It was only about six feet across, but to the undersized adventurers in our story, Reader, the gully in front of them might as well have been a mile wide. What’s more, with so much rain over the last few days, Boggy Creek was running quite deep—more than deep enough to drown a mouse, a mole, a shrew, or even a rat.
“That branch there looks good,” said Scruffy, motioning toward a long, thin limb that barely stretched between the two banks.
“I think it’s all we got,” said Plumpkin, following a quick glance up and down the creek.
“Will it hold us?” asked Patch.
“I-I don’t think so.” The limb could have been ten feet wide, and Thutter would have wanted something bigger.
A moment later, however, the tiny shrew was no longer thinking much about the narrow branch. “What is that?” he asked, gazing down into the fast-moving waters of the creek.
Plumpkin followed Thutter’s eyes. “Oh that? That’s a gator.”
At the simple mention of such a dreadful beast, Thutter leapt backward, tripped over a twig, and landed flat on his back. Patch hurried over to his side. As Thutter sat up, he gulped hard. “I-I don’t think I can do this. Th-that gator—”
“Ah, no worries, Thutter. Gators don’t bother with little critters like us,” said Scruffy.
“The mouse’s right,” said Plumpkin, chuckling. “We aren’t even on their menu, kid. They eat much bigger things.”
“Yeah? Like what?” asked the shrew.
“Oh, well, they eat a lot of fish and turtles,” replied the rat. “They’ll also enjoy a waterfowl now and then.”
“But what if —”
“Hey, Plumpkin, why don’t you go first?” Scruffy, not letting Thutter finish, continued. “We’ll let the others go next, and I’ll bring up the rear.”
The mouse clearly wanted to take the shrew’s mind off the gator that was swimming in the waters below them, but the woodrat didn’t appreciate being put on the spot by the cheeky little beach mouse. He didn’t mind going first, but he would have preferred to have suggested it himself.
The thin limb was about as big around as a half-dollar on the near bank but much thinner farther on. Plumpkin hopped on and hurried across in a flash. “Alright, who’s next?” he yelled, stepping off the branch on the creek’s opposite bank.
Scruffy turned to the mole. “Why don’t you go next, Patch? I’m sure that’ll make Thutter feel better.” Patch looked at Scruffy and then over at Thutter. He debated making one last pitch for his friend to turn back, but then he remembered the shrew’s words concerning the dangerous adventure on which they were about to embark. “I can’t explain it, Patch. It’s just a feelin’,” he had said.
Patch smiled at Thutter and then turned back toward the narrow limb that would serve as the critters’ bridge over the creek. Without saying a word, he stepped up onto the fallen branch and started across. Thutter watched nervously as Patch pulled himself along, one paw at a time. A moment later, the old mole was stepping off the branch and onto the firm yet muddy ground of the far creekbank. “Okay, Thutter, your turn,” he hollered as he looked back at his anxious friend.
As the mole’s words reached Scruffy’s ears, the latter turned and looked directly into the eyes of the little shrew standing at his side. “You can do this, Thutter. You’ll be alright.”
Thutter took a deep breath and then stepped up onto the dead limb. Once there, he lowered himself onto his belly, fixed his eyes straight ahead, and began pulling himself along. Upon reaching the halfway point, Thutter decided to stand up on all fours.
At first, his legs felt a bit wobbly, but after about a couple steps, they felt better, stronger even.
But then they didn’t.
The rumble began soft and low. It’s just my belly, Thutter tried telling himself. But the soft rumble quickly became a loud and frightening roar.
“Thutter! Hold on!”
“Hold on tight!”
“It’s the Dragon! He’s about to fly!”
Thutter heard every word that his friends yelled, but none of it made any sense to him. Out of nowhere, he grew dazed and confused. His tiny body began to shake. He thought at first it was just his legs. They were threatening to give way under the weight of the moment, but then he glanced down. Everything was moving—from the creek, the marsh, and the Glade to the grass, the trees, and most notably, the thin little bridge-branch on which he stood.
Thutter again dropped down onto his belly. Only, this time he wrapped his tiny paws tightly around the branch and tried to ignore the thunderous roar of the beast and the brightness of its flaming tail as it lit up the sky as far as his tiny eyes could see.
While Patch and the others watched the fiery orange tail of the strange Beast burn bright against the pitch-black sky, Thutter saw nothing. By now, he had closed his eyes and buried his head. Still clinging tightly to the shaking limb, he hoped it was all just a dream. But it wasn’t, and in the next instant, reality set in. The shrew’s grip began to loosen so that he soon found himself dangling by only his two front paws.
Thutter kept his eyes fixed shut—but that did not mean that he saw nothing. In fact, he saw everything—everything most important to him, anyway. It all flashed before his eyes: Mama, Papa, Nutter, Patch … and Belle.
His left paw slipped off first. Thutter looked up as the right one followed. The last thing the terrified young shrew saw as he plummeted toward the gator-infested creek was the bright orange tale of the fiery beast known as the Great White Dragon as it zoomed up into space.