C.Bear and the Critters

ne night when the Bears were sleeping soundly, they were awaked by a most strange noise.

“Skreet!” went the noise, “skitter skitter skitter.” And then it was silent again. The Bears looked at each other in the dark, but there was nothing more to hear, so they soon settled down again, and began to doze off.

“Skitter skitter skrit, scrit, scrit, scrit … ” went the noise, and the Bears sat bolt upright again, wide-eyed, and listened.

T.Bear whispered, “do you guys hear that?”

C.Bear whispered (not so softly), “Um, yeah, I sure do.” Privately, he knew it gave him the creeps too, but he just listened, so as not to alarm the other Bears. “Skitter, skitter, skitter, skrit, skreet, screet, thump!”

“Something is in the attic!”, said A.Bear. “But what do you suppose it could be?”

But then it was quiet, except now the Bears could not sleep, because A.Bear was right. Something was definitely up there! So they just sat up in bed, listening for the slightest noise or clue.

“SKREET, SKREET, SKREET!” went the noise again, only this time it sounded like it was outside. All the Bears felt like their home was being invaded. After all, it was being invaded! For good measure, the noise went “skritch, skritch, skritchy skritch skritch,” and it really did not let up for quite a while. Only, now it sounded like it was in the basement. “SKRITCH, skritch, skreet!”

Trevor said that, whatever it was, there was more than one of them, and he could not be certain whether it was above or outside, but he thought it was mostly above. Perhaps one of those pesky squirrels was nesting in the gutters!

“What’s a squirrel”, asked little Thelonious. “Because if it’s a squirrel, I’m not going to like squirrels, you know. I don’t have to stand for that, I’m Thelonious, you know!”

But the other Bears tittered and hushed him up quickly. “Yes, we know, Thelonious!” And they reminded Thelonious how, just the other day, C.Bear and some of the other bigger Bears hopped onto the windowsill and hollered at the pesky squirrels in the garden.

“But I couldn’t see them”, piped Thelonious, “I could only hear them. Those went “chitter chitter chit chit chit”, and these go …”

“Skitter, skitter, skitter, skrit, skreet, screet, thump!”: there it was again.

It was a long night. By this time, the People were awake. They had heard the strange noises too, and were discussing whether it was a squirrel, or a raccoon, or maybe lots of one or the other, and they were trying to decide, by listening, whether it was in the attic, or in the basement, or crawling up the drainpipe.

In fact, the People were making no better progress than the Bears at identifying the sounds. C.Bear thought that one of them ought to go up and look, since they were bigger and it is very difficult for a Bear to go up a drainpipe or pop open an attic hatch.

Just then, Alex said, “Tomorrow I think I’ll go up there with a flashlight and take a look. Criminy, it’s three in the morning!”

The “Critter” settled down (whatever and wherever it was!) just before the sun rose, so everybody got a good hour’s sleep before it was time to get up. And nobody was very happy about that.

Normally, when the curtains go open in the morning, all the Bears yell “Sunshine! Yaaaaaay!” and they are very happy to greet the day. But on this particular morning, they had very little to say, and sat around blinking the sleep out of their eyes. Only little Thelonious, cuddled protectively in big ol’ Schatzi’s lumbering arms, was still sleeping.

That evening, Alex got a ladder out of the garage and hauled it into the bedroom closet. He climbed up with the big heavy policeman’s flashlight (“what if it’s a rabid raccoon?”, said he) until the Bears could only see his legs disappearing up into the attic crawlspace.

Some dust and ceiling particles filtered down onto the steps of the ladder, but the feet didn’t move for the longest time. Then the legs reappeared out of the ceiling, and Alex climbed back down the ladder and said,

“Nothing! Didn’t see a darn thing!” and he brushed himself off and folded up the ladder. “It’s too hot up there during the day for anything to live long anyway. No food, no water up there. They must come up at night and leave early in the morning.”

The people conferred for a while, and Alex went outside with the big, heavy policeman’s flashlight to see what he could see. It was clear he was not very pleased with the invasion of the Critter.

While they had the room to themselves, C.Bear hastily convened all the bears for a Bear conference. They arranged themselves into a big circle on the bed, and C.Bear spoke first, because he thought of himself as sort of a leader Bear.

“Listen, guys! We have GOT to figure out what this critter is, and tell it to go away! Anybody got any ideas?”

“Down South where I hail from”, drawled sleepy ol’ Bo Bear, “once you gits yourself a critter in your house, you kin be stuck with it for years!”

“Oh pooh, Bo Bear, you aren’t even FROM the South!”, said L.Bear, who really did do some time in San Antonio and should know. And the Bears all fell to bickering among themselves, on whether a Bear can be from any place in particular, if all Bears really come from the Bear Factory.

“Bears! Bears!” cried C.Bear, but no one was listening to him. Out Bear was holding court telling the newer Bears about all the critters he and C.Bear and T.Bear and A.Bear saw at the Russian River.

“Maybe it was a duck, then?” asked Little Drummer Bear, who had never really seen a Critter before, that he knew of.

“Maybe we should just ask the Critter to go away!” offered Happy, and he was so pleased to contribute something that he chortled loudly.

C.Bear glared at the assembled Bears until they could all see that his stuffing migration was acting up, and that C.Bear was beginning to get mad! But just then the People started coming to the back of the house, and all the Bears scampered back to their positions on the pillows, pretending to be just ordinary Bears.

“I checked the roof, I checked the gutters, and I checked all the vents all the way around the house. I just don’t see how anything could get in!” said Alex, setting the policeman’s flashlight down on the bedside table with a heavy “clunk!” It was now after sunset and everything was still quiet. No Critter was to be heard.

“Maybe we’ll be lucky and whatever the Critter is will be gone,” the People agreed. Maybe whatever it was just tried to get in, and gave up and went away!

The Bears just looked at each other out of the corners of their eyes. They all thought that People could do anything they wanted, but it looked to them like it was just going to be another very long night.

And so it was. The Bears were learning to identify the sounds, even though they didn’t know for sure what these meant. “Skrit, skrit, skrit” sounded like something scratching on a screen, and it was very spooky! If nothing could get in, what if it already was in? What if it was in the walls?

The sound “skitter, skitter, skitter”, the Bears thought, was obviously something running. How could something run on the walls? So the Bears thought that part of the time, the Critter must be on the ceiling in the attic, and they thought that was very creepy.

“Skreet, skreet, skreeeet” sounded like something clawing loudly on smooth metal, and it echoed a bit, and the Bears heard the People say there were pipes running from the bottom to the top of the house. What if the Critter was running up and down the pipes? The Bears thought that, too, was very creepy.

“Thump!” was the sound the Bears couldn’t figure out. They were beginning to think these were all too many noises for just one Critter. Royal Bear said she thought one of the Critters must be bigger than the others, and clumsy as well! This caused Happy to start laughing, “Ho! Ho!” until the other Bears quieted him down. No one was getting any sleep, and C.Bear was getting very grouchy, indeed.

Trevor whispered that there was only one thing spookier than these Critter noises, and that was just listening in the silence for Critter noises when there were none. A beam in the rafters settled just then, with a loud “creak”, and all the Bears were startled practically out of their T-shirts.

Bye and bye the Critters, whatever they were, must have settled down too, and the whole household got a decent two or three hours of sleep, and then it was Sunshine again, and the Bears were all too cranky to greet it. At a time of day when Bears normally scamper all over the house and get into Bear mischief, and holler at the pesky squirrels, and look at the Bachelor’s Buttons outside in the planter boxes, the Bears just bagged it. All were too pooped to have any fun, and this Critter stuff was getting to be very old news indeed!

By the end of the week, the People had made less progress than the Bears in solving the Critter problem. The Bears knew all the sounds now, and about when and where they would start to be heard. But it is no good to know all about Critter sounds and not know anything about Critters, and it made the littler, younger Bears feel insecure, though they tried not to let on.

C.Bear knew that Bear morale was low, and there was nothing he could do about it. C.Bear didn’t like that. One night he called another Bear conference, and they all sat around in their circle on the bed and closed their eyes and concentrated, trying to contact the Critters. It works with Bears, but it didn’t work with Critters. A.Bear said later that he could feel something was there, and that he thought he felt it radiated a “shiny” hostility, meaning reflective, underneath which he sensed fear. It was like the Critters heard them, but only answered the Bears back with a wall of nothing. All the Bears looked at each other in surprise, for that was very, very creepy indeed.

C.Bear tried to distract his band of Bears with his sneezing act, in which he would claim that his unraveling-thread nose was tickling him, and kat-choo mightily over and over again into a Kleenex. But only the youngest of the Bears were moved to even smile.

Finally, in desperation, C.Bear said, “Thelonious, why don’t you sing us your little song?” You know, normally, the Bears were sick to death of Thelonious’s little song, for it was annoyingly repetitious, and it was also (unfortunately for all) the only song which Thelonious actually knew.

But C.Bear saw that he had made the right suggestion, for the Bears were ready for anything which reminded them of the good old “normal” days, and they perked up in anticipation. Wooly Bear, who was visiting from Phoenix and didn’t know the whole story, said “I’d like to hear your song, Thelonious!”

And Arizona Bear, who once came to California from the gift shop at the Phoenix airport and never looked back, said “You know, I think that I would like to hear it, too.”

Thelonious perked up right away himself, and he asked C.Bear, “Um, you mean, I can sing my song? My whole song?”

“Yes, Thelonious”, C.Bear said to our littlest of Bears, “we would like to hear your song. Do you think that you could sing it for us?”

“Oh, yes, of course!”, squealed Thelonious. “I thought you guys were tired of it, but I never get tired of my song!”

So Thelonious began with the same introduction that he always begins with, but all the Bears smiled this time and encouraged him to continue.

“I’m Thelonious … the Bear”, he spoke, “I am! And I’m the only Bear with his own song! It’s about me, Thelonious”, he added. “I AM a Bear, you know”, he added proudly, “I am.” My song goes something like this …”

(this is sung to “something like” the tune of Herman’s Hermits’ “Henry The Eighth I Am”):

” Thelonious THE BEAR”

(apologies to: Herman’s Hermits)

I’m Thelonious the Bear I am,
Thelonious the Bear I am, I am.
I got married to the widow next door;
She’s been married seven times before.
And every one was a Thelonious…
She wouldn’t have a Willie or a Sam.
I’m her eighth ol’ man, I’m Thelonious.
Thelonious the Bear I am.
Second verse, same as the first!
I’m Thelonious the Bear I am,
Thelonious the Bear I am, I am.
I got married to the widow next door;
She’s been married seven times before.
And every one was a Thelonious…
She wouldn’t have a Willie or a Sam.
I’m her eighth ol’ man, I’m Thelonious.
Thelonious the Bear I am.
Thelonious the Bear I am, I am
Thelonious the Bear I am!


Well, by the end of the song, all the Bears were singing along and cheering and clapping. “Yaaaay, Thelonious!”, they all called out, and little Thelonious was bursting with pride from all this unaccustomed attention.

Now they would all be singing it all night, thought C.Bear dourly, but he gamely kept up a cheerful front. The Bears were SO beside themselves with this wonderful new song (never mind they had heard it scores of times before), that they forgot all about the Critters. C.Bear was pretty sure even the Critters would be humming Thelonious’s song by now, and, since he wasn’t sure just how friendly these Critter critters could be in the first place, he thought that might not be so bad after all.

It was now the end of the afternoon, at the very end of the long People workweek, and C.Bear was concerned because the People were grumpy, and he didn’t know how much longer he could hold out himself. Bear morale was slipping. Something had to change, he told himself, so he worked his way over, through a bedlam of silly romping Bears, to where A.Bear was sitting on a pillow, deep in thought.

“A.Bear! I need to talk to you!”, he said. A.Bear looked at him with a knowing wink, and they switched to a private Bear talk channel.

The problem, C.Bear explained, was that the People were too busy to get a handle on the Critter problem, and, with all due respect, C.Bear allowed, he wasn’t sure how much the People really knew about these Critters after all. At least, C.Bear thought, that was what he thought the problem might be, and did A.Bear have any ideas?

The other Bears were still playing, and singing short remnants of Thelonious’s song (that was all they could remember, so it always trailed off after `the Bear, I am’ and they would start over). They were unable to hear the ideas being exchanged between C.Bear and A.Bear.

A.Bear thought C.Bear must have done a lot of thinking about it, because, A.Bear said, he was coming to the same conclusion. Besides, he said, he’d heard some talk of traps or pellet guns!

“That’s not any good at all!” exclaimed C.Bear, for that certainly didn’t sound like the People he knew and looked after! But he allowed that he didn’t know what the right thing to do was, either. It was getting mostly clearer and clearer, that he and A.Bear would have to do something!

A.Bear said he’d been trying to contact the Critters on his own, but he kept hitting that shiny wall of theirs. C.Bear said that he believed they were running out of time. If the People didn’t come up with a solution this weekend, they’d have to endure another whole week of skittering, and A.Bear agreed something would have to give before then.

“But, why won’t they answer us, A.Bear?” asked C.Bear, and they pondered on it for a while. Possibly, they pondered on it for a very long while, for time, outside the very People-ish schedules of coming and going and working and playing, means very little to a Bear.

After a while, A.Bear said, “I think I know.”

And A.Bear tried to explain to his companion that maybe, if the Critters didn’t want to acknowledge the Bears’ calls for a critter pow-wow, there must be a very good reason. He thought the Critters had made a very big mistake in antagonizing the Bears and even the People, and perhaps the Critters knew that. A.Bear thought that there was more to it than that, also. He told C.Bear he thought the Critters were in some kind of trouble of their own, and he suspected the Critters were afraid to let on.

“After all”, agreed C.Bear, “they’re probably wild Critters. But if they need help, why won’t they answer us?”

A.Bear said that wild Critters have no way of knowing what kind of critters Bear critters were, or whether their Bear intentions were really any good at all. He said that he didn’t think they’d ever answer, but that maybe they could think of some other way to get through. And they were running out of time.

And then A.Bear came up with his idea: “Bzzz bzz psst bzzz …”, he whispered (no private channel is ever totally secure), and they agreed that they would do it. C.Bear giggled, which is unusual for a somewhat scruffy Bear who suffers from stuffing migration, and who still harbors memories of hard years lost to sheer endurance, living in a pile for Unwanted Bears.

“Watch this”, A.Bear said.

Friday night is a late night at the Bear home, and People stay awake until all hours of the morning just because they are so glad not to have to go to sleep on their People schedules. Just after sunset is the best time to check for migrating Critters, especially if you do not have to go to bed so soon. Almost as if on cue, Alex announced that he would “make the rounds” one last time, and he left the house with the big heavy policeman’s flashlight looking for anything he might have missed.

C.Bear reported he could see that the flashlight beam had found a small hole in the concrete foundation which Alex had not noticed before. Alex looked down, and C.Bear said he saw that it seemed big enough for a large mouse, perhaps, nothing more; a disappointing size if you are looking for Critter entrances, but something made Alex decide to plug it anyway. A concrete block was placed in front of the hole.

The rest of the “rounds” were uneventful. C.Bear saw that all of the vent screens, caught in the beam of the flashlight, seemed most secure, and C.Bear tried as hard as he could to even see things Alex wasn’t looking at. And this seemed very strange, for C.Bear had been sitting the whole time on the pillow next to A.Bear.

As soon as Alex came back in the house, he switched off the flashlight and said, “Nothing promising. I plugged a small hole. We’ll have to wait and see.”

C.Bear turned to the other Bear at his side and said, “Gosh! I could see everything he saw! How did you do that?” Just then, it looked like A.Bear was smiling a little bit, and Bear smiles, you know, are always like little wisps of gossamer on the wind. You can only see them if the light hits them just right, and then they are gone. “It’s nothing! Just something I learned over in England”, A.Bear said contentedly, but he refused to elaborate.

So no contact had been made with the Critters. The two Bears talked late into the evening, and most of the other Bears just sat around, or tried to doze off. At last, lights in the house began to go out, and finally it was quiet in the house. Not a sound could be heard. Maybe the Critters had gone away?

“Skitter skitter skrit, scrit, scrit, scrit … “ went a familiar noise, and the Bears sat bolt upright again and listened. Alex woke up, listened to the sound, and grabbed the flashlight, heading for the back porch. C.Bear scrambled up onto the windowsill to see what he could see.

“C.Bear! Come back here! Hurry!”, called A.Bear, and all the other Bears looked at him in puzzlement. “Come back here, and tell me what you see.”

The flashlight beam swept the back yard cautiously, slowly, and silently, and carefully it explored the night environment.

The spotlight came to a rest on the vent screening by the steps, hesitated, and came back again. One the other side of the screen, Alex saw a beautiful Opossum looking through the grating at him. “Who are you?” called out C.Bear cautiously.

But, no answer. The possum’s fur was sleek, and shiny clean, and kind of a golden tan in color. It was a beautiful animal. It looked at Alex, and its eyes were gold and black in color and unafraid. C.Bear and A.Bear distinctly heard it call out to them: “Hey, how do I get out of here?”

The animal wandered off out of range of the flashlight, into the dark recesses of the crawlspace under the house, and Alex soon came inside for the night. “It’s a possum, for crying out loud, it’s an Opossum!” he announced. Everybody slept pretty soundly all night, knowing at least a part of the dimensions of the Critters mystery.

The next day the People talked about the Opossum. “It’s trapped”, they said, “unless maybe there’s another way in and out. It had to get in, after all. Maybe we should call Animal Control.”

Even A.Bear could not remember what Opossums ate, but C.Bear could certainly not imagine going a week without Bear kibble. The possum must have been trapped in there for a long time. But the People were looking for more ways a Critter could get in. They found a small gap in the front porch planks (again, big enough perhaps for a mouse to get in), and they blocked it with a heavy log of firewood left over from winter.

“The People are going about it all wrong”, said A.Bear to C.Bear. “It looks to me like the People are preparing to keep the Possum in, when they should be letting it out! They ought to remove the very same grating you saw the possum waiting behind, because anyone can see it wants that one to be a way out.”

Just then Bob said to Alex, “Maybe you ought to remove that screen”, and Alex said, “You know, I was just thinking I should remove that screen, too. Perhaps the Opossum wants out!”

Then the People talked some more, about whether removing the screen now would let more Critters in during the day, and how the Critters only seem to move at night, and about whether the neighborhood cats could get in there, and what the Opossum might do to them if they did.

So the plan was to wait until the evening again. At dusk, Alex went out with a hammer and pry-bar, and carefully pulled loose the screen. Just in case, he looked in under the house with the flashlight, but he really couldn’t see much at all. So back he went inside the house, and, that evening, everybody listened very carefully for the slightest Critter sound. But nary a sound was heard.

`Round about the darkest hour of night, A.Bear nudged C.Bear awake. “Listen!”, he gestured. Very faintly, trailing off into the distance, they heard Possum thoughts fading out of range:

“I’m `Enry the Opossum King I am,

`Enry the Opossum King I am, I am….”

And, of course, the two Bears saw that little Thelonious was fast asleep (and had been all along), so they concentrated on thinking very loudly, “So long, Mr. Possum Critter!”

They heard (or thought they heard) a faint reply: “Thanks for helping me get on my way, Bears! Now, let’s see, oh if only I could remember the second verse …”

C.Bear and A.Bear breathed a sigh of relief, and suddenly they realized they were both very tired for some reason or other. Just before drifting off, A.Bear said this was because sometimes you have to work very, very hard just to achieve the inevitable. C.Bear wondered why that was, for just a moment or so. But he couldn’t quite fathom how everything had all really happened, and soon the whole household was fast asleep at last.

JPG resource
Knowledge is power


© Alex Forbes, La Parola July 2, 1996

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