Melted By The Bear(4)

By: Amira Rain

I asked Jane a few more questions about Michiana and the government, then moved on to asking her about Commander Blackthorn specifically. “Is he a good commander? And is he a kind man?”

Jane suddenly seemed to become a little flustered, face reddening. “Well, to answer your first question, yes, he’s a very good commander. And as to your second question... for you personally, I think you’ll find that his personality is... well, toward you....” Jane swallowed, avoiding my eyes. “Well, he’s not a cruel man. You can be assured of that. Although when he returns from a surveillance mission he’s been on for a few days, you might find him... well, it’s just at this specific time....” Beet red, Jane suddenly turned and grabbed a bottle of water from a tray table. “I do apologize. You see, when I get parched, I get a little tongue-tied. Just, cotton mouth.”

Not convinced at all that was the reason for her difficulty in answering my question, I surveyed her while she took a long drink. “So... are you trying to say that Commander Blackthorn might be a little brusque with me for a while just because I’m an outsider? Or... is there some other reason?” Wheels beginning to turn, I paused. “And by the way... does he have children yet? Or is he waiting for a frozen woman to-”

“Natalie. That’s my granddaughter, and she’s a precious, sweet girl. Would you like to see pictures of her?” Jane had set her bottle of water down and was rifling around in a large pocket on the front of her starched, white uniform. “Your heart will just melt.”

Knowing that for whatever reason, she was finished talking about Commander Blackthorn, I nodded. “Sure.”

She pulled a phone from her pocket and began showing me pictures of her nine-year-old granddaughter, who was a very sweet-looking girl, with red braids and a bright smile that revealed a missing front tooth.

Jane went on to show me at least a dozen pictures, along the way explaining that technology had, in the past decade or so, finally reached the same level it had been before the nuclear disaster. “We have trucks and cars and cell phones... probably all, or nearly all, the things you remember from your time. In the city of DC, the capitol of the United Free States, they even have cars that drive hovering above the road. We still prefer our vehicles in the traditional models, though. Not many of the roads around here are paved, but that’s nothing four-wheel-drive can’t handle.”

Once finished showing me pictures of Natalie, Jane went on to explain that she was raising Natalie on her own. “You see, my husband passed away a few years back, and then my daughter Rose, my only child, died from a lifelong chronic illness when Natalie was only seven. Natalie was her only child; you’ll come to see around here that because of the generations of fertility troubles, most non-frozen women in our community only have one child in a lifetime; some never have even one and it’s only once in a very, very blue moon that a woman is able to have two or three. And it’s the same for all shifters... that’s why the dragons started thawing frozen women years ago, to try to bolster the population. Then, when the new nations of Louisiana and Michiana were established, the commander of the United Free States gifted each of the new nations with frozen women of their own, again to bolster the populations, but especially so that each new commander could take a frozen woman of his own to ensure many children and the continuation of his line. We received maybe a hundred frozen women here in Blackthorn City... though you’re actually the last to be thawed.”

I’d opened my mouth to ask if that had been the case for any particular reason, but before I could, Jane continued on.

“Anyway, back to how I came to be raising Natalie on my own. So, Rose’s husband had been killed in a fight with the shadow bears not a year before she herself passed away, and being that he had no remaining family by this point... Oh, and I bet I haven’t even told you about the shadow bears yet, have I?”

I shook my head, and she continued.

“Well, in brief, they’re nasty, evil, murderous creatures that kill just for the fun of it. You should hope never to meet one, and if you just stay within the village, you likely never will.”

Jane once again quickly changed the subject back to Natalie, and soon, my sleepy, relaxed feeling, which had kind of left me for a while, returned full force. Seeming to notice, Jane eventually left the room, saying she’d leave me in peace to nap.

My post-thaw awakening, Dr. Moore, my huge meal, showering, talking with Jane, falling back asleep, that had all been in the morning. That had all been before I found myself facing death after having only been thawed for less than a day.

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