Mystery. And the dark of night coming down all around him. And the squirrel didn’t know where he was. The cold was getting deep inside him, and no matter where he looked he saw nothing familiar. Trees, yes. And grass. And more trees. And dirt. And fallen branches, and bark and more trees and more grass. But none that were his tree. The one where his home was. Where he lived with his mother and his brothers and sisters. Where he’d been playing roughly with his brother. Feeling strong. As strong as anything in the world. Pushing, tugging, nipping, even when his mother told them both to stop. She was going to go out and forage for acorns, as she always did. Didn’t they want their acorns?
He wanted acorns but he didn’t want to stop playing, because he could beat his brother and he knew it and his brother had nipped him, and he wanted to get even and get in an extra nip. The last nip. And so when his mother’s big gray tail sailed from sight as she scampered over the edge of their nest and off down, down, down, he just couldn’t quite stop wanting to fight. To play. So he’d turned around and eyed his brother with a look that was like a little bite, and then made a crooked face. When that hadn’t been enough to get the wrestling going again, he’d hopped over and delivered a poke and a nip and fled. But he fled too quickly and not exactly straight off down the branch as planned, but too much to the side and too fast and too steep, so that his front feet barely found bark, and he was unable to hang on and keep from flipping out into the air. Into nothing to grab or claw or climb except a leaf or two that simply blew away and did nothing to stop or slow him. And everything around him raced past in a long and longer blur of green and brown and blue until the biggest bump of his life took all his breath away and with it all the color everywhere other than black.
And when he woke up he screamed right away for his mother, but she didn’t come. He screamed for his brothers and sisters, but they didn’t scream back. His mother always had come when he screamed like that. Once he’d gone running down a branch with her and when he looked and she was gone, he screamed and she came right to him. But not this time. It scared him to scream and hear the scream, and it scared him that she didn’t come. He’d run then, even though his head hurt and he felt a little strange. He ran to find her because she had to be nearby. He didn’t know when that had been, but it seemed long, long ago. He saw trees that looked like his tree, but when he tried to climb them they weren’t his tree and he knew it. He went under bushes and through brushes and every now and then he screamed to call her, but she didn’t come. And every now and then he just screamed.
But now it was night and dark and the cold was getting inside him where the fear already was, and he was hungry, so very hungry. He found an acorn but he couldn’t get it open with his tiny teeth. They were too little and the acorn was too hard, and he was so tired and sick. He wanted to sleep but couldn’t because he was scared that something bad would happen if he slept out in the dark away from his brothers and sisters, and out in the open anything could see him and sneak up and . . .
Warm, he thought. Warm. I want to be warm, and I want to eat and I want to . . . He just stopped and sat. The spot he had come upon was somehow warmer than where he’d been, though it didn’t have any grass or weeds, and it was hard. There was dust on it and pebbles, and it was hard, though it was warmer than anything else, so he sat there even when the roaring noise came and daylight seemed to pour over him. He just didn’t care or understand, but at least he was warm. And then a strange force came and sort of nudged him, and the force was warmer than the spot he’d been on even though the force was moving him off the spot. The next thing he felt was tree bark under his little claws, but he couldn’t climb and it wasn’t his tree. How was this happening? The way he was being pushed around and moved and picked up and set down. . . Then the warmth went away and the squirrel hung there, knowing it was useless to go up this strange tree because his mother wasn’t up there, and his brothers and sisters weren’t up there. But the warmth came back and carried him down to the dirt and grass, where it set him down and left him and then came back and pushed at him as if to shove him into the dark forest, where bad things waited and where it was cold and the dirt and grass were cold, and as the warmth left again, he screamed. It wasn’t his mother, but it was warm, and he screamed and when it came back this time, he grabbed it with both front paws and both back paws, and he put his little claws into the warmth as much as he could and he hung on. He chattered to make his point, hoping his noise would explain that he couldn’t let go. He wouldn’t let go. The warmth was warm and he was cold. He had to hang on with every little muscle he had. And then the warmth changed somehow. It opened. It let him in like a hole in a tree, or a nest, and he crawled in and curled his tail up around him, and the warmth was like sunshine in the middle of the night, and he went to sleep. Hungry and thirsty and scared still, he slept.
Excerpted from Mr. Wellington by David Rabe.
Copyright 2009 by David Rabe.
Published in May 2009 by Roraring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.