Bears are capable of sniffing out food up to twenty miles away from them, and Goldibear was no exception. He’d noticed the distinctive whiff of squirty cream dance towards him on the icy winter breeze and, with nowhere else to go, decided to follow it. It had led him down a dark alleyway, over a garden gate, and up to the kitchen door of the Locke family’s house.
Squirty cream was Goldibear’s favourite. His master used to feed it to him, right out of the can, when he was a cub, and the sweet scent of it never failed to hit him with a sense of longing nostalgia. Things were simpler when he was a cub. He performed a few simple tricks, ate squirty cream from the can and fell asleep in his master’s arms. These days comfort was much further away, and Goldibear had been forced to go in search of it.
He pushed his nose up to the window of the Lockes’ kitchen and scanned the room. He couldn’t see a can of cream, but he did spy three mugs which appeared to be overflowing with snowy, whipped peaks of the stuff. The sight was accompanied by a smell that utterly mesmerised him and forced his mouth to flood with saliva. It was not just the cream he could smell, but something else; something rich and sweet and enticing, something which also conjured images of cubhood. It smelled like the brown, foil-wrapped treats his master would share with him from time to time. Chocolate.
Goldibear lunged away from the window and pawed at the handle of the back door. It was unlocked and the door swung open quickly and slammed noisily into the adjacent wall. The bear cringed at the noise and froze, listening out for footsteps. He could hear thumping music from a house further down the street and some distant yells and screeches, but not a single sound appeared to emerge from this particular home.
Satisfied that he wouldn’t be disturbed, Goldibear approached the exquisite-smelling, cream-topped mugs and snuffled at them. He dipped his nose into the cream of the first and lapped at the drink. He tasted a hint of familiar chocolate, but the flavour was masked by something bitter and foul. It tasted a little like the breath of his master on the occasions that he’d swig amber liquid from a clear bottle and subsequently stagger and stumble around. It caused Goldibear to wrinkle his snout and shake his head from side to side.
He sniffed at the second mug. This one smelled far more palatable, and he dunked his nose through the cream and drank at the liquid. Saccharine sweetness flooded his mouth and coated his tongue. It was better than the first, but the chocolate taste was overwhelmed by sugar and the syrupy flavour made the bear feel a little nauseous.
He moved onto the third mug. This one was smaller, but it had an extra large mountain of squirty cream on top which Goldibear lapped up and swallowed in a single mouthful. He drank at the creamy brown liquid beneath it and almost instantly felt as though he was wrapped up in a warm hug of reassurance. The chocolatey flavour was perfectly balanced with a hint of sweetness, and it made all the problems in his world fade away.
He guzzled at the mug greedily, snorting bubbles into the liquid as he did so. When all was supped, he continued to lick at the mug, which rattled on the kitchen counter before tipping onto its side and rolling onto the floor, where it shattered into multiple pieces. Goldibear gave a grunt of satisfaction and lumbered deeper into the house to explore.
The first thing he noticed was that it was warm and dry, a far cry from the frosty, damp enclosure he was used to. He recalled his youth once more, when his master allowed him to sleep at the end of his bed in his mobile home. The bear had never understood why one day he was banished from those sleeping quarters and forced to bed down upon straw in a wooden crate. With time he had become used to the way the wind whistled through the wooden slats and tickled bitterly at his coat, but he never forgot the luxurious comfort of the natural habitat of the human.
And this particular human habitat was more luxurious than any other he had seen. The humans in the circus holed themselves up in petite caravans which offered barely enough space to move around. This home was so big that it almost seemed as though it was especially for a great, hulking bear. Goldibear stretched out his legs luxuriously as he padded down the hallway and poked his head into each room.
It was the living room which caught his eye. There was a dying fire in the grate, its embers glowing lazily as the heat fizzled out. It was surrounded by a large, ornate fireplace and mantel, upon which three felt stockings were hung. Goldibear was reminded of the costumes he was encouraged to wear, which at Christmas time featured long, floppy felt hats adorned with a fur trim and bells. He’d never taken any pleasure out of the waistcoats and trousers he’d had to wear, but there was something about the hats he rather enjoyed. They kept his ears warm and helped to drown out the overbearing screams and whoops of the audience.
The bear grabbed one of the stockings in his great paws and dragged it down from the fireplace. He placed it on his ears and wiggled his head into it, but the opening was too large and the stocking quickly fell over his eyes and turned everything dark. He tipped his head towards the floor and shook himself free of the garment.
He looked to the next one. It was a vivid shade of purple and adorned with sparkles which reflected the light in a mesmerising manner. He pawed at the shimmering stocking and it spat up a cloud of glitter, which rained down into Goldibear’s inquisitive eyes. He backed away and shook his head, blinking wildly. He could see a speck of the shiny stuff on the end of his nose and it glimmered beneath the dim lighting. He wiped at it with his paw, but had no luck in removing it.
He turned from the glittery stocking with disgust and focused his attention to the third. It was a petite pea green number adorned with a red and white candy cane print. He tugged it down from the fireplace and tentatively held it over his ears. This one appeared to be a much better fit. It didn’t fall over his eyes and with a little wiggling, and only a small rip at the seams, he managed to secure it on the top of his crown.
With that, he began to wonder whether this human household had beds like the one he slept upon as a cub. He retreated from the living room and lumbered further down the hallway, where he saw a set of stairs. He was well-versed in the art of climbing stairs, having been taught to do so for one of the acts he was part of. In that particular performance, he was required to climb a great staircase on his hind legs and jump off the top into a pool of freezing cold water.
It was that which had given him the urge to finally up and leave the circus. With snow falling from the sky, the water in the pool was even icier than usual, and he couldn’t bear the thought of becoming drenched in it. It was the final act of the show, and straight afterwards his master always guided him out of the big top and back into his wooden enclosure, still dripping wet. If that was to be his fate this Christmas eve, his golden fur would probably have frozen solid, and that thought didn’t appeal to Goldibear at all.
When he’d reached the top of the circus staircase, he’d looked down into the icy pool and decided that it was the perfect time for him to take his retirement. He made his way back down the staircase towards his master, who was screaming bloody murder at him and waving his whip in the air. As Goldibear reached the bottom, his master had raised the whip and was about to strike when Goldibear let out a guttural growl – one which had been quietly brewing for years – and swiped his paw across his master’s face.
He hadn’t turn back to see if his master had sustained much damage. He marched right out of the big top, people leaping out of his way as he went, and disappeared into the night. He felt something of remorse in the back of his mind, since his master had been the only human he had ever really trusted. He had raised him from a cub upon squirty cream and chocolates. He’d cradled him like a child of his own whenever young Goldibear cried out for his mother in the night. He’d ruffled his fur and stroked his head, and told him he loved him. But the icy water and that windy wooden crate had worn the bear down.
He pushed the memories away as he scaled the Lockes’ staircase and entered the first door he came to. There was a bed, and it was three times the size of the one he’d slept upon in his master’s caravan. Goldibear clambered onto it, padded in a circle three times, and settled down.
It was terribly hard. Even the straw of his enclosure offered more springiness than this bed. He wriggled and fidgeted and then rolled over towards the other side of the bed. It was no better, and there was a strong smell of perfume upon the pillow which irritated the bear’s nostril and made him sneeze. A splatter of sticky snot and drool hit the pillow, and Goldibear rolled off the edge of the bed and onto the floor.
He left the bedroom behind and took the next door into a new room. This one also had a bed, but it was much smaller than the first. Three invitingly plump pillows were stacked at one end, and the sheets were pulled back, practically shouting out for Golidbear to climb in and find comfort in dream world. He did so, ignoring the fact that he made the bed creak and groan beneath his weight, and that the duvet failed to completely cover his great body.
This bed was beautifully soft, and it cradled his weary bones in a way that made him feel utterly weightless. He sighed a deep, satisfying sigh, then rolled over and came face to face with another bear. A tiny one, which had fake glass eyes and seams along its sides.
Goldibear sat up instantly, his relaxed state of mind having been replaced with horror. The humans in this house were bear killers.
The three Lockes returned to their home with rosy cheeks and flecks of snow upon their clothes. They’d been out for a short stint of carol singing whilst their bedtime hot chocolates cooled down. They hadn’t earned an awful lot of money for their charity tin, and had received a frustratingly high ratio of slammed doors and hurried no-thank-yous this year, but they would never discontinue their Christmas eve tradition; they believed it was important to bring a touch of festive cheer to their neighbours.
The littlest Locke threw off his coat and scarf and kicked off his wellington boots in the hallway, leaving it all on a damp heap on the floor as he bolted into the kitchen for his hot chocolate. Mummy Locke sighed and picked up after him, while Daddy Locke methodically removed his outerwear and hung it carefully on the coat hooks.
Mummy and Daddy Locked froze at the sound of their child’s scream, then hurried towards it. They found the boy in the kitchen, his face full of anguish as he stared at his empty hot chocolate mug which lay in pieces on the floor.
“Someone ruined my hot chocolate!” he whined.
Daddy Locke approached the counter and inspected his own mug and his wife’s. “Looks like someone has drunk out of these, too.”
Mummy Locke’s gaze was not on the hot chocolate, but on the back door which was slightly ajar and letting in a chilly breeze. “Someone’s been in here,” she said in a hoarse whisper.
Daddy Locke put his finger to his lips and reached for the handle of the biggest, sharpest knife in the block. He grasped it with a clammy palm, then held it out before him as he crept down the hallway. His wife followed his lead, took her own weapon from the knife block, and plodded behind him. Little boy Locke grasped hold of the neck of his jumper, for nothing more than comfort, and followed his parents.
When they reached the living room, Daddy Locke held his breath and stepped into the room. It was empty, and he was relieved to note that everything appeared to be in its rightful place. Gifts remained in the tree and the flat screen was still happily mounted to the wall. The room didn’t appear to have been ransacked. The only disruption was that the stockings were no longer hung on the fireplace, and were instead slumped on the floor.
He gave Mummy Locke a quick nod, then retreated. They continued their security check; the dining room appeared untouched, as did the playroom, and the doors to the conservatory were locked and showed no sign of attempted entry. All that was left were the bedrooms.
They crept upstairs with hearts in their mouths. If the intruder was up there, they wouldn’t have quite as easy an escape route, and that made the Locke’s very uneasy. None of them wanted to get caught up in a fight; they simply wanted the intruder gone as quickly as possible so that they could call the police and lock the doors to any further danger.
Daddy Locke checked his own bedroom first. The bed sheets looked a little dishevelled, but it didn’t appear that his wife’s jewellery collection had been raided. Next was the boy’s room, and he found it unlikely anyone would have tried to find anything of value in there. But the boy himself felt deep panic within him; he had left his bedroom door wide open, and now it was pushed closed. He clung to the back of his mother’s jumper and peered between her and his father, who nudged the door open with his knife.
The room was dark, and if something was hidden in there, the Lockes couldn’t see it. They could, however, hear a deep, rattling growl which sent terror to the pits of their stomachs.
Daddy Locke reached into the room to hit the light switch and as the bulb illuminated, the three were faced with Goldibear.
He was reared up on his hind legs and he towered over them. His lips were pulled back to reveal huge, yellowing teeth, and his deep growl quickly grew into a bone-shattering roar. The Lockes reciprocated with ear piercing screams.
Paws swiped and knives slashed, and Goldibear’s blonde fur quickly became tinged with a festive shade of blood red.
Read more in the Night Before Christmas short story series.