Short Story | The Tale of the Squirrel

In the heart of the Ashdown Forest stands one of the oldest Oak Trees in England. Here, Winter settles with its full force, a moon-white frost lying at dawn until the November sun is high over the Kent horizon, teasing its way through the thick canopy of trees, bereft of leaves in the late Autumn cold.

The Oak tree is home to several families of grey squirrels who burrow through crackling leaves and cold, damp moss hillocks, and mazes of overgrown roots.

Here, a squirrel of some six summers was foraging for acorns, building his store for the coming winter, which would bring no snow but much icy rain and chilling winds which would whip through the forest, creating fern-swirls, and a furious circle-dance of brown leaves. The Squirrel already had a place to shelter through the winter though, since the warming of the land around, his hibernation would be in fits and starts. Nevertheless, it is secret place of cosy, warmth. Squirrels, more than any other animal in the forest, can feel cosiness.

On this day, the 30th of November, Winter’s approach is keenly felt by the animals inhabiting the ancient forest, and the Old Oak knows it in its root and sap.

But something terrible has happened.

The Squirrel of Six Summers who, if he had a name, would be called Mr Curious, for that would best enfold his particular nature and behaviour, is in trouble. Whilst foraging among the roots at the foot of the Great Oak, a branch has fallen, weakened the night before by a pair of barn owls, resting on their flight back to the farm buildings near Hoathly Hill.

The squirrel’s back leg is trapped – not broken – but Mr Curious cannot move. For many hours, since the earliest moment of dawn, Mr Curious has lain, wrapped in a clammy coat of fear, unable to move, now feeling the chill in his tiny bones. All about him rove fellow squirrels; they look at him, noses twitching in the icy air, indifferent to his anguish. In a few days, if the little creature cannot free himself, he’ll be finished, and there’ll be more acorns for his fellows to store for the coming Winter season.

Mr Curious pulls and pulls, trying to free his leg, but it is no use. His companions would try to free him, but it is not in their nature to serve each other so. Their love is in their fur, not their hearts, and they cannot direct it, except in the early days of bringing forth their kith and kin in the dream of golden Spring.

Now, it has begun to rain, and grey Mr Curious is hungry and shivering with the growing chill. Night is approaching and there will be other fears to be curious about.

Now listen, and you might hear it!. (Though you’ll hear only its effects, in the subtle change in the wind’s cry, or the quickening of the rustle of oaken branches). Something is flying through the air, trunk-height, fast as a forest fairy, though not a fairy. Usually they do not fly so low; they drop, like falling stars, tearing past the sunlit side of the moon, arcing earthwards. They find their mark like a homing bird, or Cupid’s arrow. Their light can be seen, if you still all of your concerns, a flash of yellow gold in the corner of your eye. They are like wisps, though they fly with more purpose, there is no hint of drifting about them.

For this is the soul of a young girl, a babe not yet born, finding its way from the fixed stars, looping around the near planets, past the milky moon, then plunging to earth, before speeding through the clear night air to the union of its mother- and father-to-be, the moment where spirit spark ignites passion, and the universe is realised once again, through the alchemy of the One in All.

Through AshdownForest, you’d see the beam of golden light, flashing through the trees and skimming below the branches, just above the line of ferns and gorse bushes. The shimmering sprite-form travels quicker than sound, though slower than light, and would dance past the great Oak Tree, oblivious to the plight of poor Mr Curious, his bushy grey tail now sodden and bedraggled in the driving rain of November.

Dance past it would, but it halts in its flight of purpose; for a fleeting moment it stays its course. For each soul, coming to conception is unique, bearing with it its own unfolding story. And this soul bears, amid its bright-golden sheen, a hint of violet, the hue of compassion.

As the spirit-child stops, mid-air, the rain ceases its fall, droplets hanging like jewels on a chandelier. The air itself comes to peace, and a golden light spreads over the Old Oak, across the leafy mulch, over the little grey squirrel in pain, and through the hearts of a host of squirrels nearby. In the time it takes for two lovers to kiss, and to share their love into the creation of another universe, compassion enters the glade of Ashdown forest, and Christmas comes early.

Then the rain splashes down once more and the light is gone, on its way to his goal, the wind angrily reclaims its rightful place on the air, and whipping up a storm about the Old Oak.

But if you were a wood-elf, you’d be in your bower, and spy something very strange and wonderful. As the golden soul flies towards a warm bed of two lovers, three grey squirrels are kicking with their back legs at the fallen branch, riding its circularity, like beavers on a log, floating on a river, and the heavy wood is rolling away from Mr Curious, freeing his bruised but otherwise unharmed little back left leg, and he is able to scramble free.

In those few moments, four squirrels are aware of their true compassion, awake now, in heart and tiny head, they are nuzzling around each other and making tiny noises that would sound to a storyteller like laughter and chatter.

Then their noses twitch in the wind, ears turn in heads keen and alert for nearby forest noises heard on the breeze, and they gather up acorns in their mouth-pouches, and scamper their separate ways, in search of their cosy leaf and fern beds, warm and safe in the approaching winter’s night.

The End


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Paul Levy 31 Articles
Paul Levy is a writer, a facilitator, senior researcher at the University of Brighton, founder of FringeReview, and author of the book Digital Inferno, published in 2014 by Clairview Books.

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