Short Stories Series 14

Wallace and the Heatwave 08/05/16

Today there were no clouds. It was the hottest day Wallace could remember since he’d lived in the big park. Hot days were good because on hot days the dogs could not run so fast. Unfortunately, neither could Wallace. Being a bit of a round squirrel was useful for keeping warm in the Winter, and for taking up all the room in a hollow tree you didn’t want any other squirrels trying to get into, but not so useful for staying cool when the sun was hot like today, and not ideal for running. Wallace was however a deceptively fast runner, because he was always trying to get at dropped human food that the local dogs shared an interest in, and had a lot of practice at getting out of there at the last minute. It was all about good running technique and spotting where you needed to go without letting on that you were going there.

This afternoon Wallace was interested in some small humans who were sitting on the edge of the playground with nice-smelling food in their hands which they were licking. Wallace had not seen humans lick things very often before. He thought their tongues were awfully strange objects. The food they were licking was colourful and left coloured smears on their tongues so that they looked like odd creatures indeed. He had seen them drop some bits of this food and was looking forward to investigating after they moved. He could already see an impediment to this mission in the form of a fox terrier chasing a ball off to one side, who kept glancing in the direction of the small humans and being called to attention by the man throwing the ball. So Wallace had his route to the edge of the playground all worked out in advance with places to hide every few metres.

When the small humans finally stood up and wandered away, the race was on. Wallace had an advantage at first, because the dog was being supervised and called back by the human it was with, and Wallace was hard to see, following his pre-planned route. However, when he reached the spot where the humans had sat, Wallace was dismayed to find that the food once dropped apparently ceased to be solid and became a sticky liquid, which he could not carry in his mouth easily and still breathe. He busily tried to scoop some of the liquid into his front paws and some into his mouth. Upon putting it in his mouth Wallace discovered that it was cold, in unexpected contrast to the hot air around him, and had to spit some of it out. The dog had now outright defied the human and was barrelling over. Wallace barely had time to lick his lips before he had to dive into a nearby shrub.

The dog, it turned out, had this special type of food down pat, and went straight to licking the ground, while Wallace watched, disgruntled. When the dog was towed away by its exclaiming human, he skulked out and checked the spot, but there was no further sticky food-liquid to be found. Returning to his tree, Wallace spent the rest of the afternoon trying to lick all the stickiness off of his paws and chest, which was a long and annoying exercise. He decided that this type of food was not for squirrels. He had to hand it to the dog; its less cultured approach was definitely wiser in this instance. Curling up huffily to rest, Wallace thought to himself that in future he would avoid foods that humans had to lick, and stick to those he could hear them chewing. Watching their tongues was disturbing in any case.

The Apricot Tree 09/05/16

There was a spot Abbey remembered in her Grandmother’s yard. There was a memory she had from her childhood about being there. She wasn’t sure if it was a real thing, or one of her creative imaginings. Memories from when she was young were hard to differentiate that way. But every time she stood beside the apricot tree, this same one would come back to her.

She’d been watching the ants that ran along the branches in the Summer, cautious about picking fruit because she didn’t want them to run up her arm. She’d noticed that some of them were carrying things. Bits of leaf, petals, tiny sticks, and other small things Abbey couldn’t identify. The ants were taking all these objects to somewhere, and Abbey had wanted to know where. So she’d got up from under the apricot tree and tried to follow the trail of ants. Along a winding worn dirt path she’d gone, between hedge-like shrubs. The path passed not far from the apricot tree, and disappeared down a slope. At the bottom of the slope was a perfect little clearing, where everything was flowering and the air had a sweet scent like honey. The ground was covered in a tiny-leaved creeper like grass, which felt like foam matting under her feet, only cooler. The ants were running under the bright flowering bushes and putting down their collected items, where other ants were using them to build beautiful domed shelters and arches. All the ground below the shrubs was covered in these structures, like some rounded, domed alien village built entirely of flowers and twigs and leaves. Abbey had started bringing things to help the ants.

But Abbey had been back to where this spot should have been as an adult, and it did not exist. There was the apricot tree, and a path that wound away from it. If you followed the path, there was a place in the garden with flowering shrubs. But there was no grass or creeper on the ground there, and the shrubs never all flowered at the same time. And it didn’t seem to be particularly popular with ants. Still, sometimes when she stood by the apricot tree, Abbey would wonder if there was some special season in which ants piled up flowers and leaves for a purpose relevant to their nests or breeding or food for a new queen. She liked to think that maybe, just maybe, at very particular times, the scene she remembered really occurred.


The Chief in our Feet 10/05/16

Maisy dragged the toes of her school shoes around in the dust below the railing she sat upon at the bus stop, drawing figure eights and spirals. The dust had settled in a sticky layer on the leather and she could feel it getting into her socks, but it was too late to notice now, when she’d already been trailing her feet about in it for some minutes. A scene was replaying over and over in her head of the girl called Taya in PE saying
‘Who cares Maisy?’ And turning away from her to lead the other girls out of the changing rooms. Maisy had been making some conversation about various things school-related, but even she would admit she wasn’t very good at it. She’d sort of comment on how things were without leaving much opening for others to continue the discussion. Taya liked to capitalise on every opportunity to point this out; to draw attention to how boring Maisy was. But Maisy wasn’t boring. There were all kinds of interesting things inside her head, she just didn’t like sharing them with girls like Taya when she barely knew them. They’d all started at the school together, but Taya seemed to command attention and admiration within a few weeks. Maisy was trying to work out what she could have said back to Taya to look less stupid. She knew she would think of something next week, or in a dream, or when she was talking to her cockatiel Wesley. But she could never think on her feet enough to say anything sufficiently bold in response. As she fumed over this, Maisy had an odd idea, her mind jumping the barriers of context at the thought of feet. She could think on her feet, just not like that. She could think on her dancing feet. Imagine if she had danced up to Taya and high-kicked her in the nose. That would have been something.

Maisy of course would never really do such a thing, but it did fuel her movement at dance class that evening, and her friend Akira commented on it. Maisy told her about Taya, and Akira made a derisive noise.
‘Girls at school are nasty. It’s the same in my class.’ She said. ‘We should dance at our schools. Everyone will talk about dance then, and we’ll be the experts.’ Maisy wasn’t sure about this at first, but Akira was the kind of person who wouldn’t let an idea go, or other people scare her. So they agreed to write to their schools and get permission to visit each other for a performance.

Maisy and Akira had a friendship that shone through in their smiles when they worked together, and a command of their feet that made them seem in control of everything. After their performances, they answered questions with humour and flair, hyped up on the adrenaline of that performance excitement that could be nerves if you let it, but they never did. After the day she would remember as dance day, even though there were many other occasions in her life involving dance, Maisy wasn’t known for bad small talk anymore. She was known as ‘the dancing girl’. And she was fine with that.


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