The squirrel jumped from tree branch to tree branch. He was looking for that special tree, the one that had been cut down many years ago. Left behind was the very bottom of the tree- a hollow, but bendy sort of stump. One might even say it looks a bit like a slide at a playground. Except this slide does not get hot and burn little legs when the sun has been out for too long and someone tries to slide down it.
Ah ha! There it was! This slide was a deep, dark brown, so dark that it was almost black. A little carpet of green moss grew on the inside, softening the squirrel’s drop as he prepared to slide down the tree stump. With a swish of his tail and a shove of his legs, down the squirrel went!
The squirrel looked around the inside of the stump, looking for the location of the noise.
“You’re sitting on me.”
The squirrel looked down, and sure enough he was sitting on some grayish, green legs!
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry!” He quickly got up and stood nervously to the side. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. Are you okay?”
The toad wiggled his front legs a little, paused and wiggled his back legs a little. Then he blinked his bulging eyes a few times before he attempted a hop.
“I seem to be!” He hopped around a few times just to make sure. “Yes, I can still hop, so I must be alright!”
The squirrel breathed a sigh of relief. “I’m so glad, I would feel dreadful if you weren’t. I’m Frederick, but you can call me Rick.” He bent down and stuck out his right paw to shake the toad’s leg.
“Well, pleased to meet you Tom! Sorry again about sitting on you… but what were you doing in here? I’ve never seen you before and I come here every day.”
“I was hiding! I was sitting out by the water, trying to catch some flies, when a little person started to bother me! He just tapped me with a piece of grass at first, but then he poked me with a stick and reached for me! So I hopped away as fast as I could. This was the first place I could find to hid in.”
Tom glanced up the slide and saw the sun was much lower in the sky than it was before he hopped in this hideaway. “I must have fallen asleep though.”
A loud grumble echoed in the hollow hideaway. Tom looked down at his stomach and his face reddened. “Sorry- I haven’t eaten since breakfast. I never did catch any flies before I had to hide.”
Rick clapped his paws together and swished his tail. “We can have dinner together! I’ll take you to my favorite spot. It has a raspberry bush and-” He lowered his voice a bit. “-it’s right near one of my biggest nut collections.” Rick’s voice trailed off, as his tail floated back down to the ground.
“Wait, you don’t eat nuts or raspberries, do you?”
“Not really… But we could still go there so you can eat. I’m sure I can scrounge up some flies or crickets somewhere along the way.”
Rick swished his tail back and forth in excitement. “Wonderful! Let’s go.”
Tom hesitated. “I know he’s probably gone, but can you go first? I don’t want that little person to try to pick me up again! He won’t try to pick you up.”
With a leap and a bound, Rick jumped out of the stump slide and looked around. He popped his head back into the slide. “All clear.”
Tom mustered up all his springiness and jumped as high as he could. It was a lot harder to jump out than it was to jump in this morning when he was being chased.
The two new friends went along for a while, Tom hopping and Rick scampering. It was taking longer than normal, but then Rick remembered he usually traveled by the trees and by himself. He had to slow his pace to make sure he did not leave Tom behind.
“Have you lived in these woods your whole life?” Rick asked Tom.
“Kind of.” Tom’s big throat heaved as he tried to keep up with Rick. “I was born in the lake, of course, but I’ve lived in these woods since then.”
“I used to live closer to the people. I really liked it, but it got harder to find food, so I moved into this wood.” Rick began to chatter about the family he had lived “with” and how they had a garden with all his favorite berries, but no nuts unfortunately. But then a new family moved in and they mowed over the garden.
“Here, Tom, let’s go over there. The ground is a little more flat, so we can probably get to my special place faster.”
Rick and Tom made their way to the flatter ground that had fewer stones and sticks- it really was just a plain old dirt path with nothing on it.
“Do you hear something?” Tom croaked out. He interrupted Rick’s chatter about how parks were the best place to live in, because people feed the squirrels all sorts of fun goodies. Well, they are the best place to live if you can get over not getting to play in a big forest.
“Oh I don’t hear a thing.”
Of course Rick would not have heard anything. He was too busy jabbering! Tom let it go, but he could not shake his uneasy feeling or ignore the strange noises he thought he could hear.
“Ahhh!” Tom cried out as he felt something wrap around his trunk and lift him in the air.
“Look Mom!” A little boy with light blond hair and blue eyes said. “I found another one!”
“Hey, how dare you!” Rick had come to an abrupt halt when he heard Tom yell. “You put him down right now!”
Of course the little boy and his mother could not understand Rick.
“Mom, look at the squirrel. He looks like he’s talking to us.”
“Of course I am! You took my friend!” Rick started on a new tirade, telling the boy how he ought to be nicer to animals and let Tom go.
“Oh, honey, get away from him. You don’t know if he’s a rabid squirrel.”
Rick sucked in a breath. A rabid squirrel? How dare she call him rabid! He was very clean, thank you very much!
“Oh, they must not be able to understand me…” Rick muttered to himself, getting lost in his thoughts so that he almost missed the boy and his mom start to walk away. Good thing Tom called out again to get Rick’s attention!
“Don’t worry Tom, I’ll find a way to rescue you!”
Rick followed after the toad-nappers as he pondered his options. He was much smaller than the people, even the little boy, so force would not work. They thought he was rabid and did not seem to understand him, so he could not talk sense into them. What to do?
“Oh! I’ll throw things at them. Not enough to hurt them of course, but enough to surprise that boy and get him to drop Tom. Or will it hurt Tom to be dropped… Hmm, well a little bruised is better than stolen!”
Rick scurried up to the trees and started his attack small- a leaf here, a leaf there. Then he moved to pinecones and small sticks. It did nothing.
“Oh no!” Rick watched as the little boy put Tom into his backpack. “Now, what am I going to do? Think, Rick, think.”
Rick kept following after the group, feeling a little bit like a superhero on a mission to save the world. “I’m not a very good superhero, though, am I? If I were, Tom would be free by now. Oh, I just don’t know what to do!”
All of a sudden, the boy and his mother stopped and veered off to a little clearing among the trees. The mother spread out a blanket on the ground and the boy shrugged off his backpack. A stroke of inspiration hit Rick as he crept quietly to where the backpack lay. He would try to open the backpack!
“Shoo! Shoo.” The mom caught Rick inching towards the bag, and grabbed it before handing it over to her son. “You need to keep track of your things.”
Rick slunk over towards the trees and away from the clearing, his fluffy tail dragging on the ground. He just could not seem to help Tom. So he watched as the little boy pulled Tom out of his bag and petted Tom as the mother pulled out some food. She also pulled out a little bottle of clear liquid and rubbed it on her hands.
“Okay, time to let the toad go and put this hand sanitizer on your hands.”
“It’s time to eat. Do you want to eat?’
“Yeah…” The boy reluctantly put Tom down and stuck out his hands. Tom just sat next to the boy for a few minutes, not daring to move.
“Tom.” Rick whispered. “Tom. Why aren’t you moving?”
“I’m scared.” Tom croaked out. “My legs won’t move and I can’t hop.”
Rick stared sadly at Tom from his hiding spot in the edge of the trees. He started to pace. Suddenly, he stopped.
“Hey, Tom. They think I’m rabid, right? I’m gonna go up to them and distract them by acting all weird, and you can get away! Now let’s see… how would a rabid squirrel act?” He settled on turning the blanket into his own personal racetrack, running circles around the blanket of food.
“Hop, Tom, hop!”
“Oh, shoo! Shoo!” The woman waved her hands at Rick and said to her son, “This is why we shouldn’t feed them.”
Meanwhile, Tom had made a hop for it. Tom got far enough away so that the little boy would be unable to see Tom once he realized Tom was missing. Before Rick left the boy and his mother, he skidded to a halt and shook his paw at them, wanting to speak but refusing to waste his breath. With a swish of his tail, Rick ran back to the woods, elated at being the superhero he had longed to be.
“Tom?” Rick called out. “Tom?”
Rick looked in the direction of the voice, but still could not see Tom. All he saw was a log with a bunch of leaves and fungi growing on it. He moved closer to the log and scanned it, trying to find where Tom was hiding. At last, Rick saw Tom peeking out from under a leaf that was the same grayish green as his body.
“That was a great idea, Rick. Thank you.” Tom shook the leaf off of his body.
“Of course. I’m just sorry it took me so long!”
“That’s okay. You got me and that’s all that matters. Although, that boy did seem nice. He told me about all the fun things we could do and all the food he would get for me. Maybe it would not have been so bad to go with them.”
“Are you kidding?” Rick threw his paws up in the air. “They called me rabid and you say they seem ‘nice’? And being given food is over-rated. I think it’s more fun to find it for yourself.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” At that moment a fly buzzed around Tom, and he quickly stuck his tongue out and captured his prey. “There is something fun about finding it for ourselves.”
“Well, should we go find more food for ourselves?” Rick asked Tom.
“Yeah, but this time, can we stay in the woods?”
Rick laughed and nodded, and off the two friends went.