Visiting Bear Creek
by Sadie Smith (as told to Unity), 3.24am March 10th 2021
I drove for what felt like days, I can hardly remember. How many times did I nod off or black out on the road? I remember lowering the Prius’s seat to catch a few hours’ sleep at a rest stop somewhere in...Arkansas? Or was it Nevada? I remember long stretches of nothingness, blank, sandless deserts, with no distinguishing geographical markers whatsoever – no tumbleweeds, no cactus, not even a butte. I recall driving through coniferous forests, the pine boughs weighted heavily under thick blankets of snow and ice. I remember endless cornfields, whispers of giggling children on bicycles disappearing into the horrible dry stalks. I drove through several towns and cities of various sizes on the way here, saw people of every race, gender and creed imaginable. Or am I just saying that to shrink this inescapable feeling of ennui, to avoid confronting my inability to remember anything? I’m so disoriented, I feel pathetic. I miss Todd. Where am I?
I know – this is meant to be a travelogue. But I can’t seem to remember how I got here, not even a little. Or even what city I came from before. Was it Pittsburgh? Something in Florida? Where did me and Todd live? Cincinnati? Sioux Falls? Boise, Idaho? Binghamton? Where?
I remember, vaguely, a chat with an editor, over the phone, or by text. Or was it through email? I was so excited for the assignment at first. What happened? It was supposed to be a travelogue, a guide for tourists covering all the local hotspots, the greasy spoons and watering holes, places where the locals hang out. All that quirky small-town flavor. I’d stay in the charming local motel, take in a scenic nature trail. What happened?
I saw a strange man wandering around on the outskirts of town today, a sickening smear of greasy white paint dripping off his face and staining his betattered potato sack of a suit. He was carrying in his arms what looked to be a dead baby deer, muttering and snorting and sobbing to himself as he wandered off into the woods, leaving a trail of once-white feathers in his wake, casualties of the mouldering pair of angel wings he dragged along the ground behind him. I wondered whether he was going to bury the fawn or consume it.
I’ve lost a hundred and twenty pounds since I arrived in Bear Creek, though I eat nothing but hot dogs. None of the dining establishments in town ever seem to be open when I require sustenance, aside from the Brown Bear Hot Dog Stand and Suicide Prevention Center. The stand is staffed with all the failed suicides, the philosophy being that by pouring your blood, sweat and tears into meaningful labor, the desire to be recycled back into Earth will simply vanish. The last time I went to the hot dog stand the manager, who is always dressed in a mangy, rotten-looking bear suit, was screwing two of the employees behind the counter, a middle-aged gas station-type woman and a blonde boy who couldn’t have been much older than seventeen. The bear had them both bent over the deep fryer side by side with their pants down around their ankles. He grunted and growled sickeningly as he took turns thrusting himself roughly into his two employees.
“Mommy, Mommy,” the boy kept saying when it was his turn to take the bear. “Mommy, Mommy, Daddy Bear’s fucking me, Daddy Bear’s fucking me.”
“Two hot dogs, please,” I said.
The bear reached into the deep fryer with his matted, lice-infested paw, extracted a handful of soggy French fries and Jalapeño poppers and plopped them into a paperless plastic basket. He paused his thrusts for the amount of time it took to put himself away and walk to the counter to hand me my meal. The woman glared at me with cold, dead eyes, a Pall Mall cigarette dangling from her lipstick-encrusted mouth. I tried not to look at the fries or taste them as I ate standing at the counter. There’s a rickety plastic picnic table in front of the stand but I was afraid if I sat down I’d never get back up again, I’d just sit there forever eating my poppers and fries. The bear went back over and started screwing the woman again while the boy busied himself with restocking napkins and soda cup lids. I didn’t watch them but I didn’t not watch either. White people can be so weird sometimes, I thought to myself, then immediately felt bad for judging. I mean, nobody’s perfect, right? Some time went by and I’m somewhere else now, on a swing set on the community playground, or sitting on a hill staring up at the sun, or back in my motel room, screaming silently in the cold shower.
I don’t know whether I’m alive or dead anymore. I’m not sure I fully care. There’s a circus in town. News of its impending arrival was cause for great concern among some of the locals. In all the cities the circus stopped in before Bear Creek, strange, horrible events ensued. Mass teen suicides, crime and murder sprees. Parades of old men dressed up in women’s lingerie leading to massive pansexual murder orgies in the forests. Blood, milk and honey spurting from the Earth’s surface in geysers. Children and animals switching bodies and eating one another. Swarms of rodents, locusts and frogs.
The news of the circus’s arrival would trouble me if I had any emotions left anywhere inside me. If I felt anything at all anymore. But I’ve long since given up on all that. In fact I welcome any new excitement, anything to jog me out of the pathetic, boring routine I’ve settled into here.
They say the man who leads the circus is a prophet of sorts. They say all who hear the strange words he utters, the sermons delivered in unfamiliar, foreign tongues goes mad when they hear him. They say he calls himself the Clown. They say he has no sex organs, that he balks when referred to by any pronouns other than It. In Goat Barn, South Dakota, dozens of cheerleaders leapt from a cliff to their deaths after hearing him preach. Similar stories abound from across the country. The ones who survive may have it still worse. They say he takes concubines and servants everywhere he goes, injecting them with a strange, demoniacal substance to make them bend to his every whim. Those who refuse his advances suffer the worst fates of all. Gruesome public hangings, immolation rituals, torture, starvation and madness. Of course, this is all hearsay. I haven’t seen the show yet.
I’d like to meet this preacher, hear what he has to say. Perhaps he will even allow me to interview him for this paper. Perhaps he’s the reason I was drawn to this town in the first place. Maybe I do have a destiny after all. Worst case scenario he simply destroys me, which wouldn’t be so bad. I wonder what Todd would say if he could see me now. Would he be proud of me for chasing my dream all the way to Bear Creek? I miss him so much, even after all that happened between us. But that’s another story for another day.
Well, that’s all for me, folks. I’m off to get myself a hot dog. Until we meet again, travel hounds! Bon voyage, safe travels, and whatever you do, don’t forget to write!