Shardik woke to the high-pitched laughter of the woman and growled quietly to himself. He took to sleeping in the heat of the summer afternoons more often as the years went by.
“Stop tickling me, Tommy!” The smallish figure entered the cave laughing. “At least wait until we get out of the sun.”
A man’s voice came next. Shardik lumbered slowly along the shadows of the cave, careful to remain unseen.
“Cheryl, baby, you’ve been teasing me all day. Little Tommy just wants to have a little fun.”
“You bring the blanket?”
“Of course, babe.”
“Are you sure it’s safe in here?”
“Of course it is.”
“What about the legends?”
Tommy laughed. “The old Shardik stories? Nah, that old bear died twenty years ago. Hunters got him.”
Shardik thought of the old wound, the one that kept him trapped in this form. Only one of the hunting party made it back, a woman. He couldn’t kill her. He couldn’t. Even so, Shardik’s winter bounty that year tasted wonderfully sweet. This girl’s scent reminded him of that old hunger. Of the belly kind and of something more visceral and human. It’d been so long.
He circled along the cave wall, the lovers disrobed and distracted by human lust. Alone. Vulnerable.
The pair enjoyed the ancient dance. The man led for a while and the girl squirmed in delight. A reversal of roles, she straddled her lover and they rocked in rhythm.
Shardik watched in greedy remembrance as he moved across the front of the cave, blotting out the sunlight. The heat left the air and the skin on Cheryl’s back cooled. She shivered as she opened her eyes.
Tommy looked up at her, slightly out of breath. “What’s wrong, babe?” Before she could answer, his eyes widened as the great bear stood and roared.
Shardik loved this fear and fed off it with frenzied anticipation, the early nourishment of energy before the main course. He watched the savory girl scurry behind her would-be hero. Shardik smelled the man’s bowels evacuate and roared again before swinging with preternatural swiftness.
Tommy brain registered the heat and pain as the claws dug and ripped. His abdomen opened up, spilling their contents on the cave floor. “Shardik?” he muttered before a second terrible swipe decapitated him.
Cheryl stood with her back against the cave wall, her boyfriend dead at her feet. She screamed.
Shardik waited patiently for her to stop. He knew his territory. No help would come. The bear dipped his nose in the man’s cavity and tasted his favorite morsel, the liver.
As expected, the girl quieted to sobs, then fell silent. Shardik knew she couldn’t escape and grew pleased as she watched him consume his meal. As the hours passed, she transformed. Shock and terror first fell away to revulsion and resignation, then, finally, detached fascination. This, too, pleased Shardik.
Sated, he sat on his haunches and licked his snout. He spoke with a voice gravelly with disuse.
“Welcome home, Daughter.”