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.