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Arthur's Tale

By Joan W.

 

Adventurous – that was the only way he could describe himself. Born into a family of five, he wanted to see the world at an early age, and at eight months old left home.

 

When it came time to leave the kit, he was content in the fact that he could take care of himself. Saying goodbye to his mother was difficult and made him sad as he nuzzled his black nose against hers. He would always remember her scent, and turning toward the wide-open expanse, he trotted quickly away before he could change his mind. There would be no turning back now.

 

The park was a large place, acres and acres of lush green grass, flowerbeds, fountains, ponds, and trashcans that dotted the landscape. This is where his mother taught him to forage for food during their nightly raids. Humans would often leave such delectable goodies, half-eaten sandwiches, fruit, and his absolute favorite – ice cream cones.

 

He was getting hungry, and after travelling for about an hour, he climbed up the next wire mesh trash bin he spotted, throwing out papers and other refuse. There, in the bottom of the bin he spied the remnants of a hot dog bun. Clutching the edge with sharp hind claws, he hung down, reaching in as far as possible. Little did he know that a predator approached on silent wings, the owl swooping down with a sudden screech. Startled, he lost his foothold, falling headlong into the trash bin. Trapped and injured, cut on broken glass, he whimpered.

 

The owl tried to dive after him, but her wings were much too large and she faltered. Undaunted, she kept trying.

 

“Shoo!” a human shouted, running and waving his arms in a frantic attempt to discourage the attacker.

 

The owl flew away into the night. Hunkered over the container above him his rescuer’s face came into full view. Looking up he saw locks of dark blond hair, soft brown eyes, and a lopsided grin.

 

“Help you,” the voice said gently, as the container was tipped on its side. Waddling out of it, he staggered woozily, wanting to run and hide. But he couldn’t move forward, his legs were weak, and his vision blurred. “Hey, you’re hurt…” was the last sound he heard before he lost all awareness.

 

****

 

Rarely did Father curse. “Where in the blue blazes did you find this raccoon?” he sputtered, carefully stitching closed the wounds on the unconscious raccoon’s head.

 

“Up top, the park.” Mouse replied.

 

“I do hope you realize that it will be returning Above as soon as we are finished here?” Father questioned with a stern glance over the wire-rimmed spectacles perched on the end of his nose.

 

Mouse knew there was no use discussing it, as Father had strict rules about not keeping pets in the tunnels. Pleadingly, he looked to Vincent for help.

 

Remembering the secret pet that he himself had once kept from Father, Vincent’s heart softened. “Father, don’t you think that it would be wise to allow the raccoon to stay until it recovers?”

 

“No, I most certainly do not! You know why we don’t allow animals down here – it’s disruptive and unsanitary.”

Trying another tactic, Vincent debated, “Raccoons are very clean animals.  Besides, mending its wounds might prove to be useless if we take it Above now.  What if the owl returns?  Please, let it stay until it can defend itself and then we will set it free. You have my word. ”

 

Father quietly deliberated and finally relented. “Only until it’s able to walk. Not a moment more! And for goodness sake, keep it out of sight and away from the children.”

 

“Yes Father,” Vincent answered solemnly, but wondered if he would be able to keep that promise when it came time to letting the raccoon go. Experience had taught him that when a person cared for a pet they quickly became attached.

 

Looking over at his young friend, whose mournful expression had suddenly changed, told him that it just might be a problem.

 

****

 

Tapping, he heard tapping. Waking groggily the young raccoon lay on a folded quilt in a strange room which was filled with fluid containers that bubbled. Lights glowed eerily here and there in the cave-like chamber. He stood sniffing the air, hoping to gain some sense of his whereabouts, and taking a small step fell flat on his nose.

 

“Careful!” a familiar voice said, nearing.

 

Rolling to his side, the raccoon recognized the human.

 

“You were hurt. Brought you here.” The young man spoke quietly. “Name’s Mouse,” he said, pointing to himself.

The human was unusual, showing such tender concern. People could be cruel, and sometimes treated the raccoon population in the park as a nuisance, setting traps to capture them – or worse.

 

Although dizzy, he finally managed to sit upright. The young man came closer and sat down on the stone floor.

 

“Hungry?”  Mouse asked, offering several sections of fruit in his out-stretched hand.

 

The citrusy smell of the orange made his nose twitch, and quickly snatching the proffered treat, he devoured it whole, causing Mouse to laugh.  It was impossible not to like this gentle human who had saved his life.

 

After eating, exhaustion took its toll. Mouse must have felt the same, as he went to lie down on a pallet in one corner of the room. That bed looked so soft and inviting, and slowly he inched his way toward the now still form. The being’s eyes were shut, and his chest rose and fell in a peaceful rhythm.  Curling up near Mouse’s feet, it wasn’t long before his eyes closed in slumber as well.

 

****

 

He awoke alone in the chamber. Mouse was gone so he decided to go exploring. He moved out of the room and through a winding maze of tunnels and heard voices – sweet intriguing sounds. Finding their source was easy thanks to his keen sense of hearing. Curious, he entered the chamber and stopped abruptly in the midst of many tiny humans who stood staring at him. Suddenly surrounded by noisy chatter, and a sea of children’s faces, he was bewildered and frightened.

 

“Is that a raccoon?” a chorus of young voices asked of their teacher, whose eyes had widened with shock and disbelief.

 

“Children please take your seats. Michael, would you read the next chapter to the others? There is something that I must attend to.”

 

“Yes, Vincent,” Michael responded and began to read aloud.

 

****

 

The being towered above him, and looking up into Vincent’s leonine face, he trembled. Their eyes met and the bright blue gaze of the tall one, intimidating yet kind, told him that he should stay perfectly still. Without hesitation the creature bent over and picked him up, holding him firmly but gently. Before long they were back in Mouse’s chamber.

 

Setting him down on the floor, Vincent called out, “Mouse!”

 

“Ate breakfast. Here now. Looking for it. It’s gone! Where?”

 

 Mouse stepped out from behind the stone partition.

 

“Found it!” he exclaimed.

 

“Yes, he was found in the children’s classroom. They have seen him and when Father finds out…”

 

“Mouse won’t tell.”

 

Vincent shook his head in exasperation.

 

“I’m sorry, but we must keep our promise and take the raccoon Above tonight. Please make certain that you watch him closely until I return, and then we will take him home.”

 

After Vincent left, Mouse sat down looking very forlorn.

 

“Home,” he repeated sadly. “Want you to stay. Mouse is alone. No brothers, no sisters, no parents.   Lonesome...” Tears gathered in his eyes and spilled down his cheeks.

 

Something about Mouse’s tears touched his heart. Instinct told him this was no ordinary human being, and this was no ordinary place. He waddled a few steps to the young man and climbed onto his lap. Mouse stroked the soft gray-brown fur lightly and cried.

 

Humans weren’t so bad after all, and this one needed him.

 

****

 

Under an old elm tree, they released the raccoon. It was nearly midnight and the park was quiet. “Goodbye…miss you.” Mouse said softly.

 

Vincent put his arm around his friend’s sagging shoulders, a measure of comfort, aware of the pain he was suffering. Together they turned and walked away.

 

****

 

The familiar scent of his mother and siblings hung in the air, and he followed it until he found them. They greeted each other playfully. After communicating to his mother all that had happened since his departure, she told him that if he felt comfortable living among humankind, it was acceptable to her. Thankful for her blessing, he nuzzled her and said farewell, knowing that he would see her again soon.

 

Returning the way previously travelled, he entered the tunnels, and went directly to Mouse’s chamber. The young man was lying on his palate sniffling and didn’t hear him approach. He chirred and chittered loudly in order to get his attention before racing toward the bed. Mouse quickly turned at the sound.

 

“You came home!”

 

Their reunion was a happy one, and this time Mouse cried tears of joy.

 

****

 

Going to Mouse’s chamber to check on him, Vincent happened to overhear an exuberant shout. Worried that something was amiss, he hurried through the entrance, and what he saw made him smile. Mouse sat atop his bed cradling his wayward pet and was humming to it. The animal’s eyes were peacefully closed.

 

He knew what he must do next…

 

****

 

Reading his latest medical journal, the patriarch of the tunnels appeared to be deep in thought.

 

“Father, may I come in? I don’t wish to disturb you, but there is something that I need to discuss with you,” Vincent said as he entered the room.

 

“By all means, come in. Did you and Mouse return the animal to the park?”

 

“Yes. That’s what I would like to speak with you about.”

 

“Tell me. Is there a problem?”

 

Vincent nodded. “I’m afraid there is. We took the raccoon to the park as promised, but it has returned to the tunnels on its own.”

 

“Then you should take it farther away so that it can’t find its way back here!”

 

“Mouse has grown very fond of that raccoon and it was painful for him to say goodbye. For the past several months he’s been rather melancholy, even Mary and Jamie have noticed his sadness. I think he’s lonely. The prospect of having a pet seemed to alleviate some of that loneliness.”

 

“Well you know our rules concerning pets down here.”

 

“Regardless, we should take Mouse’s feelings into consideration…”

 

Father waggled his index finger in the air. “No, we simply cannot allow pets in the tunnels!”

 

Vincent paced back and forth, hesitant to reveal an undisclosed truth from his past.

 

“I am going to tell you something that I should have told you long ago. When I was growing up, in my adolescence, I secretly kept a pet. A pet mouse, I called her Juliet. She stayed with me for almost three years, and during that difficult time in my life, helped ease some of the loneliness, pain, and the loss that I felt. Caring for her gave me a great sense of purpose.”

 

Father’s mouth was agape as he sat in stunned silence.

 

“I am truly sorry that I kept it from you Father, but please try to understand… There is such value in caring for and loving a pet, in having one. Juliet taught me responsibility and what it is to love unconditionally. I know all about the rules, but sometimes we need to overlook them. Please, won’t you think about Mouse’s feelings, his well-being? That is all I ask.” Kissing the top of Father’s head he whispered, “Goodnight, sleep well.”

 

****

 

Father had listened. A meeting took place, and the Tunnel Council decided that Mouse’s raccoon could stay. The news spread rapidly throughout the tunnels. A party was planned to welcome the newest tunnel member into the community. The children spent many hours making and sending out invitations. They decorated the Music Chamber in a beautiful Fall theme with pumpkins, gourds, leaves and brightly colored straw flowers. William prepared a magnificent feast while the musicians tuned their instruments and practiced their lively melodies.

 

That night during the festivities, a hush fell over the crowd and an announcement was made. Vincent spoke in a loud, clear voice. “Mouse has chosen a name for his pet raccoon and has asked me to relate to everyone its significance. A few of you are aware that Mouse loves the tales of King Arthur and Camelot.  The Once and Future King was the first book I read to him. In honor of Mouse’s hero, he has given the name…”

 

“Arthur!” a beaming Mouse proclaimed proudly, cuddling his pet closely for all to see.  A thunderous round of applause filled the room. Soon after, the musicians began to play.  

 

William, intent upon restocking the dessert table, found it empty. Puzzled he said to Vincent, “I just don’t understand it - last I knew this table held five plates of cookies. How could they have disappeared so fast?”

 

Looking up, Vincent caught sight of a small figure exiting the room dragging something behind him. He said to William, “I believe I’ve found your culprit.” 

 

****

 

Pulling the heavy sack down the tunnel corridor toward their chamber, Arthur, The Cookie Bandit, chittered happily to himself. Yes, oh yes, this was going to be a great place to have an adventure.

 

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