The Transformation Story Archive Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...

Fair Trade

by Wanderer

Jim looked down at the bear. The bear he'd just shot.The bear he'd just shot illegally.

Now, a lot of things can go through a person's mind when they've just committed a federal crime. Almost an infinite variety. Jim's thoughts, though, consisted of two words.

"Ohhhhh, shit."

Jim looked around. No rangers. Good. Then he looked back atthe bear.

Not so good.

Jim, you see, had disobeyed one of the three rules of bearhunting. Never Go Alone. He figured it was because the bears were big and dangerous. Well, he was half right. The reason for therule also referred to the fact that a full-grown bear is an impossible load for anyone other than a competitive weightlifter. And Jim, thanks to too many beers over too many years, was more of a weight than a lifter. So here he was, with the biggest shoot of his life, and he was going to have to leave it for the rangers to find. He was beginning to think that a bearskin rug wasn'tworth it, no matter how many girls it got you.

Then he heard someone coming.

Lifting his gun to his shoulder, just in case, he sighted on the bushes where the rustling was. Then, coming through the trees, he saw...

An old man. An old Indian, by the look of him, in jeans and a plaid shirt.

The old man stopped and looked at Jim, never minding the gun, then looked at the bear, then back at Jim. Then he said the second-worst words a guy in Jim's situation could hear.

"That wasn't too bright."

"Yeah? Why?" Jim said, the tension showing in his voice.

"You're not dumb, you know why. Even if you managed to carry this big hunk of meat back to your car, you'd still have to get it skinned on the quiet."

Now Jim was beginning to sweat. Killing a bear, he'd planned for. Killing a witness, he hadn't. Then he heard the words he'd been wishing for all day.

"Need some help?"

Jim kept his gun trained on the guy. "What's the catch?"

"No catch. I've got some friends who could use some bear meat.Family, actually. I take the meat, you take the skin. Fair trade."

Jim's eyes narrowed a little. "How'd you know I wanted the skin?"

The old man snorted. "The hole in that bear's hide. No meathunter'd use a dinky bullet like that and hope for a lucky shot. Now is it a deal or not?"

Jim thought about it... and dropped his gun to his side."Deal. Now how do we skin it?"

"We don't. I do.", the guy said as he pulled a knife from his pocket. Jim couldn't see all of what happened next, but a few minutes later, the bear's skin came off like a shirt, one piece and perfect. Then the guy turned to Jim. "Come over here and turn around."

Jim did as he was told, and was shocked when he felt something warm and wet on his back. "What the ... " was all he got out before something else warm and wet slapped itself down over his face. He lifted it off. "Blech! What's all this?"

Looking down, he saw that he was being bound into the bearskin by the old man. "Now wait a... "

"Look. You want a bearskin, right?"


"You want it in one piece?"

"Well, yeah, but... "

"You didn't bring anything to lay it out flat in. You fold this thing up, it'll stick to itself. Come to pieces when you try to get it open later."

Jim hadn't thought of that. "Okay, but why's it go on my back?And that thing on my face..."

"It's just the bear's mask. This way, if someone comes along, you just curl up on the ground and you look like a sleeping bear. Now, nobody wants to mess with a sleeping bear. So, they'll justwalk off and you can get back to work. Good idea, huh?", the old Indian finished with a twinkle in his eye.

Jim hesitated for a second. He really didn't want a bloody bearskin on him... or anywhere near him before it was tanned and ready for a rug. Still, if it'd keep the skin in one piece... and it was a great idea for a disguise. Kinda like those hunters he'd read about once, that wore wolfskins to get close to the buffalo.

"Okay. But I better not have any problems gettin' out of it later."

"You'll have no problems there. I guarantee it."

A few minutes later, Jim was ready in his bearskin, the Indian having straightened out the eyeholes so he could see. Before Jim left, the old Indian took him to a stream in the trees. "Just to see what I've done.", he said.

Jim was flabbergasted. While you could tell he wasn't a real bear from the way the skin at the sides hung down, Jim being big for a human but puny for a bear, everything else was perfect. The seams the guy had made out of grass were almost invisible in the skin's markings. Looking at himself, Jim could almost believe he was a bear.

"You like it, huh?"

The old man's words broke Jim away from his reflection. "Yeah, it's really great.", he said, muffled by the skin.

"Well, I'll let you get on with your skin. My friends won't want any company when they get here." "Right", Jim said, walked off a little ways, then turned and waved. "The old Indian just smiled and nodded.

As Jim went on, he found the ground a little steeper than he remembered. And the skin just seemed to get heavier with every passing step, bowing him under its weight. After about ten minutes, Jim was so tired that his belly seemed to be dragging him down with every step, almost like it had a chain attached between it and the ground. Jim tried to wipe his forehead, but the folds of the skin got in the way, and he couldn't reach his arm to get inside the skin.

Then the itching started.

At first, Jim was almost driven insane, trying to make a choice between satisfying the itch on his back and keeping his skin perfect. Then he remembered what bears do when they itch. And in his skin, no-one'd be the wiser. So he found a tall tree he'd been using as a landmark and rubbed himself against it, taking his time, enjoying every inch of the relief that spread from his back to the rest of him. Of course, he stopped after a few minutes, since he wanted to keep his skin from getting torn.

As he looked up, he saw that the bottom branches were a lot closer than he'd thought. But then, he wasn't much of a woodsman. He was probably thinking of a different tree.

As he started off again, he noticed that he was beginning to wobble side to side, like he'd gotten drunk but didn't remember it. But then, he was awfully tired. And his belly was beginning to weigh him down so. As he thought this, the ground got steeper.And steeper. Finally, it got so steep that he had to go on all fours just to keep going.

Finally, the ground leveled out and he saw his pickup ahead. Standing up, he reached for his keys...

And fell back to all fours.

Frowning, he tried again to stand... only to feel an odd pulldown his belly as he teetered on two legs. Looking down, he saw why. The skin, which had started out so loose around the middle, had shrunk. Instead of sagging where there was too much bear and not enough Jim, it now fitted him snugly. So snugly, in fact, that he could see where the skin stretched as he wobbled to maintain his balance. And below the belly strip of fur, he could even see...

Startled, Jim crashed to the ground. Getting to all fours, he bent his head to have another look.

And looked.

And looked.

Finally, sheer terror snapped him out of his reverie. Running full tilt, still on all fours, he dashed to the truck. Bracing himself against the side of the truck, he reached for the keys with his left hand...

And found only bearskin. Warm, living bearskin.

He ran his hands up and down himself, around and under everything... including the bear's nuts that he'd seen tensing when he'd looked down before.

No seams.

No grass.

Just warm, living bearskin.

His sanity teetering even more than his badly-balanced body, he reached for the door handle to see if maybe he'd left it unlocked. And couldn't fit his hand through the handle. He tried to scream, but roared as he tried to tear the skin off, split a seam, do something to show him that there was something left of him beneath the skin. But wherever he scratched, pain shot through him. With every twist and stretch, he could feel the masses of skin, muscle and fat rolling beneath the hide. Falling to the ground, he rolled around, trying in any and every way he could think of to take off the skin that was now a part of him. But with every roll, every twist, he saw the muscle and fat ripple along his belly, moving the fur into wild and chaotic patterns as he thrashed.

Finally, exhausted in mind and body, he wept. And with the silent, tearless weeping, he cried himself to sleep.

"He isn't taking it well."

"I never said he would. Every one's different, you know."

Bear sighed. "I know. How long before he calms down, though?"

Coyote thought. "Well, by tomorrow, he should either be resigned to a life as a bear or..."


Coyote giggled. "Or he'll be completely nuts."

A frown crossed Bear's face. "I don't like to see him suffer."

"You always were too soft on them, Bear", Coyote said. "If you want to, you can always take away his memory later. Now, if you'll pardon me, my grandchildren have some meat to pick up."

"After you've had your share, of course."

Coyote laughed out loud at the distaste Bear was showing, along and yipping laugh. "Of course, Bear. After all, it is a fair trade all around."

Fair Trade copyright 1996 by Wanderer.

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