by Wred Fright
The little squirrel lived in the maple tree next to the black walnut tree because he loved loved loved loved loved eating black walnuts. One of the females he mated with once asked him why he didn’t just live in the black walnut tree then. He told her that he liked separating work and home and didn’t mind the commute. Every day, he would get up, crawl out of his hole in the maple tree, climb its branches, and launch himself into the branches of the black walnut tree. Then he would grab a black walnut in his mouth, climb down the trunk, jump onto a fence, run along the fence, climb into a fir tree, launch himself up into another maple tree, and toss the black walnut into his hidey-hole, before repeating the process again and again until he got dizzy and needed a rest.
The baby eagle got kicked out of the nest. He didn’t want to go, but his father booted him gently with sharp talons and told him he had to find his own food from here on out. So he went fishing in Lake Erie. It was hard work. Many times the fish got away and all he got was wet. The weather got colder, and the water got rougher, and the eagle, no longer a baby, just a young eagle decided to see if there was an easier way to make a living, so he moved south to the woods, but some other eagles told him to beat it because the woods were their territory, so he moved south again. At least the air was a little warmer in this direction.
The winter was cold for the little squirrel. Some days he’d leave his nest in the maple tree, but some days he didn’t bother. He just snuggled with one of his mates and her kids. Were they his kids? Who knew? They didn’t smell like him anyway, so probably not. He didn’t much care though; he only cared they were warm, which is why he let them share his nest. Come spring, he’d kick them all out. When it was warmer, though being winter still cold, the little squirrel would venture out to dig up some of his other hoards of black walnuts and other goodies he had hidden in the fall. This way he didn’t have to share these ones with the other little squirrels, who, frankly, were eating way too much of the hoard he had socked away in his nest. What had they been doing all fall? This younger generation was lazy, he decided.
The eagle didn’t want to get too far away from the big lake, but it was slightly warmer to the south, though the fish from the rivers and ponds he encountered weren’t as tasty. When the ponds froze over, he stuck to the river and followed it for a time. When it started freezing as well, he kept going until he reached the parts that hadn’t frozen yet. When fish went off the menu at the height of winter, the eagle made do. A dead deer on the side of the road? Not very tasty, but he was hungry. A cardinal? Didn’t have much meat but was easy to spot in the snow. He even found a roost with many other eagles. They told many funny stories, but when a snack did show up, it was chaos, so he soon tired of that. He went back to the river and started following it back home. Fish were the best, but he had discovered a taste for squirrels.
The little squirrel was glad to see spring, so he could kick the freeloaders out of his nest. They just moved into other nests in the same tree, so he was grumpy that he wasn’t completely rid of them. In the fall, they would mean trouble for the black walnuts. He didn’t need extra competition. He had enough trouble chasing the big squirrel away. Spring wasn’t all perfect. The cats were harder to spot than they were in the winter. The little squirrel could duck them easily enough when he spotted them, but sometimes he would get dreamy chomping through the shell of a black walnut and one would get close enough to startle him enough into dropping the walnut, and he hated hated hated hated hated to lose walnuts.
The eagle found a narrow section of the lake that could be his territory, but it was narrow, and the eagles whose territories bordered it were very aggressive about policing the borders, so he hunted a lot in the woods nearby. The little squirrels didn’t have as much meat on them as the bigger squirrels, but they still made for a nice snack. They even tasted better than the bigger lake gulls he would swoop down upon at the beach. He didn’t have a mate yet, but he hoped to in a couple of years. In the meantime, he was practicing his swooping. One day, he spotted a little squirrel in a tree, and he was feeling a little hungry. He watched the squirrel jump from one tree to another high up. The trees weren’t thick. It wasn’t the woods. There were some human houses nearby. The squirrel was twitchy and jumped to and fro. Eventually, it went to the ground and started digging.
The little squirrel had the tree to himself again. As he made his way down to the ground, he wondered where the other little squirrels had gone. They had been annoying, but he did have his eye on one of the younger females and was hoping she’d go into heat soon. He hadn’t seen her for a few days though. He also had noticed that he had been having to fend off the bigger squirrel all by himself more and more. The bigger squirrel was getting bolder. He had known to steer clear of the black walnut tree before, but now he came back again and again. It was probably the younger generation being lazy and leaving it to him to always chase the big squirrel off, he decided.
The eagle started his descent.
The little squirrel shrugged and dug up another of his nut hoards he had buried in the fall.
The eagle slowed so he didn’t crash into the ground just as he was about to snatch up the little squirrel.
A shadow passed overhead, and the little squirrel dropped the black walnut and bolted for the nearest tree, a maple.
The eagle readjusted on the fly and grabbed the little squirrel just as he was jumping for a tree.
As they headed into the sky, the little squirrel squeezed free and dropped onto a tree branch.
The eagle turned and darted back, but the little squirrel had dived into a hidey-hole in the tree.
The little squirrel dug into the black walnuts in the hidey-hole and covered himself up with them, now knowing what had happened to the other little squirrels.
The eagle decided the little squirrel wasn’t worth the bother of a wait and went back to the lake. He would swoop down upon the little squirrel another day; with luck, the little squirrel would fatten himself up by then so he’d be better eating and not so skinny he could squeeze his way free again. On his way back to the lake, he spotted another squirrel, this one a big one, in the woods. He swooped again. This one didn’t get away.
Meanwhile, a human watching out the window said to his mate, “I think I just saw an eagle in the backyard.”
His mate replied, “I saw one the other day. Maybe it’s the same one. Nature is beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Say you know what I haven’t seen lately? Those little cute squirrels that look like a squirrel and a chipmunk had a baby.”
“I haven’t seen them either this spring. Maybe they didn’t survive the winter or maybe the stray cat finally got them. He must eat something around here. What a nasty creature! “
“Maybe. Say, speaking of eating, how about some lunch?”
Wred Fright has appeared numerous times at New Pop Lit, including this blog. Info on his novels and other things can be found at wredfright.com. He also co-edited, along with Steve Kostecke, the ULA Anthology.