Chapter 5; Part 2: Babes in the Wood (the extremely protracted continuation of The Dark and Stormy Night, in which the young muskrat twins find refuge from the storm and then solace (with apologies to Mother Goose and Beatrix Potter (really sincere, abject apologies (I really mean it))) The rain fell slowly at first, in large, sharp, stinging drops, like icy darts hurled from on high. The drops fell more rapidly, until they grew into a raging torrent, its massive sheets of rain swept this way and that by a howling wind. Woodland creatures for miles around gathered what provisions they could and scurried to their nests to burrow in for the long storm. Lost in the depths of the woods, the muskrat twins clung to one another, quivering in fear and only occasionally peering out at the sinister forms around them. Though their waterproof coats shielded them from the rain, the moaning and sobbing of the wind through the trees chilled them to the bone. Wet leaves swept up by the wind plastered themselves to the young muskrats' coats until they were very nearly burried. Suddenly Beauregard felt a fear that was more real than imaginary -- the fear of predators -- and all at once he steeled his courage and galvanized his resolve. "Come Octavia, we must seek shelter," he said heroically. "I'm scared," said Octavia, stating the obvious. As he looked around them for a refuge from the terrible tempest, a sudden bolt of lightning illuminated a mighty oak with a hollow hole in its trunk. He peeled the sodden leaves from around their freezing feet. "Come on, let's take shelter inside that hollow tree," said Beauregard. "I'm too scared to move," Octavia cried. "Don't you see? If we don't get to safety, we'll die out here !" Beauregard admonished. "Come on!" He made a dash for the tree, dragging his terrified sister behind him. The hole was at just the right height that they could climb into it easily. They scrambled in without thinking that it might already be occupied. The hole was deeper inside than they had expected, and they tumbled a short distance into what appeared to be an old abandoned nest of some sort. Though pitch dark, it seemed fairly roomy. The scent had completely disappeared along with any furnishings, but there was a cozy burrow sheltered from the raindrops that found their way into the hollow. The twins curled up together in the burrow for warmth. "We'll be safe here," said Beauregard. "We could have died out there!" Octavia exclaimed. "Everything's going to be fine now," Beauregard comforted her. "We'll wait till the storm blows over and then we'll find our way home." "My hero," Octavia cooed. ******************* Papa Muskrat was at the door to his lodge about to go out to look for his children, muttering under his breath about the outcome of the game. "Hector, aren't you going to put on your raincoat and galoshes?" Mama Muskrat asked. "For god's sake, we're muskrats. We have waterproof coats and webbed hind feet. What the fucking hell do we need goddamned raincoats and galoshes for?" "But Hector, even in this weather there's no reason not to look your best," Mama Muskrat chided. "For the love o' christ, Myrtle . . ." "What did you just call me?" "Listen, Florence . . ." "WHAT???" "Oh, christ on a pony, Sabrina we don't have time for. . ." "That's it! That's the last straw! I'm not going to stand here and let you recite the names of all my female relations! My name is Agnes . . . AGNES!" Mama Muskrat was livid. "Now go out there and find our children!" They glared at each other for a moment. Then, without saying a word, Papa Muskrat turned to leave. "There's one more thing," Mama Muskrat said. Her tone had changed completely. "Frank, I'm worried. Octavia will be coming into heat soon -- it could happen any day -- and I'm just worried that the twins might . . . well . . . get ideas." "Christ almighty, Agnes, we're muskrats. It's not like that sort of thing never happens -- assuming they're even safe. And my name's not Frank. It's Hector . . . HECTOR! You're a fine one to talk." With that, Papa Muskrat turned abruptly and left, slamming the door behind him. ********************** Mama Muskrat was beside herself. Between worrying about the twins and fuming over her husband's infidelities she did not know whether to sit down or bake a cake. She flipped through the pages of one of her glamor magazines impulsively. "So, he's been seeing that little tramp Sabrina, has he? That little slut's had litters with every mustkrat in the whole swamp and now she has the nerve to bring her whoring up to the lake! We'll see how far she gets with that." Mama Muskrat flung down her magazine and turned on the weather channel. A very serious looking hawk was interviewing a seagull, who was saying, "I was out riding thermals with a group of mixed species, when all of a sudden you could just feel the pressure drop, you know, the way it does when a huge nor'easter is about to blow in. Well, we all just looked at one another thinking 'I sure don't want to be at this altitude when this thing hits.'" "Thank you Shrimp-boat Willie. This is Kirk Wingman reporting live. Back to you Trent," said the hawk. "Thank you Kirk. The Flighted Birds' Association has grounded all flights until further notice. Only emergency flights to rescue downed fledglings are being permitted. Stay tuned for the woodlands and lakes report. This has been Trent Eagleton reporting." Mama Muskrat's thoughts began to drift. She had always dreamed of being a princess and living in a palace with a handsome prince, but the cold, hard reality was that she was a muskrat. The closest she would ever come to being a princess was this palacial beaver lodge on the lake. Hector had repossessed it from a bunch of young ne'er-do-well beavers who had been squatting in the lodge after chasing out a couple of aging pensioners. The young beavers had tried to get their revenge by gnawing down a nearby larch in an attempt to destroy the lodge entirely, but being maladroit at everything, the beavers dropped the tree to the upstream side of the lodge, and this tree had trapped so much debris during the spring flood that it had reinforced the upstream side of the lodge and provided enough extra material for a large addition the following summer. Hector was a good provider. In spite of being from one of the roughest parts of the swamp, he had always cut a dashing figure. Mama Muskrat had been the envy of all the girls when she'd paired with Papa Muskrat during her first heat, and though she still adored him, she was secretly ashamed of his coarse manners and language. If only he still respected her, she sighed. You could take the muskrat out of the swamp, but couldn't take the swamp out of the muskrat. Still, he was by far the handsomest muskrat in the entire Greater Woodland and Marsh area. It was his gypsy eyes that made all the ladies swoon. ************************ Papa Muskrat ventured out into the dark and stormy night, walking briskly through the driving rain as if out for a Sunday stroll. Though few circumstances penetrated his tough facade, he had to admit that this was the biggest storm he had ever seen. He wondered if it was as big as the famous '79 nor'easter. The legend of that storm had been passed down for generations among the woodland creatures. Where other creatures would have feared to be out in these conditions, it gave Papa Muskrat a thrill to be witnessing the storm's awesome power first-hand. As he sauntered into the woods, he began to mull over the scene he had just left. "That goddamned woman and her goddamned high-society pretentions! She already lives in the finest lodge in the best part of the lake, she acts like a goddamned princess -- for christ's sake, the damned shoe closet I built her is as big as most muskrats' entire lodges -- and still, she's got the goddamned gaul to nag me the way she does. 'Hector, fix that leak. Hector, take out the trash. Hector, mind your language . . .' Is it any wonder I see other women? She drives me to it. Oh, shit-on-a-stick, I just had to go and mention Sabrina! What the hell was I thinking? I wasn't thinking, that's the problem. Damn, but that Sabrina's one fine piece of muskrat ass! 'Hector, Octavia's coming into heat and her brother might screw her.' Damn, she's such a fine little thing, if I were her brother I'd hit it." Thus, his thoughts ran as he scurried through the woods trying to pick up the scent of his children. Suddenly, he caught sight of a shadowy figure, head and tail down, trotting through the woods at that gait typical of long-distance travel. It was carrying something large in its mouth. Stealthily, Papa Muskrat drew near the mysterious form. It was Old Fox! Papa Muskrat's blood ran cold to think it might be one of his children Old Fox was carrying in his mouth. "Hey, Old Fox," Papa Muskrat called out sharply. Old Fox slowed his gait as he turned, then stopped. Without dropping the creature in his mouth, he said, "Well, there, Swamp Bunny. What brings you out to the woods on a night like tonight?" His upper-crust accent, clear enunciation and measured diction, though not affected, seemed a deliberate attempt to taunt Papa Muskrat. "I could ask you the same," Papa Muskrat shot back. "Well, even though I asked first, I'll tell you," Old Fox said, his tone dripping condescension. "I was in hot pursuit of a quarry -- he'd turned down an invitation to dinner when I'd asked politely. He was quite sporting about getting chased down and having his spinal column snapped, I'll give him that. Put me to quite a long chase too. Just at the point I apprehended him, this big nor'easter blew in. Now, Swamp Bunny, what would bring you out tonight?" "So, what the hell did you catch, anyway?" asked Papa Muskrat anxiously. "Goodness, gracious! You might at least accord me the courtesy of a civil conversation, since you've seen fit to detain me on my way home to dinner -- and in this abominable weather! Now would you kindly tell me what brings you out on a night like tonight? -- not that it's of any consequence to me." "The missus sent me out on a little errand -- damned nagging bitch. At least she let me finish watching the big game -- Otters kicked the Beavers' asses! They won in a penalty kick in overtime . . ." "I do not have time to listen to lengthy digressions about your low-brow pursuits!" Old Fox exclaimed impatiently. "And if they won on a penalty kick during overtime, doesn't that mean it was the tie-breaker? Not exactly applying a well-heeled boot to their posteriors, which I believe is the gist of that swamp bunny phrase you used." "God-fucking-dammit, Fox, what's that you've got in your mouth?" Papa Muskrat demanded, stung by Fox's remark about the game. "Ah!" said Old Fox, catching on. A vulpine gleam glinted in his eyes. "Let me guess. The missus sent you out to search for your lost children." "Pretty damned smart of you to figure that out right away," Papa Muskrat said, attempting a scathing retort. "Would you happen to have seen them, perchance?" he asked, mocking Old Fox's mannerisms. "Well, well, Swamp Bunny, you seem to be cultivating some decent manners after all." "For fuck's sake, stop calling me 'Swamp Bunny'! I'm a muskrat, goddammit! And if that's one of my children you've got in your damned drooling maw . . ." "My, my, what colorful language! And no, what I have in between my jaws is a nice, juicy hare. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get it back home to my children. They do so enjoy eating the eyeballs while they're still warm." Old Fox turned and began to trot off. "Goddammit-all, Fox, wait!!" Papa Muskrat called out in desperation. Without breaking his stride, Old Fox turned sharply and trotted straight up until the still-twitching hare was right in front of Papa Muskrat's nose. Old Fox was glowering. In hushed and pointed tones indicative of extreme exasperation, he said, "Listen, Swamp Bunny, I've had the decency to attempt to engage in civil conversation with you, though you've scarcely got the brains or breeding to reciprocate the courtesy. Now, my patience is at an end. I'll give you one more question. It had better be a good one and to the point. And keep a civil tongue in your mouth, or I'll be inviting you for dinner too -- and I won't accept 'no' for an answer!" Papa Muskrat was somewhat taken aback but not intimidated. He was ready to fight to the death if Old Fox suddenly turned on him. "Fox, as one father to another," he appealed, "did you happen to catch the scent of my children in your perambulations?" "Well said, Swamp Bunny, well said, and yes, in fact, I did, though it was quite some time ago. It was in the Dismal Dell in the Ghastly Grove out on the Peninsula of Peril. I was on my way home with this tasty hare and couldn't be bothered to hunt down a couple of scrawny young swamp bunnies, but judging from the scent, they were alive. Now, Swamp Bunny, I bid you adieu!" Fox turned and began to trot off, then looked back and said, "Oh, and thank you ever so much for refraining from profanity for an entire sentence!" With that, he disappeared into the bleak and murky darkess of the raging storm. Stay tuned for the spine-tingling adventures of the next insertion -- errr -- installment.