Ishie did the fan mix for this story - you'll be able to download it. It's posted here - with artwork! (I love the artwork Ishie did for this mix - I mean, I like the mix too, it's got some unusual and lovely tracks on it, but the artwork's fantastic. I've posted it in below.)
Thanks are due, as always, to beta bethia_cathrain
you happen to have read another book about Edward Bear, you may remember
that he lived with his friends in a wood called the Hundred Acre Wood.
It was a small wood, and small things happened, the kind of things that
happen to bears in places where even if elevenses are late there is always
a little something for tea.
Old Vicarage, Grantchester
It was the beginning of a spring day in the Hundred Acre Wood. The sun was rising, and the long early morning shadows ran sharp-edged over the green turf and the white-starred anemones clustered under the beech trees, and the busy water of the brook was dappled with light and shade. Across the water meadows the bees were stirring, and a single late-rising blackbird called from the gatepost. Up on the sandy slopes above the pine trees of all the animals Rabbit woke first. In his sleep, Rabbit had been dreaming of crumpets and butter, and of dandelions, and when he awoke he could still smell the charred scent of something held too close to the fire for too long.
'Is that toast?' Rabbit thought to himself. 'Has Pooh come for breakfast?' But it seemed a little early in the morning even for the hungriest of bears, and the smell of burning was not a very breakfasty smell. 'That's not toast,' Rabbit thought. 'That's wood!'
Before he had time for another thought, Rabbit leapt out of bed and hurried to his front door, flung it open, and dashed outside. There, paw raised, nose twitching, he stopped.
It was spring. The sun was shining. The sky should have been blue, the clear, pale blue of an English sky early in the day, a blue of infinite and beautiful clarity. It was not. Instead it was a dirty pinkish grey, more than a little smudged, as if someone had smeared the whole of the sky with charcoal.
Rabbit had never seen anything like this sky.
'Well,' he said to himself. 'Well.' He blinked, but the sky remained the same. If anything, it was darker. 'There is something wrong,' Rabbit thought.
down to make a plan.
must be a reason why the sky is the wrong colour.
So Rabbit ran up onto the roof of his house, which was under a blue sky a place perfect for picnics, with close-cropped turf and and a few carefully cultivated dandelions. Rabbit's house was at the top of the slope of the hill, and the roof of his house overlooked the Hundred Acre Wood. For a Rabbit who liked to know what was happening, just in case there was any organising to do, it was perfect, but for a Rabbit who was beginning to feel that the sky was a little near his ears it felt rather exposed.
From here, Rabbit could see where Pooh and Piglet and Kanga and Roo and Tigger and Owl lived. He could see in front of him the boggy corner where Eeyore's house stood, and if he looked over his left shoulder he could see the North Pole, and if he looked over his right shoulder he could see all the way across the river valley to the hills.
Across the river and behind the hills, a column of smoke rose into the sky.
did not look like the friendly smoke that you see in the evening, when
Christopher Robin invited you in to roast chestnuts and tell stories in
front of the fire. This was dark smoke, heaving and bulging, and in it
were flashes of light which might have been lightning but weren't, because
they were red.
Rabbit himself had never been beyond the river valley, but some of his friends and relations and their friends and relations had, and they had come back with stories of roads, and cars, and skyscrapers, and fishandchips, and of people. Many people. Some very small friends and relations had come back from beyond the hills with a ticket stub to a Lond Philo Orche Conce 10/- where there had been so many people the crowd was the size of the Hundred Acre Wood itself.
'That's the city,' Rabbit thought. 'Burning.'
He was so shocked that for a moment all thoughts of Making A Plan and Telling Everyone Else did not happen. All Rabbit could do was watch the smoke rise to the clouds, with his fur prickling and his nose tucked into his paws.
as Rabbit watched, he realised
fire was spreading.
Rabbit had stood outside his front door, all he could see was the column
of ugly black smoke. Now he could see patches of fire beyond the hills.
Not sparks of fire, the little spitting embers you get when you burn green
wood, but lines of flame, flickering and hungry. The lines were not regular
but twisted and turned and occasionally sent great fireballs up into the
sky, fireballs which mushroomed, black and red and gold, and were quite
horridly beautiful to watch. Even as Rabbit watched, fire crept up to
the top of the hills across the river and started to colour the horizon,
flinging flame at the sky.
fire should stop at the river.
thought, but it was an awfully big fire, and now when he looked down,
the river seemed awfully small.
must tell everyone else.
He thumped his back legs on the sand to warn all of his friends and relations, and ran.
When he got to Kanga's house they were already packed.
"Roo, have you got - Oh, Rabbit, it's you," Kanga said, neatly stacking the last of the tea-towels, because it would never do to come back to an untidy house. "Tigger, do you have the string?"
"Have you seen the sky?" Rabbit said, disconcerted, for when one has been imaging a Grand Rescue and possibly a Heroic Stance, it is lowering to discover that one's rescuees are busy rescuing themselves.
"Yes Rabbit," Kanga said. "Bushfire. My mother lived through one. Roo dear, leave that, we can't carry it. Who have you told?"
Rabbit blinked. "You," he said.
"Then if you can find Pooh and Piglet, we can tell Owl, and meet you at Eeyore's house," Kanga said, stacking the last of the clean plates. Then she looked at him. "You'll have a plan by then," Kanga said kindly, and picked up a bundle tied in a tablecloth. "Roo, hold on tight to my apron. We're leavng."
Before Rabbit could say another word, Kanga and Roo and Tigger had gone. Walking briskly, Kanga had Roo firmly by the shoulder and Tigger close to her side.
'Right,' Rabbit thought. 'Pooh's house,' and then remembered that he too had a plan and it was almost the same as Kanga's and possibly better.
He hurried. The sky was getting darker.
Pooh was asleep in bed. He was dreaming of contentment, which is a difficult thing to describe, but for Pooh we can guess that it meant he was with people he loved and his tummy was happily full of honey. Probably there were stories. But other people's emotions are almost impossible to know, and it may be that Pooh was dreaming of something altogether different, although we could safely assume that Pooh (unlike Christopher Robin) was not dreaming of captaining the victorious Ashes side. If he had been, the match would have been interrupted.
"Pooh," someone said urgently. "Pooh, wake up!" It was not the kind of voice that meant, 'Wake up Pooh, it's time for breakfast' or 'How about a little something before breakfast?'
"What is it?" Pooh asked, sitting up in bed so sharply that his pillows slid to the floor.
"Pooh, the sky is on fire, and we have to leave!"
"Oh Rabbit, it's you," Pooh said. "Have you come for breakfast?"
"There's no time for breakfast!" Rabbit said. His fur was ruffled, and his paws were twitching. "We're all meeting at Eeyore's house. Kanga is getting Owl, and I'm getting Piglet, and you need to get up."
"But Rabbit," Pooh said.
"Now!" said Rabbit, and he bustled Pooh out of his nice warm bed and past his breakfast table and out of his front door so quickly Pooh's head was feeling very woolly indeed.
"Look," Rabbit said. "That's why we need to go."
Pooh said, for he was not a young bear anymore and he liked to get up slowly and think about things happening before they actually happened, and he was feeling as if Rabbit had happened a little energetically, "Is that sunset? Because, Rabbit, if it is sunset, there was a sunset last night and one the night before that, just about the time sunsets normally happen in spring, which is later than in winter and earlier than in summer, although," Pooh said, thinking. "It doesn't feel like evening."
Rabbit did not have time to discuss sunsets.
"Pooh. That's not sunset. Something awful is going to happen. Can you smell it? Fire." Rabbit said. "We need to leave before it catches us."
"Oh," Pooh said.
"You must go to Eeyore's house."
"Oh," Pooh said. "Rabbit," he said. "Don't you think we should have a little something first?"
"If you stop for a little something," Rabbit said, pointing at the smoke. "You will miss Piglet. But Piglet will be with Eeyore. I must tell the other animals," Rabbit said, thinking of his many friends and relations who should be making their way through the wood and might need a Rabbit to marshal and chivvy and map read. "Pooh," Rabbit said. "There's no time for breakfast!" And with that, he was gone.
Pooh, brave, elderly Pooh, who was generally a bear of much good sense if not particularly of brains: Pooh propped his head on his paws and began to think.
'First,' Pooh thought to himself, 'Rabbit is not the sort of animal who Makes Things Up. If Rabbit says something, that something usually is Something. So if Rabbit thinks that something so awful is going to happen to the wood that he has to leave before it happens, something awful probably is going to happen. Rabbit is quite right about the smoke, and the air smells of of ashes and dust and something very nasty indeed.'
'I must find Piglet,' Pooh thought.
And then he thought, "Oh bother," for this was clearly the kind of day that set out to be really most unpleasant rather than the kind of day Pooh had hoped it would be, where he set off for a little breakfast at Rabbit's and then went onto a little elevenses at Piglet's and then maybe both of them dropped in to see their friend Owl at just about teatime.
Then Pooh had another thought. 'What about meals?' thought Pooh. 'What about breakfast?' He thought rather sadly about the small pot of honey he had been planning on opening. It was a very round pot of honey, the kind of pot that took a good deal of scraping and paw licking before you could be certain it really was empty. Pooh was quite certain that the pot he had been planning on having for breakfast was full. Or at least, almost as full as it had been before he had had a very small lick to round up the edges just before yesterday bedtime.
Then he thought to himself, "Pooh, you foolish bear. What is more important, Piglet or Breakfast?"
'Piglet,' Pooh thought, and he set off through the wood. As he walked, he noticed that the sky was getting greyer and greyer, and that there were nasty writhing red streaks in the clouds which did not float past the way clouds should but twisted and turned and gathered and swelled directly over Pooh's head, almost as if they could see one small bear hurrying between the trees.
'I must find Piglet,' Pooh thought, and tried to walk faster.
Piglet was just at the time when Breakfast was becoming more important than Staying in Bed when Rabbit knocked on his door. It was a sharpish wake-up-Piglet sort of a knock, so that Piglet knew immediately that it was Rabbit knocking, and that Rabbit was clearly having a Captainish sort of day, when he ran around very smartly Organising Things, and Piglet was not altogether certain if he wanted to be organised.
"Rabbit?" he called out.
"Oh Piglet," Rabbit said, sounding very rushed. "Wake up! The sky is on fire, and we need to leave the wood."
"What?" asked Piglet. Taking his nightcap off, Piglet scratched his ears, because he always seemed to think better after he scratched his ears. He was still scratching his ears when Rabbit let himself in, saw that Piglet was still in bed, and pulled off the covers.
Piglet would have said a very shocked "Rabbit!" but he was too busy being hurried from bed to doorway.
"Look," Rabbit said.
Piglet said nothing at all.
"I've been to see Kanga and Roo and Tigger and Pooh," Rabbit said. "We're meeting at Eeyore's house. I think it will hold off until then at least." He cocked an ear at the sky, and added, "I must get on. Be quick, Piglet!" Then he was off, as hasty as only Rabbit could be, running through the trees.
Piglet was still staring at the sky in awe. Streaked with black and grey and red, the sky seemed not to be dawning but dying in the dirtiest of sunsets, while from across the river clouds of smoke rose to hang roiling over the valley. The air smelt of charred wood and something sharper, almost metallic. This sky felt threatening, hanging low and dull over Piglet's head as if it was thinking rather hard about falling. Just because he'd never seen the sky quite that colour before, and just because the sky had never fallen in before, didn't mean it wasn't ever going to and if it was going to fall Piglet would prefer a little warning. Just enough, say, to find Pooh, because watching the sky fall in must be one of those things better experienced in twos, so Piglet could say, "Pooh, did you see that?" and Pooh could say, "Yes Piglet." in a comforting sort of way. And if Piglet was saying instead, "Yes Rabbit," and "No, Rabbit," and running around doing Rabbitish things there would be no time to find Pooh.
"I think I'll just find Pooh," Piglet said to himself. 'Then we'll find Eeyore."
There was a great comfort in thinking we and not I, and without even thinking about porridge, or about taking his nightcap off, Piglet set off to find Pooh.
He had not travelled far at all before he could see Pooh himself, hurrying towards Piglet as fast as his legs could carry him.
"Oh Piglet," panted Pooh.
"Oh Pooh," said Piglet.
For one long moment, Pooh and Piglet looked at each other.
"Oh Pooh, I am so very glad to see you," said Piglet, who felt altogether better now there were two of them.
"Piglet, I am very glad to see you too," Pooh said, feeling far happier now he had found Piglet. Then Pooh said, "I don't suppose you happen to have a little something with you, Piglet, in the way of breakfast?"
Piglet had to say no. "There's porridge in the larder," he added hopefully, because porridge was a very bolstering sort of breakfast, but then when he looked up again at the sky it was even darker than before, almost black, and a nasty brutish wind had started to rustle the pine trees and tumble the spring bracken. It was a wind that carried the smell of burning, and it was not cold, as winds should be, but hot.
"But have you seen the sky, Pooh?" Piglet said.
Pooh had been too busy walking. He looked up. Even whilst Pooh had been hurrying through the woods, the sky had darkened. It looked like nothing Pooh had ever seen in his life.
"Piglet," said Pooh, "I think we should leave. Before breakfast."
Piglet was just about to when he had a thought. "But suppose what we are leaving to is just as bad as what we are leaving from?" Piglet asked. "Because then there wouldn't be much point in leaving at all, and we might just as well stay here."
Piglet had not yet had breakfast. Breakfast was sitting in his larder, and in his breadbin, untoasted: and in his butter crock, unspread, and all of these things were sitting in Piglet's very own cosy house at the bottom of the beech tree.
It was a thought Pooh had to have a serious think about. Piglet had a very nice house, just the right size for Piglet and maybe for one or two of Piglet's friends, happily warming their toes in front of Piglet's fire and telling each other stories and making up hums and toasting chestnuts and acorns. Mostly it was Pooh who hummed, and mostly it was Piglet who toasted, because it was his house. And if they were in Piglet's house, they could pretend that whatever was happening wasn't happening at all.
Then Pooh thought of Rabbit and Eeyore, and Kanga and Roo and Tigger, and Owl, waiting for them.
"No Piglet," he said. "Let's go together."
So off they went, down through the Hundred Acre Wood and past the stream that ran down from the North Pole, and over the brook that ran past Eeyore's boggy place, and then to Eeyore's new house that wasn't quite so new now.
As they went Pooh noticed how very lovely the wood looked, with the last of the bluebells nodding in the wind and the white anemones starring the moss, and Piglet thought how very splendid the tree trunks looked, tall and stern, as if they were guardsmen at Buckingham Palace. But Pooh thought too how very dark the shadows under the ferns were, and how low in the sky the sun was, as if it was struggling to rise. And Piglet thought that the streams were running very slowly without their usual chatter, as if the water did not want to run away from the wood and down to the big river.
Then they could see Eeyore's house, looking very hunched over as the wind tugged at the roof twigs, and in front of it stood Rabbit, standing very upright with his ears quivering, and Owl, with his feathers ruffled, and Kanga with her hands balled in her apron pockets, and Tigger with his tail twitching. Roo was holding tight to Kanga's apron. Eeyore was not there at all.
"Oh dear," Pooh said, and walked a little faster.
"No, listen to me," Rabbit was saying. "The river will hold the fire back. Therefore, we should go over the hill, and past the North Pole." He pointed emphatically.
Kanga said, "Rabbit. Dear. The river is not that wide. Roo and Tigger and I are going downstream, away from the wind."
"But - " said Rabbit.
"Soon," said Kanga firmly.
"But - " Rabbit said, "Pooh will come with me. Won't you, Pooh?"
"Um," Pooh said. He had not thought any further than getting to Eeyore's house. But the sky, when he looked up, was still towering with clouds in a most threatening fashion, and the smell of burning was stronger, and when he thought about it the river was not that wide. But then, Rabbit had a plan. But then, Rabbit's plans did not always happen the way Rabbit expected them to happen. It would not be a good thing, for example, to be wandering around the North Pole lost in smoke.
"Owl," said Pooh. "What do you think?"
Owl blinked. He clicked his beak, and looked up at the sky. Then he spun his head, slowly, looking past the small group of his friends to the woods, and the sandy patch where Rabbit lived, and the stream that ran to the river, and the far edge of the boggy patch where he could see the distant figure of Eeyore cantering towards them as fast as an elderly and dignified donkey could canter.
"There's nothing for it," Owl said. "We must find Christopher Robin."
To Pooh, this was so clearly the Right Thing To Do that he felt warm all over. Christopher Robin would know exactly what to do.
Rabbit spun round on his hind legs. "We can't wait for Christopher Robin!"
Before Owl could reply, Tigger said, quite loudly, "Ow."
Then he said, "Ow! Ow!" and turned head over heels.
"Tigger, what is it?" Kanga asked anxiously.
"It hurts!" said Tigger. He was standing on his hind legs, trying to see his own back. "Ow!"
"What hurts, dear?" Kanga asked.
"I don't know!"
"Well, stand still so we can have a look," Owl said crossly.
"My back!" Tigger said, and stood still, his paws wide apart, craning his neck backwards. There was a new black strip in the gold of his fur.
Peering at Tigger's back, Kanga hissed. Then she hit out sharply, and something small and black and smoking rolled from Tigger's back.
"Ember," she said, and they all looked at each other.
"I have to go," Rabbit announced. "Remember what I told you!" With his ears canted backwards and his tail bobbing, Rabbit ran for the woods.
"I would assume," Owl said slowly, looking after him, "That women and children first is not a concept taught - "
"But Rabbit," Piglet squeaked.
then that Eeyore arrived, trying hard to look like a donkey who had made
a morning perambulation and accidentally encountered a group of
people who were accidentally outside his house, and not one who
had hurried across three fields.
"Oh Eeyore," said Pooh. "The world is on fire, and Rabbit has run away."
"Er?" said Eeyore.
"Someone has set fire to the world," Pooh said. Then he added, just to be fair, "And to Tigger."
"Set fire to the world. How very like Them indeed," Eeyore said, moving his head slowly from side to side. "No more than I expected. I don't suppose anyone thought about me," Eeyore said. "It's not as if I might want rescuing. I don't suppose anyone would even notice if I was beyond rescuing."
"But Eeyore," Piglet said. "We've come to rescue you."
"Well," Eeyore said, "Suppose I don't want rescuing?" He twitched his tail irritably. "Suppose I have plans?"
"What plans?" said Piglet.
"Plans," said Eeyore portentously.
Kanga, who had been keeping one eye nervously on the darkening sky and one paw on Roo, just in case Roo might decide to go swimming or take up parachuting or anything else that meant he would be out of sight, said, "I think we should be going now."
"Going where?" Eeyore said.
"We're going to find Christopher Robin," said Pooh.
Then he put his head down between his legs and laughed some more. Then he rolled over on his back and kicked his legs in the air, laughing. Then he stood up on all four feet and shook his mane back into place. "Oh Pooh," Eeyore said. "Where do you expect to find Christopher Robin?"
"I don't know," Pooh said. "But if we don't look for him, how can we find him?"
"Why don't you," said Eeyore. "Go and look for Christopher Robin, and I'll stay here and wait for him."
"But Eeyore," said Pooh, and at that moment a smoking twig landed in front of his nose.
"We're going," Kanga said. "Pooh, Piglet, please do come along. Owl, be careful flying. You're very welcome," she said to Eeyore, and touched him gently on his nose. Then she picked up her bundle, checked that Roo was still holding on tight to her apron, and marched off downstream.
"Right-oh," said Eeyore. "Well. I suppose it's been nice knowing you," he added, and turned and walked away to the very soggiest part of the marsh without another word.
Piglet felt very small indeed. The wind was not warm but positively hot, and flakes of ash had begun to settle on the grass, and Pooh was looking anxiously at the sky and then back at Eeyore's resolutely retreating tail.
It was time to go. "Piglet?" Pooh said, and held out a paw. Piglet took it, and in silence, they followed Kanga's muddy footprints down to the stream.
When Pooh looked back over his shoulder he could see Owl stumping along behind them shaking his head, and the empty marsh where Eeyore lived, and the empty woods where Rabbit had fled. There was smoke rising from beyond the wood, and the trees seemed to sway uneasily, huddling under the dark sky. Eeyore was not following them.
Pooh turned his head, and walked a little faster.
Down they went through the boggy ground and then beside the stream, damp-footed and mud-splattered, pursued by the rising wind and the black mayflower petals of ash that whirled, thickening, among the hazel thickets and the reed beds. None of them could forget the last sight of Rabbit, ducking and twisting on the narrow path as he left them, or the derisive twitch of Eeyore's tail as he turned away.
"Pooh," Piglet said once, and when Pooh looked down Piglet's face was thin and pinched and his ears were flat against his head.
"Come on," Pooh said grimly, and made sure he had a firm grip on Piglet's fur, so that his longer legs could make up for Piglet's shorter ones. But Roo's legs were short too, and Owl could not fly for fear of the cinders in the wind, and Tigger kept stopping to try and look at his back, and Kanga kept looking backwards and frowning.
"Do you think ... it will catch us ... if we just stop for a little?" Piglet wheezed sadly as they passed the water meadow gate and started to climb the river embankment.
"Let us get to the top first, Piglet," Kanga called down.
When Pooh and Piglet rolled gasping to over the top of the rise, Kanga had already started down the other side.
"Please, let's just rest - " Piglet said, and then he added in a completely different and far more squeaky tone of voice, "What's that?"
Pooh looked back. From the top of the embankment he could see across the meadows and the marsh to the Hundred Acre Wood standing tall on the rounded hill top. He could see the red glow of the fire, and over it the cloud spun and twisted, so low it hid the topmost trees. From where he stood, the hill was the highest landmark Pooh could see, and he had not realised that his house was so high up in the world, or that the wood was quite so small, or that the rest of the world was quite so big and terrifying. Even the fields they had walked across were dark shadowed, and the stream ran sullenly silent and almost black in the low light.
Then he saw what Piglet had seen.
"My Uncle Robert used to say," Owl muttered as he came up over the rise with his feathers disordered and speckled with soot. "If God had meant birds to walk ... "
"Are they bats?" Pooh asked, quietly, as if had he spoken aloud the creatures would hear him. For wheeling and turning above the Hundred Acre Wood were two black flying beasts, glinting black and silver and red in the light of the fires. They did not flap their wings or hover, but instead moved without effort, motionless and yet still in flight. Over the trees and between the clouds they dipped and glided, alien and almost beautiful.
Then one of them sent flames from its belly, and Pooh saw the topmost trees bend and fall under the blast as if a giant's foot had snapped them unseen. A second later, fire exploded from the wood itself.
"Rabbit," Piglet said, his teeth chattering.
Another beast dropped low over the wood, and Pooh gasped as - that was the picnic glade, and the gateposts, and -
"Oh my goodness," Owl breathed.
They watched as, tree after tree, blackberry bushes, hazel copses and willow trees, sunny glades and shady nooks and poohsticking bridges and thinking spots and heffalump traps and acorn-gathering rides and beehives and bird nests and the very blades of grass of the wood were utterly, shatteringly, destroyed.
Eventually, Pooh said, "Oh dear."
Then he said it again, just in case nobody had heard him. "Oh dear." Then he looked round quickly to see if everyone could hear him, but all the animals were staring open-mouthed at the hundred acre wood. Or what had been the hundred acre wood and was now a rather big and desolate hole hole in the ground.
"That's my house," Piglet said, in a disbelieving kind of way. "My new house!"
"That's my house," Owl said. Then he added, "That was my house."
Tigger said, "... duck!"
Everyone except Tigger ducked, just as a large piece of tree whistled over their heads and crashed down in the bushes behind them.
"Houses do not blow up." Owl said, rather muffled. "Trees do not disappear."
"Maybe they do now," Roo said brightly. He was the only one of them who thought that this was an awfully exciting adventure. It wasn't every day that Roo missed two doses of medicine and saw his home blown up.
"Unprecedented," said Owl, pulling feathers out of his beak.
"Un-what?" asked Pooh, for it did not seen as if there was a word which could possibly mean everything he had just seen, but if there was Owl would know.
"Unbelievable," Owl said.
Piglet said, "My house." Feeling something cold and wet slide down his nose, he took a deep breath, dashed the tear away with a grubby paw, and said to himself sternly, 'Piglets do not cry.'
"Thirteen pots of honey," Pooh said. "And one for breakfast."
"Oh Pooh," Piglet said. "Oh, Pooh."
Tigger said, "Er ... " and them Kanga threw herself to the ground with a thump right on top of Roo, who squeaked.
"Incoming!" Owl said, and tucked his face so far down in his feathers that only the tips of his eyebrows showed.
"Hold on tight!" Pooh started.
As with a great wail and a rushing of wind, and a growl like a whole army of enraged beasts, one of the black flying creatures flew up the river valley and straight over the top of the animals. The noise of it and the wind of it ricocheted from hill rise to stream bed and set their ears ringing and pummeled their stuffing and would have whipped Tigger right off the embankment had not Owl, claws deep in the soil, caught Tigger's tail in his beak.
A full five minutes after it had gone Pooh clapped his paws to his ears, shaking his head, and rolled over to let Piglet pick himself up. He opened his mouth to say something like, 'Piglet, how are you?' and then realised that although Piglet must be saying something very similar, only addressed to him, Pooh, not to Piglet, he could not hear a single word.
For one single, horrible moment, Pooh thought how very easy it would be to panic. He could feel panic grinning at him, jaws wide, hiding just behind his left shoulder.
Pooh was Edward the Bear, Christopher Robin's faithful knight, and people depended on him. 'Nothing for it,' Pooh thought to himself, 'But to put one paw in front of the other.'
He took Piglet firmly by the jacket, gave Owl a gentle push, and urged Tigger and Kanga (with Roo in her pocket, all four legs flailing a little because Roo wanted to see) on down the far side of the embankment. None of them were exactly steady on their feet, but at least most of them were walking.
"Piglet," Pooh said, as quietly as he could when he was uncertain of the sound of his own voice, "Do you remember when Eeyore found Owl a new home?"
"And it was my house, really?" Piglet whispered back.
"And you came to live with me, and then we found you a new house?" Pooh said. "Or when we built Eeyore a new house?"
"Um, yes," gulped Piglet.
"We'll find another house," Pooh said stoutly and with far more confidence than he actually felt.
"But Pooh," said Piglet, who was not feeling at all stout but rather as if all his stuffing had been not just squashed but pulverised and was trailing out behind him. "I liked my house. I liked my breakfast table, and my letter box, and my own bed. I was very fond of my own bed," Piglet added sadly. "And I didn't think, when I got out of my bed, that I would never get in it again. I would have said goodbye, or thank you, or, sorry about all the crumbs, or, you know, something. If I'd known."
Pooh, who had been been trying very hard not to think about the pots of honey which he had owned, but rather the pots of honey he would own, squeezed Piglet's paw a little bit tighter.
"And ... " Piglet said. "And ... Pooh, it's raining."
It was. When Pooh looked up, something cold, and wet, and very like rain landed on his nose, but when he brushed at the drops his paw came away black. His ears were damp, and his back, and grey raindrops streaked over his tummy.
"Well," Owl huffed behind them, "I must say, this is the outside of enough! Destroy a bird's home, then rain on him! Even when my Uncle Robert had his house chopped down right underneath him - it was in the Punjaab, you know, and tree-cutting - "
But whatever Owl was going to say next was lost in the sound of the rain as quite suddenly, pelting down on their fur and feathers, splashing on the tree leaves and the grass and the bare earth, the rain came down. Black rain, mixed with ash and charcoal, prickly, dirty, smearing rain, rain falling so heavily Pooh could hardly see his own feet.
It was Owl who pushed them under the sheltering branches of a large pine tree. "Oh, my feathers!" he lamented, plucking disconsolately at each bedraggled pinion as soon as he was safely out of the rain.
"Owl," Piglet said, "You're black."
"Piglet! Owl!" something shouted from the other side of the tree, and skidding on the pine needles, a large black animal dashed around the trunk and slid to a halt between them.
"Piglet?" it said, in a very puzzled voice.
"Er ..." said Piglet, "Do I know you?" He moved a little closer to Pooh.
"Piglet?" it said again, sniffing. "Smells like Piglet."
"I am Piglet!" Piglet squeaked, checking his arms and legs and ears which, although black, all seemed to belong to him and not to anyone else.
"Are you Tigger?" Owl said, disbelieving, for all of them knew Tigger had stripes and this animal was as black all over as if it had been rolling in soot.
"Owl?" said the black animal, which was, when you looked closely, possessed of four rather large paws and a tail that kinked and wiggled in a most Tiggerish fashion.
"Hello," Kanga said as she peered around the tree trunk, her face clean and brown and definitely Kanga. The rest of her, following, was as black as the rest of them. Even Roo was not so much Roo coloured as grey streaked with black.
"Hold still, dear," Kanga said as she set to work with a fresh apron.
"Oh, it is you, Tigger," Owl said, and shook his drying feathers. Black dust clotted on the underside of the branches.
"Tigger dear, " Kanga said. "Would you brush my back?"
Eventually, using handfuls of grass and all of Kanga's aprons, the animals managed to clean enough of themselves to be recognisable.
"Pooh, " Roo said. "Did you see the wood exploding? It was a really big explosion."
"Sh, Roo," Kanga said. She looked up. "Now we have left the wood, Owl, where are we going?"
"Where?" Owl asked, puzzled.
"To find Christopher Robin," Pooh said. "Er, aren't we?"
Slowly, Pooh realised 'The world is huge.' Christopher Robin could be anywhere.
"Owl," he said. "I thought ... I thought you knew where we were going."
Owl shook his neck feathers back into place. "Christopher Robin," he said with dignity, "Is in the army. All we have to do is find the army, and there we will find Christopher Robin."
"Oh, " said Pooh. "Good." He thought for a little while, and although thinking did not come easily to Pooh, he was not a stupid bear.
"How do we find the army?" he asked.
"Well," said Owl. "We follow the trail."
"But Christopher Robin doesn't have a tail!" Roo said. "Eeyore has a tail, and Tigger, and - "
"Oh, Roo, hush," Kanga said. "Owl, of all of us, you are the one who knows the world outside the wood. When Christopher Robin left, which way did he go?"
Owl frowned. "Well, I may be wrong," Owl said, "But when Christopher Robin leaves the wood, he goes past my house before leaving, because he always comes in for a little something . Then past Eeyore's house, and along the side of the marsh, as we have travelled. And from there, " Owl said, "He reaches the road, and there he gets into his car, and then he goes South."
"So," Kanga said, "We should find the road. Then, Owl, do you know where Christopher Robin went to on the road?"
"The road only goes in one direction," Owl said. "Forwards and backwards. Forwards to the army, and backwards for Christmas and Easter.
"Easter!" Roo said. "He brought eggs."
"That was a few years ago, dear," Kanga said. "Owl, do you know how far down the road?"
"Er," Owl said.
There was silence. Then Kanga began gathering up the crumpled aprons, shaking each one out carefully and folding them before packing up her bundle. "Well," she said. "The rain has stopped. We should go."
"But," Piglet said. "Shouldn't we have a plan?"
Pooh had not been thinking about the road or the army. Pooh had been thinking about his friend Christopher Robin, and about the warm feeling in his tummy that was Christopher Robin's alone. When Christopher Robin had been small, it had been a very big warm feeling, and now Christopher Robin was big, it was quite a small warm feeling, as if it had tucked itself down inside Pooh until it was needed. It was the kind of warm feeling that woke Pooh up on sunny summer mornings and took him up the hill so that he could sit back-to-back with Christopher Robin and just think until it was time for a little something, or reassured him that although Pooh might be just a little mislaid now, in a few minutes Christopher Robin would be along and would know exactly where they were. Now, just when he needed it most, Pooh's warm feeling was telling him that he was Doing The Right Thing.
"Come on Piglet," Pooh said, tired but certain. "Let's go."
"Army," muttered Owl, stumbling under the branches. "Horseguards. Sentry box. Buskin. Artillery. Boot polish."
They walked on. It had stopped raining. Damp and charcoal-specked, the long grass of the path clung to their feet and twined around their ankles. The sky above them was clearing, but over the woods the smoke still hung lazy and sullen under the clouds.
As they got to the last rise, Kanga did not look backwards, but Pooh and Piglet did. Then they turned and followed Owl down the path to the road.
In front of them Kanga was holding Roo very tightly by the paw, and Tigger was walking by Roo's side, with only the occasional very small bounce to remind himself that he was indeed a Tigger and not any other kind of animal. Owl stumped along, muttering to himself and half-spreading his wings every so often for balance.
"Pooh," said Piglet, walking very close to his friend so that Roo couldn't hear. "Pooh, do you think Eeyore and Rabbit ... ?" He could not bear to finish the sentence.
"I don't know," Pooh said very quickly.
But neither of them could imagine anything surviving in the Hundred Acre Wood, even the trees. Pooh's house was gone, and Piglet's, and the bridge where they played poohsticks. Rabbit was missing. Eeyore would have been under the first explosion.
The path was a very narrow path, one that had been used most often by people like Rabbit's friends and relations and their friends and relations going backwards and forwards on very small errands usually connected with birthdays or dandelions, and there was not really enough space on it for a bear of Pooh's size and a piglet of Piglet's to walk together. But Piglet took a firm grip of Pooh's fur, and Pooh tucked his paw into Piglet's jumper, and they carried on walking side by side.
"Hrrmph," Owl said gruffly, for he could not help over-hearing. "No use fretting about things we can't change. One thing at a time, young Piglet, one thing at a time. We must find the road."
But of course the moment someone tells you not to think about anything is the moment when you can think of nothing else, and poor Piglet went on walking with the insides of his head going round in smaller and smaller circles. 'Suppose we never see Rabbit again?' Piglet thought. 'Or Eeyore?' He remembered how Rabbit could always come up with a Clever Scheme, and how Eeyore could always be relied upon to Rise to the Occasion, and then he began to think about how those of them left were a very small group of people, and how if Rabbit was there he would be making a Plan, and how if Eeyore was with them he would probably be quite content because really, Piglet thought, nothing much worse could happen.
Then Pooh said, "Look, Piglet. The road."
Piglet thought, 'Well, at least Pooh's here.' That made him feel a little bit warmer, so he thought it again, and then he looked up and there was the road.
Because the land around them was quite flat, the road was raised. It ran on a ribbon of banked shingle across the flood plain of the big river, and from where the animals stood, they could see it curving North (to the sea, which Pooh and his friends have never seen, although they will) and South (to the City, which Pooh and his friends will never see, although they have seen the flames of it burning.)
The road was straight-edged and flat. It was a very official road, a King's Highway, and on ordinary days it ran in measured lengths, saying to itself, 'Thirty-one miles to London, eighty-eight to Doncaster and don't spare the horses, day, night, day, night,' smoothing out its tarmac as it went so that the wheels of the cars and lorries that travelled on it would run swiftly and soundly. 'South to sea, North to the sea, three hundred miles to Edinburgh, the post must get through,' the road said. The road was everywhere at once, the hum of wheels, the wash of the windscreen wipers, the clatter of hooves, the tramp of sandaled feet.
Today the road was heaved and battered, tangled with the metal of dead cars and overturned lorries. Its tarmac was burned and cracking, and wreckage spewed across its back and filled its ditches, and one of its bridges hung dangerously low so that it had to cling and balance and mutter at the river beneath. Today, the road had no time to notice the small group of Pooh and his friends, standing looking in wonder at its size.
Above them the rampart on which the road travelled reached high above their heads, grown over with grass and thistles and patched with the remains of small fires and wreckage. There were tracks through the grass where other small animals had travelled, and up one of these they climbed, clutching at the stems of rye and goosegrass to pull themselves upward. Roo was small enough to fit between the thistles, but the larger animals found themselves uncomfortably prickled and tangled.
"Come on Piglet," Pooh said, panting. "Just a few more steps."
"Are we there yet?" Roo asked. "Tigger, Tigger, are you at the top? Is there a flag?"
"There is a flag," Tigger shouted down, and then added, slightly less certain, "There must be a flag."
But when they got to the top, panting, there was no flag, There was road. Where Pooh and his friends rested on the verge, there were a few cars, tangled and compressed, their passengers long gone, but most of the road was free to run to the horizon. Near the city, the road still smoked and burned, wounded to the heart and flinching from the unsteady footsteps of the people who walked it, but this Pooh would not see, Here, the road was quiet.
"What are those, Tigger?" Roo asked, staring at the cars.
"Houses on wheels," Tigger said. He had travelled in one once, before he came to the Hundred Acre Wood. "Cars. They move."
"Can we travel in one?" Roo asked. He was beginning to think that, for a small animal, he had walked quite enough for today. "Tigger, can we look?"
"Roo dear," Kanga said, "Stay here." Then, "Tigger, be careful."
"Christopher Robin's car is red," Owl said unexpectedly, "And small."
"You've seen it?" Pooh said, who hadn't.
"Of course," said Owl.
Kanga sat up. "Owl. Which way did he go?"
"South," Owl said. "That way."
"Then that's the way we must go," Kanga said, and picked up her bundle.
"But, Kanga, how do we know this is the right way?" Piglet's feet hurt.
"It has to be," Kanga said.
"Wouldn't it ... don't you think ... if we wait here ... ?"
"Christopher Robin doesn't know where we are," Kanga said. "He cannot find us. We must find him." She smiled. "Be brave, Piglet dear."
"Er, yes." Piglet said. He was feeling anything but brave. His paws were sore, and even if Pooh appeared to have forgotten all about Breakfast (or elevenses, or lunch, or even a little something after lunch) Piglet had not. He was tired and hungry and not brave at all.
Then Pooh said, " We shall all go together," and his voice was so certain that Piglet felt as if he could carry on for a few more miles. At least two, and very likely one, which when he thought about it was not quite so far as the distance between his house and Christopher Robin's and that was not so far at all. After all, it must be late afternoon by now, and somewhere they would have to stop for sleep, although maybe they would find Christopher Robin first.
Pooh had indeed been thinking of finding Christopher Robin. He knew, as he started down the road, that they were going in the right direction. And it was, Pooh thought, unlikely that Christopher Robin would not have at least one small pot of honey with him.
"Tigger dear," Kanga called.
A moment later someone rather dirty bounced past Pooh. Owl clicked his beak in disapproval, and Piglet looked up at him, a little worried, but still Piglet.
"Thank goodness," Pooh said to Piglet, "That we are both here."
He had been right about the time. Although the sun was still hidden behind the clouds, the darkening light and dropping temperature told all of them that the evening was not far away. It was Roo who said tiredly, "Where are we going to sleep? When are we going to sleep?"
"We'll find somewhere," Kanga said in reassurance, but her face was worried.
"In the absence," Owl said, "Of alternative accommodation, may I suggest finding a sturdy tree?"
Before Owl could mention roosting, Tigger said, "Tiggers are good at houses. I'll find us a house." And bounced away, full of confidence.
"I have never considered that I might be grateful for that creature's energy," Owl said, and sat down a little abruptly.
It was then that Pooh realised that his feet hurt, and that his tummy was decidedly empty, and that it had been a Very Long Day indeed. He sat down beside Owl, and Piglet joined him, flat on his back with his legs in the air. Only Kanga stood still, watching the road where Tigger had vanished. It seemed a long time before Tigger came back, but when he did it was with an mistakable pleased jauntiness.
"I've found a cave," he announced, "And there is room for all of us!"
"How far is it, Tigger?" Kanga asked.
"Minutes?" said Tigger. "It's just ... it was a little bit difficult to get to. Not that difficult. Not difficult at all for Tiggers. Or Roos," he added hastily. "Or Kangas, or Owls."
"Well, come on then," Owl said.
What Tigger had found was a massively built car, with no windows. It was tilted over, with its front in the ditch and its back resting on the road.
"It doesn't have wheels," Roo said sleepily, but none of them knew what the two great ridged belts it had instead of wheels were, although Owl managed a creditable knowing hrrumph.
Most of the car was box shaped, but it was topped by a round bulge, and projecting from the bulge was a long hollow tube tilted to point up at the sky.
"Is it dangerous?" Piglet asked suspiciously, for the hole that Tigger was standing by on top of the car was as dark as a heffalump trap.
"I knocked," Tigger said, "But no one answered."
"How do we get in?" Pooh said with a little doubt, for it had been a struggle to pull himself and Piglet up over the edges of the box onto the bulge.
"Jump," Tigger said, and jumped. There was a soggy metallic thud as all four of his paws landed at once. After a second, he said, his voice sounding hollow, "There are blankets!"
'Oh well,' Pooh thought, and jumped. A second later Piglet followed, so that it was fortunate that Pooh, being round, had rolled as he landed. Kanga let Roo down on a rope of knotted handkerchiefs, but Owl floated inside on half-extended wings.
"Well," he said, landing, "Well, this is very homely, isn't it?"
As their eyes grew accustomed to the dark, it became clear that the inside of the car was not like any home any of them had ever known. Like the outside, the inside of the car was of cold metal. It had two seats of metal padded with leather.
"Shooting sticks," Owl said darkly.
Around the inside ran pipes, and dials, and levers and buttons and handles and wires, all of them clearly meant to do Something but, darkened and silent, were Not Doing Anything.
"Tigger," Pooh said. "Are you sure this cave is not alive?"
"Oh yes," Tigger said, and added,"There are the blankets!"
It was so cold in the metal cave that they were very glad to huddle together under the wool covers, although Tigger was still exploring. "There's a box," he said. "And a round thing."
"Tigger, don't touch that," Kanga said. "You don't know what it might do."
"Sandwiches," Tigger said with great satisfaction, and then, disappointed, "Jam sandwiches."
"Really?" said Piglet, hardly daring to hope.
Shuffling, Tigger edged the box over to them.
"Is that all?" Pooh said, disappointed. There were four sandwiches and an apple, and his tummy had just realised just how empty it was.
"It's very lucky Tigger found anything, " Kanga said. Then, "If you'll just pass that packet across, Owl?"
Kanga had watercress sandwiches for herself and Roo, and malt extract sandwiches for Tigger. She shared them out, and afterwards there were slices of seed cake, so that at least Piglet was comfortably full and although Pooh thought wistfully of his lost honey, he was no where near as empty as he had been, and Owl even ate the core of the apple.
"Oh Tigger," Piglet sighed. "Thank you." He had resolved to think far more kindly of Big Bouncing Animals in future.
"This is all very well, " Owl said. "But what of tomorrow?"
"We shall find Christopher Robin," Kanga said, "He will know what to do."
"I can find sandwiches," Tigger said hopefully, "Tiggers are good at finding sandwiches."
"Maybe we will wake up tomorrow," Piglet said, "And this will all be a dream."
"It's a very cold dream," Pooh said, tucking the blanket a little closer around his paws.
"Is it time for my story?" Roo asked sleepily.
"Oh Roo, dear," Kanga sighed.
"Pooh will have a story, won't you, Pooh? A story about today, and how we were all brave, and walked for miles and miles? My feet hurt," Roo said.
"The thing is," he said slowly, "This is a real story. And real stories," he said, "Aren't always comfortable."
"But real stories have happy endings, don't they, Pooh?" Roo said.
"Yes, Roo," Pooh said. Then he added, just to be fair, "But they don't always have teatimes. Or suppertimes."
"But they do have medicine," Kanga said. "Roo, open wide."
"Mmmph," Roo said, as Kanga popped a spoon in his mouth.
"Sleep now," Kanga said. "Pooh will tell you a story tomorrow."
"Tomorrow never comes," Roo muttered, but very soon he was asleep.
Curled up together, Pooh and Piglet slept too, and Owl, hunched down in his feathers. Between Roo and Tigger, Kanga stared up at the dark sky, keeping watch, until even her eyes closed and the moon could peer between the clouds unnoticed.
The day dawned slowly.
"I don't suppose there's any breakfast," Piglet said very quietly, as soon as he was sure Pooh was awake.
"I don't think there is," Pooh whispered back.
"It wasn't a dream, was it?" Piglet said.
"No," said Pooh. He was very aware that he had been sleeping on cold metal, not his comfortable bed, and that supper had been jam sandwiches and not honey, and that his feet still ached and that there were patches of his fur still stiff with mud. His house had blown up. Rabbit and Eeyore were still missing.
"No," Pooh said. "It wasn't a dream."
"All awake, are we?" Owl said grumpily.
"Owl, look," Roo said. "We're still here! And today there will be new adventures!"
"Oh, Roo," Kanga said. "Open wide."
"I don't want - Mmmph," Roo said, and was silent.
"Well," Owl said. "Since we are awake, perhaps we can think about how we are going to depart this commodious residence? There have been voices," Owl said," and rumblings, outside. I believe there are people."
"Oh," said Pooh. He looked up. There was enough light to see the round rim of the car they had jumped from the previous night, and it was a long way up.
"There is no ladder," Owl said.
"Can you fly?" asked Piglet.
"And carry all of you? No," Owl said.
"Maybe I could bounce," Tigger said. He flexed his paws in experiment. "Tiggers bounce very well." Just to remind himself that Tiggers did, he bounced. Several times. Nothing happened.
"Tigger, dear?" Kanga said.
"I'm bouncing," Tigger said. Then he landed on something soft that squeaked.
"That was my tail!" Roo yelped. "That was - umph!"
That was most of Roo, a little flatter than he had been before most of a Tigger landed on top of him. Surprised, Tigger stopped bouncing and very carefully, one paw at a time, made sure that he wasn't standing on anything that wiggled.
"Ow," Roo said experimentally, not at all certain that if he said something else Tigger not might land on him again, and Tiggers are generally bigger and heavier than Roos.
"That's quite enough bouncing for now," Kanga said firmly. "Roo, do come over here."
"Where's here?" Roo said, and it took several minutes of shuffling during which Roo's tail got trodden on quite a few more times before Kanga had him firmly by the ear. "Tigger, dear, we can't all bounce," she said firmly.
The hole did not seem any nearer.
"If we had a balloon," Pooh said, "We could float."
From somewhere near Pooh's empty tummy, Piglet said, "Eeyore has a balloon." His voice sounded very small.
There was a pause while they all thought about Eeyore's balloon. It was more than probable that Eeyore's balloon had been in Eeyore's house, and Eeyore's house had been in the muddy bit of the hundred acre wood, just past the gate with the hawthorn bush, and it seemed even more likely that Eeyore, the balloon, the house and the gate where Pooh and Christopher Robin had sat and thought about nothing at all were things they would never see again.
It was a long think.
Finally, Owl said crossly. "We don't have a balloon. Or a piece of string."
Piglet swallowed. Last time they had this conversation about string and who was the lightest and pulling, not to mention squeezing through upside down letterboxes, Piglet had been a very brave Piglet indeed, but even though he had had his very own song ("Oh gallant Piglet ...") that had been a very long time ago and he had been cleaner. He thought that might have been after tea-time too, although maybe it was just after threeses and just before tea time, and really it was quite surprising just how much braver an animal could feel when there was something in his tummy and his fur was tidy.
"There's no rope either," Owl said. "Even if we did have a piece of string. Which we don't."
"But we do," Kanga said. "Tigger?"
"What?" Tigger asked.
"Tigger. Dear. The string?"
"Oh yes," Tigger said, and turned circles unwinding himself.
"Owl, you could fly up, couldn't you?" Pooh asked.
"Of course," Owl said.
"And tie the string to something?"
"There's rope," Tigger said, a little muffled, for he was standing on his head. "Outside. On the top bit."
"Tie the rope to the string?" Owl said doubtfully. "I can't pull you all up," he added quickly before Kanga could suggest such a thing.
"Wrap the rope around something, " Pooh said. "That pointy thing. Then drop both ends in here. We can tie ourselves to one end and pull on the other."
There was a pause while they all thought it through.
"It's a good plan," Kanga said eventually. "But what about the last of us?"
"I could climb the rope!" Roo said.
"Dear, I'm sure you could. But you would need to pull someone up, too."
"There will be enough of us on top," Pooh said, "To pull the last person up. It had better be me," he said.
"Are you sure?" Piglet asked, who did not all all want to be left on his own either inside or outside the cave.
"Yes," Pooh said.
"Then Owl," Kanga said, "Would you be so kind?" The rumbling outside had grown louder.
"Give me a little space," Owl said, and stretched his wings. "We old birds do like to stretch, you know, before we fly. Not to be taken lightly, flying." He flapped his wings.
"Oh, Owl," said Piglet, impressed. "I hadn't realised your wings were so big!"
"Hrrumph," said Owl, pleased, and flapped harder. He rose two feet from the ground, and dropped down.
"Owl, can't you - "
"Sh, Roo dear," Kanga said. "Owl is only warming up."
And indeed, with a great ruffle of feathers as he took off, Owl was flying. Two beats of his wings (with a backdraft that tangled the blankets and made Roo clutch Tigger's tail lest he be swept off his feet) and he was outside. A scratch of claws from the roof told them he had landed.
"What's it like, Owl?" Can you see the rope?" Pooh called anxiously.
Owl's voice sounded quite far away. "Rope ... fortuitously ... " he said, " moving ... " Noises from outside and occasional grunts of effort left all the animals staring upwards.
"Owl?" Pooh was saying uncertainly, when a tangle of rope dropped down to them.
"Below!" Owl said belatedly, peering over the rim of the cave. "Things are moving here. Hurry!"
"What things?" Piglet asked, wrapping his paws around the rope behind Pooh's and heaving.
"People," Owl said. "In machines. Like this one. Moving. You'd better hurry," he said again, pushing at the end of the rope.
Finally, the rope rope was taut, and Kanga tied one end to a lever. "Tigger, you first," she said. "Hang on tight."
"Malt ... makes a Tigger ... very heavy." Piglet said panting, as Tigger clung tightly to the rope and they pulled as hard as they could.
"Nearly there," Tigger said, reaching to grab at the edge of the hole.
"Then Roo," Kanga said firmly, as Roo was securely wrapped in so many coils of rope he looked like a caterpillar with eyes. Then Kanga went up slowly, clutching her bundle.
"Hurry, Pooh," she said, looking down, as Piglet wrapped the rope around his tummy and closed his eyes.. But there was only one of Pooh, and although he pulled as hard as he possibly could, Piglet went up very slowly.
"Now you, Pooh!" he squeaked as he got to the top, but it took a little while to get the rope untangled.
"Tie the end under your arms, Pooh," Kanga said, "We'll pull you out." She was looking over her shoulder, and the rumbling was very loud indeed. But with five of them pulling at the top, Pooh came up in a rush, tumbling over the lip of the rim.
"Oh, help!" said Pooh, as his paws slipped from the edge. There wasn't really very far to fall, and it was in the right direction, but it felt rather further than it was, especially for a bear who could not even in the kindest of eyes be described as lightweight.
"That wasn't," Pooh said, when he had stopped falling and in a very small and squashed sort of voice, "what I meant to do at all."
"I thought not," said Piglet, in an even smaller and squashier voice.
"Oh Piglet," Pooh said. " Is that you I'm sitting on?"
"Yes," Piglet said. " But it's all right, I don't really mind."
"Pooh, there are people!" Roo said, and Pooh stretched a little stiffly and looked up.
There were people. The whole line of the road was filled with machines exactly the same as the one they were sitting on, travelling North. On top of the machines sat groups of people, men, in mottled clothing and with grim faces.
"Are they ... looking at us?" Pooh asked.
"Yes," Owl said shortly. "Hurry. Climb off this side, they can't see us there. Roo, jump."
But as Roo and Piglet jumped, there was an astoundingly loud bang, and something ricocheted from the metal between Kanga's feet.
"What was that?" she said, astonished, and then Tigger pushed her over the edge as there was another loud bang.
"They're shooting!" Owl said. "Go! Go!" and just as Pooh and Piglet and Tigger jumped, Owl spread his wings and took flight. He did not drop down behind the metal barricade of the machine, but instead flew slowly and steadily down the line of the road. Pooh, sliding bumpily down the side of the machine, could hear more shouting - "There he goes!" and then a hugely sinister rat-a-tat-tat as if someone with metal hooves was galloping over a drawbridge.
"Owl!" he gasped, landing, and Kanga said,
"No, we can't, you'll get shot."
Tigger said, "Along the ditch!"
"Stay here," Pooh said to Piglet, and then he ran, and Tigger ran, splashing through the weeds of the ditch by the side of the road, jumping up every so often to see if they could see Owl and ducking down again when they heard voices.
"- got away!"
"Sure there were more - "
"No, see over there - "
and then came the rat-a-tat-tat again, closer, slamming clods of dirt from the hedgerows and cutting through the hawthorn bushes, spilling green leaves and splinters across the ditch.
"Owl! Owl!" Pooh was shouting, but he could not hear himself over the dreadful rattle, and then Tigger pushed him down into the ditch and stood on him.
The noise stopped. The rumbling of the machines quietened, and faded, and finally went away.
"Tigger," Pooh said eventually. "You're standing on my ear."
"Oh," Tigger said. "Sorry, Pooh," and helped him up.
They climbed to the top of the ditch and looked across the road. Yesterday, the surface of the road had been pockmarked, but largely whole. Today it was churned and rutted with the tracks of the great machines, and already puddles had formed in the ruts, grey reflections of the clouded sky.
In the nearest puddle floated a single feather.
"Owl!" Pooh gulped, and climbed over the verge in a rush.
In the next puddle floated another feather. And then beyond there were more feathers and in the mud, fluff, the kind of fluff that was once someone's insides, trailing down the road.
Beyond, when he got there, was a tiny, unstuffed bundle of feathers, and cloth. Two feet and a beak. Two eyes, one cracked: Owl's skin, inside out, clinging together only by the sturdy threads of the stitching. Horribly, even though there was so little of Owl left, what there was still felt of Owl, as if he still inhabited the shreds of himself. 
"Oh, Owl," Pooh said, and put his head in his paws and cried.
He was still crying when Kanga and Roo and Piglet found them.
"He's, " Piglet said, and could not finish.
"That's not Owl," Roo said. "That can't be Owl." He burst into the kind of noisy tears that made Pooh wipe his eyes and sniff hard and try and remember that he was the kind of bear who should have a Stiff Upper Lip.
"I've got ... " Kanga said, her voice cracking. "I've got ... " She had Owl's feathers, and as much of his fluff as she could carry, wrapped up in an apron. "Christopher Robin."
"Christopher Robin can't fix this!" Pooh said, and kicked a rather large stone, which hurt.
"Ouch," he said.
"Christopher Robin can do anything," Piglet said, but his paws were shaking.
"And do you think we can carry .. that ... " Pooh said.
"I can," said Tigger, standing foursquare. "Owl saved us. I can carry him."
"What good - " Pooh said, and then stumped off to sit on a rock and stare over the empty fields while Tigger went to get the string and Kanga and Piglet gathered up every part of Owl they could find. It took a long time to wrap all the feathers safely enough so that none of them could fly away, and squash the fluff down so that the parcel was small enough to tie to Tigger's back, and by the time they were done Pooh was thoughly ashamed of himself.
He walked back hanging his head.
"I'm sorry," Pooh said.
Piglet hugged him.
It was a diminished and depressed group of friends who set off down the road. Tigger, walking very carefully and Not Bouncing At All, carried what remained of Owl in a large, lopsided bundle on his back. Pooh and Piglet followed him, holding hands, and behind them Kanga and Roo. Roo was still crying in little breathy gulps.
"Oh Pooh," Piglet said. "I wish."
"Do you think they were shooting at Owl?" Tigger said. "Really shooting at Owl?" His voice said he could not believe any person would shoot an animal for nothing.
"I think they would have shot all of us," Pooh said. He'd had time to think, and his thoughts had not been comfortable. "If Owl had not distracted them."
Kanga said, "I think we should be very careful of people."
They walked on in silence.
Then Roo said, in a very small voice, "Pooh, can I have my story now? A happy story?"
"A story?" Pooh said, shocked. He looked round, and Roo was looking at him, his face tear stained but hopeful. "Please, Pooh?"
Piglet tugged at his paw. "A walking story? A not-thinking story?"
"Let me think," Pooh said. He tried hard to think of happy stories, but every story he thought of had Owl in, or Eeyore, or Rabbit, or all of them together which was even worse.
"I can't think of any," he confessed.
"What about," Kanga said slowly, "A Pooh and Christopher Robin story?"
So Pooh thought some more. Pooh had plenty of Christopher Robin stories, but there was one he liked better than all the others, just because. It was a story he had never told anyone else, not because it was a story he did not want to tell, but because it was a story that really belonged to Christopher Robin. Christopher Robin and the girl's, he supposed. It was the girl's story too. Although really, it was Pooh's story as well, and perhaps Christopher Robin wouldn't mind if he told it now.
"Once upon a time," Pooh began, and splashed through another puddle. "Once upon a time, one morning a little while ago, after the summer of the dragonflies and before the spring when Eeyore's house floated away ... "
Pooh was sitting at the top of the world, doing nothing at all. He was leaning comfortably against one of the trees of Galleon's Lap, his nose turned up to the sunshine and his eyes half closed.
"We must be able to see three counties at the very least," someone said. A girl.
"I used to think you could see the world from here." This was a man's voice, amused, and Pooh who had begun to slip away very quietly behind the forty-third tree (or was it the forty-fifth?) of Galleon's Lap stopped dead still.
"When I was small," Christopher Robin said. "Here's a good spot. Shall I open the hamper?"
There was a rustling of rugs and a patting of cushions, a clinking of bread knives and jam spoons and flasks, and Pooh ducked behind the fortieth tree (or was it the forty first?) and crept under the low branches of the thirty-third (or was it the thirty fourth?) and looked.
Christopher Robin had grown up.
There was very little left of the boy who had walked with his bear in the woods. This was a man. His hair had darkened to a shade of blonde that reminded Pooh of the colour of heather honey. His shoulders were broad, his legs were long, and he was sporting the kind of moustache that was trying very hard to be debonair and was slightly too wispy to qualify. His eyes were still kind, and his smile was still very sweet, and Pooh had to sit down rather quickly as he thought, 'That's Christopher Robin,' and 'I wonder if he knows I'm here,' and, awfully, because Christopher Robin was the one thing Pooh had always known, ' Does he remember me?'
"Stop!" said Tigger, and then, "No, it's a good story. Look," he said, as they all stopped walking. "It's only that there's a path over there."
There was. It was a broad grassy track, running just a little way away from the road, and all of them breathed a little easier once they had slipped through the gate and were walking with a large hedge between themselves and any rumbling machines.
"The girl said," Pooh said,
"How strange that we have never been up here before. But I suppose you came up here for conkers, and playing Indians? Tell me it wasn't with those awful MacFarlane boys."
"No," Christopher Robin said. "Do you want pickle with your cheese?"
"Do you remember when we went to London," the girl said. "And got thrown out of the zoo because they were teasing the lions?"
"I missed that," Christopher Robin said. "I was with the bears."
"Looking at the bears, surely!" the girl said. "If you were with the bears, the guards would be missing a very promising young officer."
"Indeed," said Christopher Robin, and Pooh, hardly daring to breath lest he rustle the leaves, risked another glance.
But Christopher Robin and the girl were sitting with their backs to his tree, looking out over the river valley and eating their sandwiches. They had cheese sandwiches, and cheese and pickle sandwiches, and hard boiled eggs and fruit cake and apples and a flask of tea, but even though it was an excellent picnic Pooh did not feel in the least peckish. He was too busy watching.
Like all the best picnics, there came a time when there was nothing at all left to eat but crumbs. The girl sighed, and stood up, and said, "Well, I suppose we'd better get back to town. Daddy's having Uncle Roland for dinner, and your Colonel must be getting lonely."
"You go on," said Christopher Robin. "I'll pack up."
Pooh thought rather sadly, 'He's really grown up. He must have forgotten.' Pooh tried to feel brave, because it was right that Christopher Robin should grow up, and growing up meant knowing things, and the more things one had to know, the more things one must lose to make room for all the new things, and maybe Pooh was one of the things Christopher Robin had to lose so that he could be a real grown up.
The rug had been rolled, the flask capped, and Christopher Robin was bent front over end packing the last of the plates in the hamper.
'Maybe it's a good thing he doesn't remember,' Pooh thought, trying very hard to persuade himself so.
But when Christopher Robin stood up, he had a pot in his hands. It was a small, round pot, and it had a lid, just like a honey pot. Christopher Robin tucked it into the grass, just hidden enough that if the girl looked back she could not see it, but if one was, for example, a bear out for a stroll on a sunny afternoon, it would be very easy to spot.
Christopher Robin smiled when he looked down. Then he picked up the hamper, slung it over his shoulder, and went whistling down the hill to his girl and his new red motor car.
Behind him Pooh was sitting still, very still indeed, and in his paws was a jar of honey, the sort of honey that was so deep a gold it glowed, and on the jar was a label which read, 'For Pooh.'
"The end," said Pooh.
"Oh," Piglet said. "That was a good story."
"But Christopher Robin remembers all of us, doesn't he?" Roo asked.
"Of course he does," Kanga said.
For a moment, Pooh let himself feel that it would Be All Right In The End. They would find Christopher Robin, and Eeyore and Rabbit would be there, and Owl would be made better. It was a good feeling.
"Listen," Tigger said.
It was the rumbling of the machines, distant, but approaching.
They hurried into a dip of the path, and clung together, shivering, until the noise passed.
"I don't think we should get on the road again," Piglet said faintly.
"We may have to," Kanga said.
Ahead of them the the path dipped down to a small stream. There was a wooden bridge across the stream, with handrails, although only Roo thought of of pooh-sticking.
"Pooh," Tigger said, "There's something on the bridge." He had stopped walking.
There was something on the bridge. It was a small something, dark and unmoving. It could have been a large clod or earth, or a small piece of tree trunk, but it was not.
Whatever it was had been an animal, and it was dead.
"Don't look, Roo," Kanga said, but she was shivering in little convulsive judders, and her eyes were wide.
Pooh's knees felt wobbly.
"It's one of us," Tigger said. He was staring, and his fur stood up in awkward patches, just as if he was a kitten.
"It's dead," Kanga said flatly. She had her paw over Roo's eyes.
"Maybe it's just pretending," said Piglet. "Like you and I, Pooh, when we were hiding?"
"I don't think it is, Piglet." Pooh said. He felt quite funny round his tummy. When Owl had been shot, there was still something of Owl about his feathers and his eyes, a knowingness that was nothing other than Owl. This creature that should be alive was nothing other than dead.
Piglet said, "I'll go and see."
Pooh said, "Piglet." He could not go down to the dead animal.
"It's all right, Pooh," Piglet said.
He looked very small as he went down to the bridge, not hurrying, but walking slowly over the grass and the planks of the bridge on which the dead thing lay. For a moment or two he stood with his head on one side, looking down, and then he knelt to gently stoke the dark fur of the animal's face.
"Piglet?" Kanga asked.
"She's an otter," Piglet said. "She's dead." He stood up. "We should bury her." Bending, he crossed the otter's paws over its chest.
"She's one of us," Piglet said. "She was wearing a necklace." He began to collect the beads. "Are Tiggers good at digging holes?"
"Yes," Tigger said.
They buried the otter by the side of the stream, underneath some celandines.
"We can't take her with us," Kanga had said doubtfully.
"It's not like Owl," Piglet said, this calm, brave Piglet. "She's really dead."
"At least we can remember her," Kanga said.
It was Piglet who said eventually, "We should go."
"Piglet," Pooh said, once they were walking again, over the bridge and up between the nettles and dandelions to the where the path ran again green and shadowed alongside the road. "Piglet," he said, humbled, "That was the bravest thing I have ever seen anyone do."
Piglet looked up. "It wasn't brave at all," he said. "She needed someone. I wasn't scared," he said.
Behind, Kanga said, "There's a malt sandwich left, and a piece of cake."
"But, oh Pooh," Piglet said. "This is a horrible day."
So that Pooh, who had been thinking what a useless, cowardly old bear he had become, and who was awfully ashamed of himself for getting angry when Owl died, and for not going with Piglet onto the bridge, thought to himself, 'Piglet needs me.' He felt a great deal better. And even one-fifth of a malt sandwich and a sliver of fruit cake was better than nothing.
Piglet was still thinking about the otter. "She must have been going somewhere," he said. "Or to someone."
"Maybe she was just going," Tigger said. "Like us."
"Running away?" Roo guessed. "We ran away, didn't we?"
"Like Rabbit," Pooh said.
"Like whom?" Kanga asked.
"Um," said Pooh, for he had been thinking very badly of Rabbit for leaving them with Eeyore and going off without even saying goodbye. Rabbit was hasty, but he was not generally an abandoning kind of animal, and Pooh missed him.
"Rabbit's friends and relations had gone North already," Kanga said gently.
"So he didn't leave us," Piglet breathed.
"Didn't what?" asked Roo. "What did Rabbit didn't?"
"He couldn't come with us," Kanga said. "He wanted us to come with him. I couldn't take Roo in front of the wind," she said," and Rabbit knew we would look after each other. He had to look after the smaller animals."
"I thought he'd run away," Piglet said. "But I didn't like to say, because I couldn't imagine Rabbit really leaving, except that he did, but then I keep thinking he's going to catch up."
Piglet thought for for a while. "He could be like Owl," he said. "Only with no-one to pick him up."
"I wish Eeyore was here," said Kanga.
"I wish Rabbit was here," said Piglet.
"I wish Owl was ... stuffed," said Tigger.
Their footsteps had slowed.
"Piglet," said Pooh carefully. "I think we may be moping. And moping is not going to get us anywhere. We must have faith."
"What?" said Piglet.
"Faith," said Pooh.
"Can you eat it?" said Tigger.
"It's what you have," said Pooh, "When everything that can go wrong has gone wrong, but you still know everything will be all right. In the end," Pooh added.
"I wish it was the end," Piglet said.
"Like when you get stuck up a tree, and Christopher Robin comes?" said Tigger.
"Yes," said Pooh.
"Or in a trap for heffalumps?" asked Piglet.
"Yes," Pooh said. "Because we will find Christopher Robin. And it will be the end." He licked the last of the malt from his paws, and brushed his tummy, just in case there were any more crumbs.
They walked on.
The friendly path had to end, although it was a kindly ending. Rather than abandon everyone on the road, tired and hungry, it curved gently behind a building surrounded by hedges and trees, and left them in a quiet corner under the branches of a hopeful young spruce. There was a building in front of them.
"What's that?" Roo asked.
"Es-so," Tigger read slowly. "Ser ... ser ... Vice. Petrol. Caravans." His voice was puzzled.
"There is no-one here now," Kanga said.
"What is it, Pooh?" Piglet asked.
"It's a ... it's a ... " Pooh said. "House. For keeping things in."
"It's a very big house," Piglet said doubtfully. "Do you think whoever lives there might be quite large?"
"It's a house for the road," Pooh said. "Look. This is part of the road, here, and it goes right up to the door. I think," Pooh said, thinking," When it's cold, the road rolls itself up and tucks itself inside. Only when it snows," he added hastily, seeing Piglet's face. "I don't think it will mind if we sleep there tonight."
"There might be sandwiches," Tigger said. "Tiggers like sandwiches." He managed a very small bounce, just enough of a bounce to be a bounce and not a wiggle, not to dislodge Owl.
"I don't think the road eats sandwiches, dear." Kanga said, but she was already moving to the big glass doors of the house, sniffing as she went.
"Quietly," she said "Just in case."
But the building was empty. It was like no house any of them had seen before, even Piglet, who had done a great deal of Visiting in Christopher Robin's pocket. It was huge, with a ceiling that sloped far above their heads and a cold tiled floor. There were some very big rooms, not quite like rooms at all with no doors and lots of chairs, and some very small rooms. There were signs, and posters, and some plants that looked like plants but didn't smell like plants and were nasty to touch and even nastier to eat.
It was very clear that other people had visited the house before them. The floor was covered with empty packets and bags and small crushed packages, and sticky with spilled sweet drinks that still smelt of Christmas oranges. Their footsteps crunched and echoed.
"I don't like it here," Roo whispered to Kanga.
"People came here?" Tigger said, gazing open-mouthed at the skylights. One of them was cracked and blackened.
"I think it was tidier, dear," Kanga said. "There are shelves. Someone must have dusted," she added, with a little distaste.
"Was this ... food?" Roo said, shuffling his paws through the brightly coloured wrappers on the floor.
"Food?" Tigger said. He dropped his head, and smelt the floor. "It was food," he said. "It might have been food for Tiggers. There may be some left," he said hopefully, and kicked up the wrappers as if they were autumn leaves.
"Pooh?" Piglet said quietly. He was standing behind one of the banks of shelves. "Pooh?"
"Smells like oats," said Tigger doubtfully.
"Piglet? Oh!" said Pooh.
"Crunches like oats," Tigger muttered.
"They're all eyes," Piglet said.
Sitting on the shelf above Pooh and Piglet were a cluster of glassy-eyed bears. They were not bears like Pooh, his fur worn in patches, his stuffing shaped in odd and comfortable lumps, but stiff-furred and brightly coloured. They did not move.
Piglet whispered, "Pooh, are they like us?"
The eyes, black and yellow, were motionless. Pooh had the truly uncomfortable feeling that he and Piglet were being watched, but there was nothing behind those eyes. No character, no liking, no acknowledgement other than that dead, unseeing gaze.
"I don't think they're people at all," Pooh whispered back.
Piglet was backing away. "I think I'll just go and help Tigger," he said.
Pooh stood still, looking at these other, strange bears. 'I wonder,' he thought, 'If they're empty because they haven't found someone to love?' It was an awful thought. 'They must be so lonely,' and then he was not thinking of the bears as threatening, but sad. Stiffly, he gave them a little bow, the sort of bow Owl made when meeting people he didn't really know. One of the bears may have blinked at him, but Pooh wasn't quite sure.
"If Tiggers are hungry," Tigger said, "I think they might eat oats." He was licking his lips.
"Roos do eat oats," said Roo.
"They wash their paws first," Kanga said. She had found clean cloths, and soap, and water in a basin. "And faces. Ears too!"
There was enough food for all of them, hidden under the rubbish, as if the people who had come in before them had collected it in a hurry and dropped it as they left. There were sticky bars of oats with raisins, and packets of fried potatoes that were salty and crisp to eat, and even a bruised banana. The very best find was Piglet's, when he discovered some very small packets under a table.
"I think," he said happily, "I think these are for you, Pooh."
It was honey.
Later in the evening Roo and Tigger found some chocolate, which Roo had never eaten before. He liked it so much he went through all the wrappers all over again before bedtime. "Are we sure there's none left?" he asked sadly, afterwards.
"Bed time," said Kanga.
"I like chocolate," Roo announced sleepily.
Fed and warm, they all slept together, comfortably curled into the corner of one of the smaller rooms.
Pooh had been very happily asleep. In his dreams, he had been in his own bed, tucked up in his clean sheets in his own small house, his nightcap firmly on his head and a not-so-small pot of honey tucked underneath the covers for emergencies. Just for emergencies, you understand. Only if he should wake up in the night and feel a little peckish.
"What is it?" Pooh muttered, waking. He was not in his own bed, and Tigger was poking him.
"There are people," Tigger said. "Outside."
Now Pooh could hear voices, low and agitated, from the big room by the doors. " Wake Kanga up," he whispered, and shook Piglet's shoulder.
The voices did not sound as if they belonged to the sort of people Pooh would like to meet.
"Is there another way out of here?" he whispered.
"We didn't look," Kanga said slowly. "We were eating."
The people outside were shouting at each other, about food, and water, and who was here first, and other words Pooh did not know.
'We must get out,' he thought.
"Tiggers are good at looking for things," Tigger said, very quietly. He wiggled and stretched each leg, and tiptoed backwards and forwards on his paws to demonstrate how quietly Tiggers could look for things if they wanted. "Look after Owl," he said, and then before Pooh could stop him, Tigger crept belly down to the door and was gone.
"Tigger?" Roo said sleepily.
"Sh, dear," Kanga whispered.
It was so early in the morning that the sun was not yet up, and the house was dark, but the angry people had torches. Beams of light flickered past the edges of the door, and the animals could hear footsteps crunching through the rooms.
"Someone's been here before us."
"Idiot! Try the kitchen."
"Cigarettes at least."
Something crashed, horribly loud in the darkness. "Shelves," Kanga whispered, barely audible. Pressed against Pooh, she was shivering.
"What was that noise? Is someone here?"
"It's a rat, you fool. Help me break this open."
The sound of wood crashing against metal pounded through the building.
"I don't like this," Piglet whimpered.
On the last crash, there was a great screech of rending metal, and then the sound of splintering wood, and the rattle of falling nails and glass.
"Must be something - "
"Good in -"
"Here after all - "
"What the devil is this?" The words were almost screamed.
It was worse in darkness, Pooh thought. If only he could see. Then he thought, and it was an even worse thought, if I can see them, they can see me. He wished Tigger was back. He wished Christopher Robin was with them.
Something was creeping around the edge of the door.
It was a stealthy something, a one-silent-paw-after-another something, with ears like Tigger's and a long tail held very still just above the ground, like Tigger's when he was stalking. Then it spoke,
"Come on," it said, and it was Tigger, scrabbling at Owl's package. "Hurry."
One after another, following Tigger, they tiptoed to the door.
"Windscreen wash? What good is that?"
Slipping round the corner, they crept past the shelter of the shelves and tiptoed past the dead bears and the tumbled orange wash cloths.
"Worthless - "
Following Tigger's tail, they slid into the kitchen.
"Ungrateful - "
Past the empty crates and the upturned boxes, past the sinks with their dripping taps, to the first cold clear light of Outside.
Then the shot rang out. It was unmistakable, the same loud bang and whine that they had heard on the road.
"Run!" said Kanga urgently, pushing Roo forwards. "Run!"
They ran as fast as they could, out the door, across the gravel, through the hedge and along the side of the ditch, panting and stumbling. Only when the ditch joined the road could they stop running, and there only because there was a great artificial stone block under which they could sit and catch their breath.
Tigger grinned. "Found the way out," he said. His tail curved happily over his back, proud.
"Dear, that was very well done," Kanga said.
Faintly, they could hear another shot. It was a long way away, and they were well hidden, but all of them jumped.
"Can we stay here?" Piglet said, trembling. "Until we know they've gone?"
"I think that's a very wise idea indeed," Pooh said.
Although they waited for a very long time, they could hear only one set of footsteps leave the building. Pooh looked at Kanga, but she shook her head.
In front of them, the road led onwards. It was tumbled and churned with mud, and some of the puddled ruts were higher than Pooh's head. Even the verges were mud splattered and marked with the tracks of the cars, so that the friends clambered and heaved and panted as they travelled. As they went, more and more convoys passed them, going North, great trucks with massive wheels that forced their way down the road. The trucks were crowded with men, but there were other people walking, families and children and men in torn uniforms, all going North. On either side of the road there were burnt out farmhouses, and abandoned cars pushed into the ditches, and torn open packages and shoes and suitcases and once, a muddy, elegant pram stuck fast in the mud. By midday Pooh and Piglet and Tigger and Kanga and Roo were so tired that they gave up hiding in the ditch every time something went by, and instead carried on wearily down the road, mud splattered and footsore. None of the people on the trucks seemed to notice, and only one small girl of all the people walking saw them and waved, a very small, tired wave.
"Pooh," said Piglet quietly, just after the time when they would have had lunch if there was any lunch to have, which there wasn't, "Is there a song for walking? I mean, walking here, not walking there?"
Pooh, who had just walked through a very large puddle despite not having his galoshes, looked up. His paws were sore and muddy. The road was muddy. Even the trees at the side of the road were muddy where the trucks had driven past.
"I don't know," he said. But he thought for a while. Then he said, " There isn't exactly a hum. It isn't a very hummy sort of place."
Piglet said, "But it's a different kind of place, isn't it, Pooh? So might there be a different kind of hum?" He waited hopefully.
awfully hard to walk
"Is that it?" said Piglet. "It's very short."
terribly hard to say
"It's awfully hard to walk," Piglet said, "And talk. It's awfully hard to walk. Pooh, this a good hum."
"Except when there's puddles," he added a moment later, when his feet, walking in time to the hum, splashed accidentally through a very large puddle so big it was almost a pond. "Or splashes," Piglet said.
Pooh had been so busy thinking up his hum that he had not noticed there were more trucks on the road, moving fast and throwing up mud and rainwater as they travelled.
"Those men are throwing things," Roo said. "Look, Tigger."
"Be careful dear," Kanga said automatically.
"Silver things," Roo said. "Like chocolate."
"Roo - " Kanga said, but it was too late.
Roo had run inbetween the trucks. His eyes were on the glint of silver as it vanished into the mud, and he was not watching the road. The trucks were very big, and the road was very wide, and Roo looked very small as he ran.
"Roo!" Kanga shouted.
There was a truck in front of Roo, and one behind him that he could not see. It was a very big truck, with a metal grille that glinted black, and headlights that shone yellow, and huge wheels with massive treads. It was moving very fast, and behind the wheel Pooh could see a man who looked as tired and hungry as Pooh felt.
Roo vanished into one of the ruts, and Tigger, with a flying leap, just managed to stop Kanga running after him.
"I've got-" they could hear Roo squeak, and then the truck ran straight over the top of him.
Pooh shut his eyes.
Kanga screamed. It was a scream such as they had never heard before, so full of anguish that it seemed even the wind paused, and the noise of the trucks faded, and the very road itself stopped for a moment.
When Pooh opened his eyes again there was another truck driving straight over the place where Roo had been, and a line of trucks behind that one, implacable and unstoppable. Tigger was sitting on Kanga's back, barely holding her down as she struggled, her paws reaching out.
"Kanga, don't!" Tigger was saying, but he was crying as he said it.
Pooh felt as if the world had slowed around him. He reached out, and held Kanga's shoulder, and then her hand, as Piglet clung on to one of her legs. "Kanga, don't go," he said. "Please don't." But Kanga was twisting and turning beneath them, so strong they could barely hold her down, and the trucks were passing by one after the other, over Roo, and Pooh could not spare a hand to wipe his nose so the tears dripped down his face into the mud.
"Kanga, wait," Piglet was pleading.
"Roo," she said at last, very quietly, and went limp.
They had to wait until the last of the trucks went by before searching for Roo. Where he had been, the mud was thrown up in great waves, curled and bleeding rainwater, bigger than Pooh. The ruts were already filling with water, although Kanga, weeping, dug and dug and dug until her paws were bleeding. They were all digging, tearing at the earth, using Piglet's nightcap and Kanga's tablecloth to try and mop away the water, but the puddles filled quicker than they could empty them. There was nothing of Roo to be seen at all, not a paw, not a whisker, not even a piece of fur.
It was only when Kanga stopped digging and began to keen that Pooh began to realise that Roo was really gone. It seemed so incredible that Roo, Roo with his questions and his sense of adventure, Roo who had been standing next to him just minutes before, should have so utterly disappeared. 
It was only when Pooh sat down that he realised quite how tired he was. He was covered in mud, and his paws were terribly sore, and he felt awfully empty. Not the sort of emptiness that you feel if you've missed breakfast, or dinner, but a rather odd floaty kind of emptiness as if everything around him, the road, the trees, Kanga, Piglet, were all unreal and very far away.
Beside Kanga, Tigger howled.
"Oh, Pooh," Piglet said, and crawled to sit beside beside him. "Oh Pooh."
The only thing that felt real to Pooh was Piglet's warmth pressed against him.
After a very long time, Pooh stood up.
"We," he said, and had to clear his throat. "We have to go."
Piglet looked up, so miserable that Pooh felt like the very worst of villains.
"We can't," he said helplessly.
"We have to," said Pooh. He looked again at the space where Roo had been, and at Tigger, who looked back at him, utterly lost, and at Kanga who was looking at nothing at all. "We can't stay here," Pooh said.
They were sitting in the middle of the road. Behind them was the road, and the place where Owl had been shot, and the place where the Hundred Acre Wood had been but was no more. In front of them was the road.
'There are only four of us now,' Pooh thought, and he tried very hard to find the place inside him that was Christopher Robin's, but it was a very faint warmth, so faint he could barely feel it.
"Come on," Pooh said, and pulled Piglet to his feet. When Tigger stood up he was swaying on his paws, but he was strong enough to help Pooh get Kanga up and moving forwards, although she moved as if she was asleep, stumbling over her own feet.
They walked very slowly indeed, a desolate and lonely group of animals.
As they walked, the road began to close in. Where there had been occasional farmhouses, there were villas, and then other roads, smaller, lined with houses, and lampposts, and a Petrol Station, and a Newsagent with the windows broken and spilling glass over the concrete. There were more people walking, small sad groups of people with bundles and packages hurrying north. Pooh did not notice.
He did not watch the last of the trucks pass by, or the sun slip down the sky, or the moment when the road could no longer hold itself together and shuddered, sending great cracks through the tarmac. He did not see the men in uniforms with guns moving through the houses, knocking on doors, checking garages and gardens and bedrooms, moving people North. He did not see the mimeographed posters on the walls saying Evacuation and Missing. He did not even notice the lithe black shadow that had started to follow them, slipping from doorway to doorway and hedgerow to garden fence.
There was a moment when even Pooh had to stop. The road had come to an end, and there was no where else to go.
"Pooh," Piglet said very quietly beside him, and Pooh looked up.
They were standing at the end of the road. It was a square, the end of the road, surrounded by houses that had once been small and neat and cared for, but were now burned out, their windows cracked and their rafters bare and blackened. The centre of the square might once have been a garden, but the trees had been knocked sideways and hung at perilous angles over the remains of what had been flower beds.
In front of them were two great barred gates. There was a sign on the gates, black on white. It read, 'Barracks.'
"Pooh," Piglet said. "Where are we?"
Pooh shook his head. He had been aware of nothing except Kanga's fur under his paw and the faint warmth in his tummy that had felt so faintly and rightly of Christopher Robin. Now it had gone, and as if he was waking up, Pooh suddenly realised that he had led all of them somewhere he had never been, somewhere none of them knew, somewhere dangerous.
"Lost, are we?" said a mocking voice behind them.
Pooh spun round.
Behind them, lying on the road as if it was in front of its own hearth, was a black cat.
"Looking for something?" it asked, and yawned lazily. Its mouth was very pink, and its teeth were very sharp, and its eyes were yellow.
Pooh stood up straighter. "What happened here?" he asked, trying to look as if he knew exactly where they were.
"Oh," said the cat, standing up and stretching lazily. "Didn't you know? It's the apocalypse. Death. War. Famine," it said. "Pestilence. You may not have seen that one yet," it added contemptuously.
"Apocalypse?" Tigger said, and the cat laughed.
"Are you for real?" it said, and circled them, its tail flicking. "Where are you from?"
"We came down the road," Pooh said. Without hope, he said,"We're looking for Christopher Robin."
"Everyone's looking for someone," the cat said. "What makes you think you can find yours?"
"Er," Pooh said.
"Much better to find someone else," the cat said seductively. "Any number of them around. Most of them are dead, of course."
"Or the army," Pooh said. "We're looking for the army, too."
The cat laughed. "You're right here," it said. "See those gates?"
But the gates were massive, studded and barred, and Pooh could not imagine climbing over them or slipping though them or under them. Even if they could have climbed the bars, there was barbed wire along the topmost edge.
"They've gone now anyway," the cat said. It sat down, splayed a leg, and licked dismissively at the fur of its belly. "You're too late."
Pooh felt his heart miss a beat. Maybe Christopher Robin had passed them on the road. Maybe he had been in one of the trucks. Maybe it had all been for nothing, the long, awful journey he and Piglet and Kanga and Tigger had made. Owl had been shot. They had lost Roo.
"But you've found me," the cat said. It smiled. "You look tired," it said. "Don't you want ... somewhere to sleep? Somewhere warm?"
"We have to go back," Pooh said hopelessly. He could not imagine how they could travel back along the road.
"Why not rest first?" the cat said, circling round them. "I know somewhere safe." It poked a paw at Kanga. "What's wrong with her?"
"She lost Roo," Pooh said. "We lost Roo. On the road. Her kitten."
"Oh," said the cat. "I lost mine, once. Mine were drowned. Pathetic things," it said, "always mewing."
Piglet tugged at Pooh's hand. "I know," Pooh hissed, but he did not know what to do. He felt utterly lost, and when the cat began to herd them away from the gates, he could do nothing but allow himself to be pushed.
"This way," the cat said, soft and low. "Not much further."
Stumbling, propping each other up, they barely knew where they were going. So tired he could barely think, Pooh watched himself being led through one of the garden gates and along a narrow, paved path.
"Not much left of you, is there?" the cat said dismissively, and shouldered open a battered half door.
"Home sweet home," it said, and butted them inside.
The floor was concrete, and covered with a threadbare, filthy carpet. Piled in the corners were blankets, torn and unraveling, and lying among the blankets were children's toys. Once, they must have been brightly coloured, but now they were chipped and flaked, as if someone had been gnawing on them. There was a model car, and a carousel tipped on its side, and there were balls and a skipping rope and a wooden horse with only a couple of horsehairs valiantly attempting a tail.
There was something furry tucked into one of the blankets.
"Stay here tonight," the cat said, its voice almost a purr. "No walking tonight. No road. No," it shuddered and whispered, "drowning."
"Pooh," Piglet said again, but without even looking around, Tigger collapsed on the floor. He had tucked his head in his paws, and was asleep.
"Oh, you poor kitten," the cat said, and bent over him. It licked all the way up Tigger's back, and before Pooh could reach out, it took Tigger's neck in its teeth and shook him, just a little.
"Hey!" Pooh said.
The cat glared at him over Tigger's back.
"Let go," said Pooh grimly.
Letting Tigger fall, the cat said, "Oh, really. As if I would."
"I think you should let us sleep now," Pooh said. "Alone." He could see the furry thing under the blankets out of the corner of his eye, and it worried him.
"Without even one of you?" the cat said, whining. "Just one? This one's small," it said, reaching out quicker than Pooh would have believed and hooking its claws in Piglet's fur.
"Let go!" Pooh said, and to his absolute astonishment, he watched his own fist fly out and punch the cat right on the nose.
Its face, when it was knocked backwards, was equally astonished.
"Go away," Pooh said.
"As if," the cat said, all offended dignity. "I'd do anything wrong. I'm a good cat. Pretty pussy." When it laughed, its voice cracked.
"Just stay there," Pooh said. "Don't come any closer."
He tugged at the blanket and covered Kanga and Tigger, and made sure Piglet was safely at his side. He did not look at the clumps of fur that might once have been something, but instead sat down, grimly prepared to outstare the cat until morning.
In the morning, they would have to turn round, and head back. Pooh could not think of it. He turned his head against Piglet's fur, and despite his best intentions, much later, he did sleep.
When he woke up the world was so quiet that Pooh could hear the water running in the drain outside, and the rustle of Tigger's paws as he scrabbled in his sleep. The sound of vehicles had gone, and there were no footsteps outside at all, as if Pooh and Piglet and Tigger and Kanga were the only animals left alive in the world. Even the cat had gone from the doorway.
"Pooh," Piglet said.
Now that the sun was up, Pooh could see how dirty Piglet's fur was. His ears were bedraggled, and there was a smear of mud swiped across his nose. Piglet looked rather odd, as if all his stuffing had shrunk unevenly, so that his middle was sagged and his paws were swollen.
"Pooh, do you think-" Piglet said very quietly, and then there were footsteps outside.
"Shhhh," Pooh said, and they stayed very quiet indeed, looking at each other. The light from the doorway changed shape, as if someone stood there listening, not wanting to be seen. Piglet crept a little nearer to Pooh, but the blanket rustled, and he stopped.
But the light from the door changed again, and suddenly there was a man-shaped shadow that fell past Tigger's limp tail to the wall where Pooh and Piglet were leaning. It was a very quiet shadow, and it did not move for so long that Pooh looked up.
And standing in the doorway was a man: a man in bulky clothing and big boots, with a gun over one shoulder. The light of the sun glinted silver from the barrel of his gun, and blonde from hair that was the colour of heather honey. He was looking straight at Pooh.
This was a man Pooh knew. He squeezed Piglet's ear, that being the nearest bit of Piglet he could touch, and said, "Look up."
It was Christopher Robin.
Rabbit is going North, with all his friends and relations. It's not an easy journey, but eventually he will find them somewhere safe to stay, in woodland, on the North York Moors, and if you were to visit today you would notice that the animals of the North York Moors appear to be very well organised. It is only after Rabbit finishes organising that he sets off to find his friends. He will take a fishing boat from Grimsby to Reikjavik, and from there he'll work a season on the cod banks of Newfoundland. Catching a passage to America on a trawler out of Massachusetts, he'll ride the freight cars to New York, and one day, grubby but triumphant, he'll saunter into the New York Public Library on 42nd Street.
Back to story.
What you don't know about Eeyore is that he's a survivalist. Eeyore has a network of tunnels under the Hundred Acre Wood stuffed with thistles and hay and acorns and sweetgrass. He's got two dozen booby traps and a cave with a freshwater spring even Christopher Robin doesn't know about. Eeyore doesn't get blown up: Eeyore goes underground, and stays there until the stream runs clear and the air no longer smells of smoke - five months, give or take. He comes up a little dustier, a little more battered, but not otherwise much changed except a little bit happier, because Eeyore has always known the world was out to get him and now he's been proved right. Seven months later Eeyore will get to New York on a cargo ship in a convoy by way of boarding the ship in Plymouth, sitting down by the capstan, and refusing to move.
Back to story.
Owl's not really dead. Owl's just ... unstuffed, for a bit. Christopher Robin will stitch him together later, using a ward room cushion for fluff and a sewing kit belonging to his best friend, because Christopher Robin has the kind of friends everyone should have, the kind that have sewing kits and wind-up head torches and will tell you which episodes of Supernatural to watch if you're longing to write wincest but don't like TV. (Actually, as of posting on 26th March 2009, this is no longer true. All episodes have been watched - devoured - and Season 5 episode 15 is downloading, literally, now.)
Back to story.
Were this 1942, Alice would be a heroic VAD, neat and starched and efficient. It's not and she isn't. Alice is still one of the lucky ones: she makes it to France and then to Chamonix. Much later, Alice will start a chalet concierge service and marry a Swiss banker, but that's another story and anyway Alan Moore tells it better.
Back to story.
 This is, of course, the boat to America, but you really don't want to know what I think about Pooh and his friends living in a glass cage in a library in a city. New York is a beautiful place, but it is not the Hundred Acre Wood. That's why this story finishes when it does.
Back to story.
wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way,