About the Friendship of a Boy and a Badger

Once upon a time, a boy met a badger in the forest.

“Hello, badger,” said the boy, “let’s be friends!”

“How do you know me?” wondered the badger. “And who are you, anyway?”

“I’m a boy,” the boy replied, “and my dad is a hunter. He often brings home carcasses of various animals, so I know you’re a badger.”

The badger was about to run back into the forest, but the boy called out to him.

“Wait, badger! Don’t be afraid! If you befriend me, I’ll tell my dad not to hunt you.”

“Really?” asked the badger.

“I promise.”

The next morning, the boy invited both his father, the hunter, and the badger to a clearing, where he introduced them to each other.

“Badger, meet my dad.”

“Pleased to meet you,” bowed the badger.

“Dad, this is the badger.”

“Very honored,” the hunter nodded.

“Dad, the badger is my best friend, and I’ve promised him that you won’t hunt him.”

“Alright, son. Of course, I won’t kill your best friend,” the hunter promised.

Thus, the boy and the badger became friends. They played in the forest all morning and befriended each other in various ways until it was time for the boy to go home for lunch. In the evening, the hunter returned from his hunt and brought home a badger’s carcass.

“Dad!” the boy cried, “you promised!”

“What did I promise?” the hunter was puzzled.

“You said you wouldn’t kill the badger!”

“Not exactly. I said I wouldn’t kill that particular badger who is your best friend, not just any badger in general.”

“And you think this badger isn’t my best friend?” the boy uncertainly pointed at the carcass.

“I think not! I’d even say almost certainly not!”

“Why are you so sure?”

“Because this badger, as soon as we met in the forest, immediately ran away from me. If it had been your friend, he wouldn’t have run away from me since I promised I wouldn’t kill him. So, I understood that this wasn’t your badger, and I shot him.”

The boy felt a little relieved by these words, but still couldn’t completely rid himself of doubts. Barely waiting for morning, he ran back to the forest. To his great joy, he saw that the badger was already waiting for him in the clearing, though he looked saddened.

“Badger, what’s wrong?” asked the boy.

“Yesterday, someone shot my little brother,” replied the badger.

The boy comforted the badger all day. The next morning, they met again in the clearing, this time with the boy’s father, the hunter, and the badger’s entire family. From the badgers’ side, the boy and the hunter were greeted by: the badger-father, who was the badger’s father; the badger-mother, more commonly known as the badger-wife, accordingly the badger’s mother; and numerous badger cubs, who could be said to be children to their parents and brothers and sisters to their badger brother.

“Let me introduce my father and mother,” said the badger, stepping aside for his parents.

“You look very much like them,” the hunter replied, “very pleased to meet my son’s best friend’s family.”

The badgers bowed.

“I want to apologize if I’ve inadvertently caused you recent sorrow,” began the hunter. “From my side, I promise that none of the badgers present here today will fall victim to my rifle. Agreed?”

“Yes, of course…” hesitated the badgers, “but… just…”

“What?” asked the hunter.

“There’s also grandpa badger. He’s very old and not feeling well, so he couldn’t come.”

“Grandpa. I understand.”

“And the elder brother!.. The elder brother!”

“Yes, indeed, there’s also the badger — the elder brother. He really wanted to come and meet you personally, but urgent work, you know… a sudden business trip…”

“Badgers go on business trips?” the hunter was surprised.

“Yes, he’s a very promising young badger. We’re very proud of him.”

“Glad to hear it,” nodded the hunter. “May I clarify something else?”

“Yes, of course.”

“The badgers living near Rabbit Creek. How are you related to them?”

“Well, actually, that’s our uncle badger’s family…”

“I see. And those two badgers who settled at the edge of the clearing by the three pines?”

“They are our son-in-law and daughter. They moved there in the spring.”

“Got it. May I rephrase my question? Is there any badger in this forest that I can kill without causing your family any grief?”

After a long discussion, the badgers said, “Probably not.”

“So, I shouldn’t kill any badgers at all?”


“And the hare!” suddenly shouted the badger.

“What about the hare?” the hunter didn’t understand.

“Don’t kill the hare! The hare is very good,” the badger turned to the boy, “I’ve known him for a long time and wanted to introduce you to him. I’m sure you’ll become friends right away.”

“Dad, and the hare!” the boy tugged at the hunter’s sleeve, “I want to be friends with the hare!”

“Alright, the hare,” agreed the hunter.

From then on, life in the forest settled down for the badgers. The badger continued his friendship with the boy, and the grateful badgers brought him many treats and other gifts. The badger’s fur became shiny, and his belly rounded.

One day, coming to the clearing, the boy saw the badger looking sad again.

“What’s wrong, badger?” asked the boy. “What happened?”

“A wolf ate my dad,” replied the badger, crying.

“He will pay for this,” the boy consoled the badger, “I’ll tell my dad.”

A few days later, someone knocked on the hunter’s door. Wolves stood on the threshold.

“What do you want?” asked the hunter.

“We’ve come to petition you,” the wolves shuffled their feet nervously.

“About what?”

“You shot a wolf the other day.”

“So what? What’s it to you?”

“Please, sir, it’s not right!” howled the wolves, “We are, so to speak, the forest’s sanitarians, doing the same job. It’s not proper!”

“Listen, wolves,” the hunter replied irritably, “the wolf was to blame for everything. Why did he have to eat the badger’s father? The badger is my son’s best friend.”

“Why didn’t you say so right away!” the wolves shouted all at once, “if we had only known, nobody in the forest would dare to touch a badger!”

“Alright,” the hunter said, “Let’s settle it that way.”

Years went by. The boy grew up, but still remained friends with the badger. The badger also grew, but only sideways. The status of badgers in the forest reached unprecedented heights. There was no animal that dared cross their path. A bear once tried, but was then seen running through the forest in fear, clumsily dropping droppings, chased by a pack of gleefully barking badgers.

Any animal that displeased the badgers faced a grim and inevitable end by the harsh verdict of the strict badger court. The bear would twist its head off, and the carcass would be thrown to the wolves to be torn apart. Young badgers, who in the past specially smeared their tails with feces to be as inconspicuous as possible, now, on the contrary, fluffed up their tails to incredible sizes. At annual tournaments, where badgers from the most noble families competed with their tails, exotic foreign birds looked no more than plucked chickens compared to the badgers, including the famous, specially imported and plucked Madagascar peacocks.

The ambitious construction projects carried out in the glory and by the order of the badgers reached unprecedented scales. Just think of the colossal dam built by beavers across Rabbit Creek, or the forest’s first subway with a circular line, constructed by moles, as well as the mind-boggling giant pyramids, built by trillions of termites as tombs for the badger’s closest relatives. The somewhat simple minded termites, for some reason, thought the tombs had some other, more utilitarian purpose, like, for instance, a house for termites, but after a couple of them had their heads twisted off by the bear and their carcasses thrown to the wolves to be torn apart, the rest wisely chose to retreat.

And at the top of it all was the badger. But you would no longer recognize the cheerful, friendly little badger he was seven years ago. State concerns and the ingratitude of those close to him made him irritable. The hare, initially flattered and brought close to the badger, allowed himself to look askance at his benefactor. The end was inevitable – the hare met the bear.

A gentle summer day was coming to an end. The sun was setting. The badger sat in the game room of his summer residence, watching teams of wolves and bears rolling a hedgehog across the field. During a break, the badger called over the captain of the wolf team.

“The game is a bit boring,” the badger dryly noted.

The wolf’s spacious sports shorts hid how tensely his lean buttocks clenched.

“It’s all because of the hedgehog,” the wolf hurriedly replied with a hoarse voice, “he’s still not well broken in. It’ll be much more fun in the second half.”

“Of course,” the badger muttered absently and pinched the passing marten on the behind.

“Ooh, you’re such a naughty one!” the marten giggled, jumping on the spot.

“Everybody knows that,” the badger snorted, “leave the trays and wait for me upstairs in the apartments, I’ll be right there,” he turned to the wolf, “You’re lucky, you can keep practicing for now. Talk to the hedgehog, after all!”

The badger stood up, but then the master of ceremonies approached him.

“The boy has come. He really wants to see you.”

“Oh God, how untimely!” groaned the badger, “Although, as always.”

“Shall I send him away?”

“No, what for? Duty calls, so to speak.”

The badger took off and set aside his crown. Once, seeing the badger in a crown, the boy laughed loudly.

“Badger, you’re so funny! Something stuck to your head, did you get into a burdock?”

The badger’s first reflex was to order the bear to twist the boy’s head off. But in the name of old friendship (after all, the badger had watched the boy grow up), he decided to spare the boy. But since then, he met him without a crown.

“Hello, Badger,” the boy greeted, “I have joyful but also a bit sad news. I got into a university and am leaving for the City tomorrow.”

“Well done!” the badger praised, “Right! Gnaw, so to speak, the granite of science. Knowledge is light. I myself, so to speak, sometimes want to throw everything away and finally sit down with the Book, but, so to speak, obligations, duty… well, and all that…”

After saying goodbye, the boy trudged to his house, wiping involuntary tears from his face.

“Phew!” as soon as the boy disappeared behind the trees, the badger sighed with relief and grimaced disgustedly at the wolves, who were listening intently to the conversation, “Finally got rid of that annoying kid. How he got on my nerves over all these years! Where’s that marten?”

Half a year passed. The boy sat in his dorm room, preparing for his exams, when his father, the hunter, called him. After talking about this and that, the boy asked if there were any news about the badger. The father was silent for a while, then said.

“I didn’t want to tell you earlier to not upset you, but there’s no point in hiding it from you anymore. There are no badgers left in our forest. They’re all extinct.”

“What happened?” the boy asked in shock, “Some kind of virus?”

“Everything’s possible. Scientists haven’t found an answer yet. In short, suddenly, in an instant, the badgers plummeted to the very bottom of the food chain. Literally!”

“My God!” exclaimed the boy.

“And it’s astounding, badgers became prey not only for wolves and bears, which, though strange, would still be understandable, but it seems like there wasn’t a single animal in the forest that didn’t hunt badgers.”

“My God!” the boy said again.

“And not just predators,” continued the father, “Even herbivores! Witnesses saw hares tearing a badger apart like hunting dogs. Moreover, badger remains were found in a field mouse’s burrow and in a jay’s nest. Someone even saw a group of dung beetles chasing a badger across a field like hounds.

“My God!” the boy repeated.

“And there’s more. A forest ranger saw a badger’s carcass being fought over and torn apart from each other’s mouths by a lion and a trembling deer! And at the edge of Rabbit Creek, where, you remember, beavers built that horrible impassable blockage a couple of years ago, they found a badger strangled by an anaconda. And you know well that we’ve never had anacondas in our forest!”

“My God!” said the boy, “when did all this happen?”

“You know, literally the day after you left. And within two days, it was all over. The last living badger seen was completely smeared in feces. Poor thing, apparently, hoped to camouflage himself that way, but he was spotted and betrayed by the ground squirrels. By the way, speaking of which. That story with the dung beetles. Some scientists believe that the dung beetles weren’t hunting the badger, but simply mistook him for a dung ball. Though, if I were a badger, I don’t know which I’d prefer – a quick death or the fate of a dung ball being rolled around the forest by dung beetles for the rest of my life.”

“My God!” said the boy.

“Yes, son,” sighed the father, “I know how close you were to the badger. He was like a son to me too. But nothing could be done. He seems to have been one of the first to fall. I just thank God that you didn’t postpone your trip by a week, as you initially wanted, and didn’t witness all this horror in person!”

Hanging up the phone, the boy still sat, staring blankly at the wall. But he couldn’t grieve for long, he had a structural mechanics exam tomorrow.

The Great Badger Empire lasted exactly seven years and one hundred thirty-three days and collapsed as swiftly and inexplicably as it had risen to the heights of its unprecedented power.

As for the boy, he passed the session well. He got an A in structural mechanics.

(Illustrations by Katerina Rogotova)