The Librarian Speaks of Skunks
It has come to my attention that Miss Alice is writing another book about events in Skunk Corners since my return. I think it only right, therefore, to share the following incident, the more so as it may have some bearing on certain events which unfolded in our town. Young Alice knows nothing of this tale, as it took place after my late-night departure from our town.
I acknowledge now, as I should have seen at the time, that my departure was a mistake. That fact was borne in upon me strongly by circumstances as I circled the town to make my quiet exit. For, as shall be seen, certain local residents made clear their dissatisfaction with me in every way. At the time, I took it as confirmation that I should be on my way. In retrospect, I was wrong in that as I have been on so many points. I see no need to explain that to Young Alice, however.
On that fateful night, I did leave the library near to midnight. I stopped at the school to slip in and leave my note for Alice. Though she is making excellent progress in learning to fight, she does not have the feather-light sleep of a Ninja, but rather the heavy sleep of the young. It was, perhaps, my strongest realization to date that she is yet little more than a child, and it pained me to leave her so. But at the time I thought that another, higher duty called.
As I did not dare wait for the midnight train at the depot for fear of being seen and perhaps delayed by a late-roving local, I began a large circle around the town, meaning to pick up the train where it slows to a walking pace before crossing the high trestle over Mud Creek. Alas, my plans, though well-intentioned, were doomed. Perhaps a quarter mile from the town, I found myself confronted with a fearsome beast.
Yes, the black beast with white stripes shining in the moonlight.
I was in perhaps the stickiest situation of my life. I never had to deal with skunks in my early life in the city.
That is neither here nor there. I knew I wanted as little as possible to do with mephistis mephistis, and began to retreat slowly away from the threat. Alas, the creature apparently had business with me. Nor was it alone. Subsequent research has shown this communal activity on the part of skunks to be distinctly unusual. At the time, however, I was insufficiently aware of the habits of the animals to recognize the danger I faced.
So, as I backed away from the initial encounter, I heard a scuffling behind me, and turned to see another white stripe. Rotating slowly, I realized to my horror that I was surrounded. A total of six skunks faced me, and their looks, if I might be forgiven a moment’s anthropomorphism, were not friendly.
So began the most bizarre battle of my life, and the one of which I can most definitively say that I emerged the worst off. In a way, it is a shame that Alice did not witness the fight. Being, as it were, a central figure in the battle, I lacked the perspective to take in all that transpired.
Further, I believe that Young Alice would bring to it a turn of phrase which would better capture the scene than any I might manage. Alas, however, only I can tell this tale.
When the first animal turned its back on me and raised its tail, I moved swiftly into action. A toe beneath the creature and a rapid jerk skyward, and the animal’s spray dispersed harmlessly into the night sky. But as I turned to face the others, three at once moved to the attack, and I could only dodge.
A dive and a roll took me out of the range of the three, but was not, alas, well-planned. I rolled to a halt face to--well, not face—with the largest, and least friendly, of the striped animals. How an animal can be so beautiful to look on, for truly the skunk is a beautiful creature, and yet so dreadful in other ways, troubles me yet. At the time, I was most troubled with an inability to alter my course sufficiently and swiftly enough to avoid my fate.
I did not catch the train that night nor for many nights thereafter. Though I have never confessed this, and request you not inform Alice, I camped for a week near the stream. Through daily bathing of self and clothing, followed by drying over a smoky fire, I succeeded in reducing my personal aromas to a level that could go unnoticed in a Western train, though not, perhaps where I was headed.
I would be forced to stop at a point far from Skunk Corners, yet equally far from my destination, and purchase new garments as well as engage in further personal grooming. For this reason, when I arrived whence I had been summoned, I was more than a week late, and bore about me still some faint air of Skunk Corners. Perhaps it was that unshakable sense of the place which encouraged me to throw in my lot with my new-found home, and turn my back on the Ruling Council of the Noble Order of Ninja Librarians.
A skunk may be a powerful persuader, more so than lions or tigers or bears, still less any human authority.