It was a morning just like any other. The buds on the trees were wet with dew, and as the gentle breeze made them bob and sway it shook the moisture free to fall as a series of tiny, sparkling showers to the warm earth. In a distant pasture newborn lambs could be heard gambolling playfully as they were loaded up in a lorry to be taken to the abattoir.
The air was alive with youth and vitality. The trees sang to the birds, the woodlands were green and fresh and lush, and everywhere was the fresh scent of spring. A little odd, perhaps, as it was autumn, but for the purposes of this story that fact is neither here nor there.
Mummy Bear leaned over the edge of a big pan of porridge and sniffed it hungrily. The steam formed a thick mist on her spectacles and she used her apron to wipe them clean.
Daddy Bear, having summoned up the strength to crawl out of bed, appeared at the foot of the stairs. He stood there for a moment, stifled a yawn, then caught sight of his reflection in the mirror and flinched.
"I look terrible," he said.
Mummy Bear agreed. "You haven't had a shave," she told him.
Daddy Bear felt his chin. True, he thought, but then he had never shaved in his life. He had always been firmly of the opinion that a grizzly bear with a bald face would look a bit silly.
"What's for breakfast?" he asked. He sat down at the table and began to cough violently.
Mummy Bear kept her back to him as she stirred the porridge. "You really ought to give up smoking those cigars," she advised him, with a sort of maternal glee.
Daddy Bear launched into another attack of choking, sounding not unlike someone trying to bring up his own spleen. "Oh please... cough... give... cough cough... me a break!" he managed to say in between fits of retching. Once the attack had subsided he sat back and found himself staring at his own spleen, squirming in a pool of fluid on the table before him.
"I've told you a hundred times," his beloved spouse persisted, "give them up! They do you no good."
Daddy Bear grunted and watched with unceasing fascination as his spleen quivered and jerked in front of him. "Glenda?"
"But, oh no, you won't listen to me, will you? You come down every morning, coughing and spluttering. Do you realise the damage that smoking can do to your body?"
"Glenda, look, this may sound strange," Daddy Bear began uneasily, not daring to take his eyes off his organ as it pulsated softly. It was odd, but he never really expected it to look like that.
"There's cancer, and there's heart disease..." Mrs. Bear continued.
"I've just coughed up my spleen."
"...There's coughing up your spleen. You're not getting any younger, you have to take care of yourself."
"I mean it Glenda," Daddy Bear said, a note of panic in his voice. "This is serious."
"Too right it's serious!" said Mummy Bear. "I'm glad you've finally realised that."
"But I didn't think it was possible," said Daddy Bear. "You can't just cough up your spleen, can you?"
"Well," Mummy Bear said, following a thoughtful pause. "You should have considered that before you took up smoking."
"But I - " The spleen slowly started to edge across to the other side of the table, leaving a wet, slimy trail behind it. "What I mean," Daddy Bear continued, trying not to let himself be distracted by his organ's attempts to negotiate the sugar bowl, "is, well, is it serious? What am I supposed to do about it? I've never brought up any major organ before."
Mummy Bear was far too busy listening to herself to take any notice of what her husband was saying. "Just don't say I didn't warn you, Gordon," she continued to lecture. "I don't know why you smoke those foul things anyway."
"What does a spleen do, just as a matter of interest?" Daddy Bear asked. "What's it for? Can I live without it?"
The spleen dropped off the table, hit the floor with a squelch, then started sliding towards the door.
"Am I supposed to drop dead now, or what?" puzzled Daddy Bear. "You see, it's not something that anyone has ever taken the time and trouble to warn me about. We never did spleens at school. We did trigonometry, but that's not the same thing really."
The spleen reached the door, opened it and slid outside, slamming the door shut behind it. Daddy Bear watched it wistfully.
"I don't suppose it matters any more, it's gone now."
There was a pregnant pause. It gave birth to lots of little pauses, and these endured for some time. At least Daddy Bear's coughing had stopped.
"Anyway," he said at length. "Before that unfortunate spleen incident, I seem to remember asking you what was for breakfast."
Mummy Bear briefly turned to face him. Her spectacles were misted up again. "Porridge," she replied crisply.
"Porridge?" Daddy Bear repeated in a low voice.
Mummy Bear nodded.
"We had porridge yesterday," Daddy Bear said. "In fact, we had porridge the day before that as well."
"Correct me if I'm wrong," Daddy Bear proceeded, "but in all the time we've been married I don't believe your own brand of culinary expertise has ever managed to produce anything other than porridge. A bear can grow tired of the stuff, you know."
"You like porridge," Mummy Bear said.
"I don't like porridge," Daddy Bear told her. "I have never liked porridge. I tell you this every morning, why don't you listen?"
Mrs. Bear set three wooden bowls down on the table. "Well it's all we've got," she said bluntly, and she sat down.
Daddy Bear sniffed his breakfast and recoiled, but he realised it would do him no good to pursue the matter. He toyed with his spoon. "Where's Nigel?" he asked, after a disgruntled pause.
"Out," Mummy Bear replied as she clutched her handkerchief to her nose to stifle a sneeze.
"Obviously he's out," Daddy Bear snapped. All their conversations seemed equally tense these days. "Obviously he's out. Out where?"
"Out somewhere," his wife replied with a shrug. "He's been out all night. He'll be back soon. That boy loves his porridge, he wouldn't miss it for the world."
She sneezed again, but this time she wasn't quick enough with the handkerchief and she propelled much of the contents of her right nostril into her breakfast bowl. She swapped it for Nigel's, just as the door creaked open and he walked in.
"I've just seen a spleen trying to catch a bus," he said. "Only it didn't have the right change."
On first glance Nigel was a curious sight, although if you glanced at him twice you'd realise that 'curious' was an understatement, and hastily swap it for 'freakish'. He wore an eye patch, a long frock coat decorated with numerous medals, and he never went anywhere without a dead parrot on his shoulder. The reason? He firmly believed himself to be the reincarnation of Napoleon Bonaparte - and though he would freely admit that his interpretation of the Emperor might be somewhat inaccurate, it was still a great source of sorrow for him when people failed to recognise him in the street.
Presently his feet were caked in snow and icicles hung from the tip of his nose. "Sorry I'm late," he said as he sat down. "I've been retreating from Moscow all night."
"You need some hot porridge inside you," his mother said. "Come on, eat up!"
"Oh not chuffing porridge again," Nigel muttered to his father.
"Just eat it!" Mummy Bear snapped, beginning to lose her rag.
"What's the point?" Daddy Bear moaned. "It doesn't take a genius to work out that the porridge is going to be too hot."
Mummy Bear said nothing. She just glared at him as she pushed her spectacles back up the bridge of her nose with her forefinger.
"It's always too hot, isn't it?" Daddy Bear said.
"Dad's right," Nigel agreed. "It's always too hot... And mine's got something floating in it."
"Very well," Mummy Bear said. "In that case we'd better - "
"We'd better open a tin of Spam?" Daddy Bear suggested.
"We'd better send out for a pizza?" said Nigel.
"We'd better go for a walk in the park until it cools down," Mummy Bear said.
Daddy Bear stood up and banged his fist down on the table in what was quite an impressive display for a forty-year-old grizzly with no spleen.
"This happens every damn morning," he said. "Has it never occurred to you that if you didn't make it so hot in the first place, we wouldn't need to go out for a walk?"
There was a moment's silence. Mummy Bear returned a withering stare, and Daddy Bear duly withered.
"Oh all right, we'll go for a walk," he grouched.
And so it was, as chance would have it, and all things being equal, that a little later, tripping gaily through the Enchanted Forest came a girl by the name of Goldilocks. A podgy, blond-haired girl. Skipping breezily, she sang sweet, lilting songs to herself as she went:
"Four and twenty virgins came down from Inverness, and when they went back home there were four and twenty less," and similar refrains.
Before very long she chanced upon the three Bears' house. "Cor!" she said. "That's a smart little pad." (She also had a habit of talking to herself, you understand.) Never the type to look a gift horse in the mouth, she tried the door but found it locked, so she shoved a brick through the window and climbed in.
"Mmmm yummy, porridge!" she said upon seeing the three bowls on the table, and she wasted no time in getting stuck into Daddy Bear's breakfast.
"Strewth!" she suddenly cried, painfully. "This porridge is too hard."
She moved on to Mummy Bear's and tried that. "And this is too soft."
Finally she sat before Nigel's bowl, took a big mouthful then spat it back. "Well, this is just right," she said as she wiped her mouth on her sleeve. "But it's got something green and slimy floating in it. I'm not eating any of this filth."
And she didn't. She decided to have a bit of a sit down instead. There were three chairs lined up against the wall: a big one, a medium sized one and a blue one. She sat in the big one first.
"This chair is too warm," she announced to nobody in particular. "I never like sitting in a warm chair."
Then she tried the medium sized chair. "And this one smells of cheese."
Finally she tried the blue chair, which was also the smallest. Following much perspiration and the ingenious use of a shoehorn she managed to squeeze her ample buttocks into the seat.
"Now that's better. This one is just right," she said, moments before the chair collapsed beneath her. "Bloody self-assembly rubbish," she muttered from the midst of a pile of debris.
Suddenly she heard voices outside. There was a cracking and splintering of wood, and the door burst open. Goldilocks struggled to her feet as two policemen burst in.
"What the f - "
"Hello, my name's Clive, and this is my friend Duncan," said one of the policemen, rather more politely than one would expect in the circumstances. "Is it all right if we come in?"
"I suppose so," Goldilocks replied, somewhat bemused.
"Thank you very much Miss," said the nice policeman. "Now then, we've just had a call from the three little Pigs next door. They seemed to think that someone was breaking in. This is a Neighbourhood Watch area, you know."
"Oh yeah?" snarled Goldilocks. She jumped up and unslung a sub-machine gun from her shoulder, which she just happened to be carrying, purely for the purposes of self-defence. These were rough times. "Well I don't take too kindly to grasses," she said. "And I don't take too kindly to the law."
"Oh dear," Clive said, displaying only the faintest glimmer of alarm. "That's quite an unhelpful attitude to take. I'm quite disappointed. I think you ought to put the gun down before you hurt someone."
"Come and take it off me, pig!" Goldilocks screamed as she backed away.
"I'm afraid we're not trained in that sort of thing, are we Duncan?"
"No, we're not really trained in that sort of thing," Duncan affirmed.
"It's quite out of our league," said Clive. "You see, we're from the Stand Up Comedy Division, trained in one-liners and amusing wordplay. We're in panto next month. Here, tell us what you think." He clipped a spotty bow tie beneath his chin. "I say, I say, I say," he said, he said, he said.
"What do you say? What do you say?" Duncan responded as he put on a trilby.
"My dog's got no nose."
"Your dog's got no nose?" Duncan asked. "How does he smell?"
"Don't be bloody stupid!" Clive shouted as he beat his partner viciously around the head with a bendy truncheon. "How can he smell if he hasn't got a nose?"
Goldilocks shot them both. With an act like that it was the kindest thing she could have done. Then, intent on revenge, she went round to the three little Pigs' house.
"Did you bastards call the filth?" she shouted as she rapped on the front door.
"Us?" the three little Pigs chorused innocently as they leaned out of an upstairs window. "No, we wouldn't do anything like that."
"Oh yes you bloody well did," Goldilocks insisted. "Now open up and let me in."
"No!" shouted the Pigs. "If we let you in you'll shoot us."
"No I won't, promise," said Goldilocks as she lifted the safety catch on her gun.
"Yes you will," said the Pigs.
"Oh no I won't," Goldilocks assured them.
"What have you got that gun for then?" the three Pigs wanted to know.
"It's a keepsake," said Goldilocks quickly. "A present from my mother."
"We don't believe you!" shouted the three Pigs.
"Honestly!" Goldilocks replied. "I promise I won't shoot."
"Do you think we were born yesterday?" the three Pigs returned. "We've been caught out like that before. There used to be four of us."
Goldilocks sighed. "All right, all right," she admitted. "If you come out, I will shoot you, but only a little bit. I'll just shoot your legs. I promise I won't try to finish you off."
"Come off it!" the Pigs were quick to reply. "Pull the other one, it's got bells on it."
"Enough is enough!" snapped Goldilocks angrily. "If you're not out here in ten seconds I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll burn your house down. I've got a bit more initiative than your average wolf, you know."
No reply. She waited the full ten seconds, but still got no answer. "Right!" she hissed through gritted teeth. She sloshed petrol around the base of the house and torched it.
Summer has a sound of its own; a long wistful sigh from June to October. Then, as summer slips into autumn, the note changes, becomes sombre as the sky turns from deep blue to smoky orange.
As the three Bears wandered through the Enchanted Forest, the speckled sunlight on the forest floor pushed and prodded the leaves that had fallen there. Mummy Bear kicked her way through. Autumn was perhaps her favourite season. She loved the sobriety, the musty melancholia, and she quite forgot herself until Daddy Bear sarcastically remarked upon how wildly exciting he had always felt trees and dead leaves to be.
So they went to the park where, for some reason that wasn't immediately apparent, Nigel placed a bag of breadcrumbs on the bench by the pond, and then threw himself at the ducks.
"I take it the idea is to feed the ducks?" Daddy Bear asked as he waded in and dragged his bedraggled son out. They stood on the grass, dripping, whereupon Daddy Bear informed him that as the ducks would doubtless be more partial to breadcrumbs than a twelve stone grizzly bear, he might be better advised to throw the breadcrumbs at the ducks rather than himself.
Nigel nodded and said that he understood, and then threw himself into the pond again.
"You're not carrying a full load, are you son?" Daddy Bear said as Nigel stood in the middle of the pond surrounded by excited ducks. They were being entertained, even if they weren't being fed.
"It's the other way round, can't you bloody understand anything?"
Nigel nodded and started throwing ducks at the bread. It was a step in the right direction, at least. This went on for about ten minutes, then Nigel ran out of ducks, and Mummy Bear suggested they all go home.
As they approached the house it was Daddy Bear who first noticed the smashed window, the open door and the smell of roasting pork in the air. He picked up a large stick and swung it threateningly above his head.
"Bloody vandals!" he roared. "Well they're not getting away with it this time." He handed the stick to Mummy Bear and pushed her in front of him. "Sort 'em out Glenda."
Mummy Bear nervously glanced back over her shoulder, then tentatively proceeded towards the doorway. "Is there anyone there?" she trilled in terror, clinging onto the stick like a drowning man clutches a life belt.
"Oh come off it!" cried Daddy Bear from behind a tree, some considerable distance from the house.
"What?" Mummy Bear asked as she twisted round. "What have I done?"
"Is there anybody there?" mimicked Daddy Bear in a parody of her frightened falsetto. "You don't seriously expect an answer, do you?" As if a manic, axe-wielding murderer is going to shout out, 'Yes, I'm under the stairs!' Get real woman."
Mummy Bear looked deeply dismayed. "Might not be," she said sulkily.
"Might not be what?" Daddy Bear questioned her with diminishing patience. "Please try to make sense."
"Might not be a manic, axe-wielding murderer," replied Mummy Bear smugly. "He might have shotgun."
"Well that's hardly the issue, is it?" said Daddy Bear exasperatedly. "It doesn't make him any more likely to sit down and have a conversation with you before he blows your head off. Now get in there and check the place out."
Mummy Bear did as she was told and went into the house.
There was a short pause.
There was a longer pause.
There was a pause that was about half as long as the second pause, but still slightly longer than the first.
"It's all right," said Mummy Bear as she came back to the doorway. "There's no one here. Just a couple of dead policemen."
Daddy Bear cautiously emerged from his hiding place and approached the house. "You're sure? I hope you've checked thoroughly." Nigel squeezed past him and went into the house. Emboldened by his son's fearlessness, he followed. "Look at the mess," he said as he stepped over the two bodies. "You'd have thought they'd have wiped their feet before they came in."
"Who are they?" Mummy Bear asked, prodding one corpse with her toe.
"They're policemen," Daddy Bear said, with the easy confidence of someone who could recognise two dead policemen when he saw them.
"I know that."
"Suicide squad," Daddy Bear explained. "It's shock tactics. They're trying to intimidate us."
Mummy Bear put her paw up to her snout and took half a step backwards. "Oh Gordon," she said in a timid voice. "I told you that you should have paid that parking ticket."
"No," Daddy Bear said firmly. "I refuse to be harassed like this. That warden was wrong to give me a ticket. I wasn't illegally parked. I don't even have a car."
"Oh but - "
"Oh but nothing," said Daddy Bear. "We're not going to let this thing upset us. Let's just sit down and eat our porridge - before it sets."
And so, with the time approaching half past one, the three Bears sat down to breakfast. Daddy Bear took a big spoonful and gulped it down hungrily, then pulled a sickly face.
"Am I mistaken, or does this taste like shit?"
Mummy Bear tried hers, then licked her lips thoughtfully. "Yes, it does a bit, doesn't it?"
Nigel wasn't eating his porridge. His bowl had more in it than when he'd left it, so he was not unnaturally suspicious."
"Right, we'll forget the porridge then," said Mummy Bear. "It's the chairs next."
Daddy Bear was the first to sit down. To be perfectly honest he was a bit fed up with all this chair business, but he went through the motions all the same. "Someone's been sitting in my chair," he said, evidently being able to glean such remarkable insights merely by being in contact with the seat.
"And someone's been sitting in my chair," said Mummy Bear, who apparently had a similarly gifted psychic arse.
"Well mine's knackered," said Nigel. "I told you not to get this cheap self-assembly rubbish."
Daddy Bear looked wearily at his wife. "So it's the beds next, I suppose?"
"Yep!" said Mummy Bear as she led the way upstairs to their communal bedroom.
"Bloody hell! There's someone in my bed," said Nigel, and he went straight to the slumbering form of Goldilocks and prodded her curiously.
"Someone's been sleeping in my bed!" said Daddy Bear angrily.
"Yes, she's here in my bed," said Nigel.
"And someone's been sleeping in my bed as well," said Mummy Bear.
"Look, I've told you twice already," said Nigel. "She's here in my bed."
Mummy Bear's eyes flickered casually around the room, then came to rest on the strange young girl whom Nigel had mentioned thrice previously. "Oh look!" she said in surprise. "She's there in Nigel's bed."
"Stop poking the young girl Nigel," Daddy Bear said. "Look she's waking up."
And indeed she was. She sat up, rubbed her face and yawned. Then, when her muggy head cleared and her vision resolved, she saw Nigel and screamed in terror.
"Funny," observed Mummy Bear. "Our son seems to have that effect on most people."
"It's all right," Daddy Bear said comfortingly. "You've got nothing to be afraid of."
"Oh I know," said Goldilocks, regaining some of her composure. "I expect he just wants to play with me."
"Wants to play?" Daddy Bear looked puzzled. "Don't be freakin' stupid. He's a grizzly bear, for Christ's sake, he wants to rip your head off."
The air froze; was cleft in two by a thunderclap visitation from the open window. It was an explosion of noise: wailing sirens, pounding engines, screeching doors, slamming tyres and flashing lights. You couldn't actually hear the flashing lights, of course, but if you had looked out of the window you would certainly have seen them.
Daddy Bear rushed to the window. "What is it?" Mummy Bear asked. "What can you see?"
"I can see flashing lights," he said.
"All right in there!" boomed a deep voice, augmented by the unmistakable growl of a megaphone.
"Fine, thank you," Daddy Bear shouted back.
"Come out quietly, or we'll shoot your brains out," the megaphone continued.
Goldilocks jumped up. "It's the pigs!" she cried.
"What, from next door?" Mummy Bear asked. "But they always seemed such nice people."
"No, not the Pigs from next door - they're history. I mean the police. I'm outta here." Goldilocks opened the window and jumped out.
"Well she was a very strange young lady," Mummy Bear mused. "I wonder if we know her family at all?"
Approximately twenty police vehicles were parked in the clearing outside the Bears' house. This was a dangerous neighbourhood, a lawless pit of vice and sleaze. The police had to be prepared for anything and so they had brought with them, amongst other things, fifty machine guns, ten grappling irons, two grenade launchers and a mobile burns unit.
Detective Inspector Lionel Crump of the Metropolitan Police Force was as vigilant as he was ambitious, yet upon his arrival at this sleepy little cottage standing in such a pleasant glade, even he was forced to concede that he may have misjudged the firepower required for the job. To correct his wildly inaccurate mistake he phoned the Ministry of Defence and requested two extra tank divisions.
They couldn't afford to take chances. On the way here they had arrested a tree for loitering.
Inspector Crump raised the megaphone to his lips once again. "All right!" he bellowed, loud enough to give rise to serious doubts over whether he really needed the megaphone at all. "We've been patient up until now, but I think you ought to know we mean business!"
Crump paused, waiting for an answer. There was nothing, only the faint murmur of the wind - but that was talking bollocks, so he ignored it.
"The house is surrounded!" Crump screamed gleefully into his gadget. He always enjoyed this aspect of police work: the empathic reasoning and measured negotiation. "Come out of there before we release the leopard!"
A further tirade of malicious threats was interrupted by a tall, pimply youth dressed in stockings and a silken doublet. He was standing by the Sergeant's car. "Excuse me?" the youth interceded, quite amicably "Could you get your car off my foot?"
"Who the hell are you?" Crump screamed at him through the megaphone.
The youth reached out and gently pushed the megaphone aside. He then explained that his name was Prince Gorgeous, and that he was in quite a hurry as he had been on his way to meet Snow White when the Inspector had arrived and parked on him. "So if you could just move the car, I'd be terribly grateful," the Prince said. "I know this must be a dreadful bore."
"It is," said Crump.
"I'm sure you have enough troubles of your own right now," the Prince added.
"I do," Crump said.
"But if you could - if it's not too much trouble - just move the car a bit? Thank you."
Crump gave the matter absolutely no consideration at all. "No," he replied automatically.
"Ah," said Prince Gorgeous. "You see, I think my foot's broken."
Inspector Crump scowled at him impatiently. "Well, it's your own damn fault!" he snapped.
"My own fault?"
"Of course it was. You left your foot totally unguarded," Crump told him. "It was an open invitation for anyone to come along and stick their car on it."
"Oh come on!" cried the Prince melodramatically, as princes are wont to do. "Can't you just back it up a little bit?"
"I see," said Crump in a dangerous voice. "So I've got to forget about all the important police work that has to be done? I've got to forget about catching gangsters? Forget about chasing burglars? I've just got to drop everything and get my car off your foot, is that right?"
"Well... yes," said the Prince. "If it's not too much trouble, that is."
Crump raised the megaphone to his lips. "Well it is too much trouble, Mr. Bloody Prince!" he boomed. "For a start, there happens to be a siege taking place. Then, add to that the fact that there simply isn't the manpower available to go around rescuing every wretched royal that finds himself getting parked on. Thirdly, there's a procedure involved in these sorts of things, and I'd look a right dick if I went ahead and rescued you without filling in the appropriate forms."
Crump, having judged Prince Gorgeous to be suitably dumbstruck, returned his attention to the house, only to find the three Bears standing on the porch with their paws in the air.
"We want to come peacefully," they chorused.
"Oh that's just great!" said Crump, who had been looking forward to giving them a kicking And as some small consolation for this disappointment he nicked Prince Gorgeous for obstructing the course of justice.