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Friday, September 4, 2015

Berries in the Dug-Out...

     Autumn tickled our senses several days ago and then the tug-o-war with Lady Summer began again—typical for the season. So we’ve been sweltering with 90-degree soggies ever since. I can’t help but notice though, the ever-increasing tinges of color—reds and yellows—peeking out from the green of Hare Hollow Woods, all along the roadways too, from hither to yon. No doubt about it! The trees know it’s time to prepare for the Winter Sleep despite how staunchly Lady Summer insists otherwise.

     Tina peeked out from the rusty piece of metal she’d been taking shelter under the past several days. And mind you, it’s been several days of misery and regret. She was dirty, hungry and bereft of heart.

     At Underground Warehouse you may recall, where she’d been sent by Miss Winklesnout to get some thread and a bag of thistledown, she’d overheard a conversation between Mr. Mosley, the barter-clerk, and a stranger, an older gentleman-mouse. He spoke of some of her former neighbors from her very-own home-area. She could hardly believe her ears! 

     Maybe some of my family is still alive, she reasoned. Maybe I could follow him back home and find out. I might be able to live with them and be h-o-m-e!

     So without further thought, she placed the box of buttons she’d brought to barter with, on Mr. Mosley’s counter, then scurried off, bag of thistledown bumping along behind her, to catch up with said gentleman-mouse. Fortunately he wasn’t too speedy on his feet, and it didn’t take her long to find him.

     The plan was to maintain secrecy since she didn’t know this gentleman, so she stayed a fair distance behind, darting in behind a fern, or slipping in at the back a tree whenever he looked over his shoulder. 

     Remarkably, he was heading in the same direction as Miss Winklesnout’s cottage, so Tina was able to ditch the bag of thistledown near the schoolmarm’s front path. For just an instant, Tina felt bad. Yes, Miss Winklesnout was waiting anxiously for the thistledown, but she would also be worried about Tina’s whereabouts. And truly, she’d been nothing but kind and loving, and Tina knew this was not a kind thing to do in return—just walk off and not tell anyone where she was going, but it had all happened so fast, the opportunity to find home again and all.

     She quickly tucked the bag under a broadleaf so the breeze wouldn’t send it tumbling off into the woods, but let the edge peek out a bit in the hopes Miss Winklesnout would find it. Then quickly she scampered off to find the gentleman-mouse again. 

     They traveled into Big Woods, and it wasn’t long before there were familiar signs of home. Who knew she’d been so close all along! As soon as she had her bearings, she abandoned the chase, and turned in the direction of home. H-O-M-E! She could hardly contain herself! I’m almost home!

     What a shock to see what had once been the front door now just a pile of debris, the area once so carefully swept and cleared, now overgrown with weeds. She pulled and tugged at shards of wood, thick stems and stones until she was able to step into a more open area—their former front room. There was evidence of Mama’s stove, some overturned cooking pots, a shredded piece of fabric that had once covered their sofa, but no sign of life. 

     She called, first in a tentative, quiet voice, “Mama?  Papa? Where are you-u-u?”


     Then she wailed. “Ma-a-a-m-a-a-a!  Please come back…”

     She sank to the ground, sobs ripped through her, her little body convulsed. She cried out the months of bewilderment and unrelenting loss. Weeping herself into exhaustion, she finally fell asleep there in the debris of what had once been home and loving family.
     In the darkness, she awoke to the sound of scratching, the all-too-familiar sound of enemy-searching-for-prey. Confused at her whereabouts, she froze, listening, then remembered. Terror gripped. Whatever had taken her family must've come back to get her now… and she’d foolishly put herself right into harm’s way. 

     Tucking herself further back into the destroyed room, she took refuge under a pile of rubble. Sure enough, a large paw reached in through the opening, claws extended, ominously scratching about for anything edible. It was pitch black and Tina could only hear and imagine the worst, but she huddled deeper behind the rubble and waited. 

     After a time, the scratching ceased. And still she waited. She remembered Papa’s warnings, when she’d been very small, about the enemy waiting silently for the prey to make a move. Then he’d pounce and it would be all over.

     She didn’t move. Not until daylight. A ray of sun peeked through the open doorway, and little by little she crept through the remains of home, finding her way out into the fresh air again. She kept hidden, darting from leaf to shrub, driven now to find her way back to The Village and safety. 

     She walked and walked; her tummy grumbled with hunger, so she stopped and found a berry to eat. She hadn’t eaten since the previous day at Miss Winklesnout’s!  It was the best tasting berry she’d had in a long time, but she ate in trepidation knowing that whatever lurked in the area last night, was likely lurking still.

     And then it began to rain. Just like that! The sun had been shining so beautifully, but storm clouds came up and now it was pouring. She knew there were underground tunnels here too, near home, but she was too far from there now. So she’d sheltered under this rusty old piece of metal, made a small dug-out beneath it, and waited. 

     When the rain abated slightly, she’d scampered out and picked two more berries, bringing them back into her little dug-out as the torrent began again in earnest.

     I’ll just wait out the storm here, she reasoned, and then I’ll find my way back to The Village. She couldn’t yet call it home…

     But the rain continued... and this will too.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Tina Goes Missing...

August 31, 2015
     It’s a steamy ninety degrees out on BackPorch today and oh, did I mention humidity? A quick trek out to water the greenery and hangers left me red-cheeked and puffing—me and steamy don’t mix well you see. Yup, I’d say Sultry Summer is hanging on tight despite a taste of autumn just a couple days ago.
     School has started in The Village. On the first day, Miss Winklesnout stood at the entrance of Big Rock Schoolhouse welcoming the children one-by-one as they skipped and scampered in from the woods and meadow grasses, everyone dressed in their finest—new knickers and freshly pressed shirts for the boys, colorful dresses and pinafores for the girls.
     Tina stood beside Auntie Win—her name for her new adoptive mom—and smiled her greetings to the arrivals too, but not all was well.
     You may recall that Tina’s family was tragically lost last autumn, she being the only survival of a terrible attack of some wild cats. After considerable investigation into the matter, and the conclusion that dear little Tina was indeed an orphan, the members of the School Board and some of the locals decided she would live with Miss Winklesnout permanently.
At first, the shock and upset of her situation left Tina merely grateful to be safe and well-taken care of. Miss Winklesnout was, after all, a gentle caring soul, but she was not Mama. Tina missed her home, her family—Mama, Papa, her sisters and baby brother too, but she kept the missing deep in her heart, afraid to express such thoughts for fear they’d be mistaken for unthankfulness.
     She flowed through the days and weeks, intent on being helpful, willing for whatever was asked of her. Many of the towns-people commented on her politeness, and what a wonderful boon it was to Miss Winklesnout to have such a good little girl of her own now. Some even said such things directly to Tina. She just smiled and nodded assent.
     In the wee hours of the days though, when she lay in her lovely new bunk, in her beautiful new room, with all the pretty hand-me-down dresses and things in her very own closet, she wept. Tears of anguish slipped out the sides of her eyes as she lay looking up at the ceiling, or over at the window where the pretty ruffled curtains wafted gently in the night breeze.
     “I’m a NOT a good girl…!” she berated herself. “I’m a horrible little girl. I think about awful things even when I’m being obedient. And I want to say nasty things even as I smile and go about my chores. This is NOT my home! And Miss Winklesnout is NOT my mama… she’s not even my aunt!”
     She sobbed into the pillow. “Oh Mama, Papa! Why did this have to happen to us? Why did you have to go away? Truly, will I never ever see you again?”
     When morning came, she washed the tears away, got dressed and made her bed as usual. She helped Auntie Win with the breakfast dishes, did all her chores willingly and cheerfully, and as usual, never said a word about what was in her heart.
     So it came as a complete surprise last week when she went missing.
     Miss Winklesnout sent her on an errand to Underground Warehouse for a spool of web-thread and a bag of thistle-down for the quilt she was finishing for Tina’s bed.
     “Don’t be long now, dear…” Auntie Win admonished gently. “I’ll be waiting for the thread as I’ve run out… so I can’t work on this…” she indicated the pretty pink cloud of fabric across the sofa, “…until you get back.”
    “Yes, Auntie Win… I won’t be long.”
     But noon-time came, no Tina. She’s probably met some school friends in the tunnel and the time has gotten away with her, the school marm reasoned.
     The sun rose higher in the sky, still no Tina. Suppertime came, no Tina, and Miss Winklesnout was duly concerned.
     She set out to trace the path Tina would’ve taken to get to Underground Warehouse, asking several along the way if they’d seen her. No one had.
     At Sir Fivel’s shop, Miss Winklesnout poked her head in to inquire there. “No Ma’am…” he shook his head worriedly. “I haven’t seen Tina at all today and she would’ve had to pass right by here…” He rose to step outside the shop. “Perhaps we should ask some of the other shop owners if anyone has seen her. Maybe she’s visiting with some of the children at one of them.”
     “That’s not like her though…” Miss Winklesnout commented. “She’s always so prompt and reliable… this is just not her way. She’s such a good little thing…”
     Darkness fell. No sign of Tina. The  Critter Crime Investigators were notified. Everyone knew it was possible that she’d been snatched by one of the enemies—goodness  knows, there was always some lurking about.
     “Go home, Miss Winklesnout, and leave the searching to us now…” Officer Daly urged. “You’re upset and weary now, but really there’s nothing more you can do out here. Leave the searching to us. For all you know, she may’ve come home already and she’s wondering where you are!”
     Miss Winklesnout turned to leave, though her steps were heavy with sorrow. Sir Fivel saw her and hurried to catch up.
     “Miss Winklesnout…” he called rather sharply. “Wait!”  She waited.
     “Let me escort you home, Ma’am. You shouldn’t be out after dark alone, and you don’t live far from me, so I’ll walk you to your door.”
     “Thank you, Sir…” she accepted gratefully.
     They were just about to the Milk Thistle Patch, just a scamper from Miss Winklesnout’s humble cottage, when they both noticed a lump of something light-colored just at the edge of the path.
     “What’s that!?”  the anxious lady exclaimed.
     Sir Fivel bent to investigate. “It appears to be a bag of thistle-down…” he poked at it with his cane. “Yes, Ma’am! That’s what it is. How do you suppose it got there? Someone must’ve dropped it.”
     “Ohhhhh no-o-o!” The school marm wailed.
     “What Ma’am! What’s wrong!” He rushed back to her side.
     “I sent Tina to Underground Warehouse for a bag of thistledown and some thread this morning! She’s has been there! And she came back. Something must’ve snatched her on the way home. Ohhhh! What will I do without my dear Tina!”
…To be continued.