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A note from Skwrepb

It's looking like this will be the winning chapter for Friday's post. I already got it up and going. I'm thinking I'll continue posting Critter chapters every once in a while.

The smell of roasting meat drifted across his nose and Quick lifted his head from where it was buried in his fluffy tail. He had made a burrow inside the depths of a strange squat thing covered in a pattern of scentless flowers. Underneath, there were strange coils of a hard, cold material that tasted like a mouthful of blood. His nose twitched as he cleaned his face with both of his forepaws, taking scent of his surroundings before he made any noises.

The Big Fluff, whose name he had learned was Lucky, had promised Quick that he would be safe. Promise of protection or not, an incautious squirrel was a dead squirrel. He scratched behind his left ear, listening to the place beyond his nest. Sometimes Big Fluff was there, other times Big Fluff’s two-legged pet was there. Right now the room sounded empty. Quick moved smoothly down from the barked-wood near the blood-coils and felt the cool and glossy dead-wood beneath his feet. Every step was slow and cautious as he approached the strange covering of scentless-flowers.

If he lowered his head so his chin rested on the dead-wood, he could put one eye to the gap between the covering and the dead-wood. Beyond the covering was a large open expanse of slick dead-wood. Quick’s heart thundered in his chest as he looked at the clear space between his nest and the crack. Beyond was a strange span of short grass the color of pond scum that lead to a line of short cliffs all in a row. The pond scum colored grass cliffs were flanked on both sides by a completely linear row of dead saplings whose leaves had long since fallen away.

At the bottom of the cliffs there was still more open ground covered in short grasses, these the color of clay-rich mud. Eventually there was the strangest open expanse of all, a swath of slick, smooth something the color of old, dry bones. There, if he presented himself, Big Fluff’s Pet would give him a massive thing like an acorn-cap filled to the brim with various nuts.

There was so much empty ground to cover between here and there. Quick had earned his name and could cover that ground with alacrity, but an incautious squirrel was a dead squirrel and Quick was not incautious. He covered the ground between the nest and the crack in a pawful of bounding leaps. He was peering beyond the crack and toward the cliffs when there was a sudden thunder of sound. His heart froze, his body froze.

He was close to the hulking dead-wood next to the crack. The loud thuds were climbing up the cliffs toward the crack that lead to his nest. He could hear it chittering and chattering, calling out something he had no hope of understanding. When it turned the corner at the top of the cliffs toward the crack, it was revealed as Big Fluff’s Pet and it felt like Quick’s heart finally started beating again.

The Pet’s chittering changed pitch, from a calling out to a crooning as it crouched down on the other side of the crack, holding out one of its massive furless paws. Quick scrambled back a few steps. It stopped moving, chittering quietly in that crooning tone. Slowly, it’s other forepaw joined the first, open and flat. In the second paw, it held a pair of almonds and a peanut. Quick sat up on his hind legs, sniffing carefully.

There was a faint squeal to the chittering of the Pet as he studied it for a long and cautious moment. He bobbed forward a couple of hops and sniffed further. The Pet didn’t move a muscle, save those in its face. It kept chittering nonsensically as he approached in fits and starts. Big Fluff had promised protection, surely his Pet would protect Quick as well. He covered the last step, snatched up the peanut. Just as quickly as he had darted forward, he scrambled back. He was two feet away before the Pet realized he had taken the peanut.

It went from crouching in the crack to sitting in the crack, its hindlegs crossed awkwardly. It still held out both hands, chittering gently as he shelled the peanut with his teeth. When the last of the top half of the shell fell away, Quick took up the meat of the nut he had exposed. He flinched as the Pet tittered, instinctively shoving the peanut in his mouth and crouching down ready to run. The Pet went still and silent and Quick hesitated. When the Pet didn’t make another move, he picked up the other half of the peanut and shelled it. He nibbled on it, carefully, his eyes focused on the Pet.

He cleaned his fingers once he was finished, savoring the sweet taste of the peanut. The Pet didn’t move and Quick looked from its face to its almond-laden paw. He hesitated for only a moment before darting forward and taking up one of the already shelled almonds. He stayed next to the Pet’s paw, nibbling at the almond. The flavor of it, one that he had come to love in his time with Big Fluff and his Pet, filled his senses. He was savoring it when he felt something brush against his tail.

The long bushy tail twitched away from the touch and Quick shoved the almond into his mouth as he turned. Again, the Pet was still, but its free paw was just near Quick’s tail. The squirrel darted a few steps away from the extended paw, tail still twitching. The Pet chittered softly again, gentle sounds. Quick took the almond out of his mouth and went back to savoring the flavor. The Pet was almost motionless, save for the gentle rise and fall of its breath. It made no move to touch the squirrel again as he studied Big Fluff’s Pet.

The almond disappeared rapidly and he licked his fingers clean again, brushing at his whiskers and watching the still Pet with a wary eye. It still hadn’t moved. Gathering his courage, he darted forward again, this time climbing up into the Pet’s open paw and grabbing up the last almond. He had barely started nibbling at it when the Pet’s free hand moved again, easing slowly closer to the squirrel’s bushy tail. It paused when the tail twitched. Quick was watching the hand warily, keeping still by strength of will alone. If he trusted Big Fluff, he should trust Big Fluff’s Pet. Shouldn’t he?

The Pet’s hairless fingers connected with Quick’s tail and its touch was gentle and hesitant. The squirrel kept his eyes on the Pet, but the rest of his senses were focused on the treat in his forepaws. From his twitching tail, the Pet’s paw moved to stroke the fur on Quick’s back. The squirrel finished off the almond and would have bolted, but the Pet’s nimble fingers came together in a gentle scratch on his back.

It. Was. Divine.

Quick couldn’t help it, he leaned into the scratching, the claws on the Pet’s paw digging into his soft fur and soothed itches that he had never realized needed scratched. He let loose a purring chitter and didn’t still as the Pet tittered at his reactions. The Pet chittered soothingly again, giving Quick a couple more pats before it lowered its hand to the ground. Quick looked between the pond scum colored grass and up at the Pet’s face. Big Fluff trusted the Pet, Quick should trust the Pet, right?

The little gray squirrel grabbed a hold of his courage and scrambled up the Pet’s foreleg to duck under the auburn curtain of its mane. Again the Pet tittered, ducking its head sideways toward him as his fur tickled its neck. He held tightly to the loose and brightly colored fur it wore on its shoulder. The Pet was still for a moment before it rose to its feet. There was an interrogative sound to its chitter, but Quick hadn’t the faintest idea what it was asking. It moved with smooth motions toward the pond scum cliffs.

The squirrel had to admit to himself that he felt marginally safer moving through the open space sheltered in the curve of the Pet’s shoulder and covered by the long fall of its fur. His tail twitched for balance as the Pet started moving down the pond scum cliffs. Perhaps he could convince the Pet to carry him to the acorn cap filled with nuts every morning. Quick could feel tension in the Pet’s huge shoulders as his fur brushed against its neck.

It was only a few moments before the Pet had conveyed him down the pond scum cliffs, across the clay-mud grasses and onto the slippery bone-white ground. The Pet set out the acorn-cap filled with nuts on the top of the tall gray wooden cliff topped with smooth black stone. Quick bounded down from its shoulder and sat on his haunches, watching the Pet as he picked up the first of the shell nuts that waited for him. The Pet’s paw moved slowly toward Quick and the squirrel stopped eating, going still and watching that hairless paw as it moved toward him. Those blunt little claws scratched gently behind his ears and Quick’s eyes slipped closed for the space of two breaths. He could get used to this. His left hind paw tapped gently against the countertop without his conscious control.

The Pet was crooning as it continued to gently scratch him. Quick forgot entirely about eating for a pair of long minutes, his eyes barely open. His ears were still working and he heard something else coming down the pond scum cliffs. He pulled his head away from the scratches, putting both forepaws on the Pet’s single hairless one and looking toward the cliffs. The Pet tittered again and Quick looked up at it with his head cocked, one eye still on the bottom of the pond scum cliffs.

Another one of the pets, this one a little stooped with hair only a few shades lighter than Quick’s fur, appeared from around the base of the cliffs. It was chittering, its voice louder to reach to where the Pet stood with Quick. It came closer and the squirrel’s little body tensed, he was prepared to dart for cover, not that there was any nearby. The two pets chittered back and forth, voices rapidly changing pitch and tone. He couldn’t follow the conversation, but Big Fluff’s Pet never moved its forepaw. Quick found that he was clutching tightly to one of the long hairless fingers as he warily watched the squirrel-pelted pet.

The Pet eventually scooped him gently into its arms, bringing him close to her warm chest. It gently stroked his fur with a pair of fingers as it cuddled him close. His heart rate steadied while he was there curled against the Pet’s beating heart. The pets continued to chitter at one another while the squirrel-pelted one went puttering about the bone-white ground, gathering things on the smoothly polished black stones. Eventually, the Pet lifted Quick until he could hop onto its shoulder.

He stayed there, comfortably for hours. Every so often, the Pet would feed him a few nuts, but for the most part he was perfectly content to ride its shoulder as the Pet went about its business. Quick didn’t feel as safe with the Pet as he did with Big Fluff, but the Pet didn’t seem to have quite the same penchant for heading directly into danger. Tucked away beneath the curtain of the Pet’s auburn pelt, Quick felt safer than he ever had in his nest.

He was right to follow Big Fluff, Friend to Squirrels. At some point he would have to explore the woods that made up most of the Farm where Big Fluff had brought him. He was certain there were other squirrels that would benefit from Big Fluff’s protection, he just had to find them.But for now? For now he was wrapped around a warm shoulder more than ready for a nap.

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A note from Skwrepb

Thank you so much to Kieran Pierce for the absolutely wonderful cover.

Please take a moment to rate or review! For those of you that have, thank you very much! I've been enjoying the heck out of writing this story and I'm grateful that you are enjoying reading it.

If you want to get a better idea of Lucky's looks, check the spoiler.

Lucky is based on three dogs that I've loved throughout my lifetime.

His coloration comes from Patches, an Australian Shepherd.

His eyes, ears, and tail come from Stormy, a siberian husky/german shepherd mix. (Though one of his ears has fallen and looks like Patches'.)

The final dog, Prince, I don't have a photo of because it was a very long time ago, but he was a Great Pyrenees. I found a good picture on this site . I don't own the image, but here's where Lucky gets his fluffy coat and large size.

Large white dog on a snowy field.

 


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About the author

Skwrepb

  • Iowa

Bio: Hi! My name is Skwrepb (pronounced Jen, I swear). I'm a stay at home mother of three with not enough time on my hands. I've been writing since I could hold a pen and I have so many stories to tell!
I'm an avid reader and The Wandering Inn is what brought me to Royal Road. I have been devouring stories here ever since.

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