's 2019 Horror Write-off:

Bear Country

Submitted by Emergence

I’m a mammalogist. I’ve spent 5 years studying the black
bear population in the forests near my hometown. Sure, the town had some
problems with the bears before, but it was mostly just stuff like raiding
trashcans. About a year and half ago though, weird stuff started happening. 2
or 3 of the bears we were tracking disappeared every month or so. We figured
that unlicensed hunters were responsible. We never managed to catch anyone,
though. We compared notes with other wildlife service branches nearby, and in
total about 25 to 30 bears went missing in a little over a year.

After a while, things got even weirder. We started finding
uprooted trees covered in claw and tooth marks. Other trees had deer corpses
strewn up on high branches. The bears that were left started avoiding the areas
of the woods close to the town. People found dumpsters from restaurants and
markets that were completely flipped over, or dragged into the woods. One old
man swore that he saw a giant caterpillar crawling around in the woods behind
his house. There was also a kid who said that he saw a bear staring at him
through his bedroom window on the second floor. There wasn’t any roof for a
bear to stand on outside his window, though.

After a couple of weeks, things were getting bad enough that
I and the rest of the wildlife service people decided to track down the
culprit. When we split into groups to search the woods, we found long trails of
bear tracks that were closer together than they should be, with the paw-prints
sometimes overlapping each other. After a couple of days of searching, we still
hadn’t found what we were looking for. Just as my group was getting ready to
call it a day, we heard a couple of bear cubs crying in a clearing nearby. A
few of the bears that were missing were mothers with cubs, so we decided to
check if these were orphans we would have to take in.

When we got to the clearing, we realized it was the backyard
of Thomas Hayfield’s mansion. No one in town knew Hayfield that well. He moved
out here about 3 years ago, and had his mansion built out in the middle of the
forest. The only time anyone ever saw Hayfield was when he came to town every
couple of months to stock up on food and amenities.

We noticed that there was a weirdly long Quonset hut
connected to the house. The two crying bear cubs were pawing at the door. I
recognized the cubs. They belonged to a bear we had named Sally. The cubs had
the same white marks on their chests as their mother. Sally had disappeared
about 4 months ago. The cubs had to be about a year old now. We couldn’t find
them anywhere when Sally disappeared, and we had given them up for dead.

When we walked up to the hut, the cubs scampered away and
hid around the corner. A horrible stench hit us as we walked in the door. We found
the source piled up in troughs. It was the heads of the missing bears, along
with scraps of fur and viscera. Judging from how decomposed they were, they’d
been there for a while. A trail of blood ran from one end of the hut to the
other. A couple dozen veterinary operating tables were lined up end-to-end,
running from one end of the hut to the other. Leather restraints hung from
their sides. Tables of surgical tools and IV stands with bags of expired plasma
were either left standing or knocked over nearby. The smell got worse as we
walked towards the far end of the hut. We found out why when we noticed a pair
of legs peeking out from behind the end of the table. It was Hayfield. His body
was completely shredded. His ribcage was cracked open, and his organs were
splattered over the floor and walls around him. His face was barely recognizable
with the jaw and nose torn off.

We were about to call the police when we heard a loud,
gurgling roar outside the hut. When we ran out, we saw something curled around
a tall tree. It had to be over 100 feet long. Dozens of legs clung to the tree
trunk. The creature’s dark fur was broken up by bands of scar tissue. The front
end of the thing was suspended horizontally from the tree, like a snake on a
branch. We saw a black bear’s head peering down at us. For a few seconds, the
bear thing and our group just stared at each other. The silence was broken by
the cries of the bear cubs. As they ran toward the bear creature, it crawled over
itself, descending from the tree. When it had reached the ground, it crawled up
to the cubs, and they sniffed at each other’s faces.

A gust of wind slammed the door to the hut shut behind us,
and the bear thing turned to us and reared up on its fifth set of legs. Even with
the lattice of scar tissue on the thing’s underbelly, I could see a patch of
white fur between its first set of legs, just below the creature’s neck. She bent
down and nudged the cubs behind her with her snout, and the three of them
disappeared into the trees.