It’s nearly teatime, thought Harold Smalls.
Mrs. Smalls always prepared a lovely meal on Saturdays and Harold felt optimistic. “A stew, perhaps,” he mused. He rubbed his belly and began to pack his garden tools away into the allotment shed. He could scarcely contain his excitement.
Harold admired his handiwork; a neat row of freshly planted tomatoes set the boundary to his plot. He couldn’t wait to taste the juicy fruits. “Patience is a virtue,” he reminded himself.
With a satisfied grumble Harold packed away the last of the tools. He closed the wooden door, savouring the musty smell, took a step back and accidentally trod on a mole.
“Oh dear,” Harold said, bending down to the stricken animal. Its rounded body was slightly flattened under his boot and its short spade-like claws were beckoning. He edged closer, drawn by its tiny eyes and pink pointed snout.
“There isn’t much time,” said the mole.
Harold cursed his luck. Of all the moles in the entire world, he had trodden on the one that could voice its bother.
“I’m terribly sorry,” Harold said.
“I am on a mission of extreme importance — ” the mole trailed off, coughing loudly. “A mission to save the world,” it managed.
It was not what Harold wanted to hear. His tummy was beginning to rumble and Mrs. Smalls would be wondering where he’d got to, but on account of being principally responsible for the mole’s predicament; Harold let the little critter have its say — he felt he ought to.
“We received a message from the Squirrels.” The mole’s gaze intensified. “The red squirrels.” Harold wondered at the significance, but to avoid any unnecessary awkwardness he thought it best to pretend.
“It must be serious,” he replied.
“Yes,” continued the mole. “I have been tasked with delivering this message to the birds; only they can avert the impending disaster.”
Harold considered asking what the impending disaster might be, but he wasn’t sure if his stomach could hold on much longer without Mrs. Smalls’ lovely stew. Oh, how he hoped it was stew… “Nothing else but stew will do,” he said aloud, momentarily forgetting he wasn’t alone.
“Pardon?” said the brave mole.
“Oh, nothing… sorry,” Harold replied.
The mole leaned forward, beckoning Harold closer. “Remove my satchel and take out the parchment.”
Harold squinted and saw a brown strap crossing its furry belly, culminating in a pouch on its back. He gently removed the bag, parted the pouch with his fingers and peeked inside. A rolled-up parchment the size of a matchstick was its only contents. Harold removed it and held it before the mole.
“You hold in your hands the key to our survival,” said the mole. “You must… deliver the message… it… is… your… destiny.” The mole coughed for several seconds, its lips curling up and exposing pointy teeth.
“The journey is long and perilous,” the mole continued.
Harold wasn’t in the mood for a perilous journey and his tummy was making him grumpy. He searched for an acceptable excuse to decline — one he might even convince himself was true — but found nothing suitable. On balance, he conceded it would be inappropriate to leave now. After all, he didn’t want to be rude.
“I’ll do it,” Harold said.
“May the Gods bless your fiendish boots,” said the mole. “Now listen carefully — ”
“Hold on a moment,” Harold interrupted. He fumbled in his jacket for a biro and some tissue paper, tore off a clean section and laid it across his knee. “Ready.”
“Head north, where you must traverse the Mountains of Mayhem, but beware; many travelling moles have perished in the fierce mudslides upon the unstable peaks.” The mole closed its eyes with a look of agonising pain, let out whimpering cry and then slowly relaxed. “You must hurry, past the mountains and west at the Great Valley… be cautious, my friend; few brave moles have returned to tell their tale.”
“I’m with you so far,” Harold pretended.
“Excellent,” said the mole. “Your journey ends at the great tree north-west of here.”
The mole began to shiver; a tear formed in its tiny eye. It waved Harold closer until their noses touched. The mole reached out and gently took Harold’s nostrils in its grasp. “You must… arrrrgh… pass… the message… to… the… arrrgh… robin,” said the mole, and died.
Harold paused a moment, hunger raging in his belly. The urge to go home for stew was undeniable, but he looked down at the lifeless mole and searched deep within himself. He realised that perhaps he was duty-bound, to some extent, to fulfil the dying wish of the talking mole. He stood tall and courageously took the burden upon his shoulders.
He headed north and stepped over the rocky boundary of his plot. He turned west and crossed the dirt road to where a large oak tree bordered the path. Harold saw a Robin Red Breast perched at eye level watching his every move. He cleared his throat. “Hello,” he said.
The robin stiffened, but remained quiet.
Feeling awkward, Harold passed the rolled-up parchment to the bird without explanation.
The robin cautiously took the message and read.
Eventually, it turned to Harold and nodded. “Your bravery will be remembered among my kind.” The bird gave him a sincere look. “There are preparations to be made.” and took off into the fading light.
“I must be going too,” Harold mumbled as he hurried home for tea.
Later, Harold relaxed back in his chair and rubbed his belly with satisfaction. He turned on the television and caught the end of the news bulletin. “…and we knew we were too close to shore when a flock of robins started circling us; garden birds don’t usually behave this way at sea. It was then that we realised how much we had drifted. Luckily we were able to reposition before we ran ashore. With one-hundred-and-fifty-thousand tons of oil aboard, it could have been a disaster…”