Read The Bear Went Over the Mountain Online

Authors: William Kotzwinkle

The Bear Went Over the Mountain

books by william kotzwinkle

jack in the box

herr nightingale and the satin woman

elephant bangs train

hermes 3000

the fan man

fata morgana

doctor rat

swimmer in the secret sea

e.t. the extra-terrestrial

e.t. the book of the green planet

christmas at fontaine’s

queen of swords

great world circus

seduction in berlin

jewel of the moon

the exile

the midnight examiner

the hot jazz trio

book of love (
new edition of
jack in the box)

the game of thirty

a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell
Publishing Group, Inc.
1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036

and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are trademarks of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc.

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

frontispiece by kate brennan hall

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Kotzwinkle, William.

  The bear went over the mountain : a novel / William Kotzwinkle.
     p. cm.
  1. Authors and publishers—United States—Fiction. 2. Bears—United States—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3561.085B43 1996
813’.54—dc20              96-2296

Copyright © 1996 by William Kotzwinkle
eISBN: 978-0-307-82232-1

All Rights Reserved



with thanks to bronson platner

The bear went over the mountain

The bear went over the mountain

The bear went over the mountain

to see what he could see …


A fire raged in an old farmhouse. The indifferent flames were feeding on the pages of a manuscript. It was a novel called
Destiny and Desire
and its pages curled up at the edges one by one, then flared into light and turned to smoke.

The farmhouse burned quickly. The beams and rafters collapsed into a fiery pile, and when the unsuspecting owner returned, all that was left of his house, and his novel, was a smoking hole in the ground.

The farmhouse had been the sabbatical hideaway of Arthur Bramhall, an American literature professor at the University of Maine. He was ill suited to teaching, as he was subject to depression, and preferred being alone, knowing he was poor company when he was depressed, which was most of the time. He’d purchased the old farm in hopes of having sex with women who’d also moved to the country and might themselves be depressed. Most of these women looked depressed to him, or at least angry, probably about having to live in the country. His plan was that after having sex with them, he’d write a best-selling novel about it. He’d written the novel, but it’d been
from his imagination not his experience, for he’d found that women who’d moved to the country wore shapeless overalls, frequently smelled of kerosene, attended solstice festivals, and refused to shave their legs; he thought of them as fur-bearing women, which tended to depress his libido. Consequently, the only excitement he’d had was his house burning down.

Now he stood in the darkness of the winter night with the embers of his disintegrating house lighting his face. Jutting out from the embers were the twisted shapes of his metal file cabinets, his gooseneck lamp, and his typewriter. He paced along the edge of the hole, looking for traces of charred paper. Bright little tongues of flame licked up at him, cautioning him to keep his distance until they were through. He knelt at the edge of the smoking hole and mourned his lost book.

“I understand that Bramhall has built himself a little cabin with his insurance money,” said Bernard Wheelock, a brilliant young lecturer in American literature at the University of Maine.

“Yes, he’s rewriting his book,” said Alfred Settlemire, a full professor at the same institution. Settlemire was a distinguished-looking figure with a high handsome forehead and a leonine head of hair, accented by a carefully shaped goatee on his prominent chin.

“It was terrible, his book burning in the fire,” said Wheelock. “What a blow for a guy who tends to look on the dark side.”

“Well, was it actually terrible?” asked Settlemire. “I’m sorry his house burned down, but as for his book—it was a deliberate steal of
Don’t, Mr. Drummond
. He told me so himself. He studied all the best-sellers and thought that was the one he could copy.”

“Not an easy task,” said Wheelock, who’d tried it himself.

“Well, but is that why one takes a sabbatical? To copy a best-seller? Successfully or unsuccessfully? Is that, one asks oneself, why one writes?” Dr. Settlemire used the word
a lot. He himself had published a book that traced the use of simile in Robert Frost and among other things it showed that Frost had used the word
as a simile .54 times per page. That was the sort of work that meant something. Work of commitment, one felt.

“Have you read any of Bramhall’s book?” asked Wheelock.

Settlemire let out a snort of contempt. “Before the fire, he sent a few chapters to me for comment, which of course one couldn’t really give him, as one didn’t know where to begin. His heroine is making a go of a run-down farm she’s inherited. She smells of kerosene but is lovely anyhow.”

“Sounds like it might be interesting.”

Settlemire stroked his excellent goatee. “One knows farms. Studying Frost, one must. The farm in Bramhall’s book is a pipe dream.”

“Poor Bramhall.”

“It’ll never be published. One is quite certain of that.”

In his little cabin, Arthur Bramhall rewrote his book. He did not bother to have his telephone line reconnected, and he saw no one except an old lumberjack who lived on the next ridge and occasionally dropped by to chat. Aside from this, Bramhall had no interruptions. The fire had taught him something, about patience, renewal, fortitude. He gave up trying to write a copy of a best-seller and wrote in a fever of inspiration straight from the heart—about love and longing, and loss, and about the forces of nature, into whose power he’d been initiated. By the last page of the book, his new heroine was glowing with an inner radiance gained from being humbled by nature. There was still lots of sex, but it had a connection to the ancient moods of the forests, to crow songs, and fox cries, and the crackling of a fire in the hearth.

“I’ve written the truth,” said Bramhall as he closed the manuscript and patted it tenderly. In the pit of destroying darkness where his lifelong depression had its
seat, he’d lit a tiny lamp of cheer. “Tomorrow you go out into the world,” he said to his manuscript.

He put it in a briefcase and carried it with him out of the house. “I’m going to buy a bottle of champagne for us,” he said to his briefcase. A problem for city dwellers who move to the country is that they have no one to talk to but the septic field, or in this case, their briefcase.

He went across the meadow, far from his cabin, and carefully laid the briefcase under the boughs of an old spruce. The boughs hung to the ground and the manuscript was completely hidden. “If there’s another fire, you’ll still be safe.”

He smoothed out the edges of the pine boughs as he’d done every day for the past few months and smiled with satisfaction at his hiding place.

A bear watched Bramhall from a spot a few hundred yards away. Like Bramhall, the bear was a decent, hardworking sort. He followed his own regular rounds, from the stream where he caught trout and salmon, to the abandoned orchards where he ate apples in the fall, to the mountainside where he gorged on blueberries in summer. He was good-natured, and always hungry. He’d recently broken into the kitchen of a restaurant and eaten all the pies and cakes and then the ice cream and chocolate sauce and a can of colored sprinkles. The tastes and smells of these items haunted him; the balminess of spring seemed to carry them on the air, torturing him. The man
had left something valuable under the tree. Maybe it was a pie.

The bear liked to roll in meadows and wave his paws in the air. He ate garbage when it was available and enjoyed rummaging at the dump for pizza boxes with splashes of cheese and other delicacies in them. He lived for his stomach and once a year at the first sign of summer had astounding sex. He was wise to the ways of the forest and crafty when it came to the ways of man; when he’d forced the window of the restaurant, a look of extreme concentration had come into his beady eyes, not unlike the look Arthur Bramhall had while seated at his typewriter.

Now, as Bramhall got into his car and drove off to buy champagne, the bear padded across the field and slipped under the branches of the pine tree. He approached the briefcase cautiously and sniffed at it. There was no trace of pie. Still, it paid to be thorough. He put his teeth around the handle of the briefcase and carried it deeper into the woods. When he felt secure, he set the briefcase down and whacked it several times. The latches popped and the briefcase opened. He sniffed disappointedly at the manuscript. Termite food, he said to himself, and turned to go, but a line on the first page caught his eye and he read a little ways. His reading habits had been confined to the labels on jam jars and cans of colored sprinkles, but something in the manuscript compelled him
to read further. “Why,” he said to himself, “this isn’t bad at all.” There was lots of sex and a good bit of fishing, whose details he thought were accurate and evocative. “This book has everything,” he concluded. He slipped the manuscript back into the briefcase, clamped the handle in his teeth, and headed toward town.

Other books

Silencer by Andy McNab
Within the Hollow Crown by Antoniazzi, Daniel
TRAPPED by Beverly Long - The Men from Crow Hollow 03 - TRAPPED
Moon Spun by Marilee Brothers
The Other Boy by Hailey Abbott
Parallax View by Keith Brooke, Eric Brown
Lisette by Gayle Eden