A Polar Bear roamed one night in the woods behind Whitby. Here’s the story: the explorer Scoresby brought a bear cub back from one of his travels to the frozen north and chained the beast beneath Spital Bridge where it grew fat on a diet of captured seagulls, fish heads and whatever stray critters it could get hold of. It grew and paced and paced and grew, it’s white fur dark with soot and it’s black eyes filled with the muddy light coming off the Esk. It grew and watched it’s namesake the great bear turn and tip across the dark of the night, circling the North Star and I’d like to think it regarded the star and a scene passed across its memory of icebergs and the crunch of hardened snow and of seal blood steaming into air as cold and as infinite as God. And then, one night, the chain holding it, the chain whose links had mouldered in the salt and smoke of the town’s air, broke like a promise and the bear, huge, white and murderous, broke free and slinked into the darkness. I’d like to think it wrought havoc on the town that kept it a prisoner; I’d like to think it unleashed vengeance on the folks that had tormented it, thrown shit at it, poked it with sticks and that the bear enjoyed its revenge and, somehow, it found its way home to the clear vistas of the pole. I‘d like to imagine that the Aurora Borealis played across its bone-pale fur at least once more before the bear faded into drifts and blizzards. The truth rather is more predictable. The hue and cry was raised and a gang of men from the town, including the now aged Scoresby, found the creature whimpering and lost in the dark of Cock Mill Woods. It meekly allowed Scoresby to slip a chain, the chain it had grown accustomed to, the chain that was now as much a part of the bear as its teeth, around its shaggy neck and lead it back to the bridge that was it’s doom and there, presumably, the bear grew thinner and quieter until it died and its bones were tossed into the Esk. The bear was broken, by mankind, by the world, by indifference, by its own surrender.
I walk across Spital Bridge every day and sometimes think about the ghost of that bear, chained up beneath the stone arches. I imagine I hear the scratch of its useless claws and the clank of its chain and the occasional growl echoing across the still water of the river and feel I understand something of its cold dreams.
Gareth Spark is a writer and artist from the wilds of North Yorkshire. His work has appeared at Out Of The Gutter, Line Zero Shotgun Honey and many more journals and ‘zines. He is currently working on his second novel and will one day make a film for less than £50.