Isn't It a Utopia?

May 31, 2011

“Rip?”

“Mmhm?”

“Got any paints?”

“Aye. In that drawer… no, the one below. That one.”

Ripple pointed with his quill and went back to the problem at paw. If a ditch protected, but high ground was desirable for accuracy…

“So ye never get hit in a ditch?”

“Oh no, not never. Sometimes you do. It’s sort of random. What’s this under the paints?”

“Random…” Rip started. “Huh? What’s what…”

Foweller turned, displaying Merritt’s “gift” for Ripple to see. “It was sticking out of the papers.”

“Uhhhh…” His mind was blanking. He couldn’t breathe.

“Haha, it’s so gross. Lookit that.”

“That’s not mine,” Ripple said. His head swam. He felt like throwing up.

Foweller turned the picture upside-down, grimacing in amusement at it. He looked up as somebeast creaked across the attic floor.

“Rip? What’s not yers?”

Ripple couldn’t remember moving so fast in his entire life. He went from lying flat on the floor to lying flat over Foweller in just four seconds flat. He batted the picture out of the younger otter’s paws and shoved it as far under the desk as he could reach.

Skipper rounded the bookshelf an instant later and quirked his head at them sprawled out together.

Ripple’s thoughts went something like this: The stair didn’t squeak. Skipper saw the picture. Owowowow, my legs, never doing that again. I don’t have a book. This looks really bad, don’t it. Punch Foweller.

He punched Foweller.

“Oi there, Rip, what’s that all about! Gerroff, ye terror, what’s gotten into ye? First Isidore’s hives…”

Foweller was not one to let a swing go unrequited, and Skipper had a time of getting them apart. He held them aloft by the scruffs of their necks. Paralyzed, they twisted gently in his grip, weather vanes on a lazy day, glaring daggers at each other.

Skipper let Foweller down first.

“What is this fightin’ all about, Foweller?”

“Dunno, Uncle Skip! Rip started it.”

Uncle? Ripple mouthed.

“We was playin’ at our game!” Foweller indicated the massive spread of glued-together paper and the various designs and crafting tools littering the floor. “Then he trounced me.”

“Ye hurt any?”

“No, Uncle Skip. Rip hits like a weasel.”

“That so. Very well,” said Skipper. “Foweller, ye may go. I’d like to speak with my son in private.”

“Okeedoke, Uncle Skip!” Foweller smiled so sweetly it was a wonder his teeth didn’t fall out of his mouth in dusty little shards.

Ripple writhed. Skipper bapped him. He let Ripple down when Foweller had gone. The little otter’s chin sunk to his chest. He clasped his paws behind his back, lest they fidget and betray his feelings.

“What am I goin’ to do with ye, Rip?” he sighed, sitting down on the edge of the bed. “What’s gotten into ye? Look at this mess! What in hellgates happened to the shelf here?”

“Uh… wood rot?”

“Wood rot an’ what? When did it happen?”

“Bludd, sir. This mornin’…”

Skipper sighed again.

“Why today, Rip? Spring Nameday celebration’s tonight. Ye’ve been actin’ like a ruddy fool, an’ if it keeps up yer goin’ to get more than a switchin’, I’ll see to that myself.” Skipper reached over and pulled Ripple closer. Clasping his head with both paws, Skipper rubbed his thumb claw against the dried white goo that had been administered to Ripple’s myriad bee stings. “Still hurts?”

“Aye, sir.”

“An’ yer rudder?” Skipper tipped him over a knee to check the bandage Sister Agnes had applied around the base of Ripple’s tail. It was still off-white, with no red spots bleeding through. Ripple’s pajamas had spared his legs, but would need stitching.

“Aye, sir.”

“Rip. I want ye to come down tonight. Help out with settin’ up the feast. Father Abbot’s orders, ye know. I was gonna get ye off the hook, let ye rest, but…” He helped Ripple upright again. “I’ll send some crew to clean up the shelvin’ mess. Ye got five minutes to get ready an’ head downstairs.”

Ripple nodded. He shifted his paws behind his back again and stepped closer to the desk. He bumped his chair by accident.

“An’ no more playin’ with Virrel.”

“But -”

“No! That’s final. That weasel’s a bad influence on ye, I know it. He’s a bad apple, that one, an’ yer not to be alone with him no more, got it?”

“But he’s -”

Rip.”

Ripple bowed his head again. “Aye, sir.”

“Right. Now, mind tellin’ me why ye were tryin’ to pop Foweller’s ears off?”

When Ripple raised his head, he’d managed to get his eyes moist. It was easy. “He found… he was makin’ fun of… of mum’s picture.”

Skipper hugged him. Ripple waited it out as stoically as possible. Things started to get awkward around the two-minute mark when he realized Skipper was sobbing.

He wondered if he had gone too far.


There really wasn’t any reason to have a Spring Nameday celebration feast outside, except to punish youngsters by forcing them to do pointless manual labor. Ripple didn’t know why they couldn’t just eat in the Great Hall and glance out a window once in a while. The days were fine and warm, but the nights still nipped.

Evening began to flow over the walls, washing out the dregs of sunlight from the corners of the abbey.

Ripple paused along the edge of the shadow. The blades of grass caught in the crossfire of light and dark looked sharp, serrated like the tip of a shrimp knife. He stepped over them, then immediately felt foolish.

He dragged a dining chair along behind him.

“No, no! Yer muckin’ up the chair,” shouted Rigg, bounding past. The burly otter had a chair slung over either shoulder. “Carry ’em like this!”

Ripple tilted his chair to the side and blinked at the grass stains on the curly-carved feet. He resumed dragging it.

At least he didn’t have to help with the tables.

“Psst.”

A decorative bush rattled. Ripple ignored it.

“Psssssst. Fft. Fft. Oi!”

“I’m busy,” he told the bush, and it grew large triangle ears in response. Then a muzzle and two little eyes.

“Whatcher gonna do to dat chair, then?”

Ripple pointed towards where the tables and other chairs were being set up. Various abbeybeast bustled with tablecloths, cutlery and dishes. Bludd looked between the set-up and the main abbey building.

“So… how’re ye gonna move all the walls after?”

Ripple’s brain just couldn’t cope with that. Across the lawn, a young vixen spotted him. She began to wave, standing on tip-paws, then stopped and drooped, changed directions. Ripple stared after.

“Um. Sorry?” he said.

“What fer?” Bludd cartwheeled in front of him.

“I mean, I don’t understand what yer askin’.”

The vixen glanced over at them again. Her nose pointed determinedly, but then her stride faltered and her ears went back, and she once again busied herself with something else. Ripple continued to stare at her, until he lost her in the crowd.

“That’s nothin’ to apologize about. Why’ve ye got dots all over? I gots dots on my belly. Are ye turnin’ into a wildcat? Ye should start wid stripes. Or bigger ears. Those are really tiny ones ye got!”

This continued until Ripple had brought his chair to the nearest table. Rigg was waiting for him, and slapped him on the back, knocking him over.

“There ye go! That’s two chairs, well done matey! Hyup an’ at ’em.” Rigg hauled him up again and brushed dirt from his habit front. “I’d tell ye to fetch another, but we’re all finished up now. I’ll go ask what ye need to do next, provided Skip’s still sober enough to say.”

“Oh… Alright, Uncle Rigg. Oh!”

“Eh?”

“Do you have a son, Uncle Rigg?”

“Nope! Ye’ll never find me tied down to one female all me life.” Rigg flexed. “Wouldn’t be fair to the rest.”

Ripple sat down to wait. He wriggled to and fro, but it didn’t move closer to the table. He almost snapped at Bludd to stop holding the wheels before he remembered where he was.

Speaking of Bludd, she was being awfully quiet… Ripple did a quick check around. Oh. She was gone.

“You there… Ripple, ain’t it?”

He craned his back head around until he found the source, sitting across from him: a male fox. Not the old one, but the younger one. Still seasons beyond Ripple’s own age. Beside him was the mole, Cobb.

“No,” said Ripple. “Ye’ve got me confused with another otter.”

The mole leaned forward. His goggles were hitched up, now the sun was over the wall. “You’m be th’ beast that brought Oi food in th’ dungeon. Oi remember you’m.”

“But you ain’t Ripple?” the fox said. Ripple shook his head. He glanced at the abbey. So far away! Escape would be difficult. Why was there a blueberry scone on his lap?

“Oi’m certain he -”

Suddenly, the table lurched. The cloth parted beside Ripple, and Bludd crawled out onto an empty chair. She slammed her elbows down and ogled at Cobb.

“A dungeon? Wodjer do, pillage a whole village?”

“Oh, no! Oi… Oi troied to steal some food… from th’ Abbey garden…” Cobb fiddled with his claws and bowed his head.

“Oh.” The kitten sulked. “I was gonna ask ye t’ join my rovin’ crew o’ scallywags… but if ye never done nothin’ dangerous afore… Like fight off a whole army o’ bees! Wanna see my bites?”

“They’re stings,” said Ripple, distantly.

“I knows buzzy bees sting,” said Bludd. “I was talkin’ about my bites.” She chomped her jaws at him and grinned.

The fox was still giving him a very odd look, so Ripple mumbled a vague apology, pointed at something no one could quite see, and slipped away, leaving Bludd and Cobb to discuss career options for the recently paroled. Or whatever it was Bludd had in mind.

Ripple examined his scone as he settled down at another table. It seemed clean enough… It was probably her way of apologizing. And, well, he did like blueberries. It was the kind that had jam inside. His favorite!

He bit into it, and then yelped, crumbs spraying through his whiskers. A heavy paw had landed on his shoulder. Ripple twisted in his seat, and began to choke at the sight of the dark, cowled figure. The figure’s other paw drew the hood back, revealing the Abbot’s kindly-enough half-smile.

“There seems to be a young creature in my abbey who is not altogether aware of our rules of conduct and the respect we are to show to other beasts and their property.”

“Um, I’m sorry, Father, I -”

“I of course speak of our mutual friend, Bludd.” The Abbot scrunched his face at the name the wild kitten had chosen for herself. He sat down as well.

“Oh,” said Ripple. He swallowed what little scone remained, and licked his whiskers clean.

Behind the Abbot, he saw the vixen again, and followed her movements with his eyes. He scootched up to the edge of his chair.

“It was not you who knocked Isidore’s hive into the fire, was it? Come now, my son, don’t be so hesitant. I know you well, and you are a careful, caring soul. It was no accident, but nor was it an act of aggression, was it?”

“N-no, Father…”

She almost saw him, but he ducked his head and scratched his ear just in time, hiding his face behind his arm.

“It was Bludd, wasn’t it?”

“My dad says not to lie.”

“And so?”

Ripple’s muzzle flattened in finality. The Abbot almost smiled.

“Why do you protect her, who has done you wrong, my son? On so many occasions,” he added.

“She’s my friend, Father.”

The vixen was seated now, talking to Cobb and Bludd.

“Yes. I suppose so. But why choose her, over all the others who could be your friend?”

“Well… ‘cos… she’s… fun.”

The Abbot glanced in the direction Ripple was looking, and nodded.

“Tell me, my son. Do you think Bludd should be held accountable for today’s incident?”

“I done the punishment already, Father.”

“And so should she not be punished doubly, for letting the blame fall on you in the first place?”

“I’ve forgiven her already, Father.”

The Abbot leaned back and breathed his pipe.

“And when did you ever plan on telling Tamarack?” he said.

Ripple hunkered down in his habit, blushing.

The Abbot stood up and patted Ripple’s shoulder.

“The night is young, and so are you. There is time yet to heal. You’ve done your share of that, these past few seasons, but there is always more to do, and every once in a while you must air out your bandages and expose the wound again. Find the time to talk to her tonight, my son. It may sting at first, but it is better in the long run than to let it fester. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to sample some of the cellarhog’s fine ale before I can think up another metaphor for the next life lesson I’ll need to impart before the night is over. An Abbot’s work is never over…”

Ripple did his best to straighten his posture as the older otter moved by him.

“Oh, and Ripple…”

“Aye, Father?”

“Any ideas for the name?”

“Umm… name of what, Father?”

The Abbot stared for some time, his face caught somewhere between amusement and stern disapproval.

“Do try to get out a bit more, there’s a good dibbun.”

Ripple glared down at the tablecloth and his clenching paws.

“‘m not a dibbun… Oops.”

There was jam on his habit collar.

“Oi, Rip! Over here!” Rigg shouted, waving at him from the abbey. “Found another job for ye!”

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