Roscoe the River Otter peered at the glittering stream with bleary eyes. The warm sun had dulled his senses and left him asleep on the bank since noon, but the cooling mists of twilight brought a searing pain to his stomach. Hunger. It was the driving force in all the forest creatures, and Roscoe was no exception. He yawned, exposing a row of gleaming, ivory-white teeth sharp enough to slice an elephant’s hide. He stretched, feeling the cords of his muscles draw taut and send tingling waves cascading over all of his body.
A soft patter of feet on the dry leaves startled the half-awake Roscoe; he whirled to face the danger but readied himself to leap into the water at a moment’s notice. But it was merely Red, the fox, coming down to drink of the sweet river water before his nightly hunt. He ignored the frightened otter and bent his auburn head to lap up some of the cool liquid. Roscoe relaxed. The fox posed no danger to his welfare and always kept to his own affairs. And, besides, it was time to think of more important things. Like food.
Roscoe dove gracefully into the water, making a series of ripples that warped the peaceful reflection of the woodlands into a six-year-old’s crumpled painting. He darted through the stream like an elongated torpedo, his beady black eyes searching the murky depths for the shining scales of the fish his mouth desired. And then began the chase. Roscoe twisted, circled and sliced through the water, mimicking his prey’s every move. Between rocks, under logs, through twisted masses of rotting roots he pursued the tasty morsel, who was fast tiring. And with one last, great effort, his jaws closed on the silvery scales to silence the fish’s life forever. Roscoe broke the surface with his prize. Dragging it onto the shore, he curled up and started to hack away at the juicy pink meat with his scissor-like teeth.
As the smell of blood filled the air, scavengers began to flock around the fresh kill with lust in their eyes. A mink peered at the fish hungrily from behind a rock, and a pine marten sighed enviously from a green thicket, where he waited impatiently for the otter to finish. But it was quite some time before Roscoe deemed himself satisfied; in fact, he was fully gorged and bloated before he finally turned away from his catch. Curling up on a flat rock, he closed his eyes contentedly and fell into a happy, dreamless sleep.
The morning dawned smoky. A haze of burning, bluish smoke settled over the forest, smothering the cheerful robin’s song and sending many of the animals into cautious hiding. Roscoe sniffed the air warily. There could be no doubt of the scent; man was near. The smoke was from his campfire—a very large one, to be sure—and the deathly silence that hung over the woods was proof that he was very close. Roscoe slid into the water quietly. It was time to go. Man desired his fine pelt, and where man was he would not stay.
He swam swiftly, away from the smoke, away from the smell of man, like an arrow soaring through the blue-black depths to safety. He surfaced for a breath and scanned the shoreline with trepidation. The smell was stronger. Roscoe’s whiskers quivered and twitched with fright, and his nose rebelled at the putrid, unpleasant scent. He dove back under. The river widened up ahead, and the stronger current already began to tug at his sleek body.
Onward, onward. The river was frothy now, and all of his swimming skills were applied to steer a straight course in the roiling waves. He lifted his head for a gulp of air. “Bang, whiz!!! Bang!!” Bullets ripped through the water on his right and left! He yelped and sank beneath the surface, his heart pounding madly. Man was on the shore! He swam toward the opposite bank. Perhaps there was some brush to shelter him. “Bang!! Whiz!!!” The bullets hissed as they hit the water, inches away from Roscoe’s head. He was a clear target in the crystal-blue liquid. Air! Air! Roscoe’s lungs screamed. He surfaced. “Bang!! Whiz!! Bang-bang!!!!” A searing, red-hot pain lashed through the river otter’s body. He managed to sink back under the water, but his right side had been viciously scraped by a bullet. He kicked feebly, trying to get up enough propulsion to sail with his usual grace. But it was impossible. He floundered about helplessly, crying and sending bubbles of precious air back up to the surface. It wouldn’t be long before the man sent his dog in to fetch him.
But there was other movement in the water. An old, solitary beaver, named One Tooth because of obvious reasons, had seen the entire plight from his small, brush-and-mud lodge and decided to play a part in Roscoe’s fate. Now, the beaver and the otter are most certainly not friends—one builds and the other takes extreme delight in tearing down—but old One Tooth hated man above all other hates. Man burned the forest. Man shot the animals. Man cut down his trees that he needed for his lodge! So, you see, One Tooth was pitying the otter very much as he sank slowly into the water.
Roscoe kicked with the last of his strength and ended up beside the beaver. “Bang!!! Whiz!!!” A red dot began to swell on One Tooth’s scruffy hide. He roared with anger and slapped his great tail against the water’s surface. Roscoe squeaked as the huge beaver drew him in, sheltering him with his body, taking the bullets, the pain, the death that was meant for the injured otter. They swam to the lodge, where One Tooth nudged Roscoe inside with a look that said, “Take care, my friend. I go to face my one enemy—my foe —man. You must not be his prey.” Roscoe, shaking, bleeding, and trembling, watched the brave, battle-scarred beaver give his life to another in need one last time. And Roscoe the River Otter never tore down another beaver lodge again.