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The ground is poison, the water is poison, but at least the air is still clean. For that the bear was grateful. With so much raw flesh exposed it hurt simply to live. If the air burned then all existence would be agony.

It wasn’t always like this. There were those glory days when she gorged on fish, her silky fur drying in the afternoon sun, her belly full with cubs. It was in the early stages of the pregnancy that things went south. The fish had something inside, something terrible that accelerated her growth and took the fur from her body. Her skin became misshapen, painful, her eyes wicked with hunger.

Although the fish and the water were wrong, she could not stop, had to be fat for the winter, fat for her babies. She grew twice her size, not just in weight but height. She didn’t think much on it, her instincts all focused on the winter. It wasn’t until she woke from her hibernation when she realized how wrong everything was.

Her precious cubs were like her, misshapen, fur and flesh merged into a hideous parody of her previous broods. Part of her wanted to kill them, but the stronger part, the maternal part spared them. Her sad tongue groomed what little fur grew on her terrible cub.

They would grow, they would feed, she would make them as large as her. They would have their own malformed broods, a legacy of pain and suffering. She nuzzled her cubs, her future.

She slept.