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Squirrels in the Vicinity

Squirrels in the VicinityLike them or not, you can’t deny there’s an element of fun to squirrels. Twitchy, chattering and clambering, the bushy-tailed rodents have lent their name to several ideas, such as hoarding (to squirrel away) or strange (as in squirrely behavior). Dogs can’t deny them and some people eat them.

This week, writers went nuts with stories about squirrels. Humor is prevalent. Yet it’s also amazing when something fun can actually lead to a profound revelation or deeper understanding about human behavior. Thus the results of writers chasing squirrels on the page.

The following is based on the May 18, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a squirrel.

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Snack Time by Anthony Amore

Along with the leaves, innumerable acorns have been raked to the corner of the yard where other dead and dying things rest and compost. Several chipmunks dart beneath the leaves thrashing about uncovering the acorns only to be usurped by a couple gray squirrels. Seemingly the five work as a group, a unit, plucking acorns from the pile bringing them elsewhere. Their excitement akin to my finding ten dollars in my backpack, or a $100 pair of running shoes for $45 online. Gifts riding winds of fortune until a darting fox takes one of their number, a fortune of his own.

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Thorn and Rose by Pat Cummings

Rose tsked in irritation as the squirrel-tail flirted against her window.

He skittered along the eave over her window, with the “lipperty-lip” footsteps that identified his kind—vision wasn’t sharp anymore, but nothing was wrong with her hearing. Rose tsked again, and that thorn-in-her-side squirrel chittered back. His fluffy tail metronomed as he gathered himself to launch across to the adjacent oak.

Rose spotted the target of his squirrel-talk: a female. Frisking squirrels in spring promised a new generation of Thorns to wake her.

Sighing, Rose curled her tail over her pink nose, and sank back into her morning catnap.

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Don’t Feed the Squirrels (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee

Jane and the squirrel are both frozen, warily eying each other. She doesn’t dare move, doesn’t want to startle it.

She remembers wanting to feed yard squirrels as a child. “They carry plague,” her mother had fretted. “Don’t get near them.”

Her father had laughed and asked her mother why she didn’t make squirrel pie like his mother had. Mom had snorted. “Where would you go shooting in the Denver metro area?”

Happier times. Safer times.

Jane breaks a piece from her doughnut and slowly holds it out, drops it. The squirrel’s bright gaze drops and it hops forward.

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Nature, Red in Tooth and Claw by Geoff Le Pard

Penny let Peter off his lead. The dog sniffed then became still. Seconds later he was sprinting after a squirrel. Penny watched, heart in mouth, as the dog caught and shook its prey while Penny ran, desperate to stop the horror show. By the time she arrived it was limp in the dog’s jaws.

Later as she recounted the story to her mother she asked, ‘Why?’
‘Instinct.’

‘But it’s not like he needs the food.’

Mary thought back to the moment she heard of her father’s affair. Maybe we are destined to be let down by those we love.

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One More? by Norah Colvin

They knew when she left – airplane tickets in one hand, luggage in the other – that it meant only one thing.

“Time to plan,” announced Kanga, the original and self-proclaimed leader.

“It’s too crowded!” moaned Little Koala.

All stuffed in the box inhibited thought.

“Right. Everybody out,” said Rabbit, taking over.

Squirrel, last in, was first out, twirling her tail.

Soon everyone was out, exchanging opinions. Inevitably disagreements erupted. Ever patient Kanga quietened them.

“We always make room. We will adjust. We will welcome the newcomer. Once we all were different. We still are. But we learn to get along.”

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Like Clockwork by Paula Moyer

“I’m getting the hang of it,” Jean thought. The new puppy, Stella, was now 10 weeks old. Stella took to the leash easily enough – some pulling, but Labs were known to pull, right?

The week before, it was hot on their walks. Jean noticed the squirrels that Stella didn’t, and the yellow pup came home thirsty and sleepy. It was working out well.

Today, though – chill in the air, turning leaves. Stella’s nose twitched.

Back home. Squirrel in the driveway. Stella’s DNA called “Charge!”

Jean landed face forward.

Ripped pants, scraped knee – Jean could now testify to Stella’s instincts.

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Sedentary by Kerry E.B. Black

The squirrel took a peanut from Melinda’s hand and scurried to hide it. Its gray tail twitched like a tic, all uncontrollable jerking and nervous energy.

Melinda waited its return, sack of peanuts in her lap. Mud had caught her chair’s wheels, so observing passed time.
The squirrel returned for another snack, stretching it miniscule paw to touch the worn padding on the chair’s arm. As it claimed its prize, its claw caught on the stuffing which trailed behind like engine smoke.

“If only I could harness your energy!” she thought as she pushed on the mired wheels without moving.

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Red Squirrel Missing by Sherri Matthews

‘Home of the Red Squirrel’ the sign read.

A short boat ride to the little island and at last, Mum could show her children what a red squirrel, not grey, looked like.

Signs with photographs of red squirrels pointed the way to the entrance as the children ran on ahead.

“Keep your eyes peeled,” called Mum, her eyes darting expectantly from tree to tree.

“Look, peacocks!” The children laughed as they spent the next hour chasing them.

“How was it?” asked Dad later.

“Should have called it ‘Home of the Peacock,” Mum sniffed. “Not a red squirrel in sight…”

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Mischievous Counter-Measures by Roger Shipp

“Ha…chitter…chitter…ah.” A rhythmic, guttural chuckle arose from his innards. “You won’t stop me that easily.”

The robust squirrel flicked his tail and gazed at the new structure. “Upping his game once more.”

At first, seeds were fair game. “Dinner was served” in a beautifully-embossed emerald bowl.

Then, the swinging S-hook which lowered the mouthwatering delectables into a floating globe.

Ineffective. All one had to do was gently align and spring-down to the seed-filled sphere.

Today, a double-hooded monstrosity had arisen from the ground. Lunch was centered in the luscious tulip gardens.

He smirked. “Maybe it’s time for a change?”

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Tree Service by Larry LaForge

“It’s not his real name.” Ed was pretty sure.

“Let’s hope not,” Edna replied. “I mean, what Mom would . .”

“Well, it fits,” Ed interrupted. “He kinda looks the part.”

Edna smiled sheepishly, trying hard to get the image out of her head.

Ed finally broke the silence. “You have to admit, it’s appropriate for his work, though.”

“Yeah,” Edna agreed. “Not everyone can climb to the top of those southern red oaks and maneuver around.”

They needed the work done, but still weren’t sure about this odd fellow as they stared at his business card:

SQUIRREL WATSON
TREE SURGEON

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Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

I was six beers deep, the seventh between my legs when that squirrel came along. I jerked the wheel left, but my nutty little friend went left too, so I corrected and went right. Right into the creek.

Cut my head good, but found the beer on the floorboard–foamy–I drank what I could ’til the cops came. Still went to jail.

DUI’s are expensive. I should have hit the sucker if I wasn’t such an animal lover. The judge gave me weekends in county. Fines. Recommended I get sober. I still maintain that the squirrel was drunk.

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Attitude by Ann Edall-Robson

Oh man, here comes more of them. Take your noisy kids and ugly dog and get lost! They just won’t leave us alone.

Don’t they know it’s that time of year when we need to be on the ground doing our thing for the coming winter? We need to stockpile food in that old tree trunk and under that log.

Hey, those pine cones are mine! I didn’t pile them up for you to spread them out and take the best ones.

Quit pointing at me. I am not cutesy wootsy. Scolding you? You bet I am. GO AWAY!

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Training Squirrels by Susan Zutautus

“For God’s sake Norm what are you doing with those peanuts?”

“I’m training the squirrels to follow the path of the peanuts. Eventually they’ll come right into the house.”

“I don’t want those dirty things in my house!”

“Oh don’t be silly Diane they’re not dirty, they’re cute.”

A week later, Norm and Diane were sitting in the family room having a coffee. Diane didn’t notice that the screen was ajar. Then she saw it, a squirrel was crossing the threshold. She let out the loudest scream.

“Norm I told you no varmints in the house!”

Norm just giggled.

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The Squirrel and the Compact Disc by Ruchira Khanna

“Sheesh” she took it again lamented Karly as she saw the branch that once had a cherry growing.

“I told you…let’s pluck it.” she reminded in an aggravated tone.

“But what’s the use of an immature fruit. No one would have been able to eat it at home” Mom commented.

“Well, the squirrel did,” Karly said while wiping her tears and removing those CDs from the branches that were hanging like an ornament.

“These were of no use. The Squirrels did not get scared of their reflection. I rather use them to record my melancholy stories.”

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Critters by Bill Engleson

Dobbs hunkered down into a snug corner of the stable.

The hay was thick, clean and dry.

He let himself sink down deep.

The Banker’s bitter whiskey rumbled in his empty gut.

Sharp images of the hunger and hardscrabble days
of his Virginia boyhood drifted back, sweet summer memories, the rich smell of his mother’s critter stew, Brunswick stew she’d called it, crammed full of tomatoes, potatoes, scrawny squirrels and old chicken meat, bubbling away on the fire.

It had been a harsh, dirt-poor farm life,
broken up too few times when his belly was full.

Then, he slept.

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The Squirrel by Irene Waters

“Mummy I want to feed the squirrel too?”

“In a minute Sebastian. It’s Louisa’s turn.”

“Mummy look at how he’s curled his tail up.”

“That’s how he got his name. It comes from two Greek words meaning shadow tail.”

“Look Mummy. He does have a shadow. Look. But Daddy doesn’t have a tail.”

“What do you mean Sebastian? Why would Daddy have a tail?”

“Cause I heard you tell Mr Donnelly…”

“Uncle Fred, Sebastian.”

“But he’s not our uncle. Okay. I heard you tell Uncle Fred that Daddy had squirrelled away and that was why we’re poor and Daddy’s gone.”

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Texas is the Reason by Elliott Lyngreen

..my peeled jukes frustrate faces with no-looks, so they mutate. elbow tap his jumpers -with no whistle-out where little shoves, hips, hands, words too “awe he off” slide loose my cousin “ew no legs” as phew phases faked “broke- he broke” as he pulled up smooth–“he a drizzle”–“naw he comen with d-flood bro” –carmelized in the sun dappled flickers, chewed rrrips-crunched….ahhh we were meant for so so much more than a 4 on 2.. “Primo we killed those dudes”–and in my gray sunken mood, “wasn’t me; that was all you.”-“not true, could not have without you.”

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Lion’s Teeth and Acorns by Anne Goodwin

Perched on a high branch, I watched the humans kneeling on the lawn. They might have been paying homage but for the daggers they thrust into the soil. Extracting those sunny flowers we call lion’s teeth, with their long tapering roots. I knew humans ate plants, but these were set aside to wither away.

I flicked my tail, astonished, as they tugged at tiny saplings, shiny nuts entangled in their roots. Sadness overcame me, a vision of paws ploughing through snow. My babes would have survived if I’d remembered where I’d buried our winter stores.

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Without Squirrels by Charli Mills

“Remember when that squirrel nested in the walls?” Cobb blew smoke from his pipe.

Mary smiled, sitting on the bench next to him. “What a racket that fool critter made.”

“I’ll build you a bigger house than this dirt-floored cabin, I promise you, Mary.”

She nodded. “It’ll do for now. I just don’t want it near her.”

“It’s just business, Mary.”

Mary snorted. “Business? You think gossips spread tales of Sarah keeping your accounts?”

“Don’t give a damn what wagtails say, wife and neither should you.”

“Build me that house, Cobb and no squirrels of any kind near it.”

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May 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

May 18Twirling, twirling, eyes focused upward on the canopy of newborn leaves. Birch, maple and white pine. I can imagine skirts flaring at my ankles as I turn on heeled boots. Swirling, swirling, surrounded by the shadows of stories clinging to white-washed stones that mark the graves of copper miners. A squirrel chatters and I float back to my body only to realize I’m not a  child of the 1840s settlement of Clif Mine, but a modern woman in jeans, standing perfectly still with camera and notebook in hand.

Cemeteries make me dizzy.

My eyes and imagination take in the details so quickly I’m transported to multiple planes of awareness. The researcher within is rapidly scratching notes — names, dates, interesting  recordings that include the memorial bought by a lady for her dear departed male friend or the twin stones etched with the details of a mining association. The storyteller seeks to know why a 10-year old boy is listed as “killed at the mine.” He was only 10. The feminist wants more clues to the lives of women mentioned only as daughters or wives. The historian rejoices over the discovery of buried miners born in Cornwall; proof the local pasties originated with them.

There’s also the curious white-wash of most of the old stones. It’s something I’ve seen in photos and it preserves the lettering, though the tremendous weight of annual snows have toppled and cracked many stones. Even the roots of trees have buckled fences, borders and an obelisk. During the 1910s, marble stones give way to to cheap cement and crudely punctured tin faces. That’s the era when miners went on strike. Was it poverty that changed the stones so drastically?

Spring ephemerals burst from grass that covers mounds and pathways. Purple, lavender, pink and yellow. Small and quickly blooming before the leaves of trees fully form. My daughter, the geologist and science writer, points out the swells of the sloping cemetery and says the plots look intentionally mounded. Paths are worn down and lupines are beginning to grow among what look like flowering brambles. Such a wonder is this place of life and death.

It’s where stories are born in the imagination.

Well, that is, if you are the kind of historical writer who geeks out over graves. It takes me a good thirty minutes to calm my excitement, to let the stronger clues dominate all the whispering curiosities. I thought to do a cemetery challenge — give myself 24 hours to research a name, find a backstory and write a flash fiction. Alas, my daughter’s dog ate my research notes. Seriously. I left them on the table and my SIL pulled what was left of the intact cover and the devoured notes from Jasper’s dog bed. “This yours,” he asked. Uh, was…

Absalom. Its the only name that remained on a rip of notepaper. I’m up to the challenge, and Jasper can go bite a squirrel. On Sunday, we went adventuring. My daughter remembers how I used to take her and her siblings to look for cemeteries, or historical libraries of stories. We grabbed gas station caffeine, dropped the SIL off at work (he’s a Park Ranger in Calumet for Isle Royale) and began to head toward Copper Harbor on the Keweenaw Peninsula. Cornish miners were said to have been among the first here and I’m hoping to find evidence. Otherwise, I don’t know what to expect.

My daughter pulls over at a historical wooden sign for the Clif Mine, established in 1843. Every town and blip on the map on this thumb of land that pokes into Lake Superior was either a mining or ore processing community. Ruins of rock buildings and piles of tailings spread out across the hills and swells of this country. Clif Mine remains unseen except for the ridge of rock that miners blasted into. We try to go to where the original cemetery was set, but the spring melt has flooded the road. We turn toward Eagle River and find Evergreen Cemetery, which turns out to be full of Clif miners and their families.

That’s where I found the grave of Absalom, last name devoured by a dog. I go to an online source, Find A Grave and search by first name. It’s unusual enough to come up with a single match: Absolom Bennett. Now I recall it struck me as an unusual combination and he “died in Clif Mine.” In, is a chilling word. Absolom was born in 1833, died in 1859. I then go to Ancestry.com to search records for this young miner, using his name, birth date and location. Nothing. I then enter his death date. Nothing. Then I find an article about the Clif Mine in the Mining Gazette:

“While legal documents and records, along with contemporary newspaper accounts, disclose the facts and statistics of the village’s history, the nearby Evergreen Cemetery also tells a sad story of the town and its people. It is a story of the harsh life in a pioneer town, in sharp contrast to the romantic histories portrayed in books.

An example of the hardships of pioneer life on the frontier is the grave of Willie B. Slawson. Willie was born on March 3, 1849. He died on July 26, just over four months old. Next to Willie lays his mother, who died in November of the same year, at the age of 24.

Mary E. Wright rests very near the Slawsons. Mary was the only child of William and Mary, who owned the Phoenix House. She died on March 18, 1862 at the age of three.

Absalom Bennett, an employee of the nearby Cliff Mine, whose parent company owned the land the cemetery occupies, was killed in a mining accident in 1859 at the age of 26.

Among the many babies, children, and young mothers who lay at the Evergreen Cemetery is Joseph Blight, Sr., who founded the fuse company. Blight is one of the older ones buried there; he died in 1884 at the age of 62.”

The article mentions a few other names I had noted, especially that of the Blight family. Joseph Blight was from Cornwall. Judging by the ornate iron fence, large family memorial and stately gravestones, it seemed Blight was successful. He evidently made his living by operating a fuse company. He also suffered from the loss of a child and so did many others. I always wonder what happens to the spouses or remaining children when a mother dies. If the husband or no other children are buried, I assume they moved on. Michigan Tech, where my daughter works, is a remnant of the hard-rock copper mining and is what remains of the technology developed by the mines on this peninsula. The college even has an archeology project with sketches and blog posts about the Clif Mine.

Sometimes, seeing a squirrel is grounding and can root me in reality. Sometimes, it’s a distraction. But for many pioneers, like those who came to the Keweenaw or passed through Rock Creek, squirrels were dinner. Right now I feel as if I have squirrels on the brain. My computer has been fussing and went blue-screen on me. I was able to open it in safe-mode and revive it. But my travel adventures and life hiccups have me off-schedule.

Bad news from Idaho today, too — I was formally notified to vacate my home. I have 30 days. I’m in touch with a lawyer, but it’s not promising. The most I can get is the full month of June. The reason? The letter stated that the owners want the property vacant while it is listed on the market for sale. So, it hasn’t even sold and we are being displaced because our presence is seen as a hindrance to their sale.

Honestly, I want to throw rabid squirrels at people.

Hang in there with me as I navigate waters as rocky as some of the Keweenaw shoreline. Tomorrow I have a long drive to Minneapolis. I meet up with friends and hopefully a client whose contract I desperately need to renew or else I’ll be homeless and penniless. Not a good combination, but perhaps reason to start looking up recipes for wild squirrel stew. The thing about being a writer is that they can take away my office, my desk, my pencils, but no one can stop me twirling beneath the broad canopy of my imagination. Stories will continue. Compilations might be out of order and I’ll be on and off as I travel. “Home” by Saturday though what to do about a home is yet to be resolved.

In the meantime, get squirrely and keep writing. I’m ever so grateful for this community! Your stories last week are all fabulous! I’ve been reading on my phone. I’ll spare you searching out cemetery stories, but expect you to go nuts over the prompt.

May 18, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a squirrel. It can be about a squirrel, for a squirrel or by a squirrel. Think nutty, naturalistic, dinner or ironic. Go where the prompt leads and don’t forget to twirl with imagination.

Respond by May 24, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

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Without Squirrels by Charli Mills

“Remember when that squirrel nested in the walls?” Cobb blew smoke from his pipe.

Mary smiled, sitting on the bench next to him. “What a racket that fool critter made.”

“I’ll build you a bigger house than this dirt-floored cabin, I promise you, Mary.”

She nodded. “It’ll do for now. I just don’t want it near her.”

“It’s just business, Mary.”

Mary snorted. “Business? You think gossips spread tales of Sarah keeping your accounts?”

“Don’t give a damn what wagtails say, wife and neither should you.”

“Build me that house, Cobb and no squirrels of any kind near it.”

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