Red Versus Blue
by Kim McFarland
It might have been a dark and stormy night. However, in the caves in which the Fraggles live, it would have to storm very hard indeed for them to notice.
Gobo, Red, Mokey, Wembley, Boober, and their children Janken, Sage, and Poncle were in the Messin' Around Cave, so called because it was just about the safest place in Fraggle Rock. Fraggles could go there and mess around to their hearts' content, confident that their fun would not be interrupted by dangerous creatures or falling rocks.
Janken had been looking forward to this for months. Not to visiting this particular cave, but to hanging around with his family. He had been living on the surface, immersing himself in the culture of the Silly Creatures, for years now, and his school and job only allowed him to come home for more than a day or two several times a year. Upon his return Boober had checked him over and pronounced him undiseased and free from alien parasites. The other smiled, but Boober was utterly serious. For good measure he had washed Janken's jacket—which was made of a sturdy blue fabric that Boober found intriguing—several times to replace the alien odor with a more friendly, homey scent.
Boober and Sage, his daughter, were both carrying picnic baskets. If they'd be spending the day there, and expending as much energy as Fraggles usually did, they'd need plenty of fuel. Red in particular was in an especially bubbly mood today—or, for Red, splashy—and, consequently, so was her daughter Poncle. Poncle looked more like Gobo than Red, but had her mother's near-boundless energy coupled with a little Fraggle's wide-eyed tail-wagging enthusiasm. Sometimes just watching her was tiring.
Close to the front of the cave was a swimming hole fed by a small waterfall that emerged from the wall. By that was a smooth, flat limestone floor that was perfect for straight racing or chalk drawing. Boober claimed it as their picnic spot.
Red said, "Let's have a race. Around the column and back to the pond!"
"How much of a head start do you want?" Gobo asked innocently.
"Hah! The day I need a headstart from you is the day Doozers fly!"
All of the Fraggles except one gathered at the starting point. Red called, "Come on, Boober!"
"No thanks. I'll watch."
She tossed her head. "Sheesh. Have you forgotten what fun is?"
"I have my own kind of fun," he replied.
"You are such a potato. If you'd play a little you'd work off some of that pudge," she teased.
He glared at her—or at least he appeared to; his face was pointing in her direction—and said in a flat voice, "You're holding up the race."
"Okay, fine." She turned back to the others. From the looks on their faces, they were mildly irked with her as well. Oh, who cared, they would forget it in a moment. She placed Sage and Poncle in the pole position. Sage gave her a dirty look. She ignored it. She said, "On your mark, get set, go!"
Boober watched as the gaggle of Fraggles sped toward the column. Red and Gobo were in the lead, as expected. By the time they rounded the column they were strung out in a line, with Wembley behind Red and Gobo, then Janken, Sage and Poncle—Poncle's little legs were a blur, she was running so hard—and finally Mokey, who habitually played tail-end Charlie. They all ended up leaping into the pond in rapid succession, splashing water everywhere. Though Boober did not swim—which was unheard-of in a Fraggle—he did enjoy watching them have fun. Most of them hurled themselves into the water, kicking up as big a splash as they could. Janken, however, arrowed smoothly into the pond, barely raising a ripple. Where had he learned that?
Red called out, "So who won? I did, right, Boober?"
"I didn't notice," he answered.
She put her hands together and splashed a scoop of water at him. "Come swim with us at least. You're the only one out of the water!"
He walked over, sat on the edge of the pool, and dangled his feet in the water. "Happy?" he asked.
He watched as the others splashed about, and took some collateral hits. He didn't mind getting damp; he did, after all, do their laundry, and that was hardly dry work. And, he had to admit, the cool water did feel good on his feet. He leaned back, content to enjoy their play vicariously.
After a bit Janken swam to the side of the pool by Boober. "I really missed this," he said conversationally. "The people on the surface like to swim too, but the water they swim in reeks and burns my eyes."
"Why do they use contaminated water? Can't they tell it's bad?"
"They make it that way on purpose. To keep it clean, they put in chemicals to kill anything that might live in it."
"They poison their own water?" Boober asked, horrified.
"They only poison the water in those ponds," Janken explained. "They drink other water. I only tried it once, and it took a week to get the stink out of my fur."
"Never swim in water you wouldn't drink," Boober said. That was common sense; any child knew better.
"Believe me, I won't do it again," Janken replied, remembering how his eyes had stung afterward.
Janken felt a sudden tug on his tail. He slipped underwater and found his two little sisters gripping his tail. He eeled after them. They fled in two different directions, kicking up clouds of bubbles. He chased Poncle—her yellow-and-brown coloration was easier to follow underwater than Sage's blue-green—and, when he caught her, burst to the surface and threw her into the air. She squealed, limbs flailing, and smacked back down in a perfect backflop.
Others joined in the horseplay, and soon everyone was chasing each other around and pulling each other under the water. Boober noticed Janken's jacket. He had taken it off before entering the water, and Boober could guess why: the fabric was heavy, and would be difficult to swim in. Otherwise, he thought, it was an excellent piece of clothing, worthy of any Fraggle. The Silly Creatures had almost gotten it right with this one.
He turned away from the pool to inspect the cloth more closely. Tail trailing in the cool water, he ran his thumbs along the surface, intrigued by how it felt rough when he stroked it one way and smooth when he stroked it another.
He was so interested in the garment, he did not notice Red behind him. His tail, swishing slowly in the water, was unbearably tempting. With a grin she grabbed it and pulled hard, shouting, "Everybody in!"
Boober topped backward, and screamed when he hit the water. He flailed about underwater for a moment, then broke the surface, coughing. He kicked for the closest edge and hauled himself out of the water. His tail lashing angrily, he pinned Red with a glare—and he was clearly glaring now; his wet hair revealed his eyes—and hissed, "Guano!"
"Hey! I was just playing!" she exclaimed, shocked.
"I wasn't!" He turned and stomped away.
Wembley said, "Gee, Red, maybe you shouldn't've done that. You know he never swims."
Defensively she replied, "I was just trying to get him into the fun. You know him, he hangs back but when he finally loosens up he has as much fun as anyone else."
"You can't force him to have fun," Gobo told her.
"He shouldn't be such a party pooper."
Sage had gotten out of the pool and, standing on the edge, said, "You shouldn't be mean to him! He doesn't make you cook, so you shouldn't make him play!"
Now that everyone was ganging up on her, Red was becoming upset. "I wasn't being mean to him!"
"Yes, you were! He's softer and nicer than you. And he smells better. He smells like clean clothes and good food. You smell like pond scum!" She turned on her heel and walked off in the direction Boober had gone.
Startled, Red found nothing to say to that. The others stifled snickers.
Sage followed the trail of water drops to the back of the cave, where Boober was crouching and wringing out his scarf. His tail was still lashing, and he was making inarticulate, angry sounds. She thought a moment, then went back to the pool. In as dignified a tone as she could manage she asked, "Mama, can I borrow your sweater?"
"Of course. And, here." Mokey handed up Boober's cap, which had come off in the pool.
"Thanks." Sage went back to Boober and draped the sweater over his back. "Papa."
He looked up, surprised. He had not heard her approach. She handed him his hat. He took it and said, "Thanks." It was too wet to wear now, so he wrung out as much water as he could and put it on a rock to dry, beside his scarf.
She said, "Close your eyes and I'll dry your hair."
He did, and she rubbed his hair with the sweater. By the time she was finished it was even messier than before, but it would dry faster.
When she finished this Boober stood up again. He was just barely taller than Sage, even though she was young and had a lot more growing to do. Their moss-colored fur and slightly lighter skin were almost exactly the same color; only their hair was different, hers being dark blue-green where his was red. The biggest difference, however, was their eyes. Hers were normal, perched on top of her head, and his were half-sunken in; they had never risen completely. With the exception of those two features, they looked more like siblings than parent and child.
He looked bedraggled, unlike most Fraggles who, when they got out of water, merely looked wet. It was because he was so unhappy about it, she knew. But he had calmed down; his tail was no longer cutting the air like a whip. He drew the sweater around himself, even though the cave was warm. Mokey was the tallest among them, and he the shortest, so her sweater dragged on the floor. "Thanks, Sage," he said in a low voice.
"Red shouldn't be so mean to you," she said.
She sounded so distressed. He had been furious, but it was the kind of anger that burned itself out quickly. It had only been a prank. Red couldn't have known... He said, "She wasn't trying to be mean. She was only playing. She just plays rough sometimes."
"But what she said to you too! She thinks everyone ought to be like her. Well, she's wrong. You're perfect just like you are!" She hugged him suddenly and hard.
Touched, he put his arms around his daughter and hugged back. He thought, what had Red said? Oh. He hadn't thought much about it because he was not sensitive about his shape. Some people were tall and slender like Mokey; some were athletic like Red, and some were small and round like Boober. It was a simple fact of life, not worth getting bothered over. He said softly, "It's all right. She was just teasing me. I wasn't mad about that."
"Still, she shouldn't!"
He stroked her wet hair. It was half braids, with beads at the end and pretty things like feathers and bottle caps stuck in wherever they would go. They often fell out, but that was all right, as she was always finding something new to decorate herself with. He said, "You've lost your hair ornaments. Let's find some new ones."
Boober led her to where he had seen some nook grass growing. It grew in bright red clumps on mossy boulders left from a long-ago rockslide. In front of the boulders, however, was a pond of gently bubbling mud. It smelled clean and had a thin layer of water on top. Boober said, "Step around that. It might be deep, and who knows what lives in it?"
Probably nothing dangerous, Sage thought. She loved Boober, but even she knew that he was overcautious. Still, who wanted to wade through mud? She stepped around it and climbed up on the boulder. She had wrapped her hand around a clump and was about to pull it out by the roots when Boober said, "Stop, don't pick it that way. Leave the roots so it'll regrow."
"But there's lots of it here," she replied.
"Taste it. Just one leaf."
She did. It was strange and spicy, and made her mouth warm. She had tasted this somewhere before, she knew. After sniffing it she said, "You put this in food. But you haven't in a while."
"I dry it and save it for winter. Nook grass warms you up. Too much and your stomach won't like it. But just enough and it makes winter a little easier." He plucked a small handful a few inches above the root. Small droplets of sticky sap appeared on the edges. He pressed the droplets together, and they stuck, gluing the clump into a brush shape. "The sap doesn't have any useful properties, but it makes it easy to carry. Or put in your hair." He pressed the end of the brush to a bead on one braid, and it stuck there.
She turned her head back and forth, making her braids fly about. The bit of grass fluttered prettily. She laughed. "It's just the color of your hair!"
"It is, isn't it." He agreed. Then he looked at it again. It was almost exactly the color of his hair. He thought for a moment, then said, "Would you like to help me even the score with Red?"
"Then let's get some more of this grass..."
After awhile the other Fraggles came out of the pool. All were thoroughly soaked, and there was only one way to dry off: do what Fraggles do best besides swimming and run around. Red exclaimed, "Let's play tail-tag! Throw to decide who's it!"
They gathered into a circle and each extended a hand inward. Red said, "Stone, water, wind!" On the last word each Fraggle made one of three gestures with his or her hand. She said, "Three stone, two wind, one water. Janken, Wembley, Poncle, you're out."
Poncle made an annoyed huffing noise. She didn't like losing. Wembley noticed and put an arm around her.
"Stone, water, wind! Two water, one wind. You're it, Mokey," Red said.
Everyone scattered. Mokey waited for a while. Eventually she heard Gobo's voice coming from somewhere in the back of the cave. "Mokey, when you're it you come look for us, remember?"
"Did you ever notice how beautiful the reflections the ripples in the water cast on the cave ceiling are?" she said dreamily.
"Mokey!" Red shouted from another direction.
"Oh! Oh, yes, of course." She looked around herself, then set off in a random direction.
She searched for a while, but the others were good at evading her. But after a while she spied a purple tuft of fur at the tip of an orange tail. She giggled to herself, snuck up, and seized it. "Tag!"
Gobo watched her scamper away. He had heard her coming, and could have run away, but if she was it too long she would lose focus and start admiring the pretty flowstone patterns or communing with moss. He glanced around—nobody was in sight—then looked up. Sometimes Red hid high up on the walls, where other Fraggles wouldn't look. Other Fraggles beside him, that was.
He spied her, and smirked to himself. He'd catch her for sure. He started stalking her, and she began to climb away. She could not go up, so she made her way further back. As if she could climb faster than he could run! Then he heard a soft whistling in the distance, and glanced over. Boober was fiddling around with some plants in the back of the cave. He sounded cheerful enough; he must have gotten over his annoyance with Red. Good.
Gobo looked up again. Red had gone as far as she could on the wall, and was about to jump down. Gobo ran to intercept her, but when he rounded a thick stalagmite he bumped into Wembley, who had been watching Red instead of Gobo. Both were knocked back, giving Red the moment she needed to leap down and run away, laughing. Wembley jumped to his feet and looked back and forth quickly, trying to decide which way to flee. His hesitation gave Gobo the time to seize his tail. "Tag!" he exclaimed, then fled.
Wembley looked around. Which way should he go? No direction looked better than any other! He set off in the direction Red had gone. When he passed by Boober he said "Hi!"
Boober waved back but didn't speak. He just continued whistling. Wembley recognized the tune: Catch a Tail by the Tiger. Good music for a game of tag, he thought.
On a sudden impulse he ran down a corridor and found Janken. As startled as Janken was, he faced off against Wembley with a sly look. Wembley couldn't tag him if he couldn't reach his tail! The two circled each other, Wembley making feints which did not fool Janken. Then Janken felt a hard tug on his tail. He turned around. Poncle had grabbed him. The little Fraggle had become impatient with evading and had declared herself it. Janken said, "Hey! Which one of you two is it?"
"I am!" Poncle shouted.
Wembley used the moment of confusion to reach around and grab Janken's tail. "Now you are," he told Janken with a grin.
"Teaming up against me? I'll make you regret that!" He pivoted and snagged Poncle's tail. "And now you're it!"
Poncle chased Janken, laughing. By chance he led her close to Red. Poncle changed targets when she saw her mother. Red was the hardest Fraggle in the rock to tag, but Poncle knew she could do it because she was just as good! She scrambled after Red, who ran away, her tail held high. Red ran just fast enough to keep ahead of her daughter, but not fast enough to frustrate her into giving up. Red had been stalking Boober. He was in a better mood, watching the game rather than pointedly ignoring it. That, Red knew, meant that he was not refusing to participate; he just needed some convincing.
When Red came close Boober began whistling Muck and Goo. It was as if he was teasing her, she thought. Fine then. She could chase him down easily. She'd be amazed if he even tried to run. She slowed down, giving Poncle an opportunity. The little girl promptly seized her tail and yelled "You're it!"
As her daughter scampered away, Red ran toward Boober. Surprisingly, he jumped down from his perch on a boulder and ran for the back of the cave. Red could have laughed; he had no hope of outrunning her! She'd hold back a little, though, and let him hope for a few moments.
She let him get out of her sight. However, she knew exactly where he had gone; his footprints led her to the back of the cave. She found him perched on a mossy boulder fringed with red plants. As if that would camouflage him! He was trapped. She stepped forward, onto the pile of debris in front of the pile of boulders—and plunged through the litter that had been laid on top of the watery mud. "Boober!" she yelled, on finding herself up to her chest in muck.
One of the mossy boulders unfolded and leapt for her. She screamed and ducked in the moment before she realized what she was seeing. She could not stop herself before she got a faceful of mud. She jerked back up and turned around. Boober, minus his hat and scarf, was holding her tail. "Now this is a champion-quality baloobius!" he declared.
"Boober? What—" she looked back at the Fraggle on the rock pile. It lifted Boober's cap, revealing Sage's eyes. Red grass was attached to the rim of the cap, and around the end of her tail, to make her look like Boober. While Red was gaping Boober and Sage both began to sing,
"Give me one and give me two,
Cover me in muck and goo.
Give me three and give me four,
Cover me in guck and gore."
The other Fraggles heard the commotion and then the singing. Wondering what in the world could be happening, they came over, and found Red sunk in a mud hole, laughing and pelting Sage and Boober with handfuls of muck. They were dodging and laughing, and all three were singing. Soon everyone joined in the song and the mud fight.
Before long everyone was back in the pond again, this time to wash off the mud that had spattered all of them. Even Boober was crouching in the shallows, primly washing the muck out of his fur. Poncle was swimming and splashing around rather than washing, but it was having the same effect, which was good, as she had done her best to swim in the mud.
Red said, "Um, Boober, I'm sorry I got on your nerves earlier. I wasn't trying to be mean. It just..." She shrugged. "You know me, sometimes I go a little too far before I realize it. I guess I deserved to get dropped in mud. If you don't want to swim or play or whatever, I won't try to make you. Okay?" She held out a hand to him.
He replied, "Okay," and took her hand.
"Just... why don't you like to swim? All Fraggles swim! Except you."
"You know, nobody has ever asked me that before," he remarked.
She said quickly, "If you don't want to tell me, it's okay."
He told her, "Once, when I was about Poncle's age, I nearly drowned. Ever since then I haven't liked to swim. I don't like being surrounded by water." He shuddered at the thought.
"Wow. Now I feel really lousy for pulling you in," she said quietly, remembering how he had screamed and thrashed in panic.
He shrugged. "It was a long time ago."
"Have you ever even tried to get over it? I mean, a little at a time?"
"Red!" Sage exclaimed.
"I'd be happy to help. It's worth a try, isn't it, Boober?" she offered.
He got out of the water and sat on the edge, his fur dripping. His tail tip thumped on the ground.
He hadn't spoken, but had answered loud and clear. She conceded, "I get it. Don't get mad. Look, you tell me if you ever want to give it a try. Otherwise I'll shut up about it. All right?"
"All right," he answered, then said in a mock haughty tone, "You just want to make sure I don't forget to make radish bars."
When he was really miffed at her, he would 'forget' to make her favorite treat. She said, "Well, of course I do! You make the best radish bars in the Rock. I don't know what you put in 'em, but it's spoiled other radish bars for me."
"Secret ingredient," he said with a small, pleased smile.
"Say, there wouldn't happen to be any in those baskets, would there?"
"Oh, I might have found room for a few..."
"Yeah!'' She surged out of the water. The other Fraggles followed immediately afterward. Boober watched with quiet pride as his family tore into the meal he had packed. He may not have been any good at swimming, or playing games, or any of a hundred other Fraggle pastimes, but he was the best cook in the Rock. He smiled to himself as he remembered Red falling into the mud, then dipped a cracker into some radish pâté and began munching.
Fraggle Rock and all characters except Sage, Janken, and Poncle and Janken are copyright © The Jim Henson Company. Muck and Goo is copyright © The Jim Henson Company. All copyrighted properties are used without permission but with much respect and affection. Janken, Sage, Poncle, and the overall story are copyright © Kim McFarland (negaduck9 at aol dot com). Permission is given by the author to copy it for personal use only.