by Tim Kirton
The newly orphaned baby squirrel had been scurrying about the forest clearing for about an hour, depositing all sorts of edible kernels in her elastic cheek pouches. She reckoned a couple more hazelnuts and walnuts wouldn’t do any harm before she returned to her drey.
The incessant scratching and scraping above his lair had long since attracted the attention of a wily old adder and eventually it enticed him from his burrow to investigate.
The snake had been carefully tracking the little squirrel for about a hundred metres, cleverly camouflaging himself under the shed autumn leaves, stopping when the squirrel stopped and following when the little red rodent started foraging again. He reckoned within a few minutes at this rate of progress he would be ready to strike.
Unbeknown to the adder the squirrel knew exactly where he was and had been purposely keeping a safe distance. Any of the neighbouring trees would provide a quick escape route if things got a little too close for comfort. Although snakes were excellent tree climbers and were electrifyingly fast, she knew that unlike her, he couldn’t jump from tree to tree.
She started to reveal sweet chestnuts, her particular favourite and as her cheeks were full to the brim, she ate a couple standing up enjoying the delicious succulent flesh in the midday sun.
The bulky grey snake continued to zigzag his way forwards, slinking and slithering under the dead bracken, loose moss and fallen twigs. His forked tongue darted in and out with anticipation, his red eye fixated on his quarry. His lunch would be tasty and satisfying.
The bright sunlight illuminated the forest floor and revealed the most beautiful autumnal colours. The fluffy red squirrel was momentarily mesmerized by how wonderful everything looked.
The huge adder coiled itself tightly making sure it had maximum leverage. He raised his head, opened his mouth widely to expose his long white fangs. The squirrel wouldn’t know what hit her.
Dark shadows began to appear sporadically and she thought some clouds were gathering overhead. She decided to eat one more chestnut and then head for home.
Again, a large silhouette materialized nearby and an ominous sense of foreboding coursed through her.
Just as the pocket-sized foundling popped in her last chestnut the sky blackened completely and she felt an excruciating pain in both her shoulders. She yelped loudly as the buzzard’s huge talons lifted her quickly into the thermals. Looking down she saw the adder in midair striking at nothing.
Quickly she soared into the vast azure sky and as she was flown off to who knows where she couldn’t help thinking what her mother had taught her:
“Listen, little one. There are many things to learn as you make your way through life. The forest is a dangerous place for a young squirrel. Firstly, when out foraging it’s easy to become distracted. Always remember to keep checking backwards and upwards for predators. Looking both ways is always best.”
Tim Kirton is a semi-retired P. E. and English teacher who writes short fiction and children’s books. He has one son.
You can read Tim’s previous Reader’s Choice piece, Perfect Timing, here.
Our Reader said:
A neat take on the traditional fable, with a good title.