The next morning was different from a lot of other mornings, well at least it was different for Hammy. He had indeed taken the fall for his young porcupine friend Quillo. But through the eyes of everyone else it seemed a light punishment. Don't leave the the log. But through Hammy's eyes, the desperate lack of activity for an entire day was devastating. His untapped manic energy reserves begged to be let loose across the lawns of the suburbs. The only time he was not spending running around was when he was sleeping, eating, or watching Saturday morning cartoons. He wasn't sleepy, he'd already ate, and it was a Sunday. Nothing good ever comes on television on Sunday.
Every body had left to have their own fun. As Hammy stood by the log looking dejected his mind flickered between his longing to run around and the events of the night before. Not the nuts though, but the raccoon.
The raccoon in the gutter.
The bleeding...raccoon in the gutter.
The thoughts took no time in reoccurring to the squirrel, nearly hitting Hammy with lighting speed. "The raccoon in the storm drain!" He could remember the pungent smell of blood. How much blood was inside a raccoon anyway? He'd have to remember to ask RJ. But right then there were more pressing matters. Hammy paced around the log urgently in deep thought or at least the largest depth of thought he could achieve. " I've gotta tell the others...why didn't I tell them last night!" He pounded his skull with his small fists, maybe if had have told them about his discovery it would have saved him this cruel and unusual punishment of non activity. The pacing was doing no good and he didn't know when anyone would be back. So what options did he have?
"Lets see I uh...I could go find the others! And then after that I can go to the drain! Or first I could go to the drain and then go find the others!" He ran to the hedge and jumped on top of it, bobbing up and down on his hind legs trying to get as far a view as he could. None of the family was in sight and Hammy wondered if he could even remember in front of which house the drain was.
Streams of questions ran through his mind. If he couldn't find the others but could remember the storm drain's location, would he be able to help the raccoon himself? How much time did it have left? Would the others get mad if he left the log? Surely they wouldn't! Not with an injured animal of whos life hung in the very balance of his decided actions!
Hammy sped away from the hedge on route to the storm drain, he zig zagged from left to right, from one house to the next, he rarely ever ran straight. As he ran Hammy recalled the drains location suddenly, probably from his shear determination to remember. When he made it to the drain there was a slight pause to him. The darkness of the hole, even in the day time still looked haunting from where he stood. The road up and down was silent. As if this moment were chosen specifically for him to will himself closer to the dark drain without interruption of humans or other animals. A sudden gust of autumn wind blew past, running through Hammy's fur and giving him a chill.
As Hammy edged himself closer the sunlight seemed to become less prominent in his surrounding vision. All he saw was the dark dwelling, the storm drain. And all he could let his thoughts rest on was who was inside it. As he peered inside the gutter the hollow blackness consumed his head, when his eyes became adjusted all he could see was the slightest outline of a creature down at the bottom. The strong smell of blood still rang bells in his head, the intensity was enough to make his eyes water. His ears also picked up the faint hum of buzzing wings. The sound warbled in and out constantly.
Nervously, Hammy licked his two front teeth and tried to speak down into the hole. But soon he realized that he didn't have the courage to vocalize. What if the raccoon was already dead? Part of Hammy didn't want to discover if this was fact. With his keen eye Hammy was able to discern light movements from the animal below. A flickering movement of the tail, the weak rise and fall of the rib exposed chest. As time passed the entire body seemed to twitch and convulse in a manner similar to the way he usually does when he sleeps. This information provided to him from anyone who has the misfortune of sleeping right next to the squirrel when he'd dream. So Hammy came unto the assumption that the raccoon was dreaming about something.
Hammy let his eyes travel the body of the sleeping raccoon once more. He wondered how long it had been stuck down in this place. Hammy regretted not bringing any nuts for the poor creature to eat, but was too captivated by its presents to move away. Slowly Hammy inched forward, his own innocent curiosity drew him, until he was fully into the hole and the raccoon just inches away, breathing slowly in its deep sleep. Every few moments that went by Hammy could feel the light tingling touch of flies landing and crawling along his fur, but they lost interest in him and flew away again, back to the raccoon. This disturbed him more because the presents of flies either meant extreme filth or death. But Hammy took comfort in the slow yet constant rise and fall of the raccoon's chest. There was life in it still.
Hammy could see the leg of the animal through the thick dark of the drain. It lay stretched out and rigid. He narrowed his eyes and inched closer only to back away in surprise at what he saw. It looked like a sizable gash ran horizontally along the leg as if some larger animal had tried to bite it off. Raw flesh lay through the black fur, exposed and red to the filthy air. It looked partially healed yet possibly infected. Hammy's fur raised at the sight, his body tensed, who could survive something like that!
RJ stood steady out on the farthest branch that reached over into Mr. Mitchellson's yard. He stood poised and silent, waiting for just the right moment to spring. The man tending the grill just below let his attention wander else where as he left the cooked hot dog franks unguarded. With a graceful flick of his wrist, and a confident grin, RJ cast the fishing rod out over into the yard. "Alright, steady now." he mused quietly to himself, the hook swung gently over the heated grill before steadying and RJ got the hook inside the hot meat. "Going up!" RJ pulled back on the reel with two hot dogs on a single hook much to the applause of Stella and Tiger who were perched on the same branch but hidden by the golden leaves that had not already fallen. The two dangling hot dogs were then snatched up into the awaiting buns that were held by the skunk. "Now thats what I'm talking about, RJ. If you don't mind pass the mustard." She passed the second hot dog on to her squeeze, Tiger who gracefully accepted.
"Thank you my dear. And a fine show, RJ, my father could not have done better!" RJ rolled his eyes at the cat's constant reference to his father yet took the compliment to heart, another voice could be heard from the adjacent yard down by the trunk of the tree.
"Are ya gonna forget about us there, RJ?" Lou called down from the trunk of tree where he and his family sat along with Verne, Heather and Ozzy. Since the tree was sitting in the yard next to Mr. Mitchellson's they couldn't be seen from behind it. "Don't worry Lou, I've got the second round coming soon enough." While Mr. Mitchellson was still distracted by other matters, RJ went about fishing up the rest of the hot dogs.
Down below Verne let himself sit nestled between the roots of the tree that slightly broke from the ground. He rested his hands on his knees and sighed, looking out onto the street and the houses beyond. It was still morning time and the day was clear, but a nice set of wild looking bushes growing around the tree kept anyone from seeing them directly. Yes unclipped bushes. Things had gotten a little more loose and much more comfortable for the residence since that insane Gladys woman's arrest. Yet despite the easy going air of his family Verne couldn't help but feel slightly detached from the merriment. Mostly because of the absence of their hyper active bundle of energy, Hammy, who he was sure would have loved to sink his teeth into a nice juicy hot dog right about now. It was very noble of Hammy to put himself up for fault for Quillo staying up past curfew, and sacrifice such a nice day at the log. But even Penny began to think that the punishment was too much. Hammy staying still was like a volcano slowly building up its power and releasing a spontaneous force nobody could stop.
"Here's your hot dog, Uncle Verne!"
"Huh? Wuh? Oh thanks, Bucky." Verne exited his somewhat worrisome daydream and accepted the hot dog. Fresh and with his favorite condiment, a big heaping glop of ketchup on top. He bit into the dog and bun with relish, remembering that one time not so long ago when he was disgusted by the thought of human food. Oh well, things change.
After everybody had a nice grilled hot dog on a bun, RJ made one for himself with all the toppings from relish to ketchup to mustard then he hopped down from the tree along with Stella and Tiger and leaned up against the tree trunk where Verne was. The raccoon looked at the turtle stuffing his face and grinned. "Hey Verne you want some hot dog with that ketchup?" Verne stalled and looked up, his face a great mess of ketchup. This got a laugh out of the triplets and RJ and the bush.
Wait. The bush? Verne turned to look at the rustling leaves and out popped...
"HEY GUYS!" Verne let out a startled cry and fell backwards onto his shell. His half eaten hot dog fell to the ground and ants took no time making a line for it.
"Hey Hamsters, what finally made you decide to join us?" RJ walked up to the excited squirrel, leaving the upturned Verne for Ozzy to pick up. Verne felt a little miffed that RJ was acting like Hammy wasn't even on punishment. And then he remembered that he himself thought it was rather unjustly. Verne brushed himself off, sighed sadly at his lost hot dog, and then turned his attention to the red squirrel. "Yes Hammy, could you please tell us why you aren't at the log right now?"
The rest of the family looked on with amused expectancy of Hammy's reason as to why he had come along. They didn't really think him breaking his punishment was a big deal. Hammy flashed a toothy grin to show his pride at remembering what he had to say, it seemed to roll off his tongue naturally.
"I found someone in a storm drain! And its dank and dark and dirty and it smells bad down there!And theres blood! Blood everywhere!"
There was no way there could have been an immediate response to this. Everyone gawked at this new set of unusual and disturbing information thrust upon them by , truth be told, the most insane character of the bunch.
"Uh-hm..Hammy, a-are you sure about what you saw?" Verne tried to break the silence first knowing full well about Hammy's over acting imagination. Although to visualize something as gruesome as that seemed out of the squirrel's character. But not to his surprise the squirrel was insistent. "But its true! It is! Theres someone stuck down in a storm drain not to far from here!"
"Which storm drain is it then?"
" The one in front of those video kids' house!"
"Ooooh. Those two." RJ leaned back on his fishing rod while thinking about those two children who were a spectical to see because in truth they hardly ever left the house. They spent all of their time inside playing video games. Every one looked from side to side without moving their heads, trying to steal a glance at the animal next to them hoping to see who would speak next. Everybody felt a nervous tension aside from RJ, Verne, and of course Hammy.
"I swear! I saw the raccoon last night before me and Quillo came home! And she's hurt really bad, she cant get out of the hole so we gotta go get her out!" by now Hammy's tail was twitching and he was starting the little sporadic dance that comes to him normally when he grows impatient.
Verne was about to interrupt again but little Quillo beat him to it. "Its true uncle Vern. I saw, up close."
"Quillo what do you mean by that?" It was Penny's turn to speak. Especially now since she felt the truth was finally being given. "Well...you see..this is why Hammy and I were out so late." The little porcupine retold the story of the nut hunt becoming a nasty run in with two children with a high pressured hose and the eerie encounter with the animal down in the gutter hole. Quillo told it in a way that was followable, more comprehensive, and for Penny a little scary. It suddenly dawned on the group that Hammy hadn't gotten a hold of a pack of Rush Hour Fizz while they weren't looking. It also dawned on the gang that somebody really was in trouble. RJ downed the last of his hot dog in one bite and with the fishing rod, he pointed out into the street the way a general might use a war staff to direct his army. " Alright then, Hammy! Show us the way!"
A good stretch of time and many formidable miles away from the beautiful and suburbanized scene of El Rancho, sat a far less impressive trailer park. The sight of "U-Bend" estates gave the impression the of utmost impoverished and pathetic atmosphere. There was no greenery to be seen in the few square miles that made up the park save a few durable weeds. No trees, no bushes, no grass. The ground was dry and cracked the way one might picture a dessert in its hottest days. And nothing green would ever be destined to grow there as long as the oppressive wheels of the trailers remained. Most of the hulking mobile homes looked the same in every way. Shape, size, make, model and color. In a strange way the eerie identical traits that each trailer had mirrored the same sameness that each suburban house had at El Rancho. But because of U-Bend estates desperate lack of beauty or any attempt at beauty, it all looked more pathetic than orderly.
One of the homes stood away from the pack. And in an attempt to make the home look more decent than the rest, curtains hung in the window and artificial grass was spread under the trailer to replicate a lawn. To be quite honest this trailer home in particular at least made the most bold attempt to stay neat and tidy. So much that it put the rest of the homes to shame. For you see the occupier of this mobile home was absolutely obsessed in all ways with perfection and cleanliness. So much that it was a militaristic lifestyle to keep the living space above par with most hospitals. A thin woman with a baseball cap on her head opened the door of her trailer home and stepped outside. In one of her hands was a bucket of hot soapy water. In the other hand was sponge, rag, and a tooth brush. Gladys Sharp knelt down by one of the front tires and with the small brush began to vigorously scrub the inside treads of the tires. All the while she griped and groaned about how other people would intentionally smear dirt all over her trailer just so they could watch her clean it off.
"Oh I can't believe it, just the nerve of these...heathens!" Gladys lit into her task of scrubbing the tires, the chrome lining, and eventually the entire trailer. When the tiresome task was done the woman went back inside her trailer and flopped down onto the tiny couch that sat up against the wall. She looked up an down the shot gun design of the trailer, its cramped living space, its dreary lack of elegance. Despite her best efforts to fix up what was now her new home she still hated to look at it. "I hate my life." It was a sentence that she droned continuously since she had been let out of prison. She would have stayed longer, but for good behavior had been released early.
Released into this hell.
Still feeling exhausted, Gladys reached over and with a weak hand turned on her small table top radio. A vast deduction from the full digital sound system with surround sound that she used to own. As it turned out a woman with a pleasant voice came over the sound waves, talking about the latest environment preservation success.
As it turns out, today A.F.S. Has made another successful claim on land to keep as an animal preserve. Today hundreds of animal lives will be saved due to the declined plans to construct a walk out Mega Mall on the outskirts of Detroit. A.F.S states that preserving the beauty and delicate balance of this natural habitat will be a fruitful indenture into the minds of Michigan's future genera--
Gladys quickly turned off the radio and shuddered.
"Calm down, Gladys calm down! Remember what the doctor said."
Gladys started to breath deeply as she got up from her couch to get a glass of water. At this time her refrigerator was broken so she could not keep perishable foods for long, nor could she keep drinks cold. So she ran some water from the tap and drank it. The water wasn't very cool and it tasted funny. Gladys blanched at the taste but downed the whole glass. The not so soothing tasting liquid did somehow calm her nerves. Which now seemed to flare like an out of control blaze with any mention of animals, wild or otherwise. The people around her who owned pets were wary.
Shakily the frail woman sat back down. Her mind raced as it usually did to chase down the anger. The reason for it. But she knew, with every bone in her body she knew why she was angry and there was no denying it. Her memories swept her back months into the past when she was the president of the El Rancho Camelot Estates housing association.
Back then life had been good, special, perfect. But now her life was a shame, not even the fraction of the shadow it once was. When Gladys had been released from jail she had hardly any money left so a trailer home was all she could afford. Somehow in the term of one week her life had been demolished despite her acts to keep it stable. Her lovely suburban home ruined in some twist of fate, by the animals she had been set to exterminate.
What would poor El Rancho do without her? Without Gladys' knowledge and guidance to coordinate, plan, and direct the place would surely fall into disrepair. Gladys could only sneer at the thought of her replacement. She had always felt that she had been born and molded specifically for that job. Nobody could run a suburb as good as her. No one could. But out of some cruel and twisted act of God she had none of that. So what if she had hired an exterminator who used illegal means of getting rid of pests behind his companies' back? So what if those extermination traps could have also killed a family pet?
"It would have been there fault. No dogs allowed unauthorized on another person's lawn." Not to mention the vermine cause nothing but trouble.
Still Gladys Sharp's mind raced in and out, through all of the possible venues she still had left to her. Any way for her to rise back to success. Ever so often her mind would flicker back to those animals. A squirrel, a possum, a raccoon, porcupines. They were all there nestled in her minds eye. All Gladys could do was sit on her couch and gaze into nothing like a mad woman, daydreaming about revenge.
Late in the afternoon of the same day as Hammy's discovery, there was a rescue to extract the injured raccoon out of the dark storm drain. It went smooth enough with a few minor complications due mostly to the severity of the raccoon's injuries. But with patience and ingenuity on the side of RJ, The family was able to get the injured raccoon back to the hedge. It was at that time when it finally began to sink in. They had rescued a fellow animal out of the jaws of certain death. Or at least for that moment it seemed. The wounds needed immediate attention and thanks to Verne's deep and slightly obsessed concern for everyone's safety, medical creams, rubs, gels, and bandages had all been stored away inside the log just in case one of the gang should take a fall.
The gash along the raccoon's back leg wasn't as bad as Hammy had described. If his description had have been true then the injury would have needed stitches. But the gash was not that deep by far so it was easily bandaged with medical creams to kill off any possible infections. It would heal in time.
Stella finished the patch work with a role of medical bandages in her paws. She looked at her handy work with Penny as her assistant. Both females stood back in gentle awe of the creature who lay before them under the shadow of a large Cottonwood tree.
"I've never seen anything like her before. She looks so fragile." Indeed the raccoon was fragile. She was smaller than the average raccoon. Nearly equal to Hammy's size if just slightly bigger. Her fur was course and matted mostly from blood and dirt, not a pleasant thing to look at. One reason why Penny made sure Lou took the kids far away from the area at least for now. The raccoon's fur was a shocking black. Black as coal. No where near the traditional gray or brown commonly seen on raccoons. But there was no shine to the fur, nothing to deem attractiveness. While the raccoon slept Penny noticed something strange. " Stella! Come here and look at her arm, there. Just look at it!" The she- raccoon's left arm was crippled. It was shrunken and disfigured. The sleeping raccoon had the crippled arm tucked protectively against her chest as if afraid to expose it to the elements. Or perhaps she just could not move it anyway. The porcupine mother shook her head solemnly. "The poor dear. How did she ever survive with such a thing?" It was clear to see that the crippled leg was an aged wound. The gash was still fresh.
Later that night the young ones were put to bed. This included Heather much to her teenage contempt. The thoughts and memories of what happened that day engorged all of them. Leaving them all something to wonder, giving Quillo a spooky story to tell his brothers, but all together none were too certain of the long term possibilities. All of the adults sat by the tree where the injured raccoon still slept several feet away.
Verne lightly scratched the back of his scaly head."She still may not survive, Despite what we've done."
Lou was quick to inject his own opinion on a more positive level."Oh come on now, Verne. We can't give up on the poor thing. I'm sure with some time she'll pull through." Penny nodded in agreement. "All she needs is a little rest and..and..Well what do you think, RJ?"
RJ looked over at the sleeping form by the tree and slightly shook his head. "I don't know. She looks pretty pitiful right now. We don't even know for how long she was down in that gutter, and things could have gotten worse."
"Until I found her, right RJ?" Hammy pied up from behind his friend as RJ looked down with an approving smile. "Thats right buddy. Who knows where she'd be without you." Tiger who was always keen to acts of bravery couldn't help but compliment the vibrant red squirrel. "A very noble thing you did, Hammy. In all my days I have never seen a better show of it." Of course Hammy's chest swelled with the praise. So much praise that he lost balance and fell over. This earned a few chuckles from the group. It was light hearted until Verne took the reins of the conversation back in his hands. "Well we won't know for sure until she actually recovers. And right now all we can do is wait." There was a somber silence, then Verne added. "Its just that-I've never seen anything like this before."
Lou set his paws on his hips and gave Verne a look. "When have any of us seen anything like this before, Verne?" Voices all started to come up in agreement to Lou's words. All except Ozzy who, unbeknown to the rest of the group seemed shift nervously in his place.
At that point it was settled. The family would take up the task and responsibility of saving this life. With winter close coming there was little chance she would survive the elements alone.
"I wonder what her name is?" said Hammy curiously. Verne found a nice spot in RJ's gift home where everyone else slept, using a bean bag as a pillow. "I'm sure she'll tell us when she wakes up. Just be patient."
"Be patient...I can do that!"
"So is it morning yet?"
"No Hammy. Go to sleep"
Verne started to snore.
"Uhm...is it morning yet?"
A disgruntled Verne opened his eyes and peered at the wide awake squirrel. "No Hammy, in a few hours, now goodnight."Hammy tried to sleep but couldn't. His mind was racing like wild fire.
"I hope she dosen't die."
As it turned out Verne was still awake, he whispered. "I hope not too, Hammy. We'll try our best to keep that from happening."
A/N: Sorry about the wait. I'm a slow gal. I hope this ties you over until the next chapter! Thank you for all of your support and reviews.
Oh and before you ask. Why would a man grill in the fall? Because he can thats why!