“Did I ever tell you about the time …?”
“Oh, no, not again,” protested the twins at grandpa’s familiar line. The winter had already been too long for the squirrels tucked into their snug hollow at the edge of the maple bush. The kids had been arguing all afternoon.
“No, it’s mine.”
“I will not.”
“I had it first.”
“So now it’s my turn.”
Mother had intervened endlessly but to no avail. Spike and Sally were bored and fractious. She cast a longing glance at her father sitting idly in his favourite twig and stray mitten recliner. The old squirrel loved to tell his tales of high, if slightly exaggerated, adventure and readily took the hint. Deaf to the protests of his grandchildren, he continued.
“I was just a little gaffer, not much older than you two. It was nigh onto Christmas and so cold that my breath froze as hard as …”
“… the ice on yonder pond,” finished Spike, having heard this expression just a few million times before.
Sally nudged him in the ribs. That, and a glance that boded nothing good from his mother, made Spike decided to settle at the foot of his grandpa’s chair in blessed silence.
Grandpa harrumphed. “As I was saying, it was close to Christmas, and I had ventured outside to explore. The snow was deep so I shinnied up our tree and jumped across to the top of its neighbour. I was just making my run down when it happened.”
“What happened then, Grandpa?” asked Sally with angelic tones, though she’d heard this tale since her days in the cradle. Spike threw her a “who-are-you-trying-to-impress” glare.
“There was a mighty whack. My tree shuddered and swayed so hard that I almost lost my grip. Then another whack came, and another. I tell you, kidlets, I was so scared.”
“How scared were you, Grandpa?” Spike slipped in the expected question just as Sally was opening her mouth, throwing her a “ha-ha-beat-you” look.
“I was just about scared right out of my tree.” Grandpa chortled. “I hung on for dear life as the tree bucked and twisted. Snow flew, needles danced, cones bounced and I dug my claws it and rode the storm out. Then came the ominous crack and I felt the tree slip away. I knew I was in for it. My life flashed before my eyes and I could almost hear the flutter of flying squirrels coming to bear me off to my final rest in that great peanut bin in the sky where red, black and gray live forever in harmonious abundance.”
Grandpa, given to somewhat effusive language when the discussion turned to life in the peanut bin, stared with shining eyes at the ceiling. Spike and Sally knew he wasn’t seeing the rough, knotted, and gnarled wood. Visions of unlimited nuts danced in his head.
“What happened next, Grandpa?” If they didn’t break him out of his reverie, they’d never get to the end of the story. Otherworldly thoughts chased from his mind, Grandpa picked up the threads of his tale.
“Well, that old pine hit the ground with a thud and a thump that rattled my teeth right to the back of my head. But, I hung on, yessiree. Next thing I knew we were moving at a fast clip through the bush. Old Piney and I bounced and bucked along. Well, to make a long story short …”
The twins gasped: Grandpa never made a long story short.
“… finally we got THERE.” The little squirrels knew what THERE meant. It was a place they had been endlessly warned not to go. It was full of stomping, thumping, biting, gut-wrenching dangers. Grandpa had been there—and survived. Now Sally and Spike hung breathlessly on his words, imaginations captured by chilling visions of THERE.
“So …?” they prompted, confused by Grandpa’s unusual silence. He looked at them and sighed.
“Since you’re here, you know I escaped.
Sally and Spiked exchanged glances. This was not Grandpa’s usual ending.
“I’m telling you, kidlets, stay away from those who live THERE. They stuck old piney in a bucket of water and covered her with gewgaws. They practically worshipped her, but they killed her. It’s very strange.”
“How come?” said both twins at the same time.
“Well, humans celebrate the birth of the Creator’s Son at Christmas.”
The old Squirrel paused.
“But then again, maybe it’s not so strange. They killed Him too.”
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