Murder in the Hundred Acre Wood
“They’re funny things, Accidents.” —Eeyore
A trailer was released last week for a new low-budget horror movie set in the world of Winnie the Pooh. It looks like a typical slasher flick with a Pooh-themed veneer. It was reportedly filmed in just 10 days. But what’s most notable is that nobody’s permission was required to make a horror movie featuring A. A. Milne’s famous characters because this year the original Pooh stories lapsed into the public domain.
Many years ago, I began writing an Agatha Christie style murder mystery set in the world of Winnie the Pooh as a creative writing exercise. I was pretty happy with it, but I also wasn’t sure I could do anything with it since the characters weren’t public domain yet. So I never finished it, even though I perhaps could have argued that it was a parody and permissible as fair use.
Reading it now, I’m still pretty happy with it. Maybe one of these days I’ll write the rest of the story. For now you’ll just have to guess which denizen of the Hundred Acre Wood is responsible for this gruesome murder:
MURDER IN THE HUNDRED ACRE WOOD
In Which Owl Gets Killed
It was a wintry Wednesday in the Hundred Acre Wood, and Roo was stuck indoors. He knew it was a Wednesday because he smelled banana bread baking in the kitchen (his mother only baked banana bread on Wednesdays). He knew it was wintry out because his mother made him wear a sweater. And a scarf. And mittens (his mother only made him wear mittens when it was wintry). And she would not let him go to Owl’s to play.
“Please, mom,” pleaded Roo as he hopped into the kitchen.
“Now, Roo,” Kanga said to her son, “it is far too cold outside to go bouncing over to Owl’s house.” She hopped about the kitchen, doing motherly things. “You can go over to play tomorrow.”
“But I’m bored,” Roo whined. “I wanna go over to Owl’s. You promised.” Roo bounced around the kitchen, knocked over a sack of flour with his tail, and hopped into his mother’s pouch.
Kanga sighed. When she and Roo moved to the Hundred Acre Wood, she did not know what a hard time Roo would have finding playmates his own age. She was forced to move out of Oscar’s Fields so quickly that she had little time for planning and looking into such things. She picked up what belongings she could carry and moved with her son to the Hundred Acre Wood.
Of course, being a single mother, and moving into a forest where she was the only woman around, word quickly spread about the new neighbor and her son. As she settled in and began making her new home cozy, her neighbors stopped by to meet Kanga and Roo, and deliver housewarming gifts and salutations.
She got a jar of honey from the odd little Bear who lived just down the creek (at least, the jar was labeled “Hunny” but it was empty upon delivery, having been depleted by Pooh Bear on his way to deliver the present). His stuttering roommate Piglet offered flowers to “b-b-b-b-brighten up” the new home. Noticing the way Piglet flung his pink scarf over his shoulder, and the tender way the Bear took his roommates hand as they walked away, Kanga wondered whether or not there was more to the roommates’ relationship than meets the eye.
When the Rabbit down the road came to meet the newcomers, the only thing he brought with him was a lecherous stare and a warning: “If I catch your son playing in my garden, I won’t be held responsible for whatever happens next.”
But when Tigger pounced into their home for the very first time, that’s when Kanga knew that her boy would have at least one playmate. The black and orange striped creature seemed to have springs in his tail. He bounced around happily, a little too hyper for Kanga’s taste, but just right for her little boy. Roo (still learning to hop on his own) was eager to play with Tigger. The two quickly became friends, and hopped together nearly every day. Kanga noticed that in recent weeks Tigger seemed to be leaving the Hundred Acre Wood quite regularly, often for days at a time. As far as she knew, Tigger had no job or relatives to speak of, so where was he always going? She asked him once, but he didn’t want to talk about it.
And then there was Owl. Kanga and Roo had been living in the Hundred Acre Wood for about a month before they met Owl. Owl lived in a house at the bottom of the Wood, across the creek, and over a hill. Kanga first heard mention of him from Christopher Robin, the polite boy who lived behind the door at the top of the Wood, and understood that Owl was old and wise.
“He is very old and very wise, I think,” Christopher Robin had said. “If he hasn’t yet come to introduce himself, I’m certain it is with very good reason.”
“Just how old is he?” Kanga asked.
“I would say at least a year older than I am,” said Christopher Robin.
“What does wise mean?” Roo asked.
“Wise,” Christopher Robin explained, “means that he can spell a great many words.”
That very evening, Owl came knocking at the door of Kanga and Roo’s new home.
Roo opened the door and found himself staring at the sharpest talons he’d ever seen (Roo had certainly never seen Talons so close before). Gazing upwards, Roo was fascinated by the colorful feathers, the sharp beak, and wide eyes of the wise old (and unbelievably tall) Owl.
Owl looked down at Roo and said, “Hello. Is your mother home?”
“MOM!” shouted Roo. Kanga came bouncing to the door.
Owl removed his top hat and pulled from it a bottle of wine. “I apologize for not coming to welcome you sooner to the Hundred Acre Wood,” he said, offering the wine. “I assure you I would have come previously, but I have been counseling a very depressed mule and have nearly reached a breakthrough point in his therapy. It is very time consuming. But now that I see just how beautiful you are, I regret that I did not come on your first day here.”
Kanga blushed. She was used to men complimenting her, but somehow Owl seemed more sincere than most. It might have been his age (which Kanga couldn’t quite figure), or his accent (which Kanga couldn’t quite place) or the tender manner with which he put his wing on her shoulder when he talked, but she took an instant liking to him. She was sure that if he had lips, Owl would have a friendly smile.
“Come inside,” Kanga said. “We’ve just finished dinner, but I can offer you some banana bread I’ve made for dessert” (it was a Wednesday).
“I’m afraid I cannot stay,” Owl replied. “I really must get back home to finish my report on the mule. But far too much time had passed already since you moved in, and I did not want to be a stranger.” Owl felt Roo tugging at his feathers. He looked down at the young boy.
“Mr. Owl?” Roo asked.
“Just Owl,” Owl replied.
“Mr. Owl,” Roo repeated, “are you really wise?” Roo still wasn’t sure what that meant.
“If I weren’t wise,” Owl replied, “would I be able to do this?” Owl spun his head all the way around so it was resting backwards on his shoulders.
“Wow!” Roo stared, his eyes almost as big as Owl’s.
Face-forward again, Owl picked up Roo in his wings. “If you think that was neat, have your mother bring you over soon and I will show you some more of my tricks.” Owl winked at Roo and put him down again.
The next day, Kanga did bring Roo to visit Owl. And many days after that, too. Kanga was happy to see her son get along so well with the wise old bird, and figured that Owl would be a good role model for her son. An obvious scholar, counselor, and learned bird would have a lot to teach a little boy. And even though Roo eventually stopped being amazed by the head-spinning trick, Owl seemed to always have a new trick up his sleeve.
Eventually, Roo began going over to Owl’s without his mother. He would come home with fascinating stories that Owl had told, tales of what it was like growing up a young scavenger bird, hunting for his meals by night and educating himself by day. Roo spent almost as much time with Owl as he spent with Tigger (even more so in recent weeks, with Tigger out of town so much). Which brings us to this particular wintry Wednesday, when Roo wanted to go over to Owl’s to play.
Across the creek and over a hill from Kanga and Roo’s home was Owl’s treehouse. Owl sat in his den, in a chair by a window, reading a book on tracking prey and wondering if Roo would be coming over that day. Roo came to visit most days when Tigger was out of town, and Owl quite enjoyed the visits. But being such a wintry day Owl suspected that Kanga might not be letting her boy out to play.
The daylight through Owl’s window dimmed as heavy clouds blocked the sunlight and blanketed the Hundred Acre Wood. Owl moved his chair to the desk and turned on a reading lamp to continue his reading. He was slightly distracted by the sound of raindrops on his roof, but quickly blocked out the noise and focused on reviewing the best places to find worms after a winter rain.
Owl didn’t hear the Intruder climb up his tree.
Owl didn’t notice when the door behind him opened and the Intruder entered the den.
Owl was thinking to himself, “I wonder if Roo would like to learn to catch worms,” when the Intruder brought the brick bluntly down on Owl’s skull.
Owl’s scream was muffled by the crack of thunder. He dropped the book and his body tensed. His talons curled and he flapped his wings in pain. The Intruder jumped back to avoid being hit by the long feathers, then jumped forward and brought the brick down again.
This time, Owl’s skull split. His body fell to the ground, landing on one of his wings with its weight. From his head, blood ran across the den floor. His beak opened and closed, gasping for air, fluid running from his nostrils, mixing with the blood. His eyes glazed over as any last bit of wisdom left his body. His talons unclenched.
And the next day, when Roo came over to play, that’s exactly how he found him.
As Owl might ask if he were still alive, “Who? Who?” could have committed such a terrible crime? And why? What was the impact on poor little Roo? And why did I make an illustration of Piglet in a pool of blood when Owl is the one who died in this chapter? Is it foreshadowing, or misdirection? One of these days perhaps I’ll write the rest of the story and we can all find out.
Until next time, thanks for reading!
I would read and re-read this. It's brilliant, and I hope you do write the rest of it eventually.