2753 words (11 minute read)

The Gloom Bears

More of Tutorial gathered around Elmer’s car. First Shayna and Marlene came over, then Stevie.  Olaus and Mike had gone stag to prom—not with each other, they were quick to point out—and somehow they were there, standing by the patrol car. Bill had taken his mom to prom, and now he waved her off to go hang out with his friends. Everyone buzzed around Jay, excited to talk to Dunam’s biggest criminal.

When Elmer stepped from C-Court, he saw six kids—one in a wheelchair—surrounding his car.

“Hey! Get away from there!”

The kids turned, eyes wide. These were not kids used to being trouble, he saw immediately. They tensed, froze, then scattered. Elmer would have rolled his eyes, if his left one was twitching so fiercely. He swung open his front door, and the car sagged under his weight. His eye was really seizing up and he could barely see, which made driving dangerous. He glanced into the rearview mirror. Jay and the girl looked out their respective passenger windows. The girl. He had to wonder about her. Why had she volunteered to come, and what she had to do with the fight. He was as curious about her—like most inhabitants of Dunam, he’d never met an outsider before. She was unusually dark and exotic. He could see why Jay was interested in her. But why did she want to go with him?

Elmer shook his head and started his car, pulling out of the parking lot. The roads were clear, now that the prom cars had departed. The moonlight bathed the surrounding farmlands in harsh blue, as Elmer turned onto main street.

“We’re heading to the courthouse. Post up there for a bit.”

Elmer checked the rearview mirror and saw Jay and the girl exchange glances. They drove past the United Methodist Church and the elementary school, and for a moment its spire blotted out the moonlight. He heard a murmured noise in the backseat, and glanced again into the rearview mirror. Jay was speaking to the girl in low tones, pointing at something out the window. Their eyes widened. Jay looked up at Elmer.

“Mr. Jenkins… there’s something moving outside.”

Elmer chuckled. “Relax. Probably just some kids.”

Jay startled, sliding back in his seat. “Oh my god!”

Elmer spun around. “Hey! Don’t yell like th—”

Something caught his eye. A thick, dark shape rushed out into the road before them. He swerved sharply, running the squad car up onto the sidewalk, then overcorrected left, into the oncoming lane. Finally, he screeched to a halt next to Scallow Park. The car sat, idling softly. He looked through the rear window, searching for a sign of movement.

“Hell was that?” He muttered. “Some kind of a... bear?”

The night was quiet, the darkness long and impenetrable. He creaked opened his car door. In the backseat, Jay and the girl spoke rapidly in quiet tones. It reminded Elmer of how folks at church sometimes spoke in tongues. He swung a leg out into the night.

“Mr. Jenkins!”

“Relax. I’ll be right back.”

Elmer clicked on a flashlight. There was no traffic on main street. Everything was quiet. He moved into the darkness of United Methodist, exploring the shadow with his light. From behind him, he could hear Jay’s small voice.

“Come back! Stay in the car!”

Elmer chuckled to himself. These high school kids were all the same. They loved to stretch limits. Skipping school. Fighting. Boozing. Getting in his face. But soon as the sun went down, they were still just as scared of the dark as—

The gloom of the church split off into a separate into a second, smaller shadow. It was tall, taller than him, but man-shaped with massive shoulders. Elmer’s mind froze up at the sight of it. A man, but not a man. Beyond thought. His heart clenched in terror. Pain shot through his left arm, and his chest seized up. Whiteness bolted across his vision. He was having a goddamned heart attack.

Jay and Liz peered out the window as the dark shape approached Elmer.

“Shoot it! Shoot it!” Jay whispered out loud. Then Elmer toppled over to the pavement.

“You gotta be kidding.”

The door was slightly open. A single mesh screen prevented any backseat passengers from crawling through the median, but there was space on either side of the mesh. Jay stuck his arm through and drew the door shut with a click. From outside, there was a snuffling noise. Jay and Liz sank lower, wedging their bodies down into the space between the seats.

“What the hell? That did not look like a bear.” Liz whispered.

Jay felt a sinking feeling. “It’s not.”

The heavy thud of footsteps drew close. A wave of black passed across car, plunging them into total darkness. They leaned against their respective doors, pushing their bodies down, trying to blend into the night. Across the seat, their hands found one another, and their fingers intertwined. The thing outside was right next to them, and it brushed the door. Jay held his breath.

Then the footsteps moved away. Jay raised himself and peaked out the window. Elmer still lay on the ground. The street was a binary mix of harsh moonlight and total shadow. But empty.

Jay quietly tried his door handle again. It was locked. He checked around the seats for a weapon of any kind, but they were empty. He shoved a finger into the seat cover, seeing if he could pierce it, maybe tunnel his way into the trunk. But the material was tough; impenetrable. Liz was squatting between the backseat and the front seat, her legs drawn up, the sequins on her prom dress sparkling in the moonlight.

“This is Hal. This has to be him.”

Jay nodded. “Round two of the game.”

“You stopped him at prom. You can do it again.”

Jay pointed outside. “I obviously didn’t stop him.”

“You thwarted his plan. You stabbed him.”

“He can do anything. He can come back over and over again.”

“We can do anything! With the disk, right?”

“Yeah. If the computer worked. Hal’s not taking any chances. He doesn’t want us messing with his game.”

“But why do all this? Why the elaborate plan? Send a bear to bother us, when he could just delete this world?”

“Because video games are the only thing he’s ever been good at. And I beat him. He means to even the score.”

Liz nodded. “So you’re good at games too. So it’s a fair match. We just have to get that disk working.”

Jay exhaled. “Okay.”

He shut his eyes. Visualizing. He was missing something, he was certain. This was a video game. In video games, there was always a way out. He thought back to all the adventure games he’d played. Monkey’s Island, Space Quest, Police Quest, King’s Quest. If he were King Graham, what would he click on to solve the problem? He didn’t have anything in his inventory, aside from a soaking wet prom suit. He tried a different tactic. If this were Mario II, and he had to pick a character, why would someone choose Jay? What was his special ability? Colin had strength. Stevie had brains. He didn’t have anything. He was small, he was—


He pulled at his suit jacket. It was sticky with sweat and rainwater, impossible to slide off in the cramped space of the car. He stopped, panting. Liz was staring.
“Why are you taking off your clothes?”

“I have a plan. But I have to get almost naked.”

“Just you?”

Jay looked at her, deadpan. “Well if you wanted to—”

She crossed her arms. “No way.”

“It’s just a game.”

He held out his hands, which were bound by the handcuffs of his jacket. Liz took them and worked the jacket material over his fists. Jay undid his belt. Uh oh. He realized he was wearing his silk batman boxers.

“Uh… close your eyes, please.”

Liz turned away. Jay pulled his pants over his shoes, kicking them off. His wet boxer shorts clung tight to his thin legs. It felt strangely exhilarating. Jay chuckled.

Liz cocked her head, eyes still closed. “Something funny?”

“Yeah. I’m in the backseat of a car, on prom night, with a beautiful date, taking off my clothes. In many ways, this is the best night of my life.”

“Except we’re stuck in a video game.”

Jay shrugged “Hal’s crappy video game. Any other game, and it would literally be a dream come true.”

Liz shook her head. “Oh boy.”

There was the tiniest space between the driver’s headrest and the door, so small there was no divider mesh covering it. Most people would never be able to squeeze through. But Jay wasn’t most people.

He glanced out the window. He thought he saw a dark form dart out from the park over to the shade of the elementary school.

He pushed his face against the seat in front of him. He remembered Freshmen year in biology class, watching that horrendous video of a woman giving birth. What had the narrator said? That the baby’s head was the biggest part of its body, and it paved the way for its limbs and torso. He imagined himself as a baby, pushing its way out the birth canal. He smashed his face into the car seat, wriggling and shoving. The dampness covering his skin made him sticky. He strained and pushed, until his head popped through.

“Can I look?”

“Not yet.”

Jay thrashed and struggled for several heavy minutes, then stopped, panting.

“Okay… don’t look, but I need you to give me a push.”

“I have to open my eyes.”

Jay grimaced. “Fine.”

He felt her hands on his legs, as she twisted his body.


“Jay, that’s the only way you’ll go, trust me.”

Jay tried to relax his vertebrae and his ribcage. Liz pulled his body around, and he felt himself slowly inching through the crack. Something on the car seat dug into his chest.


Liz gave another push and whatever it was sliced his leg, and then he slithered through the tiny hole, and fell into a pile in the driver’s seat.

“Jay.” She whispered. “You’re amazing.”

“Yes,” he coughed, “Hal may have infinite lives and an army of monsters, but at least I can wriggle through small spaces. Hand me those pants.”

He met her gaze in the rearview mirror.

“Oh and Jay? Nice boxers.”

He flushed, not with displeasure, and peeked out the driver’s window. Elmer’s body still lay on the ground. Jay considered stepping out to try to rouse him, but something in the darkness stopped him. He squinted into the shadows of the elementary school. Something moving. Jay ducked back down and grabbed the radio system in the center console. He flipped it on, and it crackled with static.

“Hello hello? Deputy Vasquez? Anyone?”

There was no answer. Outside, he heard the loud, thunderous footsteps again.

There was a flutter of static, then Jay heard a voice.


“Who is this?”


“Olaus! Are you okay?”

“Uh huh. We’re in Tutorial. Are you in prison?”

Jay heard a slight scuffle break over the radio, then a new voice came through. Colin’s.


Outside, Jay heard the thunderous footsteps moving closer. Jay hunkered down and lowered his voice.

“Hey bud. We’re stuck over by Scallow Park. Elmer passed out or had a heart attack. He’s lying out in the road. Something else is out here.”

“Jeez. Shouldn’t you call Deputy Vasquez?”

Jay rolled his eyes. “That’s what I was doing when you guys got on. Listen, Liz and I are gonna come back to you in the squad car. We have to get that computer running. Can you find a generator?”


“We might be able to get Hal again, but the only way to keep him out is with that disk.”

Colin’s voice crackled. “But how are we gonna—”

There was a groan of metal, and the squad car lifted up on two wheels. Jay tumbled over and slammed into the passenger door. Liz screamed and rolled down. The car dropped back down and its side windows shattered, sprinkling glass over Jay’s head. Silence. Heavy breathing. Outside, a dark shape stood over the car. Too big for a bear. Metal screeched and the car bounced on its springs, as the roof bent inwards. Jay heard Liz moan softly in terror.

“Hello?” The CB squawked. “What was that?”

The dark shape paused, listening. Jay grabbed the CB, yanking it from the console. He threw it out the open window and it clattered across the pavement. The huge figure turned. Jay saw two massive hands silhouetted in moonlight lower something long and cylindrical. Three watery, digital blasts screamed into the night, lighting up the squad car in purple. Peeking out the window, Jay saw the purple light cover the streets. And then, finally, he saw it. The creature. It was huge, taller than a man with a tiny head perched atop a giant, muscled body with scaly skin. Its arms, thick as tree trunks, held a long gun. He recognized it from its illustration in the Krave III manual. A Gulkon Enforcer. It blasted the road, melting the blacktop with purple plasma, destroying the CB.

The keys dangled from the car ignition. Jay crawled over the gear shift into the driver’s seat, keeping low.

“Ready?” He whispered.


Jay pushed in the clutch and turned the keys. The engine rumbled to life. Immediately, the Enforcer turned back to their car. Its weapon blasted, and the strange, shimmering plasma washed over the rear door, devouring the metal like acid. Jay hit the gas. The tires squealed and they lurched forward.

Out the corner of his eye, Jay saw a second shape rush them. He tried to swerve, but the creature plowed into the back of the car. The squad car spun round, rear wheel skidding over pavement. The creature grabbed the car frame and Jay pressed the gas. The car’s tires squealed against asphalt, held in place. Out of the window, Jay saw more shapes gathering in the shadows. Dozens of creatures, rushing them. Liz saw them too. She stared out the empty space where the rear door had been.

“Get back to the disk.”

Jay stared at her.

“What are you doing?”

“He won’t hurt me.”

Liz crawled towards the open door and swung her legs out, leaping onto the road. The creature dropped the car and reached for Liz. Jay felt the spinning tires grab asphalt, and he shot forward, swerving down the road. He slammed on the brakes. Behind him, silhouetted against the moonlight, the creature held Liz, examining her. More silhouettes poured out into the road. Coming after him. He heard Liz’s voice shout:

“Go! Get out of here!”

Jay reluctantly let go of the clutch and roared down Main street. A dozen shapes chased after him, gaining. He looked for sidestreets to turn and head back up to the school. But the dark shapes were everywhere. They clung to the sides of buildings and leapt from rooftop to rooftop. The further into Dunam he got, the thicker they became.

Freezing cold air blew in through the open windows. The glass was gone, the roof caved in, and the entire left passenger side of the car was melted and fused metal. He shivered as he turned onto Jewett boulevard, looking in the rearview mirror at the monster’s following. Then he spun the steering wheel, swerving down Dock Grade road, heading down to the Skookullom river. There was no way he could make through those all monsters. Not on his own. He needed re-enforcements.

Next Chapter: Spot #7