Tom awoke to find a large brown bear sitting at the end of his bed. In a flash, he tried to snatch the covers up to his chin, but the bear was heavy and they wouldn’t budge.

“Go!” Tom said. “Get out!”

The bear started to lick its paws, seemed to think better of it and turned a pair of dark, glassy eyes his way instead. “Take it easy.”

He felt warmth in the crotch of his pyjamas. “Where’s Alice? Am I dreaming?”

The bear laughed. “Uh, sorry, no.” A soft paw fringed by serrated claws indicated the developing stain on the quilt. “That’s not dreaming.”

“I was asleep, lying in bed with my wife. Why’s a bear sitting on my bed? How is it you can speak?

“That wasn’t sleep.” Incisors like arrowheads gleamed in its jaw. It stood up, and Tom felt the mattress rise. Padding to the window its head drooped, rocking from side to side, as though suddenly burdened with some awful news. Finally it turned, offering a weak smile. “I’m sorry, Tom, you’re dead. I’m here to talk you through the procedure . . . I’m not real, but then, what is?”

Tom watched sunlight form a bristling halo around the bear. Dust motes danced in that glow. There was something rather beautiful about it, as though the bear was imbued with some magical, inner – “I’m sorry?” he said. “I’m what?

The bear nodded. It went to the bedside table, took a flower from the vase and sniffed it. “You died.” Tossing the flower into its mouth it started to chew. “You were fortunate, Tom. So was Alice. Can you imagine how awful it would have been if your fifty year marriage was ended by you accidentally stepping in front of a bus, or even worse, months of terrible cancer? . . . No shock or fuss, you just died in your sleep. There wasn’t even any pain, was there?”

“What’re you talking about?” Tom decanted from the bed and slunk to the wall. He placed his back and palms against it, like a man scaling a narrow ledge. “I’m alive, and I can feel, so how -” With a jolt, he noticed his clothes. Not pyjamas now, but a smart, three-piece suit; no sign of his earlier mishap either. Bewilderment perturbed his brow. “You said this wasn’t a dream.”

“What’s dreaming anyway?” The huge beast dropped onto its haunches and started to scratch behind its ear. “If it feels real, how can it be a dream? That would mean real might be a dream.” It paused, holding his gaze. “And then we’re in bit of a loop, aren’t we?”