A place to read humorous stories
“Seems far,” Acorn said, staring across the solid, Black River.
“And loud,” said Cashew.
Acorn squeezed the soft dirt between his paws. The Black River was at least a hundred tails across. No squirrel worth his fur feared crossing it. But not all made it back.
“Yu kan dot,” Cashew said.
“What?” Acorn lifted his ears toward his friend.
“Sorry. Eating nuts.”
“Where did you get nuts?”
“I had some in my cheeks. I eat when I’m nervous.” Crumbs fell from Cashew’s mouth.
“What do you have to be nervous about? I’m the one running the Black River.” The fur on Acorn’s back spiked up.
“I don’t want to see you go splat,” Cashew said, mouth still mostly full.
The solid river rumbled under the stamped of metal bears, racing by at speeds faster than a hungry hawk, back and forth, at all hours of the day and night.
“You don’t have to do this,” Cashew said. “You could just stay here and hang out with me. I know this one berry bush that’s often overlooked.”
Acorn studied an approaching metal bear—beady lights beaming onto the black surface. The dirt vibrated as it passed. They were cruel beasts, but they followed the river. He would just need to avoid them to make it to the other side.
“I’m coming right back,” Acorn said. “Just think of all the amazing stuff on the other side.”
This was a rite-of-passage, as important as leaving home, building a nest, and storing food for winter. The forest was too small otherwise, encircled by the river on all sides, cut off from other tribes, fresh ponds, and more bread than could be stuffed into two cheeks. If he wanted his own nest, he needed to master crossing the river. Not every squirrel was up to the challenge.
Acorn put a paw around his friend and pulled him close. They touched noses. It reminded him of their days as little kits frolicking across branches, not knowing if their leap would connect, but taking the plunge anyway.
There were many falls back then, yet every time, Cashew would remain on the ground while he ran back up the tree for another try.
“I’m ready,” Acorn said. He started forward, but Cashew had a patch of his fur gasped in his paw. “You need to let go.”
Cashew whimpered. He pulled his paws to his chin as if in prayer.
Acorn positioned himself at the periphery of the river. He lifted his nose up as if scanning for predators. The dirt became sandy, yet coarse, no longer molding around his paws, but resisting him like bits of bark were mixed into the ground. The more he analyzed it, the more he realized he was looking for an excuse to turn back. But he couldn’t–not if he wanted a future he could be proud of.
Acorn sprang into a gallop, bounding forward, his front paws pulling at the warm blacktop. Metal bears growled from all sides. The river had seemed clear moments ago. Acorn weaved left, then right, then left again. A bear roared behind him. A wake formed in the air, tugging his tail and pulling him to the side, as if following the beast down river. Acorn trust his tail outward, regaining his balance, and returning to his path. The other side was in sight.
Then the light became blinding. It seemed to grow from the river’s hard surface, engulfing him. The surface vibrated, causing his muscles to seize and panic. He bolted forward, missing the bear’s rolling claw by a hair, but finding himself out of the light and stuck beneath the massive hide.
Acorn twisted in a circle, disoriented, stuck, surrounded by a bear on all four sides. The smell was toxic, like the lake when it wasn’t safe to drink. Staying under the bear was certain death, but the path was lost, covered by darkness. There was only one option for a brave squirrel. Acorn took a
He landed on his side and scrambled to his paws. The bear groaned by, grabbing at his tail with a flailing whoosh of air. Acorn realized the ground was soft, and it molded to his paws again. He wasn’t on the river anymore–he’d reached the other side.
Acorn waved, and Cashew waved back.
“I made it,” Acorn yelled.
Cashew mouthed something, but the metal bears drowned it out. Acorn leaned forward, lifting his ears.
Cashew said, “Now you have to run back!”
Michael Sherrin's short fiction has appeared in Metaphorosis Magazine, the Watershed Review, and Tall Tale TV. He lives outside Boston with his husband, dog, and several thousand action figures. You can visit him at www.prodigeek.com.