Authors: Michael Broad
To my big sister, Jackie.
For our adventures along the river.
In the Black corner...
In the Brown corner...
fter a long, lazy day of chasing fish and skimming stones, Woody waved goodbye to Sooty, and the two otter pups headed for their homes on opposite banks of the river. The pair had only met a few weeks earlier, but were already the best of friends.
“See you tomorrow, Sooty!” yelled Woody Brown as his furry black friend reached the other side of the river and clambered on to the grassy bank.
“See you tomorrow, Woody!” Sooty Black yelled back, waving both arms at his furry brown friend. Then Sooty dashed along the water's edge and vanished into the roots of an overhanging tree that concealed his family den.
A tangle of twigs and branches marked the entrance to Woody Brown's riverside home. Woody dived below the waterline with a tail splash, whooshed through the tunnel entrance and clambered up into a cavern lined with mud, twigs and moss.
The world above had been serene, with humming insects and busy buzzing bees, but down in the den there was a rollicking riot of otter activity!
“What's going on?” gasped Woody, trying not to get flattened as his entire family scampered out of three narrow tunnels and squeezed into the central chamber. But the only replies he got were an “OUCH!” and an “EEEK!” and an “OI! GET OFF MY HEAD!”
It seemed Papa Brown had summoned everyone for an emergency meeting. This meant three generations of the Brown family had to cram themselves into a very small space and no one had the faintest idea why. Papa did a quick headcount of nine, including his own, and then wriggled through the furry throng and flapped his paws for everyone to be quiet.
“Big families are brilliant!” he said cheerfully, which was met with a wave of groans and grumbles from the tangle of hot, squashed otters. “But I think we can all agree that, living in this tiny den together, things can get a littleâ¦ erâ¦ heatedâ¦'
“Do get to the point, dear,” said Mama Brown, fanning Grandma Maple and Grandpa Bruno with her tail. “Or soon there will be two fewer otters to hear your fabulous news.”
“Yes, of course,” said Papa, swiftly trimming a long-winded speech about big families in his head. “When I left the den this morning I thought today would be an ordinary day of fishing and floating and cracking clams on my furry belly. Little did I know that fate had other ideasâ¦”
“An even shorter version than that, my love,” sighed Mama.
“Yes, dear,” said Papa, cutting his dramatic build-up down to the bare essentials. “I was swimming upstream, heading for my usual fishing spot, when I suddenly sawâ”
“Oi! Get your tail off my tail!” snapped Nutmeg, prodding her twin brother in the chest.
“It's not my tail, it must be your tail!” snapped Chestnut, prodding his sister back.
“Actually, I think that's my tail,” whispered Beanie, wiggling the end of it just to make sure. Beanie was younger than the twins and a little older than Woody. She preferred snacking to swimming and daydreaming to diving, which meant she still had most of her puppy fat.
“That's one enormous tail!” chuckled the twins.
“Oh, never mind roly-poly Beanie and her chubby club,” scoffed Coco, frantically licking her paws and smoothing them over her head. “My fur is frizzing up in this humid hole!”
“Don't be so mean to Beanie,” said Woody, standing up for his shy sister, even though Coco was the biggest and he was the smallest. “At least she isn't a frizzy-furred old stinky bottom!”
“HA! HA!” laughed Chestnut and Nutmeg.
“Ooo, you littleâ¦!” shrieked Coco, lunging for her little brother, which proved difficult to do in such a tight space, so she ended up on top of everyone.
The young otters all began squabbling, which they often did, having spent their whole lives sharing one small chamber between the five of them. And they were squabbling so ferociously they missed Papa's big news. He pressed his paws either side of his whiskers and yelled it again at the top of his voice.
“WE'RE MOVING HOME!” he boomed.
Grandma Maple and Grandpa Bruno snapped awake, while Woody, Beanie, Nutmeg, Chestnut and Coco fell silent for a whole two seconds before they all leapt forward to ask the same question.
“Can I have my own room?” they pleaded. “PLEEEEEEASSSE!”
“Yes,” smiled Papa Brown. “You may have your own chamber.”
“Who?” asked Beanie and Woody, wondering which of their siblings they would no longer have to share with. “Who's getting their own room?”
“I should get it!” said Chestnut. “Nutmeg snores!”
“I should get it!” said Nutmeg. “Chestnut farts!”
“I should get it!” demanded Coco. “I'm the eldest and by far the prettiest!”
“Actually, all five of you will have your own chambers,” Papa smiled proudly. “And there will be one for me and Mama, and another for Grandma and Grandpa, and one left over!”
Now he had his family's undivided attention, Papa Brown told everyone about the enormous den he'd found abandoned upstream, waving his paws about as he described the grand scale and sprawling layout of their brand-new home. It was called Cottonwood Lodge and was a mud-caked mansion compared to the cramped conditions they currently lived in. They would be swapping three small chambers with three narrow connecting tunnels for eight large chambers with a network of six wide tunnels, and an indoor splash pool, and mooring pad, and a mudslide and storage galore!
“Who used to live there?” asked Mama Brown, eyes glazing over as she began mentally decorating with sludge, twigs and the finest moss, while allocating chambers and stores for their supplies.
“I found out from a passing river rat that the lodge belonged to a beaver and his wife and their ten little kits,” said Papa. The otters gathered round, bright eyes sparkling as they imagined their new home. “He built extension after extension as his family grew, but eventually there were just too many children to fit, so they had to move on.”
“That was one busy beaver!” said Mama Brown.
“When are we going?” asked Coco. She was keen to have her own room where she could tend to her appearance all day long, away from annoying brothers and sisters who rubbed her fur up the wrong way.
“With prime property like that we don't want anyone else moving in, so there's no time to lose,” said Papa. “We will head off first thing in the morning, which means you should all get an early night.”
There was a snuffle from the corner of the chamber where Grandpa Bruno and Grandma Maple had already made a head start, having fallen asleep in a cosy cuddle.
“There's a lot of packing to do,” said Mama. “So we'll be relying on you all to be responsible for your own bedding and anything else you want to take with us.”
“Yes, Mama!” the otters said excitedly and dashed off to gather their few belongings before their last night of sharing a chamber. And for the first time ever there were no arguments between the brothers and sisters because they were too excited about the new home. They were all lost in their own thoughts about what their new chambers would be like.
Coco imagined sitting in her room, smoothing her fur dreamily.
Chestnut imagined a room with no Nutmeg and no snoring.
Nutmeg imagined a room with no Chestnut and no farting.
And Beanie imagined daydreaming all day and having midnight feasts on her own.
Woody simply looked forward to having his own space, a place without warring twins or a vain big sister who was always in a mood. Beanie was no trouble at all, but it would be nice to have a room where he could have other pups over to play. He couldn't wait to tell his best friendâ
“Sooty!” gasped Woody, suddenly realising that moving upstream to another section of the river would mean leaving his friend behind. It was hard enough meeting up now with their dens on opposite banks of the river, but the extra distance would make it impossible for the young pups to see each other.
Woody leapt out of bed and hurried to his parents' chamber, which was empty, so he swam out of the den and up to the surface to find the riverbank full of thin branches and reeds. Mama and Papa were busy building rafts by moonlight.
“I don't want to move upriver!” he said. “I want to stay here.”