Almost all of our relationships begin and most of them continue as forms of mutual exploitation, a mental or physical barter, to be terminated when one or both parties run out of goods.
– W.H. Auden, The Dyer's Hand, and Other Essays
Harold Worth was not a wealthy boy. In fact, he was among the poorest students in his class at Eastwood Elementary. It should come as no surprise, then, that Harold had learned to buy only that which was absolutely necessary to further his existence upon this Earth.
Harold was walking home from school, watching the other students ride off on their bicycles. Harold had no bicycle of his own, and he had grown envious of the other boys and girls, whose parents were able to afford such things.
It was nearing the end of fall, and the weather was growing colder. Harold had a warm coat on, to be sure – his parents being able to afford at least that much – but he desperately longed for a way to get home with greater speed.
He was nearly halfway home when he stopped, dead in his tracks. A bear was rounding the corner of the house he was walking toward. It slowly meandered its way toward him.
Harold, being a clever lad, knew that bears were often scared — or at least spooked — by loud noises. But lacking anything on his person to make much of a racket, and not wishing to entice the bear to strike him, he stood still as a board.
And then... Harold sneezed. Prepared for the worst, Harold covered his face with his hands and prayed aloud that his life be taken quickly.
The bear laughed.
Harold, seeing no one else around, was puzzled for a moment. But then the bear spoke up, and said to the boy, "Is it really so strange, then, for a bear to speak? I find it stranger still that a man-child such as yourself would fear a bear, when so many of your men and women hunt and kill us for sport. Why would a bear, then, seek to anger a son of men?"
Harold thought hard as to how to reply (or even whether to reply at all), and eventually came to the conclusion that the bear was in the right here. But he also sensed an opportunity.
"Well, Mr. Bear," Harold began (as it was obvious to him that the bear was male), "I suppose you're absolutely correct to laugh at me. But has it never occurred to you to turn the tables on these hunters?"
The bear looked puzzled, but attentive. Harold continued his speech. "I know of a way you could store up fat for the winter quite quickly – high-quality foodstuffs, to be sure. Then you could safely enter hibernation and scarcely worry about assault from any person. That is, if you're interested..."
"And what would you want in return?" the bear said, his interest piqued.
"Oh, but a trifling thing really. In return for supplying you with the bicycle routes of all the boys and girls on their way home from school so that you might devour them, you would leave the bicycles themselves undamaged."
"It does sound simple enough, to be sure, and would be an excellent way to dole out revenge upon the race of men; but why would a man-child betray his own kind in such a manner?"
"It's simple, Mr. Bear. The race of men is interested primarily in profit, and only secondarily in self-preservation. Why do you think we risk life and limb to hunt and kill your kind, when we have plenty of livestock we could kill without risk and receive at least as much meat? And in this case, I'd profit from the bicycles we'd scavenge. So, as you can see, this would be a mutually beneficial relationship."
The bear considered this, and said, "Well, man-child, you have a deal. And please, call me George."
"I'm Harold," the boy said. "It will be a pleasure working with you."
"Likewise," George replied. "Now, shall we begin?"
So bear and boy hatched their plan together, with Harold mapping out the bicycle routes, and George mapping out the ideal spots for ambush. It wasn't long before George struck out and mauled the unsuspecting students to death. Harold and George then dragged the bodies back to the cave that George called home. Harold then returned and collected the bicycles, one by one.
This process continued for several days, until George had had his fill; and the bicycles were all in Harold's possession, cleverly stashed in his father's woodshed. George and Harold clapped paw to hand in a high-five. Things could not have gone better for the pair.
As school let out the next day, Harold biked home on his personal favorite prize, only to find George waiting for him by his father's woodshed. "Why, George! What a pleasant surprise! I had thought our relationship terminated, though, what with you having plenty of meat to store up for the winter..."
George let out the same hearty chuckle he'd let out when the pair had first met, and turned his body to the side to display the bodies, quite dead, of Harold's parents, lying beneath George's body.
Harold reeled in shock. Before he could say a word, George was upon him. "But, why? Why would you betray me like this?" Harold managed to stammer out.
"It's simple, really," George said. "As you said at the outset, this was, indeed, a mutually beneficial relationship. But as you said just now, our relationship is terminated. And I have other mouths to feed. Bears, after all, are primarily interested in self-preservation, and only secondarily in profit."
George's mate and cubs trotted out from behind the woodshed, a feral look in their eyes. Harold covered his face with his hands and prayed aloud that his life be taken quickly. George and his family made sure to oblige.