Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Wind in the Willows

A day’s filming followed by lengthy train journey has resulted in my first attempt at a children’s story. Those with a short attention span might want to just scroll straight to the bottom…

Mole snuffled towards the surface of his burrow, scruffling through the soil until his claws became wet with the fresh dew of the long grasses above. Wriggling out from his tunnel, he stepped unsteadily onto a thick tree root that protruded from the willow tree behind. His eyes, more accustomed to the earthy murkiness of his burrow than daylight, blurred with watery tears as he blinked into the pale white sunshine. He squinted. The meadow into which he had emerged was little more than a leafy collage of autumnal colours. Even so, the tingle of warmth on his back and the soft whisper of trees rustling in the breeze told him it was a beautiful morning to be outside.

Reaching up until his fingertips grazed the vines of the willow he stretched luxuriously, a shower of crumbly soil slipping off his back. Then, straightening his flatcap, he fished his glasses from his trouser pocket and slipped them over his snout to look for a suitable place to sit. His eyes fell on a grassy hillock just behind him. Settling himself on the tufty, straw-like grasses, he leant back against a gnarly tree root that curved out from the trunk of the willow. And there he sat, serenaded by the lyrical chirps of a songbird and sucking on a straw of grass, for much of the morning.

As the air became hazy with mid-morning warmth, Mole closed his eyes, his thoughts wandering through his burrow and the surrounding pastures. He was just drifting into a dreamy doze when a sudden rustling of undergrowth and snapping of twigs nearby startled him from his reverie. He jumped, slipping off his hillock and knocking his glasses from his nose. Pushing himself upright, he strained his watery eyes in the direction of the commotion: a blurred gorse bush that seemed to blend into the adjacent tree trunk. The rustling came again, this time accompanied by a rushed whispering. Mole scrambled to his feet, his heart thudding uncomfortably fast.

“Who´s there,” he called, squinting at the blur of bush and trying to distinguish something. The whispering ceased abruptly. Mole glanced nervously around him. Slowly, what looked like four long poles came into focus. He blinked. The poles wobbled across his vision, knocking to and fro into each other at diagonal angles, before vanishing from view again. Mole rubbed his eyes with his knuckles and stepped tentatively forwards, straining to see where they had gone.

However, before he could move far, he was knocked sideways by a whoosh of fur. He glimpsed a whirl of grey before he twirled unsteadily in a circle and toppled to the grass, landing with a soft flump on his back. A quick pattering of feet surrounded him, and soon four fluffy paws had fastened around him, hoisted him swiftly upwards and set him on his feet. Two anxious faces swum into focus in front of him: twitching noses, whiskery cheeks and wide hazel eyes peering at him with concern. Looking at their long velvety ears quivering attentively, he recognised the four poles he had been watching earlier.

“Rabbits!” he exclaimed.

Their reply however was drowned out by the mechanical grumble of an approaching engine. The rabbits froze, glancing around nervously with sharp, panicked movements, the tips of their velvety ears twitching anxiously. Mole looked around hopelessly in search of the source of the noise, but the crescendo-ing hum seemed to come from everywhere all at once. After a moment’s pause, four little paws began knocking at him in every direction: pushing, pulling and prodding him in an attempt to hurry him off.

Mole, flustered, succeeded in moving no further than a few stuttered steps away from the willow roots when the growl of the engine suddenly grew louder, the roar of the motor interspersed with mechanical coughs and splutters as if the vehicle had suddenly rounded a corner and was now on a direct road towards them. The rabbits, seized by panic, began dancing nervously on the spot, unsure where to run. Then, before any had time to move, a car careered into the meadow less than 10 yards away from them. Mole, dazzled further by the glare of two round headlights, could only make out a chaotic blur of blue and green hurtling towards him at record pace. Frozen in fright, he stood rooted to the spot, the rabbits patting and padding him frantically at his side.

The roar of the engine reached deafening levels, the car so close that the enthusiastic “tally-ho-s” of its driver were just audible above the mechanics. Mole and the rabbits braced themselves for impact when, all of a sudden, there was a sharp crunch and the growl of the engine cut to a whir. There was a moment’s silence, before a whoosh of clatter knocked Mole from his feet. He was catapulted forwards and tumbling over the tree roots near him, landing on his back, dazed and disorientated, a good five yards from where he started. A chorus of disgruntled squeaks and thumps told him that the rabbits had also been swept up in the collision.

Mole felt around his front to find his glasses, which hung from a cord around his neck. Pushing them onto his nose, slightly skewed from the impact, he waited for his eyes to focus. Through the dull haze of smoke he could just define the shadow of a vehicle and the silhouette of the two rabbits, who were rolling to their feet tenderly, looking slightly dishevelled. As the smoke cleared, he could make out the chassis of the vehicle: a small, open-top car, the bumper dented from where it had just hit the gnarled root of the willow. The figure in the driver´s seat was still gripping the wheel; a broad grin split his face from ear to ear, and his eyes gleamed with bright-eyed enthusiasm.

Mole flumped backwards onto his back.

“Toad!” he fumed.