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by Taylor Friedlander
“Frankie, stop!” Carl commanded, pulling on his dachshund’s leash tight with tension.
“We have to stay six feet apart!”
But Frankie did not care. All her life, she had wanted to catch a squirrel. Not to hurt it, of course; just to talk.
She pull ed harder, every ounce of her sixteen pound body pushing forward. Then, suddenly, she heard a snap, the crack of plastic breaking, and realized – she was free! She sprinted at the squirrel, its bushy tail bouncing as it ran. Frankie was fast, but the squirrel was faster, making its escape by zipping up a tree. She scratched at the trunk ferociously, as if trying to climb it, barking out her dismay.
“Frankie, hush!” Carl scolded her.
Frankie whipped her head around and gave her owner a withering look.
“You,” she thought. “If it hadn’t been for you, I would have had my squirrel.” And unabashedly, she began barking at Carl.
“Stop that!” Carl reprimanded, his feelings somewhat hurt that Frankie would turn on him like that. “It’s just a stupid squirrel.”
The squirrel bristled.
Stupid? Had he really just called her stupid? The insult made her angry, and the anger made her bold. With one swift motion, she took her revenge. Inside her cheeks, she had a hidden fold of skin, like a secret pocket. And inside this secret pocket, she kept a secret seed, filled with a magical powder. Without hesitation, she cracked open the seed and poured the enchanted dust on Frankie. It came down on her like a thick fog, swallowing her up in a gauzy cloud.
To Carl, it looked like a chalky explosion, and so he looked up, hoping to find what caused the mayhem.
But in that moment when he looked away, something astonishing happened to Frankie. She began to shrink. Her paws dwindled into tiny pads barely the size of pebbles, and when she turned to investigate the rest of her body, she saw a fuzzy plume where her own dart-like tail should have been.
“What have you done to me?” Frankie shouted, not recognising her new chittery voice.
“What have I DONE to you? I think what you meant to ask is what I have GIVEN you. Because, my dear, I have given you a gift. The gift of being a dog no more.”
Upon hearing this, Frankie’s eyes began to water, and the squirrel felt a twinge of remorse for causing such pain, now that this creature was one of her own. Gingerly, the squirrel climbed down and sat beside Frankie.
“My name is Taffy,” she said, “And I know this is unusual. I remember how strange it was for me when I turned into a squirrel. I used to be a dog, you know.”
Frankie looked at Taffy in disbelief. “You? A dog? Like me?”
“Oh yes,” Taffy replied. “We are more alike than you think. I lived in a nice house with a nice family, and they taught me lots of nice tricks. Sit, stay, shake, roll-over. I was happy mostly, but my world was so small. I hardly ever left the house, and when I did, it was only for a walk around the block. I would see the squirrels run about, so airy and carefree. And I’d heard rumours that they held secret powers.”
Frankie nodded, for she had heard this as well. Clearly, it was true.
Taffy continued, “But whenever I tried to talk to those squirrels, they would run away. It was infuriating. It seemed that the only way to actually have a conversation with one was to catch it.”
“Exactly!” Frankie exclaimed. “That’s why I was chasing you.”
Taffy sighed. “It’s why all dogs chase all squirrels. It’s why I chased after Alfy back when I was a dog.
You see, Alfy was the squirrel I’d always see in the backyard, scampering along the ridge of the fence. I’d call to him, but as soon as he heard me barking, he’d run away. Then one day, I was in the backyard, and saw Alfy, walking along the fence like always. But, right behind him was a cat, shadowing his every move, its body tense and coiled, ready to spring. So I charged at the cat, teeth bared, ready to fight. I scared him off, but not before he took a swipe at me,” Taffy said, touching her claw to a spot above her eye, where the fur wasn’t quite as thick.
“But it was worth it. After that, Alfy finally spoke to me, to thank me for saving his life. And that’s when I learned about the magic of the squirrels.” Frankie was hanging on every word.
“You see, there was a time when humans would hunt squirrels. Some humans still do. It was a terrible time, and humans would bring their dogs to sniff us out.
So the squirrels banded together at the Sacred Oak, and brought forth the wisest, eldest squirrel who could speak the language of the leaves, and understand the whisper of the branches sifting with the breeze. And this tree said that it would grow special seeds the next day.” Taffy held out the empty shell of her secret seed to Frankie. “This was one of those seeds.”
Frankie thought this over. “This oak tree then, it gave squirrels the power to turn dogs into squirrels?”
“Exactly,” said Alfy. “The humans didn’t know this of course. They only knew that when they would hunt squirrels, their dogs would go missing. So they stopped. But still, most squirrels carry with them a secret seed in case they need to defend themselves. Or … if they encounter a dog that wants to be set free. And when I met Alfy, I desperately wanted to be set free.”
Frankie was stunned. “But why? Didn’t you miss your family?”
Taffy shrugged. “A bit. But life with them was so confining. To be a squirrel, that is a life of liberation. To explore the streets without a leash, to eat to your heart’s desire. Why don’t you come with me to the Sacred Oak, you can meet the other squirrels? You can meet Alfy, he is now the eldest and wisest squirrel.”
Frankie’s breath caught in her throat. She had always wanted to learn about the mysterious ways of the squirrels, and now she was being invited to their home. Her heart lit up with excitement, but then she remembered … Carl.”
She thought of how distraught he must be. And indeed, he was worried, driving up and down deserted streets, looking for her. Soon, he would be posting “Lost Dog” signs on telephone poles. “Beloved Dachshund,” they would read, “Reward, £1,000 and 12-Pack of Toilet Paper.”
“I can’t,” Frankie said at last, and Taffy’s smile went slack. “Carl needs me. He is my human and I am his dog.”
Taffy’s expression hardened, her jaw rigid. “But will he accept you? As a squirrel? Because, Frankie, I cannot turn you back into a dog.”
Frankie’s ears sank to the sides of her head and her heart fell to the pit of her stomach. “I can’t be a dog again?” she asked.
“I am afraid not,” Taffy said. “But being a squirrel is wonderful. Give it a try, come with me”
“No,” Frankie said. “If it’s a squirrel I must be, then I shall be a squirrel with Carl.”
Frankie returned to her home with Carl, and scratched at the window, but he didn’t seem to notice. Dejected, she built a nest in the backyard tree, sleeping in its canopy of branches. For two days, she stayed there. On the third day, there was a rustling of leaves, and then another squirrel appeared, his fur silvery with age.
“Are you Frankie?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied. “Who are you?”
“My name is Alfy. I am the eldest of the squirrels. And I am here because of Taffy. What she did to you was not right. So I spoke to the Sacred Oak, and the Oak gave me this,” he procured a small acorn. “It will make you a dog once again. Now, not all dogs were meant to be dogs. But I can see how much you love your human. You, Frankie, are a dog who was always meant to be a dog.”
With that, Alfy carefully cracked open the acorn to reveal a shimmering powder. His lungs creaked as he breathed in, puffing up his cheeks. With a great whoosh, he released his breath, and the gust of it gathered the powder, coating Frankie in an iridescent sheen. She watched as her paws expanded, and she felt the weight of her tail wagging back and forth. “Carl!” she called, and her resonant bark filled the backyard. She saw the door handle dip down, and then there he stood, a smile wide across his face, eyes sparkling with delight. “Frankie!” he called, and she ran to him.
For he was her human and she was his dog.