Two flavors of man
It was a little polar bear, perhaps six months old. Though such bears grow fast, it was little bigger than a man...normally.
It was larger at the moment, its midsection distended by an unnatural bulge. The little bear grunted, shifting uncomfortably where it lay in the snow, as something tried very hard to escape from its belly. Snow-white fur shifted and twitched as its massive meal squirmed and kicked. The little bear grunted again, clasping its belly with both forepaws to muffle the movements, and let out a long belch as some of the air that went down with its meal escaped. The air escaped. Nothing else did.
A body length away lay a fur seal no larger or older than the polar bear. It too had snow-white fur that would darken with age. It too was swollen with a huge meal, but here the shape of it could be made out. The polar bear had forced its prey to curl up inside it, as suited its own bulky body. The seal, no heavier but longer of body, was deformed by a lumpy bulge of an entire man swallowed whole.
Down by its hind flippers was the rounded lump of head, the features of the face standing out through stretched fur, then the shoulders, the torso, the double bulge of legs. Its entire body cavity was crammed full of man, the feet and lower legs lying in its gullet until digestion made room for them further down. This made breathing difficult for the seal, but not nearly as difficult as for its meal.
Trapped in a long form-fitting coffin of flesh and fur the man tried to squirm, tried to kick, but unlike the bear's meal he had nothing to push against but slippery flesh. The seal's body pressed in on him from all sides. The bear's prey, though squeezed into a feral curl, had more leverage.
The bear grumbled irritably as his meal refused to surrender. The seal need exert no such effort. The most its man could do was make it twitch, as though it felt sympathy for the prey doomed to a short trip through its guts.
Though it was sleepy after the great labor of swallowing a whole man, and wanted to do nothing more than sleep off its meal, the fidgeting of the little bear inspired it to move. The young seal wriggled forward, too fat to move easily and never at home on land in any event, and pressed its head hard against the squirming bulk of the bear's belly. Something shifted inside the furry belly and the polar bear cub let out a shockingly loud burp as the shove squeezed most of the remaining air out.
The struggle inside inside the bear quieted almost at once. There was a twitch as the man tried one last time to escape, only to settle down to await the slow process of digestion.
The two little predators lay side by side, both sleepy now that the bear's struggle with his meal was done, and the polar bear reached out a forepaw and rested it on the seal's head. They were enemies, or should be, but at the moment the bear was too full to consider the seal prey, even if he weren't grateful for the help. The seal shuffled closer and for a moment each rested his head on the shoulder of the other, with nothing better to do but lie there and listen to the other's belly gurgle.
From one direction came a scrape of claws on ice, from the other a heavy shuffling sound. The mother bear, bigger than both the young ones even gorged as they were, appeared from one side and from the other a torpedo of mother seal inchwormed her way through the snow. Each paused, both at the peculiar situation of finding their child so gorged and from meeting a natural enemy.
They, too, were fat, the belly of the white bear drooping ponderously and the mother seal's long body as lumpy and swollen as her pup's. Full bellies make good neighbors and the she-bear sat back rather than charge. The seal cow wormed her way up until she could nuzzle her pup, while the she-bear pulled at her cub's scruff until he managed to sit up as well, so full his paws hardly reached the ground.
Fifty feet away was a man, seated on a rock protruding from the snow. The mother bear met his gaze and he nodded, not taking the spear from his shoulder. Two men lay in the she-bear's belly, two in the mother seal and one each in their young, but there was a difference. Their meals wore bits and pieces of synthetics, zippers, metal belt buckles, and other indigestibles mixed in with their largely hide clothing.
Larger items like the occasional nylon backpack or cell phone would trouble one or another of the predators, coughed up or passed with some discomfort. Were one of them to eat this other man, the hide, fur and bone of his garb would be treated just as would his body. Only the fur would survive, and in their droppings would be no clue as to the nature of their meal.
None of them considered eating him. "How did this happen," the she-bear growled to her cub, speaking as bears speak. The native rose from his rock and approached, familiar with a bear's words. He sat on a chunk of ice close enough to talk and hear.
"Outsiders," he said, and just as he knew the words of bears the animals, well familiar with the natives, understood his.
He gestured at the fyord, visible down the hill, and the she-bear and seal nodded. Overturned boats bobbed in the water and an orca's fin passed by, the great dolphin too lazy and fat-bellied to trouble the man perched on one keel. Movements in the water near the boat showed that others were interested. The whiskery face of a huge sea otter poked from the water and the man fended it off with an oar as it tried to clamber up the boat towards him. A sea lion at least as large as the otter tried from the opposite side. For the moment the man, perhaps the last survivor of the outsiders, stayed where he was.
It couldn't last. Too many eyes were on him, otters, seals, sea lions, and if he somehow made it to shore, other hungry predators waited. It was just a question of which stomach or stomachs he'd end up in.
In the distance a plume of spray as the great whale who'd swallowed over twenty men and an entire boat sounded. The orca turned to follow, joined by a second and two fat dolphins.
"There were two of them," the native began. "Two that made it out of the ambush. Cold and weak from their swim. One still had his club..."
A walrus let out a gross belch as Eirik and Randall escaped the closing ring of predators. Blood leaked from the wrinkled orange beast's thick neck but Heinrik's pistol hadn't stopped it from swallowing him whole. A few of the men from the boats had rifles but none had survived to reach the shores. Maybe one took a rifle down an orca's gullet or into the guts of the baleen whale that accompanied the giant dolphins, but if so the great predators showed no signs of it.
The water was swarming with hungry creatures, led by the bizarrely predatory baleen whale that engulfed a dozen men in one mouthful and dispatched them in one massive gulp. Natural enemies like seals and orcas ignored each other and focused on the men, and of the hundred men in the overturned boats maybe half made it to the shore.
Few of the hungry creatures were small enough to be deterred by the seal clubs some of the men retained. A club certainly hadn't helped the man disappearing down the throat of a gray seal the two men passed. All that was left of him was a pair of boots protruding from a fanged maw and a lumpy bulge making its way reluctantly down the seal's long body. Every predator seemed bent on eating men whole save those too too small to manage it. One large wolf was laboriously bolting a man down whole but a pack of smaller ones tore at two men and one poor soul was being picked apart by a swarm of arctic foxes and ermines as bloodthirsty as piranhas.
Soon, very soon if they weren't careful, there would be nothing left of the entire hunting party but a few bloody spots on the ice and nearly a hundred men reduced to bulges in various sea and land creatures.
"Come on." Eirik tugged on Randall's arm. His friend wanted to help the man disappearing into the seal but it was too late. One more gulp and he'd be gone and they only had the one club to fight a seal bigger than both of them put together. The hardwood club and its hook were excellent for killing seal pups but less so against adults.
By luck or divine providence they escaped the ring of predators. There were more animals than men but the closest ones were busy with other meals. There was no time to rescue friends when any delay would allow something to see them and decide that they too should disappear down a slick gullet.
Eirik drew up short as he saw a man in native clothing seated calmly on a rock atop a hill, watching the carnage unfold. They were clear of the circle of hungry creatures and Randall, half frozen after his swim, staggered away from Eirik and fell through an overhanging ledge of snow. He slid down an icy bank, caroming off rocks frozen into the glacier, and when he hit the bottom ink-dark eyes blinked open in front of the stunned man. Eirik cursed as an opportunistic seal pup mimicking its elders opened its jaws and engulfed Randall's head.
"Dammit, no you don't!" Eirik looked for a safe way down the icy slope as the seal pup ignored him and ate his friend. Randall began to struggle but not until the horrible little thing had ratcheted its maw over his shoulders, trapping his arms partly to his sides. Just the same it was no bigger than he was and it looked like he might struggle free. That is, until the little polar bear appeared.
Fur white as the seal's shook off snow as a bear no bigger than the seal pup padded into view, watching with wide-eyed interest as the seal tried to swallow a man as big as it was. The seal was at a standstill, barely able to keep Randall from wriggling free and not able to make any progress in its meal. Though by all rights a polar bear and seal should be mortal enemies, the little bear, fascinated, tilted its head to the side and watched.
It was taking longer than Eirik liked to find a good way down the slope that missed protruding rocks and other hazards. He was nearly to the seated man when the little polar bear, too young to know the seal was its natural prey, put both its snowy forepaws on Randall's rump and pushed. The seal's eyes widened, then focused on his prey as Randall disappeared to the waist in one long slide. The equilibrium of their struggle was broken. The seal arched where it lay, gulping, and more of Randall was sucked in. Eirik was sure now that even without the little bear's help this could only end in a belch. The good news was that his friend was going to be nice and warm soon. There was plenty of bad news to go with.
"Don't just sit there! Do something!" The native just shook his head. Eirik considered the thirty-inch club in his hand and reached out for the man's spear with the other.
The native's eyes narrowed and the spear snapped down, the wooden haft hitting him between the eyes. It wasn't enough to knock him out but he lost his balance and fell over backward, sliding down the slope he'd been trying to negotiate and bumping painfully into protruding chunks of ice on the way. Somewhere on the slope he dropped the club and his luck proved to be as bad as Randall's. Eirik blinked stars out of his eyes just in time to stare into the purple tunnel of the little polar bear's gullet as it fitted its jaws around his head.
"God, no!" Eirik's left arm was numbed by an impact to his elbow by the time he got the fingers of his other hand into the little bear's fur fangs were locked behind his ears and there was no pulling out of the steaming maw. Furry paws reached out and gripped his sides, tugging him forward, with a wet gulp the little bear swallowed his face. Slick gullet slithered past Eirik's eyes as the bear's tongue pushed him deeper and its jaws creaked and popped as they expanded over his shoulders.
The little bear was no bigger than he was but it was very strong and instinctively tried to pin his arms to his sides as it swallowed. A great contraction of its throat muscles gripped his head like a soft fist and sucked him deeper, taking his neck down its gullet as well. Sharp claws sank into his thick jacket and the strain of fighting for his life allowed Eirik to throw off the last chill of his recent swim. His strength returned and he pushed against the bear with both hands, keeping it from swallowing him. His face was wrapped in hot, slimy gullet. In other circumstances he'd be happy with the warmth but not when a bear was trying to eat him.
Something pressed against his thigh and he remembered the seal pup. The flipper lurched rhythmically and he realized what was happening. With no one to stop it the little seal was gulping Randall down. By now it must nearly be finished with its meal and Eirik knew that even if he escaped, even if he killed the little predators, it was probably too late for his friend. Randall would suffocate in the slimy innards of the seal before he could do anything about it.
"You got my friend," Eirik thought. "You won't get me." Energized by Randal's fate he pushed against the bear's chest with both hands. Sharp fangs scraped along his skin before locking once more behind his ears. He managed to pull his neck out of its jaws but that was as far as he got. Strong and hungry, the bear tried to swallow him again and failed. They were at an impass.
It could kill him easily with a twist of its jaws or by biting into his neck, but the little bear was as determined to eat him alive as all the others. With his face in his mouth he was able to breathe but so was the bear and it all boiled down to who tired first. If the bear did he could worm free and find his club, if he tired then all that lay in his future was a short trip through a little polar bear's digestive tract.
Eirik let go with one hand and punched the bear in the chest, but the short swing didn't hurt it at all. An instant later he was frantically pushing at it again as it used the opportunity to try to work its jaws over his shoulders once more. If it weren't for the grip of its jaws he'd escape easily. He was an awkwardly huge meal for the little bear but it didn't stop trying and suddenly something new was added.
The flipper pushing against his thigh shifted and a weight shuffled atop his legs, pressing them down into the snow. He felt a lurch as the seal pup struggled to swallow the last of Randall but he had his own concerns now. The seal's weight trapped his legs against the ground and after a moment of hesitation the little bear stepped forward. It let its claws slip out of his jacket and planted all four paws in the ice, pushing itself forward. It would merely shove him along the slick surface were it not for the seal's weight but that weight anchored him in place and Randall's eyes went wide as the little bear's fanged jaws slipped over his shoulders and took in his upper arms.
"No," Eirik snarled. "No, no, no. Not today." He gripped into the white bear's neckfur with all his strength. It was not enough. Its unnaturally flexible jaws slid over him, engulfing him to the elbows, and its entire strength pushed against the resistance of only his arms. The little bear was very strong and butted itself against his crooked arms. Slimy throat slid forward and back across his face as it tried to loosen his grip and then a new thrust of its lower jaw pulled his fingers out of the white neckfur.
Eirik tried to dig them in once more but it was too late. The second his grip loosened the bear swallowed with all its might. A rolling contraction of its throat muscles gripped his shoulders and he slid headfirst down its throat. By the time the slide stopped his face was squeezing into a stinking void of stomach and his other hand pulled free from its neckfur. With another step forward the bear's jaws were to his wrists and there was simply nothing he could do to stop it. The fat seal, stuffed full of his friend, shuffled back only enough to leave room for the bear's advancing muzzle but still pinned his lower legs. He didn't even get the satisfaction of kicking one of them as the little white bear swallowed him whole.
There was a slither of flesh as the bear worked itself over his hips. For a moment his fingers scraped over fangs and then the sucking wetness of its gullet had them too. There was still weight on his legs, he could feel the lumpy, twitching bulge that was all that was left of Randall. Then the weight was gone and the bear cub heaved its muzzle upward and swallowed with all its might.
It was a little bear, hardly any bigger than he was, and its belly stretched tight as his shoulders slid in. His body followed, and with a series of laborious gulps the bear swallowed him down. He kicked as his legs were lifted into the air, then again as his knees slid in, then as his calves were consumed, and all the while its belly stretched tighter and tighter to accommodate him. When there was a scrape of fangs over the leather of his shoes and he felt the bear tense he knew it was nearly over.
Thick, greasy stomach juices lubricated his skin and clothing as the little bear prepared for one last gulp, and a slimy layer of mucus lining its throat slicked him down for easy swallowing. The little bear grunted, shifted to make room for its belly, and closed its jaws around his toes. There was a pause as it gathered its strength then a great gulp and Eirik slid heavily down the little polar bear's throat, swallowed clothing, boots and all.
Ribs creaked and popped, muscle groaned as it stretched, but the stubborn little bear wouldn't stop. With a massive effort it got his boots down his throat and swallowed with all its might, squeezing him out of its gullet and into the wet cauldron of its gut. The little bear let out a pained groan as nearly its entire weight in man curled up in its stomach, bulging it so grossly the bear rolled on its side to make room. Its expanded ribs squeezed in around Eirik but somehow it'd managed to gulp him down, stuffing its little body so full that its heart labored at the effort of continuing to beat while so compressed by its meal.
There was only a finger's length of muscle and fur between Eirik and daylight but the inner layer of that thickness was the wall of the stomach and already the digestive juices flowed in. There was little room for anything but the cub's meal and it groaned uncomfortably, but that was small consolation to a man whose hide clothing and exposed skin was already softening.
The little bear belched and shifted uncomfortably where it lay. Eirik tried to make things worse. Curled up inside it, he was able to brace his elbows against his knees and push against the slimy flesh. He felt the bulge he made stretch and shift and the polar bear cub grunted, trying to hold him still with its paws. Eirik wasn't done making trouble and pushed off his knees with all his might, hearing muscle and ribs creak in protest as he tried to force his head back up the bear's throat. It had exhausted itself swallowing him and if he got his head up into its gullet he might be able to wriggle his way out, hopefully suffocating it in the process.
The little bear groaned and fidgeted, unable to squeeze him into submission, and for a moment, despite the stinking dark of its gut he felt hope. Then something stronger than a bear paw pushed in against him. Something rammed the bear's side, sending the slick stomach wall slithering over him so he lost the grip on his knees that allowed him to push against the walls of the stomach. As he slipped and slid the push squeezed the flesh tight around him and even from inside it he heard the bear let out a great burp.
Most of the air was gone and as he tried to push off has knees once more he found caustic stomach juices softening the hide. Everything was slimy and wet, it was impossible to get a grip. With only sips of air and hot stomach acids flowing in Eirik's final struggle was brief.
"No," he grunted as the stomach squeezed in tight around him. There was only darkness, the thump of the little bear's pulse, and the gurgle as it began to digest him.
It had seemed a simple job. A weekend trip to a seal rookery, club every pup they could find, boat them back to the processing ship to strip the fur and can the meat for dog food. instead he kicked his last in the stinking gut of a baby seal. The only mercy was dying of suffocation before digestion really got started.
The little bear looked up at his mother as the native man completed his tale. "It is right, mother. I helped the seal and the seal helped me."
"Very well." His mother looked over the seal pup and the pup's mother before turning away. "One day you will have to eat their kin. But not today."
"Must we always eat them?" The little bear belched, waddling slowly after her. His mother was also stuffed full of man but his meal was proportionately much larger. Two whole men made less of a bulge in her than one did in him. His fat belly left a broad track in the snow between his pawprints.
His mother glanced back at him, and considered what she'd seen on the way back from her hunt. A big male polar bear atop a seal, both full of man and definitely not fighting.
"You can decide when you are older," she growled. Today's hunt was a strange alliance. Strange lovers happened too, as with the bear and seal she'd seen. Why, she'd heard of a male white bear and a pair of dolphins....
"What about him?" Her cub pointed a paw at the man, still calmly sat on a rock back by the seals.
"This is the lesson," his mother growled. She sat, fat with her own meals, and looked at the man. "There are two flavors of man. The ones from here, who sometimes hunt us, and who we sometimes hunt. Rules. Agreements. Sometimes we don't fight at all." Again, the tales - very true, she knew - of lonely male bears bribing human woman with meat to earn 'visits'.
She poked the little bear's belly, and the softening body of a whole man shifted and slid under the white fur. "Then there are these, the outsiders. No rules, no agreements. They come just to look, sometimes to hunt everything they can catch. So today," she poked the sloshing belly again, "Today we returned the favor and ate all we could catch."
She looked back at the native, seated on his rock. "Know them by their smell. Him we might eat, sometimes. These," she shook her belly, which sloshed and gurgled, "We eat whenever we can catch them."
"But why, mother?" The little bear sniffed. They were downwind of the man. "He smells better than the one I ate."
"Because," his mother growled, and cuffed him gently, "There are not many like him. We can live with them. Some even like them. Deals. Agreements."
Her cub looked between his forelegs at the bulge of slowly digesting man. "And this one?"
"Ah," his mother growled. "We'll never run out of them, son. Hunt them carefully, for they can be dangerous. But don't worry about running out. If you ate one a day for the rest of your life, if every bear and seal and sea lion and otter did, we still wouldn't run out."
That was a bit of an exaggeration. She remembered joining a group of bears who'd found an outsider camp on the coast. When they entered the camp, its tents were full of men. When they left, all the men were somewhere warmer and wetter. You could run out, sometimes.
The mother bear stretched, the two slowly digesting men in her belly shifting, and burped as a bubble of air broke loose. She and her cub settled down, sheltered by a snowbank, to digest their meals. You could run out of men, yes, but it look a lot of work. They'd eaten every man and woman in the seal hunting party today, but there were more elsewhere. With any luck, her cub would have his belly full of outsider man again soon, and often.
On the fringes of the hunt, even the young predators get into the act.