Categories
NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Twenty-eight.

The world outside the raccoon’s hovel was vast and white. Only trees and the tallest weeds perforated the deep drifts of snow, deeper than this area had seen in any living creature’s lifetime. Fenswick hopped over to join his friends who had sunk down into the soft-packed snow but had worked to clear an area that was wide enough and seemingly safe enough for the party to gather.

“I’m hungry,” said Cody to no one in particular.

“Well, cat” began Reginald, “I’ve no idea how we’ll find a trash can in all this confection. Besides, my paws are freezing.”

“As are mine,” agreed Roderick. The two were back to being sounding boards of one another’s arrogant statements, each not only reinforcing but also trying to subtly outdo the other.

“Perhaps we could find some nuts or berries or something,” suggested Ralph. “The movement would keep blood circulating to our paws and through our core, helping us to stay warm.”

Fenswick perked up at the suggestion of nuts and berries. As the smallest, the lightest of the group—and the one least dependent on the refuse of others—he again found himself in a unique spot to help his friends.

Scampering across the snow to the nearest fruit-bearing tree—a fig tree with roots near the top of a hill, placing it higher than trees in the lower places—and began collecting the small, edible bits to which the tree had continued to cling since spring and summer to ferry back to his friends. This he did repeatedly, neatly dropping them in the bowled area the raccoons had fashioned for their picnic in the snow. Cody, however, was uninterested in the fig bits, instead finding a dark speck in the snow and digging it out—a small mouse, caught in the snow drifts, finding death in snow and ice before it could find shelter from the same. Cody gnawed on the frozen mass of fur until the heat from his breath and saliva had sufficiently thawed the poor creature for him to pick it apart, eating it greedily but slowly enough so as to not upset his tummy. One of the other cats at his person’s house often ate so ravenously it would soon throw up what it had just consumed. With food so scarce out here in the wild and further so in the snow and ice that had enveloped them all, Cody did not want to take any chances with his meal. He paused, mid-munch to glance back at the group and found them staring at him.

“Mwhat?” Cody asked as the remains of the mouse fell from his mouth and plopped into the snow.

There was no response from any of them, save Regina who uttered the single word “disgusting” before returning to her meager meal of figs and whatever else Fenswick had brought them. The squirrel was off a bit from the others, forming a third point of the triangle of animals eating their respective meals. Unlike the raccoons, the squirrel still preferred to munch on his meals alone. They soon found out how not alone the group was out in the open, though.

With a flash of brown from above and a shriek from ground level, the raccoons soon saw Fenswick began to be lifted from the ground as though he had sprouted enormous wings just like those of an—

“OWL!” Roderick cried out as they all instinctively ducked.

But across from the bowl where they had only moments ago been enjoying brunch, a streak of orange flashed across the snow at a sharp angle and broke the owl and the squirrel apart from one another. Fenswick dropped to the snow, a mass of brown fur marred by pinpricks of blood where the owl’s claws had dug into his sides to lift him into the air.

The owl lay a few feet away, attempting to flap its wings but failing to gain purchase of air but catching nothing but wet powder. Circling the lump of a body and flailing wings and legs was—in contrast to the brilliance of the perfectly white snow—was a concentration of orange fire, tail twitching, fore- and hind legs slowly emerging before re-centering to the mass in the middle as though flickers of flame.

“How DARE you!” growled Cody, his eyes locked on the owl as it tried to regain its composure, reassert its position as the top predator, the top force in this realm.

The eyes of the raccoons were wide in observance in the scene before them, their bodies as frozen as the landscape about them. Finally, Reginald nudged Roderick and the two of them hurried to Fenswick. Reginald tucked the squirrel under his mass of fur and made for the hole in the snow, wherever it was; they had lost it in the mass of white.

“Over here, Reg!” cried out Roderick. He had located the hole, partially collapsed where the still hidden but still warm sun had melted the outermost snow.

“Come on, then. There’s a good chap,” Reginald said in efforts to soothe and comfort the wounded squirrel. “Let’s get you back down where it’s safer and warmer. I think that cat of yours has things up top under control.”

Reginald and Roderick disappeared down the hole, ushering Fenswick to safety. Moments later, they were both back on the surface to see what had happened.

The owl had managed to get itself somewhat upright, but its wings had gathered too much snow, causing the feathers to stick together, keeping it from taking flight. Its comically long legs had sunk deep into the soft snow and its endeavors to paddle itself back up were in utter vain. The panicked motion had caused it to sink further down into the snow and in its position as intimidating predator.

“Hoo,” it said.

“Cody,” replied the cat, misunderstanding the pathetic sound coming from the defeated owl.

“Bested by an idiot of a cat,” muttered the owl, finally ceasing motion.

“Idiot,” repeated Cody. “Who’s the one with his skinny long legs sunk down in the snow, unable to take flight?”

“My unfortunate situation does not denote my intelligence, cat,” said the owl, moving its head an impossibly long way one way and another.

The owl’s head rotation disturbed the raccoons but intrigued the cat. He playfully reached out to touch a tuft of the feathers that served as one of the great horned owl’s “horns.”

“Stop that!” shouted the owl.

“Huh,” said Cody. Ignoring the owl’s demand, he touched the tufts again and again. “Guys, they’re not really horns! They’re just feathers. It’s like this thing’s a flying pillow or something.” He squinted his eyes as a grin for a moment before the mass of the owl’s feathered wing smacked Cody across the face, knocking him down into the snow.

The owl had managed to take to the air and flapped its way to the top of a pecan tree.

“Insufferable, idiotic feline,” grumbled the owl. Its eyes were enormous plates of green, pricks of black in the center bearing down hard on the orange lump of fur that was Cody. “You were fortunate for a moment, cat, but I am the top predator around here, and you are but an intruder in my—”

For the second time today, the owl had been caught off guard. Daytime was certainly not its thing.

The owl flapped its wings to try and gain flight but the high snowdrifts made the ground too close for the wings to do as intended. As it fell into the snow, it managed to see what had it its second bout of humiliation.

Fenswick clung to the thin bits of tree with his claws, his heart racing faster than ever before as the main branch swayed in the wind. He flicked his tail to help maintain his balance.

Before the owl could bring itself upright, it felt a singular point of pressure then another, followed by a larger, heavier mass weighting him down. The cat’s tail curled around its sitting body as it slowly extended its claws into the owl’s chest.

“Hi, again,” said Cody. “You were saying something about being top critter around here?”

The owl just stared at the cat. How did he managed to get bested twice—or was it three times?—in just a few minutes? Had he lost his touch?

“Oh, you were finished? Great. Then let me provide a counterargument to what you’ve had to say: Your days of picking on squirrels and…and…BUNNIES are over!” He paused a moment to reflect on whether or not he had been too overly emotional. “You’re going to use this opportunity to use those big wings of yours to lift your feathery butt up into the air and out of here. Forever.”

The raccoons came and peered down around the ring of snow, grinning at the owl.

“Hello, feathery sir. You remember us, right?” asked Roderick.

“You see,” Reginald continued for his friend, “you’ll remember that we remember where it is you live. And, while we’re not as quick in the night as our feline friend here, we are more adept in the daylight hours when you like to sleep. When you’re particularly vulnerable. Like now.”

All four raccoons bared their teeth in a grin.

“So,” Cody said, “what do you say, owl?”

“I…I suppose I can find another place to hunt,” stammered the owl at last. “Someplace far from here.”

“Yes,” said Cody, “far from here. And no matter where that is, you’ll never touch another bunny again. Ever. Because you know word will reach me, and you know that I know how to find you. Because my friends and I are—” he paused and took his off the owl, looking at each of the raccoons and then Fenswick, still clinging safely to the pecan tree—”resourceful.”

“Agreed,” said the owl. “Agreed. I yield my claim to these woods and will depart at once. Or once you take your claws out of my feathers.”

Slowly, Cody retracted his claws and hopped off the owl’s body and out onto the snow. It was softening, and the wet slush saturated his fur. He found some rock in the melt and perched above it, waiting for the owl to emerge. At last it did, taking flight in a wide circle before disappearing into the retreating clouds.

Categories
NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Twenty-seven.

Daybreak came later than usual. Heavy clouds amassed overhead, simulating the scene below; snow had piled upon the land below then piled upon itself until all was covered in white.

“I’m not touching the stuff any longer; my paws are freezing.”

Reginald was in a bit of a mood as he made his way to the back of his home.

Regina took a turn at trying to dig their way out, but everywhere outside of the entrance was wet, white powder. She couldn’t even tell which way to dig or how far. Sighing, she, too, made her way back into the hovel.

One by one, the raccoons had tried to dig their way out of the hovel, but to no avail. Their digging proved fruitless at doing nothing more than shoveling snow into their home. The weight of the snow above collapsed the meager tunnel that had been attempted by each of them. Even Ralph, the seeming expert at anything having to do with the survival and well-being of the nursery, was unable to dig more than a few minutes and make no progress.

As the four raccoons spoke in hushed tones from the back of the hovel about what their next move should be, Cody curled back up to take a nap. During the course of the night, as they warmed one another and attempted to fall asleep, Cody learned more about the owl that had taken to using the pond and its surrounding area as its home and hunting grounds.

The owl had first appeared last winter. The raccoons were uncertain of which direction it had flown in from, but it certainly was quick to craft a nest of sorts, making itself at home.

It preferred to nest in a persimmon tree on the northern end of the shore. Three of the four raccoons found this an odd choice, as the persimmon was far from being the mightiest tree in the forest—something befitting so magnificent a creature as a great horned owl. Only Ralph, in his practicality, recognized why the owl would chose the persimmon.

“The mice like the fruit of the persimmon tree,” he explained. “The pecan tree will only attract a squirrel or two at a time because those guys are super territorial—back me up on this one, Fenswick.”

Fenswick nodded in agreement, really wishing he could sink his teeth into a pecan or even persimmons, dry as they had seemed to him on the rare occasion he had partaken.

“But the mice will keep coming to the persimmon tree,” Ralph went on. “Other rodents and some birds, too. The persimmon tree seemed to have done a good job of hiding this particular owl, because he’s never been run off, and he comes back to that tree every single morning. Heh,” he laughed, “we both seemed to end our evenings around the same time, and at the same place—down at the watering hole.”

While Ralph went on chuckling at his effort at humor, Regina continued on, telling Cody about the owl’s flight and hunting patterns, as well as his other habits. Going off of Ralph’s comment about ending each evening’s hunt for food at the pond, she noted how the owl would both see and acknowledge the presence of the raccoons, almost in either reverence or annoyance at their size at being too big for him to hunt.

“But tonight,” she said, “the owl didn’t do that. I know it saw us—OK, I’m pretty sure it saw us—but it’s like it was intentionally ignoring us. Like we weren’t there. Like it just knew something because…because…oh, heck, I have no idea what goes through the mind of an owl. But it did seem almost mad or disappointed or something at us tonight. Like I said, it knows. It knows something.”

“Of course it does,” chimed in Ralph. “Owls have long been associated with wisdom and knowledge and—”

“And death,” finished Roderick. “We all know what that owl means to the creatures around here. Even us, if we weren’t at our prime, and let’s face it: We are not at our prime just now. We can’t even get out of our home.”

Roderick had barely finished his sentence when a ray of cloud-dulled light broke into the hovel from the front of their home. The four raccoons looked around in surprise and alarm before Cody noticed one of them was missing.

“Ta-da!” exclaimed Fenswick, poking his head into the hovel through hole he had dug. He was greeted with stunned silence.

“How?” asked Reginald. He fumed on, almost in a rage. “How did something so small and and gangly and…and…squirrelly as a…as a squirrel manage to accomplish what I and the rest of this nursery of the most excellent raccoons ever assembled could not?” He paused as Regina put her paw on his neck. Ralph crawled low to the front to investigate what the squirrel had done as he hopped back inside and shook himself, wet with snow. Cody began to lick Fenswick’s fur to warm the rodent, as well as get himself from moisture.

“Because he is so small, Reginald,” Ralph said, poking his head through the small hole. “His anatomy, so different from ours, allowed him to stretch out so long while still digging. His body and constantly twitching tail allowed him to bore this pilot hole through the snow. And now…”

His voice trailed as he poked first his head then then the rest of his body up through the rift in the snowbank that had settled around the rocks serving as the raccoons home. In another minute, he was back inside, again nose first.

“Yes, that does it. I made it to the surface and had a look around.” He as panting, excited rather than exhausted from the bit of exertion. “The rest of you should come up, too.”

“Fenswick?” Reginald said, poking his head first through the snow and then back into the hovel.

“Uh-huh?” said the squirrel, now dried from the care of the cat. Of the four raccoons, Reginald made him the most nervous.

“Thank you. You did what we could not and have improved my opinion of squirrels most certainly,” he finished and then disappeared into the packed snow.

Roderick patted Fenswick’s head before following his best friend up the hold and into the world outside. Ralph gave a sort of “thumbs up” and crawled on up, while Regina just made her way through, figuring her fellow raccoons had said and done enough.

“So, big guy,” Cody said, looking down at the squirrel. “It seems you’re making friends everywhere you go. Good job, Fenswick. Good job.”

Cody looked cautiously at the hole, now greatly enlarged and further compacted by the shuffling of the four raccoons who had blundered their way to the surface, and licked some of the snow. He was horribly thirsty and could not wait to get outside and find some water in liquid form.

Squirrel has done good, the squirrel thought to himself. Wait, no. Not ‘squirrel.’ He stood himself upright and looked around and nodded to himself.

“Fenswick,” he said aloud. His tone was firm and brave. “I, Fenswick the squirrel, has thought of and helped others. I am a good friend.”

Smiling at what he had accomplished over the past few weeks, he clambered up the hole after the raccoons and cat and into what he was certain would be a warm welcome in a cold world.

Categories
NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Twenty-six.

Fenswick hardly slept at all.

Ordinarily, this would not be terribly unusual for a squirrel, but this particular night was unusual for him.

For starters, there was the whole him thing. Prior to being named and identified by Cody the Cat as a he, Fenswick had merely been a squirrel, an it. He had never known identity as an individual, let alone a gender, and it was blowing his tiny, little, squirrel mind, keeping him from sleep.

Beyond that, there was the unusually cold weather and the fact that he was sleeping mere inches away from a cat, one of many predators he had come to know and fear over the years. But, over the weeks, he had grown fond of Cody, recognizing him as a kind and caring and inquisitive fellow creature—drastically different from the owl. The owl was just an asshole, killing creatures for food and but mostly for sport.

He woke up shivering in his proximity to the entrance of the hovel. Cody lay a few more inches back, making all the apparent difference in the world. But there was something more than the chill in the air and the howling of the wind. Fenswick thought he heard voices—not human, not owl, not anything that would normally prey on him, but…

Oh, no, he thought, recognizing now exactly what he had first suspected them to be.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” Fenswick whisper-shouted to Cody.

“Hmm? What? I’m up,” Cody said, he eyes still squinted shut, sleep and grogginess muddling his voice.

“Chirp-chirp!” Fenswick said with emphasis.

“Yeah, of course I’m being quiet,” went on Cody, oblivious to the need for stealth.

“Well, well, well—what ‘ave we here?” Roderick bellowed as he peeked his head into the hovel. “It appears we ‘ave a couple of interlopers, yes we do. Uninvited guests, you might say?”

“Well, well, well,” chimed in Reginald, his masked visage mirroring Roderick’s as he peered in.

Fenswick’s hear rocketed to catastrophic ranges, while Cody arched his back in a seated position, causing his fur to spike out, seemingly increasing his size. He hissed at the raccoons who merely laughed at the cat’s actions.

“What’s that he’s doing there, my good sir?” inquired Reginald.

“I do believe, my dear Reginald, he is trying to frighten us by puffing out his fur,” replied Roderick, stoicly so as to insult Cody with not only his inaction at Cody’s action but also with the words he was able to articulate while Cody could emit not a single coherent syllable.

The two raccoons began to laugh with one another and at Cody. Outside of their home, Regina began to shiver from the still-dropping temperatures. The very dirt seemed like ice to her padded feet.

Finally, Fenswick gathered his bravery and leapt in between Cody—puffed as a balloon about to burst—and spoke.

“Raccoons of the riverbed!” he shouted.

Almost as immediately as his leaping, Fenswick clasped his hands to his mouth. Never before had he spoken out in the common speech so that others might more naturally understand him. Before, all of his—and other squirrels, too, for that matter—speech had just amounted to a series of chirps that squirrels could follow along pretty easily; they had a pretty much two-track mind: Collecting as much food as they possibly could and avoiding predators. It was the latter that had finally made something in Fenswick decide to break from squirrel kind and start out on this insane quest that now put him standing in between a cat on the defensive and a nursery of raccoons in the middle of the night in the close hunting grounds of a squirrel’s most frightening adversary, a great horned owl. He had become not only a squirrel with a name but also—and especially—a squirrel with a purpose.

“Good heavens, Reginald, it speaks!” Roderick turned as though stunned to the raccoon at his right.

Roderick, after a brief pause to collect his own senses, replied back, “The squirrel, yes, but that cat. The cat is still what puzzles me.”

“And what they’re doing in our home, of course?” Regina’s irritation had reached a critical point. She wanted to be out of the open. Though the owl was not of great concern to her—raccoons were just a touch too large for the owl near the pond to see as prey—the occasional coyote did give her cause for concern. Plus, she was just plain cold and tired. She wanted sleep and she wanted sleep now and in her own home.

“Oh, yes, of course, of course,” muttered Roderick.

Silent for as long as he’d ever been around these three raccoons, Ralph finally walked up to the two at the hovel’s entrance to speak.

“What they’re doing is seeking shelter from the coming snowstorm, you idiots,” Ralph said, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. That Reginald and Roderick were unable to “read the room” as it were baffled him; Regina at least recognized that the air and even the ground on which they stood and walked had grown uncomfortably cold. It would be best to sleep it off, despite their low stores of fat; the collective warm bodies of their small nursery should be enough to keep them warm.

“Snowstorm? Good heavens, no,” Reginald said to Ralph, as well as to himself. He had heard of snow from the occasional migratory bird on its way to or from someplace else, but snow—and certainly snowstorms—just didn’t seem plausible for this place they called home. “What say you, Roderick? Have you ever heard of such ludicrous locution from anyone?”

“Ah,” began Roderick. He wasn’t sure where to go from that utterance. “Well,” he tried to begin again, fumbling through what to say, one syllable at a time. “It. Um. You. Hoo. Yes.”

That last syllable visibly knocked Reginald back a bit. In all their time together, Roderick had never known Reginald to be but in total agreement with him, be it in thoughts over what trash can to pilfer or what to say and to whom. They were practically the same raccoon with the same mind. Whether it was the unexpected find of a cat and a squirrel—and a talking squirrel at that—or that there was actual snow falling from the sky now had just been something to upset the otherwise natural order of things.

“Guys, it’s snowing,” Regina said, her eyes wide.

“Told you so,” Ralph said, for at least the second time tonight.

Regina’s statement of the snow falling from the sky, brought the four raccoons together, in a line, watching the foreign flakes of ice crystals falling from the sky, more and more quickly. With the entrance clear and the need for heightened senses abdicated, Fenswick ventured out to witness this meteorological miracle. He walked up, cautiously, to the four raccoons and spoke, breaking the silence that hung in the air, snowflakes flurrying all about it, about them.

“Raccoons of the riverbed,” Fenswick continued. “I am Fenswick of the northern neighborhoods where humans dwell. My feline friend and I seek shelter from this storm until he can dispatch the owl that has been killing off my family, our friends.”

“Owls never bother me,” Reginald muttered.

“Nor me,” agreed Roderick. “However,” he continued, “it cannot be discounted the vulnerability of raccoon young when the time comes. Owls are not known for subscribing to the same ethics as we for leaving the young alone.”

Regina clicked her tongue in her mouth, thinking deeply. “Can a cat actually kill an owl, though? He’s no bigger than we are, and I wouldn’t dare challenge an owl—even if I thought my life was on the line.”

“One cannot discount that the critter did appear prepared to take the four of us on,” Roderick said.

“True,” Reginald said, “though he would lost such a battle magnificently.”

At the sound of hearing others speaking about him, Cody peeked his head out into the icy air. Everywhere around him had been blanketed in the soft, white powder of snow, its size and thickness continuing to amass.

“Guys—and Regina,” Ralph said, “this has been a really strange night, and now there’s all of this snow. Two more warm bodies in our home will help keep us warm until the snow stops falling.”

“He does have a point, Reg,” Roderick said to his friend. “We’ll need more than the four of us to stay warm in this. I, for one, am simply chilled through!” He let a little chuckle and rubbed his forepaws together. “Besides,” Roderick continued, “a common-looking house cat like this one will make for such excellent sport, taking on that enormous owl down by the pond, will it not?”

“Yes, yes, I suppose it would,” Reginald said at last. He didn’t feel it beneficial to continue the argument, especially since he was experiencing difficulty in feeling his hind paws. They had grown numb in the cold, but he wasn’t about to tell any of them that.

“So, little guy,” Ralph said to Fenswick. “Whad did you say your name was? And the cat’s?” He was unaware that Cody was right behind them all, perched atop the rock marking the entrance to the raccoons’ nest until he spoke.

“He said his name was Fenswick,” Cody said. The four raccoons all jumped at the sudden sound of another speaking. “And my name is Cody. If you don’t mind, I’d like to go back inside and get warmed up. And I’d also like for you to tell me everything you can about this owl.”

Mumbling in agreement that the idea to go inside was the best they’d ever heard, the six critters made for the hovel’s entrance, now just a sliver in the piling snow. Regina and Reginald began to dig a larger opening for them, with Ralph and Fenswick helping, as well. Cody sauntered over and sat next to Roderick, witnessing the show.

“I do like a good show,” Roderick said. “But you against an owl will lead to nothing but your utter disintegration. That’s not exactly sport in my reckoning.”

“Thank you for that vote of confidence, raccoon,” Cody replied. “And thank you for having us in your home. Now, tell me more about this owl thing so I can avoid my ‘utter disintegration,’ as you put it, and, perhaps, give you a bit more of a show.”

“Hmm, I think I like you, cat,” Roderick said. “Saucy, just like my chap Reginald down there. Come, then, let’s adjourn to our humble abode, warm up, and tell some stories.

And with that, the six animals disappeared into the hovel as the hovel itself disappeared from sight, covered entirely in snow, just as all the woods around it, just as in Cody’s dream.

Categories
NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Twenty-five.

Absent the howling wind and shuffling leaves, human ears would have heard little more than hisses and high-pitched growls that was what passed for conversation between raccoons.

“My goodness, it is most certainly grown cold this evening, has it not?” asked the first.

“It most certainly has grown quite nippy out, my good Roderick,” replied the second. “Regina, what say you?”

“Who am I to disagree with the weather, dear Reginald,” said the third raccoon to the second with a natural air of superiority over her three male companions. She trudged along just behind the first two and quite far head of the fourth raccoon of their small nursery.

“I don’t like it,” he muttered from the far rear.

“What’s Ralph badgering on about?” inquired Reginald, loudly enough to reach Ralph’s ears. But Reginald didn’t care; he and Roderick and Regina didn’t care much for Ralph and his practicality at keeping them all safe from predators and other threats the nursery faced, but she was glad he was around during the times they really needed him. Right now, though, was not one of those times.

“He says he doesn’t like something,” said Regina. “Big surprise there.”

“Correct,” carried on Ralph, oblivious to the sarcasm in Regina’s voice, “I don’t like it one bit. You all saw that owl, didn’t you? It was watching us while we were there at the water’s edge. And now this wind, this cold?”

“What of it, good sir?” asked Reginald. It’s a bit nippy to remind us that galavanting all night without profit from poaching a trashcan or two will cause us to grow even colder inside!” He paused to stand upright, glancing around at his fellow raccoons.

“Good show, good sir,” Roderick said.”Good show, indeed.” Roderick, too, stopped and stood up on his hind legs in a show of solidarity with Reginald.

Regina stopped and put her forepaws to her forehead. “Oh, for fur’s sake.”

“Reginald,” began Ralph, “that is the dumbest thing I’ve heard from you in a very long time.”

Regina glanced back, unsure she had just heard Ralph express her exact thoughts aloud. She opened her mouth to speak but closed it promptly.

“Thank you, Reginald. I think,” said Ralph. By now, all four raccoons had stopped moving and were facing one another in a haphazard circle, all four of them appearing to sit upright. “Look, guys—and Regina—all I’m saying is that things just don’t seem right. It’s like something ominous is blowing in with this wind, and the owl was the cherry on top.”

“On top of what, Ralph?” asked Roderick.

“On top of all of this, Roderick,” Ralph stated, waving his forepaws about him. “There’s just something about all of this I don’t like. Especially that owl, the way it looked at us.”

“You mean the way it looked at you, Ralphie, old boy,” chortled Reginald. “You should know we all look at you that way when you’re not looking. And I say that as your friend.”

A silence widened the spacing between them before they all started laughing, falling down from their haunches. All of them except Ralph, that is. He still stood there, wavering only with the roaring of the wind whipping through the wooded area with a ferocity that would have made the big bad wolf take note.

“Fine,” said Ralph. “But don’t say I didn’t tell you so when things start to get sickeningly strange, like we find ourselves homeless or something.”

“Fine, old boy. As you say, fine,” laughed Roderick. “Now, which way is it to home? This night air is making even me want for a coat. Got one I can borrow, do you?” And he erupted into laughter again, Reginald guffawing alongside him. Even Regina tittered a bit, as though tipsy but still in control of most of her faculties. At times she felt sorry for Ralph in all of his seriousness, but gads, he could take the fun out discovering a stash of overturned trashcans outside of that buffet place they built up by the roadway where the cars drove extra fast.

Cripes, she thought to herself. Am I really starting to think like Ralph, seeing the practicality and the danger in things? I guess as long as I don’t start acting like him…

“Home is this way, guys—and Regina,” Ralph replied.

She hated being singled out like that, the only female member of their nursery quartet. Still it made her feel noticed, like Ralph wasn’t just another pompous raccoon acting like he was the ultimate gift to this little neck of the woods they called home.

Ralph had already begun walking again, this time with the three others in tow. It usually wound up this way: Ralph bringing up the rear at first before finding himself in the lead just as they reached home.

Huh, he pondered. Why is that? Are they using me as…bait?

But tonight he really didn’t care. The temperature had dropped drastically since the sun set hours ago, and the wind continued, unrelentingly. He exhaled with relief at having reached the entrance to their home, a hovel of rocks piled atop one another, with a passage leading deeper into the ground—deeper into the ground where it would still stay warm even if it got so cold it froze above ground. As he did so, he sat back up on his haunches, noticing he could see his breath, a puff of gray in the darkened sky of the woods. The others didn’t seem to notice, as they rumbled along, breaking apart just a few yards before the entrance to find varying places to relieve themselves before retiring early for the night.

As they all went about their business, including Ralph at a tree near hovel’s entrance, he noticed additional puffs of gray, these coming inside their home.

“Fellow raccoons,” Ralph began.

“Thundering trash heaps, Ralph,” Regina said, exasperation and exhaustion heavy in her voice, “what is it? We’re all tired and just want to go to bed.”

“Well,” he continued, “it seems there are other air-breathing creatures in our home. Look, their breaths can be seen coming out here into the cold air.”

“Ralph,” Roderick said. “Ralph, under most circumstances I would be willing to listen to whatever ramblings you had to spew forth—and you do spew forth a lot of ramblings—”

“Here-here,” Reginald agreed.

It was at that moment that Cody let out one of his deep sleep noises. Humans would have found it cute, but the unfamiliarity to sleeping cat sounds caught the nursery of raccoons off guard, and they scampered back a dozen or more yards, huddling between a large rock and a group of young trees.

When the silence resumed, save that of a low murmur of wind, Roderick, Reginald, and Regina exchanged glances before looking to Ralph, his head hung low.

“I told you so,” was all he had to say.

Categories
NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Twenty-four.

The journey south to the wooded area of the pond and owl was relatively short. By automobile, it was a mile and change. As the crow flies, less. But, for a house cat and squirrel, the journey was considerably, both in distance and time. Under the advice of the squirrel, they took a far greater tack, climbing trees and leaping onto roofs and back onto trees and so on. Through their efforts, no human eyes noticed them for more than what seemed a cat chasing a squirrel; other squirrels and area birds that had lived under the terror of the owl for the past several weeks saw salvation in that sleek orange-patterned body as it—first inexpertly, then effortlessly—moved from here to there. Some even chirped or cheeped words of thanks and praise.

When they reached the park, both travelers needed to rest. They found water near the public drinking fountain, though food was a touch more complicated. The squirrel found food immediately from the bounty of the pecan trees. Cody had to resort to foraging.

The trash cans of the park were typically not emptied but once or twice a week, depending on traffic flow to the park. As Cody’s luck would have it, traffic flow to the park had been heavy that day, but the trash cans had not been emptied.

Following his nose, Cody found food. Dragging out white plastic bags, tied loosely and practically brimming with enough food to satisfy a house cat on his first night away from home, Cody managed to eat well. Even though the seasonings were a shock compared to what he was used to, even though there was crispy breading, Cody enjoyed the adventure of eating out of doors without having to wait for his food to be brought to him; he hunted, he gathered, he ate.

Over the course of the meal, though, the sky grew darker. The sun was still high enough in the sky, but clouds of increasing pitch seemed to fly in from nowhere and covered the sun’s brilliance, casting a sense of gloom over the day. The gusts of wind grew cooler, too, until it was no longer getting chilly but was, in fact, getting downright cold.

All burrows in the park were spoken for and would not allow for outsiders—especially since one was a cat—so the companions dashed down the ravine into the safety of the woods where there were more trees and rocky areas offering shelter to any small and flexible enough to fit. Cody and his squirrel companion met those requirements easily enough for the pile of rocks forming a crude but functional hovel. It would keep them safe, keep them warm until the spontaneous storm had passed.

The squirrel shivered near the entrance to their home for the night. Cody yawned and squinted his eyes.

“Chirp-chirp!” This cold is unusual. Owl must be using magic to make journey tougher for

Eyes still closed, Cody responded to the squirrel. “What is it with you, squirrel, that you always talk about yourself in the third person? I’ve never heard you use your name nor a pronoun.”

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!” exclaimed the squirrel.

“Huh. Didn’t realize it would offend you so much. It just makes it tough to know what to call you, especially like back at the park when there were so many squirrels around. How would you know I was talking to or about you?” Cody was genuinely curious.

The squirrel looked back at Cody and took a few cautious steps in.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” it said.

“That makes no sense. You don’t know if you’re a boy or a girl? I mean, I’m fixed, and I know I’m still a boy cat. At least that’s what I hear from my person, so…” Cody trailed off pondering that, with his gender stolen from him when he was still a kitten, did that still make him a “he”? Or was he just going along with what his person called him? Was he expected to base his identity on the thoughts or words of others?

He shook his head to clear his mind.

“Look, I just think it would be better if there was a name I could call you. Something other than ‘squirrel'” Cody said at last.

The squirrel sighed.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp,” replied the squirrel in an almost acknowledgement of defeat. Squirrels are so plentiful and have such short lives, names never given to squirrels. Squirrels just squirrels. As for gender? Squirrels know ‘mom’ and ‘dad.’ All else gets messy.

“OK, then,” Cody said. “So are you mom squirrel or a dad squirrel?”

“Chirp-chirp-chirp,” said the squirrel, sounding even sadder than previously. Neither. Squirrel not have other squirrel to make more squirrels.

“Oh.” Cody was not going to let the squirrel’s singular status derail this. “Then, if you were to find another squirrel, what kind would you find—a mom squirrel or a dad squirrel?”

“Chirp-chirp,” said the squirrel.

“Of course it would be a squirrel that would make you happy,” Cody exasperatingly replied. “But, which would you want?”

“Chirp.” Squirrel has never given it much thought. “Chirp-chirp,” it said at last.

“A mom squirrel? So that makes you a boy squirrel?” Cody’s curiosity increased again as he opened his eyes and really looked at the squirrel. “OK, yeah, I see ’em now. You’re a boy squirrel. So that means I can use words like he and his and him when I’m talking about you. But you still need a name.”

“Chirp?” asked the squirrel.

“Yes,” answered Cody, “a name. Like my name is Cody, so your name would be…” and he again broke off.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” said the squirrel.

“Look, I’m sure you wouldn’t be the first squirrel ever to have a name, so let’s just give you one. How about…Fenswick?”

“Chirp!” replied the squirrel. Cody had never seen a more excited looking squirrel in all of his days, including the ones on Cat TV.

“OK, then. Fenswick it is. Fenswick the Squirrel,” Cody was pleased with himself and his naming ability, having no clear idea where the name Fenswick had come from, but the squirrel seemed happy and that was good enough for Cody right now. Further, the naming gave him a sense of control over the situation at hand, a situation that was growing darker and more dire as evening had indeed set in, and the temperature continued to drop.

Cody tucked his paws up underneath him and his tail around him. Turning his head, he could see Fenswick curled into a ball at a range close enough they could help warm each other.

Outside, in the darkening woods, the owl had begun an early flight through the torrents of wind, searching for food. What his eyes found first was too large even for him.

A quartet of raccoons had just left the fringes of the pond and were making their way back to their home, unaware of the cat and squirrel already huddled there.

Categories
NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Twenty-three.

The soft pat of socked feet on cold tile resonating through the leg of the chair on which he slept roused Cody from a deep slumber. He had dreamt of feathers floating in the air, followed by something else seemingly suspended in flight. Tiny dots like those in the ink-black sky, only so close he could touch them with his nose and his tongue, fluttered about him, drawn towards the ground as every object on this planet inevitably seems to be—even birds, whose very existence defies the laws of nature. And all of those dots en masse made everything about him white. It was a most unusual dream, which said a lot considering he had once dreamt of riding a humpback whale while he carried a trident.

When he had yawned and stretched and came fully to life, Cody hopped down and made for the back door, meowing and purring so loudly he resembled a motorcycle more than a cat.

But it was to no avail, as the person of the house went about the business of the house, ignoring the cats, save ensuring food and water bowls were filled; Cody had no appetite. He was too eager to explore outdoors and inquire about the noises from the night before. But he would have to wait.

Finally, the door opened, but Cody was blocked by his person’s foot and leg.

“Whoah, there, Cody. No outside time for you this morning; I have an errand to run in a bit.You just stay put,” said the human.

Stunned, Cody sat down, too astonished even to lick his fur and pass off as being impassive to what just happened.

But the door soon swung wide open again and the person re-entered, every bit as quick and shoo-ing Cody aside. Within a few minutes, though, the other “I’m going out” sounds came from the foyer of the house. Cody trotted over to investigate but was ignored this time.

He must think I’m still by the back door, Cody thought. Should I try my luck with the front?

Tucked behind the umbrella stand by the front door, Cody lay in silence, in wait. His person fumbled for keys and the plastic rectangle he took everywhere before heading out the door. With the big door swung open to the inside and the storm door swung open to the out, Cody saw his chance as the person dashed back inside for something presumably forgotten. Both doors were left wide open.

Slinking out through a berth wide enough for a refrigerator, Cody found himself in the front yard. Hidden by the obligatory shrubbery found in each of Eulakatza Farm’s front yards, Cody watched his person get into vehicle Cody only saw during trips to the vet and drive away. He took a cautious step into the soft morning grass and was immediately caught by surprise.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!”

“Oh. You. I might have suspected,” said Cody to the squirrel hanging off one of the yard’s trees.

“Chirp-chirp!” the squirrel said in a tone that was one part excitement, one part sadness. It hopped down from the tree and looked back to Cody, waiting for him to follow. There is something cat needs to see, said the look.

Cody walked alongside the squirrel, imagining themselves quite the odd-looking pair, venturing along the sidewalk, just the most normal looking thing in the world. But, compared to what Cody was about to see, they were, in fact, far more normal looking.

The squirrel slowed before Cody did. When he stopped and looked around him, he saw feathers spread out in a seeming uniform pattern in the grass, just beneath a streetlight. Cody sat and moved his head all about him. The squirrel was positioned just beyond the perimeter of feathers.

“What is this, street art?” asked Cody, laughing nervously.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!” replied the squirrel. Cat remember pigeon cat fought with yesterday?

“Yeah, I—” Cody stopped, cold.

“Chirp,” said the squirrel. And sighed deeply. “Chirp-chirp.” Yes. Even though pigeon try to steal squirrel’s doughnut, squirrel is sad at pigeon’s death.

“But what on earth could have done this?” began Cody, still perplexed at the circular explosion of feathers. He looked all about him and then at the squirrel, its tail twitching as it rubbed its paws together.

“Chirp,” said the squirrel. Owl.

Cody’s eyes went wide. Even he was shocked. Never before had he seen such destruction where only feathers remained. Sure, yesterday’s tussle left random feathers here and there in the yard, but nothing like this. It was like the pigeon had been thrown down hard from way up and just obliterated itself on impact. It was the most disturbing thing Cody had ever witnessed.

“Owl, huh?” Cody tried to play it cool, but he wasn’t convincing even himself let alone the squirrel.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp,” said the squirrel in response. Yes, owl. More pigeons, more bunnies, more squirrels will die like this—or worse. Unless cat can do something to help.

“Unless cat?” asked Cody. He suddenly realized who the squirrel meant. “ME? You expect ME to take on this owl thing for you?”

“Chirp!” exclaimed the squirrel. Yes! Cat will take on owl!

“Wait, wait, wait,” interrupted Cody, attempting to collect his thoughts. He was wishing he had not skipped breakfast.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” said the squirrel. Squirrel can help cat find owl and cat will fight owl and cat will win and owl’s reign of terror over squirrel and squirrel’s friends will be over!

“WAIT!” Cody was shouting now. The neighborhood responded with silence. The squirrel gave only a blank, hurt look.

“Look, I don’t know if I can do this. I mean, I barely got out of the house today, and I don’t know anything about hunting owls, let alone killing one of these things, and have you even seen how ridiculously huge even ONE of their feathers is?” Cody was ranting, more to himself than the squirrel, but the squirrel listened patiently, waiting for its turn to speak.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!” said the squirrel, beginning its tale of venturing to the pond where the owl lived and retrieving one of its feathers before depositing it in Cody’s lawn. He then went on about the adventure to obtain the half doughnut and how the resulting melee proved beyond doubt that Cody was the one that could challenge the owl—and win.

“How long will I be gone?” asked Cody. He was already looking back down the street towards his person’s home, missing the company of his idiotic roommates and his person who fed him every morning and evening. He was pretty certain there were no regular feeding times or food waiting in dishes out here.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” said the squirrel. Cat needn’t worry about that! Cat will have grand adventure! Songs will be sung of cat’s bravery and triumph over owl!

Cody listened, recognizing his question had’t been answered. But the squirrel made a pretty good argument: Cody liked the idea of songs and attention and reverence paid to him.

“OK, fine,” replied Cody. “Let’s go find this owl.”

“Chirp-chirp!” cried the squirrel in a fit of emotional frenzy. It ran circles around the cat and twitched its tail repeatedly. Cat will help squirrel!

“Yes, I’ll help. But don’t think this makes us friends,” Cody muttered half to himself, half to the squirrel as they began their journey south to the woods, to the pond, to the owl.

Categories
NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Twenty-two.

Cody stirred in his slumber.

The adventures of the late afternoon involving that squirrel what wouldn’t leave him alone and now pigeons was exhausting for a simple house cat such as himself. He just wanted to keep enjoying the good life of Cat TV, getting fed anytime he gave a certain look or made a certain noise, and napping wherever and whenever he pleased. And right now it pleased him to nap right here, right now. His fellow house cats, however, had other ideas.

Because they had not bravely engaged in combat with a large pigeon, they were not nearly as exhausted and chose to play with a plastic ball with a bell inside of it. They kept rolling it along the home’s tiled floor, the cheap sound of plastic rolling across tile, clacking as it hit the grout every twelve or so inches, accented by the high-pitched tingling of a cheap, tin bell rumbling with its innards. The scamper of cat paws around (and the occasional whoosh of cat body over) him informed him of the goings on in the living room; he didn’t even need to open his eyes.

As he drifted in and out of sleep, he found himself wondering more about these owls. Sure, they were birds, but so was that pigeon. The feather he had found a few days prior, though, was huge. The feathers found from the pigeon after it had taken flight away from the danger that was Cody were a fraction of the size. Just how big were these owl things? And were they as easily distracted by doughnuts as pigeons were? And where did doughnuts come from and how did that insane squirrel manage to get one?

Cody yawned and squinted his eyes as a bundle of fur went flying past him. He stood and arched his back, squeezing his shoulders into his neck as he stretched out his long limbs, straining to release the lactic acid his muscles had accumulated after so much physical exertion earlier that day. Lying back down, he curled himself into a ball and rested his chin on his paws. Even with the commotion about him with the other cats and the ball, Cody was disinclined to the time or energy to move off the floor onto the furniture. Here, he was something to avoid; up there, he was something to investigate. Cats and their blasted curiosity.

Right now, though, Cody was only curious about just how much sleep he would be able to get if he just let himself. But then he heard it—soft at first and then clearly, like a bell that had been lightly tapped once before being struck with such precise, intended force that it resonated through your very being, letting you know it was still there even though its voice had long left, a ghost in the night.

“Hoot-hoot-hoo.”

Cody’s eyes sprung open.

That’s the sound I heard the last night I saw my bunny! Cody thought to himself. He had sprung up and was attempting to find a window that did not have the heavy wooden shutters closed, but it was no use. The house was secured against anyone from looking in and any cat from looking out. It was like all sight outside of the safe blandness of the house had been voided out to keep the inhabitants from getting any ideas and venturing out.

But Cody had been outside and experienced it. Sure, it was nice, but not near as nice as having a secure structure around you, climate controlled comfort, and Cat TV, and—

Cody snapped himself back to the task at hand: Finding the source of that noise. But by now, the noise had stopped. Cody strained and turned his ears in every direction, changed rooms and tried the same, but he could hear nothing.

What was that? he wondered. What maddening demonic creature on this planet sounds like that? But he knew. Cody knew it was the sound of an owl, a demon in its own right, silently stalking its prey from the air, whooshing down unannounced with outstretched claws to snatch whatever living creature was unfortunate enough to be at the other end of those talons.

A rattling of coows from the roof told him that something had startled the pigeons nesting under his people’s solar panels; there was action up above. Above the edges of the shutters, Cody could make out that the sky had lightened though not quite to daybreak, but he still couldn’t see outside. Unlike the earlier goings on with the other cats and the ball, Cody was completely clueless as to what was happening outside and it made him uneasy.

This was what happened to my bunny Cody convinced himself. At the time, he hadn’t cared enough or been enough aware to know what that hoo in triplicate meant. But now he did. Or thought he did. He knew it must mean owl and that owls mean death for anything smaller than them. Considering the size of the feather he had found all those weeks ago, too, Cody, too, would be counted among critters smaller than this owl.

Shaking his head, he made his way to the water dish to take in some cool, wet nourishment. But then he hear it: The horrifying shriek of a pigeon. He had heard it earlier that day, when he had first begun his attack on the pigeons. Though he had not intended to kill the pigeons, they certainly didn’t know that and had reacted as though the sounds they made would be their last. The pigeon emitting that sound just a moment ago indeed was making its last sound, of that Cody was certain.

He finished taking his drink and then hopped up on the table just beneath the windowsill to listen, to sleep. He would learn more about the sound and the fate of what made it once his person was up and had opened all of the shutters and other window coverings in the house. He just wanted to ensure he was there as soon as possible, just in case his person was there to throw open the shutters so very, very soon.

After not long of waiting, though, Cody reflexively curled himself into a ball and fell fast asleep, this time with his dreams haunted by the sinister bird screams, punctuated by soft hoots from a great horned owl that was not soft in its demeanor, something its prey knew too well, too late.

Categories
NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Twenty-one.

Eulekatze Farm had a lot of trees, but most would do well to hit more than a couple of dozen feet in height with branches that didn’t branch out terribly far. To say they provided shade was only half correct: They provided shade to the lawns beneath them but not to the houses on the lots where each courtesy trio of trees were planted. Consequently, the roofs of each house baked in the near-year-round sunshine, which also made them prime real estate for solar panels—and a lot of homes here had solar panels installed. Unfortunately, one side effect of solar panels were mass assemblages of pigeons which housed beneath the solar panels year-round. Only a few homes had the special netting installed around the solar panels to keep this scourge of the sky out, and the homes around Cody’s people’s house were not included in the handful of pigeon-keeper-outer netting. Which is why Cody and his squirrel friend suddenly found themselves besieged by some either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid pigeons that were after the half-doughnut Cody had shunned.

“CHIRP-CHIRP-CHIRP!” screamed the squirrel as it hopped off the ground to the relative safety of nearby tree trunk. Get off squirrel’s doughnut!

Cody was far less diplomatic, letting loose eons of evolution: His face tightened into a hiss-cum-growl, while his back arched and the hair stood out, claws already extended as he pounced onto the plumpest of the pigeons attempting to grip the hunk of doughnut in its stub of a beak.

The pigeon didn’t seem to know what hit it—indeed, as a suburban pigeon in a city which had a pretty strict “no outdoor cats” rule, the pigeon had never encountered a cat, especially one with as sharp of instincts or claws as Cody—as it found itself swiped and smacked hard against the wooden plank fence separating one postage stamp of a yard from another.

Stunned, the pigeon remembered it could fly and attempted to do so, but Cody was too quick: He tackled and rolled with the bird, hissing and growling noises that surprised and scared him almost as much as it did the pigeon caught in the grip of his claws.

The doughnut has fallen back to the ground, where the smaller pigeon of the duo that had the audacity to come between a cat and squirrel engaged in civil discourse in order to attempt to abscond half of a doughnut. It almost couldn’t believe its luck, making for the hunk of pastry when its line of sight to the doughnut was disturbed by the most crazed looking of squirrels the pigeon had ever beheld—or heard.

“CHIRP-CHIRP!” shouted the squirrel, its eyes locked on the pigeon, ready to pounce.

(And then what, it didn’t know. The squirrel just knew that some ridiculous and annoying excuse for a bird was not getting away from the half-doughnut it had traveled so far and worked so hard to bring back to the cat. The cat’s refusal and seeming indifference to the doughnut was irrelevant; it was the principle of the matter.)

The pigeon took the hint and took flight, leaving its plumper companion behind to tussle with the cat. But the noise the cat was making caused an abrupt ending to the skirmish, as Cody’s person came running out of the house, waving a broom.

“Go on—shoo!” the person bellowed, swinging the broom down hard.

The larger pigeon was knocked free from the grip and hold Cody had on it and immediately took to the air, seeking sanctuary from the crazed inhabitants of the yard. It had managed only a crumb of the doughnut; the rest lay on the grass, not far from where it was originally when all of the brouhaha had begun.

The squirrel had hopped onto the fence and into the safety of a nearby tree where it could watch the decline of things, including its own hopes that it was going to get to enjoy the half of the half of the doughnut, regifted to the squirrel from the cat that had eschewed it from the squirrel.

“What on earth was all of that about, Cody?” inquired the person, panting for breath. Apparently, breaking up melees between cats and birds was exhausting work. “Really, you have been acting mighty strange the past few days. I wish I knew what’s gotten into you. Huh, what’s this?” The person had seen the doughnut.

Cody’s eyes went large, his composure regained almost as quickly as he had lost it when the pigeons had landed in a fit of feather and cooing. He scampered up to the person as he leaned down with arm outstretched towards the doughnut and rubbed against it, as though in desperate plea for affection.

“Oh, I see. Not so tough, are you? You big-ole softy,” said the human, scooping Cody up and onto one shoulder, the broom snugged onto the other. “Let’s go get you a treat, you brave hunter cat.”

With that, Cody was carted back inside, but not before he managed to spot the squirrel on a tree branch. He squinted his eyes in mild annoyance.

Enjoy your doughnut, squirrel.

After the sound of the shutting door and its lock engaging, the squirrel quickly hopped down from the safety of its branch and scattered over to the doughnut hunk. Sure, a nibble had been taken out of it, but there was still quite a good amount of doughnut left. The squirrel scampered up the nearby tree with this remains and munched on it, reflecting on everything that had happened to get to this point, to this enjoyment of something so sweet, so tasty.

Doughnut tastes like victory! Like victory that will come when cat defeats owl, just like cat defeated other bird just now! Cat will help squirrel and squirrel’s friends! Cat is squirrel’s friend! Though cat does not like doughnuts, cat still fought fiercely, fought bravely! This is a good plan! Mmm…and this is a good doughnut, too!

Its belly full of plain cake doughnut and its muscles and mind exhausted from the events of the day, the squirrel made its way back to its home in the pecan tree at the center of the neighborhood. The sun was beginning to sink lower in the sky, so the squirrel decided to retire early, which was as wise a decision as a squirrel could make as the days grew shorter and the hunting time for owls came earlier each evening.

Categories
NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Twenty.

Carrying half of a doughnut a distance of a mile and change is a lot harder than one might think. Especially if one is carrying that half-doughnut in one’s mouth. And that the one carrying the doughnut is an 18-ounce squirrel, leaping from tree to tree.

Despite the challenge of traversing such a distance, the northern squirrel did its very best in keeping the doughnut clasped in its jaws, pausing every now and again to adjust and catch its breath before carrying on with its journey. It managed to resist the temptation to just eat the doughnut itself. The taste of oil and sugar made it even harder to stay focused on making it back to its neighborhood and Cody’s home before the sun set and the sprinklers came on in Cody’s yard. A soggy doughnut would impress no one, especially one with as discerning of tastes as a cat.

Especially as sophisticated a cat as Cody, thought the squirrel. He’s so fancy, the squirrel went on, placing Cody on a higher pedestal than he likely deserved. Like most cats, Cody was one to lick his own butt quite regularly. Sophistication seldom entered the picture.

Finally, the squirrel reached the smaller, yet familiar trees of Eulekatze Farm, and it picked its way quickly, deftly to Cody’s back yard. With its heart pounding and a half doughnut hanging out of its mouth, the squirrel anxiously scanned the yard from a nearby tree. But Cody was nowhere to be found outside. At last, a familiar looking orange lump on a windowsill caught his attention. The squirrel hopped down, twitching its tail as it waited for the cat to notice it. But it didn’t; Cody was fast asleep, soaking up the late afternoon sun as though he were solar powered and in need of recharging. The squirrel was confused, it’s inflated sense of self deflating quickly at such seeming dejection.

Something awakened Cody from his slumber and through his hazy eyes he made out the squirrel in its crestfallen state. It had something resembling a very large nut in front of it.

Goodness, that is one ginormous nut. Why, then, does the squirrel look so sad with such a tremendous trophy? Like most everyone else on the planet, Cody did not understand squirrel behavior. He was surprised to find he actually cared. He yawned and stretched himself out to try and distract himself. The motion caught the squirrel’s attention.

Cat is not dead! the squirrel said to itself. It twitched its tail again in excitement.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp?” the squirrel inquired of the cat.

Cody yawned in response.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!” the squirrel repeated, though this time it was not a question. It grabbed the half-doughnut and scampered into the back yard.

There goes nap time, Cody muttered to himself as he hopped down from the windowsill.

He made his way to the back door by way of the room containing oh, so many books. It was in this room his person spent the most amount of time, opening one or another and turning page after page. He was aware the process was called reading but was uncertain what it meant to do so, other than that his person’s lap made a great napping place when they were enveloped in a book, but his reason for going in was not to nap. On the contrary, he needed to extract his person to get let outside.

“Meow,” Cody informed his person.

“Hmm?” said his person, as though emerging from a trance. Books seemed simple but powerful things.

“Meow,” Cody said again.

“What? It’s not feeding time. Did you want to come in my lap?”

“Meow,” said Cody for the last time, and sauntered out of the room back towards the back door.

“Meow,” cried Cody. He looked longingly at the back door before shifting his gaze back towards the book room.

What is taking so long? Cody thought to himself. The person never—

“Sorry there, Cody,” said his person finally emerging into view. He seemed to be moving more slowly than he had in days gone by, but Cody couldn’t let himself get distracted by that now. He approached cautiously, tail curled as he rubbed himself up against his person’s legs. The human reached down and scratched Cody’s chin and tweaked one of his ears. “Aw, that’s a good kitty.”

Cody allowed himself a moment to purr at the person’s feet before returning to the door and sitting by it, expectantly.

After a moment to model a puzzled expression, the human unlocked the door and swung it up for Cody. Cody looked up and outside before venturing across the threshold onto the cool concrete and the grass beyond. He heard the door close behind him but not lock. The human appeared to be moving back towards the book room.

A moment later, there was a small thud as a hunk of something landed beside him. It was the large nut-looking thing he saw with the squirrel out the window as he roused from his nap. Cody pawed at it to see if it moved.

“Chirp-chirp!” exclaimed the squirrel in its usual, hyper-exuberant manner.

“I’m sorry, it’s a what?” said Cody, still pawing at the hunk of doughnut. “And why would I want it?”

“Chirp-chirp!” repeated the squirrel. Who would not want a doughnut? it thought to itself. Squirrel wants a doughnut. Squirrel wants this doughnut, but it is for cat. So cat will help us.

Cody pawed at the doughnut a few more times then began licking his long forepaws. He could taste the oil and sugar residue mixed with the squirrel’s own saliva. It was not appetizing.

“Look, squirrel, these nut things aren’t really my thing. Would you like it?”

The squirrel stared in shocked silence.

“Chirp?”

“Yeah, sure,” said Cody. “I don’t eat soft, chewy things like that. Knock yourself ou—”

Before Cody could finish his sentiment, half of the half-doughnut had disappeared in the squirrel’s mouth, moving in a rapid, chisel-like motion. The remaining portion was held in the squirrel’s forepaws. It stopped chewing and dropped what was left of the doughnut in mild embarrassment.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” exclaimed the squirrel, attempting to explain why it had brought the rejected gift to the cat.

“Help squirrel? Do you mean help you? What would you need help with? I mean, you traveled who knows how far to get that disgusting—”

“Chirp!” The squirrel had an angry look to itself that made Cody wary.

“OK, sure, perspective is everything, and from the perspective of a cat that is very finicky about what he does and does not eat, that doughnut—any kind of nut, really—just doesn’t do anything for a cat. At least for me.”

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!’ retorted the squirrel. It seemed to be laughing at Cody. Cody was not amused.

“What do you mean that doughnuts aren’t nuts? It has n-u-t right there at the—”

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” responded the squirrel. For sure, it was laughing at Cody’s culinary ignorance.

“Laughing at someone is not the best way to get them to help you, you know,” Cody bluntly informed the squirrel.

“Chirp,” said the squirrel in an almost apologetic tone.

“What is it you want me to do? And why me?” Cody tried hard to hide his concern by coming across as condescending. The squirrel was oblivious to this, the sugar from the doughnut still rushing through its system.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!” blurted out the squirrel.

“What’s an owl?” inquired Cody.

“Chirp-chirp!” began the squirrel before continuing on. “Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp—”

The endless string of squirrel chirps was cut short by Cody raising his paw. Instinctively, the squirrel hopped back in fear for its life.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” said the squirrel in genuine excitement.

“No, I was not going to hurt you, I just wanted you to stop talking,” Cody said. Then, more to himself, “Feathers, claws, flying death. This does not sound like a very good time. But, again, why me?”

“Chirp-chirp-chirp,” said the squirrel as matter-of-factly as it could.

“Champion? I told you, I’m just a house cat. I’m no champion. I’m not special.”

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp,” said the squirrel, the slightest hint of reverence in its little voice.

“I’m glad you think—”

But Cody was unable to finish his sentiment as a garbled bird call and flutter of feathers swooped down in the space between the cat and the squirrel, a space previously only occupied by doughnut fragments but now containing the flapping of wings and bird.

Categories
NaNoWriMo 2021 Uncategorized

No. Nineteen.

The park at the edge of the still wild woodlands on the outskirts of town was shady and inviting, sporting wide lawns of soft grass, playground equipment for varying ages, all settled on nice mounds of mulch. Flanking the playground equipment—and providing the aforementioned shade—were some of the largest pecan trees for miles and miles around.

Snaking its way through the park was a path of concrete making up nearly a quarter of a mile in length, with width just enough for the park service vehicles that made their way through twice per week to empty trash and recycle bins.

The concrete path was used by walkers and runners and kids on scooters, as well as at least woman in a wheelchair who made her way to the park once a week or so with her family. The children would play on the playground equipment, swinging on the swings, and playing impromptu games of tag with anyone willing to give chase across the expanses of greenery, while the woman would roll lap after lap in her wheelchair, reliving in her mind the delights of running track in her younger and more agile days.

Attached to her wheelchair was a cupholder cradling a container of coffee while in the woman’s lap lay a brown paper bag within which were several plain cake doughnuts—the woman’s favorite—for her and her family to enjoy. Surplus doughnuts and crumbs were distributed to the birds and squirrels frequenting the park and its ample trees.

The squirrels affectionally referred to this woman as Doughnut Lady. Indeed, she had grown in stature and standing in the eyes of the squirrels who greedily gobbled the doughnuts she brought and handed out ever so generously. Or so the northern squirrel had had.

Though it had never personally seen or met Doughnut Lady, word of her works and generosity had spread from one squirrel to the next, one nest, one tree, one neighborhood to the next.

All the northern squirrel knew was that it had to find Doughnut Lady—or some of the good doughnuts she gave out as an offer of enticement to Cody in order to solicit his help in ridding the squirrel’s world of the threat of the owl.

Because who could say no to a doughnut?

Racing again from tree to tree, lawn to lawn, the squirrel eventually made its way the mile and change to the park and its myriad pecan trees. It found a place to rest and wait for the arrival of Doughnut Lady. Fortunately, the other squirrels in the park were not yet awake, still reeling from the pecan equivalent of crapulence; evidence of their hedonistic debauchery the hours before strewn all over concrete and grass.

Though the debris of pecan shells lay everywhere, its scent heavy in the air, the squirrel did not let its hunger get the better of its though; it had again raided the bird feeder and lay still satiated from its own indulgence.

Car doors shut from across the park, and the squirrel lay eyes on its target: Doughnut Lady.

She carved a counterclockwise route along the concrete path towards the picnic table near the pecan tree where the northern squirrel lay in wait. Her kids cut across the lawn, squealing with the delight that came with not being in school and too young for the obligations that made weekends like a second job for so many. Their eyes were on swings and other playground equipment, their minds on the doughnuts in the brown paper bag in their mother’s lap.

After cutting a left turn, the pitch of the concrete path increased to the picnic table, and Doughnut Lady guided her wheelchair in a graceful descent, controlling speed and turns with ease, stopping at the picnic table, where she placed her coffee and the bag filled with doughnut goodness.

The squirrel was on its feet, ready to pounce.

But the racket of happy children, accompanied by the crackle of wheelchair tires and casters over the remains of pecan shells and twigs and leaves, had awakened other squirrels, as well. They peered their heads and sleepy eyes out of their respective hidey holes to behold the usual spectacle of people in the park. One of these native squirrels laid eyes on the northern squirrel and let out a “chirp” of surprise.

“Chirp!” it exclaimed.

The northern squirrel turned its head quickly while attempting to keep its eyes locked on the bag of doughnuts. It needed the contents of that bag to aid in its mission.

“Chirp!” the park squirrel repeated.

“Chirp-chirp!” the northern squirrel said in reply, as close to a whisper as an excited squirrel could muster.

“Chirp-chirp?” asked the park squirrel.

“Chirp!” the northern squirrel answered. This is going great! it thought to itself. “Chirp-chirp-chirp!”

“Chirp-chirp-chirp?” inquired the park squirrel. Suddenly, other squirrels began gravitating their eyes to the northern squirrel, as well as the bag of doughnuts still lying on the picnic table.

Oh, no, thought the squirrel. Squirrel should not have had said something about doughnuts to other squirrels.

But it was too late. By now, multiple squirrels were venturing out onto various branches to get a closer look at the unassuming brown paper bag, sporting a light grease stain, lying atop a small stack of plain white paper napkins.

The northern squirrel edged its way back to the main branch to began its descent to ground level in an effort to beg for doughnuts—Did Doughnut Lady always take this long to break into the bag? it thought to itself—but it found itself with two squirrels following it in circles, rotating their way down to where the tree met the grass and dirt of earth.

Whether she had seen the squirrels as her cue to open the bag or sh had done so out of pure coincidence was unknown to the squirrel. All it knew was that Doughnut Lady was on the move and soon the manna would flow from her hands. Full as its tummy was, the squirrel still held its mouth agape in eager anticipation of the sweet, chewy goodness that was a plain cake doughnut.

There was a soft thud in the grass at the base of the pecan tree. The northern squirrel and those pursuing it down the tree heard and saw what caused it, causing them all to stop in their frantic scurrying down the tree: Nearly half a golden doughnut lay in stark contrast to the greenery in its impact area.

Less than a second, three squirrels were on the ground, racing to cover the ground to the doughnut, with one of the lighter, leaner park squirrels reaching the doughnut first.

“Chirp!” said the northern squirrel.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!” retorted the first park squirrel.

“Chirp-chirp!” repeated the second.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp-chirp!” pleaded the northern squirrel. Please—squirrel needs this to give to cat neighbor.

“Mommy! The squirrels are fighting over the doughnut!” Three sets of human eyes watched the three squirrels squabbling over a hunk of doughnut.

Cat? Asked the first squirrel. Why would squirrel give such an amazing thing to an animal that hates us?

Because the enemy of our enemy is our friend replied the northern squirrel.

Both park squirrels stared, stupefied by the northern squirrels statement.

Uh…what? one of the squirrels finally asked to break the silence.

Cat will be champion for squirrels and challenge the owl that has been venturing out from the woods over there, the northern squirrel told its parkland cousins. Cat helps squirrel, cat helps all squirrels.

The two park squirrels looked at each other, looked at the doughnut, then back at each other.

“Chirp-chirp?” asked one.

“Chirp-chirp!” said the other.

Okay, said the second park squirrel. Squirrels trust squirrel with this most precious of gifts from Doughnut Lady.

“Chirp-chirp-chirp!” said the northern squirrel. Hurray! This will never be forgotten, and squirrel will tell cat and all others of squirrels’ generosity.

And with that, the northern squirrel moved forward and collected the huge piece of doughnut in its jaw to begin the journey back home.

“Look, Mommy!” replied the smaller of the children. “The squirrel’s carrying the doughnut up in the tree!”

“Squirrels are weird,” said the older, as he munched on his own doughnut.

“Hmm,” replied the mother, as she tossed two more pieces of doughnut to the park squirrels, still on the ground, contemplating what it was they had just agreed to with their neighbor to the north.

But they didn’t think long. A few seconds later, both park squirrels were back in a pecan tree, nibbling on a doughnut and wondering if their northern cousin really as going to try to win over the affections of a cat. With a half a doughnut.

That squirrel is weird one said to the other.

“Chirp-chirp!” said the first park squirrel in agreement before devouring the rest of its doughnut.