If it weren’t for the Kodiak brown bear, Max would have complained about his boss long ago. The bear had been hired as head receptionist for HR just two months earlier, landing him an extra large desk and an extra large chair behind normal-sized glass doors on the third floor, just off the elevator.
Max had heard the rumors, and it had long kept him from complaining. It had long kept everyone from complaining. Yet one day after witnessing his boss upgrade from sexual innuendo to a full-on ass grabbing of an assistant, Max decided see the Ursus arctos middendorffi for himself.
As soon as he stepped off the elevator and saw fur, his heart dropped. He’d been desperately hoping for skin even if it were an unrealistic hope. He took a tentative step further, and behind an all-window door, behind a six-foot high cubicle, chest hidden by a desktop, was a full-grown male Kodiak brown bear.
Max turned around immediately.
Max’s boss’s behavior continued, quickly escalating from a second-rate sexual harasser to a first rate one, all set to advance into sexual predator territory by the end of the month. It was the logical next step for such an asshole. Assistants were quitting left, right, front, and back, and he just kept on going, harassing all the new ones no later than their first hour on the job. As head of admissions, he’d even begun to act inappropriately with interviewing students, preying upon helpless ladies seeking admission into dental school.
Yet, when Max felt outraged and motivated to fight back, he remembered that his options were either to remain silent along with everyone else or be the first to face a brown bear. Not just a brown bear, but a Kodiak brown bear, which is far larger than any other brown bear. Kodiak’s are tied with polar bears for the title of world’s largest living land carnivore.
And yet Max’s boss just kept getting worse. Max often caught him leaning into one of the secretaries, grabbing her ass, and whispering into her ear while she appeared to be suppressing vomit.
But on the other end of things was a 1,000-pound bear that could easily fit a human head in his jaws, so Max remained silent.
The very next day, Max’s boss asked an intern to touch it. “It” being his junk. He approached her at the copier and said, “Go ahead, touch it. I know you want to.” Max overheard because the copier was near the coffee pot, and Max was so tired he had almost passed out at his desk.
He wasn’t able to sleep that might, tormented by his inaction. In fact he hadn’t been able to sleep for many nights. Yet there was still the matter of the bear, a matter which continued to keep him inactive.
Then the next day in the coed bathroom right next to the admissions office Max played a game he rarely attempted: aimed urination. He played it that morning because he was worried if he didn’t, he’d fall asleep in the stall. Max was shooting for a spot at the far end, a sharp 75 degrees from where he stood, and while he was so carefully aiming, looking intently at the rim of the toilet, he noticed a small, black plastic camera.
At an elevator’s distance, through the dirty window doors, all Max could make out was a mass of brown, but as he got closer, the imposing details came into very vivid view. The dark brown fur still wet from a morning shower; the small, black eyes; the 1,000 pounds of hunched up muscle; the mammoth claws that crudely banged away at an oversized keyboard; the big, floppy black lips barely covering gigantic, white teeth.
He knew he shouldn’t have, but over the past few weeks head read up on brown bear attacks. The good news was that they rarely attacked. The bad news was that when they attacked, it was devastating. One bear killed a man with a single bite to the head; another raided a tent, killed the inhabitants, and when rafters discovered the site of the massacre, the bear chased them a half-mile downriver.
With trembling hands, Max knocked on the glass.
“What can I help you with?” the bear asked, his huge lips sloppily slapping as he wrapped them around the sentence. He’d clearly just learned English, but in spite of that, he didn’t have much of an accent. Maybe something resembling a Boston accent, but nothing foreign.
“I…I…I…I…” Max stuttered uncontrollably.
“Are you normally a stutterer?” the bear asked. Max shook his head. “Okay, I know how I look. I know that I’m a massive bear and that normally such a sight would induce stuttering, but you have no reason to worry. I am first and foremost an HR employee, so please treat me as such.”
“But I’m a bear. A Kodiak brown bear from the islands of the Kodiak Archipelago in Southwestern Alaska. But that’s no reason to be scared of me. My diet consists mainly of salmon and berries, and while I can be territorial, I’m perfectly capable of assessing my surroundings to know when such defensive behavior would be inappropriate, such as now, within a professional work environment. So please, don’t be scared. I left my wild nature in Alaska.
“To be perfectly honest with you, it hurts my feelings to see my coworkers scared of me, so please, don’t be. I’m here to help. I left Alaska for Los Angeles because of global warming, hunters, and bear viewing tours, but I stayed in Los Angeles for the kind and caring collegial environment I found right here at our esteemed institution. Do not doubt for a second that I will treat your request with the utmost respect and sincerity, taking an active interest in solving your problems in a way that best benefits all parties involved, none of which will be altered in any manner by my quadrupedal nature, overpowering sense of smell, or hunger for salmon.”
Max had never met a bear who spoke so beautifully. This ursine eloquence boosted his confidence just enough to force his own speech.
“I work in admissions, and my boss there is sexually harassing the women in our office as well as the interviewing applicants.”
The bear narrowed his already small eyes.
“What kind of sexual harassment?”
Max described it, detailing every incident he’d seen in the last month (there were too many for him to go back any further than that). By the end, the bear’s eyes had widened to their fullest. He leapt from his chair, shaking the whole office. Plants in plastic vases fell over, spilling dirt on spots that already had dirt from previous spills; books toppled off shelves on top of books that had already toppled; the water cooler tipped over, flooding the damp carpet which reeked of mold; and somebody two rooms away fell out of their chair and yelled, “Not my elbow again!”
“That’s disgusting. That man’s a danger. We have to do something now.” On all fours, the bear galloped into the office with the fallen man. As he did someone in another office fell out of their chair and yelled about their knee. Max remained behind until the bear stopped running because the floor was too shaky for him to follow. One thousand pounds was a lot for even the best-constructed buildings in earthquake-ready Los Angeles to withstand.
“Sir,” the bear bellowed. A small, middle-aged man with a substantial bald spot was picking himself up and shaking out his elbow as Max stepped in.
“Yes, Kodiak brown bear?”
“Sir, we have a very serious sexual harassment incident on our hands. One that must be dealt with immediately. The employee involved should be instantly fired so that he is no longer a danger to others, and his victims should be informed of their options to file suit against the perpetrator.”
The bald man leapt up.
“Are you serious? A sexual harassment issue? And one of such magnitude?”
“I am, sir,” the bear said proudly as though he were brining his cubs a fresh deer carcass.
“Well then, who is this disgusting piece of human sewage?” the bear’s boss said, leaning eagerly and angrily over his desk.
“The head of admissions, sir.”
The bald man collapsed into his chair, oozing into it like a melting crayon.
“What is it, sir?” the Kodiak brown bear asked.
“The head of admissions is the dean’s little brother,” the bald man said. “There’s nothing we can do.”
“But?” The bear tried. His boss shook his head.
“Nothing, brown bear. He’s the dean’s baby brother. We can’t do a goddamn thing.”
Dejected, Max and the bear left the bald man’s office.
“Dude,” the bear said as they reached his cozy cubicle. Max took it as an apologetic “dude” variation, which he’d found was the second most common type of “dude” after the enthusiastic “dude.”
“Dude, I understand. Some things are insurmountable,” Max said, using the sympathetic “dude” variation.
“No, that’s not what I meant. I meant, ‘Dude, we need to take this into our own hands.’ Or paws, as it were.” The bear bashfully buried his paws behind his behind as though ashamed that they didn’t match Max’s forelimb extremities.
Max leaned in, arms resting precariously on particleboard, glancing nervously about. “What?” he asked. The rebellious “dude” variation was one of the most rare, so he wasn’t positive he’d heard the bear correctly.
“This man, your boss, he’s dangerous. We can’t just let him do what he does because he’s the dean’s brother. There’s no excuse for sexual harassment, not even being related to a faculty member who’s administratively-inclined enough to be elected dean.”
“But how do we stop him? You hold no HR authority over him. You can’t reprimand him here at work.”
“Exactly,” the bear said, a grin spreading over his sloppy lips. “Here, at work, there’s nothing I can do.”
Max had never been much of a jogger. He was ill-equipped for the sport. His legs were short and fat, his lungs small and weak, and his willpower shriveled and elusive. Yet the following morning, he donned short-shorts, sneakers, and a slick long-sleeved shirt before driving to the trails just above the city where his boss ran each morning. He knew about the runs because his boss came to work in short shorts and a sweaty shirt, and any woman unfortunate enough to be near his office when he arrived was harassed into feeling his muscles or his pulse. Always his femoral pulse, never his radial.
“Been running up in the hills. The San Gabriels. Working out my quads and my glutes, pumping up those mountains, putting in work, you know?” he often said, answered only by uncomfortable nods.
Max’s boss wasn’t a very fast runner. He greatly exaggerated his aerobic fitness to impress unimpressed women. But Max was even slower. He exerted everything he had just to keep within four hundred yards of his boss. Halfway through, he vomited, and by the end of the run, he would have vomited again if he’d had anything left in his stomach. But, he thought while dry heaving into a prickly poppy bush, he’d done it. He’d followed his Boss. He’d learned the route even if it felt like it were killing him.
As soon as his boss’s car was well out of sight, Max went to his own car, grabbed a bag of cookies and a bottle of water, and lazily walked the entire five miles he’d just run, carefully studying the trial throughout.
He was nervous. Their plan wasn’t something to be taken lightly. It was frightening on all levels and Max found his stomach doing back flips just at the thought. He wasn’t sure he could go through with it.
That night their boss took them all out to a happy hour as he often did, using it, as always, as an opportunity to make repulsive sexual advances on the women. At the end of the night, when a small, blonde girl named Katie appeared far too drunk to drive, Max’s boss offered to take her home. He threw an arm around her, and something clicked in Max’s head.
“She lives just down the block from me. I can take her,” Max said. Katie, in fact, lived miles away, but once Max had extricated her from his furiously frustrated boss, he didn’t mind driving her across the city.
As he’d expected, when he asked her how much she’d had to drink the next morning, she reported only one beer. One beer had given a weekend’s worth of headaches. One beer that their boss had gotten for her. One beer that their boss had made sure to get for her. One beer that none of them had watched their boss get for her. One beer that had to be more than one beer.
Max’s resolve solidified. His stomach back flips ceased and were replaced by an anxious anger. That afternoon he hopped off the elevator on the third floor and gave a quick thumbs-up.
The next morning Max once again followed his boss over toughly-packed dirt and bunches of rocks, around child-sized shrubs and early-morning lizards, under low-lying branches and rarely-used bridges, deeper and deeper into the mountains around Los Angeles, until at the pinnacle of their depth, Max, who had been slowly gaining on his boss, sprinted forward. He’d intended to remain silent, but he couldn’t help himself.
“You’re gonna pay, you asshole!” he yelled just before he tackled his boss. His yell tipped off his boss, allowing him time to grab onto Max as Max pushed him down a small, steep hill into a small, circular ravine.
Max caught a branch just a few feet below the roof of the ravine. His boss rolled all the way down.
When Max’s boss opened his eyes after brushing them free of dirt, as he stood up on bruised legs, he found himself less than ten feet from a Kodiak brown bear. Max stared down from his perch, not yet wanting to scramble the four feet to the top of ravine. He wanted to see the fear first.
And the fear was there in full. Max’s boss was shivering, sweating, and crying quietly. Then the bear roared, and the mountains ached with his bellow. With one lumbering foot after another—feet that shook dust up from the ground—the bear approached Max’s cowering boss who had now pressed himself tightly into the wall of the hill behind. He continued to shiver, sweat, and cry, and by the time the bear’s massive, hanging lips were just a few inches from his face, he was shaking so intensely that clumps of dirt were falling off the hill around him, and a fear that had already been full was made unimaginably fuller.
But suddenly his boss stopped shaking.
“You’re the bear from HR, right? The Kodiak brown bear?” He said it as confidently as a man inches from a Kodiak brown bear could.
“Indeed, I am,” the bear growled, hot breath wafting over Max’s boss, forcing him to close his eyes and shut his mouth. “And I know what you’ve done. I know the HR policies you’ve broken, not to mention the laws you’ve broken.”
When Max’s boss reopened his eyes, they were still tight and centered.
“It doesn’t matter. I’m the dean’s brother. You can’t do anything to me.” The arrogance in his voice was so thick it almost smelled.
The bear’s lips widened into what looked like a grin, stretching thin over colossal canines.
“You might think so. My boss certainly does. But you’re both wrong. While I can’t do anything as an HR staff member, as a Kodiak brown bear there is so very much that I can do…” The bear let is gravelly voice trail off, leaving more suspense than a Hitchcock movie hanging between the two of them. Max’s boss may have been an asshole, but he wasn’t an idiot, so he instantly picked up on where this was headed, and he started to shiver again.
The Kodiak brown bear reared onto his hind legs and lifted his right paw.
Max scrambled upwards. He’d wanted to see the fear, but the attack was different. He wasn’t a sadist. An advocate for the punishment of jackasses, yes, but not a sadist. Even knowing the punishment would be minimal, he still didn’t want to see it. The Kodiak brown bear had said the day before that not all bear attacks were fatal, but fatal or not, all bear attacks were horrendously violent, and Max didn’t want to see that.
So he shot upward, scrambling over two branches, and then, just before the top, grabbing onto a lip of dirt that quickly crumbled away. His feet were on two small, unstable rocks, so as soon as he lost his handhold, he lost himself. He rolled down the hill rapidly.
The Kodiak brown bear was still drawing back his swing, letting the fear fully set in, and as the bear swung, Max fell right in front of his boss. The swing should have landed on Max’s boss’s femur. Instead it landed on Max’s face.
If Max had been conscious in his hospital bed, he would have thought something along the lines of assholes always winning, nice guys finishing last, or the best laid plans of bears and men. But he wasn’t conscious, so he thought no such thing.
The Kodiak brown bear would have been glad to know that instead of cycling through regret and depression as the bear was, Max was cycling through images of Max romping on top of a brown bear’s back through fields of dandelion.
The bear had called the attack in from his cell phone, reporting it as black bear attack just after noticing that Max’s boss had scrambled to safety while he wasn’t paying attention. He’d lost in every way. He’d hurt Max, he’d lied to police, and Max’s boss had escaped unscathed. The bear wished there were seasons in LA. It would have been a good time to hibernate.
At least, he thought, they’d taught Max’s boss a lesson. For the past week, he’d been on impeccable behavior.
The bear was aiming for a spot on the far side of the toilet when Max’s boss burst through the bathroom door. The bear knew it was he by his voice, but Max’s boss didn’t know the bear was there since the bear was forced to use the stalls; the urinals were too small for him. Even the stalls weren’t a comfortable fit.
“Get in there,” Max’s boss yelled. A woman screamed, and a second later, smashed against the wall of the stall next to the bear. The stall door closed, Max’s boss’s belt unbuckled, his pants fell, and he reached down and lifted the dazed girl with the heavy head wound.
The bear was too shocked to move. Too caught off guard. So he roared. He roared like he’d roared in the mountains, and Max’s boss jumped back.
“Shit!” Max’s boss yelled, opening the stall door, and a second later, the bathroom door.
As the bear called an EMT for the unconscious girl Max’s boss had left behind, he thought of the unconscious Max. Not only was Max unconscious, but he was unconscious without reason. His boss was still a horrendous creep. They had now truly lost in every way. The bear felt like the worst HR employee in the whole of California.
The instantaneous disappearance of his grin as he exited the strip club and saw the bear would have been enough to make Max happy if he’d been there to see it. The way he dropped his cell phone and ran would have pushed Max well beyond happiness. But the weak, shrill scream that Max’s boss let out as he ran would have made Max happy for a lifetime.
But the Kodiak brown bear couldn’t stop there. He’d seen how far scare tactics got him with this criminal. The Kodiak brown bear had once told Max that not all bear attacks were fatal. Max, still hospitalized, knew that firsthand. But implied in that statement was the idea that sometimes they were fatal, and this was going to be one of those times. It might even be, the bear thought as he galloped after Max’s boss, the first time it was deserved.
Bio: Walter Campbell lives and works in Philadelphia, went to school in New England, and grew up in LA, but he’ll write pretty much anywhere. Recently, his work has appeared in Jersey Devil, KZine, MicroHorror, Eclectic Flash, Toasted Cheese, Horror Bound, amphibi.us, Static Movement, The Journal of Microliterature, and Glossolalia.