Aphelion Issue 279, Volume 26
December 2022/January 2023
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The World Famous Wrestling Bear

by Mike Phillips

The sound rattled the windows in their casings, a high pitched engine whine that threatened to shatter the glass at each passing. Miss Weigenmeister winced as yet another onslaught of snowmobiles passed the library, knowing that even under the best circumstances, three months of winter remained. Lake Superior can be cruel.

The Carnegie Library, like so many others of its kind, had been a haven to those seeking refuge from the outside world. The library had been a part of the small town for nearly as long as there had been a town, gifted to the citizenry by the named man himself upon an inspection tour of one of the local mining companies. Since that time, it had been a place where a person could find peace and tranquility. But now the peace was being constantly interrupted. Walls of brick and stone could do little to keep out the noise.

Lynn had to admit, however, that the old man would have approved -- there was money to be made, by God! Each snowmobile brought hundreds of dollars -- in the form of hotel rooms booked and gasoline and alcoholic beverages sold -- to the local economy. Though she knew how vital winter tourism was to the little community to which she had exiled herself so long ago, today had been an especially trying day for the librarian. It was Friday and the winter carnival had begun, bringing in more than the average number of visitors for the festivities, compounding the usual ruckus to intolerable levels, so much so that she had seriously contemplated closing the doors early.

In the end the inalienable rights of governmental funding had won out. The library had made a pledge to the taxpayers to stay open late on Wednesdays and Fridays during the winter and nothing short of natural disaster or gubernatorial decree could change that.

Finally the afternoon filled with the sound of roaring two stroke engines was over, and Miss Weigenmeister was more than ready to go home. But as she put her key into the ancient lock of the front door, her hands already pained from the cold, a strange and pitiful sound rose above the expected clamor of drunkards and machines.

If her mind had not played her false, it was a bear that she had heard, an animal in some distress if she were not mistaken. Wondering why this should be so, Miss Weigenmeister followed the bright lights of the festival and the throngs of people to out find what was the matter. It didn't take long for her to discover what was going on.

As in years past, the streets into the downtown area had been blocked off from vehicular traffic and the winter festival had been established in the resulting space, set amongst the buildings as need required. Central to it all was a sight not uncommon at this kind of event, a beer tent of immense size.

Lights were shining brightly within the tent, a crowd of anxious onlookers already established around what looked from a distance to be a boxing ring. Curious, Miss Weigenmeister paid the price of admission, getting a few strange looks for the smart business suit and heels that was her usual attire at the library, and stepped inside.

What she saw was something that she thought had gone out of the civilized world long ago. A bear was the principal combatant of the contest, an animal champion against which the half frozen Christians might fling themselves for the promise of some insignificant reward.

"Come one, come all, the contest is about to begin," shouted a man from the back of the tent as music blared from a massive stack of speakers. As the man strode forward, the crowd parted and an immense cage of iron bars was pushed along in his wake by four burly security guards. The man was tall and lanky, wearing a red sequined jacket that twinkled like all the stars in the night, a black top hat perched upon his head like some carrion bird in search of prey.

"Come and see Cobalt, the world famous wrestling bear. This bear was in the traveling circus that played for the last czars of Russia, capturing the favor of Princess Anastasia herself. Since then this bear has wrestled all over Europe, entertaining the crowned heads of nations and taking on challengers from far and wide. I offer one thousand dollars to any man who can pin him to the mat for the count of ten. Come one, come all, if you dare."

"There haven't been any czars for a hundred years," Miss Weigenmeister mumbled to herself. She was beginning to regret her choice in footwear and her hands were nearly frozen, though her fingers were apt to be cold even in the mildest of temperatures.

The first to take part in the contest was a local legend by the name of Teddy Samuelson, but he was not nearly as loveable as his name implied. Teddy was a big man at six foot nine and three hundred pounds. He had long, shaggy hair that seldom knew the caress of a brush and a pointed goatee that gave him a wicked aspect, not undeserved if all the stories were to be believed.

Most of the locals called him Big Ted, but he had done a short stint in the northern professional wrestling circuit under the name Felix Monger. Even after the age of forty, he had won the tough-man competition for the Midwest three years running. Nowadays he worked in logging, having spent most of the last twenty of his fifty-two years out in the woods.

Sizing up Big Ted as he approached the ring, the man in the top hat made a sort of knowing smirk and called out in a loud voice, "Here he is, our first contender. Come on, let him through. I'm sure the rest of you will have a chance at the prize."

Privately the man in the top hat had hoped for someone smaller for the first match. A person of average build would have given the others hope. Still, he could entice even boys to try their luck with the world famous wrestling bear, and the night was still young. There was plenty of beer to be drunk.

Big Ted handed the man in the top hat a tattered assortment of much used bills, which were carefully counted and then stowed in a leather pouch subtly hidden behind the breast of the red sequined jacket. "That's ten to one, not a bad gamble if you have the spine for it," the man in the top had said, saying it to shame the others in the crowd that had been slow to try their luck.

With a kindly slap on the back, but so that all nearby could hear, the man in the top hat said to Big Ted, "Try not to hurt him too much, eh? A big guy like you is more than a match for a little cub like Cobalt." Grunting indifferently, Big Ted climbed into the ring. The bell was struck and the fight was on.

No matter what the man in the top hat said, Cobalt the bear had never entertained the crowns of Europe, though few enough of those remained. Cobalt was a young grizzly from the American Northwest. He weighed almost six hundred pounds and his coat was thick and glossy from good food and plenty of exercise. His claws had been surgically removed and his paws fitted with leather mittens. His mouth was closed by a specially made harness similar in design to an attack dog's muzzle. Cobalt had been won by the man in the top hat in a card game from a retiring carnival owner, and ever since the two had traveled the country in search of profit and adventure.

Big Ted was defeated, though it had taken three rounds of desperate grappling for Cobalt to do so. He was followed by a string of enthusiastic, and intoxicated, others that were beaten quickly, not too much to their own chagrin.

Miss Weigenmeister watched, finding the contest distasteful but harmless, and was about to take her leave when a stocky stranger entered the ring.

The man was almost as tall as Big Ted, but he had a gut that bulged over a too tight belt and the pencil thin legs of a stork. He was, however, the designated chief of his fellows, who were drunkenly and enthusiastically cheering him on.

"Step on up," called the man in the top hat. "Show the rest of these pansies how it's done. One hundred for a thousand, just as easy that."

Someone from the audience called out, "Go get him, Ripper."

"I'll show them all right," said the Ripper. He raised his arms into the air and clasped his hands in a sign of certain victory. This drew a wild amount of support from those who watched, and in response the Ripper began dancing about the ring to further demonstrate his prowess.

With a ring of the bell, Cobalt was released from his corner of the ring, visibly slowed from the efforts of the evening so far. The Ripper led the bear around in circles, throwing a few fake jabs to put the bear on edge, seeming intent upon wearing the bear's endurance even further.

"Quit runnin' away, you pansy," the man in the top hat jeered, shouting instructions to the bear amidst his insults for the Ripper. "Are you gonna fight or not?"

The Ripper's face turned hot with rage. He stepped in close to the bear, and quicker than sight, Cobalt had his giant arms around the man, a loose embrace that the Ripper was quick to disengage himself from.

"This is when I bring it," the Ripper said, putting up his fists.

"You're all talk," said the man in the top hat. He encouraged the crowd, chanting over and over, "Fight, fight, fight, fight!"

Shifting his weight, the Ripper stepped in and landed a solid jab on the bear's snout. Cobalt roared with pain and surprise, momentarily stunned by the attack. The Ripper took the opportunity to step in once more, making a sweeping uppercut that would have leveled any man, snapping the bear's head back with a jerk. But Cobalt was not beaten. He was angry.

The wrestling bear rushed his opponent, grasping, pawing, using his immense size and speed to overwhelm the Ripper, knocking him to the mat. Shouting commands for Cobalt to stop, the man in the top hat jumped into the ring. The security guards followed close behind, coming with long poles with loops of rope at the end.

By then, Cobalt had the Ripper on his stomach, his trousers pulled down to his knees. The bear's lips were fastened onto the man's exposed buttocks, working against the muzzle's restraint for his teeth to take purchase on the exposed flesh. The Ripper was screaming in terror, kicking his feet and flailing his hands wildly, but he could do nothing to free himself from the bear's irate embrace.

At last one of the security guards managed to get a rope around Cobalt's neck, pulling the loop taught and easing his giant head away from the Ripper's violated flesh. Telling the Ripper to lay still, the man in the top hat and the other security guards fell upon the bear, using their combined weight to slowly work the Ripper free.

At last the terrified man was able to scramble away. The muzzle had kept Cobalt from using his teeth, but the Ripper had a bright red mark the size of a grapefruit on one his left cheek, which he hurried to cover with his failed garments.

The man in the top hat and the security guards were able to quiet the riotous bear, as impossible as that had seemed only moments before. Soon they had Cobalt back in his corner, squirting honeyed water into his mouth and saying calming words.

Taking the microphone in hand, the man in the top hat immediately began interviewing the Ripper for the benefit of the others, making sure that everyone knew that no real injury had been suffered. "All right then, no harm done. That was a fine example of what not to do."

Many of the drunks in the crowd laughed, some falling over in hysterics. Through the blessing of alcohol, the mood had quickly changed from one of terror to one of utter amusement.

The man in the top hat went on, "Come on, as you can all see, Mister Ripper here is fine. He's a little bruised, maybe. His pride has certainly taken a beating. You won't let that keep you from taking your shot, will you?"

"Stop!" Miss Weigenmeister said, the sound of her voice cutting through the noise of the tent like a clap of thunder. She approached the ring, the people around her staring as if mesmerized. All had fallen silent in the tent and everyone's attention was drawn to this new spectacle. "I will allow this to go on no longer."

"What's this?" said the man in the top hat. "I'm sorry lady, no women allowed, but maybe you'd like to wrestle a little with me once the show's over." He smiled in a lascivious way and licked his lips suggestively. Again the drunks in the crowd showed their appreciation for the humor with uproarious laughter.

"You watch your mouth," Teddy Samuelson said, appearing behind Miss Weigenmeister. "Treat her with respect, you hear?"

The man in the top hat looked over to Big Ted, judged the look on his face and the power in his arms, remembering how long it had taken the bear to wrestle him to the mat, and then changed his tack. "What's this all about?" he said kindly.

Miss Weigenmeister said, "You should be ashamed, treating an animal like this. It's barbaric."

"Before you go trying to make any trouble, you should know that I legally own that bear," the man in the top hat said smugly. "I've dealt with do-gooders like you many a time. Besides, take a good look. I have a permit. It's all legal. There's nothing you can do about it."

"Permit or no, I'll not allow it to go on."

The man in the top hat looked her up and down. "And what do you think you can do about it?"

"How about a wager?" Miss Weigenmeister said, getting an idea, remembering a story her grandfather had told her a long time ago. "Not for a thousand dollars, but for the animal's freedom."

The crowd was hushed. All eyes seemed upon them. The man in the top hat felt the weight of their stares. Calls of agreement started from the crowd. Most of the men defeated by the bear were now feeling like they had been cheated and deserved some form of retribution, adding weight to her argument.

"Certainly," the man in the top hat said, knowing when things were turning against him. "But what will be your wager then? It must be worth my while."

"Ten thousand dollars," Miss Weigenmeister said to the general astonishment of the crowd.

The man in the top hat sneered. "Done!" he shouted to great applause.

Miss Weigenmeister made to enter the ring. The crowd laughed raucously, whistling and calling out lewd suggestions. Miss Weigenmeister once again regretted her choice in shoes and wondered how she would ever manage her skirt.

"Now, now, I can't have a lady fight, not at all fair," the man in the top hat said. "I don't care if there's a wager or not. I won't be blamed for you getting yourself hurt and that's final."

"Fine," Miss Weigenmeister agreed, turning to Teddy Samuelson. "Will you compete in my stead? Will you be may champion?"

Teddy nodded. "Glad to, ma'am," said he, stripping off his jacket. Ted handed his clothes over to Miss Weigenmeister for her keeping and traded a broad smile, though somewhat lacking in confidence. "I'll do better this time. I think I know what went wrong."

"Though I know little about such matters, if I may hazard a suggestion," Miss Weigenmeister began, and then whispered into his ear.

At first Big Ted looked doubtful, saying, "I don't know."

"Trust me. It will work. I have a small amount of family history to back it up."

"Yeah, well maybe you're right. It just might work at that."

"Remember to do it just as I described." Then in a louder voice, Miss Weigenmeister said, holding the ropes open to admit Big Ted. "We're ready."

The man in the top hat nodded and smiled in a wicked sort of way. "Wait a minute," he said, "I must have some sort of collateral. Ten thousand is a lot of money." Big Ted gave the man in the top hat an angry look. "Not that you wouldn't be true to your word, but business is business."

"I should have expected as much," Miss Weigenmeister said, taking a ring from a finger of her right hand.

It was a fine ring, with a large emerald set in gold and smaller diamonds clustered on the band. She held the ring aloft, showing it to the appreciation of the crowd. The man in the top hat nodded his approval. Finding a young woman with an honest face standing nearby, Miss Weigenmeister turned the ring over in trust.

The bear was still much perturbed by the contest with the Ripper as Big Ted climbed between the ropes. Cobalt pawed at his muzzle as he snarled and fumed, making Ted rethink his gallant intentions on Miss Weigenmeister's behalf. But the bell was soon struck and the fight was on, giving the former professional wrestler much more import things to worry about.

Cobalt came out of his corner with the terror and majesty that only such a predator can. Big Ted kept his hands at his sides, saying words of comfort in a soothing voice, trying to have himself heard over the riotous crowd. The bear approached and Ted shied away, but the strategy was paying off. Soon the bear grew disinterested, forgetting the insults the Ripper had inflicted, and began to remember what being a wrestling bear was all about.

When Cobalt rose on his hind legs, Big Ted was ready to put the next phase of the plan into action. He came to greet the bear, humming a tune, a waltz -- he did not remember from where, but that seemed appropriate to his intentions now. Taking Cobalt in his arms, Big Ted began to sway with the music. His movements were gentle, hypnotic, and not at all what the bear was used to dealing with.

Despite his master's best teachings, Cobalt began to enjoy the dance, giving himself over to this strange new game, having fun, enjoying the warmth of the big man's body against his own. Ringside, Miss Weigenmeister smiled, and catching the tune, began humming herself. The music caught on. Soon all those nearby, watching the dance and hearing the music, joined in. And so Big Ted and the world famous wrestling bear danced and they danced, until the song was over and they lay gently down to rest.


© 2011 Mike Phillips

Bio: Mike Phillips is the author of Reign of the Nightmare Prince available in bookstores, online booksellers, Kindle and Nook. He has published several short stories both in print and online, including ParABnormal Digest, Sinister Tales, Dark Horizons and many others. He is best known for his Crow Witch and Patrick Donegal series. This is Mike's fourth appearance in Aphelion; the most recent was Junkyard Haze, in the December 2011 / January 2012 edition.

E-mail: Mike Phillips

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