It’s 1952, and not all the beauty has gone from the world. There is a woman. Her name is Shalva. She lives in a little temple by a lone lakeshore.
Shalva was a child in Germany during the war. Her parents begged Heaven to save her, and so she came under the blessing of a secret angel; and all those who saw her knew not to think of her. She was forbidden.
She grew in beauty and in grace, and soon she wished to find love, but this was also forbidden to her. So she lived in a temple, by a lake, and opposite she built her tomb. She wrote this message above its arch, “Here I shall lay my body down, and at my side the one who loves me.” Then she retreated to her home, and dwelt.
There’s a kingdom in the clouds. It’s always covered in shadows, and neon lights reflect from pale streets. Magical bears live there. One of them is Transgression Bear.
It is Transgression Bear’s birthday. She rises. She’s a cute little bear. There’s a lipstick symbol on her chest. She shines it at people, sometimes, to teach children and sinners that they must pay for their crimes. “Today,” she says, “I am an adult.”
She goes to the treasure vault. She opens it. It clicks. She looks around. Then she takes out the mirror. Its frame is hammered from gold and set with opals, and in it is a mirror of such purity as none of earth have seen.
“I’m pretty,” she says. “I wonder if there’s anyone prettier.”
The mirror isn’t magical. So it doesn’t say. But Transgression Bear suddenly thinks of Shalva.
“No,” she says, shaking her head fiercely. “I mustn’t think of her!”
She thinks of Shalva again. She imagines her fuzzy orange finger tracing the outline of Shalva’s cheek. She imagines the wells of Shalva’s eyes.
“It’s wrong,” she says. “Transgression Stare!”
The lipstick mark springs forth in bright fury from her chest and plays against the mirror, casting back upon herself. In that beacon she stands frozen.
There’s a trundling noise. Then Alienation Bear waddles in. He wriggles his nose. He looks her over. He pokes her. Then he pokes her again.
“Oh,” he says. “She’s transgressed.”
He looks in the mirror. He can’t see himself. He’s Alienation Bear. Then, with a shrug, he takes it from her hand.
Transgression Bear screams.
“It’s okay,” he says.
Her eyes regard him. The pupils are dilated to points.
“You did something wrong, right? It’s okay. You’re Transgression Bear. It’s who you are.”
“. . . I guess,” she says.
“What did you do?” he asks.
She looks down. “I thought about Shalva.”
“Ah.” He hesitates. Then he touches her shoulder. “I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t understand how things like that work. But I think you’ll be okay.”
There’s a long moment’s hesitation.
“But you can’t live here,” he adds. He looks down. His eyes are shadowed. “Not in the magical kingdom. Not if you’re thinking of Shalva. It’s not a Bear thing.”
“Who decides that?” she says. “Who decides what’s a Bear thing?”
Alienation Bear shrugs. “Fate,” he says. “The fates that make us what we are. If you stayed, you’d eat away at the clouds. You’d wither in on yourself and become a shrunken gray homunculus, and unmake our whole world. If you go, you’ll die, and maybe be reborn. That’s how it works. We’re not supposed to understand.”
She stares at him. The padlock symbol on his chest is glowing slightly. But not very much. Not enough to Stare her.
“In the blood of Bear there is a tide,” he says. “A current. That draws us to our destined place. Go. Your place isn’t here.”
So, bitterly, she puts on a trenchcoat and crams a fedora against her ears to shield her from the cold. She summons a monochrome rainbow and twines herself in its shades of gray and casts herself down to the world below. And wherever she goes, the windows slam down, and the doors close, and mothers pull their children away; for well humanity remembers the ancient powers of the Bears, and fears them.
By night she curls herself down in the doorways of the shops, and shivers in the cold; but each dawn brings her hope, and the sunrise echoes in the shining of her fur, and the wind tugs at her hat and her coat, and she walks ever onwards, ever closer, driven by the heat and the fire that is in the depths of her mind the forbidden image of the beauteous Shalva.
When she reaches at last the lone lakeshore at the temple’s side, she bathes herself in its waters, and save her fur is nude; and the grime of her journey she casts away from her; and then she rises and wraps herself in the air of her aspect, Transgression. She boldly casts open the door of the temple and goes within. And Shalva does not turn her head from her, or shrink back, but only steps forward once and said, “You can see me.”
“I can,” Transgression Bear says.
Shalva looks down. “Will you love me?” she says.
“For all the ages of the earth.”
“Not so,” Shalva says. “Not so; for when I look at the stars, I see my ending written there.”
“How long?” asks the Bear.
“Three months,” Shalva says. “Three months, you may love me, and then be buried at my side.”
“I should go,” Transgression Bear says, but she does not, and stands there looking at the forbidden. Her thoughts are filled with a strange orange fuzz.
“Don’t,” Shalva says. “I have not known love since the Holocaust, and I have three months left to live. You are a Bear, and a girl, and this is not what I had wanted, but you are here, and that is more than I had hoped.”
“I cannot leave,” admits Transgression Bear; and so she knows her ending. She loves for three months, bright and well, and then she and Shalva go to Shalva’s tomb; and Trangression Bear’s breath grows still and quiet; and with a sudden terrible pain she dies. Then by the lake, two entwined flowers grow. Their seeds fall on the world, and in the course of time turn orange. From them rises a new Transgression Bear, and she travels home.