Running as fast as I could, I rounded the corner of the classroom leaving the perplexed shouts of Peggy and Norris ringing behind me. With little time to reach the critter, I whipped quickly round the bend to where the squirrel had been spotted. And there it was. Waiting.
This shocked me. I'd been expecting to have to chase after my stalker, to pursue it through the wilds of the school grounds; I hadn't expected to see it sitting. Waiting. Staring.
Stopping suddenly in my tracks, I found myself about 10 feet away from the fiend. Its camera, still in its hand, was dropped loose at its side; its grey, bushy tail stood erect and proud above its head; its brown eyes blinked silently as it surveyed my flushed and sweaty face.
"For a runner, you're very out of breath considering it took you so long to get here." It said.
My eyes widened and my mouth dropped open; speechless and cemented to the spot, it was now my turn to stare.
"So..." The squirrel pondered, "We finally meet."
"F-f-finally?" was all I could muster in my bewildered state. I tried again "You... can... talk?"
"Well, yes." the squirrel answered belligerently, "Really? I thought you were relatively intelligent - for a human - yet you think it perfectly feasible that I may have the ability to function the complex workings of an SLR camera, yet not have the grammatical capabilities to form a sentence?"
"Ummm..." I paused. "No... I just... well, I guess I thought... I just assumed... you'd speak squirrel or something; whenever I've heard squirrels in the past, they've just sounded a bit, well, squeaky!"
"To be fair, the squirrels you've heard in the past are a little different to me, however I will come to that in a bit; but rest assured, I hold the capacity to communicate in a wide range of languages one of which is Human English. However, if you wish to discourse in another language, Je suis heureux de faire si although Я не уверен, что Вы поняли бы меня."
"Okay," I conceded, "I get the picture, squirrels are more intelligent than I gave you credit for."
"Not quite that simple, but as I said, we'll get to that bit later."
Without realising it, I had begun to relax; conversing with the squirrel had lowered my defences. This squirrel wasn't threatening, it didn't appear in the least bit dangerous, and neither did it personify the intimidating, evil, critter that had been forming in my imagination. It was however a little bit pompous.
"Do you have a name?" I ventured.
"Of course I have a name," The squirrel replied, "Just like you, we identify ourselves linguistically; my name is Irrel. Pleased to finally meet you Maggie."
At the sound of my name, I started a little "You know my name?"
"Of course I do, surely you realise I've been following you for the past month?" A wry smile drew its way across Irrel's furry face, "We've all be following you."
"I know." I agreed, "You've caused my friends and family to think I am going crazy; worse still, you've had me living in fear, I thought you wanted to harm me - that you were building an army against me..."
"You what?" Irrel the Squirrel interrupted "Why on earth would you think we were trying to cause you harm?"
"Why else would you be watching me?" I questioned, "Especially with cameras... and you sabotaged my Sky+ HD box... I thought it was a warning."
Irrel seemed to start to reply, then stopped. He opened his mouth, closed it again, rubbed his fluffy ears with his paw, sniffed and then suddenly collapsed into a fit of giggles.
"Hey!" I interjected "It's not that funny. It's been a nightmare for me this January, especially since my friends and family have been convinced I'm on the brink of a breakdown; they don't seem to have seen you at all."
Irrel recovered himself, straightened up and looked me in the eye. "I'm sorry Maggie, you're right. There's a reason that you're the only one who's noticed us, and I think we owe you an explanation. Although, I also think you may be a little disappointed, it's nowhere near as exciting as the scandalous scenario your imagination has invented.
And so, Irrel sat me down and talked me through the whole story. Telling me how he'd been assigned to follow me, but there were many squirrels out there, all following a different member of the Janathon community; and quite contrary to the savage situation I had assumed was occuring, the squirrels had been following for an entirely harmless reason:
"We heard about the Janathon Competition towards the end of December," Irrel continued to explain. "If you don't know it already, squirrels are notorious betters and not a day goes by where one of us doesn't fancy a flutter. It was Quirrel, the bookie, that suggested it. He's always looking for something new to keep him occupied. Then we all set it up. Easy really. Bets could be placed on who would exercise each day, run each day, as well as who would run the furthest distance, the shortest and who wouldn't make it to the end. We've all got bets on at least a couple of different Janathoners."
|Walter Potter, inside 'The Museum of Everything', London|
"Okay, so seeing as everything I thought I knew about squirrels has already been completely destroyed, that does actually make some kind of sense." I reflected, "But that doesn't explain everything that's been going on."
"Like what?" Irrel asked.
"Well, like my Sky+ HD box. Why was that sabottaged?" I interrogated.
"Ah, yes, well. I have to say, I'm sorry about that although in my defence it was nothing to do with me. That was Squil's idea. He's not the sharpest tool in the box; with quite a heavy bet riding on you running many miles, he thought if he could stop you watching television, you'd have no choice but to go out running... so he had a little nibble on the wire. Sorry."
"It's okay," I accepted, "No harm done in the long run I suppose... it's quite nice to think he had such faith me me. So that answers that, but why have you been following?"
"Someone has to check who's doing what and keep a log. Each of us has been assigned to a different Janathoner to photograph, log and feedback on your progress. Simple."
Irrel was right, it was simple. Sitting here now chatting with him, it seemed crazy that I had ever felt such a threat from their presence.
"So what will you do at the end of January?" I asked my new furry friend.
"Same as we always do when a bet comes to the end of its term. Call in the bets and find something new to occupy our time."
All of what the squirrel was saying did seem to make sense, except one thing, which had finally struck me in his previous words.
"That's what's confusing me though." I announced. "All this betting, following, logging and betting again, don't you have jobs to do? Shouldn't you be preparing for Spring? Or searching for nuts? Finding a mate even? I mean, where do you find the time? And another thing, earlier you said that you weren't like other squirrels? Why? And, you said there was an explanation for why it's only me that has noticed you following me, even when I've been with other runners, and you've not explained that either..."
Feeling a little bewildered again, I waited intently for Irrel to provide me with his answer to the strange squirrel behaviours I had encountered throughout January. To finally provide me with enough evidence to satisfy me that I hadn't gone mad. My heart was beating fast, my pulse twitching ten to the dozen, sweat was starting to form on my brow. Irrel hadn't moved. He was just sat there, silently, contemplating my query. Impatiently, I pressed him again. "Irrel... what's going on? Really?"
Irrel looked up at me, His big brown eyes, looked deep into mine as he drew a deep breath and confessed the truth:
"Maggie. We're not like normal squirrels. We've had our time collecting nuts, meeting a mate, bedding down for the winter. That's all over and now we're free. There's many of us, as many of us as there are of you. Because Maggie, the community I live amongst is no longer apart of your mortal world; don't you understand? Maggie: You see dead squirrels..."
...I see dead squirrels!
Distance: 1.6 miles (a comfortable recovery trot round the park with Doris)
Weather: bright, sunny and brisk.
Feeling: achey but good, and no longer in fear of the squirrels (dead or alive!)
See my run here.