Every so often, when I need a break from my larger projects, I’ll churn out a quick piece of flash fiction. I’ve decided to start sharing them under the “Elevenses” banner, because they are snacks more than stories. First up, a story that takes place in the days before the Five ever became the Five.
Adventures of the Five
An Elevenses Special
Written by Mark Bousquet
“Jasper the Porcupine’s First Birthday Party”
“Notter!” Jasper the Porcupine yelled as he pushed aside a small bramble to let the otter into his bedroom. “We’ve been waiting for you!”
“Chip chip ahoy!” Notter yelled, pushing past Jasper to join the birthday party. Aurora the Fox, Flake the Rabbit, and Spicedrop the Owl were already inside, sipping on some lemonade that Jasper had mixed in an abandoned dog food bowl. The animals in the Meadow knew they were not like animals in most of the children’s stories produced by humans. They did not wear clothes and walk on their hind legs. Jasper’s bedroom did not have a bed and a bureau and a bean bag. It had dirt and he slept on half of a kid’s Red Sox t-shirt that he’d scavenged after it floated into the Meadow via the river. They did speak English, but that was because they were all taught a second language as soon as they were born. It was important for them to know what the humans who lived around them were saying.
But the humans did not know the animals of the Meadow could understand them, so there would be no human stopping by to wish Jasper a happy first birthday.
“Lemonade?” Notter asked after shoving his entire face into the bowl. “Where’d you get this?”
“I’ve been saving it!” Jasper said happily. “I found a packet after some humans didn’t pick up all their trash last summer! I wanted to save it for a special occasion.”
“And the water?” Aurora the Fox asked, but then a crack of thunder shook the warren and she had her answer.
Flake the Rabbit made a face at Notter as the otter was practically neck deep in the lemonade. Her right eye had been torn out by an attack from Dancer the Hawk, and it was a Very Big Deal that she had finally ventured back outdoors to come to Jasper’s party. The porcupine was so happy that she was here he almost didn’t care if Aurora, Notter, or Spicedrop had come.
“I thought you were going to invite the new kid,” Flake said, and the room fell instantly silent. Her scarred right eye twitched, as it always did when she was nervous. “What?”
Spicedrop wandered in from his spot on the other side of the room. “Not everyone is happy that Farm is in the Meadow. Some of the Elders,” he said, looking at Aurora because her father was on the Elders Council, “do not want him around.”
Aurora hung her head and felt shame rise up inside of her. It was true that her dad wanted Farm to leave the Meadow, but that was because, “His dad killed my mom.”
Notter licked droplets of lemonade off his chin. “You don’t know that.”
“Stop!” Jasper insisted as he looked from Aurora to Notter to Flake to Spicedrop. “I want everyone to have fun! That’s why I didn’t invite him! Because I knew it would make some people mad. Now, come on! Let’s have some fun!”
Before Jasper and the others could start their fun, a voice from the doorway interrupted them.
“Um, excuse me, who are you talking to?”
Jasper spun as fast as he could (which wasn’t very fast, because he was a porcupine) to find the very animal he had just been talking about standing there. Farm the Half-Wolverine (on his dad’s side) and Half-Fox (on his mother’s side) was poking his head past the bramble. Though he was only a few months old, Farm looked like a black fox twice his age.
“You were talking just now, weren’t you?” he asked politely.
“Gah!” Jasper said, and spun back to his friends as fast as he could (which wasn’t very fast, because he was a porcupine) to see an empty room.
Farm’s arrival had crashed his fantasy.
“I was just …”
Jasper let his voice trail away as his head dropped to the dirt. There had never been a birthday party because he wasn’t cool enough to have any friends to come to a birthday party. Well, maybe if his parents believed in having birthday parties he could have convinced a few people to come: Notter was crazy so he’d come, and he’d been to visit Flake a few times so she might have come if she ever left her own warren, and everyone knew Aurora was going to be on the Elders Council someday because her dad practically ran the Meadow, so she’d come because she’d think it was her duty, and, well there’s no way Spicedrop would ever come but Jasper thought owls were the coolest animals and if he was going to have a pretend birthday party, then it was going to be a pretend birthday party with an owl.
“Were you talking to yourself?” Farm asked, entering the room.
“What? No! I …”
“Yeah, I do that, too,” Farm admitted. “I’m sorry to interrupt but Mother Hound said I should come over because it was your birthday. I think she feels bad I don’t have any friends.” He sniffed the air as his eyes found the bowl. “What’s that sweet smell?”
“It’s lemonade,” Jasper grumbled, plopping himself down in the dirt.
Farm blinked. “You have lemonade?”
“Wow! You’re the coolest! Can I … can I have some? I’ve never had lemonade but it smells so good!”
Jasper brightened, but only cautiously so. Kids were always picking on him and he didn’t know Farm enough to know if he was going to pretend to be nice just to be mean, so he cautiously picked up his head. “You … you think I’m cool?”
“Heck yes! Mother Hound has everything at the Barn but I’ve never had lemonade.”
Jasper couldn’t help but smile. “Why, sure you can have some lemonade, Farm! Be my guest!”
“Thanks!” Farm said and shot across the room to try the lemonade.
“You … you can stay for a bit, if you want,” he said. “My parents don’t really like parties but-”
“I know!” Farm said. “I brought you a gift but they took it from me on the way in! Tough break. But yes, I’d love to stay. I don’t have very many – well, I don’t have any friends, really, except for Notter, but he’s crazy, and Aurora, but that’s only because coming to see me makes her dad mad, which she totally enjoys no matter how much she says that’s not why she’s doing it. There’s some pretty cool kids here. We should, I dunno, start a group or something and go on adventures. I love adventures! Do you love adventures?”
Jasper, who had never been on an adventure in his life, very enthusiastically said, “I love them,” and smiled as Farm dipped his head back into the bowl. He didn’t even care if his parents had taken his one and only birthday present. Having someone stop by uninvited was the best present he could have ever dreamed of having.
“Oh,” Farm said, picking his head out of the bowl, “I’ve been rude.”
“Yeah,” Farm said, wiping lemonade off his black whiskers. “I didn’t say what I came here to say.”
“What’s that?” Jasper asked, feeling the old fears return. He expected Farm to say something mean.
“Happy Birthday, mate!” Farm shouted. “Have you ever been to any of the bridges that cross the river? We should totally do that! After we finish the lemonade, of course. This is soooooooo good!”
Birthdays were awesome.
Adventures of the Five and all related characters and stories are copyright, Mark Bousquet. For future tales in the Adventures of the Five series, please see the first two books, THE COMING OF FROST and THE CHRISTMAS ENGINE.