The Boy and the Bear
Once upon a time a young lad went out to the river to catch fish for his dinner. On the other side of the river stood a bear, his gaze transfixed on the fish-laden rushing water before him as he readied himself to take the plunge.
‘Oh, ho!’ said the boy to the bear. ‘Would you mind tossing a few fish my way after you’ve indulged?’ For it would be simple for the bear to do so, and it would save the boy the trouble.
‘And why would I do that?’ returned the bear, looking up from his prey reluctantly.
The lad shrugged. ‘It would be a simple thing for you to do,’ came his response.
The bear considered. ‘I’ll do it. But only if you find me a mate down the way into the forest. It is Spring, and I should be getting around to it.’
The boy gave this condition some thought, and the idea of continuing his walk until he found another bear appealed—at least he would not have to get wet.
‘Agreed,’ the lad said, and he set off to complete his task with a grin and a whistle playing on his lips.
The bear, relaxed and free from the annoyance of mating rituals, went about the business of catching his dinner. When he was full, he caught up a fish for the boy in his mouth and steadied himself to fling it onto the dry bank. But it felt so delightfully slippery in his mouth. Perhaps it would not hurt to have just one more. After swallowing the fish, he caught another, but the same thing happened. Again and again, he tried to fling the fish to the other side, but alas, it was too tantalizing not to swallow, until all of the sudden the river was empty, and his stomach felt as though it would split itself and burst all the fish from his body.
The boy, meanwhile, discovered that female bears are not readily happened upon like fruit on a tree, and also that the further one goes into the forest, the denser it gets, making it hard to spot anything save branches and shrubs. Still, he persisted, and told himself it was much better to be scratched than to get wet. But as the evening passed, he did not find what he sought. Finally, when the night began to fall, he made his way back empty handed, only to find the bear flipped onto his back with his stomach so round and full that surely if it grew anymore in size it would pop.
‘Hey!’ cried the boy, for he had deduced that since there were no fish beside the bear—indeed the river that had once teemed was now only full of rushing water—all of them had wound up in the bear’s belly. ‘There are no more fish! You have eaten them all!’
‘I did try,’ groaned the bear. ‘But every time I caught one, I could not but keep it for myself.’ He moaned, and as he did, he turned his head to look alongside the boy. ‘But, ho! I see no mate beside you!’
The boy held the bear’s gaze, then dropped his head. ‘Well, no,’ admitted the lad. ‘I could not find another bear.’
The one stared at the other, until the bear closed his eyes, and whimpered at the agony in his belly. The boy went home empty handed. And both thought they would have been better off if they had attended to their duties themselves.