“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



Images from Adriano BIDOLI and Nathan LeClair