Autumnal Ickies. It’s a vague nothing-is-really-wrong but something-is-not-quite-right kind of thing. It hovers daily about 4 o’clock and, interestingly, only this time of year. Energy lags, enthusiasm plummets, there’s a kind of pit-in-the-stomach feeling and anxiety increases. We call it the Fall Ickies here at Hare Hollow, and when one of us claims it, we both understand.
So what causes it, you ask? Falling leaves, dying landscapes, grey-cloudy skies, chill winds, evenings that arrive earlier and earlier as each day passes, and, at the forefront, the ever-present awareness that winter with all its isolation and difficulties looms dead-ahead!
SAD Syndrome, some folks diagnose knowingly. Yup. Makes me sad alright. And the lights that are supposed to remedy the malady give me a migraine!
Light is definitely helpful though. Sunlight, yes—every glean-able ray on these shortened-angle days, but when it slides behind the near-naked tree-tops and the shadows settle in the Hollow, and it's only mid-afternoon, well, the Ickies begin. It’s time then for lighted candles, something yummy and aromatic bubbling in the oven, shades drawn, and every lamp in the house lit (oh yes, and the power company cheers!)
There’s a little light in Miss Winklesnout’s cottage this dark cloudy afternoon. I suspect she is still recovering from her escapades at Pine Acres, and is more than grateful to be home where it’s peaceful and quiet.
She brought the mouselings—all eight of them—to the Huckleberry Fair, there in Pine Acres Woods the day after we arrived. Chipmunks and FieldMice of every size and temperament were in attendance. Tarts and puddings, even huckleberry griddle-cakes—one of Bic’s favorites—were offered on tiny tables, some wrapped to take home, others on wee acorn-caps to enjoy while walking through the displays.
Chippery Sliver, a slick fellow if ever you saw one, put his pet cricket-clan through a daring routine. They flipped and dangled through high vine-trapezes, flew through hoops and stood on one another’s shoulders to create stellar formations. And if that wasn’t awe-inspiring enough, they ended the production with ‘Oh Beautiful’ in 4-part cricket harmony!
Little Betina was positively enraptured, as were her four little-girl-mouseling friends. Bic and Ben, however, along with their studious and somewhat nerdy friend, Rodney, were also mightily intrigued, but as you might guess, being little boy-mouselings, it wasn’t enough. They needed more excitement. Surely they could do those things too!
Miss Winklesnout was gathering up her students when she realized the boys were missing. Assuming they must’ve stepped away to visit the necessary, she directed the girls to stay put.
“We’ll wait right here till they come back…” she spoke confidently as the crowd of fair-goers dwindled. The crew began shutting down the rides: the Lazy Susan Merry-go-round, the Hamster-spin Ferris Wheel, and the Sit & Spin Spool rides.
Food stuffs were packed into Pringle-Can Trailers, the hinged plastic door latched tightly when it was sufficiently full. Tables were wiped clean and benches turned over in case of rain.
“We’re closing for the evening, Ma’am…” a portly chipmunk gentleman swaggered over to where they waited. “Is there something I can help you with? Are you waiting for someone?”
“Oh sir… my three boy-mouselings are missing. I thought they just went to the necessary, but they haven’t returned. We are just visiting the area. I don’t know what to do! They must be lost!”
She wrung her fingers worriedly around the straps of her little red drawstring purse. The girls sidled up close to her, somewhat afraid of the chipmunk gentleman and his booming voice.
“I’ll keep an eye out for them, Ma’am. I’m the manager here. If we see them, we’ll keep them here until morning if you want to go back to wherever you’re staying. There are bunks here for the crew, and we can put them up here for the night. You can check back in the morning…”
Not knowing what else to do, Miss Winklesnout thanked him and then ushered the five little girl-mouselings back to Cabin 22. Darkness was already falling, and she ordered the girls to ready themselves for bed and get right into their bunks while she went on an errand.
It was shortly after that I heard the tiny tapping at my cabin window. Curious, I raised the blind slightly and there, on the sill, stood a bereft Miss Winklesnout, visibly shaken. I opened the window to let her in.
“Miss Winklesnout…” I questioned. “What is it? You look very upset…”
She explained the situation, her voice quavering, tears threatening.
“Oh Ma’am. You were right! I had no idea the responsibility I was taking on. The boys are missing—Bic, Ben and Rodney. They were right there beside me when the Chippery Sliver Show was going on, and suddenly they were gone. The fair closed down, everyone left, and the boys didn’t come back. I don’t know what to do!”
“Oh dear! You poor thing. I can only imagine how worried you must be.” Feeling as much at a loss as she, I considered for a few moments. “Do you think they will find their way back to our cabin? Maybe they just went off on a little adventure and they’re on their way back as we speak!”
“Ohhh dear, dear!” She wrung her hands worriedly. “Whatever will I do if something awful happens to them. There are so many bad-sorts out after dark, you know… how will I ever face their folks?”
“Yes, dear. I know what you mean. But maybe we’ll just have to trust. They are smart boys and surely, even if they can’t find their way back on their own, they can ask someone for directions. Why don’t you try to get some rest and we’ll just trust that all will work out well in the morning…”
“Thank you, Ma’am. I’m sorry to bother you…”
“No bother, Miss Winklesnout. It always helps to have someone to share our troubles with. I think it’ll all turn out fine. We’ll entrust the boys to the care of our loving Creator…”
She nodded tearfully, turning back to the window and hopping down to the towel-covered shoe-box.I watched as she slipped dejectedly inside, pulling the towel flap down over the doorway to keep out the cold.
A chilly blast of wind whistled through the open window as I pushed it closed, my heart going out to the worried schoolmarm and those mischievous little mouselings. Oh Bic and Ben… will you ever learn?
To be continued…