Gaines Park had no shortage of trees and no shortage of squirrels to inhabit them, rodents grown fat and entitled by living off the refuse of students from the community college or specifically put out for them by Students for a Happy Earth. In fact, the park supported two warring populations of the critters: the larger but lazier fox squirrels, and the smaller but severely ADD grey squirrels. They could often be heard chittering at each other, with the insulting nature of the exchange generally clear from context.

And, sometimes, they would chitter and chirp at nothing in particular.

“Look at that,” Isaac said. A grey squirrel was perched in the barren highest boughs of a half-dead maple, clearly exposed, and making such a rodenty cacophony that it was audible for dozens of yards in every direction. “What are you doing, squirrel? You’re just telling every predator in range that there’s a tasty rodent up that tree and that dinner is served!”

“Kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk, quaa-quaaaa!” said the squirrel. “Kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk, quaa-quaaaa!” It was staring straight at Isaac and flicking its tail like a tiny battle pennant.

“They can see you up there, you know,” Isaac continued. “No leaves. And if you run away you’ll just exhaust your nut fat and die of starvation!”

“Kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk,” said the squirrel, unmoved. “Quaa-quaaaa!”

“I give up,” Isaac said, throwing up his hands. “I tried to help, but you’re being evolutionarily maladaptive.”

“She is warning the other nearby squirrels of a potential predator, and pinpointing that predator’s location by varying her alarm call and looking at it while flecking her tail.”

Isaac had no reason to doubt the speaker beside him, as she was the avatar of Aquerna, the Norse goddess of squirrels. “Oh. I guess she’s warning the other squirrels about me, huh,” he said sheepishly. “How do you say ‘I don’t want to eat you because you’d probably taste gross’ in squirrelese?”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

The “Nature’s Bounty” feast, put on by the Callahan Country Students for a Happy Earth, had generated a lot of leftovers, which they had promptly abandoned to biodegrade. Gaines Park maintenance volunteers had been called in to deal with the issue; Isaac cannily observed that the CCSHE’s reasoning had been sound, and that a biodegredation site away from picnic tabletops was the only missing piece.

Gabe confronted Isaac as he was packing away his gear. “There’s a pile of miscellaneous nuts sitting on top of that flagstone,” he said. “We were supposed to clean them up.”

“It’s a shrine to Aquerna, the Norse goddess of squirrels. She’ll take them if she wants them.”

“You don’t expect me to believe that, do you?” Gabe said.

“Believe what you want. I’m not cleaning it up.”

Defeated, Gabe left Isaac to rake leaves in the vicinity of the “shrine,” which he went about with characteristic sloth and lack of attention to detail. Returning from a long, leisurely stroll to deposit a bunch of leaves in a bag, Isaac noticed that the pile of nuts had disappeared from the flagstone. He also noticed a short brunette girl in the bushes nearby who seemed to be wearing nothing but her birthday suit.

As much as Isaac appreciated the aesthetics of the human form, Callahan County and Gaines Park had strict statutes in place to keep nude sunbathers from the nearby college at bay, and volunteers were often put upon to summon the authorities or chase them down.

“Hey, earth child!” Isaac yelled. “It’s too early, and you’re too pasty, for sunbathing to do anything! Get lost!”

She turned and regarded him with wide eyes.”Hello. I am the Avatar of Aquerna.”

“W-what?” Isaac felt his heart stutter; no one should have known about that save Gabe. “I made that up! It was just empty snarkiness!”

“By invoking the name and attaching it to a site, you designated a site,” the girl said. “By refusing to recant when confronted, you expressed a belief. Ethereal beings need human belief to exist, and a site to manifest. You have provided Aquerna with the first of each in over one thousand years, and her avatar is before you now in gratitude.”