Sunday, July 5, 2009

Larry the Lemming Finds Christmas

Larry the Lemming was sick of the dark. He longed for the lovely green light of the fair grassy tunnels in which the Lemming family conducted their business safe from foxes and owls. He missed the sunny warm rock where he used to bask all comfy and toasty. He even missed the dangerous bright sun-filled open spaces where an unwary lemming could get scooped up by a hungry wolf. He missed the long red Arctic sunsets with the sun playing midnight peekaboo and the stars just barely visible overhead. Even the thought that midwinter feast-day was soon upon them failed to raise his spirits.

The midnight sun had set weeks ago, and even the dim twilight that passes for noon in the Arctic winter had mostly been obscured by heavy clouds and falling snow. The snow had piled up night after night, layer after layer, until the green-lit tunnels were cold, shadowy grey-blue corridors that smelled too strongly of stale lemming.

“It’s OK, though” thought Larry the Lemming, “Many lemmings become despondent at midwinter feast time. It’s probably just un-met unreasonable expectations...”

A fruitful summer had meant a lot of scurrying after seed heads and dried berries, a lot of digging and storing and building of compartments. The fruitful summer had also meant a time of great fertility, such that many, many baby lemmings were now reaching maturity. Larry the Lemming missed the sun, but he also missed his privacy. Despite the long summer of expanding the lemming-lair, it was impossible to move about without stepping on toes, squeezing furry bellies against walls or happening on embarrassing intimacies in darkened corners. It was frustrating. It was distracting. It was depressing. It was hard to even sleep, even though lemmings unlike marmots only sleep for part of the winter. There was just too much snuffling, and grunting, and squeaking and poking. There were, in fact, too many lemmings.

And yet, thought Larry the insomniac lemming, staring into the squeaky-stinky dark, there seemed to be fewer of some animals than usual. The foxes had seemed very few, and rather threadbare when one DID see one. The owls had been very busy, but their predations were far between. It was one of those winters that Ptosis the old ptarmigan had spoken of, when some animals did extremely well and others seemed not to benefit at all. Weird...he drowsed off with his little front paws crossed over his plump lemming tummy and dreamed of his sun-warmed basking rock.

It was the warmth more than the noise that awakened Larry from his nap. It was VERY warm, even though he could still feel cold snow at his back, and the air was heavy with moisture and a stench that he only later identified as extremely concentrated lemming, and rancid lemming at that. Larry the Lemming could tell by his reduced girth that he must have slept for several weeks. His fur felt grimy, as if hundreds of lemming toes had tweaked and trod on him while he slept. The corridor outside his sleeping den teemed with lemmings.

Lana Lemming hurried by, her cheek pouches fetchingly distended with seeds.

“Lana!” called Larry, scarcely daring to venture out into the noise-some crowd., “why is it so warm? What’s that awful smell?”

Lana shifted her burden to clear a path to speak past the seeds.

“Have you been asleep all this time?” she shouted over the din. “It’s all this body heat. There’s been a third litter. The burrow is bursting with lemmings. We’re all going to go insane if something isn’t done...” She stopped to pick up some seeds she had accidentally spewed from her distended cheeks, and was carried away by the flood of rodents.

But what was there to be done? It was midwinter, and lemmings have no social hierarchy, no leaders to take charge on behalf of lemming-kind. Mole rats, thought Larry the Lemming, would not have such a problem. He thought about the situation for a while, but finally he could not be distracted from the burgeoning crowd streaming through the once-spacious and sweet-smelling tunnels. His heart sinking within him, he made a decision to burrow up through the snow-pack and away from these crazed and fetid fellow-creatures, up and into the danger zone where foxes and wolves could pick out a lemming from the protecting snow. He didn’t care. This was torture. He needed to be alone. He needed to curl up and nurse his sadness. Larry morosely cast his fate to the blizzard winds and dug upwards into the dimness of the snow pack, his mind filled with dark and comforting thoughts of oblivion.

When his questing whiskery nose poked through the frosty crust into the biting cold air above the snow-pack, Larry was dismayed to smell the odour of hundreds of lemmings even up here. He shook the snowflakes from his beady eyes and stared around at a scurrying hoard of Lemmings, mostly of his own generation. A black lemming with a white streak over one eye nearly ran over Larry’s head.

“Lucifer Lemming!” said Larry, “I haven’t seen you since elemmingtry school! What in the world is going on?”

Lucifer Lemming rolled a wild eye in Larry’s direction.

“We all came up to get away from the crowd,” Lucifer gasped, his breath seeming to freeze in great clouds around his head, “ but the crowd is up here, too. I have”

Lucifer broke away in a wild run, streaking off into the pearlescent twilit noon. Several other lemmings saw him and broke into the same frenzied scamper, following Lucifer Lemming into the unknown. More and more lemmings followed, and Larry could see others that he recognized, Lucy Lemming, Lois Lemming, Lance and Link Lemming, several members of the SouthSide Lemming Lynch Mob, Professor Laroquette Lemming, all streaming pell-mell hell-bent toward some goal none could define nor even visualize. They only knew that they must run.

“Wait a second,” called Larry the Lemming as Lothar Lemming tumbled by in a flurry of flying feet, “the lemming migration is a myth, an urban legend perpetrated by the Disney Corporation for their TV series on the North. No...wait...where are you going?....this is madness!”

“Yesss,” cried the fleeing crowd, “Madness! Terrifying, empowering, fulfilling lunacy! Can you not feel it? That drive to escape, to flee from the burrow, to abandon child and mate and home and flee into the wilderness? Ah, peace! Peace! Shall we not find peace?!”

“But...” Larry could indeed feel the twinges of a terrible hope that somewhere in the darkness there was a place where the air did not smell of left-over lemming, where the sounds of the burrow were soft and comforting, where the edge of madness did not lurk just beyond the next outburst of temper. He began to run, but the madness did not propel him carelessly through the dark as it did his classmates. He ran to keep up, to warn, to see what would happen next. And as he ran, the dark seeped into his tiny lemming soul. The sadness became a burden too great to carry, his weariness became a palpable weight on his little lemming back..

Larry the Lemming slowed to a trot and then to a brisk walk, and was about to stop when he saw that the lemmings at the vanguard of the migrating mass were beginning to disappear. It took Larry a few seconds to realize: the crowd of lemmings was running over the edge of a cliff!!!

“No-no-no!” shouted Larry. “This simply does NOT happen. Lemmings do NOT migrate to their doom in the Arctic Ocean. Such a thing has no evolutionary advantage! It’s a myth! A legend! A pile of crap!”

He paused to take a breath, and, seeing that his words were having no effect shouted one last salvo: “You are perpetuating a meaningless stereotype!!”

But the hoard of lemmings continued to disappear over the icy edge of the cliff, to make little ripple-less dents in the heaving salt-water below.

Larry watched in dull grief as the crowd dwindled, every little rodent wildly flinging itself into the dark water below.

“And why not?” sobbed Larry eventually, thinking of the dank and stinking warren that had been his family’s cozy burrow.. “Who could go back to that wretched hole?”

He gathered his resolve and followed his generation over the edge of the cliff, twisting and tumbling through the bitter air.

He came to a sudden stop on a very cold, wet and slippery but solid surface. His feet tingled with the force of the landing and it took Larry a while to get his breath back. Then he realized that the surface was moving through the water at a considerable rate. He had fallen on the broad head of an enormous fish, swimming at the surface of the arctic waters below the cliff.

“Excuse Me!” cried Larry, embarrassed. “I did not mean to land on your head.”

“Not at all, “ replied the fish pleasantly. “When I saw your brethren falling into the salt-chuck I determined that I would save at least one, and apparently that one is you!”

“I am Larry the Lemming,” said Larry the Lemming.

“Of course you are,” laughed the fish. “And I am Crispin Carp.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” replied Larry.

“Oh, I doubt that,” chuckled Crispin. “I have thwarted your spectacular end. Were you not just now trying to take your own life?”

“That is a baseless stereotype,” replied Larry the Lemming, a tad sharply. “Lemmings have NEVER really taken part in the Migration O’ Death. It’s a myth straight out of ‘White Wilderness.’”

“Nonetheless,” said Crispin Carp, very seriously, “Your friends simply ran off the edge. I saw YOU stop, look, consider and then fling yourself over.” He bubbled his gills a bit in the freezing salty water. “Suicide is a mortal sin, you know. Suicides go straight to Hell.”

“At least the glowing Hell-fire coals would give off some light,” retorted Larry. “I am so sick of this eternal darkness!”

“That’s no reason to end your own existence,” reproved the carp. “The darkness is NOT eternal. Spring will return, and sunlit days, and fresh seed-heads and blessed dew.”

“I suppose...” mumbled Larry. “I’m just so tired...and the burrow is chock-a-block with lemming pups, and lemming teenagers, and retired lemmings trying to sell Amway products...a lemming can’t get a moment’s rest. And this time of year is hard on some people.”

“What? Midwinter?” cried the astonished Crispin Carp. “Why this is the best, the very best time of year. It’s a time when people have leisure to consider the blessings that have taken them through the fall and winter safely, to remember family and friends, to give of our abundance to help others. It’s the heart-warmingest tradition of them all.”

“I see....” said Larry the Lemming. “Tell me, Crispin Carp, of what abundance will you be blessing those less fortunate? You don’t seem to be carrying any luggage.”

“Ahhh...” replied Crispin Carp, “I have the honour of the best charity of all.” He was silent for a bit as if cherishing the holiness of the moment. “I do not live in this arctic bay. I am swimming half-way around this great Earth to the Black Sea. There I shall be caught by a fisherman, beheaded, eviscerated and boiled, to provide nourishment to a large Croatian Orthodox family.”

He paused again as if contemplating.

“I shall be their Christmas Eve dinner,” he said quietly.

“I beg your pardon?” cried Larry the Lemming incredulously. “Beheaded? Eviscerated. BOILED? You are swimming half-way around the earth just to DIE? On PURPOSE?? How is that different from me flinging my sorry self off a cliff? Dead is dead, don’t you think?”

“Well,” replied Crispin, kindly, “No, because your death would have been despairing suicide, and mine will be Joyful Sacrifice.”

“It is a fine point of differentiation,” replied Larry uncomfortably, “and you are creeping me out. Can you let me off at the next flat rock?”

Crispin Carp angled through the icy water to a relatively dry flat stone and waited for Larry the Lemming to hop off safely.

“Do give some thought to our conversation,” said Crispin, easing away from the shore. “Service to others is much more fulfilling than selfish escape.” He turned and churned off into the foaming black. “Farewell, little lemming. A blessed midwinter to you.”

Larry waved his paw to the receding back of Crispin the Christmas Carp and turned to make his way inland. Perhaps he could make a new, clean burrow, with just a few friends and family for company. Of course, they would need resources, food -

Larry the Lemming’s musings were cut off abruptly as a pair of white-fanged jaws snapped his neck, tossed him into the air and swallowed him down. The rather threadbare fox then made his way back up the cliff-face to where a squat musk-ox stood gazing out at the sea.

“Thanks, Musky”, said the threadbare fox. “I wouldn’t have looked there on such a night, but there WAS a fat little lemming down by the beach. YumYum!”

“It is a Midwinter Miracle,” said Musky the Midwinter Muskox mysteriously.

The threadbare fox carefully picked his way through the crusts and banks of snow to a small cozy den. Inside the den were waiting a painfully thin vixen and one tiny pup. The male vomited the partly-digested remains of Larry the Lemming in front of the vixen.

“Oh Mummy!” cried the pup, rapturously. “Christmas came, after all!”

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