Drift and Badger - Excerpt
Drift and Badger and the Search for Uncle Mo
You can read the first two chapters of this book here.
The forest in autumn is one of God’s great sights when the leaves turn colour and bask in that special golden light. The forest is home to so many magical creatures and toward the end of the year it can be the greatest spectacle on earth. Nothing compares, nor ever will.
And so it was when Drift was born, unseasonably late, dropping from his mother on to the mossy bank she had carefully chosen for his birth. Drift would be the last fawn of the year and would always struggle against his bigger, brasher, brethren.
That didn’t concern his mother, nor Drift himself; for he had yet to meet any of his kinfolk for she had trekked deep within the forest, well away from the frantic herds, especially to give birth.
Within minutes he was on his feet, shaking and shivering in the October wind as his mother washed and licked him clean, just in time for a good feed. The first feed is always the most precious when the milk is at its richest and after that, within an hour, he was ready to follow her anywhere.
There was a lot to see in the forest and a great deal to learn and there was little time to lose. Drift followed her from the edge of the woods to the meadow and watched her as she paused and nodded ahead.
‘Look,’ she said, ‘the trees are all turning colour, reds and yellows, amber and gold, they are normally green, you see, it will be winter before long and you are so small. We will have to fatten you up as fast as we can, or you won’t see the spring.’
Far away a dog barked. Drift stood petrified, his mother confidently standing upright beside him.
‘It is all right, little one,’ she said. ‘It is only a dog. Their bark is far worse than their bite. All noise and no dignity. They have lost their independence. They have sold their souls and gone to live with the humanthings.’
‘What is a humanthing?’
‘Two legged creatures. Nasty beasts to be avoided at all costs. They stare at you and I can see what they are thinking.’
‘And what are they thinking, mother?’
‘How they can…how they can…’ his mother hesitated, not wishing to unduly frighten her new fawn. There would be plenty of time to teach the youngster of the terrible ways of the humanthings. ‘How they can tease you, that’s all,’ she finished off. ‘How they can tease you.’
They came to a road, straight and true, for roads criss-crossed the forest everywhere.
Drift watched his mother glance one way, then the other, then back the first way, and dash across.
‘Come along,’ she shouted. ‘Don’t dilly-dally! Don’t shilly-shally!’
The youngster followed her across and re-joined his mother.
‘These are roads,’ she explained, ‘they are very dangerous places.’
Dangerous, thought Drift, he couldn’t see how they could possibly be dangerous.
‘Cars and trucks roar up and down at all hours of the day and night, and they don’t stop.’
‘What is a car, and what is a truck?’
And as if to answer Drift’s question a large black car noisily approached from the left.
‘Quick,’ she said, ‘into the trees,’ and she darted for cover. Drift followed mighty quick, anxious not to remain alone in the open.
In the safety of the woods they turned about and watched the car flash by; smoke belching from the rear end. Inside it sat a single humanthing, a young male with a wolfish grin set on its hideous face.
‘That’s a car,’ said mother, ‘with a humanthing inside,’ her nose turned up in disgust, ‘and they rarely stop, I told you. Trucks are even worse. They are bigger and harder and even more horrid. You mark my words, young fellow, you must never dally on the roads, never, for if you do, you…’
She didn’t have to say anymore. Drift instinctively knew that roads and cars and trucks, and most especially, humanthings, spelt terrible danger.
‘Come,’ she said, ‘we have a long way to go to reach the herds. I can’t wait for you to meet Uncle Mo and all the rest. He will be so pleased to see you for you are so like your father, you are, and that’s a fact.’
‘Where is father?’ asked Drift.
‘He’s gone now,’ she said in a hurry and in the way she said it, Drift knew better than to ask any more.
An hour later it began to grow dark.
‘What is happening, Mamma?’ said a panicked Drift, glancing at the blackening sky.
‘The sun is going down, that’s all. It will soon be totally dark, and there is no moon tonight.’
‘I don’t like it, Mamma, and what’s a moon?’
‘There is nothing to be frightened about young Drift, and the moon will come back soon. It is like the sun but cold and not so bright and only glows when the sun is resting. Tonight will grow cold and there will be sounds aplenty from the noisy creatures that live that way. I am sorry to say that they have never learnt any manners about being quiet like the rest of us, no consideration, my mother used to say, but we have to forgive them for they live in the forest just as we do. They know no better, and they will never change. Stay close to me, and never be frightened of the dark. In time you will come to realise it is your friend, the darkness is a good time. You will learn to enjoy the night and you will always be safer in the darkness than during the day. The night is your best friend. Humanthings are afraid of the dark, but we are not, never.’
‘I see,’ said Drift, still unconvinced, for he liked the colours of the forest, as the sun slipped slowly down below the trees and fell out of sight. The temperature dropped rapidly as they travelled across the countryside and a little later close by a fox barked.
‘Err!’ said Drift. ‘What is that?’
His mother stopped in her tracks, her nose and ears twitching.
‘It’s a fox,’ she whispered dismissively. ‘Nothing to worry about at all. They are all mouth and no trousers. If the darn thing comes near, give it a good kick in the chops. That will send it on its way. Big teeth, tiny brains, my old mother always used to say about foxes, and she was right at that as well. Foxes are clueless idiots. They think they own the forest but they do not. I have never seen a fox face up to a stag yet. Never. They haven’t got a clue really. Masters of the forest, they couldn’t master an earwig.’
Drift grinned and thought better than to ask what an earwig was.
Away to the right, in the dark undergrowth, they could both now see the fox moving away, deeper into the ticket, its brush of a tail swaying gently this way and that as it disappeared into the brambles.
‘I am hungry, Mamma.’
‘You will always be hungry. It’s natural at your age. But we can’t stop yet awhile. We need to cross the river. After that, we can stop and you can feed to your heart’s content. It isn’t so far now.’
The river was twenty feet across but it hadn’t rained for a week and the water level was low and it was nothing more than a gentle trot across. Drift enjoyed the first sensation of the cold river on his legs and feet, kicking up the water in fun, splashing his mother, giggling.
‘Don’t do that, son. You must learn to travel through the forest in silence. It is rule number one. Never attract undue attention to yourself. You just never know who is out there, who may be listening. Travel stealthily. Know where others are, but keep your presence a secret.’
‘Sorry, Mamma. I will try.’
‘Think nothing of it, but learn your lessons well, Drift. Take a quick drink now while you have the chance and then we shall be off.’
How clever his mother was, he thought, how wise and wonderful.
The water was cold and sweet and he filled his belly, though he made sure to leave just a little room for the warm milk he knew would soon be coming his way.
An hour later they came to a large clearing. Through the middle of the open forest ran another road, wider and grimmer and more treacherous than the first.
‘This is one of the biggest roads through the forest,’ she said. ‘Always treat it with the utmost of respect. There is great danger here.’
The tone in her voice alerted Drift. It worried him that there could be anything so dangerous, so terrible that even his impressive mother might be afraid of it.
They tiptoed toward the highway, his mother peering through the darkness one way and then the other. Her ears twitched, her nose too. Not a sound, other than a distant owl that was showing off to his mate. Hoot! Hoot!
‘Shut-up!’ she whispered and then she lowered her head and listened to the ground, for occasionally she could tell if danger approached from distant vibrations. Nothing. Silence. It all looked good. A favourable moment to cross. In front of the road was a small fence with another similar barrier on the far side. In the darkness they couldn’t see it from where they were, but she knew it was there all right.
‘There’s a small fence,’ she whispered, ‘on both sides. ‘I’ll show you where it is. You have to jump the fence, cross the road, jump the far fence, and make for the cover of the trees where I shall be waiting. Understand?’
‘Yes Mamma,’ replied Drift sidling up to her warm body, close enough for her to feel his shivers. ‘There is nothing to worry or be afraid about. Just do as I say and be quick about it.’
‘I will, Mamma. I understand.’
‘Good, now here it is, look, the first fence.’
To her it was nothing and she could hop over it with little effort as if it didn’t exist, but to Drift it was a sizeable obstacle. Large logs running from left to right supported by stakes driven into the ground every twelve feet or so.
‘I’m going over,’ she said. ‘Take great care. I’ll see you on the other side in trees.’
‘Yes Mamma,’ he said, forcing himself not to cry.
Then she was away, hopping over the fence, cantering across the road, disappearing into the darkness. He heard her hooves clopping on the tarmac, he heard her leap the far fence and then slowly the noise of her running decreased until there was only silence.
For the first time in his young life Drift was alone and he didn’t like it. He didn’t like it at all. He glanced about him. Nothing at all, only the sound of the old owl. He wanted to be with his mother again and the only way to achieve that was to dash across the highway. He feebly hopped at the fence, hitting it, hurting his face, falling backward, banging and grazing his knees.
‘Ow!’ he muttered, struggling to stand upright.
‘Come along!’ he heard her calling from the far side.
With all his might he leapt at the fence again clearing it with inches to spare. He ran to the road, setting his front hoof on the hard blacktop as if to check the foreign substance. He glanced one way and then the other. Nothing. He ambled onto the road, pausing a moment to feel the strange smooth surface beneath his feet. It had a peculiar smell. Not unlikeable, but quite different to anything he had ever smelt before. In the next moment he felt as if he were standing on the surface of the sun. He was bathed in the brightest light he had ever known. Terrible sounds came from the left as if from the gates of hell itself.
Beeeeep! Beeeeep! Beeeeep!
Drift froze. He turned and stared toward the pair of blazing white suns that were rushing down on him, angry white eyes that seemed to stare right through him, casting hideous shadows beyond him into the night that frightened him to his soul. The crashing noise of the truck’s engine and dashing wheels became unbearable. Time seemed to stand still.
Beeeeep! Beeeeep! Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!!!
Drift tried in vain to move but was stricken with fear. His day old limbs simply would not obey.
The gobbling lights were almost upon him when in a whir of movement and energy his mother dashed from the trees on to the road and butted him across the highway and backward clean over the first fence.
Beeeeep! Beeeeep! Beeeeeeeeeeeeeep!!! Continued the truck as it flashed by, delivering a fearsome blow to his mother’s shoulder as it did so.
Thankfully Drift didn’t see it, though he heard the loud bump as the truck collided with the mother. He righted himself in time to see the truck from hell speeding away without ever slowing, up and over a small hill and out of sight to the right. He frantically shook himself and whimpered and leapt the fence back on to the road.
‘Mamma!’ he cried. ‘Mamma, where are you?’
Silence, but for the distant sound of the truck moving away on the far side of the hill. Even the funny fool of an owl had fallen silent.
Drift leapt the second fence and frantically ran around the grass.
‘Mamma,’ repeated Drift, as he sniffed for her warm body.
A moment later he found her, twenty yards clear of the tarmac, lying on her side as if asleep.
‘Mamma,’ repeated Drift. ‘I am so sorry, Mamma. Are you all right? Please say you are all right.’
But Mamma remained silent, and from that day onward always would.
For three days and nights Drift wandered the forest alone, drinking from the brooks and streams, but never eating. He began to lose what little weight he possessed. He began to lose heart. The moon returned and lit up the night sky as Drift cowered in the undergrowth.
On the fourth night he ventured out, desperate for food. He crept into a clearing wondering where his Uncle Mo might be when he heard a sound he had never heard before. It was a long yawn, followed by someone or something, licking their lips.
Drift stood bolt still. In the moonlight he saw a creature amble into the clearing. It stopped before him and casually said: ‘Oh, hello.’
Drift nodded a greeting.
‘Never seen you around these parts before,’ said the stranger.
‘I have never been round these parts before. I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what are you, exactly?’
‘Me?’ said the stranger, standing up on his back legs and glancing at his front paws. ‘I’m a badger, don’t you know. Can’t you tell? I thought everyone could identify a blinking badger.’
‘All badgers a bad!’ uttered Drift without thinking, though he regretted saying it as soon as the words flew from his lips.
‘Eh? Sorry you feel that way, young fella. Why do you say that anyhow?’
‘It’s obvious isn’t it? It’s in your name. Bad-gers. You are a Bad-ger. Stands to reason. You must be bad!’
‘Don’t talk such tommyrot! There is good and bad in every family. I know some of your lot who are rotten to the core. Good and bad in all, that’s what I say.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Drift, feeling guilty. ‘I didn’t mean you personally.’
‘Should jolly well think not,’ said the badger, rubbing some sleep from his black eyes.
‘What is your name anyway?’ asked Drift.
‘Just Mister Badger will do.’
‘You must have proper name.’
The badger looked about as if to check they weren’t being watched or listened to.
‘I do as it happens, but I am not so keen on it.’
‘Go on, do tell, I won’t tell anyone else.’
Drift nodded his head.
‘And you won’t laugh?’
‘Well it’s Daisy if you must know.’
Drift stifled a laugh.
‘See! I knew you would laugh!’
‘I am sorry, er…Daisy, but isn’t that a girl’s name?’
‘Not in our family it isn’t. Daisy Willowpop if you must know. Pleased to meet you,’ said the badger and he reached forward and patted Drift on the snout. ‘And you are?’
‘My name is Drift.’
‘You’re a red deer, aren’t you?’
‘Yep, should think so, by the look of you, with that coat of yours. Methinks you’ll be a big strong stag one day, you know that, don’t you?’
‘That’s what my mother always said. She said I’d be the king of stags with a royal set of antlers, something to be proud of, one day far in the future.’
‘It’s possible, in time, though I never did quite understand all that tree growing out of the head caper. Wouldn’t like it meself. Must be most uncomfortable.’
‘I really can’t say, I don’t know,’ said the fawn.
‘Where is your mother anyway?’
‘Er…well…she’s gone away.’
‘Eh. Oh well, it happens that way sometimes. Chin up kid; you’ll be all right. Most folks round this part of the forest are decent enough. Just keep off the roads and keep away from the humanthings.’
‘I will, Daisy, for sure, I will.’
‘Well nice to meet you, Drift, but I can’t stand around here all night gossiping. I have just woken up and I am as hungry as a fox in a hen coop.’
‘I am hungry too,’ said Drift. ‘Starving to be exact.’
‘Well there is some good grazing down there in the clearing. Help yourself young fella, I don’t want it. I am off in search of juicy worms.’
‘I can’t,’ said Drift, ‘I am not yet ready to eat grass.’
‘Oh I see,’ said the badger, thinking hard. ‘You must be starving hungry,’ and Daisy stood back and looked more carefully at the fawn and the bones he could see clearly under his tousled coat, and realised he was exactly right. His ribs were showing and that wasn’t a good sign. Daisy lifted his paw to his head and glanced up at the moon and said, ‘I just might be able to help you there, boy.’
‘There’s a fat badger back at the sett called Grelda. She lost her cub in the big storm. She could give you a good feed I should think, if I spoke to her nicely.’
‘Oh would you, Daisy? Would you do that? That would be so lovely.’
‘Come on then, follow me, and we’ll find out.’
They crossed the clearing, darted through a stand of silver birch trees that were losing their leaves and came to a gurgling brook. Daisy skipped across a fallen tree while Drift danced straight through the burbling water. Ahead of them now was a large mound covered in neatly trimmed grass. To the right of the mound was a big black hole.
‘Best if you wait here a mo,’ said Daisy. ‘I’ll go on down and see how the land lies. Won’t be a tick,’ and with that his black and white behind disappeared down the hole.
A moment later Drift thought he heard voices. He leant toward the hole and listened. He was right, he could hear voices.
‘Oh no Daisy,’ someone was saying, ‘I am not washed and clean. You could have given me more warning.’
‘But he is such a nice little fella, Drift’s his name, and so hungry, you’ll love him to bits.’
‘No, I really can’t be doing with it. No means no.’
‘What would you say if I promised to bring you back a fine supper?’
‘Really, do you mean it? A really fine supper, mind.’
‘I am a badger of my word. I do’s what I says.’
‘Oh all right then, but please tell him I haven’t had time to tidy up. The place is a pigsty.’
The next moment Daisy popped up from the hole, grinning triumphantly.
‘She’ll do it. She’ll jolly well do it. What did I tell you?’
‘I know,’ said Drift, ‘I heard.’
‘Go on then, get yourself down there and feast before she changes her mind.’
Drift nodded his head and then remembered to say thank you as his mother always said he should, and stuck his head into the hole.
From the outside the hole looked huge. But for all his tinyness Drift had broad shoulders and he simply could not squeeze in. Worse than that he was now stuck fast.
‘I’m stuck!’ he shouted, ‘I am jolly well stuck!’
‘Oh crikey,’ said Daisy, and he reached down and grabbed the fawn’s back legs and roughly dragged him from the hole.
In the moonlight Drift staggered to his feet, shaking his head vigorously, for he knew there must be mud all over his snout and neck.
‘You look a bit dirty now,’ said Daisy. ‘Bit of a mess.’
‘And whose fault is that?’
‘Here,’ said Daisy, and he reached across and wiped the mud from his face with his paw. ‘You can’t be visiting Grelda with a face like that. Frighten her you would. Frighten her to death.’
‘What do we do now?’
The badger smiled and waggled his claws in front of Drift’s eyes.
‘All is not yet lost, young Drift, my friend. Come on, there is a back way in. We badgers are not all stupid you know.’
‘I hope it’s bigger than the front,’ muttered Drift, but Daisy didn’t hear that for he had scurried round to the back of the mound. Drift followed keenly, growing hungrier by the minute. The badger was right, for there was a larger squarer hole that appeared to lead down to the centre of the mound.
Drift glanced at the entrance and back at Daisy.
‘Are you sure it will be all right?’
‘Course I am. I fixed it. Said so didn’t I. You get down there right sharpish.’
Drift shook his head one last time and threw himself into the hole, half expecting to become stuck fast as he had before, but this time he didn’t. Instead he found himself in a small tunnel and from there he could see light before him flickering from the far end. He pressed on and suddenly the tunnel opened out into a large and cosy room.
To the left was a large three-draw chest of drawers. Someone had painted the drawers red, green and blue and on the top of the chest sat a stubby candle that threw its flickering light across the sett. On the other side of the room was a large ancient rocking chair that had belonged to the badgers for longer than anyone could remember, and in the chair, half sitting, half lying on her back was an old, and it has to be said, fat, badger.
‘Hello,’ she said, ‘and you must be the one they call Drift.’
‘Yes, I am, thank you for seeing me, Grelda.’
‘My name is Grelda ’tis true, but you must call me Mrs Whizz.’
‘Yes Mrs Whizz, whatever you say.’
‘And you are hungry are you?’
‘Mmm. Well I may be able to help you there, but a deal’s a deal. Daisy promised me faithfully he would bring me a super supper. One good turn deserves another you know.’
‘I am sure he will, Mrs Whizz.’
‘You just make sure that he does, young Drift, or one feed will be all that you get.’
‘I will Mrs Whizz. I will, for sure.’
‘Mmm, well you seem a nice enough little deer, I am willing to give you a chance,’ and the old badger shifted in her chair as if making ready. ‘Well, what you waiting for? Get on with it before I change my mind.’
‘Yes,’ said Drift, uncertainly, approaching the badger. ‘I have never tasted badger milk before.’
‘Then you have a rare treat in store for yourself. Milk’s milk aint it?’
‘Yes,’ said Drift, his mouth dry as dead wood at just the mention of the words delicious milk.
‘Well go on then, get started.’
Afterwards, outside in the moonlight, Drift felt as if he could run to the end of the earth and back. He’d fed until bursting and now he was looking for Daisy with Mrs Whizz’s parting words lingering in his ears.
‘Find that Daisy, and make sure he lives up to his part of the bargain!’
Right on cue Daisy ambled from the undergrowth and he was carrying something strange.
‘Oh, there you are,’ said Drift. ‘I have been looking for you.’
‘Fed well, have you?’
‘I have,’ grinned Drift.
‘Good was it?’
‘Exquisite, I can’t tell you how good it was.’
‘I knew Grelda would see you right. She’s a decent enough old bird.’
‘Have you anything for her?’ asked Drift. ‘She’s hungry too.’
‘I do as it happens, here in this box.’
‘What is it?’
‘It’s a hamburger.’
‘A hamburger .Yep, delicious it is, with fried onions. If it wasn’t for my promise I’d have scoffed it myself long before now.’
‘Show me,’ said Drift.
Daisy came closer and carefully opened the yellow plastic box.
Drift lowered his nose inside and breathed in.
‘Yuck! I don’t like the smell of that!’
‘Well I don’t suppose deer are interested in hamburgers.’
‘What’s it made of?’
‘You really don’t want to know, Drift.’
‘Where did you get it?’
‘Ah, now that’s the funny thing. I was out feeding in the clearing near to the highway when one of those open topped cars came from nowhere, music blaring, trying hard to impress the floozie I expect, all that kind of caper, when all of a sudden the male humanthing casually tossed this box high into the air and out of the car. It bounced once on the road and then rolled on to the grass. I had to be quick mind, because I knew the old owl was about and he certainly likes hamburgers. I grabbed the box before anyone else could get to it and scurried back into the woods, and here I am now.’
‘Why is there a piece missing, there, look,’ said Drift.
‘Looks like the humanthing took one bite and didn’t like it. They are all overfed, that lot. Fussy blighters they are, no wonder so few creatures will have anything to do with them. It’s not a big problem, I’ll just smooth that bit off a bit, Grelda’s short sighted as it is, she’ll never notice.’
‘If you say so.’
‘I do say. I am taking it down to her now, that should guarantee you another good feed tomorrow, and after that, I’ll show you round this part of the forest if you like. I could show you what’s what and who’s who. That kind of thing.’
‘Will you? Oh, that would be great, Daisy. I am going to call you a goodger from now on.’
Daisy giggled. ‘A goodger indeed, whatever next. Won’t be a mo, I’ll be back in a tick.’
Read book reviews on Drift and Badger here