This is the cover that I have produced for my latest book...
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Once upon a time…
Now, isn’t that how all good stories should begin? Well, I believe that at least a few of them certainly should. There are those, however, who would deem such an opening line to be old-fashioned. Let them, that’s what I say!
This is supposed to be a fable… But surely fables should be short, I also hear those same folk scoff?
Well, this is my fable and I shall buck the trend. This is my story too, and I shall begin it how I like. And this is a story that needs to be told, so here goes:
Once upon a time there was a badger and another badger a-talking to one another…
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Billy-Bob’s Nasty Experience
“It’s enough to make a grown badger cry!” exclaimed Sylvester Badger.
Billy-Bob looked at his great uncle in bewilderment.
“What is?” asked the youngster.
Sylvester pointed a meaty paw towards the swathe of orange streetlights that spread out before them like a fiery blanket.
“The town, that’s what! It’s getting closer all the while,” he grumbled.
“It doesn’t look any different to me,” said Billy-Bob in surprise.
“No, I suppose it wouldn’t young ’un – you are merely a babe in arms and I wouldn’t expect you to know otherwise.”
For quite some time the two badgers sat at the forest’s edge, on top of a grassy bank overlooking the town, while his great uncle Sylvester explained to Billy-Bob how life use to be in Bluebell Nook many years earlier. He told how – although a badger’s eyesight is none too good – as far as their ancestors’ eyes could have seen, the entire landscape was once a wilderness of meadowland, covered in wild buttercups and daisies; where animals frolicked by day and by night, and the only human sound that could be heard was the occasional yell from a shepherd telling his sheepdog to round up the flock.
In those bygone days the town was nothing more than a dot on the distant horizon, according to Sylvester. In fact, it was not even big enough to be called a village at that time, for it simply consisted just a handful of cottages. But then, out of the blue, a major road was constructed which cut alongside the tiny hamlet, and no longer was it isolated from civilization. After that, countless new houses were built and factories erected until it became the vast, thriving metropolis that it now was.
Billy-Bob listened spellbound as Great Uncle Sylvester went on to relate that Bluebell Nook was once a beauty spot that humans used to visit for picnics, because they appreciated what a magical place it really was. Year after year many families made excursions to that special area, where they would spend an entire day enjoying the wonderful nature that surrounded them. In those long-forgotten times people took their litter home with them or disposed of it in a nearby waste-bin, he told the youngster, but their attitudes seemed to have changed over the years and the countryside had become peppered with garbage – an eyesore created solely by humankind, whereas animals always clear away their waste! Billy-Bob noticed that the elderly badger seemed greatly saddened by all of this.
“Oh, how things have altered,” he sighed, “even since I was a youth. Look at the mess we have to live in nowadays… and it is all caused by humans! I really don’t know what has gone wrong at all. There was a time when people respected the country code, but all of a sudden it doesn’t matter to them any more. We poor animals have to contend not only with the dangers of everyday living, but also the pitfalls left behind in the wake of people. If it isn’t rusting tin cans hidden in the undergrowth – that could easily slice the limb off an unsuspecting animal, or worse! – then it’s broken glass littering the ditches and fields, which can cause the same sort of damage. Thankfully, there are more plastic bottles in use at present, which don’t pose quite as many dangers as those caused by glass; however, discarded bottles and empty plastic cartons cause serious problems too.”
“Really?” said Billy-Bob, sounding surprised. “I would never have guessed that such things could cause any harm.”
“Yes… really! There have been numerous tiny rodents – such as shrews or voles – that have fallen into a container and drowned because it still contained some of its liquid contents, or even rainwater… the sides are slippery, you see, and the little creatures simply can’t find anything to grip onto. And, besides these particular dangers, there are plastic bags that get blown around in the wind and can suffocate animals. Where will it all end, I wonder?”
As Sylvester finished complaining to Billy-Bob, a pair of headlights came into view as a vehicle tore along a rain-soaked dirt track nearby. Then the driver of the car forced their vehicle to skid to a halt on the soft grass alongside the track, before making several shunts to try and turn the vehicle around where the track became a dead-end. This was in front of a dilapidated five-bar gate that was capped with rusted barbed wire. A lot of noise followed while the driver revved-up his car engine and spun the vehicle’s wheels, sending stones and mud in all directions. Following that, the car doors were thrown open and four unruly youths – probably no more than 17 or 18 years of age – virtually fell out of the vehicle. As the gang bawled and shouted at the top of their voices, the driver reached back inside his car and turned up the volume on the car’s stereo system. This was now so loud that the sound was distorted, while the bass beat was so deep it was impossible to decipher any kind of audible tune whatsoever.
For the next few minutes the loud, unmelodic bass reverberated all around, while the forest echoed with the sound of the four lads’ laughter. Meanwhile, they danced wildly about, as if they were crazy drunk natives at a war party, attempting to sing and talk above the din they were creating. At the same time, they greedily scooped handfuls of food into their mouths as they scoffed their take-away dinners, before discarding the cartons upon the ground and driving away in the direction of the nearby town.
Billy-Bob watched the entire scene in complete awe, never before having witnessed such a fascinating spectacle.
“Do humans always act like that, Uncle Sylvester?” he gasped.
“Every weekend it’s the same,” grunted the old badger, “although some nights are worse than others… Come along now – let’s go and see if we can’t at least salvage a morsel from the leftovers.”
Nose to the ground, Sylvester scampered down the bank with his great nephew hot on his heels, snuffling and snorting as they went. Very soon they arrived at the spot where the youths had scattered the remains of their supper, together with their unwanted litter. Sylvester shook his head in despair as he sniffed around the debris.
“Would you believe it?” he complained. “Hardly a chip in sight – the greedy, scruffy young tykes!”
“What’s this brown stuff oozing out of this container?” asked Billy-Bob as he bent his head forward to take a lick.
“Don’t touch it!” warned Sylvester. “It’s curry sauce. That stuff will make you sneeze and give you a bad tummy.”
But it was too late to stop him because the inquisitive Billy-Bob had already planted his tongue amidst the gooey mess. He immediately began to sneeze and bark, at the same time pawing at his nose and mouth as he tried to rid himself of the awful taste.
“Stick your snout in that pink liquid over there… Quickly now!” ordered Sylvester. “That mixture is called strawberry-flavoured milkshake, which will cool your tongue and help to ease your suffering.”
Without hesitation, the young badger did exactly what his great uncle told him to do and, as soon as he had taken a good slurp, his coughing and sneezing fit instantly began to improve.
“Never eat anything if you don’t know what it is,” scalded Sylvester, “because it could be poisonous for all you know.”
“Now you tell me!” moaned Billy-Bob. “Yuk! That glop tasted disgusting.”
“Then perhaps you will think twice before doing such a thing again. Life is all about learning, young ’un, and you have just had your first lesson. Let’s be on our way now, Billy-Bob, there’s nothing here for us to savour.”
“Yes, let’s go home, Uncle,” agreed Billy-Bob. “I’m tired and my tummy feels a bit queasy – like it’s on fire, actually! I wish there was something we could do to get rid of all of this rubbish before we go, mind, because it’s terribly messy around here, isn’t it?”
“Indeed it is. Unfortunately, though, we are merely wild animals and we don’t have the capabilities of cleaning up after humans. It’s about time they learned to do it for themselves, I reckon!”
Feeling quite disgusted by what they had seen, the two badgers trotted back into the forest, whereupon Sylvester returned Billy-Bob to his mother’s sett before going to his own home nearby. The earthen badger sett in which he lived was the oldest one beneath Bluebell Nook, perhaps dating back one hundred years or more, and Sylvester had lived there for all of his life. Of course, he wasn’t as old as that, although he had been about for many a long year; however, he was the longest-living permanent resident for miles around. Therefore, Sylvester was President of the Forest Animal Residents’ Association, and the very creature to whom everyone turned during times of crisis, for he was an extremely knowledgeable fellow and brimming full of wisdom.
His dwelling was situated in the very heart of Bluebell Nook, in a most secluded spot beneath a large area of woodland known as Copperdusk Forest. In years past, during springtime, a carpet of purplish-blue flowers would completely cover the forest floor to herald the dawning of a new season, and the forest creatures frolicked and romped here at their leisure, for this was a safe zone where humans never set foot. Despite its beauty, though, this place had become rather overgrown and neglected in recent years because humans did not seem to have time to care for the area any more, and bluebells rarely sprouted there at all.
Sylvester had a sneaking suspicion that the landowners had deliberately left Bluebell Nook to fall into decline and one day soon they would return to reclaim the forest. And he also had an inkling that they would not be intending to restore Copperdusk Forest to its former glory either, because he realised the land upon which it stood was far more valuable to humans for the use of a building plot as an extension for the ever-encroaching town. Therefore, something needed to be done to prevent this from happening, although he knew not what. All that he could do for the time being would be to call a general meeting and discuss the troublesome matter with the creatures he shared his habitat with.
So the badger retired to his sett that night with this thought etched deep into his mind, planning to announce to all residents of Bluebell Nook that a meeting of great importance would take place in the very near future.