The Tastiest Squirrel
By Deryck Jason
THE FOLLOWNG STORY IS BASED ON REAL EVENTS. THE LOCATION REMAINS THE SAME BUT SOME NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED TO PROTECT THE IDENTITY OF THE SQUIRRELS INVOLVED.
With a piercing gaze, Jürgen scanned the faces of every coyote around him. His eyes moved deliberately from one furred face to the next. By the look he was wearing, one may have been forgiven for thinking Jurgen was disinterested in his underlings, but if one had thought that then one would be dead wrong. For you see, Jürgen had a certain way about him. He had a certain manner. He could seem cool, collected; even nonchalant. But, in a heartbeat, all that could change. That transition from cool to savage was as natural for him as barking is to a dog and all the coyotes in his presence knew this for a fact. This deadly personality trait blended with his rugged large demeanour to make him a fearsome leader. Naturally he sat, paws straight down in front of him, his back arched, his head low. He towered above the others even in his low stance. Those of whom who shared his company were generally fortunate. These were the favoured ones. A dozen coyotes sat in the main chamber with him. These were the territory leaders; these were the coyotes every other coyote wanted to be because to be in the same room as Jürgen was to be on Jürgen’s good side, and everyone wanted to be on Jürgen’s good side. I say those who shared his company were generally fortunate but because today they were not. Today, Jurgen was furious. There was a rage inside him. Slowly and deliberately he spoke, issuing a clear order to all that was not to be ignored.
“The squirrel is mine, no-one else’s.”
News was travelling fast about this very tasty squirrel named Alex, who was unfortunate enough to have fallen into a vat of old cold cooking oil behind one of the humans restaurants. Alex’s fur was now infused with a thousand different flavours. Everything from chicken wings to French fries, pork bites to onion rings, anything that had been cooked in oil by the humans was in that barrel ready to be disposed of when Alex fell in. Now, he was coated in the stuff. It covered his fur like ice covered a lake and the animals could smell it. Boy, could they smell it. Just the thought of this very tasty squirrel made every carnivore drool for miles around. It was for this reason that despite the anger in Jürgen’s voice there were also hints of worry. He knew there would be other, larger predators on the way. After all, the coyotes were widely known in the animal kingdom for being gossips. In the short time since Alex’s discovery, word had travelled of him far and wide thanks to the coyote’s love of a good gossip. With so much talk of this squirrel around, the honour of who got to devour him was one that Jurgen needed to have. To the coyotes leader, the taste was unimportant, he felt that because Alex was a one of a kind, a type of delicious oddity it was his right to have him all to himself. The eating of Alex would be his greatest triumph, a testament to all he had achieved thus far. He was the largest of the coyotes; the leader of the largest group of predators in the Calgary city range and no one was going to take his right away from him.
Inside the ceremonial chamber of the coyote hierarchy a dozen male and females sat with their front paws straight, listening obediently to their commander. As his voice raised, so did the echo on the walls and so did the hairs on everyone’s necks.
“So far this squirrel has eluded you all. Can anyone tell me how that’s possible?”
All were smart enough not to respond to the question, everyone knew there was no correct answer to give. Jürgen started pacing at his podium as they watched. Pacing was never a good sign.
“In fact, three of you actually came across the little rodent and still you never got him.”
Silence fell heavy upon the room. Three-dozen pairs of eyes followed his pacing and three-dozen pairs of lips lay pursed, waiting for Jürgen’s next words.
“Ahh ha ha, none of you realised I knew about that did you? Well, I have news for you all”
“I know everything.”
Bowing his head, Jurgen let out a soft chuckle and looked back at his underlings.
“No, seriously though, it is pretty funny when you think about it.”
His chuckle grew into a hearty laugh and as he continued talking his laughter bellowed around the chamber.
“I mean, there were three coyotes on one squirrel, what are the odds he would get away?”
The coyotes looked at each other apprehensively at first. But they could see Jurgen was enjoying himself so they felt comfortable sharing the laugh. All joined in, trying to see the funny side of a bad situation.
“Oh that’s funny, being outfoxed, not even by a fox but by a squirrel! Who was it, who was it?”
One of the coyotes felt confident enough to joke with Jurgen now that he was laughing too.
“Who was it? Sir, I thought you knew everything!”
Everyone, including Jurgen burst into rapturous laughter.
“No, no seriously though…”
Jurgen paused to wipe a tear from his eye.
“…Who was it?”
“It was us, sir.”
“Who, who said that?”
A young coyote stepped forward, chuckling with two other, behind him.
“It was us sir, we tried but hey, he got away.”
“Hold on a second, I know you. Your name is Rabbit correct? Yes I remember thinking your name was an unusual one. It’s because you’re apparently very fast am I right?”
“That’s me sir, I am fast, but I guess the squirrel was faster.”
Kira and Boris moved up to join Rabbit; the three were responsible for letting Alex get away. As Rabbit and Kira laughed along with Jurgen, Boris smiled uncomfortably. He sensed something awry. Jürgen’s laughter started to die down.
“You guess the squirrel was faster? That’s your excuse?”
Still feeling confident in the joking atmosphere Jurgen had created Rabbit simply shrugged his shoulders.
“As good as any I suppose.”
In a heartbeat Jürgen’s eyes sharpened and his jaw dropped to expose his large yellowing fangs. Before anyone could react, the powerful beast lunged at the much smaller Rabbit, clamping his jaws around the youngers neck. The other coyote’s first instinct was to stop Jurgen but they all knew it would be suicide to intervene. The yelping cries of Rabbit did nothing to ease Jürgen’s powerful grip on his neck. Out of desperation, the young coyote tried to fight back but it was no use. All noise in the chamber came down to a muffled breath as Rabbit fought against teeth for oxygen. Before he could finish him off completely, Jurgen let him go, allowing him the right to collapse on the floor. After the vicious attack, Jurgen took a breath and scanned the faces of the others, all of whom had stepped back, away from their terrifying leader and his victim.
“Let this be a lesson to all of you. If this squirrel escapes anyone again, all of you will pay.”
The wind pushed against his face, pressing his whiskers to his cheeks. He wasn’t going anywhere in particular, but he was going there fast. Skimming through gutters and along rooftops he looked down at the humans. He always felt bad for them; they never looked like they had any fun. Every day he would watch them, dressed well in their suits, walking into their large buildings. He would watch them talk on their phones or puff on foul smelling white sticks outside. He could never understand why they were not enjoying the beautiful sunny day like he was but honestly, he didn’t care that much. With the humans occupied with their jobs he had the freedom to go where he pleased. They merely worked here, but it was his playground. He stopped and sat on the edge of one the few low buildings around. As his little heart raced he took in the view around him. His eyes gazed skyward, all the way up the large glassy buildings to the top where they seemed to be scratching the clouds. All around him large office buildings towered like giants keeping watch over the city. Each one seemed to be trying to impress the others. Some had well-manicured gardens at the base, others had statues, others had weird shaped structures intended to enhance the design of whatever building they were attached to. Each was impressive, each was beautiful and together they formed the core of downtown Calgary, the city where Alex was from. It was the city he had lived in all his life and the only one he knew. He lived very close by to these large buildings in a park just across the river. The humans built a large island nearby to their core for recreation in the summer. They would hang out there, chatting and eating during the day but in the evenings it was quiet. Alex lived in a dray with his mother and father in the largest tree in the park with a fantastic view of the city skyline but for him, this was the best view, being up close to the glassy jungle the humans had built. With a spring in his step he jumped up, ready for more exploring. Like lighting striking earth he shot off, scaling the glassy buildings and darting across the rooftops, never stopping and never slowing down.
“Running, running, running, you’re always flipping running!”
His dad’s words echoed in his ears, in between large swathes of whistling wind.
“I’m not flipping dad, just running.”
This was Alex’s comeback of choice every single time. And every single time his dads face would screw up and his ear tufts would puff upwards. This was always Alex’s goal. Making his father’s ear tufts puff meant he was doing something he shouldn’t be doing and that generally meant he was doing something fun. His father Angus was a foreigner. A red squirrel, not a local like his mother. Angus had only been in Calgary a few hours when he met Maria. Whenever he had too much nut wine he would tell Alex how captivating his mother was. He would regale him of the first time he laid eyes on her and how her shiny black fur and chestnut eyes cast a spell over him. Alex would claim he was about to throw up while his mother would simply chuckle. But the stories of the first time they met were not the only stories Angus would tell. In his thick Scottish accent he would tell stories of caution. The accent made him sound more grumpy than he naturally was and Alex only ever half listened to him anyways when he went off on his rants.
“Dammit boy, ye know whatta mean. Am up tae high doe wae worry fur ye. The human’s world isnae a place fur runnin’. In fact, ye shouldnae really be there at a’. Ye’ve got a perfectly gud park here tae play in. I dinnae understand why ye’ve got tae leave it!”
Alex knew the other squirrels really had to focus to be able to understand his father, but he and his mother were used to his garbled tongue. Alex did not know why his father’s cautionary words were in his head today but what he did know was that even in his thoughts, his mother’s supportive voice would always trump his father’s. They were a great balance. Maria was very easy going by nature and whenever his father would get to be too much of a wet blanket on Alex’s fun, his mother would always convince him to change his mind. Both his mother and father loved and cared about Alex, but both generally had equally opposing opinions on things. There was one point his father always made that made him win most arguments however. Actually it was more of a comment than a point, a reference to a story about his younger brother. He would always say:
“Don’t be like your uncle Hamish.”
Alex knew the story, it was a sad one and one his father used often.
Angus and his brother were very alike in many ways. Being brothers they were both red squirrels, which in itself was pretty rare. There were not many red squirrels left in the world let alone Scotland. Years earlier, the grey squirrels starting coming into the area and slowly pushed out the native reds. Grey squirrels were able to digest more types of food than the reds and so, when winter came along, there was much less food for the reds to eat. So gradually, over the years the numbers of reds started to dwindle and the remaining few started worrying about their future.
“We’ve gotta oot o’ here!” Hamish would say. “We’ve gotta get on a boat and go, we’ll ne’er survive here. We cannae compete wi’ the Greys.”
Although Angus agreed with his younger brother he was nervous, he had never left Scotland before. Angus remembered some family they had in Canada.
“Uncle Argyll lives in Canada, we shud go there.”
“We’ve talked aboot this afore” Hamish sighed “we know he lives in Canada, but we dinnae know where. It’s a big country; we’ll ne’er find him. No, we shud go tae America. In America, peanuts grow wild, there’s peanuts everywhere there.”
“You’ve an acorn where your brain shud be Hamish; peanuts grow wild in SOUTH America, no’ America. Have you ever read a book?”
“You’ve always tried to talk me oot of this Angus, but am no listenin’ this time. We’ve gotta leave this country, oor kind don’t do well here anymore, America is oor future.”
Both being too stubborn to accept each other’s decision they parted ways and Angus never spoke to his brother again.
Years later, when Angus and Maria had already settled in the park, Alex was born. It was a cold winter morning when Angus ventured out in search for food. He recalled that the whole winter had been particularly harsh so when he kissed Maria and his new born son before leaving the dray that day he knew he would be venturing further than normal in his search. Normally he would never venture into the humans territory but his family were hungry so he did what he had to do. Nimbly, he traversed the frosted tree branches around to the outskirts of the park, zipped across a branch that hung over the river and leaped across to another tree. He pushed into the city core in his search for food. It was when he got to the same ledge where Alex now sat that the scents hit him. There were humans out making food in the street. A well-educated squirrel, Angus was able to understand the humans’ language. The cart where the human was making food read “Hot Dogs, Pizza, Cold Drinks.” He certainly did not want a cold drink or a hot dog but he had tried pizza before and knew it was delicious. It was now just a matter of time before he would get his chance to get some food. He watched a fat human order two large slices of pizza and then gobble them as if he had never seen food before. As quickly as he ordered, the slices were all but gone, chewed down to the crusts, which the fat human simply discarded on the ground beside him. Pizza crust is very filling to a squirrel and Angus wasted no time moving in to take them. Quickly, he scaled down the face of the building he was on and got to ground level. He twitched his whiskers and breathed in, trying to pick up the scent of dogs who loved to chase squirrels. He got nothing so he moved quickly; weaving between cars and running across a road he found safety underneath a bush on the other side. Humans, wrapped in warm clothing huddled past everywhere but he wasn’t worried. It was too cold for anyone to care about a squirrel running around. Across a large paved area at the base of a large, glassy office tower sat the pizza vendor. Next to him was a small stall where another human was selling newspapers. Angus waited for a gap in the foot traffic before getting ready to dart out across the large paved area and grab the crusts. He had planned his moves exactly in his head. Timed to perfection to run out, grab them and run back without being stepped on. He was all set to go when a horrifying sight stopped him in his tracks. In front of him, across the large paved area he spotted it. Angus did a double take but there he was. On the front cover of the humans newspaper was a picture of his younger brother’s lifeless body, being held by the tail by a human hand. His fur was black, burnt it looked like. The headline read:
“SQUIRREL COSTS AMERICA MILLIONS!”
Angus didn’t even have time to process the headline. The sight of his younger brother dead and being held like a piece of garbage stopped him right in his tracks. For a second, time seemed to stand still as he stared at the picture confused. But, as quickly as time seemed to stop it started right back up again. Without realising it, Angus had been moving closer to the picture, he was now half way across the paved area in between the bush in which he was sheltered and the pizza stand. It was only when a human came inches away from stepping on him he got brought back to reality. Like lighting he bolted, straight across to the paper stand and round the back of it to find a large pile of newspapers waiting to be sold. Quickly he threw the top one open and read of his brother’s demise. As he read the words he wept. Even though he had not seen Hamish in years, knowing he was dead was still devastating.
Alex did not care to recreate the actual death of his uncle in his mind so that was as far as the story went visually for him. The rest were just words. When Alex was older, Angus explained the whole story to him. Hamish had settled in a small town called Trumbull in the state of Connecticut, USA. There was a map of America in the newspaper article and Angus remembered thinking that Hamish didn’t get very far and he certainly did not find a peanut farm. The newspaper didn’t go into specifics but basically what had happened was that his uncle Hamish had been exploring the city, jumping from building to rooftop to gutters when he made a fatal error. The last jump he ever made was to some live electrical wires suspended high above the human’s roads. The incident caused a lot of trouble for the humans, turning off their power and blacking out a system his father called the “stock exchange.” According to his father, Hamish cost the humans a lot of money, which he explained was a big deal to them.
Although Angus always told this horrific story as a cautionary tale he did quietly take solace in the fact that had his brother died in a gentler fashion, the humans would not have cared, and they certainly would not have ran the story in their newspapers and so Angus would have never have known what had happened to his little brother. He would always wonder about him, so, in a twisted sort of sense he was glad he died that way.
Alex always felt bad when his father told the story. He could see him tearing up at the thought of his poor brother. Although he would never tell him, Alex thought jumping on a power line was a pretty stupid thing to do so he could understand why his father told the story. Still he ran, he jumped onto low roofs and onto nearby trees, travelling above the roads, above the cars and above the people. He loved it. He loved the city life but not to live in, no, the park was his home. The simple joy of exploration kept him entertained. He got that from his mother’s side. Whenever his father would start off on another cautionary tale, usually one pertaining to Hamish she would tell an opposing tale about her brother.
Alex’s uncle Jose and his mother never fought. They were very close. Jose was, in a way, very similar to her husband’s brother Hamish in the fact that he too dreamed of a land where peanuts grew wild and plentiful. The only difference was that he found it:
“Come with me Maria.”
“To Argentina! To the land of peanuts!”
“But Jose they grow them in the U.S, they grow a lot there.”
“It doesn’t matter. I want to be in the sun, I want to eat peanuts and let the sun make me darker as I feast.”
“Jose, your fur is black, how much darker can you get?”
“….Come with me Maria”
His mother Maria was not of Spanish origin, nor was his uncle. Their parents just liked the names. They were both born and raised Canadian, in Calgary but for some reason, whenever his mother told this story Alex always pictured his uncle to have an overly romantic Spanish accent.
“I love you Jose but I don’t want to leave, this is my home.”
“So, you will stay with Angus? He is a boring squirrel; he never takes any risks, never takes any chances. I will find you an Argentinian squirrel, one who can provide you with all the peanuts you want.”
“I like Angus; I want to raise a family with him. He keeps me grounded.”
“But Maria…you forget about the peanuts!”
“No Jose I can never forget about them. You keep reminding me.
I’m staying with Angus.”
Jose was not happy but he respected his younger sister’s decision.
“Ok, I will go, and I will live in the land of the peanut. Like a king. The king of peanuts!”
Alex was also sure his uncle did not have such a flare for the dramatic but he found it was a better story if he pictured him with a cape and a moustache, not so much having a conversation, more like performing in a one man Spanish soap opera.
Angry that his younger sister would not come with him, Jose stormed out the dray. It would be some time before they would see each other again. A few years after he left, Maria heard from migratory birds that he was doing well. These birds flew seasonally to Argentina and they had information on Jose’s whereabouts. Apparently he was living the life he always dreamed on a large peanut farm but he was not getting any darker.
As Alex ran he thought about the similar goals that both his uncles had had in the beginning and the different paths those goals took them on. He often wondered how his uncle Jose could have been so successful when his uncle Hamish could have been so unfortunate. Especially since, from what he had been told, neither one was the brightest squirrel around, but still fate chose only to reward one of them. Lessons like these taught Alex early on that his parents were right to push their own separate ideals but ultimately there are no right or wrong answers in life, only those that feel right or wrong. Out here, in the human world Alex was making his own choices. Soon, he would make some that would change his life forever.
Maria loved to cook. In the family dray in the large maple tree she would simmer up tantalising dishes based around the nuts that Angus foraged during the day. She would always start cooking around 6pm. 6pm to her was dinner time however, 6pm to Angus was danger time. At this time of the year, 6pm was dusk and that meant only one thing to Angus, Coyotes. Growing up, Alex was always told horror stories about the Coyotes. “Beasts,” “brutes” and “monsters” were some of the words his father would use to describe them.
“Large, dark and full of teeth.”
“You never see them coming.”
“Terrifying, brutish creatures.”
Since he had not met one it would have been easy for Alex to dismiss these statements as more of his father’s famous ramblings but his mother backed up his words. Alex also found out early that if his mother backed what his father said without question then he made sure he listened. When it came to the subject of Coyotes there was no dispute between his parents, no telling each other not to exaggerate. It just was. The Coyotes dictated how the squirrels lived their lives. They could not climb trees, so the squirrels made their homes in them. They generally hunted at night so the squirrels foraged during the day. They did not get along with the humans so the squirrels made their homes within human populated areas. The general rule of thumb for the squirrels was this: Stay in the trees after dark. Go to ground at your peril.
Lurking in the shadows one cold winter’s night, Alex had seen one. It was the only time he had but he would never forget it.
Maria had been sizzling up a culinary, nutty dish for most of the day. Based around a stew she had been boiling down substances for hours and now she was adding her final touches. Wafts and aromas floated dreamily from pots and pans filling the air with strong scents. The family dray was a modest size and in a very good location close to the river but when Maria cooked for long periods, it could get very hot. After all, their home was made of wood, being the inside of a tree and all. Alex had been inside all day and he decided to get some fresh air just before dinner. He took relief outside in the crisp Canadian winter air. Darkness had already fallen and the park was deathly quiet. The night hung heavy with the cold all around him but this was Alex’s home, he was used to the silence of the park and his fur kept him warm. He took a slow walk around outside, taking in the air. His dray was situated on the largest branch, half way up the largest tree in the park. Around him, dozens of other branches crossed paths with those of other trees in this old network. Amongst the silence of the night, something disturbed his thoughts. A rustle. Not a big one, but it was big enough for him to know it wasn’t the wind. Focusing his gaze, he used his sensitive ears to pinpoint the exact location of the sound. In the dim light he stared…
Alex thought his heart was going to stop. His neighbour Kimmy was strolling across a branch to see him.
“Too hot inside the dray eh?”
Alex nodded as Kimmy came over to join him. He wondered if he’d ever find out what was in the bushes. Kimmy had certainly disturbed it as the rustling ceased. The little female squirrel screwed up her face and sniffed the air.
“Mmm, something smells good. As usual! Maybe I can talk your mom into giving my dad some cooking lessons.”
Kimmy laughed at her own joke but Alex didn’t respond. Sometimes Kimmy talked too much and when she started, Alex felt it best to let her continue uninterrupted. She was probably the closest friend Alex had, most of the time he preferred to be alone, exploring, others held him back but when he did hang out with friends it was usually Kimmy. Quietly, Alex always thought of her as quite pretty but he dared not admit it.
“What’s she making? Wait, wait don’t tell me.”
Kimmy sniffed the air, using her extremely sensitive squirrel nose to sift the air for ingredients.
“Acorn, arugula and….parsley….no wait….oregano!”
Alex looked off into the park, lit only by sporadic streetlights put up by the humans.
“Where did she find oregano?”
“My dad found it while foraging.”
Alex answered; he knew these would probably be the only words he would be able to put into to the heavily one-sided conversation.
“Aw jeez, you’re so lucky Alex; my dad never finds anything good…”
Kimmy sighed and continued chatting about her father and how lousy a cook he was and how she was forced to eat his terrible food every night, but of course “she couldn’t say anything to him because that would hurt his feelings.” Alex responded with a grunt, knowing that if he responded to anyone else this way it would be rude but it was par for the course with her. Anyways, she wouldn’t really notice he wasn’t listening. She was too busy talking. Alex turned back to his friend and for a second he saw something else, something that confused him more than the noise he just heard. The moonlight reflected Kimmy’s dark fur and her eyes sparkled as she kept talking incessantly. Her eyes were dark and didn’t give much away, in fact the only reason Alex could ever tell what she was thinking is because she usually just said it.
Suddenly Kimmy stopped talking. Instantly and at the same time, both the young squirrels’ ears pricked up. There was the rustling again. No-one, not even their parents taught squirrels to be aware of danger. That trait was built into them from birth. Both moved cautiously towards the edge of the tree trunk. Both were staring with baited breath. Across the park, the rustling happened again. Their ears waited for the rustling to happen one more so they could pinpoint its exact location. And then it happened. With the slightest of movements in the dark both squirrels’ heads turned to face the noise dead on. They both knew they were safe from the sound but still an uneasy feeling was growing. It was not just fear they felt but exhilaration too. Since the sound came from the ground they knew they were safe, if it was the flapping of wings instead, they would have been running for cover from owls and there was a very slim chance this noise was being made by a mountain lion or some other rogue cat who could climb trees. This is the inner city. A mountain lion would not come this far in and feral cats were known as feral because they lived outside the city limits. No, they both knew what it was and were both eager for a look. They had heard the stories, the wise words of the elders and even overheard the humans but they had never seen one for themselves up until now. Under a dim yellow cone of light projected by a tall street lamp, a thick black paw stepped out from the darkness. Both Alex and Kimmy watched; their little eyes frenzied with curiosity as to how big this thing was going to be. So caught up in the moment, they never heard the approaching human, walking through the park with her pet Alsatian. The dog’s barking brought them back to reality. The black, furry paw slipped back into the shrubbery quickly as the dog kept barking, restrained by it’s owner. Alex recognised the human from her scent. He knew the dog too, it had chased him a few times during the day so he never really cared for it. Big and brown with gold undertones, the dog was fighting furiously against the leash, which held it back. It sensed the coyote was trouble and wanted to chase it off but the lady held on tight. The air was cold, the sound travelled, the dog’s barking was very loud. The winter weather had made the paths around the park icy and dangerous for walking. In the dim light Alex could see the lady was trying to keep her hold on the dog while trying to keep her feet firmly planted on the icy ground. As the Alsatian fought against her, she yelled back trying to control it but she was not going to win. With a mighty tug the dog pulled the lady over, she slipped on the ice and lost her grip on the lead. With that the dog charged into the shrubbery, sending the coyote running. Alex only saw it for an instant but it looked big as well. He wondered why it was running, why it didn’t just stay and defend itself if they were as mean as everyone said they were. Suddenly it clicked, he remembered some words his father told him about coyotes.
“They usually travel in packs and they are very sneaky.”
On instinct he turned to the other side of the park and saw three silhouettes moving swiftly in the darkness. Kimmy saw Alex’s behaviour and copied him, she too spotted the shadows.
“What are they doing?”
Alex didn’t respond. All around him the Alsatian barked in the darkness. The coyotes never made a sound. From the ground the lady let out a whimpering shout for her dog.
Alex would always remember the desperation in her voice. It was as if she knew what the dog didn’t. She thought she was holding on to Toby so the coyotes wouldn’t get hurt when in actuality it was the other way round. Suddenly there was a sharp yelp and the barking stopped. Both Alex and Kimmy looked out to where the noise came from but there was only darkness.
The woman called after her pet once more. Alex looked down at her, her face illuminated in the moonlight. Alex would never forget that face. It was the face that knew she would never see her beloved pet again.
Morning couldn’t have come quickly enough for Alex. After a hearty breakfast bowl of chestnuts he was full of energy, all set up for another exploration of the city. He would never tire of exploring the human’s world. From his high vantage points he watched them drive around in their vehicles or wander around, finally heading into the large glass buildings all around him. Leaping on to and scaling walls he would, every now and again, drop down to street level and dart between parked cars for fun. Being on street level added an element of danger to his journey that he prayed his father would never see. Alex would never have heard the end of it if he did. After a few hours of exploring he felt he should be thinking about heading home, darkness would be coming soon and he was starting to get a little hungry again. As he sat beside the tire of a blue human car he wanted to finish his day at one of his favourite spots. Around this time of day as the sun was thinking of going down it shimmered on the glass of all the buildings around and, although it was still chilly out, it was beautiful to see. His favourite spot was a low-lying rooftop in the heart of downtown, he had sat up there many a day thinking about nothing in particular. The quickest way to get there from where he was to cut through the human’s area, maybe even dodge a few of them on the way. He had never weaved in between the humans before and he was feeling confident this late in the afternoon so he decided to go for it. Besides, he didn’t have to go too far to get to the large car park which adjoined the building he was trying to get to. There was still a light frost on the ground but that never bothered him. His claws gave him great traction on the concrete ground even with a little frost cover. He could see the front of his favourite building from where he was, brightly coloured with red, green and yellow writing, he had seen many human families go in there from his vantage point on top of it and because he knew it well he knew the best way to access the roof was round the back so that’s where he headed. He took a chance and sprinted down the sidewalk, zipping past a few well-suited humans, weaving around them into the large open parking lot at the back. At this time of the day there were many cars parked, he had his choice of whichever route he wanted to take to get to the building. He would always move from one parked car to another and since there was so many he made a game of trying to move under as many colours as possible without repeating himself. He darted under a blue one, then to a red one, then to a white one, then a yellow one, then a black, then a silver. His final one was green and he had done it. He shot across the last part of open tarmac to the dumpster besides the drain pipe he had climbed a hundred times before. He came to a stop and slid a little on a gooey substance on the ground. He thought nothing of it, wiped his paws on his fur and prepared to climb. This would be his last stop of the day before heading home, he was starting to get hungry and the thought of what his mother might be making made him drool. Besides, the building he was scaling was a popular restaurant for the humans and even though he did not eat what they ate generally, sitting on this building always made him hungry. Excitedly he sprang at the drain pipe, scuttling up it as fast as he could, using his youthful energy to keep going. He could feel his paws starting to lose grip so he sped up but it didn’t do any good, he was not able to hold on as well as he normally would have been. Confusion set in at once, then panic. His nimble body had already carried him pretty far up the pipe, far enough at least, to ensure that falling off would not be wise. Panicking, he tried to climb even harder but it was no use. He was hardly moving. It was all he could do not to fall off right there and then. In his excitement to get to the roof, he had not fully wiped the slippery stuff off his hands and now he was losing his grip. The gooey substance undid his grip, ever so gradually as Alex frantically tried to keep his hold. Desperately he wrapped his body around the pipe and held on tight. He was very high off the ground right now and he knew it. He tried to compose himself, he tried to focus but it was not that easy to do given the circumstances. Slowly, he felt himself sliding down the pipe, his paws losing grip as he did. With all his strength he pushed with his feet, digging his claws into the film of grease right through to the rusting metal underneath. Pushing with his feet helped him move up ever so slightly but he paid for it. His claws digging in to the metal really hurt him so every time he did it he had to make sure he was gaining ground. After each push he carefully removed each paw one at a time and lodged up further up the metal for another push like a mountain climber with steel spikes on his boots digging into the rock. Gradually he pushed his way up, making smaller and smaller gains towards the top every time he did so, but causing himself more and more pain each time also. He was almost within reach of the rooftop when he decided he had to go for it. The pain was becoming unbearable and he knew if he could just get a good enough push off the pipe he could grab the ledge and pull himself up. After a quick breath he went for it. Pushing hard with his legs he lunged for the ledge above him. He made it. He had landed his jump and now he was swinging precariously from the gutter’s edge. His were hurting badly from the last push and the grease was still on his hands. Desperately he called out for help but there was no one around to hear him. Instantly he felt his grip disappear and he was falling.
Splash! Thick, gungy liquid engulfed him from all around. He was completely submerged in it. Kicking and fighting; his muscles burned with the effort. He tried his best not to scream for help, knowing it would be instant death if he did. What was this stuff? It wasn’t water. He had bathed in the river hundreds of times before but this was different. It was dense and dark. He watched air bubbles escape from his mouth and travel past him to the surface dreamily, almost as if they were deliberately taking their time. Fiercely he kicked and pushed and tried to swim up but it was no use, he wasn’t moving. All he could do now was hold his breath and hope for the best, what he didn’t know was pretty soon his body would enact an involuntary response to holding your breath too long. His body would force him to breath…
Alex tried fighting as long as he could but it was no use, millions of years of evolution took over, his mouth opened and he started to inhale. A savoury, burnt taste filled his mouth and started to enter his lungs. The thought of his father burning chestnuts raced into his mind because that’s what the taste reminded him off, but there was more to it than that, dozens of flavours he recognised and about a million others he didn’t. He fought and struggled, tried to swim but still nothing happened. Pressure began to build up in his chest. His lungs were fighting for him to breathe but his brain was fighting against them. Amongst everything going on right now Alex found the sensation of his own body fighting itself to be the most unnatural. This was it, he had given it all he had and now it was over, his eyes surrounded in blackness he opened his mouth and prepared for the end.
Like an asteroid hitting the ocean something large splashed down above him, grabbing him with might and wrenching him from the murky sludge in which he was immersed. A large hand belonging to a large human had rescued him from the brink of darkness. The human placed Alex onto the ground and leaned over him. Alex’s first instinct to breath was probably the most euphoric thing he had ever experienced in his life. The simple pleasure of taking in air, something he had been doing his whole life suddenly now felt like a gift to be treasured. His second instinct was one that came just as naturally, the instinct to run from danger. Alex could not process the fact the human had saved his life, he simply saw one standing so close to him and needed to get away. The burning in his muscles started again as he tried to run. The liquid he had been submerged in glued his fur to his skin and he found himself unable to move. Nearing the brink of exhaustion Alex could do nothing as the human once again picked him up and doused him in more liquid. This time the liquid felt cool, offering a little relief to his stiff body. Alex lay there as the human continued dousing him, his head was flopped on the human’s hand and he watched thick white foam falling all around him. He wasn’t sure if the foam had been on him as the stuff coating his fur made it hard to feel much. After a few minutes, as more foam fell around him Alex began to feel his legs loosening up, he could actually move them again. He could not comprehend that the human was trying to wash the gunk off back; instead, now that he had the feeling in his legs back he put the last of his strength into an escape. He pounced of the human’s hand and hit the ground running, taking shelter under the same green car he left from when he attempted to scale the drainpipe. The human dropped to the ground and extended his arm, trying to get hold of the little squirrel, but Alex stayed well out of his reach. The human looked at Alex with piercing blue eyes. If Alex had been sound of mind he might have said the human looked friendly enough to trust but he wasn’t sound of mind, he was in shock and his brain was only focused on one thing: Survival. A voice from behind startled the blue-eyed human.
“Chef, what the hell are you doing?”
Errol the blue-eyed human looked up at a man who was standing at the back door of the restaurant, wearing the same white outfit as him.
“A squirrel fell into the grease bin. Little guy’s covered in old cooking oil.”
“So? You’re the chef for God’s sake; you can’t be handling a dirty squirrel.”
Errol closed his eyes in annoyance.
“Yes, that’s right. I’m the chef. You’re not, so if I want to help him, I damn well will alright?”
The other human stood, biting his tongue for a moment, he knew Errol was the boss around here. Alex sat back; he didn’t understand that this human was trying to help him. He only saw the long arm, outstretched, trying to grab at him.
“Errol, he doesn’t want your help, he’s probably terrified and we have a million tables waiting for food.”
Errol didn’t listen, he was still trying to grab Alex, and he wanted so badly to clean him up.
“You’ve rinsed him off, he’ll be fine.”
Errol moved round to the other side of the car but Alex just moved to the opposite side of him.
“Come on little guy, I just want to help you.”
Still, Alex did not know what he was saying and stayed far away. With a sigh, Errol stood up. He knew he was not going to be able to catch him so he was forced to give up. He walked to the back door of the kitchen and stood with the other human for a moment. Alex stayed under the car, he was so tired from trying to fight his way out the grease but he knew he was safe under there for the time being.
“I hope you’re going to wash your hands before cooking.”
“Hey Terry, guess who’s not getting a break today?”
Terry groaned as Errol pushed him through the doorway and closed it behind him. Alex was alone at last. The used grease coating his fur was stopping his skin from breathing properly and so it was making him even more tired. He didn’t want to sleep here but he needed to regain his strength for the journey home. The lack of oxygen was getting to him, slowly he started to drift off. He wanted to fight the urge to sleep but the appeal of it was so overwhelming. He curled up in a gloopy blob under the cold steel of the cars frame. He didn’t feel safe or comfortable, he just felt tired.
The green car’s engine roared furiously above him, waking him sharply from his uncomfortable nap. His head was foggy as tried to stand. The grease was still slowing down his oxygen intake and making it harder for him to move. Swiftly, the vehicle powered off, leaving Alex exposed alone in the night in a now deserted parking lot accompanied only by artificial light from surrounding street lamps. Alex shut his eyes, he heard the squelch as his eyelids closed tightly. All the while he had wished this was an awful dream and for a fleeting moment he believed it could have been. But that moment passed quickly and he knew it wasn’t. As he opened his eyes he realised he could hear faint noises of humans inside the restaurant beside him. There was also ambient noise from passing cars and the odd human walking nearby. Boy he missed the sounds of the daytime. He had never seen the human’s world at night and he didn’t like it. It was too quiet and the quiet only made his situation feel more uncomfortable and it was already pretty darn uncomfortable.
The young squirrel tried to move across the parking lot with as much speed as he could muster. He knew which direction he had to go to get home but getting there was a different story altogether. On his fur the grease couldn’t dry so it just stuck to him. He tried his best to rub it off on the ground or on plants whenever he could but it was no use, all he was doing was getting more dirt to stick to it. He moved sluggishly along, knowing that he had to avoid the humans at all costs. He was not in any state for an encounter like the one he had earlier but he knew that the shortest route down to the park was through the Eau Claire area. This was a pedestrianized zone with bars and restaurants, there were always people there but if he could get past them then he could slip into the park. This was a route Alex was familiar with, he had entered the park this way many times, and the only difference is he normally did it above ground, in the trees. There was no way he could do that now though, not with the grease coating his paws, he would fall out for sure. Alex slinked and scuttled along the edge of building until he got to the last restaurant in the area. Once he passed that it was a clear run to the park and, being that it was night time, the low light would help him avoid being spotted. But, there was one problem, there were humans everywhere around the restaurant and he had to get past them. He stood for a moment, pondering his options when the sight of his reflection in a car door told him how he was going to do this. Thanks to the grease his fur was sleek and matted to him, his once fluffy tail was thin and wiry. In short, he looked like a rat. Now, Alex had no problem looking like a rat, after all they were from the same rodent family but he knew the humans loathed being near them. Confident this would work he slicked and smoothed his fur down as much as he could to look even more rat like. Then he ran as fast as he could. It didn’t take long for the humans to spot him.
“Eeekkk! Look at the size of that rat!”
A woman cried out and everyone looked. Alex was able to carve out a path through the humans as they dived out of his way one by one. Alex didn’t stop until all the humans were behind him. He kept moving until he could hear no more shrieks. He was approaching the bridge to the park, he could see it up ahead, once he crossed that he would be in the park, in his home, safe. But he was not quite there yet.
The park looked so different at night. Situated on a man-made island surrounded by water there were only a couple of access points to it. There were two human footbridges and some trees which loomed over the small river on one side, providing the squirrel’s safe access across the water. Alex knew he had to use the footbridge but he wasn’t worried, there were no humans in sight. At the time he didn’t know why but he was suddenly overcome with a realisation that his sense of smell was obsolete thanks to the strong smelling gunk on his fur. In fact, the gunk was all he could smell right now. With his head up he ran for the bridge. As he edged ever closer to it he pictured collapsing in the arms of his parents, they would know how to take care of this situation, they always did. This was the thought that drove him, this was the thought that kept him moving.
Alex never saw it coming. A strong blow knocked him off his paws and sent him hurtling in a sticky ball along the concrete path. Dizzy, he got up and slowly came to his senses. A large, black coyote was standing in front of him, two other gradually came into focus.
“Well hello little rat, what’s the hurry?”
The largest one spoke. He was very muscular but he was not the one who hit him. Alex could tell he was the best fed out of the three, his size difference probably related directly to his dominance amongst the other two. Shaking, Alex couldn’t respond.
“Little one, I strongly suggest you answer me when I speak to you.”
The menace in his voice was strong. Alex swallowed his fear and followed the beast’s advice.
“I’m not a rat…I’m a squirrel.”
“What? A squirrel? Come on ratty, you don’t want to lie to him!” the middle sized coyote spoke.
“Lying rat!” mumbled the third
“Look, little rat. I am Boris and these are my underlings Kira and Rabbit. This park falls under my jurisdiction, I am what you might call an area leader or, for lack of a better term-a land owner. This is all my land, and everything that falls within it is mine. Including you. That means you belong to me, so I’m going to ask you again? What’s your hurry?”
Alex looked up at Boris who was clearly enjoying toying with him.
“I’m not lying. I’m a squirrel, and I’m on my way home.”
“Stop lying to him rat…”
Boris cut Rabbit off with a raised paw.
“It’s alright Rabbit, we’ll indulge this little…rodent. Ok squirrel. You’re on your way home are you? Well, I have some sad news for you. You’re only going one place tonight…and it ain’t home.”
With that, the large coyote patted his stomach with his paw and licked his lips. Alex tried to back up further but there was nowhere for him to go. Up until then the wind had been blowing toward Alex, carrying his scent away from the coyotes noses. While Boris talked the wind started to change and so did the atmosphere. The scent stopped Boris mid sentence.
“Hold on a minute. What is that smell?”
If scent was a smoke you would have seen it disappear into the nostrils of all three of the coyotes. The aroma filled their lungs, intoxicating them. Their pupils dilated and their hearts raced. A big part of a coyote’s diet was from scavenging. Years spent ripping apart garbage cans in the backs of restaurants and homes had familiarised them with the flavours of a million delicious snacks, which had now permeated into the fur of this lone squirrel. Boris’ mouth watered uncontrollably but he managed to get some words out.
“Sonny? Why do you smell like that?”
Alex genuinely did not understand what they meant. He was a squirrel, a vegetarian by nature; he would never dream of
eating the things they did and so, he did not recognize all the scents like they did.
The other coyotes chimed in, each adding a flavour of which Alex reminded them of.
The coyotes were in a state of delirium, each was looking through Alex, their minds racing with images of each little nuanced flavour that was now filling their nostrils.
“I um…fell into a grease bin. At least that’s what I heard the human’s say.”
Boris brought himself back from the brink of what was about to become a feeding frenzy just long enough to enjoy the moment.
“You did what? My boy that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard but I won’t hold it against you. Imagine it from my perspective though. Here I was, about to eat what I thought was just a plain old rat and it turns out I stumbled across you! You just might be the tastiest squirrel in all of Canada! Hell maybe even North America! Eating you will be the best thing I’ve done in years. I’m going to savour you one bite at a time…”
Boris’ voice got deeper and his shoulders slunk. He moved in for the kill when Rabbit and Kira stepped in front of him. The scent of this squirrel had her intoxicated; she wasn’t thinking the way she normally would. Boris was her superior and she would never normally disobey him. But this was not normal.
“Why do you get him?”
“Yeah, we all found him.” Piped Rabbit
Boris stood up straight, trying to assert his dominance over the other two but they didn’t budge.
“Because there’s a pecking order here, and I’m at the top of it. Now, moved aside! “
“Don’t make me tell you again…”
Rabbit and Kira stared fixatedly at their superior. Boris was right, Alex probably was the tastiest squirrel in all of North America, he was a once in a lifetime find, and definitely worthy of insubordination. As they sized each other up, all ready to pounce on each other Alex saw his opportunity and slipped away. Stealthily he moved, quicker and quicker until they were far behind him. As he neared the end of the bridge he heard yelps and cries o pain behind him but he didn’t look back. He didn’t care what happened to any of them, he was just happy he would get to see his parents again.
“Alex! Where the blazes were you?”
Although Maria saw him come in first, it was Angus who had been pacing back and forward so much he had almost worn out the carpet. While Alex ran to his mother for a hug, Angus followed quickly to scold him some more.
“Where the devil huv you been young man? Yer muther and I’ve been worried sick. And what’s that all over yer fur?”
Maria looked down at her son; she spotted the fear in his eyes and told her husband to quieten down. It was only after that Alex told them everything. At some points in the story it looked like Angus was about to faint, he grew especially pale when he heard how close his son had come to three ravenous coyotes. His mother looked at her son with warmth in her eyes, it was her words that reassured the boy.
“It’s alright sweetheart, it’s over now, you’re safe. Let’s get you into a nice hot bath and we’ll get rid of that grease.”
Even after several vigorous scrubbings Maria was still asking Angus the same question, and Angus was still giving the same answer from behind his newspaper.
“Yes dear I can still smell it. It’s horrible.”
Maria cried out in frustration as she scrubbed more water into Alex’s fur. Alex chose not to have a bath the night before. He was exhausted, he just wanted to sleep. If Maria had known just how difficult it was going to be to get the smell out of his fur she might have talked him into it. She dreaded to think how she was going to get it out of his bed sheets. Maria had been scrubbing her son since the early morning now and as the day wore on, she just didn’t seem to be making any difference. Angus had a keen sense of smell, but it was nothing compared to the coyotes. If Angus could not smell the odours coming from her son it certainly wouldn’t mean the coyotes couldn’t, but at least it was a start.
“Jeez!” Martha exclaimed. “You look like a rat!”
“Now dear come on” Angus interrupted “some of ma cousins are rats.”
“Yes.” Martha stated, “Don’t I know it!”
Angus chose not to respond to her sarcasm. His wife wasn’t often in this foul of a mood but when she was he thought it wise not to say anything. He simply raised his “Daily Nut” in front of his face until she calmed down.
“Mom, it’s not coming out!”
“Yes it will!” She corrected as she scrubbed under his armpits.
“Mom, what did the coyotes mean when they said I was the tastiest squirrel in Canada?”
Maria stopped scrubbing and turned to Angus, who had now lowered his paper. His moustache was twitching slightly.
“I mean, I know coyotes eat squirrels and I know I’m covered in grease but they won’t come after me will they?”
Both parents knew the coyotes would probably come after Alex, they were relentless once they set their sights on something but they were not about to let their son know that.
“No dear, you have nothing to worry about.”
Angus’s moustache twitched and he went back to reading his paper.
Less than 24 hours had passed since Alex’s run in with the coyotes but things were already happening. Once they stopped fighting they realised they would have to tell their leader about it but they could not be honest. They could not tell him that Corak was going to eat him himself, they could not tell him they were fighting amongst themselves and they certainly could not tell him that was the reason he escaped. The only thing they could do was lie. The three headed made the long trip back the grand den where Jurgen stayed and along the way their big-mouths communicated the story to every coyote they passed. They figured the more coyotes they told, the more truthful their version of events would be and Jürgen would have to believe them.
Jurgen did not have an easy life growing up, his mother died when he was young and he never knew his father. He raised himself, struggling for survival on the harsh Alberta plains. He had some advantages, he was inexplicably bigger than the other coyotes, being closer in size to the wolves though not quite as big. It was his size that helped him keep and maintain food. He also had no fear of the humans, a trait that served him in good stead in his younger years when he would scavenge more. No fear of humans meant easy access to their garbage and the wasteful habits of the humans meant there was always plenty to eat there. Other coyotes never presented a problem to him because he was bigger than them, it was the wolves he had to watch out for. Still, fact that he grew up alone created a lot of anger in him. Over the years this anger grew worse and he became prone to bursts of rage when provoked. It was during one of these bursts of rage that Jurgen seriously injured a large wolf in a dispute over territory. The wolf’s size advantage was both a blessing and a curse to him as other animals normally backed down to him without a fight but on the flip side, because of this fact he didn’t have much fighting experience. Jurgen on the other hand, did. When the large wolf encroached on Jürgen’s den and tried to take it Jurgen snapped. His experience with violence gave him the upper hand on the wolf and he inflicted some serious damage on him. The wolf retreated only to spread the story of the coyote that caused him so much pain. No-one ever messed with Jurgen after that. After some time he caught the attention of a coyote from the “Downtown Clan.” This clan, along with two others were one of the packs who controlled downtown. There were packs all over the city and each was on the lookout for a way to gain a foothold over the others. This pack member immediately recognised the potential in Jurgen and talked him into meeting their leader Castro. Castro, like his father before him had led the “Downtown Clan” and kept them strong, deliberately avoiding battles with the stronger wolves and using diplomacy to carve up territory with other clans. Many in the “Downtown Clan” saw him as weak, unwilling to do what was necessary to take more territory from the other packs. They yearned for someone knew but no one was willing to challenge Castro.
Jürgen met with the ageing leader. Castro had his doubts over Jürgen’s loyalty but knew he was facing rising dissidence in his ranks and needed some new blood to win battles. Jurgen could certainly do that, they all knew of the stories surrounding him, they all heard what he did to the big bad wolf. Castro was right to question Jürgen’s loyalty though, Jurgen did not want to follow orders from anyone, but he wasn’t stupid. He knew this was a good opportunity to get into a pack who were on the up and really make things happen for himself. And so it was that Castro took Jurgen on as a unit leader. Under his command, some of the most vicious attacks in coyote history were carried out on their own kind. The other packs did not see them coming and one by one they fell. Those loyal to their clans were killed on the spot but many of the lower ranks simply switched sides to join Jurgen and save themselves. And so, the “Downtown Clan” grew and over time they became the largest pack in the whole of Alberta. Everyone, including Castro knew who was to thank for the clan’s rapid expansion. Word started to spread that Jurgen was to become the new leader. If anyone could challenge Castro’s authority it would be him, he was the obvious candidate for leadership. With Jurgen in charge, many thought there would be a new dawning for the coyotes. With him in charge, controlling such a large number of foot soldiers, not even the wolves would have enough strength to stop them. Jürgen knew all this and he wanted it so badly. There was only one obstacle in his way.
Castro was surrounded in the large ceremonial chamber. He had heard whispers of Jürgen’s intended treachery and he was taking no chances. Castor was a formidable leader but he was ageing. As far as honour went, Castro intended to put down any challenge to his leadership but he and those close to him knew that Jurgen was by far the strongest of any of the challengers that had faced him previously. No-one expected Castro to come out on top of this. In the grand hall, surrounded by his closest confidants, Castro took in the sights around him. Gaping archways were inscribed with words uttered by each of the leaders before him. In the catacombs around him were the graves of many a fallen coyote leader. It was an unwritten tradition among the coyotes that if you were once honourable enough to hold power in this chamber, then when you died your body would be stored in this prestigious place. As Castro took in his surroundings he wondered if tonight was the night they would start digging his plot. A scampering broke his chain of thought. One of his underlings hurried up to him and whispered in his ear. “He’s here.” Annoyed that the underling looked so obviously panicked in front of everyone, Castro managed to keep his cool. “Then send him in” he replied. Before the underling had a chance to move Jurgen barged in to the main chamber. Pausing and looking around as if admiring his new home, the large beast strutted down the set of stairs to the chamber floor. Onlookers watched, hushed. Many had been anticipating this showdown for some time but no-one wanted to choose sides for fear of picking the wrong one. With a grin, Jurgen jumped forward to face the ageing leader head on. Deliberately, Castro arched his back to show force, then leaped down from his raised area to meet the powerful challenger. No words were exchanged as the two circled each other, watched by dozens of other coyotes. As the two stared each other down, Castro noticed the fury in his challenger’s eyes. It was a hatred he had never seen before and right then he realised he would not win. He tried one last ditch at diplomacy.
“Brothers and sisters! I have led you this far, I will lead you further. Do not allow this impudent creature the honour of leading you. I am the true leader of this pack.”
Jurgen said nothing. Neither did anyone else. The coyotes came here expecting to see blood, and that was what they would get. Castro expected more support than the zero he received. He looked around at dozens of faces, then to his backbenchers (his closest supporters) and none supported him. With a nod he relented to his fate.
“Well, if this is what you want then to hell with you all.”
Jürgen experienced a momentary flash of pity for his former leader before he lunged, claws bared. It was not a fight. It was a destruction. What was left of Castro was removed by his former aides as Jürgen took his place on the leader’s podium. As all gathered to side up to the new leader there was hooting and hollering abound. The city was a chorus of sound, all the brothers and sisters were welcoming their new father, their new leader. Jürgen looked out upon his minions and smiled. He had tricked them all, he had his revenge, a Coywolf was now in charge of the coyotes and they now existed to do his bidding.
Falling, falling, falling, Alex was falling and then splash! He disappeared under the thick sludgy liquid, heading for the bottom.
A sharp howl forced him awake. He didn’t think much about the noise he just heard. He figured it was probably in his dream, and what a horrible dream that was. It was morning but he still felt a little sluggish. His fur still felt sticky. Not as much as before, but enough for him to know he was still not clean. He hated this feeling but he knew (at least for now) there was little he could do about it. Alex wandered into the main room of the dray where his mother was preparing breakfast and his father was reading his usual paper. Both were smiling uncomfortably.
“Morning sweetie, how did you sleep?”
His mother stirred some hot nut soup over a large pot as she asked him, acting as nonchalant as she possibly could.
“Alright, I guess”
“Hey guess what kiddo?” His father looked up from his paper, excited. “You and I are going to stay in today and do some work around the house, would you like that?”
Alex looked at his father curiously, not because he didn’t enjoy spending time with the old squirrel, it was just that his father had never asked him to do work around the house with him before. He wasn’t even sure what “work around the house” meant. His mother turned around and smiled at him, she nodded as if trying to sway his decision. Both his parents seemed eager for him to help so he agreed, even if he did find all this a bit odd.
“That’s the spirit, good lad!”
His father went back to reading his paper and his mother back to her pot. Alex stood in the middle of the room watching the two of them. Something was not right, this was all extremely strange. Alex was in two minds over what he heard earlier so he decided to ask.
“Did I dream it or did I hear howling a minute ago?”
As if their charade had just come crashing down, Angus dropped his paper and Maria dropped the spoon she was using to stir the pot with. Neither one wanted to admit they heard it, instead they chose to tell a little white lie in order to help their son feel safe.
“…No…” said Maria “I didn’t hear anything. Did you hear anything honey?”
“…No…” Angus stated “I didn’t hear a thing…”
Just then there was another howl which none of them could deny. All at once the three of them ran outside. There was no point in lying anymore; the threat was now very real. They had to find out what was going on.
Standing out on the large branch, Alex and his family were not alone. Every squirrel in the park heard the howls and they were out, on the relative safety of their branches to see what was going on. It was such an odd and terrifying sight for them to see coyotes in the daylight. It was still quite early for the humans to be out. This was not a suburban park, it was built on the edge of the business district and so, while the human children were at school and the human adults were at work, the coyotes were pretty much free to roam around uninterrupted now that they had a reason to be there. None of the squirrels yet knew what that reason was but they soon would. This was all part of Jürgen’s plan…
“Fear. Fear is the key!”
In Jürgen’s lair he addressed his minions.
“We cannot climb the trees, and the squirrels will not come down voluntarily. So we wait them out. They need food. They will exhaust their reserves quickly. They will not be prepared for us. Our appearance during the day will come as quite a shock to them. Soon, they will need more food… They will have to come down.”
Despite the savage attack on one his brethren not so long ago, a young male coyote spoke up. He felt he had to, but he made damned sure he was polite when he spoke.
“But sir, won’t that take quite a while?”
Jürgen simply smiled.
“No. And I’ll tell you why. You see squirrels are animals, as are we, and just like us they have a nurturing instinct towards their young. They already accept that coyotes eat squirrels, that’s just the way of life. But, we are not after them all, just one. Find your opportunity, let them know why we are there and then they will start to think. And thinking is a dangerous thing. As their little brains rattle around, entertaining thoughts of their own starving children, panic will set in. At first it will be a few, but squirrels are the stupidest of the rodents, their minds will start to work as one. Panic will spread through the entire scurry in a matter of seconds. At first it would have been incomprehensible to them to sacrifice one of their own, a child no less. But with the image of their own little ones, waiting, hungry, for days on end with not a nut to their names… Then, they will force the boy down, and then he will be ours. Sure, the more experienced foragers will have lots of food stored away, but not all of them are experienced. Winter is already here so supplies are already being eaten into. They do not know how to be too cautious with their supplies. I mean, why would they? Yesterday, they would not have thought they would have ever seen a coyote out during the day, let alone a whole pack, so they will not be prepared for our occupation of their precious park. No, this will not take long; they will turn on each other faster than you think. And when they do there will be chaos, they will attack each other for food, they will fight, and bite and kick their neighbours and they will fall out of the trees like rocks from the sky. And who will be waiting for them? We will, jaws open. But do not forget, if Alex is to fall, he is mine and mine only.”
As darkness dimmed on Jürgen’s speech the coyotes yelled and screamed, it seemed like the next day for them was going to be a feast.
Back in the park a few coyotes had doubts for their own safety in all this. Not one of them could put their paw on their hearts and swear that if he or she caught the tastiest squirrel in all of Canada, they would hand him over to their leader. They could not promise that because nothing like this had ever happened before. There was a plentiful bounty of food in the city even for a pack of their size but this was different, this was a once in a lifetime meal and it was certainly worth risking a beating, or worse. But of course, no-one would have dared to tell this to Jürgen.
Noisy chatter was buzzing around the trees. The squirrels were looking for answers as to why this was all happening but the coyotes were saying nothing for the moment. This was all on purpose, acting upon Jürgen’s instructed them not to reveal their intentions right away. He told them to wait, and let the squirrels panic before revealing anything. Panicking was what they were doing. Skittish creatures around danger, they watched the coyotes trot around the park with no clear intent. What was clear was that the coyotes were not hunting and there was nothing to scavenge in the park so the squirrels were pretty confused and scared. Alex and his parents looked on; their sensitive ears could pick up the conversations of every squirrel in the park. Normally, the squirrels learned to ignore the conversations by tuning them out but right now Alex and his parents did not. They alone knew why the coyotes were here but they kept quiet. They were quietly hoping the beasts would just give up and go home. The squirrels chatted noisily as they got more and more worked up. Suddenly one of the coyotes stopped and howled; its voice causing chaos among the little rodents who scattered back to their homes. The only ones still out in the branch were Alex and his parents.
“Surely the humans will chase them away…” Martha said hopefully.
“I don’t know…” Angus replied “You forget dear, the humans don’t use this park very often during the day at this time of year and hardly ever at night. It’s only in the summertime when it gets real busy here…and that’s a long way away.”
Alex was just staring at the coyotes, he knew that if even one or two of them stayed behind after the others left they could dodge any humans that came through the park while still making it to dangerous for the squirrels to go to ground. The squirrels needed to be on the ground to forage, the trees would not start producing anything edible for another couple of months, and their reserve supplies would not last as long as that. The sun was out today, but it was not warm. Gradually all the other squirrels started to come back out from their homes, their breaths creating little jets of condensation in the morning air. Angus looked around at the others.
“Come on, let’s go inside” he said. He was worried for his family. He knew what he would be willing to do to protect his own family, he just didn’t know if the others would do the same.
The coyotes were not happy about their own occupation of the park but it was what Jürgen wanted. They all knew they would not be permitted to have Alex for themselves so they felt they should have been sleeping right now like they normally would be. Outside the earshot of any of the elders the younger coyotes grumbled about their displeasure, although on the inside the elders were grumbling too. They had been grumbling and gossiping since Alex was discovered and so, their conversations had spread way outside the park by now. There were hundreds of coyotes in and around the city. By now all of them were aware of the situation in the park and, ultimately who the target was. Their words quickly spread far outside the city limits as the story spread across the vast network of ears and suddenly other species were hearing it too.
In the Alberta Badlands a small band of coyotes were gathered, they had been busy telling jokes and laughing together so they did not hear the pack of five Wolves coming up behind them. The Wolves however, did not have to sneak up on them; they two species were meeting up here to trade goods like they did on a regular basis. The leader of the coyotes turned mid-joke to nod at the approaching Wolf as if they were equals. You see Wolves are not like coyotes. The humans do not take kindly to them in the city and if they do enter the cities limits they tend to get shot at or hunted. The last time one was spotted on even the edge of the city, the humans chased it down and it met a grisly end. The humans saw the coyotes as more of a nuisance rather than a threat, and were never really bothered by them. Wolves were very different though. The humans were terrified of them, from children’s stories to documented attacks, Wolves held a prominent place in the nightmares of most of the cities inhabitants. But, as the humans delved ever deeper into the Wolves’ territory on camping trips and hikes, they would quite often drop or leave items behind when they left. One of the items they commonly dropped or left behind in the form of garbage was chocolate. Chocolate cakes, candy bars, basically anything involving chocolate and the Wolves just couldn’t get enough. But there was simply not enough of it to go around. Logically, the Wolves could not spend their lives sniffing out these little titbits of treasure spread out across huge swathes of land because if they would not have time to hunt, and if they could not hunt they would starve. The Wolves understood that the coyotes could enter the city without any problems and could therefore get their paws on practically endless supplies of the stuff. The clever coyotes, on the other hand knew that the Wolves could take down large prey that they could only dream of. Elk, deer, caribou, even the odd moose. The coyotes were too small to tackle these creatures so the Wolves did it for them, in return for chocolate.
“What do you have for us today?”
Wenzil, the leader of the ragtag bunch of coyotes spoke to the much larger Wolf with an air of equality around him.
The leader of the Wolves looked down his nose at the wiry coyote. He accepted their arrangement for what it was. A simple trade off, however he did not respect the coyotes one little bit. The Wolf ignored the cocky coyotes question and asked his own.
“What’s this I hear about a squirrel made of bacon grease?”
“Aaahhh, you wanna know about the rat huh? Thought you were here for the chocolate?”
“Answer my question Wenzil” the Wolf spoke slowly and deliberately.
“It’s a rumour Balvenius, just a rumour. There’s no such thing as a squirrel made up of grease. Now, where’s our grub?”
The coyote’s voice was shrill. He was the worst of the traders; often he and the others would raid small stores at night and make off with dozens of bars of chocolate to trade for the gamey meat they craved.
“See, that’s what I thought too. Then Remus here heard it from a different little coyote than I did and I thought well, there must be some truth to it then. What were you told Remus? Smells like bacon, chicken wings, ribs…”
Remus nodded softly as Balvenius continued.
“Sounds like something I’d like to see for myself.”
“Well it’s not true!” The coyote’s voice became more nasally as he appeared to be getting angry. “Now, we here to trade or not? I have a nice selection of candy bars here, some of them are pure chocolate!”
Balvenius looked around at the other Wolves, then back at the coyote with contempt.
“Balv, look, forget about the squirrel, he ain’t real.”
“So you say…”
The Wolves took a menacing step forward and the coyotes started to panic.
“Hey hey Balv, baby, calm down alright. I wouldn’t wanna have to let Jürgen know about this.”
Balvenius lowered his head to meet Wenzil’s. A menacing glint in his eye indicated his intentions.
“And what makes you think you’re ever going to see Jürgen again?”
In the blink of an eye, the Wolves had pounced on the helpless coyotes and in an instant, it was all over.
A wiry female voice echoed through the trees. Although they knew they could not be harmed by stepping outside, the squirrels were still reluctant to come out. The call repeated:
One by one the black furred little critters headed out the door onto the branches. Angus was the only red squirrel, the only one without dark fur. Tepidly they came out of hiding. Despite their fear they had to find out what was going on, their children’s lives depended on it. Up until this point coyotes were not known for conversing with squirrels. Dozens of pointy ears were pricked and silent; waiting to hear what was going to be said.
“I hope I have your complete attention.”
Alex recognised the speaker as the middle coyote of the three who cornered him. Her voice was powerful enough to reach all the trees, but there was a fragility in it that told everyone she was not the boss. As she spoke, other coyotes patrolled the park, there were over a dozen in sight but Alex suspected there would be many more lurking. He saw the large coyote who cornered him sitting next to the path near the river not too far behind her. He wondered why he was not the one speaking to them. He was clearly the in charge of the other two when he got cornered.
“I hope I have your full attention because I will not be repeating this. Nor will any of my comrades.”
All little ears remained pricked and pointed towards the voice.
“We are looking for a squirrel, one who has a special…flavour…”
The word ‘flavour’ caused the squirrels to cry out.
“…we can smell him right now. He is here, we know that much. And we are not leaving here till we have him. We have no issue with the rest of you, just this one, the rest of you are free to live your lives as normal once we have him. But remember, we will not leave until we do.”
A large squirrel spoke up, he was confident in the safety of the trees, yet even for his size among the squirrels, he was still puny in comparison to the beasts below, something in his voice remembered that.
“Who do you think you are? Or better yet, who do you think we are? We would never hand one of our own over to you! The humans will chase you out in no time and we’ll be free to forage as normal.”
The coyote nodded and then chuckled.
“What’s your name squirrel?”
The large squirrel suddenly wasn’t so confident.
“None of your business.”
“Ok fair enough. Well, I can assure you, we’re not leaving. You think the humans will save you? Most of the day the humans don’t even use this park and if they do come in, we’ll simply stay out of their way. But that doesn’t mean we’ll be out of yours. The moment you put your paws on the ground you’ll hear me or one of my MANY comrades come running and squirrel, you had better start running too. Some of you have seen us here before at nights, sometimes the humans are here too, but they don’t see us. Look around at the shrubbery where you forage, you think a human would see us in there? Even in the daylight. NO, we will be here every day and every night. Every single day, and every single night. And then where will you be? I hope you all have enough food stored up.”
The squirrels looked around at each other uneasily. The only one who didn’t look uneasy was Angus; he always had enough food stored up.
“That’s what I thought. Sure, you stick to your principles now but when that hungry feeling starts to grow in your stomach you’ll rethink them. And when it starts to grow in your children’s stomachs, you’ll rethink them again. And when the last morsel of food is gone and that feeling is getting worse, you’ll start feeling the cold more, you’ll get weak and then you’ll have two options. One: You make a break for it, hit the ground running and hope you can reach food, pick up enough for your family and bring it back without one of us getting to you first. Or two: You can give us one squirrel, one little squirrel most of you probably don’t even know anyway. The choice is yours. And don’t worry; this isn’t one of those deals where I give you a time limit to decide. The beauty of this is I don’t have to. Just listen to your stomachs.”
The coyote turned to walk away but stopped and turned around again.
“Oh and by the way, we know you little rodents have fantastic senses of smell, you were probably wondering what that funny smell in the trees was the last couple of days. You probably ignored it until now even. Well now, I’m going to ask you not to ignore it. I’m going to ask you to follow your nose to the one among you who is causing you all this hassle, the one who is going to starve you and your families if you don’t do what I ask of you. Do it, do it now.”
The squirrels didn’t think anything of listening to the coyote, she was right they had been ignoring the scent, assuming it was just wafting in from the city with a million another scents they ignored. But now, as one by one they sniffed the air it was unmistakeable. That powerful odour was coming from one of their own and one at a time their heads turned towards Alex and his family. Watching the little heads turn, Kira could only smile. She focused in on the little squirrel who was shutting his eyes tight as if he expected to wake up from a bad dream any minute.
In under a minute, almost a hundred little faces spread across dozens of trees were pointing dead at Alex. Hundreds of faces now, spread across dozens of trees were turning towards Alex. Slowly, Angus stepped in front of his son, trying to shield him from everyone’s gaze as Martha hurried him into the dray, his eyes still shut tight. Kimmy watched her friend from the next tree over in disbelief. As she watched Alex disappear in his home she then turned her gaze downwards to the coyote who spoke. She had also been watching Alex, grinning wildly as she did.
The first day was the easiest. It was false hope for Alex and his family. Some friends came round for hot drinks and a chat, trying to help the family through this difficult time. The second day was much of the same, but on the third, fewer people came. Then on the fourth, even fewer. Supplies were running down, and as they did, so did the sympathy for Alex’s plight. After a week people had stopped coming altogether. Angus had heard stories of fathers who had tried to sneak out during the night to gather food and had been chased straight back up a tree empty handed. There was even a rumour of a father who never made it back after an attempted midnight foraging though that was never confirmed. Angus tried his best to share what supplies he had left but he did not have enough for them all. Something had to be done.
On the 9th night, the squirrels were getting desperate. The coyotes were still roaming and there was no sign that the humans were going to chase them out. It seemed they were here to stay. Alex sat outside on the large branch and watched them with his friend Kimmy. For once, Kimmy was not speaking, and this fact unsettled him more than their frightening captors did.
“What am I going to do Kimmy? What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know Alex, I really don’t know.”
Angus had used up some of the last of his stock making sure his family’s stomachs weren’t grumbling but it wouldn’t be long before it was happening again.
In a tree at the other side of the park a desperate father was making his way to the ground. Skilfully using his paws to be as quiet as possible he crept down the large trunk of a large maple. At this time of night the air was cold and crisp. The air in Calgary was dry; there was very little moisture in it despite being so close to river. He scaled the trunk slowly, but no matter how much care he took he could not stop what was happening to the bark. All squirrels will tell you that bark can be brittle, and it can certainly break off with little or no notice. With a light cracking sound a large chunk of bark broke off. Normally the squirrels would simply adjust their footing and stay on the tree but this was a particularly large piece of bark, this one took him with it. With a soft thud he hit the grass. His body was covered in fur and he was not very heavy so he did not make a lot of noise. Among the darkness he tumbled but he was unhurt, and he quickly found his way to his feet. Adrenaline pumped through his furry body, he did not want to think what would happen if he was caught down here. After all, he was just trying to save the lives of his family. With a quick look he scanned the area. He was alone. Quickly, he turned around; he wanted to get to his destination as quickly as possible. He saw it, not too far away, the shrubbed area in between the human children’s play equipment and the river. During the day the human children played on the swings or climbed the frame there, the bars were shaped like cowboy hats, a testament to the Calgarian’s love of the rodeo. With another quick check the desperate father scuttled off, his paws were light; he didn’t think there was any way he would be heard. Thoughts of his family shot through his head as he ran, oh how he wanted to keep them safe, he loved them so much. Running past the play area he made it to the bushes and stopped. After breathing a sigh of relief he looked up. A large coyote sat in front of him, patiently waiting with a large smile.
“I’m glad you decided to meet with us.”
It was the same coyote who made the announcement to the squirrels over a week earlier. Her smirk could hardly hide her sinister joy in making the squirrels turn on each other.
“My family and I can’t last much longer. I had no choice.”
Kira smiled and then frowned in false sympathy.
“Aww, of course you didn’t. Now, tell me what I want to hear.”
Jeff looked down at the dirt. He was not a bad squirrel; he was good natured and hard working. But his family were starving; he felt he had no other choice. Emotion got the better of him and he wept. He did not care that Kira was watching him, he was not trying to gain sympathy, he genuinely felt awful for what he was doing.
“Well, this is touching. But we’re losing focus don’t you think?”
Jeff dried his eyes and looked up at the coyote angrily.
“You don’t care about us at all do you? How do I know that once we do this you won’t just stay in the park anyways? How do I know you’ll stand by your word and leave?”
Kira leaned in to him and grinned a wicked grin.
Jeff had no choice, he had to co-operate with her or he would have to watch his loved ones perish. With a sigh he reluctantly gave in.
“I’ve spoken to some of the others. We can’t go on like this. We’ll give him over to you.”
Kira was straight to the point. She knew Jürgen was losing patience with this siege, he wanted it to be over with, he wanted his prize.
“Tomorrow afternoon. I will gather the others up in the morning and we will deliver him to you. We will lower him to the ground…”
“Lower him? He doesn’t have to be alive, just push him off the branch, we’ll pick him up.”
Jeff winced at the thought, his stomach churned.
“No! We’re not monsters like you.”
“No, you just betray your own kind. It’s alright, coyotes do that too.” Kira laughed. “Maybe we’re more alike than you think.”
“We’ll never be like you!”
“Whatever squirrel, just make sure he is on the ground by 12pm.”
Kira walked away, leaving Jeff alone in the bushes. He glanced at the river and wanted to dive in. He imagined the current would take him somewhere peaceful, somewhere where he would not have to deal with all this. But he couldn’t leave. Regardless of how disgusting he felt, regardless of how much he felt like a piece of garbage for doing what he was doing, he had a family and he would not watch them suffer. He stood, alone in the darkness and wept some more.
Alex woke up around 10. There was no need to get up early today; he couldn’t leave the dray anyways. He came into the main room where his mother was pouring the last of some broth for the three of them. Angus sat with nothing to read, he not been able to receive his copy of The Daily Nut for over a week now and he was feeling out of touch with his world. He was always a firm believer in learning about the squirrel world outside of the park but this week, the park was all they had. Without his paper, he felt isolated. Together they sat, as a family but they did not speak much. His mother tried to make some conversation but neither one of the males were in the mood. A knock on the door injected some much needed life into their lunch. Maria answered it to see a squirrel she did not recognise at the door.
“Hello Mrs MacNut; I’m Jeff.”
“Hi Jeff, what can I do for you?”
“I’m actually here to see your husband.”
Angus came to the door and Jeff introduced himself.
“I heard you were a great forager.” Jeff said, hoping to garner some interest.
“I can provide for my family, yes.”
“Ah, your modesty precedes you sir, I have a favour to ask. Well actually it’s not a favour, more like an offer.”
“Oh yes, what’s that then?”
“Well I live on the other side of the park and there is a large bush which I normally gather seeds from. It has plenty in it, it usually feeds about a dozen households only right now, no-one is quick enough to go and get them. I asked around and I heard you were the best forager in the park, I wondered if you would be interested. Obviously I would let you help yourself, take enough for you and your family.”
Angus looked at Maria. He was not the bravest squirrel, they both knew that, but he was quick and he was an excellent forager. And also, they were all starving so it didn’t seem like such a terrible option.
“Are they coyotes near there?”
“Not that we can see, but you can come take a look for yourself.”
He looked back at Maria.
“What do you think dear?”
Maria gestured towards the pot on the stove.
“We could use the seeds…”
“Ok, I’ll go take a look. I won’t be long.”
Angus kissed his wife on the cheek and headed outside.
“So how far is it?”
“It’s a bit of a walk but I’m sure you’ll be happy when you get there.”
Jeff felt dirty, he had just lied to this poor family’s face. He did not enjoy what he had just done but again he had to think of his own family.
Maria and Alex sat, finishing off their soup. The promise of more food excited both of them but yet they still did not talk much. Angus had been gone for over half an hour now and they were still nursing their lunches. Truth be told they did not have much else to do. The house had been spotless for days and Alex had over played with all the toys in his room. They were just waiting for this all to be over, but the catch (that they both knew) was that this would not be over until the coyotes had Alex in their paws but Maria was not about to let that happen.
It had been 45 minutes since Angus had left and they were still waiting for his return. As Maria washed up some of the dishes there was another knock on the door. The knock brought Alex from his bedroom to see what was going on. No sooner had Maria opened it (expecting to see her husband) when she was pinned to the door by a squirrel she did not recognise.
“I’m sorry” he said as more squirrels entered the dray.
Instinctively Alex ran to help his mother but was grabbed by another.
“We’re so sorry” another squirrel said as he restrained Alex.
“What are you doing? Leave my son alone!” Maria wailed but none responded.
Alex tried to protest as he was dragged outside. One of the squirrels pulled the dray door shut and held the handle tightly, locking Maria inside. A crowd of dozens of upset squirrels were out, covering all the nearby branches. Alex could hear his mother pounding on the back of the door as he was being led off towards a nearby set of ropes dangling from an overhead branch.
“What are you doing?”
Alex yelled out and everything stopped for a moment. The squirrels let him go and one of his neighbours took him gently by the shoulders. The neighbour bent down to meet his eye and talked to him sincerely.
“Alex, I’m so sorry about all this. This breaks the heart of every squirrel in the park but it has to be done.”
“What has to be done?”
“My kids are starving, so are everyone else’s, their wives too. We all are. We can’t survive much longer if we don’t do this.”
The neighbour nodded over Alex’s shoulder and he was grabbed again by several paws, all taking him over towards the rope. Despite his protests, Alex felt the rope tie tightly around his waist then he was left to stand beside the edge.
“Alex, again we are all terribly sorry for what we have to do here today. It is for the good of us all.”
Alex felt the apology was empty considering what his own kind were about to do to him.
Kimmy’s terrified voice made him turn. His friend was being restrained by her mother. Kimmy was just as horrified as Alex as to what was going on.
“Alex, we are all so very sorry.”
He simply stared back at Mr Nutsovich, the neighbour he thought he knew.
“Stop talking little squirrel! Get on with it already!”
The gruff powerful voice caused them all to look down. Jürgen’s presence was felt immediately within the coyote brood but this was the first time any of the squirrels had actually seen him. He was a myth to them, a nightmare, and now, here they were making deals with him. This was indeed, a day of shame for the squirrels.
As if taking orders straight the coyote leader Jürgen himself, Mr Nutsovich nodded again and a stranger pulled a rope, hoisting Alex up into the air. Slowly the stranger started lowering him down towards the waiting coyotes. Alex could have chewed through the ropes but he couldn’t reach them, he was tied too tightly. All the squirrels watched with heavy hearts as he was lowered slowly from the tall tree. Maria was still pounding furiously on the dray door but it was no use, she was not going to get out in time. Kimmy looked around sharply. Everyone was watching Alex being lowered down; they were too distracted to think about restraining her so she took her opportunity. Pushing past her mother, without a thought for her own safety she leapt from her branch, falling a huge height for a small squirrel before catching the rope. The stranger who was lowering Alex held tight as the rope started swinging out of control.
“Oh no! Kimmy!”
Kimmy’s mother was joined by the others in cries of terror as they watched her jump. The weight of the little squirrel pushed Alex towards the trunk of the tree but it wasn’t enough, he couldn’t quite reach the branch.
Kimmy screamed at her friend and he tried his hardest to swing.
On the backswing away from the tree they thrust out their bodies, hoping to create enough momentum to reach the trunk this time. As they swung in closer Alex extended his feet towards the bark and caught it with just enough of his claws to hold on. Kimmy used her expert climbing skills to lower herself down the rope and extend her paws to the trunk while holding on to the rope with her feet. Between the two of them they were able to pull themselves onto the tree to safety.
“Kimmy, chew through my rope!”
Jürgen was furious; he had been pacing back and forward while watching the aerial acrobatics but now he was looking up at all the squirrels in fury.
“If that squirrel escapes you will all starve, you hear me? Starve!”
The stranger holding Alex’s rope shed a tear and swallowed hard. He didn’t think about his next move he just did it. With all his strength he pulled the rope hard enough to dislodge the two young squirrels from the tree and then let go. He turned his back and walked away. Kimmy had chewed through half the rope when they were both pulled off the trunk. Both were now falling. Kimmy’s mother was screaming. Alex’s mother was pounding the door as hard as she could, every other squirrel held their breath.
With a thud Alex and Kimmy landed hard on the short grass, kept well-manicured by the humans. Jürgen moved in, he was in no rush. He had his prize. Alex was still tied by the rope, even if Kimmy escaped it didn’t matter, Alex was the one he was after.
“Hello, little one. I finally have you.”
The other coyotes watched, salivating, it took all their strength not to try and claim Alex for themselves. Kimmy refused to leave her friend’s side. She tried to be brave with Jürgen.
“You better get out of here! The humans will chase you away any minute.”
Jürgen smiled at the brazen young squirrel. Alex was going nowhere so he decided to educate with her.
“Young lady I have the humans under control. I have guards at each of their entrances. Kira!”
Jürgen yelled for Kira who came running over from near the river.
“Are there any humans in the park?”
“No sir, we haven’t seen any for quite some time now.”
Jürgen smiled again. He looked at Kimmy and decided he wanted to show her exactly how in control he was.
“Any news from the entrances? Have any even tried to come into the park?”
“Um no sir, it’s almost like their trying to stay away, it’s strange actually.”
“Ha! It’s not strange; it shows how powerful we are. Go round and tell everyone what a good job they are doing. When you’re done telling everyone here, go to the other side of the park and tell them.”
“Well sir…that might be a bit of a problem.”
Jürgen was annoyed at this comment. Kira’s negativity threw him off his stride.
“Well we haven’t actually been able to reach our brothers and sisters on the other side of the park sir. They haven’t checked in for a while.”
“Go and see what the problem is Kira and report back to me.”
Kira didn’t want to tell him she was on her way to check when he called her over. Jürgen did not want excuses, he wanted action. A silent hush fell over the entire park as Kira turned away from her boss. She hadn’t even moved yet and already she knew what was going on. Jürgen was staring down Kimmy as Kira’s trembling voice spoke to him:
“Sir, I think I’ve found the problem…”
Jürgen sensed the fear in her and turned around right away. Five large wolves stood before him. Kira and some other close by coyotes slinked away a little leaving Jürgen standing toe-to toe with Balvenius.
“Move away from my meal Jürgen.”
“Get out of here Balvenius. I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”
Balvenius laughed a hearty laugh, ignoring Jürgen’s warning completely.
“Brothers, sisters! We have them outnumbered! Don’t be fooled by their size, they are no match for us!”
The coyotes listened to their commander. Since he ruled by fear, they dare not disobey him. Over a dozen of them moved to surround the Wolves but the larger predators were not intimidated. They were more powerful than three coyotes combined; this was not a fair fight. Kira howled a specific high pitched howl which called for reinforcements. Jürgen grinned as over a dozen more coyotes appeared from behind trees and bushes; some even came from the human’s entrance points. Now it was a fair fight.
“I knew Wolves would arrive eventually Balvenius, did you really think I would be here with such low numbers. Now, leave!”
Balvenius looked at Jürgen with an oddly proud smile.
“You’ve adapted well Jürgen. I’m proud of you.”
Jürgen growled; he had nothing but contempt and hatred for the Wolf before him.
“I see you have all met my son!”
The Wolf’s booming statement caused ripples of among the species’. Some coyotes were whispering to each other about what was said, some were stunned silent and the squirrels were all just watching from above.
“Balvenius, get out of here!”
Jürgen’s warning was menacing but the Wolf took no heed.
“Attention coyotes’, you have been fooled. The one who leads you, Jürgen is not who he says he is, he is not even one of you.”
This was information Jürgen had closely guarded for years. It was now coming to light and although inside he was panicking, his demeanour was that of rage.
“He is my son, half Wolf and only half coyote.”
Whispers spread around everywhere now. Neither the coyotes nor the squirrels had ever seen a Coywolf before, none were even sure they actually existed. Only the Wolves remained unsurprised.
“Your leader, my son, has deceived you all and now he wants to take the prize of the tastiest squirrel in all of Canada for himself. I don’t think that’s right. Do any of you?”
Before the coyotes could answer Jürgen snapped, he lunged at Balvenius, causing confusing among the packs. Instinctively, the coyotes attacked the Wolves and chaos ensued. Each Wolf was fighting off at least three coyotes while Jürgen and Balvenius fought for dominance. Although Balvenius was larger than Jürgen, he was also much older than him. Jürgen was at his prime physical age right now. All factors considered; the two were evenly matched.
Alex and Kimmy were too frightened to move. They stared at the beasts brutally attacking each other. Teeth and fur clashed in violent bursts. It was only when Kimmy’s mother yelled down to her did they both break from their trances
“Kimmy, get this rope off of me.”
Kimmy got to work chewing the rope, it took her about a minute but she finally got it. Released, Alex got to his feet. The two were ready to run when a coyote jumped in front of them.
“Well…” the coyote started “if Jürgen ain’t having you, I might as well!”
There was nowhere for the squirrels to run, there were coyotes and Wolves everywhere. The coyote was about to snap at them when he stopped and screamed. Angus was on top of him, digging his claws into the coyote’s head. He yelled to his son as he scratched furiously.
“Get up the tree kids! Quickly!”
Alex and Kimmy ran past as Angus flailed around on top of the coyote like a rodeo clown trying to stay on a bull. Other coyotes were chasing down the two of them now. The scent of Alex’s fur combined with the frenzy of the battle was causing a state of lunacy in their minds; they were desperate to get a taste of him. The two ran, dodging nips and bites and snaps until finally they made it to the trunk of the large tree and scaled their way up dodging jumping, snapping coyotes in the process. When the rabid predators decided Alex was out of reach they went back to fighting the Wolves. Alex and Kimmy got to the branch and Kimmy’s mom hugged her. By now Maria was out and she and her son were watching Angus ride the coyote in horror.
“Alex, we’re so sorry for what we did!”
Mr Nutsovich was sincere but Alex didn’t care.
“Look, if you really want to apologise, help me save my dad!”
Mr Nutsovich and a couple of the other adult squirrels nodded and decided they were going to follow the boy. By escaping the coyotes he had proven how brave he was and now they would follow him. Maria tried to protest but she knew it was no use, Alex would not stand by and watch his father be eaten because of him.
“Alex be careful…”
His mother’s worried words accompanied him as he and a few of the others ran down the trunk of the tree and headed straight towards Angus. They lunged on the coyote and started biting at him. Alex rubbed his fur over the coyotes, trying to transfer some of his scent. The coyote yelped in pain and ran off, allowing Angus to jump to the ground. Other coyotes moved in, splitting up the squirrels and blocking off their escape routes. Carnage ensued as Alex and the others desperately ducked and dived, dodging the predator’s teeth. By now they were split up completely, Alex found himself cornered by three large monsters, he was surely a goner this time. Surely the coyotes would have him; each salivating mouth below a pair of veiny, piercing eyes wanted the prize for themselves. Surely he had no more luck, no more lifelines. And then it happened. Alex was stunned to hear a popping sound and then he watched as a thin tube with a feather sticking out landed in one of the coyote’s necks. After only a couple of seconds, the confused beast collapsed to the ground. While the others looked around (their senses going wild) two more tubes landed in their necks and brought them down too. Popping sounds were going off all around them, the humans were moving in. One by one they were hitting the coyotes and the Wolves with tranquiliser darts; someone had spotted the Wolves and called the authorities. Humans in uniform closed in from the outskirts of the park causing some of the animals to scatter. Jürgen and Balvenius stopped mauling each other momentarily and looked around and what was happening.
Jürgen cried out, he knew his time to get Alex was now or never. He used his sharp nose to pinpoint the squirrel and ran off to track him down. Balvenius was in hot pursuit behind Jürgen as Alex ran for his life. He knew there was only one place he could go, one place where he might have a fighting chance. The trees were still surrounded by coyotes despite the human’s intervention so he headed for the river. His little legs were exhausted from running but he could not stop. He zigged and zagged, keeping one step ahead of the Coywolf and the Wolf. He ran and he ran and he ran. His legs started to cramp, to seize up, but to give in to the pain now would mean certain death. Closer and closer he got to the water. He could feel Jürgen’s breath on him, inching closer and closer while running at a tremendous speed. At the last second before entering the river Alex curled up into a ball, tumbling along the small rocks at the shore line. He was small enough that he would stop quickly but Jürgen was not and neither was Balvenius. The Coywolf tried to stop but he couldn’t and when Balvenius found he had the same problem it was too late, he collided with his son, their momentum pushed them both forward into the water, into the strong current. Alex could not even enjoy watching them get swept away by the current. He took a hard tumble, his body was bruised and he was too exhausted to do anything about it. On his back he lay, drifting in and out of consciousness. Through bleary vision he looked up, he saw two humans in uniform standing above him. They spoke but he did not know what they were saying.
“Little guy…covered in grease…”
“Chef who called us…Can’t believe we found him.”
“Take him with us.”
“Pass me another peanut Jose.”
Angus lay beneath an umbrella, sheltering from the baking Argentinian sun. Maria lay out in the sunshine with Alex and a couple of cool drinks in hand. Jose passed Angus another peanut and smiled at his sister and his nephew.
“I am so glad you decided to come stay with me, this weather is excellent yes?”
“It is.” Maria replied. “I’m so glad we decided to come.”
“Yes” said Angus, “me too. We just couldn’t stay after the incident in the park. To think, squirrels could betray their own like that.”
“Ok dear, let it go, it’s been a few weeks now, just enjoy the sunshine.”
Angus grumbled. Maria was right, it was time to let what happened go, but he found it hard. Angus couldn’t believe his own kind would sell them out to the coyotes like they did. Although Alex was sad to have left his friend Kimmy behind he knew he was lucky to be alive. The humans who found him cleaned him up and released him in the park after a few days. He never knew it but the chef at The Pasta Place (the human’s restaurant) called animal services after he ran off and told them what happened. They never thought they would find one squirrel among hundreds but when they went to chase the coyotes and the Wolves out of the park they could not believe their luck when they came across him. After he returned to the park Angus decided they could not live among the squirrels who tried to give her son up to the predators (despite their reasons) so they made the long journey down to Argentina to start a new life with Jose.
“What do you think of the weather down here Alex?”
“It’s great Uncle Jose, It’ll take me a while to get used to the heat but I’m sure I will. Pass me another peanut will you?”
Alex the squirrel was fast. The fastest squirrel out there, anywhere, in the whole wide world. Humans below might catch a brief glance at him zipping from rooftop to rooftop, scaling the humans buildings like they were trees themselves. His father, an immigrant squirrel from a foreign land would tell him to slow down, he would get hurt one day. Alex always thought his father was too cautious. His father was right. One day, on one of his runs, Alex made a leap that would change his and his families lives forever. Leaping onto a drainpipe on a low lying building Alex slipped, landing in a grease barrel from one the humans' restaurants. As he struggled, fought, sure the end was near, a hand, a human hand fished him out. Shocked and disorientated Alex ran as quickly as he could for shelter, diving out of the alien hands of the human to seek relief, bigger down by the sludgy, thick grease matting his fur. It was then that something started happening, something Alex could not fathom at that moment. He was covered in grease, grease that was used by the humans to fry up all sorts of snacks for them. Chicken wings, rib ends, french fries, odd sea creatures they called Calamari. These scents were matted now in his fur and they weren't going away. This made Alex the "Tastiest Squirrel" in Canada, no, most definitely, the world. Whomever got to eat this little squirrel would have the best meal of their lives. After a short encounter with the areas top predators, the Coyotes, Alex was marked by their leader Jurgen, a strong and fearsome beast. This is the story of the siege that took place in the small man made park in the middle of the Human's city. How one monster of a coyote set about plans to devour one young, delicious squirrel and how, as word spread of this bounty, the other, bigger, predators who wanted to claim this prize for themselves. Alex, and his family, with the few brave enough to help were up against overwhelming odds. It's going to take a lot of courage and even more luck to stop the inevitable...