Chapter 5; Part 3: Our Cup Runneth Over (the exceedingly overwrought continuation of Babes in the Wood, in which the young muskrat twins, after finding shelter from the storm, find solace in excelsis (with apologies to Masters & Johnson and Forever Amber (not that there's any particular reason to apologize to them (and they are strange bedfellows (and you, dear reader, may soon know how it feels to drown with them in a vat of molasses))))
The storm raged deep into the night, its torrential rains inundating the land and swelling the rivers without surcease, its gale-force winds rending dead branches and even living limbs from massive trees. Many woodland creatures got flooded out of house and home, and were forced to flee, terror-stricken, from the unrelenting blast and prodigious thunder and lightning in whatever way they could and with what few possessions they were able to salvage. For most, it was the greatest storm in living memory.
Inside the hollow oak, the muskrat twins cuddled together safe and warm in the burrow of the abandoned nest. The rain beat furiously against the tree trunk and the limbs of the mighty oak creaked eerily in the wind. Thunder crackled and boomed, causing the ground to quiver ominously. Occasional bolts of lightning cast sudden ghostly glows of pale blue-green light on the bleak interior of the old abandoned nest. Their narrow escape from almost certain death mere moments before made the old burrow seem all the cozier to the cuddling twins. Never had they taken such comfort in each other's company.
"Oh, Beauregard," Octavia sighed, "We were nearly goners!"
"We're safe now," Beauregard assured her, "We'll wait out the storm here."
"I've never been so frightened in my life!" she said with a shudder.
"You have nothing to worry about now. I'll keep you safe," he said firmly.
"I'm so glad you're here with me. I'd have perished without you," Octavia pouted forlornly.
"I -- I'd never be able to go on without you," Beauregard stammered desperately.
Lying there in the dark with the storm raging outside, Octavia began to feel a strange and unfamiliar longing grow within her. She felt an unusually warm tenderness for her twin brother and yearned to open up to him as she never had before.
Cuddled so close to her, Beauregard felt a surge of affection swell his heart to bursting with the urge to fill his twin sister with resolute courage.
As if with one mind, they drew each other closer in their embrace, and then closer still until the contours of their bodies all but merged.
"Do you remember during big storms when we used to climb into bed with Mama and Papa?" Octavia asked softly.
"It always felt so safe, didn't it?" Beauregard replied in barely more than a whisper.
"This feels even safer," Octavia offered.
"It feels even better too," Beauregard ventured.
"So much better. Why haven't we ever been together this way before?" she inquired tenderly.
"I don't know. You don't suppose it might be wrong to be together this way, do you?" he probed tentatively.
"How could it possibly be wrong when it feels so right?!" she moaned breathlessly.
And with that, the young muskrat twins gently rocked each other off to dreamland.
Heaving and swaying with a dreadful fury, bespattered and drenched to the last nook and cranny, their supple limbs straining against the terrible breath of the tempest, the forest trees presented a spectacle of the fearsome power of the storm to Papa Muskrat as he made his way cautiously toward the Dismal Dell in the Ghastly Grove out on the Peninsula of Peril. He was beginning to weary of getting pelted by the rain and buffeted by the wind. In these conditions, he could hardly tell how far he'd come or exactly where he was. Exhausted, he paused briefly in the lee of a large oak to try to get his bearings.
As he peered into the murky depths of the forest to search for a familiar landmark, he thought he heard a voice. Yes, he heard a faint voice calling him. Where could it be coming from? Was the storm driving him mad? There it was again - a strangely familiar voice! It was coming from the great oak he stood beside, from a large hole in the trunk. In the dim light that glowed within, he could vaguely discern a familiar silhouette. He crept closer to the hole in the tree and suddenly the voice became quite clear.
"Hector Muskrat! Good gravy on buttered toast! What the devil are you doing out there in this weather?" It was Old Snoozebag the vulture craning his great neck out from the hole in the tree. "Get in here before you succumb to the elements, you foolish rodent!" he exclaimed.
Before Papa Muskrat could quite make sense of the situation, a huge door in the side of the tree opened and he was dragged inside in the grip of giant talons and placed gently on the floor of a vast and luxurious wood paneled room encircled by a spiral staircase ascending the inner circumference of the tree into the obscure darkness high above. He stood with his sodden coat dripping on an impossibly ornate parquet floor composed of a bewildering variety of exotic woods. The great vulture closed the heavy oaken door, in which the hole in the tree formed an elegant round window with a latticed framework.
"Old Snoozebag, what are you doing here?" was all Papa Muskrat could manage to ask.
"I'm enjoying a fine single malt in the privacy of my own home," he explained in a leisurely cadence, his head bobbing slightly and his glazed eyes gazing into some unseen distance. He was drunk as a lord. "The question is, what are you doing out there in such godforsaken weather?" He asked, wrapping a big cotton towel around Papa Muskrat. The great bird, dressed in a maroon satin smoking jacket with black velvet lapels and the sash tied with a stylish abandon, towered over the large rodent.
Before Papa Muskrat could explain, Old Snoozebag said, "For heaven's sake, come join me for a drink and dry off for a spell." Saying this, he led the still-marveling muskrat through the gothic arch of a massive passageway that opened into a cavernous wine cellar stocked with a prodigious quantity of ancient, dusty bottles, opposite which stood an enormous bar made entirely of some long-extinct hardwood. Muttering all the way about how glad he was that he'd had storm windows installed the previous summer, the great vulture showed Papa Muskrat to an adjacent lounge with large brown leather armchairs and gestured for him to sit.
"Chauncey, two more glasses of scotch," he addressed these words to a younger vulture in blue-grey livery who was standing behind the bar.
"The Speyside, sir?" the younger vulture asked in a distant and disinterested voice.
"That will be fine."
"Naturally," Old Snoozebag replied. Then turning to Papa Muskrat, asked, "You do drink yours neat, don't you?"
"You mean straight up? Hell, yeah - I mean, why yes, of course," replied Papa Muskrat, in a somewhat feeble attempt to appear at least somewhat refined.
Chauncey brought two tumblers filled about a third of the way with the tawny single malt. Old Snoozebag raised his glass in a toast.
"To a carcass!" he chanted in a mellifluous baritone. "Ah, there's naught so glorious as a carcass!" he added exuberantly, his eyes suddenly gleaming.
"Uh, to a, um, a carcass," said Papa Muskrat hesitantly. He found mere thought of a carcass, not to mention the old vulture's enthusiasm quite disconcerting. He took a gulp of the whiskey.
"I must take you on a tour of the catacombs - ah, the lovely catacombs, so redolent of death and decay . . . But you don't seem terribly thrilled by the prospect of a carcass," Old Snoozebag observed.
"Christ, no - I mean, to tell the truth, not really," Papa Muskrat replied. Since he'd managed to get a word in edgewise, he continued, "The reason I was out in this fucking nasty weather - I mean, this awfully nasty weather - is that my children are lost and I was out looking for them."
"Lost? In this weather? Oh my! I certainly hope nothing terrible has happened to them," the old vulture sympathized.
"You mean you aren't hoping they show up as carcasses?" asked Papa Muskrat tensely.
"Goodness gracious, no!" Old Snoozebag replied. "When I toast to a carcass, what I have in mind is a nice deer or moose - oh, how a dream of a fresh moose carcass!" he mused wistfully. "This storm is sure to turn up a few fine carcasses, but I don't much relish anything as small as a muskrat - the way the tiny bones get stuck in your throat, it's so unpleasant. Any carcass that small is strictly for the crows," he explained.
The thought was of scant consolation to Papa Muskrat. "Old Fox said he'd caught a whiff of them alive in the Dismal Dell in the Ghastly Grove out on the Peninsula of Peril."
"Wonderfully dreary place, that, but no place for young muskrats in weather like this. It's a wonder Old Fox didn't eat them."
"He was headed home with a fresh kill at the time."
"That was a stroke of luck."
"It sure as hell was. Anyway, could you give me directions to the Dismal Dell?" Papa Muskrat asked hopefully.
"Well, certainly. I can even take you up into the aerie and show you where it is, but stay here a while longer. We can have another drink, and perhaps I could read to you from my favorite author, Poe. The Cask of Amontillado would be just the story to accompany a drink," Old Snoozebag offered.
"That's damned nice - I mean, very nice of you, but I can't fucking relax - um, can't very well relax until I know those kids are safe," Papa Muskrat stammered.
"Well, if I were you, I wouldn't be quite so anxious. If your children have even half of your swamp-smarts, they'll have taken shelter in a hollow tree. You can't swing a cat carcass in the Dismal Dell without hitting a hollow tree. Besides, even if you were to go out there and find them, you'd have to try to get them home safely without getting hit by flying debris or running into a dastardly rogue badger or something even worse. For lord's sake, be sensible. Don't get yourself and them killed trying to be a bloody hero. Stay here and have another drink," Old Snoozebag admonished.
"Hell, I guess you're right, Old Snoozebag," Papa Muskrat conceded.
"Please Hector, we're on a first-name basis here. Call me Terence," the old vulture said.
"Your name is Terence?" Papa Muskrat asked stupidly.
"I wouldn't ask you to call me that if it weren't," the old vulture remarked wryly. "Shall we go up to the aerie and see if we can spot the Dismal Dell?" he continued.
"What the hell?" said Papa Muskrat, beginning to feel tipsy. "Just think, a bird's eye view of the whole goddamned forest!"
Will the dark and stormy night ever end? Will Papa Muskrat find the twins in time? Will Old Snoozebag find the moose carcass he dreams of? And what of Mama Muskrat? Don't touch that dial!