It’s odd the things we remember sometimes. I was walking down the toy aisle a couple days ago, looking for something to give my two (soon to be three) year old niece for her birthday. Everything was brightly colored and cheerful, starting with a turtle with a head that bobbed up and down when you pulled his tail and ending with what looked like a mash-up between a dragon and a fairy princess colored all in pink. And there, dead center in the middle of the aisle, was a loosely gathered bunch of Care Bear toys.
Cloying and sweet, their eyes stared up at me, as if to say what a wonderful gift they would be for a small girl of three. I reached down and picked up the dark blue Grumpy Bear. Of all the bears he has gone through the least changes over the years. I think it’s because his mind is the strongest. He’s had no need to change his shape or form to keep his sanity.
I put the bear back down and gazed at it. Odd thing to think. But then, it was an odd Care Bear tale I had seen too. Or maybe thought I saw, the whole thing has the quality of a fever dream to it, which is appropriate since I was sick at the time. And as I looked at the little storm cloud on his tummy I remembered.
It was a sunny March afternoon. A temperature of 101 and vomitting had kept me home from school that day. I had passed the worst stages of my sickness earlier in the morning and I was now thoroughly enjoying myself on the couch, consuming anything the TV would throw my way. My mom had left to run some errands, so I was alone in the house. Normally I would have abused this freedom by raiding some ice cream out of the freezer. I was too tired though and still felt slightly nauseous.
That might explain why I didn’t change the channel when the brightly colored bears came on. At nine years old, I had far passed the age where Care Bears would have been an okay thing to watch. But tired and still slightly sick, I let it play. I remember the villain was someone called Professor Coldheart. He looked like a cheap Mr. Freeze knockoff, with frozen blue skin, white hair, and a paedo stare. His whole thing was that he hated feelings… because. Honestly, he reminds me now of one of those stupid Captain Planet villains. Why did they pollute the environment? Because if they didn’t there wouldn’t be a villain to fight, duh! Maybe I’m expecting too much out of a show aimed at toddlers though.
There was a lot of back and forth about feelings with the fuzzy little mascots going on and on about joy and caring. And, sick or not, I was getting up to change the channel because I was going to be sick if I had to hear to the word caring one more time. And then Professor Coldheart pulled out a large black book. “But they have promised me, if I call them, they will end all feelings!” Coldheart exclaimed opening the book.
The little bears all seem confused. All except Grumpy Bear. “Care Bears, don’t let him read from that book!” he exclaimed. “Tender Heart, call for the stare!”
A little reddish brown bear with a heart on his tummy nodded. “Care Bears, line up!” he called. But even as he did, Coldheart began to chant. I sat on the floor and watched, wide-eyed. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. No, that’s a lie. Or rather, it’s not entirely true. He wasn’t speaking English. He wasn’t speaking any language I’ve ever heard. But my mind was forming pictures. And they weren’t happy . They involved large black masses that ate the stars and writhing and squirming things long enough to wrap around the world.
Tender Heart faltered, with a hand to his head, and the other bears quickly followed suit. “They lie in wait for the stars,” I heard Tender Heart mutter.
A cavernous portal opened behind Coldheart, and he giggled, a giggle full of madness and no glee. Grumpy Bear stood up and stared at it in horror. Shadowy things that flickered on the edge of vision began to appear on the screen, coming from the opening. Looking back, it was some fantastic animation, I haven’t seen its like since. The shadowy things were reaching forward for the bears. Grumpy Bear’s tummy glowed and he summoned forth several thunder clouds. He used them to set up a protective barrier for the bears, lightning arcing from them and sizzling the shadowy things as they closed in.
It wasn’t going to be enough though, and although I would’ve been ashamed to admit, my little nine year old self was kind of scared. The shadowy things bore a very strange resemblance the things flicking through my own head now. Grumpy Bear looked from Coldheart to the Bears, and then, I swear to God, straight at me. I mean, I know he was just animated to be looking at the “camera”, but it felt like he could see me, and whoever else was watching, feel our fear. He nodded. “I have to break the connection,” he said, turning back to Coldheart. He closed his eyes and concentrated, tummy lighting up brighter than I had ever seen.
A gigantic thunder cloud appeared above them, filling the entire building. Coldheart looked up at it in awe. Then, a gigantic lightning strike fell from the cloud. At first I thought it was going to strike Coldheart. Instead, it fell at his feet. He screeched and jumped backwards, losing his balance. And when he did, he fell backwards, into the portal behind him, still holding the black book. There was a mighty clap of thunder and the screen turned white. For a moment I wondered if we’d had a power surge that hurt the TV. After a few moments it cleared though. Grumpy Bear was going to each bear now, picking them off the floor, patting them on the back, saying a few encouraging words.
“I can’t live with it,” a green bear with a clover on his belly said. “I saw things, so many things.”
“Don’t worry, Good Luck,” Grumpy said, patting the bear’s back. “You won’t have to. None of you will.”
Then it rolled to credits. I crawled back over to the couch and hauled myself back up. I was slightly disappointed. I wanted to know what Grumpy meant.
But, I pushed it from my mind. It was just a Care Bear episode after all. I remember the first movie came out slightly afterwards, serving as a sort of reboot to the franchise. No more Coldheart and a whole bunch of different pastel colored animals to play with along with bears. I never saw the episode again and never bothered seeking it out.
13 years later found me an English Literature class at an out of state college. It was one of those classes where everyone from freshmen to seniors could be found in it. I was in my senior year and had just needed a random class to fill out my general education block. For some reason, at the end of class, a bunch of us got to talking about shows we used to watch when were little. The subject eventually turned to the Care Bears.
“Y’know, I saw the strangest episode when I was nine,” I said. I quickly outlined the dramatics with Coldheart and the book. Everyone stared at me like I had gone off my gourd. “Are you sure you just didn’t hallucinate it?” a guy to my right we called the Patster said.
“Wait, he’s right!” a blonde freshman named Cally exclaimed. “But it wasn’t Coldheart, it was No Heart.”
“Who the heck is No Heart?” I asked, turning to her.
“He’s the main villain from the Nelvana series, the one that came after the DiC episodes. He had a black book like you said. And all the bears seemed confused except Grumpy. He was flipping out. And Noheart called all his shadowy monster things the Young Ones.” She laughed. “I don’t know how it ended. It actually scared me enough I changed the channel.” She shook her head. “It was Care Bears, though, so how bad could it have been?” She became thoughtful for a second. “It was near the end of the Nelvana run though. Might have even been the last episode.”
“Yeah, I vote both of you are nutty than the nuthouse,” Patster said, and the group laughed in agreement.
The conversation piqued my curiosity though. The school had some computers that were free for students to use that ran at the blazing fast dial-up speed of 56 kbps This was back in 1998, so the Internet was not the insta-answer place it is now. Hell, Google was stilled called Google Beta and I viewed it with suspicion because it was new. I ended up using Yahoo. And let me tell you, it’s not much better now than it was then. A couple hours of searching left me with no clues. I could find no mention of either Cally’s episode or mine anywhere.
I let it lie there. There have been a couple series since then. Bears have come and gone, but Grumpy has always been there from what little I’ve seen, largely unchanged. Sometimes I wonder if there are others out there who saw strange episodes as each series finished out. Deep down– I don’t really want to know. I think if I did know I’d have to accept some facts I really don’t want to.
Snapping out of my revere, I got ready to leave the toy aisle. I turned back one last time to look at the Bears. And then, almost on impulse, I reached down and picked up the Grumpy Bear. Perhaps I owed him that much. And perhaps there were worse things that could snuggle next to my niece as she slept.