My Friend

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
September/October 2001

By Max Strebel, Illustrated by the author

Tap, tap, tap. The light drizzle sprinkled upon my window. I stood up and ran downstairs. “Yes! Only one more hour till eight. My favorite show ‘Rocket Power’ will be on.” I skipped into the living room and grabbed my Gameboy off the top shelf. While doing this I thought about how nice it was on rainy days like this. My parents couldn’t make me go outside.

I poured my cornflakes into the bowl. I looked with my dark blue eyes down into the bowl. Wow! Those pieces of cereal are like the stones that sink in the next level of Nintendo. I thought of all this while playing my game on Gameboy. The milk would be the lava I would sink in. I stopped the game and ate my cereal slowly, imagining each spoonful another monster jumping out of the lava and killing me. I did this for quite a while until my cereal got soggy. I took my plate to the sink and looked at the clock. Still half an hour to go.

Ten minutes later my parents got up. They ate breakfast. With only two minutes to go, I ran into the TV room and flipped on the TV. “Rocket Power” had just started. I lay down on the soft leather couch and lay there with my eyes half closed. “Frederick,” called my father Leonard. “We don’t have any more wood for the fire.” I saw Leonard’s face peek around the door. “That means you’ve gotta help.”

“But Dad . . .”

My Friend eagle's nest

I saw the squirrel in the mother hawk’s beak. She was about to feed it to her young

“No buts about it. It’ll only take half an hour.”

” . . . in half an hour, my show will be over.”

“Do you want to freeze to death?”

I snapped off the TV and walked out of the room with my head down. I flung a jacket around me and stomped outside. “Ahhh, but it’s raining,” I said with a grin, and turned around.

“No. The rain has stopped. Now it’s just foggy.”

I slowly walked down the stairs, trying to think of an excuse. The chill stung me like needles. The little autumn light that there was cast an image through the skeletons of trees. I finally made it to the corner of the field where all the wood was kept. I saw my father breaking through the fog with the rusty wheelbarrow from the barn.

When he got to where I was standing, I started throwing wood into the wheelbarrow. When it was so full that not one more log could fit in it, he took it back to the house to empty. He took his time, as if trying to make me suffer. Once he had disappeared into the fog, something else caught my eye. It was from above me. When I looked up, I saw a small animal with a big gray bushy tail. A squirrel. It darted from branch to branch. I followed it down to the creek. Every once in a while it would stop to groom itself. When it got to the creek, it noticed me. Such a fascinating creature, climbing head first down the trunk of an old oak, every few minutes glancing up at me. When it reached the ground, it hesitantly came toward me. After it was about three feet away from me, I reached out to pat it. It scampered away frantically. I waited patiently for the squirrel to sneak back out of the blackberry bush. It did with a cautious look, its eyes staring at me the whole time. Slowly, it sat down next to me. I reached out a quivering hand, its eyes closed. Now I could feel the warmth of the animal’s fur.

Suddenly, a flash of feathers was flung into my face, and a small squeaking sound filled the forest. When the feathers left, the squirrel was gone. I looked up to see a red-tailed hawk with the squirrel clenched between its talons. I followed the vicious bird to its huge nest of leaves and sticks. The scraggly bundle was literally five feet long and two feet thick.

The bird landed as I started to climb the big pine. I kept an eye on the nest until I reached it. I had a grip on the tree as I peeked over the edge. Three little cotton balls were bouncing up and down, looking as if their heads were attached to loose springs. I saw the squirrel in the mother hawk’s beak. She was about to feed it to her young. She saw me!

Her yellow eyes glared at me with an awkward stare. I ducked and clung to the tree like it was my mother. The hawk dropped the half-dead squirrel into the nest and peered over the edge. She couldn’t see me, so she started digging into her nest; I peered over the other side of the scruffled nest to see the birds from behind and all three youngsters staring at her. No one was looking at the squirrel but me. I snatched the squirrel and felt a pecking at my back. I lost my balance and fell, fell and fell till I hit the ground, felt the squirrel leave my hands and everything went black.

Slowly my eyes opened, but sharply squinted as the sun reached into my pupils. I rolled into the shade of the dark pine. The damp ground comforted me. “What time is it? Where am I? Why am I here? Wasn’t I just chopping wood with my father?” I slowly got up from the leaf-carpeted soil, trying to think why I was in the middle of the forest. I looked up and saw a grungy nest. In the back of my mind I could remember a bird, a hawk, with something in its sharp talons. It was a smaller animal, shaking and squeaking. I just couldn’t remember what.

I dazedly walked home, trying to recall the story, when my back started to hurt. I reached back to feel a drop of blood. A memory slowly oozed into my mind. I remembered being scratched harshly on the back in a tree.

No, these were all just thoughts I was having. Man, all this TV stuff really has got my imagination flowing. But really, for some reason, I have been turned off by TV. I have really been turned on by nature. What’s wrong with me? Why aren’t Nintendo things catching my interest?

Now I was walking up the front stairs. Slowly I creaked the door open. “There you are, where were you?” I heard someone say from upstairs.

“Somehow, I ended up in the forest,” I said, as my dad walked downstairs.

“In the forest? How?”

“I have no clue,” I said.

“Well, all the wood has already been put away.”

I went over to the couch and sat down, looking out the huge glass walls. I looked far, far across the field to where I had wanted to load the rusty wheelbarrow with wood. I looked at the fence I had been standing next to. I saw a small gray animal. A squirrel, the squirrel, was staring right at me. Slowly, the story came back to me.

Every day following that day the squirrel would watch me, and leave, but would always come the next morning. And I would always be there to greet my friend.

My Friend Max Strebel

Max Strebel, 11
San Francisco, California

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