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Filtering by Category: Animal Stories

Winter Rest

Amber Adrian

If you haven't listened to the Christmas stories yet, please allow me to mention them again. Festive yuletide tales about dancing dormice, giraffes attempting to Christmas shop, and wintry celebrations for misanthropic bears. I love these stories so much, and I hope you do too. 

Merriest of Christmases, my friends! 

 

Nobody Likes Big Rats

Amber

Viola learned one harsh, inviolable, life-defining truth the hard way: Baby possums are adorable.

Adolescent possums...not so much.

She had been adored as a child. Revered, even. People stopped to coo at her in the streets and she was given treats by anyone who had a treat to give. Her parents fussed, her grandparents doted, and her aunts spoiled. A nice life, if you can get it.

But as her fuzzily sweet baby self grew into an ungainly rat-like creature whose whippy rodent tail dragged behind her, reaction to her person became far less enjoyable. It seemed that the other animals responded not to her sparkling personality, not to her ability to soothe fussy infants, not to the fact that she could recite every flower that grew within two miles of the village - alphabetically by name and genus, thankyouverymuch - but to her appearance.

People loved her when she was adorable, but were decidedly less interested when she grew into her tail.

Viola pushed her spectacles up her nose and glared at her fellow classmates. Her sharp eyes scanned the room. She was definitely the ugliest one between these - and let’s be honest, most - four walls. She wished she didn’t care so much. But it’s hard to go from toast-of-the-town to ignored-in-the-corner in just a few short years.

Noticing that her left lens was smudged, Viola whipped off her spectacles and polished them on her gingham dress. When she put them back on and the classroom swam back into focus, she saw a perfect pale face right in front of her, a little too close for comfort. Especially when that face was Fern’s, the prettiest bunny in the county. Viola’s eyes crossed as she tried to focus on the diminutive pink bunny nose two inches from her face.

Viola hated Fern. She hated her pink leather satchel, she hated the way her shiny whiskers floated and her silky ears lay down her back. She hated that Basin the badger was always sitting next to her in school. She hated that Fern was now sitting right in front of her, nose twitching expectantly, impossible to ignore.

“Will you help me with our spelling list, Viola?” Fern asked, rather anxiously. Viola was surprised. She just assumed that Fern had deigned to join her in order to mock her lank gray fur or perhaps the long, unattractive tail she kept curled under her seat. Just because Fern had never shown any penchant for being unkind didn’t mean today wasn’t the day.

Viola looked down at her own list, accurately spelled in her beautiful round hand. Viola spent hours perfecting her penmanship. Just because her face couldn’t be pretty didn’t mean she couldn’t make her homework so.

Fern took this as an invitation and sat in the empty seat beside her. “Flowers are so dreadfully hard to spell,” she said miserably, plopping her fuzzy chin in her paw. “Chrysanthawhat? Basin doesn’t know how to spell any of these either,” she said, as Viola’s entire frame tightened. “He sits next to me to help me with my sums because I’m hopeless at them, but he isn’t good at spelling and we’re both lost.” She gazed despondently down at her long bunny feet. “Can you help? You’re so good at school.” Fern looked up at Viola earnestly, her entire body quivering in hope.

Viola had her suspicions, but decided she was in no position to be choosy.

So she sat with Fern and Basin by the river every day after school, teaching them how to spell. By the day of the test, Viola had both Fern and Basin accurately spelling everything from anemone to quibble - and she had two new friends.

Fern and Basin didn’t care what she looked like. In fact, they were jealous of her tail and its ability to hit a croquet ball through the farthest wicket. In turn, Viola didn’t mind that Fern was hopeless with fractions or that Basin was late to everything. It meant she was useful - it’s nice to be useful - and that she and Fern could eat all the cake before Basin arrived.

True friends are in charge of loving what you don’t like about yourself, Viola thought, holding it for you until you learn to see it as they do.

---

This is the fourth in a collection of stories about animals who talk and drink tea and get themselves in trouble. The first story, about a fastidiously dressed raccoon named Randall, is here. The second, about a world-weary lemur named Mortimer, is here. The third, about mischievous wombat twins with terrible names, is here. These stories have become some of my favorite things in life, so I hope you enjoy them. 

Crazy Wombats Pack Terrible Lunches

Amber

“Why, why, why?” A small wombat banged his head steadily against the flat surface supporting his lunch, as if blunt trauma to the forehead via wooden picnic table would give him answers.

His twin brother rolled his eyes and dug into his lunch pail. When his paw emerged with a handful of wriggling worms rather than the anticipated peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich, his mouth dropped open and he considered joining his brother’s woeful genuflection.

It was generally acknowledged that the twins' mother was insane. For one thing, she named her boys Scanket and Blarf, an unholy homage to her two favorite knitting projects, a blanket and a scarf. That she turned around and gave the blanket and scarf the stolidly respectable names of Wilbur and Whitby was only insult to injury.

“Even her knitting has better names than we do,” Blarf grumbled to his brother after their mother proudly introduced them to her newest sweater, which she had named Charlotte. “I’d take Charlotte over Scanket any day,” his brother whispered back - a telling statement given the swaggering machismo he’d recently adopted. Thankfully, his swagger quickly disappeared the second they needed to make a quick getaway.

“But what can one expect from wombats named Scanket and Blarf?” the townspeople would say to each other, shaking their heads ruefully after the twins had filched yet another box of chocolate bars or bottle of raspberry cordial. When caught, the brothers would be reprimanded and put to work to pay off their misdeeds. But this only served to make them craftier, not more honest.

Despite their unfortunate names, Scanket and Blarf cut quite a swath at the village school, bestowing sweet treats on the lucky animals in favor that day and smirking at everyone else. Everyone wanted to be on the good side of the wombat twins and not just because they had access to all the best desserts.

“Why worms?” Blarf moaned. “She promised us peanut butter and jam today.” Scanket shook his head at his naivete. Sure, their mother may have promised a normal noon meal while snuggled up by the fire, knitting needles clacking away between her paws, but inevitably she would wake in the deep of night, caught by a feverish notion that told her earthworms would be far healthier for growing wombats. In her mad haze, she’d rush out into the dew-laden, moonlit garden, dig some up some unsuspecting garden pests, drag them back into the kitchen, and label them a meal.

“She’s daft, Blarf,” his twin said prosaically, before wandering over to the nearest picnic table and confiscating a tuna fish sandwich and an onion tart from two classmates who had fallen from favor. Blarf still longed for a normal mother, one who didn’t name her knitting and baked cookies instead of kale. Scanket simply adapted, creatively augmenting their meals and choosing to find their mother's lunacy amusing. He knew she loved them, she just had odd ideas about how to show that love, he thought as he emptied his pail of worms into the schoolyard garden.

After the usual round of afternoon admonishments from the teacher, the animals streamed out the school house doors. Blarf veered off to the side and began pulling things out of his knapsack. “Knitting needles, two sets,” he mumbled. “Red blankets and safety pins, check.” After watching his twin blankly, Scanket asked for instructions. Blarf had terrible and wonderful ideas and Scanket was always on board.

Tugging the requested wagon behind him - he didn't even have to steal it, it had been abandoned in the lane three days ago - he saw that Blarf had donned a uniform for mischief. Knitting needles poked out of his hat like bug antenna and a red blanket was swirled around his neck. He handed Scanket a set of knitting needles and another blanket, this one a cheery yellow.

Snapping on his goggles, Blarf climbed into the wagon and demanded that Scanket push him to the top of the lane, where the red brick curved downward in a steep trajectory to the town square. Poised over the precipice, Scanket gave the wagon a mighty shove and jumped in behind his brother.

Red and yellow capes flew out behind them as the wind whistled through their antenna. The village was reduced to a blur of color and sound and Blarf laughed for the first time in a week, the sound pealing out behind them as they ricocheted around corners and narrowly missed a shopkeeper sweeping his stoop. Scanket gave a mighty whoop and a cluster of chattering magpies quickly dispersed as they slammed to a halt at the bottom.

Hopping out and grinning at the open mouths of the animals in the square, Blarf started pulling the wagon up the hill for another ride. Until Scanket saw the curious faces of the schoolmates who gathered around, and a fully formed scheme jumped into his head as if sent down from above.

The twins made one pound, three shillings, and five pence - enough to keep them in jam and peanut butter for weeks - before a wagon carrying two caped rabbits and a young vole brandishing knitting needles crashed into Randall and the raccoon, proving himself terribly fussy about bruises and knocked-askew scarves, shut the operation down.

---

This is the third in a collection of stories about animals who talk and drink tea and get themselves in trouble. The first story, about a fastidiously dressed raccoon named Randall, is here. The second, about a world-weary lemur named Mortimer, is here. These stories have become some of my favorite things in life, so I hope you enjoy them. 

Mortimer Makes a Mistake

Amber

“Never send a moose to do a lemur’s job,” Mortimer grumbled to himself, picking wood chips off his flannel shirt. His breakfast bourbon was chilling in his belly but still flowing through his bloodstream, if the toadstool in a lemony-yellow dress was any indication. He blinked his black-rimmed eyes and glared at the toadstool until it reverted to its usual red-and-white cap perched on an ordinary white stump.

He jangled the coins in his pocket contemplatively, staring into the stream. Burbling over stones and twisting through the field, the water eventually poured into the mill pond, where it became very handy when the mill exploded into flames yesterday evening. Smoke was still rising from the now-skeletal structure.

“Why it exploded is anyone’s guess,” Mortimer told the council when all six members called on him at six in the morning, before he’d even taken his first slug of bourbon. “Nothing in this town has caught fire in over sixty years, unless you count Willa burning the scones at the tea shop.” The council grumbled and eyed him suspiciously. Mortimer sighed. His last episode of hooliganism was over half a century ago, but memories were long, and Bertie the Rat’s whiskers had never been the same. He groomed them carefully, but they remained sparse and obviously plagued his sanctimonious little soul. Bertie was always the first to point a finger in Mortimer’s direction.

He strolled to the mill pond and gazed out over the burnt shell across the water. It was confusing. There was no earthly reason it should have accidentally gone up in flames, but Mortimer couldn’t fathom that one of the town folk had done it on purpose. Kids, maybe. A joke gone awry. A prank that got out of hand. But the younger members of the town tended to confine their mischief making to places with sweets. Mrs. Catchpole’s tea shop was being constantly plagued by sacks of dried cherries gone missing and cooling pies snatched. But given its utter lack of chocolate, none of the kids in town would have been interested in the mill.

Mortimer scratched his chin and began sifting through the rubble. Ernie the moose had been there first and tromped all over the wreckage, leaving the imprint of enormous hooves over everything. Rolling his eyes, Mortimer tried not to think too harshly of the dim but well-meaning moose. Why the council asked him to investigate anything was a complete mystery.

“Not that much of a mystery,” he muttered. “Short-sighted Bertie.” Yes, the elderly rat needed thick spectacles, but his sight was clogged more by his prejudice than by his corneas.

There. Near the once-gaily-dressed-now-entirely-normal-toadstool. Mortimer squat down and put his nose as close to the dirt as he could manage without tipping over. A bit of pink satin ribbon peeked out from a large foot print, unmistakably moose.

Since the mothers of the town were far to sensible to dress their girls in frills and furbelows - they always went missing or got filthy - Mortimer determined that an older girl must have been here in the past few days. Before the fire but after the rains. An older girl who wore pink ribbons.

“Not Willa,” Mortimer mumbled. He had a soft spot for her, as did everyone in town, and not just because she delivered their scones and jam. But she was the only one who both wore pink ribbons and had a bit of a history with fire. Plus, she’d been pulled out of the mill pond not long ago, sodden and coughing.

Mortimer straightened and, using the toe of his boot, buried the ribbon in the mud.

---

This is the second in a collection of stories about animals who talk and drink tea and get themselves in trouble. The first story, about a fastidiously dressed raccoon named Randall, is here. These stories have become some of my favorite things in life, so I hope you enjoy them. 

The Council Really Needs To Do Something About That Bridge

Amber

Staring into the round mirror by his front door, Randall adjusted his monocle. It was slightly too big, but his furry pointed nose kept it in place. He ran his paws down the lapels of his green velvet jacket and adjusted his yellow silk cravat. His feral days of poking through scrap heaps in search of dinner were long over and his spotless front stood as testimonial. Now he could afford to change his clothes daily - even hourly, if he happened to spill a bit of tomato soup down his front at supper time.

All was in order, so he reached for the wooden stick resting by the door. Mrs. Catchpole called it a cane, but he refused to refer to it as anything but a staff. He may have been getting on in years, but he still had his dignity. Ralph would have said that it wasn’t terribly dignified for an elderly raccoon to clomp about the village pretending to be a wizard, but what did Ralph know? He still grew mugwort in his garden and pretended it gave him visions. But all it seemed to do was send him down to the tea shop to crunch down whatever Mrs. Catchpole baked that day.

“Apparently, it only gives him visions of treacle tart,” Randall snorted to himself as he tromped down his garden path, staff clicking on the stones near his feet. He glanced at it - raccoons were just as liable to carry staffs as wizards, he sniffed. He meant to visit the village library, to make sure the medieval histories he purchased had made it into the proper section, but the thought of treacle tart lured him down the side street that housed Mrs. Catchpole’s tea shop instead. Enjoying the way his staff echoed on the cobblestones, he approached the cheery red door.

“Been to visit your dull books yet?” Mrs. Catchpole called out as he walked through, the damn bell tinkling above his head and alerting her to his presence. “Why don’t you ever buy the library some novels, juicy ones that folks can sink their teeth into?”

Her own teeth gleamed in the candlelight, her terrible taste in literature and profound objection to elevating her mind offset by her generous use of beeswax on gray days. Randall grunted and seated himself at his usual table, a small pedestal on a raised dais that both discouraged other animals from joining him and allowed him a good view of both the door and the wide window.

A warm currant scone appeared in front of him, flanked by clotted cream and her famed blackberry jam. Before he could glance up, Mrs. Catchpole’s niece had already disappeared, the organza bow on the back of her apron whisking around the polished copper counter.

A squat dormouse, Mrs. Catchpole still managed a degree of elegance, her smocked gown untouched by the golden syrup that she drizzled over a freshly baked cake. While her niece preferred to stay in the back room, Mrs. Catchpole enjoyed spending her time behind the front counter, so she could greet her customer’s with rude suggestions while tempting them with whatever she was concocting that day. Randall didn’t enjoy being teased, but still found himself sitting down at his pedestal almost every day. He blamed her baking.

“Natty boots, Randall!” Ralph shouted as he swung through the door.

“Why must everyone have an opinion?” Randall said to his spoon full of jam as he sacrificed it to the scone.

“Is Mrs. Catchpole complaining about your volume choice again?” Ralph asked as he pulled up a chair, un-invited, to Randall’s pedestal. Another scone appeared, along with a pot of hot tea. Wedgwood, Randall noted with approval. “Or are you just cranky because you have crumbs on your cravat?”

Jerking his nose toward his breast bone, Randall heaved a sigh of relief as he took in his still spotless front. Ralph guffawed so hard he almost fell out of his chair. Mrs. Catchpole, the fuzzy witch, chuckled behind her counter. Randall sniffed and devoted himself to his scone.

“Willa, dear!” Mrs. Catchpole called out. When her niece failed to appear, Mrs. Catchpole sighed and brought the treacle pudding around the counter herself and laid it down between Ralph and Randall. “Thought you boys might enjoy this,” she said comfortably.

As they thanked her and began to tuck in, Randall began to ask Ralph what he thought about the council’s decision to decorate the oak trees in the town square for yuletide, when Ralph paused and leaned into his half empty tea cup. He poked at it and leaned deeper in. Then he gasped and jerked back.

“She’s sinking!” he shouted and leapt for the door, his baffling expostulation echoing around the tea shop as other patrons turned their heads. As he yanked open the cheery red door, he turned to Mrs. Catchpole and yelled, “Willa! She’s going under!” before dashing into the road.

“But she’s right here,” said a confused Mrs. Catchpole. “Keeping an eye on the ginger snaps.” She waddled toward the back room and swept open the curtain, revealing a plume of smoke from the iron stove in the corner but no Willa.

Grabbing his staff, Randall made his way after Ralph, who was running toward the mill pond. “He’s been at the mugwort again,” Randall muttered. “Cruel to worry you,” he said, glancing back at Mrs. Catchpole as she huffed several paces behind him. “Willa probably just went out for a walk, she likes doing that.”

Sprightly from his half century of daily morning swims, Ralph made much better time than the lame raccoon with a big wooden stick and the overweight dormouse. By the time Randall and Mrs. Catchpole made it to the edge of the pond - warm and idyllic in the summer months but somewhat spooky in the early December light - Ralph’s webbed feet had carried him halfway across its expanse, where he dove fruitlessly into the murky water.

“Come out of there, Ralph!” Randall shouted, banging his staff for good measure, as Mrs. Catchpole wrung her hands by his side. “She’s probably just wandering through the village or at the grocer’s stall!”

Finally Ralph resurfaced, his arm around a limp figure. Willa’s head bobbed, her bright mahogany fur dulled by the water.

Randall splashed into the pond, heaving his staff behind him. His boots filled with water, and he felt sticky moss adhering to his formerly pristine shirtfront. When he got close, he held out the tip of his staff so Ralph could grab onto it and he towed both the exhausted Ralph and the unconscious Willa to shore, where Mrs. Catchpole hovered.

Tucked back in the warm tea shop, Randall had the novel experience of serving Mrs. Catchpole tea and apple crumble, as she huddled under a blanket that Ralph had draped over her shoulders, insisting he didn’t need it. He was a toad, after all, and well used to water, chilly or otherwise.

Doctor Basil had proclaimed Willa none the worse for her tumble into the mill pond and advised her to stay off the rickety bridge, a rickety bridge the council would most certainly replace at the earliest opportunity. The good doctor prescribed bed rest and an hourly dose of a tonic he left by her bedside as he hustled the Mrs. Catchpole back down the stairs to tend to her own nerves and allow Willa some rest.

As Doctor Basil was the first badger to ever attend Oxford, Randall trusted him and told Mrs. Catchpole so. “Much better than the quacks down the road,” he declared, pouring her another cup of tea. “Much better,” agreed Ralph, saluting them with his tea cup and smirking at the ratty flannel dressing gown that had replaced the Randall’s dapper - and now quite damp - suit.

Randall simply picked up his staff and jabbed Ralph in the stomach, abandoning his dignity quite utterly.