He slowly rose and lowered his gaze towards his hands. But they were not hands any more. His hands were now massive paws and he was standing on four feet, not two. Moreover, he was covered with thick brown fur.
The colours were clearer than ever, and small details that should've been invisible to his eyes became crystal clear. He saw every leaf, even on the very distant trees; every little rock on distant slopes; a rabbit running on the slope.
Hundreds of scents filled his nostrils – scents that he had never smelled before, nor had been able to smell until now. But he recognized them, one by one. Berries in the nearby bushes. Different kinds of berries – and he could discern each.
A little further away, a rotten tree. This smell was less pleasant than the previous.
He couldn't see the tuft of deer's fur on a branch; that particular tree was hidden from his sight. But as he lifted his head in that direction, he had no problem detecting its scent. A male, in his prime. He didn't know how he knew that; but he did know.
As he moved his head, he smelled a wolf's urine, on the spot where he marked the tree. A mole's corpse below the ground... and many other scents.
He closed his eyes and tried to think. What happened to him?!
He didn't know, and he didn't understand.
Who am I?
The strongest smell was also the closest one, and he turned his head to it. Here, just a meter away, was one of his kind. Actually, not just one; except for her, two cubs were here too. They were a little further away and observed him somewhat insecurely. But she was calm and returned his gaze.
He had already seen these eyes. And while watching them, everything came back to his mind: going towards the forest, walking around, taking photos of the bird, the arrival of this bear. He remembered the moment when he first saw her. It was... he considered... a few minutes ago.
And at the same time, a whole lifetime ago.
So many questions ran through his mind. His heart started to race again, because he couldn't understand what was going on. All the information that came to his mind – things he saw, smelled and heard – pointed that he had transformed into a bear.
But that is impossible!!! This must be a dream!!!
The bear rose and lifted her head towards him. Their muzzles touched, and through that touch thoughts and images that weren't his own formed in his mind. Greetings – hers, and of dozens of bears before her – her ancestors... his relatives. They were one. They were kin.
How?! How could that be?!
A welcome. Weird, but it seemed to him that it was just the right word to describe the look she gave him. And while their heads still touched each other, more images filled his mind: forests, so big and dense and dark, such that he couldn't even imagine... full of creatures he didn’t even know existed... and near the edge of one forest, there was a house and in front of it a huge man. Something about him looked familiar, just as if he was watching his own reflection... but the image disappeared too fast for him to ponder it better. It was replaced by another – by a big bear entering that same forest.
What happened? Who am I? WHAT am I?!
Only questions and not a single answer. He got scared.
The female – welcome, my brother –
rubbed her head – we are one –
next to his – I am glad –
one more time – that you came –
leaving her scent – and come back again –
on him – farewell.
Then she turned and slowly left, her cubs hopping behind her. Of course, not a single word was uttered aloud; but he was absolutely sure about the meaning of the thoughts that his mind received. She called him a brother, and told him to come again.
He stared after them, trying to understand. In the first moments after his transformation, at first he was too confused; after that he was preoccupied by the communication with the bear and things he discovered through their silent talk. But now that he remained alone, all that he could do was think, and while analysing things, his fear grew.
Some time ago – very short time ago, in fact – he had come to this glade, and everything was normal. The world was as it should be. Then he met the bear who didn't attack him even though she had cubs... and then he turned into a bear. Because he couldn't deny what had happened. He didn't conceit this: it wasn't a dream, and it wasn't a mistake. He really was in a bear's body – covered in fur, standing on four paws, and his senses gathered information that his weak human senses never could.
Humans didn't turn into bears. More precisely, humans didn't turn into any other being. Something like this never could or should happen. This was not possible.
Except that it did happen. Was he crazy? Was he a monster?
Obviously, the answer was – yes.
He was sitting on the ground and looking around. Confused. Lost. Paralysed. Scared. Bewildered. How could this happen at all?
He didn't move. He didn't know where to go anyway, or what to do. He just sat and stared – frightened like never before. Because he didn't understand what had happened. Because nothing that had ever happened to him prepared or warned him for this. Because he thought he was a monster.
As the time was passing, one more question started to preoccupy him; and because he didn't know that particular answer either, his fear grew even more.
How to transform into a human again? What if he remained like this forever – trapped in a bear's body? The thought terrified him. Now he desperately wanted to turn back time. He wished he had remained home this afternoon, regretting that he went on this trip. He just wanted his life back, and he'd give everything for things to be as they had been before.
Except that he knew they could never be as before. Even if he could somehow transform back, he wouldn't be able to deny what happened... nor forget. He'd always know he was some sort of freak. He'd never be able to talk about this with anyone, and he'd never be able to relieve his heart.
Questions. Only questions, without answers. His thoughts raced – more and more scared.
In addition, even if he did somehow turn back into a human... what if this happened again? In some other place? In front of people? In front of his friends? In school? What if he was closed in some laboratory then – as a subject of countless experiments? He would never see freedom and daylight again.
The sun sunk behind the mountain, and just as the sky became darker, so did his thoughts.
Then his new sensitive nose and ears told him that another being like him was coming towards him; another bear was approaching the glade. Fear awakened again – although this time of another kind. What was that other bear? Some alfa-male, a master of this territory? Was he to fight for his life? He saw a fair share of documentary movies, and he knew that males fought over territory.
As the other bear came closer, its scent became more intense. Just like earlier, when some instinct in him told him it was a buck and not a doe, now he realized that this was a female approaching. With that knowledge, he was a little relieved, because he hoped that at least he wouldn't have to fight.
She entered this clearing and came into his sight. The sun was below the horizon, but it wasn't very dark yet and his bear eyes saw better than his human eyes anyway, so he was able to see her very well. She was small – smaller than the female he met earlier, and she walked slowly. In her brown matted fur there were some grey hairs. Suddenly he knew she was old.
And then he looked into her eyes... and realized that this day held even more shocking discoveries for him.