"The Door in My Forest"
By White Feather
Mandi had a great fondness for animals, a terrible fondness of her mother and brother, and a certain design in her nature to be left alone. She was up to her usual adventures when she was met with a corner of the park she'd never been to before.
She made sure her mom and younger brother were distracted, and tip-toed her way toward the hidden forest. In adult eyes, there were three old black oak trees surrounded with small patches of grass where the trees' roots didn't surface. It was a dirty waste of effort, but not to Mandi. Mandi saw an enchanted forest with trees so tall, she could climb up forever.
She felt the gentle breeze pull her in with the rustling leaves. The frail young girl ran so fast, her footing was lost on an exposed root, and she tumbled forward just short of a trunk.
"Nobody saw. Good," she whispered with wavering confidence.
She rubbed at the raw pain in her knees when she noticed a tiny blue door just at the bottom of the tree trunk she nearly missed. She crawled a bit closer, admiring the detailed craft of its brass brackets and the regal lion carved in the brass knocker. She was just about to touch the door, when -
"Get away from my door! That's mine," an adorable squirrel tufted her furs and squeaked wildly. "Why must everyone touch my things. I work hard for them, so hard," the squirrel quickly changed her frown to a smile..
"I'm sorry. I..I..," Mandi was struck with awe. The squirrel talked faster than anyone she knew. She could hardly keep up.
"Well, you know, you -" the squirrel paused, ridding itself of rage, and spoke in a calm voice, "you're sweet. What's your name? Wait, I've never talked to a person. You. You have a gift, you know. Maybe you can help me. You see my parents don't want me to see them and I -"
"My name is Mandi," the girl interrupted politely. "Nice to meet you, little squirrel."
"Squerrrl. Hmpf. Is that what I'm called to you? Well, I would like you to have water and nuts with me, but I'm afraid I just don't have enough food. It's been quite difficult to store since my relatives keep stealing from me. My precious nuts and shinies." The squirrel held out a dime with both paws, quick to snatch it back as Mandi reached for it.
"Aww. I'm sorry little squirly," Mandi felt compassion. She could be good friends with a rodent. Her brother always took things from her too. Foremost, he took her mother's attention. "I know how you feel. Maybe I can help you pick some nuts for supper."
"No, um," the young squirrel hesitated, "I...uhn.. want the nuts back that my family took. Why should I go find more while they get away with taking mine? I even put my scratch marks on them so I would know. My brother's the worst of 'em. And mum and dad always take his side. That's why I moved away -" the young squirrel squeaked, which to Mandi seemed the only way the little animal could scream. The squirrel pointed off in the distance and jumped on her hind feet making S-waves with her bushy tail. "There's my brother now. Talk to him if you want to help me, and get me back my things!" She retreated behind the elegant blue door.
A boy squirrel sniffed the air cautiously, and noticed a little beast walking politely up to him.
"Excuse me, I was wondering if you could -"
The boy squirrel squeaked, turned, and bolted halfway up a tree. He looked around the edge of the trunk, and bolted again toward open grass to be stopped by two other squirrels. The two new squirrels seemed much older, judging by their much better-kempt coats. One kneeled by the boy squirrel and started picking grass off his ears. The other stood on its hind legs and sniffed the air. The older squirrel then pointed at Mandi. They all scampered along toward Mandi, their tails mimicking a stream of brown and black.
"I say," spoke the Father squirrel in a wispy tone, "are you the beast whose purpose is to startle my young son here?"
"My name is Mandi, and I had no intent to hurt him. I just wanted to talk."
"Well, I'm not quite certain he has the smarts for such a thing. Eh, dear?" the father squirrel winked toward the mother. "Not like our little girl. I do wonder where she goes from time to time. On another adventure I suppose," he squeak-chuckled.
"You are her parents, then!" Mandi yelled with anger and surprise.
"You've seen her?" the mother was concerned. This couldn't be the family her new friend was talking about. "Off she's been with a tiff. This morning with breakfast she got in a big harumph about the nuts we gave her. Some too small, some too green. She'd gone and scratched all our nuts, and scampered off out the tree to Furry Mother knows where."
The boy squirrel squeaked again, apparently distressed the mother had stopped picking at his fur.
"If you happen to acquire her whereabouts again, please inform us. I do remember my treasure-hunt years, but I say they are far off in my youth. My regards, young beast," the father twitched his tail twice, a form of respect among squirrels. The family scampered up the blue door tree.
Could Mandi have really been doofed by a furry little girl rodent? "To think I didn't notice how she was treating me. Her family was so very kind to me. Well, her brother was a bit skittish, but he's too young to know better. Especially to a beast like me," Mandi thought aloud, giggling. "What am I to do now?" She remembered her mother gave her a half-eaten Nutty candy bar her brother didn't want. She could have this for supper with her rodent friend.
Mandi kneeled down and knocked on the little blue door.
"Who's there?" Mandi heard squeak-sniffling, which sounded like her dog panting and slobbering in her ear. Something inside made her laugh. She was no longer revolted by it.
"It's me," Mandi restrained her emotions. She didn't want to sound angry. Not at first, but she had to teach the lying brat a lesson. "I was wondering if we were going to still have nuts and water."
No answer. "Think, Mandi."
She dug deep in her pockets and found a nickel under some lint. "I have a gift for you." She heard scampering next to the door.
"Did you bring my nuts back? I'll starve without them," squeak-sniffled the young squirrel.
"I have something better."
"Nothing's more important than food. You brought food, then, with you. Oh, I hope you did. I haven't eaten all day. Who could with my worries? I bet you couldn't if you were me, and I just want to -"
"I did bring some food. A Nutty candy bar," Mandi convinced, "and something else, too."
The door creaked. "Is that a shiny?" The door burst open. "Oh, it is! For me, thank you so much. You know it's even bigger than my most prized shiny. It must be worth twice as much and -"
"I brought them for you because I want to be your friend," Mandi interjected the excitement that was beginning to disgust her. "Friends can be honest with each other, right?"
"Oh, yes. Of course. One time when I was real young and my brother wasn't here yet, my parents would give me all the food I could carry, and we would go treasure-hunting for shinies, and my mom would clean me when I got dirty, and we all lived at the highest branch together. The view was nice until I almost fell and got a fear of heights, and -"
Mandi snickered. She never thought a squirrel could be afraid of heights.
"What's funny? I thought you wanted honesty. Hmph." The squirrel took the nickel and began hopping away.
"Wait you spoiled brat," Mandi's tongue betrayed her. She paused, but something inside her screamed. If I don't tell the squirrel now, she may never learn. "Yeah!" she screamed with more confidence. "You're a liar, and you're the thief, and you don't know anything about loving your family. All you want to do is go about by yourself and cry about how nobody cares about you. And you're greedy, and selfish; you never worked hard for anything, and you don't appreciate anyone, and I don't think I can be friends with you."
"What is this beast-noise?" a wispy voice squeaked just above Mandi. "Oh, it's my daughter after all. I did wonder where you adventured off to without your family. Don't go scaring us like that again. We promise to give you whatever type of nuts you'd like. Your brother misses you, as well as your mother, and would you look at your tail. Honestly, I raised a lady, I do believe."
Mandi watched a change occur in the little squirrel. She twitched her tail three times and shed a tear - a real tear this time. Mandi couldn't help but cry herself. She sat and placed her face into her hands, forgetting she still had the candy bar in one of them.
"I'm sorry dad," for the first time her words were slow, contemplative. "I'm happy with any nuts you give me, dad. I miss you and mom, and my brother. I need to thank you more, dad. Here, I owe you this for worrying you and mum." The young squirrel gave her father the nickel shiny, and quickly made her way to the top of the tree, where her mother and brother were playing tag.
"My word. This is the largest piece of shiny I have carried in these hands. I will cherish it most. And I thank you, young beast, for showing my daughter a lesson I could not teach myself. Some things only strangers can tell, and be believable. Fare well, and never fear us creatures, for it is we who are closest to the Furry Mother." The father squirrel twitched his tail twice, and crawled slowly up the tree with a glance at the wooden door with its brass hinges, and regal lion. "Of all the follies my daughter has, she is a true rodent carpenter."
Mandi stood up, wiped her face of tears, and looked away from the door in her forest. A gentle breeze blew across the leaves, past the door, and on toward the center of the park. Mandi remembered her mother and brother playing there, and couldn't wait to see them. She jumped over the stump which placed her there in the first place, and skipped to her mother's side.
Mandi tugged on her mother's belt, "Hi mom. I missed you, and I wanna show you and my brother something over there." She pointed at the forest, which now looked like a few trees in a dirty part of the park. It didn't seem important anymore.
"What did you get all over you, little one?" her mother took out a piece of cloth. She licked the cloth and wiped it across Mandi's forehead, "Chocolate, huh. Well, at least you didn't get your clothes all dirty."
"Thanks mom. I love you and all, but I wanna play with my brother. Is that okay? Mom, " she persisted while trying to fight off the mom-spit cloth from the rest of her face.
"Tag, you're it, " she tapped her little brother on the nose, and began running in a circle around her mom.
Her mother pushed her away, and the two kids ran from her. It was then the mother noticed the back of her daughter's pants covered in dirt from the waist to the back of her knees.
She smiled, "When will that girl ever learn?"
Word count: just under 2,000