HOW THE SKUNK GOT HIS STRIPES
Short Story By P.K. Silverson
In the very beginning, o dearest beloved, there was nothing but the darkest of darkness. If you had been there in person, you would not have even been able to see your fair little hand if you held it right up in front of your pretty face.
In the darkest of darkness there was nothing at all, and even if there had been something, it could not possibly have seen where it was going, so the arrangement was not all that bad.
It was the end of nothing and the beginning of everything, and then there was the Word and that Word, o dearest beloved, was God.
God spoke out in the darkest of darkness, and as you well know, what he said was this: "Let there be light." And, of course, there was, because the Word was God and when the Maker talks, everybody listens.
Now attend me well, light of my life, when I tell you that once the Maker could see what he was doing, he got very busy indeed. The Maker made all of creation, with its universes filled with dazzling stars and many wonders.
It was a bloody marvel.
Next, the Maker made a fair dinkum world and got it right on the very first try. God could do that, you know.
When the world was made all nice and proper, the Maker filled it with intricacies we have yet to unravel, although you'd know more if you stayed awake during science class, as your last report card well attests.
The Maker made the seas and the lands, and then made life to fill them, all the creatures great and small.
And when the Maker saw what a miracle creation was, the Maker made a decision, and the decision was that creation, from the tiniest sub-atomic particle to the greatest expanse of space, was a bit of all right.
Yes, I expect the Maker especially liked chocolate, too. Just like you, o dearest one.
By the end, the Maker was pretty beat, just like others who put in a full week at their jobs. So the good Lord took a holiday and left creation to mind itself for a bit, including the new fair-dinkum world and all the creatures, great and small, upon it.
Life was bloody ripper for the time being. Men was Man and he knew all about Eve, who was a real babe and not ashamed to show it off like she was stuck up or something.
The animals were all gentle-like, and the lion was just as tame as a baby woolly. Haolis howled the whole day through while coolas cooed and cooed. Giant hopping rats played bingo with dingos well into the evening when the warm sun turned into the pale silvery moon.
There was plenty to eat and drink, and nobody wanted for anything.
"I wish this could go on forever," the skunk said to nobody in particular in the middle of the afternoon just around tea. But, because he hadn't bothered to address anyone by name, there was no response to this other than a general nodding of heads. And with that, the crocodiles turned back to their croquet while hedgehogs placed their bets and then hedged them.
The very next day, the Maker's Voice filled the garden, and this is what it said: "Everybody out."
"What?" chirped the crickets in a chorus, as if they'd been practicing for ages and ages to get it just right.
"What? This is preposterous!" exclaimed the rhinoceros, who knew very well about that sort of thing from his own experience.
"What?" asked the skunk meekly, having assumed that his earlier wish had been granted carte blanche and that someone was playing a cosmic joke.
"Man has sinned," the Maker's Voice announced to the general population. "And so everybody will have to leave at once."
"Bogus," the babbling baboon was beside himself with rage. "This is totally, totally bogus."
"It's simply not fair," the skunk concurred, and even though he still had not aimed his remarks at anyone specifically, everyone around him nodded their heads in enthusiastic agreement. "I wish there was something we could do about this beastly turn of events."
The sky above the fair-dinkum world grew dark as great clouds rolled across the sun and the wind blew up a blue norther. All the creatures, great and small, shivered in the shadows, wondering if the skunk hadn't asked for just a little too much.
"Everybody out," the Maker's Voice filled the garden yet again. "Line up at the gate by species for your exit wish, and be quick about it."
And that's just what they did, o dearest beloved, without the least bit of hesitation because the Word was God and when the Maker talks, everybody listens.
"What to wish for, what to wish for," everybody wondered. They looked at each other and they looked at themselves, and they began to see that they all looked pretty much alike. Oh, naturally some of them were shorter and some of them were taller, and some of them were soft and some of them were thorny, but all in all, they looked pretty much alike.
Except for the skunk, who was as dark as the darkest of darkness before the beginning of everything had been.
"What are you going to wish for?" he asked his fellow Mustelidae, because, after all, they were lined up by species as the Maker's Voice had commanded, and they didn't dare get out of line.
"None of your never-mind," the wily wolverine answered for the rest, knowing that wishes were personal and best kept between one's own self and his Maker.
"How very rude," sniffed the skunk, who had gained something of a reputation for being fast with a wish in just the short time creation had been in business.
All day long the lines moved through the gates between the garden and the rest of the fair-dinkum new world, and each creature, great and small, made a wish that only the Lord could hear as they passed through.
Except for the skunk.
He fretted about his darkness, which reminded everybody of the darkest dark that came before the beginning of everything. And he kept his sharp ears open to see if he could find out which would be the best wish of all, so that he could use it for himself.
But, o dearest beloved, it was all to no avail. The poor skunk heard not a word.
So, when it came his turn to pass through the gates, the skunk had no wish of his own to make. In his misery, he made a desperate plea, and what he asked for was this: "I wish I knew what the best wish of all would be."
"Okey-dokey," the Maker's Voice whispered gently in his skunky brain. "You shall know all the wishes, and choose the best for yourself. Now move along."
And with that, the skunk found himself standing outside the gates of the Maker's wondrous garden of creation, totally exposed to the real-world hardships of all creation and survival.
It was all he could do to scurry out of the reach of a hungry wolf, who hadn't had a bite of fresh meat to eat since the world was young.
When the skunk was safely out of harm's way, he found his mind was filled with the buzzing of millions of voices. Each voice belonged to a different creature, great or small, of God's creation. And each voice repeated its own special wish.
"I wish for a hot mate whose sex drive can keep up with mine," the randy rabbit's voice repeated over and over.
"I wish for the comforts of a well kept home where I never have to lift a paw," the lazy house-cat's chant droned.
"I wish for opposable thumbs by which to shape my own destiny," the dull and plodding man said, as if he were being noble.
"I wish for beautiful plumage with which I can get lots of babes," the proud peacock persisted.
And on and on the voices went.
The skunk's senses reeled as the unrelenting barrage of thoughts staggered around his brain like sailors on a bender until, finally, the lamentably befuddled animal lapsed into a coma to escape the unbearable weight.
After a good night's sleep, the skunk awakened to find the wishes still rolling around mercilessly in his head.
"How will I ever make up my mind with all this clutter?" he wondered helplessly.
He staggered down the road, unable to concentrate long enough to pick out a true direction in which to travel. After a bit, he realized that he had wandered into the path of a hungry Bengal tiger.
"Mmmm," the tiger licked his lips, seeing such a plump fat dinner before him and realizing that he was going to have an easy time of it, to boot.
"I wish to be fast enough to win any race," the gazelle's personal request blazed through the skunk's addled skull in a burst of revelation.
The skunk tried desperately to shape his thoughts into words as the image of the deadly jungle cat whirled around before him in the hazy sunshine of the real world, black stripes blending into golden yellow fur and back to black again.
"Win race, black stripes," the skunk was feverish in his attempt to piece together a cogent thought. "Must wish, must wish."
The terrible tiger watched in fascination as his quarry babbled incoherently. He had never seen a dinner that acted like this before.
"If you don't mind," the tiger asked, "would you mind telling me what you're doing before I eat you? I'd hate to go through the rest of my days in suspense, not knowing what you are trying to say."
"Must wish," the poor skunk babbled. "Must wish. Win race, black stripes, gold fur."
"Am I to understand that you still have not made your wish yet?" the tiger was amazed, o dearest beloved.
"Must wish," the skunk nodded feverishly, unable to collect his speech.
"Well, I can hardly eat you before you've made your wish," the tiger decided. "The Lord's will be done. And, please, do it quickly, for I am so very hungry and you look quite tasty."
The deadly jaws of the jungle cat loomed in front of the staggering skunk. The voice of the gazelle bolted out in front of the other voices, "I wish to be fast enough to win any race."
"Must wish," the skunk repeated.
"Yes, of course," the tiger licked his lips as his whiskers quivered with lethal anticipation."I wish you'd get on with it so I can eat."
"Must wish. Win race, black stripes, gold fur," the skunk heroically tried to string his words into a sentence. "I wish...race...stripes."
"You wish for racing stripes?" the tiger was astounded, for this had been his very own secret wish.
"Yes," the skunk was completely confused and totally suggestible by now, and the sound of a rational sentence was a complete relief, so he repeated it quickly, not wanting to lose it. "I wish for racing stripes."
"You little stinker!" the tiger roared, leaping out at him, but it was too late.
The voices of all the creatures, great and small, vanished from the skunks poor cluttered head the instant he finished his wish, and a pair of fine white stripes cut a rakish swath down his darkest back. And not only that, o dearest one, but the Maker had heard the tiger's lament in the same breath as the skunk's own wish, and granted that as well.
The skunk knew how to use his new gift the moment he received it, and he raised his thick, bushy tail high into the air and gave his perineal glands a brisk squeeze.
Before the tiger knew what had happened, the air was filled with the most malodorous secretion it was ever his misfortune to smell. When the ill-mannered stink splashed him right between the eyes, he clawed at the air to change his direction, even though he was already in mid-pounce.
With a yowl of pain, the Bengal tiger landed in a rude heap by the side of the road. Forgetting all about the fat skunk that would make such a tidy supper, he raked at his nose in a most angry manner. But the awful smell would not go away.
"This is all your fault," the thoroughly distressed feline accused the skunk. "I wish I'd never met you."
Then the tiger dashed off down the road to the opposite side of the fair-dinkum world to be as far away from the skunk as he possibly could get. And that, my precious angel, is how the skunk got both his stripes and his smell, which he has kept proudly from the beginning of time to this very day.
Copyright © 1993 by P.K. Silverson. Originally published in Pandora Magazine. All rights reserved by the author.
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