The earth was warm, the early morning sun had taken the dew off and steam rose up around the fern fronds. The ground was soft and crumbly as it started to heave, like an egg frying in a pan, it lifted and sunk and lifted again. The crumbs of soil started to roll down the hummock as a sharp claw surfaced, followed by a soft velvety body. It paused for a moment and then dived back into its burrow, continuing to scrabble into the new ground. As he advanced, loam scouring past his shoulder towards the now obscured light, sinuous, fibrous strands fell out of the loose material. Thinking it was his prize, a juicy earthworm, he bit into it expecting to taste the meaty goodness of his favourite morsel, instead he got a slightly bitter taste. Carrying on digging, he started to feel slightly strange, light headed and relaxed. Stopping his endeavours he panted, thinking tiredness was taking over, but it was light, a brightness opening up in his head. The tunnel started to illuminate; colours appeared in the gloom, the sides of the tunnel felt wavy as he leaned against them to steady himself.
He had struck gold…..the fine strands were fibres formed by fungal growth, rich in energy and hallucinogenic.
As he relaxed against the passageway, the space seemed to open up and the ceiling fall away, coloured light came flooding in. Invigorated with energy and eager to find more fibres, he scrabbled further into the soil, feverously opening out more tunnels and back digging the soil onto the surface. All morning the ground heaved with his efforts, until the surface of the grass resembled goose bumps on cold winter skin.
He had made a cavern, but found no more fibres; his buzz was only for the short term today.
Returning to his sleeping quarters for a well earned rest, the mole slept soundly. The walls of the chamber had old coins set into them, some with the king or queen’s head smiling down. The floor was studded with broken pieces of blue and white patterned pottery.
That evening he returned to the new cavern. On surfacing, the moonlight was shining down over the disturbed field. A badger passing by snuffled past into the clearing. He cast a disapproving glance to the mole, remembering back to the damage that had been done to the east part of his sett some winters ago, by the stupidity of the father of the mouldywarp, letting water from a nearby stream flood several passageways of his sett and undoing months of toil in his expansion scheme.
Innocently mouldywarp told brock of his discovery in the passageway.
‘Yes boy, there are a few strands to be found if you are lucky.’
‘Do you know where there is more?’ he politely asked of the rugged grey, wise, whiskery face.
‘Not near my place,’ he gruffly barked, making a sniffing gesture as he continued on his trail.
The next evening the mole had surfaced and was grubbing on a few leatherjackets, when a strange dull thud disturbed the quiet of the woodland edge. He paused, hidden in the bramble cover, watching. Big ones were moving around in front of two white light beams, talking in muffled tones, while they pulled out a bouncy snakelike coil. The mole was still, the men unaware they were being watched. The coil was rolled out and pulled across the ground but mouldywarp could not see clearly in the startling beams of light, what was happening so wandered on. He continued to hear muffled conversation between the big ones for some time. The stillness of the setting was broken when an unnatural hum, turning into an enormous vibrating purr, bounced around the space, startling a blackbird up into the sky in frenzy.
There would be no chance of a good meal with the commotion so mole scrabbled back towards one of his tunnel entrances. His whiskers twitched as he brushed past the vegetation, but… a sniff, another sniff, strange….bitter……..powerful….poison.
He became alert, his most powerful senses picked up the distinctive smell and he knew it would bring fear. It was the brock’s sett, the end of the coil ran into and the brock that would be in fear.
Mouldywarp scurried back to his tunnel and scrambled along the subterranean roads into the area he knew the badger sett abutted. He could sense by the vibration of his activity, where the tunnel wall was thinnest and started to claw at the wall. He easily broke through, turning into the descending tunnel and darting further into the depths. A few seconds in and he could hear commotion, squeals and panic stricken cries. The two cubs, still pink skinned and innocent, did not know what to do, they just pinned themselves against the back wall of the chamber in fear. The fumes were well infused throughout the cavern so the mole pushed the youngsters back the way he had come. It took some effort to persuade them to come with him but they had not seen the sow for some minutes past. Regaining fresher passageways, the mole felt a massive thunder of sound and was suddenly smacked across the snout with a huge mass of fur, the bulky form of the sow. She made a grab at the cubs, bustling them to her as she pushed her way further from the infected tunnels. On re-gaining the surface beneath a large arching beech tree, its base scratched with years of scrabbling, the sow turned and looked for the mole.
‘Thank you, I can’t thank you enough,’ she beamed, her eyes squinting in pride.
‘It was nothing, just felt something was wrong,’ mouldywarp replied.
‘You have been so kind to us,’ she said, ‘how can I ever re-pay you?’
‘I do not ask anything of you, after all we are good neighbours.’ The mole said softly.
The next evening there was a soft rain falling in the clearing, when the ground once again heaved and pulsated to the efforts of the excavator. As he surfaced, he was startled to find the brock waiting next to his tunnel.
‘You know lad, you should not dig in this place you know, the ground is too stony. Try over there,’ he said, indicating the woodland where the core of his sett lay.
A huge beam of satisfaction crept across the mouldywarps face as he realised what this meant.
He returned to the cavern he had made and burrowed towards the wood. He had hardly advanced twenty body lengths when the familiar strands appeared in the roof. He opened out a comfortable space, big enough to turn around in before chewing into the moist strands. As the cavern lightened, the mole reclined and let the warmth of the rainbow take over his mind.