A short story by Ariel Pakizer
Little feet clicked across the hard pavement as Chestnut ran for his life. Fast approaching were two huge black wheels ready to flatten the life out of him. He hauled his feet into overdrive and scrambled up the tree where Red was perched. Chestnut was panting but glad to be alive.
With an impatient flick of his tail Red scoffed at Chestnut. Only an inferior being would make such a mad dash across the road. “Stupid humans,” Red chattered, “Building roads straight through our land. Who gave them the right?
“The… City Council I’m… thinking.” Chestnut said in between pants, “Did you see, Red? That car almost got me.”
“You’re the idiot. You ran across the street as it came. Come on. Let’s go through that human park back to Fresh Pines. You’re no good to me as a bloody rug.”
“But you hate the park.” Chestnut said in protest.
“Yes? What of it?”
“Why go through it if you hate it?”
“Because you are the dumbest squirrel ever, and I can’t go getting you flattened.”
“But the park is dangerous Red, filled with…well you know them.”
“Idiot,” Red muttered under his breath, “Chestnut, do we live in the same forest?”
“Sure! Fresh Pines, been living here all my life.”
“And you haven’t heard of the Peace Order that went out? The one between the Order of Nine and the Order of Tree?”
“Oh! Yeah I have! The dogs aren’t allowed to chase us anymore.”
“Great. So we will go through the park.”
Red flicked his tail in annoyance as he dashed across the park field. Red made special care to avoid the humans engaging in some strange game with a ball. “Stupid Peace Order,” he grumbled as they scampered up a tree. “It is ruining the lives of us animals for the convince of these homo sapiens.”
“Why would you say that? I thought we got the better end of the deal.”
“What, the dogs are no longer allowed to make chew toys out of us? Pft. Hardly the better end. Peace Order doesn’t help me any. I was never dumb enough to come close to being some dog’s chewy. All it does is ruin my fun and break a tradition.”
“What tradition is that Red?”
“Teasing those mutts is, well, that’s what squirrels do. We flick our big fluffy tails and say well practice puns while staying just out of their reach. It’s our job, well it was. But humans didn’t like the barking. So now we can’t, because the humans didn’t like the barking. It’s insulting and ridiculous. The humans came to our Valley. They knocked down our trees and paved over our fields. They are the invaders and now the Order is making rules to convince them!”
“Red, you forget, it helps us too. The Order of Nine can’t eat us anymore.”
“Chestnut, you are to dull to understand. Teasing stupid K-9’s is what I lived for. Not these puny humans. I hate humans. They think we are a window displays. Cooing, oooing and ahhing at us like we are some fuzzy pet they can keep. It’s a disgrace.”
“I kinda like when they talk to us.”
“You also convinced yourself you where a flying squirrel for three months, remember how that turned out?”
Chestnut chattered with laughter. “Yeah, I fell a lot.”
“Falling is all you really do. I don’t need to bend to the desires of humans.” Red scanned the park and spotted a yellow lab happily watching the humans play with their ball. He flicked his tail and few times and began chattering loudly. The dog’s head perked up and looked up at him.
“That’s right you stupid mutt.” Red said to himself and flicked his tail again. The dog stood up and padded over to them. He sat and looked up at them intently and said, “Hello there little squirrels. I’m-”
“-I know who you are. “You,” he said with a flick of his tail, “Are just a dumb mutt.”
“Hey little squirrel, didn’t you hear? You aren’t supposed to be taunting us dogs anymore. In return, we won’t be trying to make chew toys out of you.”
“Oh? You mean the Peace Order?” Red chattered with a giggle, “You mean the one that says I’m not supposed to do this?” Red said while slowly flicking his tail, with a taunting grin on his face.
The dog squirmed and Red could tell he wanted to start barking. “What?” Red said, “Want to bark up a tree…mutt?”
“I’m not a mutt.” The dog growled. Humans are too dumb to understand animal speech. They would only hear a whine.
“Oh? Aren’t you? Just a mutt who can’t climb up a tree and snack on a big fluffy squirrel.” Red said.
“I’ll kill you, you stupid squirrel! I’m not a mutt! I’m not a mutt!” The dog barked and barked.
“Ha ha ha. Sit back and watch the show, Chestnut.” Red said while he flicked his tail back and forth. “This stupid mutt can’t climb a tree.”
“Aw, enough Red, lets get going. You are breaking the Order. We are late for dinner as it is.”
“Whatever. See you around…mutt.”
They scampered through the labyrinth of trees until they reached Red’s home. “Hey,” Red said as he dashed inside, “Chestnuts here for diner, Ma.”
“Oh hello, Chestnut!” Ma said with a smile, “So glad you could make it! We are having Acorns Stew.”
“Great! I love Acorn Stew.” Chestnut said with a smile of his own.
“Auburn! Your brother is home, you going to say hello?” Ma asked into a room as Da walked in.
“Back from work,” He announced “Man, saving enough acorns for four is tough work.”
Ma smiled at him, “But you do it so well honey.”
Red scoffed, “Honey is for bee’s.”
“Hi Da!” Auburn chattered excitedly.
“How was your way home? No dog chases?” Ma asked.
“Nope, none. The Order of Nines is really taking this Peace Order to heart. I haven’t been chased home in weeks.”
“Pft, I think you could use the exercise.” Red snorted.
“Hey, Red, enough. One night of peace, is that too much to ask?” Da said in a stern voice.
“How can there be peace when there is no justice?” Red countered, “Our traditions, our values are changing. We use to rule these forests, now we are just kiss-up’s to the very people who invaded it.”
“Red,” Ma said with a practiced sigh, “The humans are not evil. They need places to live just like we do. The Peace Order wasn’t just for them but for us animals too. Your father didn’t have to endanger his life to come home today, isn’t that a good thing?”
“Sure, but look at what we have had to give up? Our land, our fun, our dignity.”
“What do you mean by ‘fun,’ Red?”
“Teasing dogs! Heck, outsmarting dogs! Did anyone ever wonder if some squirrels liked being chased? Those who thought it was fun to try and outsmart those stupid mutts? I never came close to death, ever. Dogs are not hard to outsmart, but now I might just die of boredom. I can’t tease them, or be chased by them, but I do have to suffer humans gawking at me.”
“Enough.” Da snapped, “Eat your stew. The Order’s know what is right. Change can be a good thing. Red, you will just have to adjust. You can’t change what has been made. I’m tired of this pointless debate. I don’t want to hear it anymore, understood?”
“Oh, I understand. If you can’t run with the big squirrels hit the all the others with acorns so you have no competition.”
“Red!” Ma shrieked, “Go. To. Your. Room.”
“Fine. By. Me. Night Chestnut, see you tomorrow.” Red skittered into his room and began to grumble. His family had been urbanized, blinded by their desire to obey. So blind they couldn’t even see the injustices of what was happening to Fresh Pines. Pathetic. At least he wouldn’t back down. He would fight this fight. Claws and teeth.
He huffed and scampered out into the night. Maybe there were others who are mad about how their traditions were being uprooted. Or he could be the only creature left with a brain. Either way he needed the air.
He scurried along the forest floor, glad for the crisp night air. It cleared out his head. He could barely see the moonlight spilling through the leaves. It was so beautiful here. The thought of Fresh Pines being eradicated made small tears form in his eyes.
Suddenly the moonlight vanished and a whooshing sound flapped overhead. Panic bubbled up inside Red. He had been a forest squirrel long enough to know what that was.
He took a deep breath and scanned around for shelter. How could he have been so stupid?
A screech torn through the night as an owl suddenly appeared before him. It’s white fathers and big eyes ran chills up his spin. “Do not be frightened, little one.” The owl hummed, “I have been watching you and it is time.”
“T-time? Time for what?”
“For you to join the Order of Midnight.”
“W-who are you?”
“I am Nocturnal Wisdom, but I am called Wisdom. And your name is?”
“M-my full name is Red-Willow Cedars, but I g-go by Red.”
“Red. Would you allow me to carry you?”
“C-carry me?” Red said and his voice squeaked.
“Yes, the meeting is about to start. My wings are faster then your feet little, Red.”
“Meeting? What meeting?”
“Come. I will show you.”
Wisdom was perched on a tree, his big eyes silently capturing the attention of all the chattering animals below him. The light of the moon show on his back giving him a glowing aura, it was the most surreal thing Red had ever beheld. So beautiful, in fact, he didn’t bother speaking with the other various animals that where there.
“Welcome.” Wisdom began and a hush fell over the crowd, “As you all know we are animals. We animals are classified into Orders, and The Order has recently issued a Peace Order that has added complications and taken away the traditions of our lives. Now, we all want someone to blame.
“We blame the mutts for our troubles, but they are not what make us grieve. We blame the felines, but they are not what make us grieve. We blame the roads, but they are not what make us grieve. We blame the humans for our troubles, but they are not what make us grieve. The humans, dogs, roads, and cats are simply doing as they must. Expand, build, and try to live. They are not to blame.
“If you desire someone to blame, blame your families, blame your friends, blame anyone who refuses to see the truth. The truth that this Peace Order is nothing but an attempt to whip out our individual cultures traditions. Those who see this Peace Order as a benefit is whom you should blame. They are the ignorant ones blinded by conformity and fear.
“Fear is our key. If we wish to keep our traditions and are way of life, then we must use fear. Common folk fear disobeying the Peace Order, I say, lets show them something worse. We, the Order of Midnight, will unite together and really give people something to fear. With this fear, we bring justice and freedom from this urbanizing oppression!
“If you wish to join the defenders of tradition, the bringers of freedom and the redeemers of justice please step forward.”
Red blinked in memorization. He had never heard such an eloquent speech. Finally a group of people who understood what he had been trying to say. He took a bold step forward. He was ready to join this cause.
Wisdom smiled at Red, “I was hoping you would join. However you must be initiated. In order to do that you must past a test.”
“What? What must I do?”
“We need acorns. Bring to me as many as you can.”
“But my family needs those to eat, that or we starve.”
“Red,” Wisdom said and put a wing tip on his shoulder, “The Order of Midnight will provide for you. Have no fear of that, unless” He said as he moved his wing away “You do not want to join our cause.”
“No. I want to join. I will bring you the acorns.”
Red dashed through the night towards his families hiding stash. He quickly clawed up a collection of acorns. Surely the Order of Midnight would compensate. They would take care of him. He gathered as many acorns as he could and scampered back to the meeting site. “Here Wisdom! I brought you as many as I could carry.” Red said as he dumped them before Wisdoms feet.
“Good, you past the test now repeat my words: I Red-Willow Cedars here by swear.”
“I, Red-Willow Cedars here by swear”
“My loyalty, dedication, and life to the Order of Midnight.”
“My loyalty, dedication, and life to the Order of Midnight”
“To protect and defend its cause at whatever cost.”
“To protect and defend its cause at whatever cost.”
“My life means nothing, I surrender it,”
“My life means nothing, I surrender it”
“To the hope of freedom and the return of tradition.”
“To the hope of freedom and the return of tradition”
“Congratulation’s Red, you are now an official member of the Order of Midnight.”
“I’m Prey-Wind Stalker,” said a hawk with a screech. “I’m your trainer and informant, pleasure to meet you Red-Willow Cedars.”
“Hello Prey-Wind, the honor is mine.”
“Please follow me. You are being sent on a mission. The Order of Midnight has been trying to gain an advantage for a while now, and a few weeks ago Wisdom gave it to us. Nut Bombs.”
“Nut Bombs? I thought bombs where human weapons.”
“There where, but Wisdom discovered how to make a bomb by combing certain crushed plants. Now we have weapons others have cause to fear. These Nut Bombs are made of gutted acorns. You will need some for your mission.”
“I’m being given a mission? Already?”
“Of course. Wisdom thinks you have great potential. He likes you, he trust you.”
Red felt himself beam with pride. Wisdom knew where to lay his trust. “I will not disappoint him.”
“I believe you. Here, four Nut Bombs, you will need them. Your mission is simple. May I carry you? I will take you to where the mission will take place.”
Prey-Wind wrapped his claws around Red and lifted him into the sky. This was all happening so fast. Just two nights ago he didn’t even know there was an Order of Midnight, now he was getting his own missions. He was finally doing something, changing something. His heart raced with excitement.
“Here we are.” Prey-Wind said as he landed on a tree branch. See that pool down there?” he asked while pointing with a wing.
“You must sink the green flotation device the human is using. This will kill the human. The Order will learn that the Order of Midnight is responsible for the death. Fear will spread.”
“On it.” Red said as he began to claw down the tree.
“I must go and help another,” Prey-Wind said, “Someone less intelligent then you who needs basic training.”
“Good luck with that.” Red scoffed
“Good luck to you as well.”
“I’ll hardly need it, but thanks for the sentiment.”
Prey-Wind nodded his head and flew away.
Red scampered up to the pools ledge and grinned. This was payback. This was personal. He took out a Nut Bomb and tossed it at the flotation device, but as he threw it he felt his balance shift. Suddenly, he found himself struggling for his life. If he fell into the water he would die. He couldn’t stabilize and took a swan dive into a watery grave.
“Hey,” Lisa said, sitting up on her raft, “Jen, does this thing have a hole? I think it’s sinking.”
“It shouldn’t.” Jen said wadding over to her friend. “I hope it does, if that’s what it takes to get you in the water.”
“Hey!” Lisa said and splashed water at her when frantic splashing grabbed her eye. “Jen! Jen!”
“What? I’m coming, gee, it is just water. Who cares if the raft has a stupid hole anyways?”
“No! Look! A squirrel is drowning in your pool!”
“A what?” Jen said and turned her head, her eyes nearly bugged out of it There was a squirrel drowning in her pool. She swam over and grabbed the skimmer. She quickly put it under the squirrel and lifted it out of the pool.
“Jen, Jen it’s not moving!” Lisa cried sadly, “Is it dead?”
“I don’t know. Let’s take it inside. My mom might be able to help it. Come, Rocket” She called to her dog, “Lets get inside and see if we can help this little guy.”
Red blinked his eyes. They felt as heavy as rocks. His head was splitting. Everything was bright. It stung his eyes. Was he dead? He should be dead…
He tried to move but discovered he was trap in a cocoon of cloth. Those humans they must be trying to kill him. He wriggled his body against the cloth trying to loosen its hold.
Suddenly a bright-eyed human face hovered above him “Jen! He is alive! He is awake! Come look, he is super cute!”
Stupid baby talk.
“Oh good.” Said another human from somewhere he could not see, “Lets give him some bread or something then send him on his way.” The hover human walked away from him.
Red used this opportunity to escape. He clawed his way out of his trap and glanced at his surroundings. The window was open. He was about to make a break for it when he spotted a dog staring up at him.
“Hey there little guy, you ok? My people said you just about died.”
Red grinned. “Here,” he said and offered out a Nut Bomb; it looked just like any other acorn. “Since humans can’t understand me I would like to express my thanks. Please eat this.”
“Toss it in!” The dog opened its mouth, and Red threw the Nut Bomb into it. The dog shrieked in surprise as the bomb exploded inside of it. “Rocket? Rocket what’s wrong?” A panicked voice said as a girl ran into the room. Red wasn’t about to miss the opportunity. He jumped on top of her head and began to claw and bite away. A shrill screaming quickly followed.
“Lisa, what on earth, oh my gosh! Lisa? Lisa!” Suddenly a hand flung at Red and he bit down before he dashed for the window.
“I’m calling an ambulance, wait, what is wrong with Rocket? I-I’ll call the Vet right after.” Red heard as he scrambled away.
That had felt good. Very good. Hurting those to flimsy to fight for tradition. He had to protect tradition. There where three people he knew who didn’t care for tradition. Three people who had to learn the meaning of fear.
He ran up to his house and walked inside. The scene was chaos, his Ma and Auburn where in tears. Da was leaning against the wall looking defeated.
“What’s wrong?” Red asked in a sympathetic voice,
“Someone stole our acorns.” Auburn wailed, “We are going to starve.”
“You talk like it’s a bad thing.” Red scoffed.
“What else do you all deserve, so ready to bend your knees to the Orders will. You all deserve to starve. Then again, what kind of brother and son would I be to let my family dry up from a lack of food? How could I be so cruel?” A smile stole on to Red’s face as he pulled out a Nut Bomb. He threw it into the house before they had the chance to scream. Then he broke off and tore into the forest as the bomb exploded behind him.
Suddenly claws dug into his back and lifted him into the air. He struggled and squirmed but he only made the cuts deeper. The claws released and he was dropped into a nest, a pair of eagles where waiting for him.
“Do you know who we are?” One of them asked.
“An eagle?” Red offered, his breath was coming in ragged gasps, the wounds the talons had inflicted screaming in pain.
“We, the eagles, are the Order of Freedom. We protect the innocent. We shut down orders like that of Midnight. We understand you have been in contact with Nocturnal Wisdom. Tell us where he is and the charges against you will be dropped.”
“Charges? What charges? I’m the one defending freedom here!”
“The terrorist charges,” The other eagle said calmly.
“Terrorist?” Red repeated, “The only terrorist here are the ones who refuse to defend tradition!”
“Tell us where Wisdom is or suffer your punishment.” The first eagle snapped.
“No. I will die first. I swore an oath! Wisdom said he trusted me. I had potential.”
“Yes,” The first eagle mused, “Wisdom thinks you have great potential. He likes you, he trusts you. I bet a little hawk named Prey-Wind told you that. Wake up little squirrel, he tells everyone that.”
“W-what?” Red said, the shock too much for him to contemplate…he had been special.
“He has made his choice Everest,” The second eagle said, “We must do as the law bids.”
“Shame,” Said the first eagle.
“You must now accept your punishment.”
“W-what is the punishment?” Red asked, too dazed in his pain to care.
“There is only one punishment for those who belong to the Order of Midnight.” Said the second eagle, “Death.”