It was a tall tree, taller than our three story house. I looked up and up, bare branches, angular divides, twigs stretching like fingers into the space beyond the tree’s grasp. It wanted more. It wanted everything, all the air, the sky itself.
The roots were just as bad, clawing between the rocks permeating our lot, doing battle with worms, heaving sidewalk squares up. Who needs frakking when we have this tree? I thought.
“Up you go,” my wife said.
“I don’t even see him now,” I said, facing her. She was squat and dumpy, with coal black eyes and prominent brows. A smile would break her face.
“It’s up there,” she said.
“Maybe he went in the squirrel house,” I said hopefully. God knows I would have, were I a squirrel.
“It did no such thing,” she said. She raised an arm. I flinched even though I was out of reach. “There,” she said.
I saw him then, a spray of brown fur tucked into a niche between branches.
“Maybe he has a nest,” I said.
“What it has,” my wife said, “is a bloody squirrel house. And it will use that house, or I’ll know the reason why.”
“Yes, dear.” I let my shoulders slump. The tree would not appreciate me scrabbling up its bark.
“I didn’t say tomorrow,” my wife said. I felt her moving closer.
“Right.” I launched myself up. Bark scraped my wrists. My fingers became claws. I grasped a branch, another, and pulled myself higher.
“Hurry,” my wife said. “Before it moves.”
Blood slicked my hand. I lost my grip. I was falling. The feeling that came into me was unusual, not fear, not longing, but some hybrid of the two.
Branches caught me. I found myself sitting in a clump of interwoven twigs.
“Well?” my wife said.
I edged back to the trunk. The squirrel house was only a few feet higher. A week earlier I had screwed it to the trunk with black multipurpose screws. I’d borrowed a ladder from a neighbor then. Why hadn’t I thought to do that now? I glanced down at my wife impatiently tapping her foot on the crooked sidewalk. Question answered.
A foothold, a handhold, and I was at the squirrel house. From a higher branch, the squirrel started chattering, tiny hand pointing at the hole in the house’s side.
I peered in. The interior was furnished with a table and two chairs. One looked to be a recliner like the one I preferred in our house.
“I–” I looked again. A lamp stood between the chairs, spilling golden light. I wondered where he had found a bulb to fit it.
More chattering. The squirrel gestured emphatically.
He nodded, teeth showing. They were rectangular, and quite yellow.
“I can’t fit through there.”
“Grab that rodent and force him in,” my wife demanded. “Do I have to come up there?”
“No, dear,” I said over my shoulder. “Okay,” I whispered to the squirrel. “I’ll try.”
It was easier than I thought, a matter of pulling myself over the hole’s lip and sliding in.
“What are you doing!” my wife screamed. “Get out of there!” Her voice reached a higher register, like the wicked witch in Oz.
The table held a series of blueprints spread one atop the other. I sat in the recliner. It fit my body perfectly.
Something clapped the outer wall. I sat up straight.
“She’s throwing my walnuts back at me,” a new voice said. It was gentle, like water easing over stone. The tree?
The squirrel came in. A frantic chatter came from his mouth.
“He says you took long enough,” the tree translated.
“I didn’t know it was possible,” I said.
“All things are possible when you stand up for yourself,” the voice said. Another slap hit the house. I heard my wife talking to herself.
“We’re glad you came here,” the tree said. “She’ll have to find another weapon now.”
“Shall we discuss strategy,” the tree said. The squirrel nodded. His tail flicked.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“We’re going after her garden,” the tree said. “An outflanking maneuver. We have allies among the birds and insects.” The squirrel made a fist.
I chuckled. “You don’t know my wife.”
“We know that she means to dominate,” the tree said.
“And you don’t?”
“We are of Nature. It is our destiny to dominate.”
“You poor fools,” I said. Even as the words left my mouth, there came a subtle shaking, followed by the hacking sound of an axe applied to wood.
“Hey,” I said brightly. “At least you tried.”
Stephen V. Ramey‘s work has appeared in a variety of places. He also edits the Triangulation anthology from Parsec Ink, and trapeze, a twitter zine. He lives in New Castle, PA USA, where he regularly visits the odd ducks that live along the river.