by SHERRY SHU (Canada)
Issue 2.2 August 2020
He scuttled furiously from beneath the undergrowth, pausing every few seconds to catch his breath. He wasn’t sure if he had enough time. The blanketing beings of crimson, violet, rose, and turquoise had just begun to rise from their deep slumber and flood the sky in ripples. He grimaced as he noticed the light—it might have been too late.
His heartbeat quickened as the planted cluster around him began to grow thinner, knowing full well that he’d nearly reached the end of the protective forest. The rounded nut in his paws began to tremble and coat with sweat.
The first time he’d embarked on this mission, he’d nearly gotten killed.
His brave mama had tried to show him the ropes. Her voice echoed softly in his ear: “Now, when you get up to the grey and rocky soil, be very, very careful. Keep your ears close to the ground, and listen for a great roaring or rush of wind.”
Paws clasped together, watching for a break in the stampede, they’d taken one step. Then another. And then an ear-piercing honk had left a bright shock of colour right before their eyes, metal blurring into an afterimage. A violent yelp brought in a lungful of reeking, putrid air; driving both of them into a coughing fit.
Throughout the unnaturally cold winter, they’d been cuddled in their new burrow, built on the little land they could find since their old home had been cleared. He hadn’t been able to breathe properly since he’d started making the trips. He kept thinking about the incident that day, knowing that after their hibernation was over and spring was just about to flock in, they’d have to revisit the same horrendous path to uncover the food they stored in the fall . . .
As he treaded out of the bushes, he saw it—the wide murky stretch coming into light, looming out in front of him. The death track he’d have to race through to a finish line of tree and shrubbery. This is it. I’ve got to hope I make it through in one piece.
One paw-step. Two paw-steps. Silence.
A third paw-step. A fourth paw-step. Silence.
A fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth . . .
He’d done it! He was safely on the other side! Gasping with relief, he steadied the nut against his paws, ready to scamper back to the burrow. And then . . .
He stopped to look back at the scene behind him.
Still silence. Not a single shiny beast shooting along the grey ground, growling from the depths of its belly. For minutes he stood there in mere shock, the path staying broad and empty as the sun continued to climb. Empty.
He took a nervous breath, tasting the sweet and dewy breeze dancing past, no longer muddled by the familiar heavy reek. He could even faintly make out, drifting over the treetops; the cardinal’s first chirp of spring, no longer hidden by the mighty roars.
Were they . . . gone?
He gazed past the foliage in awe to a lake-like sky—shadows of geese swimming in the shallow currents, dipping their wings through the waves; a clearing of cotton-dotted sapphire his mama only murmured stories about. In the forest before him, more of his kind had begun to emerge, hesitantly twitching their noses, sniffing at the air that had never felt so fresh.
Maybe, they’ve travelled to a new home. Maybe they’ve found a different place to run about.
Or maybe . . .
Maybe they’ve finally gone into hibernation. It’s their time to rest.
Sherry Shu, 16, is an Asian-Canadian writer who spun her first tale at the age of four. She's fascinated by the way language can explore deep universal truths in the quirkiest ways. She has a fondness for nature and always strives to speak up for the littlest voices of the world.