In this week's story, Squirrelly, a group meeting raises some questions about what it means to be squirrelly.
Suggestions for writing prompts are always welcome! Today's prompt came from my friend, Wendy McMullan, who sent her suggestion along with a video of a squirrel she saw playing with a stick in the park. It was adorable and great inspiration!
More about Susan Quilty
Susan Quilty mainly writes novels, including two standalone novels and her current YA series: The Psychic Traveler Society. Susan's short stories for Freely Written are created during quick writing breaks and shared as a way to practice her narration skills before she dives into recording audio versions of her novels.
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Below is the transcript for Season 1, Episode 27 of Freely Written, a podcast by author Susan Quilty:
Welcome to Freely Written where a simple prompt leads to a little unplanned fiction.
[Light piano music]
Hi, friends! I’m Susan Quilty and today’s prompt is Squirrelly
As a reminder, here’s how my Freely Written process works: I use a word or phrase to inspire a quick story—with no planning and very little editing—and then I share that story with you.
Today’s prompt came from my oldest and bestest friend (and faithful listener!), Wendy McMullan. She sent me this prompt suggestion along with a video of a squirrel she saw playing with sticks in the park. It was adorable and crazy and great inspiration!
Here’s what came up when I started typing with that little squirrel in mind:
“Order! Come to order!” Chelsey Sylvain called sternly, cutting through the chatter that had taken over the meeting.
Those nearest quickly fell quiet, while those in the back continued to chitter on, albeit more softly. Chelsey shook with agitation and bared her teeth in a controlled grimace.
“I said, ORDER!” She barked with enough force to silence the assembly.
“That’s more like it,” she muttered, before quickly launching into her agenda. “Now, we have a serious matter to discuss. It’s one that’s come up before as a side matter, but I’m afraid the situation is becoming dire.”
A few attendees smirked or nodded knowingly. Others looked uncomfortable as they twisted their forepaws or shook out their bristling fur. One in the back wrapped his tail around his body, stroking its bushy fur in mindless worry.
“Yes,” Chelsey continued, rising higher on her powerful back legs. “We have observed a steady increase in what can only be called humanly behavior, and it must stop!”
Beside her, the council barked and trilled in approval, yet concerned chattering had again broken out through the gathering. Many in attendance felt that the council was too narrow in deciding which behaviors were acceptably squirrelly and which fell into the humanly realm.
“We have observed many excursions into human neighborhoods, which are, of course, perfectly acceptable hunting grounds. However, there are codes of conduct that are being disregarded.
“For example, foraging seeds from feeder contraptions is a time-honored squirrel tradition. Yet, participating in human-made games to reach the rewards of seeds or nuts is a demeaning activity which has been forbidden by this council.
“Some of you continue to flagrantly disregard that ban to the point of behaving more like trained creatures of a circus than proud woodland denizen.”
A trio of squirrels in the center of the room stiffened as several eyes glanced their way. It was true. The Atwood siblings—Margo, Reginald, and Clive—had found a human home where elaborate structures led them through perilous obstacles with increasing rewards of their favorite seeds and nuts.
They knew participating in such human games was considered un-squirrelly by the council, but they felt proud of their ingenuity in securing a steady food source. The others glancing their way waited to see if Margo, Reginald, or Clive would finally stand up to the council on this controversial matter.
Yet they stayed silent, and Chelsey shifted her attention to others in attendance.
“And I am not only talking about the most flamboyant among you,” she clarified pointedly. “I’m referring to all squirrels who have the temerity to ingratiate themselves with a single human family.”
Attention shifted from the Atwood siblings as many squirrels looked down nervously. It might be against the council’s wishes, but for common squirrels, befriending a human who was willing to set out daily rations was well worth putting on a bit of a show or giving the humans the thrill of eating from their sweaty palms.
“Point of order!” An old gray squirrel called from the back of the group.
Chelsey sighed with a soft whistle, drooping her upper body slightly before rising back to her full two-footed height.
“The chair recognizes Nolan Hayward.”
Nolan rose on his haunches, pleased to have the floor though hiding it under an officious air.
“The French Fry Doctrine allows for the procurement of food through human interaction when other food sources are scarce.”
Several squirrels nodded agreement, though their support was more about the tastiness of human food—French fries in particular—than about the civic debate of acceptable squirrelliness.
“Yes,” Chelsey conceded stiffly.
She had long been an opponent of the French Fry Doctrine, saying that it would never pass with today’s council, and occasionally trying to have the rule repealed. However, that was unlikely to happen, as even the strictest member of the squirrel council enjoyed the salty treat of a stray French fry.
“Yet even in the French Fry Doctrine, distance from humans is preferred when procuring human food. That should apply to all food varieties, even a natural diet of nuts and seeds.
“Furthermore,” she said loudly, breaking through another wave of subdued chatter. “We are seeing many of you opting for these human-given foods even when acorns are plentiful!”
“Acorns!” Nolan scoffed as he settled back to all fours. A murmur of scorn rippled through the gathering, causing an aggravated chattering among the council.
It was true that acorns were plentiful in their oak forest. And it was true that the squirrels loved to bury acorns to eat in the winter. But many squirrels were not content to live on acorns alone. Especially when humans were willing to provide so many other options.
“We have a responsibility to tradition!” Chelsey barked, shaking her bushy tail in consternation.
More than half of the squirrels nodded agreement. They couldn’t say why, but they felt that responsibility deep in their bones. Gathering and burying acorns, pinecones, berries, and other delicacies was not an activity that any were willing to give up.
Yet many also felt that it no longer mattered if the source of those delicacies were from pilfering trees and the forest floor or from taking the offerings of generous humans. Most would be buried for winter anyway… except for French fries, of course.
“Perhaps…” A small voice squeaked from the front of the gathering. Its high-pitch timidity caught the notice of the crowd, and the gathering grew quiet.
Chelsey turned impatiently, then softened at the sight of her small son—Chester Sylvain—balancing on two feet and holding a forepaw in the air for attention.
“Perhaps,” he began again. “We should have less rules about what defines squirrelly behavior.”
Chattering echoed this sentiment until Chelsey held up both forepaws for silence.
“We must have rules,” she told her son patiently, “to continue our squirrel heritage. Without rules where would we be? Why, I’ve even observed some young squirrels playing with sticks like an ordinary dog!”
Gasps and whistles from the crowd nearly deterred Chester, but he bravely stood his ground.
“But isn’t independence the most squirrelly behavior of all?” He asked earnestly. “And isn’t squirrelly behavior any behavior carried out by a squirrel?”
All eyes turned to Chelsey. She stood mute, frozen in place, before gradually sitting back on her haunches. Subdued grunts from the council suggested they were also ruffled by this suggestion, but Chelsey scarcely took note of them.
She looked at her small son and thought, “Is a squirrel more squirrelly when it’s left to its own independence? What does it mean to be squirrelly?”
After a moment of reflection, Chelsey shook herself to attention and glanced at the judgmental eyes of the council.
“I propose further discussion among the council and a review of procedures at our next gathering,” she decided firmly. “Meeting adjourned!”
The squirrels darted into the forest, happily chattering away. Some set out in search of French fries, others chased friends around nearby tree trunks, and the Atwood siblings set out to see what their humans had set out for them today.
Thanks for joining me. As always, if you’d like to learn more about me and my books, you can visit my website, SusanQuilty.com. You can also chat with me on social media or support me through my Patreon page.
Until next time, try a little free writing of your own. Let go of any planning and see where your imagination takes you.
[Light piano music]