Excerpt from Winkie
By Clifford Chase
Grove PressCopyright © 2006 Clifford Chase
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWinkie in Captivity
Some months earlier, outside a moonlit shack in the forest, dozens of helmeted figures crept into position. Pantomimed orders; crouched runs from tree to tree; a relay of nods; stillness again. It wasn't long before daybreak. Whitish strands of fog gathered and dispersed. Twigs dripped dew. The men blew quietly into their cold, cupped fingers, waiting.
Inside the shack, on an old mattress as worn as himself, the little bear lay wide-awake, thinking. But it wasn't the authorities who had roused him. In fact, he was completely unaware of them. Rather, he was sleepless with grief.
The past, the past. How it came toward you, Winkie thought. How it moved you without even touching you. And what did it mean-to remember and to feel? What was the point in feeling it all again?
Here in the forest he had been granted a child of his own, and she had been his joy. But before even a year had passed, she had died. In the weeks since then, alone in the cabin or wandering just as alone in the woods, Winkie had tried to understand this simple, unyielding fact.
Late one night he fell asleep with the TV going and, a few minutes later, seemed to awaken to its flickering-though he knew he was still dreaming, and next he saw that the flickering wasn't the TV but his little cub. She was floating there. She didn't say so, but he understood this was the only time he'd see her. She radiated something, perhaps comfort. Gazing at each other shyly, they basked in the present moment. A flickering infinity. Then the little one said, "Think back," and faded from view like any memory.
That was three nights ago. Since then Winkie had gone over his life again and again, searching for the right thing to remember, even one moment that could give him hope. Of course this meant remembering all of it anyway, in snatches, all the children he'd loved and what he'd been to them; then the desolate years up on the shelf, loved by no one; and finally, by a sudden miracle he would never understand, what he'd always wished for, the gifts of life and movement-
But what good had running away done? Even here, far from humanity, he'd lost everything.
"Lost, lost, lost," the stuffed bear murmured. Outside his dirty window, the horizon was just beginning to glow. Animals-the real animals-had begun to stir in their sticks and leaves. Winkie clicked shut his two glass eyes, and in that somber quiet not yet tipping into morning, his mind was drawn to earliest memories. He had never been smaller than he was now-his body was his body-but he had once been like a baby just the same. It was a time when he wasn't even Winkie yet, when he wore a white blouse and a black velvet dress, and he belonged to the little girl Ruth. He could almost hear her calling to him, across time, "I love you, Marie"-
A rhythmic chopping in his ears, roving flashes of light. He cradled his head in his paws, but the racket only grew worse. Recollection had been too much for him. The noise ratcheted to a merciless howl, the lights white-blue and blinding. Was he dying?
All at once he realized the nightmare wasn't inside him. Shielding his eyes with one paw, blinking, the bear peered up through the window to see a large metallic object, greenish and whirring, hovering above the cabin.
Neither rising nor falling, the helicopter seemed suspended in time. But it rocked to and fro in the flashing air, as if impatient, and all around it the trees were swaying madly.
It shone a spotlight directly on the little bear's upturned face. Then Winkie saw other lights coming at him, from all directions in the woods.
"You're completely surrounded," said the hovering craft. Its deep, metallic voice was even more piercing than the thumping of its motor. "Come out with your hands up!"
Paws in air, Winkie stood in the doorway of the cabin, squinting in the floodlights and the helicopter wind. This must be what they do to toys that run away, he thought. He glimpsed red and blue revolving lights now, too, out in the woods, and silhouettes running between the vehicles, some carrying flashlights, some guns. They were yelling. Above the din of the aircraft he couldn't hear what they were saying, but they seemed confused. Their guns and flashlights pointed this way and that. Even the helicopter began to buck and sway. Winkie felt sorry for it, because it had no room to land between the trees.
"Don't move!" the copter said, but Winkie wasn't moving. Its voice had grown agitated. Winkie almost wanted to comfort it. "What the hell?-no, don't-"
A single shot rang out. Winkie felt the bullet whizz past his right ear. He flinched but didn't dare budge. He couldn't tell where the shot had come from. His soft arms were getting tired of being held in the air.
"Men!" shouted the helicopter. Though the craft's own voice was distinctly male, it seemed disgusted with the whole of the gender. "Hold-hold your fire! Hold everything!"
All the shouting stopped, and the silhouettes came to a halt under the trees. There was only the whir of the copter. Moths flitted in the floodlight beams. Already frightened, Winkie began to tremble.
"All right, now," the copter yelled. "Move in!"
The bear saw all the helmeted figures advancing toward him, guns drawn, rifles aimed. Though unexpected, the attack made sense to him as yet another misfortune, of a piece with his grief. The men stalked very, very slowly through the underbrush. It seemed they'd never get here. Even though the bear held perfectly still, bored as well as terrified, they kept yelling things like "Stay where you are!" and "Hold it!" or "Don't you dare move, you little cocksucker!"
Winkie felt faint. After everything he'd suffered, why should he care what they did to him now? But his two legs nearly trembled out from under him. The men drew closer. "I'll shootcha!" one kept muttering. "I swear, I'll shootcha! Ya think I won't?" The man was almost sobbing now. "Asshole, I will!"
Winkie thought, That one needs a hug. He saw a tiny burst of light. One of the subsequent thirty-nine shots knocked him over.
A blur of creation and not-yet-consciousness. In that long instant of falling, all at once Winkie recalled his life before Ruth. Why yes, now that he thought of it, he did have memories of the factory, the box he was placed in, a fresh pine smell, the lid coming down and then darkness ... Time passing ... Men's voices calling, jostling, a series of chuggings and whirrings, first with sharp bumps, then rocking, then bumps again ... More jostling, more voices calling, and silence; then, all of a sudden: the lid lifted and there was the ceiling of the department store, ornate and aglow with Christmas sparkles-
"Come on, come on!"
Rustling. The voices drew nearer ...
Day after day his staring eyes met those of the pink-faced children down below the glass case in which he'd been placed. These were the beams of hopeful light that etched themselves, faintly, on his blank, sawdust heart and fed his soul.
To be an appealing object. To be invested with Christmas feeling. To be on display, which was to be a part of an important story-
"It wasn't 'dead or alive,' dipshit-"
One voice sounded remorseful, the other angry. Winkie's eyes squeaked half-open to glimpse a wall of blue uniforms, their pink and brown young faces peering down at him. They were barely more than children. His eyes fell closed again.
"That's one weird lookin'-"
The cold point of a rifle prodding him. Winkie drifted off again.
... And previously, in the factory, yes, as he was stuffed and sewn-and then the tiny, tired eyes of the seamstress who stopped to admire her work for just a moment. She laid him down and his eyes closed-dark. She lifted him up and they opened-light.
He wanted both, and the delicious difference between the two. It was his first inkling of knowledge and mystery. And of wanting.
Chop, chop, chop, said the helicopter.
"Call the chief."
"You call 'im, asshole."
Winkie ignored them. His mind had grown pleasantly methodical. He wanted to trace the thread of his life back even further, but soon he got lost literally in threads-in cloth, stuffing, the spool of what was to hold him together-in these his thoughts faded into smaller and smaller filaments. His soul seemed to have been gathered together along with these minute fibers. Was this abnormal? Was it magic? It seemed quite natural to him and inevitable-that there was now a will where there had been no will. For whatever reason, here had been everything necessary to create a soul.
"Hey. Hey, wake up-"
The point of a gun prodding him again. He willed it to stop. He wanted to keep thinking.
"Hey, whatever you are-"
What were the threads of a soul? Winkie supposed only God knew, or the soul itself that wished to create itself-
"Is it real?"
"... motorized ... remote control maybe ..."
This roused the wounded bear. With effort he opened his eyes fully and blinked twice, click-click, click-click, to prove he was indeed alive and real. In unison the wall of faces blinked, too. Above them the helicopter circled, searchlights roving and crossing, as if weaving Winkie's fate.
Wearily the chief detective peered down from the copter through his field glasses, trying for a better look. After that first shot, he couldn't see anything. In a way, he didn't want to see. The moment a criminal was apprehended always saddened him. He never understood why. He rubbed his eyes and squinted into the field glasses again. He could see only the helmets of his men and, between them, lying in the dirt-that weird midget? Yes, with the huge ears. So he hadn't been mistaken. But the men-why were they just standing there? First they fired, against orders, and now-
The chopper wobbled and he saw only trees. "Keep 'er steady!" he yelled.
The chief detective had been tracking the mad bomber for seventeen years now. At last the trail had led to this cabin. They were sure. They closed in. Descriptions of the suspect had been scarce and contradictory, but a baby-size madman was hardly what he'd expected. Could be a master of disguise, he mused; maybe wore masks, walked around on stilts or something to seem taller; maybe they were trained for that, in the Near East, the Far East, Africa, wherever terrorists were bred ... But when the chief had first glimpsed the little one's face, peering up from the window of the cabin, he'd been flooded with an unusual feeling of-of what? Sympathy-overwhelming sympathy. As if he knew that little criminal's whole story from start to finish. As if he was that fuzzy, big-eared midget, peering up into the light, caught yet wondering, terrified yet hopeful ...
"Take 'er down," he ordered.
The craft tilted and the tops of trees began reassuringly speeding by. He'd been chasing this one too long, he thought. "Whacking me out," he muttered. Normally such explanations were comforting, but now tears pressed against his eyes. Were the men using tear gas? Just then the copter alighted in a small clearing. He jumped out. He had never been so grateful to feel hard ground beneath his feet.
He was quickly surrounded by reporters, photographers, cameramen. They demanded to be allowed nearer the cabin. "No comment," he said importantly. He saw one of his men running toward him, waving a riot helmet.
"Chief, Chief!" The young officer nearly crashed right into him.
"Take it easy," said the detective sternly, but the officer paid no attention. He was breathing hard and yammering something about a "talking bear." The chief glanced uneasily at the journalists, who were filming, taking photographs, writing on notepads. It would only make matters worse now to order them away. "... then the little critter blinked," the young officer was saying. He had to lean over onto his knees to catch his breath, but he kept jabbering. "... and I thought, What the? ..." As the cameras flashed, the chief stared down at the top of the young man's bare head, shaved to dark nubs. "... at first we thought he was dead ..." They all shaved their heads nowadays, the chief thought, to look tough. But then they just fell apart in a crisis. They spoke gibberish. "... so I'm saying, 'I didn't mean to shoot 'im,' when I hear this little high voice, kinda raspy, and I look and it's him-the bear, I mean-and he says, I don't know, he says he forgives me ..."
Actually Winkie didn't forgive him. Rather, the bear had said, "OK, OK," and he only said that to make him be quiet. Apparently it worked, because the young officer ran off. Winkie's middle hurt. He guessed that he had been shot. He wasn't sure if he couldn't move or if he just didn't feel like it. He didn't know if he was in great pain or just annoyed. He moaned experimentally but it didn't make things any more clear.
The officers didn't seem to know what to do. One said, "You ain't such a bigshot bomber now, huh, motherfuck?" Winkie had no idea what he was talking about. The others told the man to shut up. Their radios squawked. "Chief's coining," said someone. It was half warning, half reassurance.
There was a tramping sound, a murmuring of the men; the wall of uniforms parted, and the chief marched through. He stood there a moment looking down at Winkie. He was handsome with a big square gray head that Winkie liked immediately. Abruptly the chief turned to his men. "Well, what are you doing just standing there?" It was the same voice that had come from the helicopter, and it spoke with the same miraculous authority, as if from on high.
On his way from the helicopter to the cabin, the chief had once again composed himself. The contrast of the overexcited young officer had actually helped. He enunciated his next command carefully: "This suspect is no different from any other criminal."
As if a button had been pressed, the crowd of policemen suddenly began speaking and acting with perfect conviction, and each knew his duty. "You have the right to remain silent," began one. Another roughly placed Winkie's paws together and handcuffed them, not seeming to notice that the silver rings were too big. Winkie played along and kept his paws together. Several men had charged into the cabin, yelling, guns drawn. After some scuffling and more yelling, a voice called out, "All clear in here." Winkie rolled his eyes. Another called, very efficiently, "Don't touch anything." Still others had busily repositioned their floodlights even closer to the cabin, so that it was now bright as daylight. More men arrived wearing suits and carrying huge briefcases. "Coming through," they said. They put on white gloves and blue paper slippers and entered the cabin. No one gave the bear a second glance now. Shortly an ambulance arrived in the woods, and two hefty men in white came running with a stretcher. "Shot," said one of Winkie's guards. "Stomach, we think." By his calm, professional manner the two emergency workers understood their own roles, too.
"Pulse: zero," said one, letting go the bear's cotton paw.
"Blood pressure: zero over zero," said the other, as the puffy black cuff wooshed out its air.
The first one shone a small flashlight in each of Winkie's glass eyes, each of which went click-click. "Pupils abnormal but reactive-what's yer name?"
"Winkie," said the bear, automatically. He almost added, "Marie underneath," but that was too hard to explain.
"Sex?" asked the other emergency worker.
Also too hard to explain. Winkie didn't answer.
"Sex?" the man repeated, annoyed.
The first worker gruffly moved the bear's handcuffed paws aside to reveal the place where Winkie's legs came together: a flat seam across worn blond fur. "Female," he said flatly and definitively.
If Winkie could have blushed, he would have.
"Sign here," said the second one. He handed Winkie a clipboard and pen. The bear made a large W.
"No, here." The worker pointed.
Winkie made another W.
Now each man took an end of the bear. "One, two, three-lift!" they said, and Winkie was on the stretcher. They tightened the white straps as far as they would go. "OK," said one, and the bear was upraised and carried along the overgrown path, one policeman trotting in front, one behind. Winkie began to like the jostling, but it ended quickly. As he was loaded into the ambulance, he turned and saw that a huge yellow forklift had been maneuvered into position behind the cabin. With a metallic whine, it lifted the little godforsaken shack right off the ground, and the men in slippers jumped out one by one like mice.
Excerpted from Winkie by Clifford Chase Copyright © 2006 by Clifford Chase. Excerpted by permission.
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