”
The bear nodded solemnly. “This is correct.”
“Who are you?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” the bear said. “I am the great bear of stories, come to help you in your time of need.”
He considered what the bear just said, parsing it all out in his head. First, the bear thinks that it should be obvious to anyone that he is the great bear of stories. Also, there is apparently such a thing as a great bear of stories. And finally, it seems that it know that he is struggling, and has arrived to assist him. This was a lot of information to handle all at one point, and so he stared blankly at the bear for a whole minute.
“You are having trouble with a story?” the bear finally said.
“Yes I am. I promised my girlfriend I would write a story for her birthday, and I’m drawing a blank.”
The bear laughed heartily. Its laugh was halfway between a dog’s bark and an old man’s guffaw. It struck him that it must not be easy for bears to laugh.
“I will help you write a story, young man.” The great bear of stories dug into his thick brown fur and pulled out a large notebook and a pen. He held the pen between two of his claws, and started scribbling furiously into his book.
“Now I understand that she likes stories about talking animals,” he said. “But your idea of writing a sequel to that Murakami story is not a good one.”
“What’s wrong with that idea?”
“Well for one thing, you’re no Murakami, buddy.”
He considered objecting, but realized quickly that the statement was factual.
“I visit Murakami all that time. That guy has work ethic. You’re trying to cobble a story together at the last minute. As usual.”
He could only nod meekly in agreement.
“But the real point here,” the bear continued, “is that story wouldn’t really be something that came from you. You’d end up just mimicking what Murakami did, and no matter how hard you work at that, it just won’t turn out very well.”
“So what do you suggest?”
“Write what you know.”
He blinked. The bear stared at him solemnly.
“That’s it? Write what you know? That’s the advice of the great bear of stories?”
The bear stared at him as if he had just talked the salmon out of swimming upstream.
He quickly shrunk beneath that stare. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just frustrated, and I’ve heard that saying all my life, and it’s never worked for me. What I know is pretty lame. It’s just a lot of sitting around, reading and watching crap. It’s just not the sort of thing that you’d find inspiring.”
The bear touched its nose as he pondered this. He looked back at his computer, and found the same two words staring back at him.
“You know,” the bear finally said. “That’s not all you know.”
The great bear of stories placed a heavy paw on his shoulder.
“You know the reason you’re writing this story.”
He was still staring at the two words as the bear said this, and he quickly realized how the two were actually related. He remembered when he gave her three little plush hedgehogs for her birthday a couple of years back. He remembered the very first day that they had met, and the tea that they had at that coffee place that isn’t there anymore. He remembered every day that had led to this one, every weird conversation that they had over lunches and dinners, and on lazy days spent in bed watching television. He remembered how he’d tell her all his silly ideas for stories, and how she’d laugh and play along. And she’d tell him that he ought to be writing stories again, because she really liked his stories.
On the screen, two words became a phrase, and a phrase became a sentence. Soon it became a paragraph, and the rest came along with ease. The great bear of stories watched intently as the ideas formed on the page, tutting occasionally when he ran into an awkward turn of phrase. A couple of times the bear coughed loudly, but he didn’t quite know what that meant.
When the last word was written, the bear picked him up and gave him a big hug.
“You’ve done well, young man. It’s a little rough, but I can see that you put your heart into it.”
He struggled to get his words out in between the bear’s massive arms. “Thanks,” he managed. The bear noticed his squirming and put him down.
He looked at the story now on his screen, amazed that it had come so quickly. He looked back at the bear. “I couldn’t have done this without you,” he said. “How can I ever repay you?”
“The great bear of stories takes ham in payment,” the bear replied. “I have already taken the liberty of going through your fridge. You will have to do shopping tomorrow.”
Before he could say anything, the bear boomed, “My work is done here! Inspiration waits for no man!” The bear disappeared in a poof of smoke that smelled vaguely like pineapple glaze.
He sat back down and went through his story. He was proud of what he had written, even though it wasn’t very refined. He knew that it was the story that he wanted to tell.
He was about to send it to her when he heard another voice behind him.
“You don’t really think you’re finished, do you?”
He took a sip from his mug. His tea had gone cold. He braced himself for what he knew was coming next.
“I am the great moose of editing! I have come to you in your time of need!”