By Jenny Kalahar
Rudy, busily dunking his breakfast into the rainwater that had puddled within the hollow of a fallen tree, hadn’t noticed that he was being watched. When he’d finished his meal and had rinsed his paws, he sat on a mossy clearing to sniff the greenly fragrant air of the woods. He often did so after eating, making sure that he was safe to relax in his favorite sunny-morning spot until his belly didn’t feel as full, and until he was ready to settle into his workday routine again.
It was in that moment that Rudy noticed the scent of another raccoon. He scanned the trees, lush woodland floor, and fallen logs, but he couldn’t spot anyone nearby except for a pudgy red-breasted robin who was perched upon a low branch overhead.
“Hullo! Hullo!” Rudy called loudly for the mysterious, unseen raccoon. “Is there someone there?” He stepped closer to the source of the scent. After he heard a faint rustling, he spied a tiny brown-gray raccoon who was timidly peeking out from under a large, brambly blackberry bush. She had soft, rounded ears, a shiny black nose, and a dainty mask surrounding happy-looking dark eyes. She seemed to be all alone under that bush, and she looked very frightened.
“Dear dear dear and tush tush!” said Rudy in a kindly way. “Come come come out from under there. I won’t hurt you, little one.”
But the tiny raccoon stayed where she was, shivering, with one paw clutching a ripe, messy blackberry. She eventually shook her masked head, refusing to leave the shelter of the bush.
“Wherever wherever is your mother? You are far too little to be out in the big woods all by yourself,” said Rudy. He stepped closer and sniffed for the scent of any other raccoons, hoping that she wasn’t really fending for herself at such a young age.
After a few deep breaths, the tiny raccoon ate her berry, leaned forward on her front paws, and declared, “I’m old enough to be by myself. Mama said so. My brothers and sister left the den a few days ago. My sister is way bigger than me, so I guess I’m just always going to be littler. My brother called me a ‘runt’ once. Mama gave him a hard look for saying so, and I wasn’t told what a runt is when I asked later.”
Rudy smiled. “I was once a runt, too. It’s just a way to say that a kit or pup or what-have-you is the smallest of his mother’s babies.”
“Oh. But, wait! You were one, too?”
“I was, I was. When my own mother pushed me from the den I was much smaller than my brothers.”
The little raccoon walked closer to Rudy and then sat on the top of a fallen log so she could talk at eye level to her new acquaintance. “What did you do once you were out on your own?”
“I tried to stick close to my brothers for a few days, but one morning they weren’t around when I woke up. They were simply simply gone. I found various nuts and things to eat and stayed hidden in the hollows of old trees, under ivies and under bushes. And I was generally generally scared quite a lot.”
“I’m scared quite a lot, too,” she admitted.
“And then I met an older raccoon. His name is Mike. He’s still roaming these woods, he is. Anyway, Mike found me hiding in a tree hollow one evening. He took me home with him and kept me warm through the night. The next day he helped me to catch bugs, and the next he taught me how to fish. He told me oodles of old stories about the woodsy animals who lived around here many a many a long time ago—stories about bats and rats, mice and deer, rabbits and skunks. After many weeks of eating fish, bug, nuts and berries I got every bit as big as Mike, and we didn’t fit together in his burrow anymore. So, off I went on my own, no longer a runt and as knowledgeable about life on my own as any raccoon could possibly be. What you need to do, little one, is to find yourself a kindly, smart and caring raccoon like Mike to take you in.”
Rudy turned to leave, heading toward his sunny-morning spot near the creek so that he could sleep off his breakfast at last. He was just settling into his nest of soft ferns, leaves, and moss when the little raccoon bounded up beside him. Rudy watched her eyes as they changed from looking scared to questioning to hopeful.
With a nod, Rudy raised himself up a bit, moved over, and then nodded with a wink. The little raccoon happily turned around and around three times before snuggling up against Rudy with a contented sigh.
“Little one, little one, has anyone ever told you the tale of a book-reading bat who lived around here long ago? No? Well, you see, there was once a bat who liked to read storybooks while hanging quite upside down during the day when he should have been sleeping …”
Jenny Kalahar, her husband Patrick, and their pets live in Indiana where she sells used and rare books and writes novels and poetry. She is the author of a fantasy novel about teens stuck with the worst-ever magical power,This Peculiar Magic. Her two novels about fostering cats are Shelve Under C: A Tale of Used Books and Cats, andThe Find of a Lifetime. Her collection of nostalgic and humorous poetry is One Mile North of Normal and Other Poems. For more, visit her blog.
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