The Travels of Galahad the Squirrel
By Jeff Baker
AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you’re just joining us, the monthly Flash Fiction Draw Challenge (presided over by Cait Gordon, thank you very much!) involves the drawing of three cards, each of which corresponds to a genre, a setting and an object that must be in the story. This time, the three were a historical fiction, an empty pill bottle and Parliament Hill or the White House as the setting. I went whole hog with the setting, and I put in the northern Black Squirrels which I have seen in Marsyville and Hanover, Kansas.
The late spring air was beginning to fill with the scents of summer when the Aged Squirrel called four of the younger ones to the Hollow Tree. The Aged Squirrel surveyed the four as they stood at attention, ears pricked, tails twitching, black fur freshly brushed. The Aged Squirrel twitched his tail once, his white hairs appearing bright against his black coat as he glanced from one to the other.
“We live in perilous times,” the Aged Squirrel began. “We have received a dire warning from the Colony in Marysville, news which precipitated sending of a nut-message.”
One of the young squirrels gasped; a nut-message was only used in the most urgent circumstances: their fellows had died before delivering such messages. The Aged Squirrel went on.
“In such times, it is vital that we deliver the response immediately. This message could prevent the extinction of one of our colonies.”
“So, we must go to Marysville?” one of the young squirrels asked, in direct violation of the protocalls and manners of the Hollow Tree.
“The message is from Marysville,” the Aged Squirrel said, ignoring the breach in dignity. “It had to travel a great deal and the last of the relay messengers is exhausted and may not survive.” He twitched his tail again. “Our fellows in the trees outside Human’s Parliament keep their ears open. The Humans War may be on the verge of destroying the world.”
The four young squirrels looked at each other; more nervous than they usually were.
“Over twenty summers ago, we tried to warn humans in the building when it burned. They do not listen to us. The least we can do in this hour of peril is relay whatever this message is,” the Aged Squirrel said. He looked directly at one of the four. “Galahad, you have been chosen by destiny, as you are the swiftest. You will relay the nut-message to the tallest tree on the grounds of the White House. Bring the message…”
Another squirrel, even older, stepped forward and handed Galahad a carved wooden nut, small enough to fit in a squirrel’s paw.
“When you arrive at the tall tree, you may not be strong enough to relay the message back. Their colony will send messengers to the other colonies. You were given the human name spoke often in the Parliament in days gone: the name Galahad. A name of bravery, endurance and sacrifice.”
Galahad looked up from the nut-message he was clutching and spoke.
“How…how will I find the way to the tall tree and the white home?” he asked.
The Aged Squirrel indicated Galahad should follow him to the back of the trunk. There were several small bottles lined up in rows. There were three which had been pulled to the front.
“These containers have been cleansed of the human chemicals,” the Aged Squirrel said, “and we have placed inside items with the scents which will guide you on your journey. Smell this one fist, then this, then this. Remember the scents and follow them in order.”
Galahad took a deep breath from the first bottle, then the second, then the third.
“We have also found a way to quicken your journey,” the Aged Squirrel said. “A dangerous way: the metal containers that carry humans on their metal rails have prescribed destinations. If you hide yourself on the one that leaves from near here as the sun is setting you will find yourself infinitely closer to the Tall Tree in a shorter amount of time. These visitors will show you where the traveling container is and tell you where and how to hide yourself and when to leave the container and travel the rest of the way on your own.”
Two red squirrels stepped forward and bowed low to the Aged Squirrel. Galahad bowed to the Aged Squirrel and to the newcomers. He closed his eyes, remembering the scents, and then followed the two red squirrels into the outside world, the world of tension and impending human war.