“A beard is a pain!”, thought BB, “but what can I do, we rats don’t have shavers.” His beard, all wet, was indeed dragging him down as he was pulling himself up the bank of the river.

It all started when his friends — well, you could hardly call them that, could you — decided to dare him to swing himself from the bottom of the bridge, using his long, messy beard as a rope. Yes, of course, I hear you: He could just have refused. But, you know, when you are rat, you listen to what the dominant males say. It’s like that… It’s instinct. And when you are a rat with a beard, you could forget about even dreaming of being a dominant male. No really… a rat with a beard isn’t all that common. In fact, BB was the only one he, or any rat, cat, dog, hen, mouse, cow or sheep around those parts had ever heard of. This is why his friends (again, not really an accurate description) found it funny to call him BB — the Bearded Beast: A bearded rat with a name that sounds like “baby”.

It was not likely that the fish of the river had ever heard of a bearded rat either, but BB didn’t know that: He never asked them. Rats don’t talk to fish, which is a pity as a little help would have come handy in BB’s current situation, desperately trying to pull himself out of the river, after a long time desperately trying to swim in it.

Yes, here we were. The inevitable happened. His beard snapped in two under his weight while he was swinging under the bridge for the enjoyment of his fellow rats. One of the halves was the one wet and dragging still attached to him. The other one was hanging, rather miserably, from the bottom of the bridge, still swinging a little, but mostly because of the wind. BB’s friends (yes, I know, I need to find a better name for them) didn’t get quite the entertainment that they were expecting and went home, not too happy. Don’t get me wrong though, they were not sad or concerned for BB. They were just a bit disappointed that they might not get another chance to make fun of him… ever.

But let’s skip forward a bit. BB having managed to lift himself up on the bank, exhausted and quite a bit disorientated, found himself in a place that looked nothing like home. Did he really swim so long that from a bridge in Milton Keynes, where he lived, he had travelled all the way to Spain? The answer to that is: No! Of course not, you fool!

All around him were brown mounts of hearth, grey piles of gravel, and rocks and sand, and… oh my… worst of all… enormous yellow creatures making strange noises like “brrrrr” and “clank” and “bip bip bip”. I can tell you, I would not like to see the look of a bearded one of those.

Now that BB had had a little more time to compose himself, he could see that he was not actually that far from where he lived with his… other rats. There was also something that made him uncomfortable. He wasn’t sure what it was at first, but after observing the yellow beasts for a while (rats are good at that — observing — and a bearded rat being naturally wiser, BB was even better) he could see that they were not staying still: They were moving… They were leaving the nest.

And they were going… towards the house of the rats. Now again, I hear you say “well, whatever, they were not really nice to him, so why should he care?” Sure, of course, you are right, but they were his… rats, his companions, his family even. So, paying no attention for a second to the danger or to his own exhaustion, BB started running. Running like mad. Running without tripping over his beard – having had it cut in half at least had one advantage.

He ran for a long, long time, following the same instinct that get migrating birds back home every spring.

When he arrived, the yellow beasts were already there, and it was chaos! Rats were running everywhere, thinking that the end of the world had come.

BB, not thinking twice, climbed on the highest point he could find: The bridge (yes, really… It had to be there…)

He shouted with the loudest, most bearded voice he could gather:

“FRIENDS,” finally, “I have observed the yellow beasts. They are no beast at all. They are machines, controlled by humans!”

“Humans are afraid of us! Machines have cables that can be bitten through!”

“You are the perfect army for this!”

Following BB, it didn’t take more than a minute for the rats to get the humans to leave, and for the machines to be rendered useless.

After that, everything went back to normal, except that nobody made fun of BB anymore. He didn’t become a dominant male, but when they call him BB now, it is with a palpable tone of deference and respect.

By Mathieu d’Aquin

machines

 

Images from Adriano BIDOLI and Nathan LeClair

 

 

Once, a long time ago, a fully grown snake went out in the forest to find food for his babies.

A couple of miles from the edge of the forest he found a wild boar.

He crept up on it (well for us, slithered up to it) in the red and brown leaves.

The boar turned his head round, as it had heard a crackling sound.

Luckily, the snake hadn’t got spotted (well not luckily for the wild boar), so he kept on going.

In a second you might not want to read as…

…OK the snake bit the wild boar with his mighty poisonous teeth.

Baby Snake

“But, where am I?” would have thought the snake if he wasn’t stupid as instead he (actually) thought “Mm there might be more food here,” and before that “Where’s the wild boar?”

Oh, and I forgot to tell you, he was falling in the portal that leaded to happy country which is a little… sorry, a giant country in grumpy planet.

There were sort of flashing lights which the snake thought were the ssssign of nothingnessss (because of his stupidity), but were actually shooting stars (scientifically, falling meteors). Yes shooting stars!

 

“Phew!” of course you think he thought when he arrived at happy country. Well no! He thought “I wish I was back in the… thing. Yes that is what he thought!

A few minutes after he had thought that, he went off trying to find the forest, which he found 3 hours later.

And here he goes back in the portal he came from.

Now, he found the boar and took it back to his den where his children and he ate happily together.

By Hugo d’Aquin

Images from Peter Miller and Chris Luczkow

Ssssshhh…. Winter has been tough! The biting cold was specially hard for cold blooded things like me. But spring has now come and brought with it yet a new bunch of offsprings. At least Hunting is not a vain task anymore.

As I move through the woods, slowly — some would say sneakily, I wonder what this day will bring to my fangs. Warm blooded animals get foolish at this time of the year…

Oh! Here it is! A wild boar!

It might be quite a bit too big for me, but I can kill it now and bring the kids for a meal out later — my poison is always ready!

I approach… not too quick so not to frighten it, but I’m not worried: These things are stupid! He could not even see me if I started dancing in front of him!

I have no legs for dancing anyway.

I get a bit closer by pretending to be still, but moving. Now I stop. I like to wait a bit, see the enormous beast in front of me live its last moment, unaware that fate will fall on him any second now. (fate is not my name, by the way, I’m called ssssshhh.)

I leap forward. It only takes a moment that the boar (I think he should be called Steve) does not even have time to notice. For me though, it all happens in slow motion: ssssswwwwwooooossshhhhh…. BITE!

WHAT IS THIS?!

That’s not the woods I see around me while I fall back on the floor, still in slow motion. I missed the boar… Don’t blame me: the thing has just disappeared!

My brain, although rather small, starts thinking very fast: Could it be possible that the old stories of some magical creature transporting you into some not less magical land were true? I start exploring. There is a wall of rocks behind me and some strange landscape in front of me. Strange landscape it is then.

BANG!

Now this day is getting tough… An invisible wall?!

I spend several days going around between the wall of rocks and the invisible one — Nowhere to go… As per magic (well, it is a magical land after all), mice have appeared. I though about saving them for the kids, but I’m starving and I’m starting to think that I might never go back to them…

A giant creature is approaching now, making some strange noises. I don’t know if I should fight or submit. It puts something on the floor….

Snake BabyIt’s my kids!

This clearly is not like the woods, but it’s comfortable, and at least we are together now…

I relax.

I wonder what happened to Steve.

I wonder what the strange drawings on the giant creature’s double skin means.

I don’t know it, but it says: ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.

By Mathieu d’Aquin

Images from Kristine Paulus and Andy Purviance

Once upon a time, there was a zebra with black and white spots instead of black and white stripes. Unfortunately, he had had them since he was born. Yes, since he was born! So on his third birthday (in Zebra age), and his first day to school he got bullied quite a lot, because of his spots! Of course, he knew that no matter your appearence, you can always be friends. You obviously see that he told his parents (well he could  have told his teacher). And guess what his parents said? Well they said “tell your teacher she can help and we can’t.” Then he said “you just did.” The next day he went to school and told his teacher, but went back home as he was too sad. And that day his teacher told all the children what he had said, but unfortunately they said they wanted to hear it from his own mouth. So the next day the teacher told him what had happened and he did tell them. And they happily all became friends.

By Hugo d’Aquin

Image from John and Melanie (Illingworth) Kotsopoulos