AUTHOR'S NOTE: Well, I'm currently in the early stages of writing "Fly By Night", but before I go any farther, I got the idea for this and I thought it was, well, too good of an idea to actually pass up on. So here we have it: my own Raccoons version of "It's A Wonderful Life". "Wonderful Life" has been spoofed and referenced so many times and had so many different versions of it made with multiple TV shows (The Angry Beavers got their own version of it. Says enough right there...) that is now extremely cliched to write a version of it or reference it, and that makes this by far the most unoriginal thing I will ever pen...and I don't care. I'm writing this anyways because I want to. If I want to, there's nobody stopping me, right? Heheh, well, enough of that. Anyways, I had the idea of what might happen if Bert had never been born. What might happen to everybody else? Considering how important of a character Bert is to everyone else, the results certainly could not be pretty...WARNING: This will be quite dark. Also, I know this is a little early for Christmas, but hey! It'll be a nice thing to read in the lead-up, I suppose. Here we go...

We Wish You A Merry Legal Disclaimer And A Happy New Lawsuit: I do not own the rights to the Raccoons or the characters of the show-nor will I ever (barring some amazing miracle happening!), it'd seem. I also do not own the rights to "It's A Wonderful Life"-if I did, I would be fabulously wealthy beyond my wildest dreams. Any songs or real people referenced within (since this is short (three chapters) there'll be no more than a very small handful in here) do not belong to me either.

Now that that is out of the way, we present...

'Twas A Wonderful Life

Chapter One: 'Tis The Season...

It was a cold mid-December morning in the Evergreen Forest. A week before Christmas. The denizens of the Forest were already looking forward to the upcoming time of giving and goodwill...including Ralph and Melissa Raccoon.

It was a quiet morning at the Raccoondominium. Ralph and Melissa were downstairs in the kitchen drinking their morning coffee together at the table. It was early and the couple had not yet gotten dressed for today; they were still in their nightclothes. Today they had taken the day off from working on the Evergreen Standard. Bert was asleep upstairs...he'd yet to drag his hide out of bed and he probably wouldn't for another hour or two. For Ralph and Melissa, it was at least nice to have a few moments of peace and quiet before Bert woke up...

"Well, Ralph," Melissa spoke, taking a sip from her coffee cup, "it's only a week until Christmas. I wonder what you'll be getting me this year?"

Ralph jolted in his seat a bit. Uh oh. Ralph had been rather caught up in his work for the Standard, and as such, he'd forgotten to buy his wife a present...yet. "Oh no!" Ralph thought. "I really need to buy her something...or else she'll really tear into me...I better hurry before the stores are all sold out!"

Ralph tried to hide his nervousness somewhat unconvincingly. "Rest assured, dear, it'll be quite the surprise, you'll see..."

Melissa could tell her husband was hiding something from her, but she figured it was best not to pry into the situation at the present moment. "Well, I'm sure you'll have something special, honey," she smiled, softly.

"Why, of course I will, Melissa. I always do, don't I?" Ralph chuckled.

"Right," she agreed. "He'd better not forget..." Melissa thought to herself. "He already forgot one special occasion this year..." And indeed, Ralph had. Ralph had the extremely awful misfortune of forgetting his own wedding anniversary this past year; Melissa had not been pleased at her husband's forgetfulness. It had taken poor Ralph some time to get back onto her good side after that. "Nah," she thought, trying to reassure herself. "Ralph won't forget my Christmas present. I'm sure he'll have something that'll really surprise me..." She could always hope...

At that moment, Bert threw open his bedroom door and came dashing down the staircase at a rather high rate of speed.

"Bert's up," Melissa whispered to Ralph.

"Wonder what he's so happy about this morning?" Ralph wondered aloud.

Bert came racing into the kitchen.

"Morning, you guys!" he gleefully exclaimed. "You two excited for today?"

Ralph looked confused. "Excited for what today?"

Melissa glared at Ralph. "You don't remember...?"

"Not particularly..." Ralph admitted to his wife.

"Why, today's the day of that big Christmas party you've had planned for weeks, Ralphie boy!" Bert was ecstatic.

Ralph thought for a second. "Oh! Oh, I remember now..."

"That's why we took the day off from running the Standard, Ralph," Melissa informed him.

Ralph couldn't believe he'd forgotten about that when he'd been so excited about it a few weeks ago. "I can be quite the Forgetful Freddy sometimes..." he embarrassingly admitted.

"Don't sweat it, Ralphie boy! Why, tonight, I can sense the peanut butter vodka will be making its triumphant return, heheh..." Bert chuckled lightly to himself.

"Oh, not the peanut butter vodka," Melissa groaned, shaking her head.

"Bert, that stuff'll make everybody sick. Please don't bring that out again this year..." Ralph could remember last year's Christmas party at his brother George's place last year; Bert had really wasted himself. "He always was quite the lightweight when it comes to alcohol..." Ralph mused.

"Puh, you two could stand to improve your taste!" Bert heartily laughed.

"Sure," Melissa sighed.

"Well, it'll be quite the event," Ralph said, already beginning to imagine. "You remember last year's Christmas party, don't you?"

"Of course," Melissa replied, "your brother held at his family's house. I couldn't forget that!"

"Boy, that was quite some party George had last year!" Bert enthusiastically answered, as he reminisced over the events of that party. Bert had gorged himself upon the food and had gotten himself really drunk for the first time in years. Well, he could only half-remember it thanks to the alcohol he drank, but it was still a good half-memory.

"I'll say it was," Ralph chuckled. "Just the other day I overheard Schaeffer talking about how delicious the Christmas turkey George prepared for the party was. People are still talking about that party!"

"That was the best turkey I ever had..." Bert said to himself, his mouth starting to water thinking about that particular turkey.

"But, between you two and me," Ralph smiled, "I think I can throw a better one this year than George's! Heheh," he chuckled. "Just a little brotherly rivalry there."

"Ah, I see," Melissa nodded.

"Well, who all is on our guest list again?" Bert asked, not fully remembering.

"Hmm..." Ralph thought for a moment. "Well, Schaeffer, Maxie, Annie, George, Nicole, Bentley, Lisa..."

Bert's ears perked up upon hearing that Lisa would be coming to the party. "I can't wait to see Lisa..." he said to himself.

"My father's coming too," Melissa added. "It'll be nice; it's been a while since I've seen him."

"Oh, Mike is coming?" Ralph asked. "I hope he's been doing well."

"Well, his arthritis is starting to get to him, but as far as I know he's been fine. I heard he went to the Evergreen Orphanage to read the lonely orphans Christmas stories." Melissa smiled to herself. "Very thoughtful of him to bring some joy into their lives."

"You know, Mike is an alright guy," Bert admitted. "I'm a little embarrassed I once prank called that guy..."

"Well, we all have things from our past that we're embarrassed we did," Melissa replied.

"I know. So, who else is there?"

"Well," Ralph began again, "my mother and father, and let's see...oh, your parents too, Bert. I think. I don't remember if your father said he would come or not, I know your mother would."

"They'll be here," Bert emphatically answered. "They'll be here. Anyone else?"

"Well, my father's friends Henry, Peter, and Erik, and Sophia Tutu and Cedric. I believe that's all who'll be attending," Ralph replied.

"Old Hose-Nose's not coming?" Bert wondered.

"I believe Lady Baden-Baden is throwing a big Christmas bash up at her mansion for the wealthy, so I imagine he'll be going there instead." Ralph then said aloud, as his journalistic instincts kicked in, "You know, that could make a great news story...a part of me feels like we should be heading there to cover it..."

"Ralph, honey," Melissa said, "today's our off-day. Don't worry about what goes on at Lady Baden-Baden's place, tonight we're going to have our own fun."

"Oh, sorry," Ralph sighed, "sorry. I couldn't help myself..."

"Eh, it's alright, Ralphie," Bert shrugged. "I'm just wondering how we're gonna have this big party without having the place all decorated up!"

"Oh, damn!" Ralph exclaimed, realizing he had completely forgotten to do that. "Oh, oh dear. I think we better get to that!"

"Well," Melissa smiled. "Let's get to work setting this place up! We have plenty of time, the guests aren't supposed to come here until six-thirty..."

Bert was humming to himself as he was preparing to string up the lights outside the Raccoondominium. Ralph had asked him to put up the lights, while he was putting up the tree and Melissa was hanging up the festive decorations around the house. Bert was holding the box of lights.

"Ah, nothing beats hanging up Christmas lights..." Bert happily said to himself. It was no secret that Bert had always loved Christmas. It was his favorite holiday. To this very day, Bert had always believed in Santa Claus...even despite Ralph scoffing that there was no such thing. "I'm afraid Santa isn't real," Ralph had once told him when they were teenagers, "those presents are from your parents. I know, I used to believe, but I peeked one year and saw my mom putting them under the tree. He isn't real." Bert had laughed. "Pah, of course he's real Ralphie boy! I know he'll be paying me a visit this year, because I've been a good boy!"

Bert had to laugh at his old Christmas memories. "Well, I guess it's time to string the lights up..." he said. Bert opened the box...and found the lights were all tangled up in a twisted, contorted, jumbled heap. "Oh boy..." Bert sighed. "This is going to be quite the task to untangle these..."

Meanwhile, Ralph had finished putting up the tree. He felt quite proud of himself; the tree looked quite wonderful. "Now to decorate it," Ralph said to himself as he began hanging ornaments up on the tree. "Hmm..." Ralph thought as he was hanging up Christmas balls on the tree. "Wonder what kind of Christmas music they have playing on the radio..." he said as he reached for the nearby radio. "I suppose I have to let the festive spirit of Christmas flow through my veins!" he chuckled to himself as he turned on the radio.

Ralph hummed along to the song on the radio as he hung up more Christmas balls, until he actually heard the words of the song...

"So how can you laugh, when your own mother's hungry?

And how can you smile, when your reasons for smiling are wrong?

And if I've just messed up your thoughtless pleasures,

Remember, if you wish, this is just a Christmas song..."

"Huh," Ralph said to himself, bemused by the rather odd choice of song for a station dedicated to playing Christmas music. "Now what kind of Christmas song was that? Blatantly anti-Christmas, I how'd they let that one sneak through?" He shrugged it off. "Ah, well. Time to put up the-" Ralph realized something.

"Wait a minute. Where's the tinsel?" Ralph looked all around him for the tinsel, but couldn't find it. "I could have sworn I had the tinsel..." He looked around for it, but no luck.

"Ah, I suppose I'll have to ask Melissa where the tinsel is...I'm sure she'll know..." Ralph said to himself as he headed over in Melissa's direction.

Melissa was standing atop a ladder hanging up assorted Christmas decorations. She had already put up the stockings and placed the wreath upon the front door. "Christmas is always a splendid time of year," she thought to herself. "A time of joy, good will, sharing, and," she chuckled lightly to herself, "love." Melissa was presently hanging up the mistletoe. She always had considered herself a romantic at heart... "Melissa, honey!" Ralph called as he came towards her, interrupting her from her reverie. "Have you seen the tinsel? I tried looking for it, but I couldn't find it anywhere...I could have sworn I brought it down from the attic..."

"Oh!" Melissa exclaimed, looking down at her husband. "Well, it should be upstairs in our closet least, I think it is..." Melissa suddenly realized exactly where Ralph had chosen to stand...she could not help but giggle.

"What's so funny?" Ralph said, confused and unsure of what she was laughing at.

"Ralph...look what you're standing under..."

Ralph looked up; sure enough... "Oh. The mistletoe, right..." Ralph chuckled.

"Well, honey," Melissa smiled as she stepped off the ladder. "You know what it means when you end up standing under the mistletoe with a girl you like, don't you?"

"Oh, believe me, Melissa, I do," Ralph smirked. He certainly wasn't one to buck an old tradition. "Come here, you..." Ralph said as the couple embraced each other.

Just as Ralph and Melissa were about to kiss...

"Ah, dammit! A little help here! Good grief!"

Ralph immediately let go of Melissa. "Oh no..." Ralph muttered. Bert had done something wrong and had completely killed the moment.

Melissa looked disappointed. "Bert, why'd you have to get in trouble..." she sighed.

"That damn Bert," Ralph thought to himself as he growled. "He always seems to be finding trouble and bothering me. Lately, it seems he's been getting into more trouble than usual. Why, I can't even share a nice romantic moment with my lovely wife without him interrupting us by finding mischief. I wonder what he's done this time..."

"What is it, Bert?" Ralph called out, agitated.

"It's, heheh, a bit of a doozy..." Bert chuckled from the living room.

Ralph and Melissa headed into the living room, where...

"My goodness, Bert, how did you manage to get into that big of a mess?" Melissa exclaimed, more than a little astonished. Bert had managed to get himself totally tangled up in the Christmas lights. He was completely wrapped up in them.

"Heheh," Bert laughed, nervously; he was more than a little embarrassed. "I was trying to untangle the lights, and, well, I managed to get myself tangled up..."

"Now how did you do that? It's a simple job, Bert," Ralph growled, "and you managed to mess it up. Explain yourself right now."

"It was an accident, Ralph," Bert said meekly, surprised to see Ralph angry at him. He'd expected Ralph to be understanding; instead Ralph had responded with hostility. "It could happen to anyone, you know..."

"Bert," Melissa replied as calmly as she could, as she helped untangle Bert from the contorted mess of the Christmas lights, "we appreciate your attempt to help, but perhaps it would be for the best if, you know, Ralph and I put up the lights."

"That's a great idea, Melissa!" Ralph agreed. "I think I can do the job. The last thing I want is for this place to look like a trash heap come the time of the party, and with you, Bert, there's no guarantee it won't end up looking like that!"

Bert was surprised and more than a little confused. "Ralph and Melissa...don't want me to help them...? Why...?"

"You really don't want me to help you guys out?"

"We don't mean to upset you, Bert," Melissa said, trying to be polite about the situation as she could, "but I think we can handle it by ourselves. Perhaps Cedric might want some help."

"Yes, he's supposed to be bringing the eggnog. And a Christmas cake, too," Ralph added.

"Yes, you could go see if he wants help, Bert."

"Alright..." Bert sighed. He walked out the Raccoondominium and headed towards Sneer Mansion. "I sure hope Cedric is in need of help..." Bert mumbled to himself.

Melissa looked uneasily towards her husband. "Ralph, you don't suppose we hurt Bert's feelings when we told him we didn't need his help, do you...?"

Ralph chuckled. "Nah! He'll be just fine in time for the party, you wait and see. Now, heh heh, where were we before Bert so rudely interrupted us?"

Melissa giggled. "Oh, stop, you!"

At Sneer Mansion, Cedric Sneer was busy putting the finishing touches on his Christmas cake for Ralph and Melissa's party. Things had changed for Cedric-in the past year he'd managed to become his father's business partner, something he'd been waiting for nearly his entire life.

At this particular moment, his aforementioned father, Cyril Sneer, stepped into the kitchen, followed by his trio of pig employees, Lloyd, Boyd, and Floyd.

"Hi, Pop," Cedric said to his father.

"Oh, uh, hello, Cedric," the old aardvark said to his son. "What are you up to down here?"

"Oh, well, Pop, I'm busy finishing up a Christmas cake for Ralph and Melissa's Christmas party at the Raccoondominium tonight! It's taken me a few weeks to finish it, but I think it came out well! I'm sure it'll be quite an event," he chuckled.

"Oh, those raccoons' party. I hope you'll have fun, Cedric..."

Cedric smiled. His pop had really changed in the past few years. Five years ago Cyril would have never allowed him to go anywhere near a party held by the Raccoons-back then, Cyril honestly would not have minded putting a bounty upon Bert, Ralph, and Melissa's heads and have them hung up over his fireplace for all to see. But time had shown Cyril that the Raccoons were not so bad as he had long believed them to be; that newspaper they ran had actually proven beneficial to Cyril-from time to time, at least. Now Cyril was close to considering them his pseudo-allies. Cedric had long told his father that they were not as bad as he had made them out to be, and, he had to admit, it was nice to see people change. "Thanks, Pop. But you're not going?" he asked, curiously.

"No, no, I'm heading out to the big bash at Lady Baden-Baden's estate tonight. Same time, I guess?"

"I think so. Well, I hope you do have fun at Lady Baden-Baden's," Cedric encouraged his father.

"With these three porkers coming with me," Cyril growled, taking a long drawl off of his ubiquitous cigar, "there's no guarantee of that!"

Lloyd spoke up. "Heheh, don't worry, Boss, we'll be on our best behavior tonight!"

"You have our word," Floyd agreed with his sibling.

"Oh, you'd better be on your best behavior tonight. Do you know what's going to happen if you three sniveling swine get into trouble and embarrass me tonight?"

Boyd gulped. "I-I have a feeling it's not going to be something we're going to like..."

"You're damn right, it's not going to be something you're going to like! If you three mess up tonight, the main course for my Christmas dinner is going to be smoked ham on a platter! So you had better behave..." Cyril ominously warned the pork trio.

"Point taken!" Lloyd nervously admitted.

"Wait a minute..." Cedric wondered aloud. "If you and the pigs are heading to Lady Baden-Baden's, and Sophia and I are head to Ralph and Melissa's...then who's going to watch the Mansion?"

"Erm..." Cyril frantically thought to himself. "Why, our old dog Snag can do the job!" Snag happened to be sleeping underneath the table where Cedric was finishing the cake.

"Are you sure, Pop?" Cedric asked, skeptically.

"Why of course, Cedric, my boy! They always say blue-point ridgeback retrievers make the best guard dogs." Snag snored, as his legs twitched as he was having a dream; no doubt of another dog.

"If you say so, Pop..." Cedric shrugged.

"Well, anyways, Cedric, I guess I'll go and check out how our stocks are doing. Since they were up yesterday," Cyril chuckled. "You keep working on that Christmas cake, Cedric."

"Okay, Pop," Cedric said as he went back to work on his cake.

"One last thing, Cedric-save me a piece of the cake, if you can," Cyril said as he briefly opened the door again.

"Will do, Pop!" Cedric promised.

Cedric hummed quietly to himself as he finished up the cake. "Ah, there we go!" Cedric smiled to himself. "Finally, it's finished!" At that moment, someone else came strolling merrily into the kitchen.

"Hey, Cedric!" Bert greeted his old friend with a pop on the back. Cedric jumped as his spectacles fell to the floor.

"Ah! Bert, don't do that, you scared me!" the aardvark responded as he picked his glasses up off the floor. "You know I'm almost blind without these..."

"Sorry, Cedric," Bert sheepishly replied. "Anyways, I heard you were making a Christmas cake for the big party tonight."

"Why, of course, Bert. I'm sure you'll all like to sample it!"

"You need any help with it, old pal? I can help out, ya know!" Bert enthusiastically offered his support.

"Thanks for the offer, Bert, but I sort of finished the cake already, heheh," Cedric chuckled.

"Nah, c'mon, Cedric, I'm sure you need help with it. Here, I'll put the cake in the oven for you!"

"Bert!" Cedric shouted. "It's already finished!"

"Nah, I think it needs to be baked, Cedric, it doesn't look like it's finished..." Bert exclaimed as he put the cake in the oven. After, a few minutes, Bert decided to take the cake out of the oven...

"Bert..." Cedric sighed as he shook his head.

Bert hadn't even realized the cake had been hot, and he wasn't wearing oven mitts... "YEOWCH!" Bert screamed as he burnt his paws from holding the cake. Much to Cedric's annoyance and chagrin, the cake flew through the air and splattered on the ground. "Uh oh..." Bert said, realizing he had just screwed up...again...

"Great..." Cedric exclaimed, in an upset tone. "Now I guess we're going to have to do without a cake...Bert, I was finished with it..."

"Gee," Bert replied, feeling rather embarrassed about how careless he had just been, "I'm sorry Cedric...I was only trying to help..."

"I didn't need's just not going to be a Christmas party without the cake..."

"I'm sorry, Cedric..."

"It's okay Bert. But you know what, George is preparing a turkey for the Christmas party. You know how great the one he made last year was! Perhaps you could help him," Cedric suggested, trying to help.

"Thanks, Cedric..." Bert slunk off to head to George's place. What had started off as a optimistic day for Bert had turned to an embarrassing and highly disappointing one...

At George's house, George Raccoon was busy with his fixings for the Christmas turkey while it was in the oven, as he listened to the radio. Bentley and Lisa were busy doing something or other upstairs, while his wife Nicole was over at his father's place..."babysitting" him as he wasn't able to properly take care of himself, being handicapped and in a wheelchair and all, while his wife had gone out to do some errands. So Nicole had reluctantly volunteered to look after Arthur.

"Ah, I can't wait to see how my little brother's party turns out," he said to himself. "I'm sure he'll do a good job. But there's no way it'll be able to beat mine, heheh!"

George waited for the turkey to finish baking while he sang along to the radio.

"Christmas, Christmas time is here,

Time for toys, and time for cheer..."

George suddenly felt horribly embarrassed. "Oh, oh goodness. I had better stop doing that. Goodness, it seems that Alvin and his gang are quite a guilty pleasure for me...I had better change the station soon before someone else finds out I actually like listening to this stuff...if anyone else found out, I'd be laughed at for sure..."

He realized that Bentley and Lisa could possibly hear him from upstairs.

"Oh dear, I sure hope they're not paying attention up there..."

At that moment, none other than Bert came in. "Hey there, George!"

George was in for the shock of his life-he had been caught listening to his guilty pleasure. "Aaah! Oh, uh, hello there, Bert...this isn't what it seems like!"

Bert raised an eyebrow. "George? I never would have guessed you of all people would like Alvin and the Chipmunks...I mean, I thought you always liked that Thin Lizzard and Judas Priest stuff!"

George sighed. "It's true...I do like Alvin and the Chipmunks...Bert, you can never tell a soul, ever. If word got out about this, why, I'd be the laughing stock of the staff of K. N. O. X. TV! Please, Bert, don't tell anybody about this!" With Bert, George just knew he would blab about it, most likely to Ralph and Melissa.

"Nah, don't worry, George, I won't tell anyone. Truth be told I used to listen to them...when I was a kid. Heh, never thought I'd see a grown man enjoying their music..."

"Uh, well, anyways," George said, hastily trying to change the subject. "What brings you here?"

"I heard you were making the Christmas turkey and I thought you might need some help there," Bert replied. "Bert Raccoon, Ace Chef, at your service!"

George had to laugh. "Haha, I appreciate your offer, Bert. But seriously, I don't think I need your help. I mean, I sort of am a qualified chef, after all. I didn't graduate culinary school for nothing!"

"Oh..." Bert sighed.

"But you know what, Bert? Perhaps Bentley would like your company. You and him could do something together."

"Well, I did have the idea to go sledding at some point today...I guess I'll go see if he'd like to join me! Where is he, anyways?"

"Uh, he's upstairs in his room," George replied.

"Thanks, George. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone about your...heh, heh...guilty pleasure!" he chuckled as he went up the stairs towards Bentley's room.

"No problem," George sighed. He realized the radio was still playing Alvin and the was one of those "novelty" radio stations.

"Ah, better change that before Nicole gets back!" he gasped.

"I told the witch doctor I was in love with you-" George hastily flicked the dial to the local classic rock station.

"Rocka rolla woman for a rocka rolla man

You can take her if you want her, if you think you can!"

George breathed a sigh of relief. "Whew! Rob Howlford, you've saved me again..."

Upstairs, Bentley Raccoon was furiously typing away at his new computer. He'd been grateful his father had gotten a new one for his birthday the past year-his old one had started to wear out. At the moment, Bentley was currently engrossed in typing up a report for his history class that he had been assigned over his winter break.

"Ugh..." Bentley sighed to himself. "History is so boring!" Though Bentley was a good student, he had always found history to be a very boring and drab subject. His interest leaned firmly towards the mathematical side of things. "I'm almost halfway done with this thing. I better finish it before Uncle Ralph and Aunt Melissa's party tonight. That should be some fun..." he thought to himself.

Bentley remembered the party his father had thrown the previous year. It'd been fun, though Bentley had to admit, perhaps the alcohol should have been kept under lock, stock, and key away from Bert. "Heheh, I'm sure he won't be that bad this year," the young raccoon said to himself. "Oh, I just hope Annie doesn't show up at the party..." Annie Ringtail was Bentley's classmate whom he knew had a crush on him. She was always pestering him and following him around, constantly trying to flirt with him. Bentley was annoyed by her and wished she'd leave him alone, but no matter how many times he told her to go away, she would always keep coming back to him. His father had told him that he was probably in denial of his feelings and he probably liked her too-an idea that disgusted Bentley to no end. And Bert? Bert had told him that "You might not think much of her now, but sooner then you know it you're going to find her attractive and you'll want to go out with her. Trust me on that, little buddy, it happens to all of us!" Bentley hoped Bert and his father were kidding-he couldn't imagine actually finding Annie attractive. "No doubt she'll try to bug me if she shows up at that party..." he sighed as he continued typing up his report. "Bert had to be joking when he told me that-he just had to!"

Speaking of Bert..."Hey there, Bentley, little buddy! How are ya doing?" Sure enough, Bert was in his room. He hadn't even heard Bert come in.

"Bert, what are you doing here?" Bentley asked.

"Well, little buddy, I had the idea that perhaps today we could go sledding. You know that'll be a blast!" Bert exclaimed, waving his arms about excitedly. "How about it, Bentley? What d'you say we go sledding together?"

Bentley shook his head. "Sorry, Bert. I'd love to, but I have this history report that I have to type up and it's due the day I get back from Christmas vacation! I want to have it done ahead of time."

Bert didn't know how to respond. "But that's not for a few more weeks, Bentley. You could afford to put it off for a few days, couldn't you? I'm sure it wouldn't hurt..."

Bentley shook his head again. "No, Bert. I have to do this. If I put it off I might end up forgetting about it and then I'll have to do it at the last minute. I don't want to fail history class; you know I don't like that subject!"

"Huh, I was never that good at history, myself," Bert had to admit to his young friend. "But, hey, maybe I can help you out with that?"

"Thanks, Bert, but I don't need your help. I can do it just fin-" Bentley suddenly realized that while he'd been talking to Bert, he'd accidentally closed out of his document.

"Aargh! I just closed out the document-and I forgot to save it! Great," he groaned. "Now I have to start it all over again! Thanks a lot, Bert!" Bentley glared at his friend.

"I'm sorry, little buddy..." Bert said, sadly. It seemed today he was bothering all of his friends. Today really did not seem to be his day...

"I really appreciate you making me mess up, Bert..." Bentley growled. "You know what, Bert? Why don't you go ask Lisa if she'll go sledding with you? I'm sure you'd love that..." Bentley was well aware Bert was in love with his sister, and to this day, he still liked to occasionally tease him about it. He couldn't quite understand why exactly Bert would be attracted to her; Bentley had found her much too bossy sometimes. Bentley really didn't know very much about the subject of love...

A big goofy grin came across Bert's face. "You think she would be up for that?" he asked excitedly.

"Sure," Bentley said, opening up another document as he prepared to start his report a second time. "Go ask her."

"Oh, I will, Bentley!" Bert chuckled as he closed the door behind him.

"Alright, now how did I start this last time..." Bentley wondered.

Meanwhile, Lisa was busy in her room, talking on the phone to one of her friends from Evergreen University. She figured she'd see what her friends were up to now that they were on their winter vacation. "Why, that's fascinating, Sally," Lisa said to her friend. "So what did Frederick do next? He did? Really? I don't mean to sound rude, but I always thought Frederick was short of a few marbles..."

At that moment, Bert came in. "I bet she'll be eager to go sledding with me..." he said silently to himself. Bert would do just about anything to spend some quality time with Lisa-his one true love in the whole world-besides peanut butter, that is. Bert had never had a meaningful relationship in his entire life up to this point. He'd never lasted more than about three months with any girl, and he hadn't been on a date in several years-besides that time Annie Ringtail had purchased him at the bachelor's auction. "That was a rather embarrassing memory," Bert thought to himself. Bert wasn't sure he'd ever find love; that is, until the day Lisa stepped off the train a couple years ago. He had last seen her many years before when she had just been a scrawny young kit, not even half as tall as she was now. She had grown up so much since he'd last seen her, he didn't even recognize her at first. But almost instantly, he was smitten with her-he'd felt certain she was the one for him. He'd never really felt like that for anyone before. Bert hadn't exactly made a good impression upon her, though, as he'd tried to rush her into a relationship with him, but in the time since then the two had become friends. Bert, however, still remained hopeful that with time perhaps they could be something more...

"Hey, Lisa!" Bert called to her, distracting Lisa from her phone conversation.

"Hold on a minute, Sally," Lisa said to her friend as she put the phone aside for a moment. "What do you want, Bert? I'm busy talking to my friend Sally from Evergreen U. Can't this wait?"

Bert hadn't expected her to be annoyed at him. "Uh, well, Lisa," he said, rather meekly, "I was hoping, you know, perhaps you'd like to go sledding with me? I mean, I think it would be a good way to have fun..."

"Sorry, no can do, Bert," Lisa replied, firmly. "Perhaps another day. I'm a little busy right now."

"But Lisa, you can talk to Sally anytime..." Bert pleaded with her.

"Well, I don't get to see her during Christmas vacation, she lives far away in Manitoba and she went back home for Christmas," Lisa answered, "so I figured today would be a good day to talk to her."

"Oh..." Bert sighed, dejectedly. Not even the girl of his dreams wanted him around today...

"I'll see you at the party tonight, Bert. Maybe we can talk then?"

"Right, right, at the party," Bert said, dishearteningly. He mumbled to himself. "I guess I'll just go for a walk around the forest or something...I can tell when I'm not wanted..." Bert closed the door and headed downstairs and out of the house to go take a walk.

Lisa looked a bit concerned to see Bert looking depressed, but she shrugged it off. "Ah, I'm sure he'll be fine come the time of the party."

The hours passed. Bert had been pacing back and forth throughout the Forest, thinking about the events of today. How he seemed to be causing trouble for all of his friends. How nobody seemed to want him around. Bert felt quite unwanted...

"And today looked like it was going to be such a great one this morning..." Bert sighed heavily. It was almost dusk now, and almost time for Ralph and Melissa's party to begin. "You know what..." Bert said aloud to himself. "I'm not going to that party. If everyone's reactions to me today tells me anything, I'm sure they won't want me there. Matter of fact, I don't think anyone wants me around..."

Bert felt truly depressed right now.

"I can't help but feel like I'm a burden to everyone. I seem to be able to push everyone's buttons and rub them the wrong way more often than not. I'm sure Ralph and Melissa are tired of having me around-I bet they'd like to see me move out..." Bert sighed. "Plus, I bet because of me they don't get to have their..."alone" time they ought to have together, seeing as they are married and all." Bert looked down at the snowbank he was slowly trudging through. "I bet it's all because of me they don't have kids..."

Bert continued walking. "And Cedric. I think I'm getting on his nerves too. I bet he'd be a lot happier not having to deal with me too..."

Bert slowly began heading towards the frozen ice of the Evergreen Lake-the very same place where he and his friends had managed to defeat Cyril Sneer and his bear goons to save the Lake from being turned into a hockey arena complex. "Bentley would probably be happier without me too. If he gets a bad grade in school, it's probably because of me. I think I'm a bad influence on him..."

Bert despairingly made his way across the ice. "And Lisa. Oh, how I love her..." He sighed. "But no matter what I do, I can't seem to ever impress her. Quite honestly, I don't think she likes me at all. She's probably tired of me trying to hang around her. I guarantee she would be much happier if I were out of her fur forever..."

Bert sighed again as he continued his trek across the ice. "You know, I can't help but wonder if everyone's lives would be better off if I'd never been born at all. I'm certain they'd all be quite happier, for sure..."

At that moment, Bert suddenly lost his footing on the ice.

"Uh-oh...WOAAAAAAHHHH!" Bert screamed as he tripped and flew through the air, having slipped on the ice. He landed backwards and hit his head on the hard ice. "Oh...oh, my aching head..." Bert had taken quite a heavy blow to the head. He felt the throbbing pain searing through his forehead. "I'll just lay here for a while..." Bert said. He just felt he should lie where he'd landed.

After a while, Bert opened his eyes...and received the surprise of a lifetime.

There standing before him was an older raccoon. He was wearing a tattered old shirt, and he looked like the years had not been too kind to him. Bert somehow thought this raccoon seemed familiar in a way, but he knew he'd never seen him before in his life. Bert felt scared seeing a stranger looking down upon him. The strange raccoon smiled at him.

"W-who are you?" Bert asked, a tinge of fear to his voice.

"Ah, Bert," the raccoon replied in a friendly, warm tone of voice. It sounded much like the voice of an authority figure, one whom you were supposed to trust; much like a father figure. "I've seen so much of you for many years. But at last, we finally meet each other face to face."

Now Bert felt terrified. No doubt this was some crazy, deranged stalker who had been following him for years and had planned for this very moment. Bert feared that he was about to be kidnapped, taken back to this stranger's place, tortured, potentially raped, and then in all likelihood murdered. He was truly terrified. "W-who on earth are you? How do you know my name?" Bert said, frightened out of his mind. "You're not about to kidnap me, are you?"

The stranger laughed heartily. "Haha, no Bert. You see, Bert, I've known all about you for nearly as long as you've been alive. I know nearly everything about you-and some things you probably don't know about yourself. I know all about your friends too. You could say that I've always been there for you, looking out for you. But you have never met me until now."

Bert was confused by this stranger's statement. "What are you trying to say?"

"Bert, I'm here to stop you from making a horrible mistake," the strange raccoon calmly replied.

"I still don't know who you are," Bert said, still a little afraid.

"Well," the stranger began, "Bert, allow me to introduce myself to you, if I may. Bert Raccoon, my name is Len, and I am your guardian angel."

"W-what?" Bert nearly fainted.

Meanwhile, back at the Raccoondominium, Ralph and Melissa had finished setting up for their Christmas party. It'd taken them a few hours, but they had really managed to make the place stand out.

Ralph smiled, proud of the job they had done. "Well, Melissa," he said to his wife. "We have our place all ready for the party. And the guests should be here any minute. Boy, won't they be impressed!" He chuckled to himself. "This is certainly going to beat George's party, that's for sure!"

Melissa smiled. "I wouldn't go that far, but at least it'll be as memorable."

"It's a good thing we did it ourselves; with Bert, we might still be trying to finish up!" Ralph laughed again.

Melissa suddenly looked a little concerned. "Where exactly is Bert, anyways? He should have been here a while ago, shouldn't he?"

Ralph reassured her. "Melissa, honey, I'm sure Bert is just fine and dandy. He's probably with Cedric and Sophia-you know, because we suggested he go help Cedric? You wait, when Cedric and Sophia arrive, Bert will probably be with them."

Melissa looked a bit unsure, but she decided Ralph was probably telling the truth. "You're right Ralph. Bert is probably with them. I hope he's not upset at us not wanting him to help..."

At that moment, the doorbell rang. "Ah, our first guests!" Ralph excitedly raced to the door and opened it. "Come in, come in!"

At the door were Schaeffer and a raccoon dressed up as Santa Claus.

"Hello there, Ralph," Schaeffer greeted him.

"It's good to see you, Schaeffer," Ralph replied. "Do come in!" He then looked to the strange raccoon dressed up as Santa Claus. "Say, Schaef, who is this?"

The Santa raccoon gleefully answered, in a fairly gruff tone, "Don't you recognize who I am? Why, I'm Santa Claus. Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas!"

Ralph looked incredulous. "Sure you are..."

Melissa took notice of a certain detail of the mystery raccoon's face. "Wait a minute, an eyepatch...Ralph, who do we know who has an eyepatch?"

"Well, Sir Malcolm Havelock, for one," Ralph replied, "and, uh, I'm trying to remember who else..."

Melissa at that moment immediately knew who "Santa" really was. "Dad!" she exclaimed as she raced towards him. Santa, of course, was none other than Mike Mulligan. Mike stood there as Melissa raced into his arms. "Dad, it's been a while since I've seen you. How have you been?"

Mike smiled as he hugged his daughter. "Eh, well, I've been fine, honey. The bar is doing just fine, indeed. Seems I have more customers all the time."

"Oh, hello there, Mike," Ralph spoke to his father-in-law. "What made you decide to dress up as Santa?"

"I'll answer that," Schaeffer replied. "Mike decided to dress up as Santa to surprise the orphans down at Evergreen Orphanage. Every kid should get to see Santa, after all."

"Heh, it was Schaef's idea," Mike laughed. Over the years Mike and Schaeffer had become good friends. "But ya know, it was nice to see the joy on those poor kids' faces when I showed up. Those poor orphans need some happiness in their depressing lives. It won't be too much longer before they discover Santa isn't real, after all..."

"That was very thoughtful of you two," Melissa said, pleased to see how selfless her father had been. For a gruff, aging raccoon with a bad temper, Mike could be quite selfless and thoughtful.

"Well, if it cheers them up..." Ralph replied, as the doorbell rang again.

"I'll get it!" he said as he opened up the door to Cedric and Sophia.

"Hello there, Ralph!" Cedric enthusiastically greeted him.

"Hi, Ralph," Sophia waved.

"Good to see you two made it. Ah, I see you've brought our Christmas cake," Ralph chuckled.

"Sure did, Ralph! Though, I must admit, Sophia actually made this one..."

"And I brought the eggnog, too," Sophia smiled.

"I thought you were bringing both of those, Cedric?"

"Actually, I decided to bring the eggnog," Sophia answered. "My father made it himself. He really does know how to make the best eggnog!"

"Boy, does he ever," Mike replied. "I remember the other day he brought some up to the Beer Emporium. Damn, was it good..."

"Wait a minute..." Melissa had noticed something. "Bert isn't with you two...?"

"Bert?" Sophia responded. "No, Cedric did say he saw him earlier today, but I haven't seen him..."

"Bert showed up today to try to help me make my cake. He, heheh, kind of messed it up and I was just fortunate enough that Sophia had made one of her own..."

"Figures," Ralph said as he shook his head. That was pretty typical of Bert.

"But I suggested he go try and help George out. He's probably with George and his family." Cedric then chuckled. "Knowing Bert, he probably spent the whole day with Lisa..."

"Bert still loves her, doesn't he?" Sophia asked.

"Far as I know," Ralph replied.

"Well, I guess we'll wait until George shows up. Bert should be with them...I hope..." Melissa said, nervously.

At that moment, speak of the devil, George rang the doorbell. Ralph opened the door.

"Ah, big brother! So you finally made it," Ralph chuckled.

"Couldn't miss out on my little brother's Christmas party, could I?" George laughed as he lightly punched Ralph in the arm.

"Hey!" he shouted.

"Just had to do that, heheh."

"Looks like you put an awful lot of effort into this, Uncle Ralph!" Bentley chuckled.

"Sure did," Ralph laughed.

"Very nice job there, Ralph," Nicole complimented. "I'm zure thez will be an occazion to remember."

"It should be, Nicole..." Melissa idly replied, suddenly realizing something. "Wait, Bert's not with you all either?"

"No," George replied. "But I did see him earlier today."

"He tried to ask me to go sledding with him, but I told him no," Bentley answered. "I had a history report to finish up. Maybe I should have taken Bert up on his offer."

Lisa visibly looked concerned. "Bert tried to ask me that too, and I also told him no. He said he'd be going out for a walk in the forest. I assumed he'd be back here by now, but he's not here..."

Melissa realized something. "You mean...Bert is out there somewhere in the Forest alone? But it's night time outside, and the temperature is going to be well below freezing!"

"He won't be able to survive out there all night!" Cedric exclaimed.

"Uh oh..." Bentley said to himself.

Lisa looked saddened. "I should have agreed to go sledding with Bert, then at least we'd know where he was..." She looked around and said to herself. "you know what? I can't stay here while Bert is missing. I'm going to go find him and bring him back here-even if I have to do it myself."

"Liza, wait! You can't go off by yourself!" Nicole shouted.

"I'll go with you, Lisa," Bentley said to his sister. "We have to find Bert. I'm sure if I were missing, he'd probably be out looking for me too. Same goes for you."

"C'mon then, Bentley," Lisa said as she opened the door. "Let's find Bert." With that, Lisa and Bentley ran out into the cold night to look for Bert, before George and Nicole had the chance to stop them.

"They can't go off by themselves!" George exclaimed, worriedly. "They'll freeze to death before too long..."

"I'll go help look for him," Cedric volunteered. "Sophia," he said, turning to his girlfriend. "You stay here, I have to help find Bert. I feel guilty about what I told him earlier..."

"Be careful, Cedric..." Sophia warned him, as he dashed off into the snowy land as well.

"Ralph, we have to help them too," Melissa spoke to her husband. "We can't have this party without knowing where Bert is. I mean, he could be out there hurt for all we know..."

Ralph moaned. "But, Melissa, we spent all this time preparing for the party...besides, Bert is a grown man. We're not his parents. He can take care of himself..."

Melissa grew upset at Ralph's behavior. "Forget the party, Ralph! How can you say that?" she snapped at him. "What is more important-this party and your social status or the well-being of your old friend? When you were in your darkest hours, who helped pick you back up?"

"Bert did..." Ralph sheepishly replied.

"Yes, and think about it. Where would you be without his help?"

"Well, I don't think there'd be an Evergreen Standard," he admitted, "and I'm fairly certain I would have never gotten to know you."

"So, think about it, Ralph," Melissa said, trying to get her point across. "If it were you in trouble, I'm beyond certain Bert would be trying to help you in some way. You should return that favor. Remember the last time Bert went off without telling anyone where he was going? That was when he went to Jack Pine Island. You remember what happened there, don't you?"

"Of course," Ralph responded. "Bert suffered a nasty concussion when he fell out of a tree. He ended up spending some time in bed. It took him a while to get back on his feet again...I-I-I hope we're not in for a repeat of that...or worse..." Now Ralph felt concerned about Bert. He felt very bad for having been so selfish today and wanting to impress everybody with his party. "You know what, you're right, dear. We should go look for Bert before something bad happens to him."

"Well," Melissa looked to him, "come on honey. Let's go help them find him." With that, she exited the opened door into the snowy night.

"Right behind you, Melissa," Ralph replied. "Boy, I feel like a jackass..." he muttered. As he threw on a coat in a hurry, Ralph quickly spoke to George, "George, keep everybody entertained while we're gone. Tell them some jokes or something, I don't know. Anything that'll keep them from getting restless."

"Me?" George was surprised. "But-but-but I'm no good at telling jokes-everyone says I have a horrendous sense of humor..."

"Try!" Ralph shouted as he followed his wife.

"Oh boy..." George said nervously.

"I'm zure you can think of zomething, dear," Nicole encouraged him.

"I don't know..."

Mike Mulligan glared at George. He had never particularly liked George-it all stemmed back to when they'd first met just before Melissa's wedding to Ralph. George had called him Melissa's grandfather-unintentionally pissing him off. "So, George," Mike growled. "I heard you were quite the comedian. Go on. Tell me a good joke," he sneered.

George nervously gulped and thought of the first thing that came to his mind. "Uh, so well, this guy goes to a bar and asks the bartender to recommend a good drink. And the bartender recommends a grasshopper, and so he orders a grasshopper. Then he heads home and he sees this grasshopper sitting there on the ground. And he speaks to the grasshopper, 'You know, they have a drink named after you.' And the grasshopper replies, 'You mean they have a drink called Edward?' Haha! Funny, isn't it?"

Mike glared intensely at George. "Your jokes stink, George. By the way, nice job taking a swipe at us bartenders..."

"Oh..." No matter what, George always seemed to get onto Mike's bad side without meaning to...

Bert was still lying in the snow bank, still amazed at what this stranger, Len, had told him.

"So you're saying you're my guardian angel." Bert could not help but be skeptical.

"That's right," Len replied.

"But you can't possibly be an angel! You don't look anything like what angels are supposed to look like. Angels are supposed to have wings! And you don't have any. Unless you're one of those fallen angels..."

Len calmly replied. "No, Bert, I'm not one of the fallen angels. I really and truly am your guardian angel. You see, Bert, that's a stereotype that TV wants you to believe; that angels always have wings. But you see, not every angel does."

"I don't know if I believe you," Bert hesitantly replied.

"There are several ranks of angels, Bert. Only the highest ranked ones have their wings. I happen to be only a second class angel," Len admitted. "I reckon I'll earn my wings someday..."

"I suppose I believe you..." Bert responded. He didn't know what to believe right now. "So why exactly are you here anyways?"

"Well," Len cautiously answered, "I've been sent to show you the error of your ways, Bert. I am here to show you that life is not as bad as you are making it out to be. You think your friends don't care about you, but they do, Bert. They really do. You have a better life than you're giving yourself credit."

Bert scoffed. "No, they don't. All I seem to be is a burden to them. I just seem to get in their way. I'm certain they would be much happier without me around."

Len looked surprised. "You can't say things like that, Bert. You don't realize it, but in a way you've affected everyone's lives in a positive way."

"Yeah, right," Bert sarcastically replied. "More like for the worse..."

Len sighed. "I can see you're going to be a tough nut to crack, Bert..."

"Len, I honestly think everyone's lives would be a whole lot better if I'd never been born at all. I'm sure everyone would have turned out for the better," Bert sadly said.

Len looked quite terrified at what Bert had just said. "Bert, you can't possibly think that, can you?"

"I can and I do."

"What do you think everyone's lives would be like without you?" Len asked.

"Well, I think Ralph would be the head of a major multi-million dollar newspaper corporation," Bert replied. "And Melissa, she would be dolled up to be Ralph's trophy wife. Plus I think they'd have a kid or two. Cedric would be much wealthier and would make better business decisions without me. Without me, Bentley would probably be well on his way to graduating high school early and heading to college. And Lisa, I'm sure she'd be happy without me pestering her all the time."

"You really think that, Bert?" Len looked saddened to hear that.

"Yes, I do," Bert firmly replied. "I wish I was never born, Len..."

"You can't possibly-wait a minute!" Len had suddenly gotten an idea. "I can grant that wish for you, no problem."

"You can? Then do it, please," Bert said.

"Wish granted, Bert!" Len excitedly exclaimed as he snapped his fingers. "Bert Raccoon, you have now officially never been born!"

Bert looked around. "That's funny, it still feels like I have..."

Len grinned. "Follow me, Bert. I'll show you how different everything and everyone is without you."

Bert hesitantly followed Len, unsure of the sights he was about to see...


AUTHOR'S NOTE: And there's chapter one. Find out in Chapter 2 what everyone's life would be like without Bert...But first, a few notes.

The song on the radio when Ralph is decorating the Christmas tree is an old song by Jethro Tull called "A Christmas Song." It was the B-side of one of the band's very first singles, "Love Story", (on the single Ian Anderson is miscredited as Ian Henderson-not as bad as their first single "Sunshine Day" where the band's name itself was horrendously mangled as "Jethro Toe") and it is exactly what the title says it is-it's a Christmas song. However, it's not your typical Christmas song, as you see by the lyrics...Some other lyrics include, "You're missing the point I'm sure does not need making, that Christmas spirit is...not what you drink!" It's not so much anti-Christmas as it is more anti-Christmas commercialism-a point I can definitely understand. This song definitely made me think, I'll say that. Ironically enough, it seems our singer is a hypocrite, as he's evidently singing this song at a Christmas party while drunk-at the end of the song he faintly asks a companion, "Hey, Santa! Pass us that bottle, will ya?" Strong words from a hypocrite. There's a reason I put it in here-I've never heard this song on a radio station at Christmas time and I think it would be damned hilarious if some station did naively play it without knowing the song's message, so, there ya go...

Yeah, Alvin and the Chipmunks-I just wanted to do that. Truthfully, I do like the Chipmunks-I'm not a major fan, but I do hold some respect for the old '80s cartoon and their music does hold an interesting novelty value. I just wanted to do that, since I'm sure all of us have our guilty pleasures...heheh. The funny thing is the thing I'm going to most remember about the Chipmunks is seeing on Robot Chicken a sketch supposedly showing the real origin behind their high-pitched voices-they were singing their Christmas song in a studio in their "real" voices, which are deep and masculine, like your typical male. Dave promptly tells the record producer they're the worst thing he's ever heard (truthfully they don't sound too bad with deep voices) and that they eat him out of house and home. So Dave picks up a canister of "Deadly Helium" and throws it into the studio to try to kill them. Almost immediately their voices rise up to their familiar high-pitched tone. Dave and the record producer instantly like the way they sound and comment on how this could sell millions of albums, but at that moment Alvin, Simon, and Theodore all keel over and die from inhaling too much of the gas, prompting Dave to remark, "oh, right...the deadly helium." I like the Chipmunks and I genuinely found that funny in a weird way. See, that's why I'd want to see that show take on the Raccoons-who knows what they'd come up with? They could do it-according to that show and Family Guy, the 1980s evidently never ended...

Oh and that song George hurriedly changed to is "Rocka Rolla" by Judas Priest-the title track of their 1974 debut album. You'll never actually hear that song on a classic rock station, but this song should be played by them (as well as a few others from that album). It's odd this song is about women, considering frontman Rob Halford is feels weird seeing a gay man singing about women (to me, at least!) Still, I don't care that he's gay-does not make me enjoy that band any less. (That shouldn't make ANYONE enjoy a band less in the first place-if it does, you might be a homophobe. I've seen people say kids should not be exposed to Elton John since it will turn them gay-sickening, I know.)

And as for why Bert's guardian angel is named Len-I don't have to explain that, do I? If I do, I am very saddened.

So in Chapter 2, we'll see how everyone's lives would be without Bert. I do hope you've enjoyed the bits of humor in this chapter-as next chapter will be pretty close to bone dry when it comes to humor...