Started: 12-24-12, 10:49 PM
Finished: 12-27-12, 11:08 PM
by Tooie Kangaroo
The Lost Child
It was one of the many school days in Cottontail Pines, and whether the children wanted to or not, they would all have to leave their comfortable homes and walk the cobblestone path to Oak Pass. This is where Mister Hooty the owl would spend his time teaching all the young animals everything they would need to know in life.
His lesson plans were not often orderly, and the students usually never knew what they would be learning about until they arrived. It was in this way that the wise owl could teach them what was largest on his mind at any given time. To some of the animals, this was a very exciting way of learning, but to others, it could be frustrating.
It had been a very lovely summertime in Cottontail Pines, and Mister Hooty had been bringing up the Great Forest as of late. Cottontail Pines was a secluded village that was surrounded by a large field which was then surrounded by a large forest. Both the field and forest were off limits without supervision, but it was still important to the community because of their many resources.
The real problem about the forest was a particular nasty wolf named Fang. He was known to be rather vicious when it came to poor, unescorted travelers; however, Mister Hooty always made sure that no one would have to walk through the large field without assistance. He was very honorably accepted as the leader of Cottontail Pines for his ability to organize its safety so well.
Once in a while, the owl would take the children out on field trips into these dangerous areas; however, they were always accompanied by several badgers. Badgers were strong animals that were used as guardians of the happy town. Even Fang was frightened of them, and this was for good reason.
On one particular trip, a select group of children were walking about the Great Forest under the supervision of Mister Hooty and those same badgers. Among this group was Flopsy the lop-eared rabbit, Goober the timid, brown rabbit, and Blacky the grumpy skunk.
Mister Hooty watched over them carefully and mentioned, “Some of the shrubbery hereabouts have these very tiny red berries. Never eat them no matter how yummy they may look. You’ll wind up with a very unpleasant tummy ache.”
Flopsy seemed surprised. “I saw those! They really did look yummy. How can something so good-looking be so bad for you?”
Goober held up a finger and explained, “Not everything is what it seems, Flopsy. There are a lot of pretty things outside of Cottontail Pines, but not all of them are safe.”
Blacky scoffed. “I dunno what you both are yammering on about. I ate a whole bunch of those berries, and I don’t feel anything.”
Goober cringed, and Flopsy looked very worried; however, Mister Hooty was rather annoyed with the skunk. The owl said, “Blacky, what did I say about not eating things you did not know about?”
The skunk replied, “You said I wasn’t supposed to eat anything I didn’t know about.”
“And what did you do?”
“Well, I knew it was a berry, so I ate it.”
The owl ruffled his feathers. “And did you know what kind of berry it was?”
The skunk continued stubbornly. “Yes, a delicious one.”
Flopsy scolded Blacky, “You can’t just go around eating things you don’t know about. You could hurt yourself!”
Goober stepped up to the skunk and eyed him carefully. Blacky stepped back with annoyance. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
The observing brown rabbit replied, “I am looking for signs that you are getting ill. It is important for us to know, because we’ll have to administer first aid.”
Blacky pushed him aside and stepped away from them barking, “I feel fine!”
Mister Hooty groaned about the incident, but he still remained calm. He spoke to the children, “Each of you find a unique branch, berry, or flower to bring back with you to Cottontail Pines. We will take time tomorrow to study them.” He then spoke to the badgers, “Keep an eye on all of them. Don’t let them separate too much.” The badgers acknowledged and made sure to keep the children in line.
Most of the kids were all grouping up together, but Flopsy was the only one who was straying a bit. One of the badgers–a gray and brown striped one named Snapper–decided to follow her at a safe but still accommodating distance.
The lop-eared rabbit was talking to herself as she wondered, “Should I bring back a flower? No, I always bring a flower. Maybe, I should find a really colorful leaf. No, all the leaves are pretty bland in the summer time. I don’t want to be the only one who finds something ordinary this time.”
There was a sudden rustling to her right. She froze and peered into the shady forest; however, nothing obvious was visible. She swallowed to keep herself calm and stepped in that direction a few paces. She called, “Hello?”
Snapper decided to approach the bunny. Like most badgers, his voice was deep with an undertone of growling. He said to her, “There’s nothing over there. You better continue doing what Mister Hooty says.”
Flopsy shook her head, “I know I heard something. I don’t think it’s far away. Do you think that it may be Fang?”
“You better hope it isn’t. Let’s go on back.”
Flopsy started walking towards where she heard the sound. “I just want to look a little bit. I won’t go far. You can follow if you like just in case.”
Snapper grumbled and said, “Just around that big tree, and then we’re going back.”
Flopsy stopped once again. She heard a voice coming from just up ahead. It sounded feminine and sickly. Even Snapper seemed to have heard it. The bunny looked up at him and said, “I know something is out there, but I don’t think it’s dangerous.”
Snapper huffed. “How do you know?”
“It just doesn’t sound like it.” She slowly made her way around a big tree. Flopsy covered her mouth and gasped. A young human girl was lying on the ground as if she had fallen. She seemed to be sleeping, but everything about it felt like she was in some sort of trouble.
Snapper took hold of the rabbit and tried to force her to turn back. “We have to go!”
Flopsy struggled and protested, “We can’t just leave her here!”
“She could be dangerous!”
Flopsy broke free of the badgers hold. “She’s just a little girl. She could be in danger. We need to get her back to Cottontail Pines!” She noticed that the human’s knee was bruised. “She is hurt. See? We got to tell Mister Hooty and the others. Come on!”
The bunny was already marching back with determination. Snapper grumbled and followed her back. Something about being ordered around by a cute bunny was giving him a headache.
It was not long before everyone was led back to the sleeping girl. Mister Hooty observed her closely. “Yes, yes. Her knee is bruised. She may have trouble walking when she wakes up.”
Flopsy pleaded, “We have to take her back to Cottontail Pines. She’s just a little girl! She won’t survive out here!”
Blacky snapped, “Have you lost your mind?! We can’t take a human back to Cottontail Pines! It’s illegal!”
Mister Hooty corrected, “It’s not illegal, Blacky.”
“Then it should be illegal! I mean, look how big she is! She’ll be walking around stomping all over us!”
Goober checked on her as well. “She really isn’t that big, Blacky, and she is hurt. I hate to think what would happen if we left her out here.”
Flopsy continued, “Please, Mister Hooty. If we all work together, we can bring her back. Then we can give her first aid and take care of her until she is better. Please?”
Mister Hooty sighed. “This is a very dangerous plan you have, Flopsy. Humans can be very unpredictable. We almost never have dealings with them for this reason; however, the child is very young, and she does appear to be in immediate danger.” He paused and looked at everyone. “We are going to need to work together to bring her back. We need to be as swift as we can as well. Dusk is approaching.”
Everyone started to take their places around the girl. Blacky just stood there and crossed his arms. “I’m not gonna do it.”
Mister Hooty replied, “Yes, you are, or I’ll fail you for this assignment.”
“You told me to bring back local foliage, not a human girl.”
“Are you going to help or not, Blacky?”
The skunk grumbled and went over to help. “Fine!”
Flopsy smiled to him. “Thank you, Blacky.”
Blacky was still in a bad mood. All he said was, “Leave me alone.”
The animals all did their best to take the human girl out of the forest and to their home of Cottontail Pines. Little did they know that two angry eyes watched them from the shadows of the forest.
* * *
The news of a human child being brought into Cottontail Pines was near impossible to suppress. Most of the talking started just as some of the animals saw the girl being brought into the town by Mister Hooty’s class. Although the owl had not wanted it to be so public, he had resigned himself that this would have to be an open affair.
The first order of business was finding somewhere for the girl to stay. She had an advantage for being so small; however, she was still bigger than every single animal in Cottontail Pines, and the prospect of fitting her into their homes was doubtful. Despite this set back, Flopsy worked tirelessly to set up a tent in her back yard that could accommodate the girl, and Mister Hooty agreed to help with this.
When everything had been erected, Flopsy began to worry about the girl even more. The rabbit had bandaged the human’s knee, but that was not the biggest problem. The child had still not woken up. Mister Hooty–who had some medical knowledge–pointed out, “She may have bumped her head when she fell. I do hope that she will regain consciousness soon.”
Flopsy frowned. “I won’t leave her side–not even for a moment. I don’t care if she is a human or not. We have to do everything we can to help her.”
The owl nodded. “I understand, Flopsy. I–on the other wing–have to deal with the people of this town. There are a lot of questions going around about this incident.”
“I understand, Mister Hooty.”
As the owl stepped out of the tent, Flopsy’s parents–followed by Gumdrop the mouse–stepped inside.
Mother and Father seemed at a loss for words; however, they did support their daughter in this. Gumdrop was a bit more vocal. The mouse ran up to her friend and gazed upon the large creature. “She’s so big! I think it’s really great you brought her here. You have a kind heart, Flopsy.”
The rabbit smiled for a moment. “It’s way too dangerous in the Great Forest to just leave her lying out there. Did you see where Goober and Blacky went to?”
“Yeah! Goober is going around to everyone explaining the circumstances. I heard Blacky ended up at home with a terrible stomach ache.”
Flopsy rolled her eyes. “He deserves it. I’d go doctor him up, but I don’t wanna leave the human child.”
Gumdrop seemed to agree. “Do you think she’ll wake up?”
“I hope so, Gumdrop.” She sighed deeply. “I really hope so.”
* * *
The sun had set. Despite how late it was, everyone had gathered in Oak Pass to hear what Mister Hooty had to say on the matter. He told them about the incident that led up to them taking the girl into town. The people were astonished the decision was even made. The owl explained, “It was a hard decision, but one that had to be made. I do not regret taking her into Cottontail Pines, but I know that this could lead to potential problems. I assure you that everything is under control, and that I am dealing with this issue as we speak.”
Among the crowd of people was one of the more disagreeable residents–a fox named Wily. He was well known throughout the town as a troublemaker. Wily would normally have a snide comment about such an incident, but the truth was that this whole thing was rather interesting to him as well. He contemplated the turn of events in his own way.
A barrage of screams came from the direction of Donut Park. Kids and parents were running away and yelling out, “Fang! Fang! Fang is here!” True enough, in walked Fang the wolf in his typical casual swagger.
Mister Hooty signaled everyone to run back to their homes–which was what everyone did. Only Wily the fox remained at a distance watching and listening.
Three badgers were on the scene and looking as threatening as they could. Remarkably, the wolf seemed much less worried about them this time; in fact, he was even smirking at them.
The owl shouted, “Fang! Leave this town at once! You are not welcome here!”
Fang sat down on his haunches and feigned a look of offence. “My, my! I am beginning to think that I am disliked. Whatever did I do to deserve such a harsh welcoming?”
Mister Hooty reissued the command, “Fang, you have agreed to never set foot in this town. I expect you to obey that agreement!”
The wolf turned his paw about to check on the sharpness of his claws. “You never come to see me anymore. Perhaps, I was getting lonely in that big old forest out there.” He gazed back at the owl. “Did you ever stop and think that I have feelings too?”
“Stop acting like we are friends.”
“Your words hurt me to the quick; however, I am not incapable of taking the hint. I merely want to discuss something that will mutually benefit us both.”
Mister Hooty ruffled his feathers in anger. “Why should I be interested in anything concerning you?”
The wolf planted his paws into the dirt and sneered for a moment. “Your little outing into my forest has rid me of my dinner plans. Make no mistake, Mister Hooty, I plan on taking it back. But I wish to be a good sport about it and offer you the chance to deliver her personally.”
Mister Hooty had already guessed that was what he was going to bring up. He asked, “The human girl?”
Fang smiled brightly, “Oh, you are the educated one, aren’t you?! The child is no concern of yours. She is not even an animal. Give her back to me, and your peaceful town will never have to deal with such things again.”
The owl’s voice became grim. “And if we refuse?”
“Now, why would you go and do a silly thing like that? I’ve let these badgers push me around for a while, but I am starting to feel a bit braver since I tracked that girl. If you think I have been a nuisance before, try getting on my bad side.”
The words were powerful. Mister Hooty was left with a very difficult decision to make. He did not want to just give him the girl. It would mean the end of her for sure; however, the threat of an aggressive wolf could mean danger for all of Cottontail Pines… unless he was bluffing. The owl said, “Leave us, Fang. I will not give you that girl.”
Fang’s expression suddenly became very cold. “That is a mistake.” The two stared each other down for many moments, until the wolf finally turned about. “I will find a way to have my meal. You’ll regret this, Mister Hooty.” After taking a moment to glance over at Wily, the wolf walked out with the badgers following him at a safe distance.
Mister Hooty stood there watching the wolf as he disappeared. He was in a very hard position. As the town’s leader, it was his responsibility to protect the animals of Cottontail Pines, but how to do this was not always clear.
Snapper the badger approached him and asked, “Do you think he will really act on his threat?”
The owl said, “He was bluffing. He is too scared of you and the other badgers to do anything stupid like attack, but he very well may try other means to get what he wants.”
“What should we do?”
“Give me some time alone in my tree, and I will have an answer before dawn.”
* * *
Flopsy had fallen asleep at the child’s side. There was a bit of noise in the tent that startled the bunny awake. She rubbed her eyes and looked around groggily. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. She said to herself, “Gumdrop must have gone on home.”
The rabbit stood up and stretched. That was when she realized the human girl was sitting up and looking directly at her. Flopsy completely froze in her stretched position as the two just stared at each other. She mumbled, “H-hello.”
The human did not seem to understand, but at the same time, she did not seem offended. There was also a lot of confusion and fear in her eyes which Flopsy noticed. The bunny relaxed her body and tried to explain, “We found you out in the forest. We saved you. You were hurt.”
It was apparent that the human girl could not speak the animal language. Flopsy pointed at the girl’s knee and made several motions that hinted at it being her doing. The girl smiled and lightly patted Flopsy on her head. The bunny was a little unprepared for the big hand, but she realized that it was the human’s way of saying “Thank you.”
From outside, Flopsy heard someone approaching the tent. It was her mother. As she stepped into the tent, she was saying, “Flopsy, is everything all right in…” She froze when she saw the human sitting up. “Oh, my. She’s awake! Is she okay?”
Flopsy nodded. “She’s okay, but she can’t understand anything I’m saying. I was worried she might run away, but so far, she seems content to just sit there. I wonder what her name is.”
Mother turned to leave the tent. “Mister Hooty needs to hear about this. It is very good that she is awake, but there was an incident last night with Fang. That wolf wants to take the child, and we are trying to figure out a way to keep her safe.”
The young rabbit became flustered. “That mean wolf! I won’t let anything happen to her!” She looked back up at the girl and said, “But I wish there was a way to tell you that.” Upon thinking about it, Flopsy had an idea.
* * *
Late Morning: Wily was in Donut Park near the border. He was gazing out into the grassy fields. There weren’t any kids playing there because of the current threat from Fang. Mister Hooty fluttered down to a nearby tree and said to the fox, “Wily, are you busy?”
The fox shrugged. “Why do you care?”
“Because I need your help.”
This surprised Wily. The fox peered up at the owl. “Sorry, but I thought you just said you needed my help.”
“Why are you so surprised?”
Wily scoffed and even chuckled at the owl. “All you ever say to me is that I am going nowhere and that I’m nothing but a troublemaker. The last thing I figured you to do was to ask me for help.”
The owl remained calm. “Wily, look upon this as a chance to prove your worth to this town. I need you to go with Flopsy and guard that human girl. The badgers are too busy guarding the borders, and you are the next in strength to all of them.”
The fox lowered his head. “I’m no match for Fang.”
“You’re better than nothing. The girl has woken up, and I am working on a plan on evacuating her to the nearest human village.”
“How do you even know where one is?”
Mister Hooty sighed at that remark. “Wily, it is one of the perks of being able to fly. Will you help me?”
Wily released an apathetic breath. “Sure, whatever. I’ll watch the stupid girl.”
“Very good. You will take watch during the day, and Snapper will take your place at night. That will give you a chance to go home and rest.”
Wily simply responded. “I’ll head over now, but I still think I am bad for the job.” The fox began to slowly pad away from the owl. Mister Hooty watched him for a bit and then flew back to Oak Pass to plan for the very dangerous trip.
* * *
Flopsy peered eagerly over the shoulder of Gumdrop. The mouse was busily drawing on a leaf. The bunny said, “That’s really good.”
Gumdrop commented, “It could be better, but I have never done anything this complicated.”
“Can you go any faster?”
Gumdrop huffed and squeaked, “I am going fast already! Next one will have to be way simpler, but at least the first one should get the point across.”
Wily the fox–who was just lounging at the tent’s doorway–asked, “What are you two gibbering on about anyways?”
Flopsy explained, “Gumdrop is making a picture to tell the human child that we are her friends. She’s putting a lot of work on the first one to avoid confusing her.”
Gumdrop added, “After the first one, we should be able to communicate with simple drawings for the remainder of her visit. It was Flopsy’s idea, and as usual, she is a genius.”
Wily rolled his eyes. “Sounds like a stupid idea to me.”
Gumdrop squeaked, “Done!”
Rabbit and mouse both held up the leaf so that the girl could see. It was a depiction of Flopsy and Gumdrop hugging a happy, poorly-drawn human child with little hearts floating over their heads. The human reached down and took the leaf. She smiled brightly. The message appeared to have been received.
Flopsy hopped, “You did it! Now, give her your pencil and a leaf to speak back.”
Gumdrop complied, and the large girl quickly began scribbling with the tiny pencil and leaf. When she was done, Flopsy and her friend looked at it. The bunny examined, “I see what looks like a house, and that looks kind of like a dinner plate with food on it.”
Gumdrop asked, “Is she hungry?”
“I guess so. I gave her some carrots earlier. I guess I can get Mom to cook up some more food. As far as the house, I think she is home sick.”
The mouse frowned. “I don’t blame her. I feel really bad for her. Poor thing.”
Wily looked behind him through the tent flap. The sun was beginning to set. The fox released a grumpy sigh and seemed to be waiting for the end of his shift. There was something he wanted to do.
* * *
It was night. Snapper had arrived to take over Wily’s guard duty, and Gumdrop had decided to go home as well. The mouse–for some reason–had been talking the fox’s ears off nearly the whole walk home. It was all about the human girl and how worried she was. It was like she had forgotten who she was even talking to.
The fox looked back at her and finally said, “Isn’t that your house?”
Gumdrop gasped, “It is! I better go to sleep.” She paused. “But didn’t you miss your house back there?”
“Yeah, I guess I was distracted by all your yammering.”
The mouse scrunched up her face. “Well, goodnight. Thanks for helping anyways.”
The fox turned back around and walked back towards his house. Gumdrop entered her house, but just before she had fully closed her front door, she noticed Wily walking back the same way they had been going. She said to herself, “I thought he was going home.” Gumdrop’s curiosity was peaked, and the mouse decided to secretly follow the fox.
Wily stepped outside the borders of Cottontail Pines just past a very thick patch of trees and bushes. He sat there for a moment contemplating things. It was not too long before he heard the voice of Fang, “I was so hoping you would come see me, Wily.” The fox turned his head to the sound of the voice, and he saw the dark form of the wolf make its way into plain view.
Wily answered sheepishly, “Hey.”
The wolf began slowly walking around the smaller fox, “I suppose you have heard of Mister Hooty’s outright rejection of my offer. It is a sad state of affairs, isn’t it?”
“But you and me, we can be friends, yes?”
The fox looked up into Fang’s eyes. “Have you spoken with… with my family?”
The wolf seemed delighted at the inquiry. “Oh, yes! I am still on very good terms with your lovely family back at Foxtail Glen. It is unfortunate that… well I am sad to say that they still rather dislike you. I can’t very well see them taking you back. Very sad. Very Sad. That is… unless…”
The fox perked up. “Unless what?”
“Oh, it’s nothing.”
“Come on, tell me! You can do something, right?”
I suppose I could have a little chat with them and possibly convince them of your newfound nature, that is… if you had a newfound nature.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“I am with the reasonable understanding that Mister Hooty plans to evacuate the human girl to one of the towns beyond the Great Forest. All I need from you is their intended direction. I will hide and wait at their entry point, and take the girl for myself despite all their opposition. And you will be able to return to Foxtail Glen with renewed honor.”
Wily cringed at those words despite his attempt to keep a straight face. “You… you are going to eat her?”
Fang began to chuckle. He placed a paw around the fox and pulled him to his side. “Come now, Wily. I know how miserable it is for you to live in this place. All these silly little animals must be driving you out of your mind. An act like this would surely grant you a chance to leave this place. This is what you want; just admit it.”
The fox nodded as he gazed back to the ground. “I want to go back home. I want to be respected again.”
Fang smiled. “Then the choice has already been made, yes?”
“I’ll find out and tell you tomorrow night.”
“Good little foxy.”
Wily made his way back into Cottontail Pines. As wolf and fox separated, only Gumdrop was left in the middle. A rush of surprise and anger flowed through her, and she knew what she had to do.
* * *
Early morning: Mister Hooty had been awake most of the night. Although this was fairly normal for an owl, it was not something that he in particular was used to. When he became the leader of Cottontail Pines, he had adjusted his schedule to be like the day-time animals who lived there. The problem was that the incident with the human girl had been keeping him awake as he designed a plan to get her to a more suitable village.
He was just nodding off when none other than Wily shouted up to him from the base of his tree. “Hey!”
The owl nearly fell over from the startling shout. He peered down at Wily with a serious gaze. “Wily, isn’t it time for your shift at Flopsy’s house?”
The fox bore a guilty expression but only for a moment. “I-I was just coming to check on the plans. You know, to get the girl out of here.”
Mister Hooty fluttered down to the ground before Wily. “What has you so concerned with her?”
Wily became defensive. “I’m not concerned! I just don’t think she should be hanging around here is all! I want her to leave.”
To Wily, it seemed like Mister Hooty might know something, but it was unclear. The owl asked, “Do you know why I let you into Cottontail Pines so many years ago?”
The fox scoffed like he was about to say something witty; however, all that came out was, “I dunno.”
“I let you stay here because you were a fox in need. You were crushed by whatever happened to you back at Foxtail Glen. In a way, you were injured just like that girl. Now, I am aware that you dislike living here, and that is probably why you always act up. But the truth is I see a bit more in you. The fact that you have lived here so long is something of an achievement in itself.”
Wily scoffed yet again. “What are you saying?”
Mister Hooty leaned in and eyed the fox intensely. “I’m saying that–for now–I trust you. I see you as a fox that will do what is right when the time comes.”
Wily quivered at the words and could not think of anything to say to that. Mister Hooty then asked, “What in particular did you want to know of my plans, Wily?”
“I… uh… I just wanted to know which direction you were taking the girl–you know, for security reasons. Not that I want to help, but… since you asked me to.”
The owl was deathly quiet for some moments. He finally said, “She will be evacuated from the south-west of Cottontail Pines early tomorrow morning. I look forward to seeing you there, Wily.”
Wily turned and began walking towards Flopsy’s house. “Sure. Whatever.”
* * *
Back at the tent, the floor was scattered with drawing leaves as all sorts of conversations had taken place. Gumdrop had crawled up to the human girl’s shoulders and was frantically brushing her hair. “She’s got to look good when she gets back to her people.”
Flopsy agreed, “Falling down like that put her hair in so many knots. It’s good she will let you do this for her. Have you heard anything from Blacky?”
The mouse replied, “Goober is nursing him back to health. He’s making him a bunch of healthy snacks out of carrots and beets. I heard Blacky has been yelling the whole time about having to eat all that stuff.”
Flopsy giggled. Well, that’s what he gets.”
Snapper–who had been standing guard–felt a tap on his back. He saw Wily and allowed him to take his place. Gumdrop saw the fox and immediately scowled.
Flopsy smiled at the fox and said, “Thanks for coming again, Wily. Not much longer now.”
The fox sat down and sighed. “So, I guess by the mess you found a way to talk to her?”
“Yeah, she is really friendly too. We never could figure out her name though.”
Wily looked up at the human girl, who seemed to be staring back with curiosity. He had never really examined her the previous day. Other than her size and lack of fur, there was a certain personality to her that was not unlike the bunny and mouse who were giving her aid. These feelings did more to annoy the fox than give him admiration for the human.
Gumdrop suddenly jumped down to the ground and said, “Suddenly, I don’t feel like staying here anymore.”
Flopsy asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Must just be the atmosphere. I’ll come back tonight.” She sidled past the fox as if she did not want to touch him. Wily just ignored her.
Flopsy looked at Wily. “I wonder what got into her.”
The fox rolled his eyes. “Pfft. Mice. She probably doesn’t trust me to do the job right.”
Flopsy stepped over to the fox. “You have been doing great. Really, I always knew you had it in you.”
“You still wish it was someone else though.”
Flopsy shook her head. “Wherever you may be from, Mister Hooty trusted you enough to let you live here. In a way, we have all come to accept you, even if you are a little rude sometimes. Face it, you’re family now.”
Wily was utterly surprised to hear that. “Family? You think I’m family?”
“A lot of people do. You don’t ever hear them say it, but everyone here knows you. I mean, yeah, you are rude sometimes and have played a few pranks, but you never really hurt anyone. Me personally, I think you’re just a good person who just gets grumpy a lot. Blacky is a little like that. Either way, I think everyone in Cottontail Pines trusts you not to go too far.”
“You trust me?”
“Of course, I do!”
Flopsy looked back and saw the girl holding up the food drawing. The bunny gasped, “Oh! She’s hungry. I need to go get my mom to cook for her again. Just stay here and do what you do best, Wily.”
After Flopsy had left, the fox looked up at the girl discerningly. He walked up to her and sat down. He said, “You’re supposed to be my ticket out of here you know. You’re just a big, stupid human. There’s tons of you out there. Why should I save you?”
The girl smiled and reached down to pet the fox. The feel of her hand between his ears was as annoying as it was very pleasing. He whined to himself as a tear fell from his eye. “This isn’t fair. I didn’t know they trusted me.”
* * *
That night, Wily once again approached the border of Cottontail Pines. Little did he know that Gumdrop had been following once again.
Fang padded up to Wily with a big grin. “So, have you made your decision?”
Wily swallowed hard and said, “I know where and when they are taking her.”
The fox paused as he thought about the previous day. He looked down for a bit before raising his gaze back to the wolf. “They are taking her out of Cottontail Pines early next morning from the north-east.” Gumdrop had to stifle a gasp when she heard Wily give the exact opposite of what was going to happen.
Fang cackled lightly. “Once the deed is done, I will make sure you are reinstated at Foxtail Glen. That is a promise.”
Wily faked a smile. “Great.”
The wolf turned and began walking away into the grass. “Now, excuse me while I prepare for breakfast.” Wily lowered his head and slowly padded back through the borders. Gumdrop just stood there watching as the fox walked away. Her look of shock slowly formed into a smile.
* * *
Early morning: Mister Hooty was at the south-west border with the human girl, Flopsy, Goober, Blacky, and three badgers. Gumdrop was there as well desperately trying to draw a picture of what the girl needed to do.
Mister Hooty whispered, “She needs to know not to leave the badgers at any time. Only they know the way to the human village.”
Gumdrop nodded. “I don’t think she will have a problem understanding this.”
Blacky the skunk rubbed his belly and groaned. Flopsy noticed this and asked, “Aren’t you over those berries yet?”
The skunk nodded. “Yeah, but it’s gonna take me a full season to get over Goober’s cooking.”
Goober quietly protested with a raised finger, “There was nothing wrong with what you ate. If anything you would have felt worse if I hadn’t done it.”
The skunk still complained, “Tell that to my stomach.”
Gumdrop showed the human a picture of her with two badgers pulling on her arms. There was also a house that they were running to. The large child nodded understandingly and even took one of the badger’s paws.
Mister Hooty said, “You keep low and quiet. If anything happens, protect the girl as much as you can.”
Snapper answered for his badger troop, “We’ll get her home safely.”
Flopsy ran up to the human and handed her a satchel with all the drawings they had made together. “Take these with you so you can remember us. I had a really great time with you even if it wasn’t for very long.” The bunny looked down and sniffled a bit.
The human girl smiled and gave the bunny a head rub. Flopsy beamed at the touch and hopped out of the way.
Mister Hooty pointed his wing. “Go.”
Everyone watched as the girl was led through the field and eventually into the forest. Flopsy stood at the edge and waved for as long as she could.
From behind them, Wily walked up to the group and took a seat among them. Gumdrop peered up at him and even smiled. She had a new admiration for the fox.
Mister Hooty stepped over near him and whispered so that only he could hear, “Gumdrop told me what happened with you and Fang the other night.”
Wily looked at him suddenly. He seemed worried what that would mean for him; however, Mister Hooty just smiled and said, “I’m glad I made the right choice in trusting you.”
Wily did not answer. If anything, this had somehow restored his faith in the animals he was living with. He still wanted to move back to his birthplace, but for now, the place where he lived was really not all that bad.