Chapter two: a storm and a squirrel
Sophie was on her way to visit her Gran who lived in the forest. A summer storm had sprung up and she was getting soaked. She met someone who offered to help her get shelter in an old house- it was a squirrel.
“You are not mad, silly human. I talk, so what? You got a problem with talking squirrels?” He asked, looking angry and holding tightly to the bag of peanuts.
“No… no, I don’t have a… problem with talking squirrels…am I still asleep? That’s what happened… I didn’t wake up earlier. I am having a lovely nap under that big tree, and the last hour or so has been a dream…” Sophie mumbled.
“You are awake. This is why I don’t talk to humans so often – they act all crazy like this. The last human that I spoke to jumped into a pond when I asked him for the weather forecast. Honestly, it’s like they think they are the only ones on the whole planet who can talk.” The squirrel grumbled.
“Oh, um, so I am awake, and this is real… and squirrels can talk English… sure, why not?”
“Ok, Mr Squirrel, so do you own this house? Because I am getting very wet, and I would like to get inside and have a lay down.”
“First, my name is not Mr Squirrel, is your name Miss Human? Huh? And secondly, no I do not own the house- you think banks give mortgages to wildlife now? Goodness me. But I can open the door for you, see? Then you can have a lay down on the sofa for as long as you like, ok?”
“Oh, ok. Sure, do you have the key?”
“Do I look like I have pockets?” He rolled his eyes. “No, but the door is on a latch, and I can sneak into that small gap in the door and unlatch it for you. Do you want me to, or do you want to spend the rest of the day chatting out here?”
“Y… yes please, do open the door… I would be most grateful.” Sophie swallowed nervously. She had never spoken to a squirrel before and wasn’t sure of the etiquette.
“Sure, no problem, Miss Human.”
The squirrel squeezed into a small hole at the bottom of the wooden door, and a few seconds later, it squeaked open on rusted hinges.
“Oh, thank you so much, here are your peanuts!”
Sophie ran into the old house, nearly soaked to the bone, but grateful to escape the storm.
“See you later then, human, and thanks for the nuts.”
The squirrel ran up a tree, bag of peanuts firmly clenched in his teeth.
Sophie sat down on the old leather sofa in a daze.
After a minute, she looked around. The house had obviously not been lived in for a long time: there were spiderwebs everywhere. The furniture was covered in dust. There was a small fireplace, and next to it, a book. Besides the sofa, there was a rough-looking table with two rickety chairs, and in the kitchen a stove that looked like it came out of the 19th century – a black one that needed a fire. Also, a table and a sink. A couple of plates and cups sat near the sink, as though someone had been doing the washing up before they decided to leave the house and never return. There were no electric lights – just a few candles dotted around the room. There was also another door that she assumed lead to a bedroom.
“Hmm, I wonder who owns this place,” she said to herself, “I think there is probably an interesting story here.”
Behind the door was a small bed. Underneath a grimy window, she could make out a wooden writing desk and chair. The desk had a pad of paper and a pencil. She read the paper – it said:
Difficult night. Getting low on firewood – going to have to cut down another tree soon. Don’t feel happy about leaving the clearing. It feels like I am being watched.
Oh dear, that didn’t sound good.
Sophie walked through the kitchen and opened the back door – it had a key still in the lock – and saw a small outhouse and a pile of firewood in the ‘back garden’ area. Another rumble of thunder, and two seconds later, a flash of lightning. The rain was barrelling down. It obviously used to be a clearing, but nature had encroached and there were thick brambles and weeds. The outhouse, Sophie knew from stories that her Gran told her about her childhood, was a small outdoor toilet. They were used before running water was installed, many years ago. The toilet didn’t flush – it was just a deep hole in the ground – a long-drop. Sophie thought that there must be a well nearby too, unless the owner used to visit the river for their water.
Sophie went back into the house. She snuggled up on the sofa, underneath a blanket that she found. She felt wiped out – as though she had been walking through the forest for days. After a rest and some food, Sophie managed to find a box of matches, and got a small fire going in the hearth. She took off her outer clothes and hung them up on the fireguard to dry off. While they were drying, she looked at the book.
“Carpentry for beginners. Sounds fascinating.”
Sophie wondered whether she should text her Mum to let her know that she wasn’t at Gran’s yet, and had got stuck in a storm, and that a talking squirrel had helped her get into a spooky old house…
“No, maybe not. I’ll text Mum when I actually get to Gran’s. That way she won’t worry.” She told herself.
After a while the storm moved on and the rain slowed to a drizzle.
She went back into the garden to look for the well – her water bottle was nearly empty. She spotted it in a tangle of brambles. How was she going to get to it without being scratched to shreds by the thorns? She looked around and found an axe near the firewood pile, as well as some wet gardening gloves. She put on the gloves, that were too big, and chopped at the brambles, trying to make a way to reach the well. Pouring with sweat, Sophie finally hit bricks. Thankfully, there was a bucket on a rope with which she could reach the water – she just hoped that it wasn’t full of mud. She drew up the water, and it wasn’t too bad, besides a few leaves and a water boatman, which she threw onto the grass. Remembering a survival show that she had watched once, she thought it would be better to boil the water before drinking it, so that she didn’t get a tummy bug.
She looked in the kitchen cupboards and found a battered pot, which she filled with the well water. She lit the kitchen stove and boiled the water. Once it had boiled, she let it cool a little before having a drink. By this time, she was very thirsty so gulped it down gladly. With the remaining water, she filled her bottle. She needed the toilet, so braved the outhouse. It was full of cobwebs.
I should probably get going now, she thought, Gran will be expecting me. Maybe I should write a quick note though.
Sophie went back to the bedroom and wrote on the paper that she had found.
I used your house today to escape from a storm and drew some water from your well. Thank you. I know that you weren’t here to ask, but I do appreciate it. I hope that you are ok.
Sophie (age 12)
Sophie felt her clothes – they were nearly dry, so got dressed and carefully put out the fires in the living room and stove. She didn’t want to accidently burn down the house. She saw that the rain had stopped, and the sun had come out.
She switched on her phone to check for any messages and took a photo of the living room, mostly to prove to herself that it hadn’t been a dream. She had a quick look at the map of the route to Gran’s house. She still seemed to be heading in the right direction. She tried to pick up a GPS signal to check her location, but it didn’t work, and her battery was now at only 3%. She switched the phone off again.
“Goodbye house,” she smiled as she left, pulling the front door shut behind her. She looked for the grumpy squirrel but couldn’t see him.
Sophie set off down the path, hopeful that there would be no more problems, or talking animals, on the way.
It was well into the afternoon now, and she was hoping that she would get to her Gran’s house before sunset. Her feet ached. She sat in the shade of a twisted tree which had the initials AH + JB scratched into its trunk. She wondered who those people were. After a few minutes, she got up and kept walking. Sophie started to worry that she might be lost – she had taken a path off the main track a while ago, thinking that it was a shortcut. Now she wasn’t sure.
“Stay calm, Sophie. Everything is ok. You have no reason to be scared. It’s just a forest. With talking squirrels.”
After a while, she passed an old tree – it seemed familiar. Was that… initials scratched into its bark? She looked closer. AH + JB! Oh no! She had been walking in circles! Sophie sat down. It was time to text Mum. She switched on her phone, planning to send a quick text. The phone lit up, asked for her password or thumbprint, and just as she pressed her thumb to the screen, the phone switched off. She tried again- as soon as she switched the phone on, it switched itself off again.
Sophie put her head on her knees and sobbed.
“Are you ok?”
“Not really,” Sophie sniffed, looking up. “Oh wow, you’re a crow. A crow is talking to me. Why am I even surprised?”
That’s all for today. Join me soon for the next chapter. Have you ever met a talking bird?
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