It was a fine afternoon. More precisely, it was a fine 6 o’clock p.m., and in light of recent events, Solomon Salamander had invited Tottles Toad to have tea with him that afternoon. They were both far from comfortable being alone for too long, in light of recent events, and Solomon thought that he would be a bit more comfortable if he had friends around. Tottles probably had the same logic.
Solomon’s house was an old, square-ish coffee tin that had, with time, melded into the hillside, right at the edge of a stream, which ran from left to right over rocks and pebbles, and attracted many bugs and insects that Solomon and Tottles quite liked to watch and munch on. Its porch was a small plank of bark that had fallen by the wayside, and really acted as more of a dock than a porch, as it floated out in the water, and was attached to the bank by ropes and anchored down with rocks, to keep it from floating away.
The interior of the coffee tin was rather luxurious, considering that it was the house of a salamander. Solomon had carpeted it with copious quantities of moss, and managed to scrounge up enough wood scraps to make some simple and rudimentary furniture. There was, however, the occasional human trinket which he would pass by on a walk, and had been unfortunately lost by a hiker or walker as the individual passed through the area. In the very front of the coffee tin, there was a small upturned jar, and two sections of wood which served as a table. Whenever guests were over, and it began to become late, salamander would go out and catch a firefly to put in the jar, which would then illuminate the entire dining area. He thought himself quite clever for that.
Farther back, there was a sitting area, and even farther back, a human handkerchief had been hung up on sticks that stretched from floor to ceiling to act as a hammock. It was a bit big, but the opposite corners that hadn’t been tied up fell down the sides in a pleasing fashion. It was white, with simple pink embroidery. In the very back left corner, Solomon had stowed away all of the miscellaneous junk that he had accumulated over the years, including assorted porcelain shards to use as plates, random knickknacks that he’d come across in the forest such as buttons and sequins that had fallen off of clothes, and a small ring which he quite liked to use as a belt to tie back his coat. It made him feel important to wear it.
He had already set out the porcelain shard plates with biscuits and dried fruit, and the little miniature cups with which two he would serve the tea, and a tiny pitcher in which the tea had already been prepared. A small dish was also set out, filled with sugar granules that he had pilfered from some unsuspecting campers. It was a pretty good array, considering that it was a salamander who had laid it out.
Tottles knew Solomon’s propensity for making good meals quite well, and was always quick to oblige when Solomon invited him over.
Solomon now sat on his porch-dock, and waited patiently for Tottles to come over. The toad was insufferably slow, and though he tried to get out early, he usually ended up being a minute late anyway. Solomon understood, and didn’t really mind. When the toad’s head finally appeared in the stream, bespectacled with small plastic glasses and looking quite fine in a suit that was perhaps one half size too small, Solomon came up to him and helped him up to the porch, though Tottles hardly needed the assistance. It was mostly common courtesy that he did this.
They chatted animatedly as the two went in. The open lid of the coffee tin shaded the porch as they walked in, propped up with sticks, and allowed them a fine view of the stream.
“How goes business, my friend?” Tottles asked.
“Business is just about as fine as it usually is,” Solomon admitted with a touch of disdain. “The newts are never satisfied with the supplies I can scrounge up! Their stomachs are simply too big!”
“Perhaps,” Tottles said. “Or perhaps you could come up with some more efficient ways of producing the biscuits.”
“Oh, you just keep your mouth quiet about that, there!” Solomon snorted in a strange salamander-ish way. “I expect your business is doing fine, as per the usual?”
“Quite fine!” Tottles said. “I’m still around, aren’t I?”
Tottles had recently acquired a new and unfortunate neighbor; Ferrier Fox had moved into the neighborhood, having grown frustrated with life in the city. Tottles had nearly become part of Ferrier’s supper, but had saved himself by quickly starting a fishing business and selling the fish to Ferrier for a very reasonable price. It was now moderately successful, and Tottles even liked the work.
“There’s still that strange business that’s been going on, though,” Solomon whispered suspiciously. “You haven’t been bothered none, yet?”
“Not yet.” Tottles sighed loudly. “Poor Mrs. Rebecca, though! Her house is leaking terribly.”
“Not Rebecca Rabbit!” Solomon sighed, too. “The children?”
“Her children are unharmed, but scared out of their wits!” Tottles shook his head. “I’ve tried to help them, but don’t know how. I always make their warren smell like fish!”
The ‘strange business’ in question is in reference to a strange visitor who had been passing through the area, not staying in one place much but continually moving about. The folks who saw him described him as a small bear with a strange nose, and wearing the most curious clothing. He would dig about in the dirt, and made big holes where he wasn’t welcome! It had been causing everyone much trouble, and frankly they were very afraid of the mini-bear, because even if he was mini, bears were frightful creatures. Plus, he kept tresspassing into everyone’s property, even that of Brutus Badger!
“What do you suppose we should do?” Solomon asked, nibbling on a biscuit.
“Well, we fight him, of course!”
“We fight him! You want us to fight a mini-bear?”
“He might be a bear, but he’s small!” Tottles made fists in the air. “All of the townsfolk might be able to fight him off, if we all go in a group.”
“If we make him mad, he might go after the children!” Solomon exclaimed, dismayed. “That’s not a risk I really want to take, begging your pardon, Tottles, considering that Rebbecca has so many precious little ones!”
“I understand that much.” Tottles seemed offended. “But consider if we don’t get rid of the beast, and he comes after us on his own!”
Solomon thought about this for a long, long time. It was such a long time that Tottles began to wonder if he had fallen asleep!
“Friend?” he asked. “Are you there?”
“Oh!” Solomon came back to the present, jumping up in his seat a little bit. “Of course, of course I am! I’ve never been more there than here! I’ve never…” He cleared his throat, adjusted the collar of his twin-tailed coat. “Indeed, little is more frightful than the idea of that brute running about! You’ve well convinced me, Tottles; we should oust it at the soonest.”
“And how should we do this, do you think?” Tottles asked. “We could stab it with spears, knives, and forks.”
“No, no, no, my friend!” Solomon ‘tut tut tut!’ed him. “We should frighten it away. Stabbing at it could only make a mini-bear angry; but if we frighten it, then it will leave and never come back!”
“But how should we frighten it?” Tottles asked.
“We chase it!” Solomon replied.
“Indeed; and perhaps we could wear frightening masks, and roar like tigers!” Tottles imitated said tiger; it sounded more like he was gargling salt-water.
“It sounds like you’re turning this into a fun-fest,” Solomon pointed out.
“Every day is a good day to be happy,” Tottles quipped. “Come, come! Let’s finish our tea, and present our idea to the Mayor.”
And that’s just what they did; after nibbling and sipping hastily on their tea and snacks, they leapt over to the river and paddled to town on Solomon’s raft, making good progress even if the town was upstream, as they felt the matter to be of such urgency that they paddled twice as quick as usual!
The town was little more than a small, spread-out cluster of critter homes. As they passed through to the town dock, they found Rebbeca Rabbit’s little ones playing about in the stream. Rodger and Romulus were digging about for morsels growing in the water; Ruthie was washing herself. Remington watched over all of them from the shoreline, the biggest bunny; he liked to dye his hair with berries, so everyone called him Red.
“What’s the matter, fellas?” he called, seeing how hastily Solomon and Tottles were moving. “You’re in an awful big hurry, I see!”
“We’ve just got an awful big mini-bear to catch, Red!” Solomon called back.
“The mini-bear!” Red breathed, with a bit of awe. “Oh, it’s terribly frightful! Do be careful!”
“We will, Red,” Tottles said, as they came onto shore. “We’ve just got to discuss it with Mayor Morpheus, first!”
“Morpheus!” Red breathed again, with even more awe. His little sister hopped up to his side, worried. “I hear he’s quite frightful, too!”
“His name is just big and scary, Red,” Solomon assured him. “We’ll be fine talking to the Mayor. Just take care of your siblings!”
“Where are the others, by the way?” Tottles asked. “You did have eleven siblings, didn’t you?”
“They’re playing farther up the stream,” Red informed them. “Rudius is looking after them. I think Rummy is helping him, too.”
“Very good.” Solomon began trudging up the dirt path to the Mayor’s house. “We’ll leave you be, now. Be good, children!”
All of them chimed in, “We’ll be good!” Even Rodger and Romulus, who had their noses stuck in the muck the whole time.
Solomon and Tottles toddled up the path, over the bridge, and went towards the Mayor’s house. Ruthie looked worriedly up at Remington.
“What’s happening?” she asked. “Is something wrong, brother?”
“They’re going to catch the fiend that’s been making our house all leaky!” he replied.
Ruthie gave a long, awe-filled ‘wooooahhh’. “They’re awful brave folk!”
“And they’re going to talk to Morpheus!”
She gave another ‘wooooaahhhh’. “In the same day!”
“Why’s Morpheus so scary, brother?”
“Anyone with the name ‘Morpheus’ is scary, sister. It’s a matter-of-course!”
Meanwhile, Solomon and Tottles walked up to the Mayor’s house. It was a hole, fitted with a pleasant oblong door, constructed of wood and decorated with buttons. Buttons made the path to the door, and about the door buttons had been hung, all of different shapes and sizes. Even the potted plants were set on top of buttons. The Mayor loved buttons, you see.
Solomon knocked upon the door. “Mayor Morpheus! Mayor!”
“Coming, coming!” Called the Mayor, sounding very tired. “…You know what, I can’t bother myself to get up. Come in.”
Solomon did the honor of opening the door and admitting Tottles into the space. They looked into the living room, into which the front door opened.
It was very clean and tidy, richly furnished and nicely decorated. Marmalade Mouse, the Mayor’s wife, was dutifully dusting the miniature grandfather clock, which they had tricked a doll-maker into making for them – for proper pay, of course. They were the clever sort of folk who didn’t have to take their luxuries from humans, and could fool humans into thinking they were working for people when they were really working for mice.
Marmalade looked up at them. “Oh, how lovely, Solomon and Tottles! I’ll fetch the cheese. Don’t be too loud, now!”
She charged from the room, tripping over her apron as she ran eagerly to the kitchen. Even after all these years, she was still fit enough to run like that! Solomon shook his head in amazement as they sat down to face the Mayor.
Morpheus was munching on a bowl of mint leaves, as usual. Seven separate monocles hung out of his breast-pocket, but he wasn’t using any of them at the moment. The grandkids had been around recently; they could tell by the flower-shaped earring he had on. The grandkids always liked putting his wife’s jewelry on him to tease him, and he never minded. Tottles respected him much for that.
“What’s business today?” he asked, in his old grandpa-voice.
“We wanted to propose a way to rid ourselves of the mini-bear,” Solomon began, in a very dignified voice.
“I’ve probably heard it already,” Morpheus sighed. “But go on.”
“We’ll chase him, with scary masks, and roar like tigers!” Tottles did his salt-water-gargling roar again. “That way, he’ll be scared off, and won’t come back.”
Morpheus stared at him. “I’ve heard it before. Even the children suggested it.”
“But if we have everyone involved, then maybe he’ll be scared,” Tottles insisted.
“I’ve heard that, too!” Morpheus said, just as insistently. “The first order of business is to find out if this ‘mini-bear’ is really a threat. Try to talk to him, first, before we go after him!”
“Then why haven’t we done that?” Solomon, asked.
Morpheus sighed, and didn’t say anything for a very long time. “I can’t find him anywhere!”
“You can’t find him?” Solomon repeated.
“No, not at all. We’re still finding new holes, so he must still be around, but we can’t catch the mini-bear himself!”
“But then how do we find the mini-bear?” Tottles asked.
Morpheus took a deep sigh. “Derringer has been dilligently looking about the forest. He has been having some difficulty, because the path that the mini-bear has been taking keeps wandering into other territories, where Derringer can’t legally go, and then the path comes back into our territory somewhere else.”
“Do you think the mini-bear is bothering the neighboring territories? Maybe we could get their help, if we have a mutual problem,” Solomon suggested.
“Perhaps,” Morpheus suggested. “I haven’t approached Carlisle about it, hopefully for obvious reasons. Forester and I have some communications issues. Josephine could help, but she’s been so busy planting that I haven’t been able to get ahold of her.”
Carlisle of the Curly-Ear and Morpheus weren’t exactly on friendly terms; she was the head of a nearby tribe of cats, and though Carlisle didn’t like Morpheus much, the cat-tribe never bothered him if Morpheus didn’t bother them, due to a treaty signed between them many years ago. Forester Fish was… well, a fish. He headed the fish school in the nearby lake. Josephine Jackrabbit was in charge of a small trade village much like their own, and also took care of a vegetable garden full of potatoes and carrots, and other delicious things; spring-time was always busy, as it was the best time to get to planting her garden.
“So nobody has talked to you about it?” Solomon asked.
“No,” Morpheus said, in a tone that suggested that the fact should have been obvious. “If anyone could, they wouldn’t.” Meaning Carlisle. “This is just something we’ll have to deal with on our own!”
This was troubling to Tottles. “So you don’t know where to find the mini-bear, there’s no one to help, and he’s still around.”
“In a nutshell.”
Marmalade suddenly burst in. “In a nutshell, indeed!” She plopped a cheese-board onto the table, with some crackers in a peanut-shell bowl. “Dig in, boys, eat up, eat up, you can’t talk about such troubling things if your mouths are full, now, can you?”
Just as Solomon was timidly reaching over to the cracker-bowl, as if it would bite him, a stack of books fell onto the unoccupied section of the coffee table. “And here’s a stack of books, so that if you get bored with this hullabaloo, you can do something quiet!” She ran off into the other room, muttering, “I wonder why my husband picked such a noisy hobby!”
Morpheus just chuckled. “Hobby, indeed!” He reached over to the cheese, unflapped. “Come on, boys, dig in. My wife might have a fit if we don’t!”
Baffled, Solomon quickly had a few crackers. Tottles munched idly, watching Marmalade hop about with interest. “How does she keep up so much energy?” he wondered to himself.
“By not being all mopey and concerned about everything!” she squeaked. “Plus, I’m very invested in my work. I like cleaning! It’s very theraputic.”
Solomon snickered a little bit. Marmalade didn’t mind it, and kept on chatting about cleaning. Morpheus listened attentively. Tottles was just confused.
At length, Solomon and Tottles kept talking to Morpheus, making little progress except in having a nice time until noon, when the pair left to get back to their work. They walked together away from Morpheus’ house, deciding to take a detour to check on the other bundle of Rebbeca’s children, playing farther upstream.
They soon found them, the whole bunch of them. Remmy and Rudius were watching over the bunch, as described. Solomon and Tottles greeted them cordially, and asked how they were doing.
“Oh, doing very fine sirs, very fine!” Remmy said eagerly, pointing a furry paw out to the river. “We’re all having very much fun.”
“A lot of fun,” Rudius corrected. “A lot. Haven’t you read mum’s books, yet?”
Remmy shook her head. “Nope!”
Rudius just sighed. “Anyway. Is there any way we can be of service, sirs?”
“No, just keep watching your siblings,” Solomon said, looking down into the river where the littler bunnies were splashing about and playing. “…Hmm. There seems to be a pair of bunnies missing! Where are they?”
“They went off to explore the woods, Rush and Rutherford,” Rudius said.
“They were going to have very much fun,” Remmy said, grinning mischeivously. Rudius looked at her strangely as she started to giggle.
Tottles just shook his head. “They shouldn’t be wandering around by themselves! The mini-bear might get them.”
Rudius suddenly looked very worried. Remmy let out a little squeak.
Solomon pressed his lips together. “Where’d they go?”
“They went off that-a-way,” Rudius said, pointing his paw down into the dark woods. Solomon began to briskly walk off in that direction. After reassuring the rabbit siblings that they would find Rush and Rutherford safe-and-sound, Tottles followed him.
They went off, running through the woods on all fours; Solomon dashed along so quickly that Tottles had difficulty keeping up with him! But then, finally, they found themselves encompassed by a dark and damp forest, overgrown and under-kept. There were spiders crawling about as they passed cautiously through. Finally, they heard chattering; that of familiar bunny-talk, and that of a stranger. Solomon and Tottles increased their pace.
“You really eat worms?” said one rabbit, eager and awe-filled.
“They’re my favorite!” said the stranger, in an unusual and nasally voice. “I don’t like goin’ a day without worms.”
“How do you catch a worm?” said the other rabbit, a little younger. “They’re so wriggly and squirmy!”
Solomon and Tottles came out onto a thin path. A group of three walked down the path, side-by-side; two bunnies, and a strange creature that Tottles had never seen before. Solomon seemed confused as he looked at their backs.
“Like this!” said the stranger, and demonstrated, snapping his teeth suddenly. The rabbits squealed momentarily, and then started laughing.
“And you dig for them?” said the older bunny. “You do have very big paws!”
“I do! It’s very fun.”
“Mum doesn’t let us dig around anymore,” said the younger bunny. “One of Ruthie’s best dresses got ruined doing that last year.”
“Well, digging shouldn’t be done in your best dress!” The stranger chuckled.
Finally, Solomon came out from the spot where he and Tottles had been hiding. “Pardon me,” he said. “Who might you be?”
The stranger and the two bunnies turned about. The rabbits were most assuredly Rush and Rutherford; Solomon recognized their faces. The stranger had a strange face, with a long snout ending in some very curious-looking things much resembling a rooster crest. He was big, and bulky, with big paws and huge claws, but he was hardly unkind-looking. He was wearing tan shorts and an absurdly bright-colored shirt, bright-blue with pink flowers. A sack was slung over his back.
“I’m Barry,” said the stranger, perplexed. “And you?”
“He’s Solomon,” said one of the bunnies, pointing at the salamander. “He’s a friend of the family.”
“I see, I see.” Barry came forward and offered a hand, smiling. “Nice to meetcha, Solomon.”
“You too, Barry.” Solomon took the proferred hand – really, it took his instead. His tiny fist was completely dwarfed by Barry’s paw. Tottles came out of his hiding place.
“That’s Tottles,” said the other bunny, before anyone could say anything. “He’s a friend of Solomon’s.”
“Ah, good, good!” Barry let go of Solomon’s hand – to his great relief – and turned to Tottles, who was incredibly baffled. “I’m Barry, Tottles. Put ‘er there!”
Barry, again, offered his hand. Tottles did indeed put his hand out, and they shook hands.
“Say, Barry,” Solomon began. “Have you been digging up holes around town?”
“Town?” Barry paused to think. “Why, I have been digging lots of holes, but I didn’t know there was a town. Why?”
“We’ve been having some problems with holes, as of late,” Solomon explained. “Perhaps you could come with us?”
“Well, someone needs to drop the little ones off, first,” Barry said.
“I’ll do that,” Tottles said. “Maybe you can go with Solomon?”
Barry nodded. “I understand. That’s very kind of you, Tottles.”
Tottles quickly walked off, the little bunnies walking after him, chatting animatedly. Barry looked apologetically at Solomon.
“I didn’t know my digging was causing problems!” he insisted sadly. “I was just looking for food, you know.”
“I understand.” Solomon shrugged. “Let’s go tell that to the Mayor. He’s had the police-dog after you all week, you know!”
Barry shuddered, suddenly very frightened. “I didn’t know! Let’s go do that, right away!”
“Glad you agree,” Solomon said.
“Well!” Morpheus slammed a glass of honey-water on the table. “To think that our mini-bear was really a travelling mole!”
“I’m baffled that I could be mistaken for a bear,” Barry said, chuckling. “I just don’t have the ears!”
“Well, most of us haven’t seen a mole before,” Solomon replied. “And you have a curiously bear-ish name! Who named you?”
“My mum,” Barry said, confused. “Why do you ask?”
“Your name would make sense for a bear, but not for a mole,” Solomon explained. “Perhaps it was destiny you were named like a bear!”
Barry looked strangely at Morpheus as Solomon began to chuckle.
“Don’t mind him,” Morpheus said. “He has an odd sense of humor.”
“I suppose!” Barry said, baffled. He nibbled on more crackers. “Your wife is a very good cook, Mr. Morpheus,” he noted.
“Thank you very much, Barry!” Marmalade shouted from the next room over. “I like cooking very much. It’s very theraputic!”
“You’re welcome, Mrs. Marmalade!” Barry shouted back. “She’s a fit one, a’int she?”
“A’int she ever,” Morpheus said, chuckling, “And I wouldn’t have her any other way!”
In a nutshell – or rather, in a pile of crackers in a peanut-shell – the trouble with the strange holes was resolved peacefully.
Barry went off on his way travelling, careful to avoid digging near any of the critters’ homes. He was especially viligant to avoid Carlisle’s territory, after Morpheus kindly notified him of the moderately agressive tribe of cats that lived there. He still stopped by the town on his travels periodically; he would especially stop to visit Rebecca’s bunny children, whenever he could manage it.
Rebecca forgave Barry for the inconvienences he’d caused, and the warren was quickly patched up and made nice again. It no longer leaked in the slightest. Her twelve bunny children were happy to play with Barry whenever he visited them, and Rebecca had no complaints.
Morpheus no longer had to worry about mysterious holes popping up in the ground. He went back to his legal business.
Derringer finally got off duty long enough to have a nice weekend with the pups and his wife, who were all very happy to see him.
Tottles continued to fish. Ferrier liked his fish so much that one day, Tottles mysteriously found some small sushi-rolls on his front step.
Solomon continued to live in his cozy coffee-tin, making biscuits for the newts and waiting for the next mystery to be solved. The mystery of the hole-digger was surprisingly fun; and a part of him began to fancy that he could be a detective.
Maybe he would be, one day!
But that’s a story for another day.