Brothers and Sisters
Part 1: Into the Woods
by Kim McFarland
It was not a dark and stormy night. It had, in fact, been weeks since the last dark and stormy night. A more accurate description would be that it was a warm and sunny Tuesday midmorning in late June. Birds were chirping, children were playing, and adults were grumbling as they hosed pollen off their cars.
In a basement apartment, Scooter was reading and occasionally tapping on the screen of a tablet while Janken Fraggle washed the breakfast dishes. That took very little time, as he owned only enough tableware to serve two.
When he finished he sat on the couch beside Scooter. "Anything?"
"The usual. Reactions to the weekend's show, and questions about this and that."
"Uh huh." That was typical. Scooter had begun posting as himself on several message boards, and once the members had assured themselves that "Greensleeves" was really him the questions had begun flowing. He had expected that, of course. If he wasn't careful it took up more of his free time than he liked, but, he believed, someone ought to keep a line open to the fans. Thankfully, for the most part they accepted that Scooter couldn't spend hours a day on message boards.
He finished the post he had been typing, hit enter, then logged out. "You wanna get on?"
"Sure." Janken took the pad and signed in. Using the screenname "Martin" he was still anonymous, although he doubted his identity would matter except to the few fans who knew the names of every background bird and Frackle. In any case, he was content to lurk most of the time. Conversations didn't seem real to him if they weren't face to face. He read a few threads he had been watching, then logged off again. He remarked, "The boarding house must be half empty by now."
The Muppets had been filming a show a week for several months, and they were taking a two-week break to recharge their batteries, come up with new ideas, and generally avoid burnout. Those Muppets with the resources were going on road trips or traveling in other ways. Last week Scooter and Janken had been informed that they, too, had plans.
Janken glanced at the door. "She's here."
"How do you know?"
Janken tapped the side of his head. "I know what her car sounds like."
Scooter hadn't heard anything. He said, "I'll take your word for it."
Someone rapped on the door. Janken grinned smugly. Scooter said, "Okay, you have good hearing," and went to open it.
Skeeter was at the door, wearing a sleeveless jacket that was white many years of wear and tear ago, cutoff jeans, and boots. "You guys ready?"
"Yep," Scooter said. "Got the stuff you told us to get." He and Janken picked up their backpacks.
"And you're leaving that behind," she said sternly with a gesture at the tablet on the couch.
"Yes, ma'am," Scooter replied. "I'd lose my bookmarks if you used it as a skipping stone. But I'm bringing my phone. In case of emergency."
"I guess I'll let you have that," Skeeter said. "Can you drive a stick?"
She paused, surprised, then said, "You're driving first, then. It's a ways, and I'm not gonna do all the driving."
Scooter shrugged. "All right. Tell me where to go."
"Get on Highway 40. Drive down to exit 70. I'll take over there."
They loaded their backpacks into the trunk of a rather old but well-maintained station wagon. Scooter and Skeeter got into the front, and Janken occupied the back. Skeeter watched warily as Scooter started the car, then backed it down the driveway. Looking in one direction, he said, "Am I clear on your side?"
She looked, then reported, "Nobody's coming."
Scooter backed into the road, turned, and drove down the road. After they made it to the highway with no difficulties Skeeter said, "I don't believe it. I didn't think you could actually drive this. I was just teasing you."
He replied, "Sure I can drive a car this big. Sometimes I drive the bus to and from the theater."
"Then why d'you putz around on that dinky bike instead of getting yourself a car?"
"How much parking do you think we have at the boarding house? A bike suits me, anyway. It doesn't need gas. And it's paid for."
"There's that," she acknowledged.
When they got on the highway a window in the back opened, causing the air to eddy around strangely in the car. Skeeter twisted around to look back. Janken had opened the window and stuck his head out. "Janken! What're you doing?"
"Rowlf showed me how to do this," the Fraggle replied, shouting above the wind. "The bus never gets going this fast."
"Get back in here and buckle up!" She yanked his tail for emphasis.
He pulled his head back in. His hair was blown back and he was blinking rapidly. "How does Rowlf keep his eyes from drying out?"
Scooter said, "They're not on the top of his head, for one thing."
"Ow," Janken said as he buckled his seatbelt by touch. Then he leaned back, eyes closed and watering.
They drove for an hour before Skeeter directed Scooter to a rest stop. They got out to make use of the facilities, then swapped places. Skeeter drove down an off-ramp, then onto a street, then a smaller street, then a road that led into a wooded area. Now Scooter understood why she had him drive the first part and took the second half for herself. He'd never have been able to figure this out.
The road ended at a small blacktop parking lot. When they got out it was quiet enough that they could hear their ears ringing faintly from the noise of the car. Skeeter said, "You guys get out the packs. I'll check us in."
"Gotcha," Scooter replied.
Skeeter turned and went to the cabin at the end of the blacktop. She pushed the door open and called out "I'm here" as she walked over to the desk. There was a wooden chair nearby; she snagged it and pulled it over, then climbed onto it so she could see over the desk.
The man on the other side of the desk was used to this performance. "Hi, Skeeter. The usual?"
She leaned on her elbows and said, "Yeah, plus two. I've brought my brother and a friend of his. We all have our own gear."
"You've pretty much got the place to yourself for the next few days. Nobody else has planned to come up 'til the weekend. Need a GPS?"
She gave him a dirty look. "Get outta here! I got the emergency numbers on my cell phone. I'll program 'em into my brother's too, just in case."
He took out a card and handed it to her. She said, "Frequently asked question, huh?"
"Anyhow, I'll keep watch on the boys. See you in a few days."
When she came back out Scooter and Janken had gotten out their backpacks and were parceling out the bundles of rods and canvas that would eventually become a tent. Not doing a bad job of it either, considering that Scooter's last camping experience had been with the Boy Scouts and all Janken knew about the wilderness was how to live in it. She helped them with their packs, then picked hers up, locked the car, and said, "It's all set. Let's go."
The packs were heavy, but nobody complained. Skeeter was used to carrying camping gear around, and Janken and Scooter both wangled heavier props on a regular basis. They walked side by side, chatting as they went. Skeeter asked, "Any of the others taking vacations?"
Scooter replied, "Yeah. Lots of 'em, actually. Piggy's flying out to Paris today. She'll probably help the economies of two nations. And Kermit's already left for the swamp."
Janken remarked, "I'd've thought he'd be getting a jump on the next set of shows."
Scooter said, "Nah, he needs a break at least as much as the rest of us. And he really does like to go back home to his family."
"I know how he feels. Oh, and Pepe and Clifford and the Electric Mayhem and some others are going down to New Orleans."
Skeeter pictured the Mayhem happily jamming with other musicians down there, and Clifford enjoying the night life. But Pepe? "The shrimp'd better watch out he doesn't end up breaded."
"He is a king prawn, h'okay?" Janken replied, imitating Pepe's accent.
"Yeah, yeah, seafood by any other name."
They emerged into a clearing. The grass was short, and the center was a stone-lined pit, clearly used for campfires. Skeeter swung her pack down and said, "Here we are. Let's set up the tent."
Scooter and Janken put down their packs and took off the bundles of rods that would make up the tent skeleton. Skeeter had been carrying the canvas. She said, "I can set this up myself, but it's a lot easier with some help."
"Tell us what to do," Scooter said.
She arranged the rods, and all three put them together within the canvas loops and raised the tent. It was cozy for two humans, which meant it would be spacious for three Muppet-sized people. She checked the inside, then came back out and said, "Let's let it air out for a few hours. I'll show you the water supply."
She took out a canteen, then put her pack inside the tent. When Scooter started to put his pack on she said, "Leave that here. There's nothing around here that'd mess with it."
"Yeah. This isn't Jellystone. Hardly any critters live here, and they've never come into a camp while I was there."
"Okay." Scooter left his pack in the tent, and Janken followed his lead. The three went off into the forest carrying only their canteens.
After a short hike under the green canopy they saw the glimmer of sunlight ahead. It was on the ground instead of above the treetops. Then Janken heard the sound of water flowing. It was close enough now for him to smell, and it smelled like more than a little trickle. He rushed ahead. Scooter and Skeeter saw him dart between several trees, then stop, tail raised high.
When they caught up he was standing on a boulder overhanging a slow-moving creek that flowed through a rocky bed that was ten yards across at the widest spot. In some places it was shallow enough to show the rock below, in others it was a deep blue-green. Dark shadows of fish moved about in the depths. Janken was looking all about, drinking the scenery in, tail wagging excitedly.
Skeeter waved a hand in front of the Fraggle's eyes, and grinned when he snapped out of his trance. "Like what you see?"
As Skeeter dipped her canteen into the water Janken asked, "You said this water's safe, right?"
"Yep. Just water and fish."
Janken tore off his jacket, dropped his canteen on top of it, and flung himself into the water with a cry of "Whoopee!"
Scooter held up a hand to protect his glasses from the splash. He told Skeeter, "That went over well."
"Sheesh! Yeah." She wiped her glasses off on her shirt. "That looks like a good idea. You brought your bathing suit, right?"
"Sure. You told me to."
"Let's suit up."
Scooter turned back and called to Janken and said, "We'll be right back!" Janken waved acknowledgment, then dove again to look at the fish.
Soon the fish darted away as the water was bombarded by two more cannonballs.
All characters except Janken Fraggle are copyright © The Muppets Studio, LLC and are used without permission but with much respect and affection. Janken is copyright © Kim McFarland (negaduck9 at aol dot com), as is the overall story. Permission is given by the author to copy it for personal use only.