In the previous episode, Mike had reached the end of the hedge trail and parted ways with the two field mice Jacob and Tilly. Now he faces climbing the mighty crab apple tree to find a crazy bluejay.
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The words of Jacob’s warning echoed through Mike’s head as he made his way through the dense ivy that tangled around his feet, tripping him every other step. Each brush of the undergrowth against his legs brought a new thrill of panic that some creature might be reaching out to grab him. The faster he tried to move, the more tangled his feet became and the more times he fell.
When he finally reached the gnarled trunk of the tree all he wanted was a place to sit for a moment catch his breath. That, and perhaps a hot cup of tea to steady his nerves. He scanned the ivy for signs of life, nothing moved in the still air. He leaned against the rough bark and closed his eyes, letting the sun warm him. Surely a few moments wouldn’t do any harm.
Just as Mike was starting to feel ready to attempt the climb something shot around his ankles, yanked him off his feet, and began dragging him under the ivy. He twisted and flailed for his cane resting against the trunk and managed to knock it into his hands before going under the dark canopy of leaves. With a deft swing of the cane he sent a crackle of magic into the shadows. Whatever was pulling him screeched and the binding at his feet loosened.
He didn’t stop to see what it was, the second he was free he ran for the tree and climbed as fast as he could until he reached the branches. That’s what Jacob had told him to do in the first place, he cursed at himself for not listening. When he reached the first branch it was all he could do to pull himself on top of it before collapsing, breathless. The height made his head swim and the thought of looking down made his stomach turn.
In the branches overhead he heard a series of chitters and squeaks bouncing about.
“What’s this here?” he heard one ask from somewhere above and to the left.
“Dunno, looks like a tall rat without a tail and wearing clothes,” answered another voice off to the right.
“Why’d ya think ol’ Cluny let him go?” asked the first voice.”I thought he’d be dinner for sure.”
A large grey squirrel leaped down on Mike’s branch, making it bounce. Mike scrambled to grip the branch tighter, and squeezed his eyes shut. “Please don’t shake the branch.” He asked through clenched teeth.
“Wha’ you mean like this?” The grey squirrel jumped up and down a few times and Mike held on even tighter. Even so he imagined he felt his grip slipping and him plummeting back down to the ivy and into the jaws of that thing that lived there. It wasn’t a pleasant thought.
“Stop it Wetta, you’re scaring him.” A second squirrel joined the first on the branch and the shaking thankfully stopped. Mike dared to look up to see his rescuer and saw a different grey squirrel, this one smaller with flecks of black peppered through his fur. “Name’s Tucker friend, what’s yours?” he asked extending a paw.
Mike shook his head, he couldn’t imagine letting go, not yet. “Name’s Mike.”
“Well Mike, whatcha doing in our tree? You’re not a nut snatcher, are ya?” Tucker sat with his legs dangling next to Mike being careful not to jar him. Wetta climbed over to another branch for a better view all the while muttering to himself about crazy rats.
“No, not interesting in nuts.” Mike managed to sit up and swallow down the dryness in his throat, but scooted close to where the branch met the trunk.
“Well then, why ya here?”
“I need to get to Benjamin, I have some questions for him.”
Tucker looked up to the top of the tree. “That’s a mighty hard climb for a land dweller like you. Do you want a lift?”
Mike risked a look up towards the top of the tree, if he had to do it on his own it would take the rest of the day. That is, if he worked up the courage to let go of the branch. “Would you do that?”
“Sure, It’d be fun.”
Wetta growled deep in his throat like he didn’t like the idea. “Tucker, what are you doing?”
“Being helpful, one day you should try it.”
“One day you are going to get yourself into trouble,” he said with a sneer and then bounded away.
“Stupid oaf,” Tucker said under his breath before turning back to Mike and extending a paw. “Alright, all you have to do is hang on tight and keep your head down. I’ll do the rest.”
Mike clung to Tucker’s paw and climbed on the squirrel’s back. His thick fur made it easy to get a solid grip.
Without another word they were flying through the branches reaching higher and higher inside the great crab apple tree. Before Mike could think to be terrified they had reached the top and the blue jay’s nest.
Tucker stopped at the edge of the nest and let Mike climb off. “Listen, be careful around the old bird. He’s a fine chap but he can be unpredictable at times.”
Mike’s legs shook as he climbed to the edge of the nest, this was higher than he had ever been before and he definitely didn’t like it. “I will, thank you for the lift, I honestly can say I couldn’t do it without you.”
Overhead they heard a whistle of birdsong. “That’d be Ben, I’d best be heading down now, the two of us don’t get along. Good luck. Goodbye.”
Before Mike could say good-bye the squirrel had already turned and began his trip back down. There was a great rush of wind as Ben landed in his nest.
The bird clucked and cocked his head. “What’s this? Has someone left me a present?”
To be continued…
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