Skippy Graycoat woke up early to the chirping of birds. It had been a long night for the young squirrel. He spent hours fixing up his new apartment, a fancy little hollow inside of an old, maple tree, and he was happy to finally have some privacy. No more annoying parents to lecture him about survival in the forest. He stretched out his arms and legs, then peeked his head outside for a breath of fresh, autumn air.
“Well, time for breakfast,” he mumbled to himself. He noticed all the other residents of the Maple Grove Complex gathering acorns and getting ready for winter. “Bunch of fools,” he went on, “working so hard when they don’t have to.” He chuckled then ran towards the bottom of the tree. When he reached the ground, he headed straight to his secret food spot: a large, white house at the edge of the forest.
You see, even though Skippy’s parents warned him not to rely on humans for food, he always ignored them. When they showed him and his siblings how to gather and store acorns, he never paid attention. In his mind, he’d always have his secret food spot to count on, but on that particular morning, he was in for a rude awakening…
“What the heck!” he shouted when he climbed the fence and noticed all the bird feeders in the backyard of the house were gone. Even the bowls of peanuts they usually left outside were gone. “What’s going on?”
“They’re gone, Skip,” said Chadmun the Chipmunk, who’d snuck up next to him on top of the fence. Chadmun was Skippy's lonely partner in crime, the only one from the forest in on their little secret. His parents were taken by a hawk months ago, and Skippy felt bad for him. “New people moved in the other day," Chadmun continued, "and I don’t think they’ll be feeding us. Plus, they have a cat!”
Skippy’s beady, dark eyes widened. “A cat?”
“Yes. I came here to warn you. Ain’t safe for us here anymore. Time to start gathering our own food from now on.”
“Gather our own food?” Skippy’s heart sank. “I don’t know how to do that!”
“Well, you better learn soon my gray friend. Winter will be here before we know it!”
In a state of panic, Skippy rushed back to his complex to look for his girlfriend, Gwendi Frizztail. He had planned to marry Gwendi soon, now that he had his own apartment, and he wanted to surprise her that morning with some tasty peanuts. Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out that way.
“Hiya Gwendi,” he said when he saw her sitting on a branch outside of her parent's nest. “What are you doing?”
“Waiting for my father,” said Gwendi. “We’re going on an acorn hunt today. Supposed to be a long winter, and someone’s been stealing everyone’s acorns!”
“Yes. I already made a complaint to Herbie Halftail. He’ll be sure to get them back for us.”
Skippy narrowed his eyes. “Why were you talking to that buffoon?”
Skippy and Herbie were enemies. They both had eyes for Gwendi, and ever since Herbie became a member of the Knights of The Round Tree Stump, the local law enforcement of Maple Grove, Gwendi bragged about him constantly.
“He’s not a buffoon," said Gwendi. "You’re just jealous because he’s an admirable knight.”
“He’s not so special.” Skippy tried to conceal his jealousy. “I bet he doesn’t have a fancy nest like I do.”
Gwendi rolled her eyes. “Whatever, Skip. Anyway, what do you want?”
Skippy fell silent for a moment. He was too embarrassed to ask her for anything, but now that his secret food supply was gone, and winter right around the corner, he was desperate.
“Ummm, you think you can spare a few acorns for me?”
"Certainly not!" Gwendi scurried down the tree, glaring at him. “You expect us to work hard all day just to feed you? You have some nerve, Skippy Graycoat!”
“Sorry I asked, sheesh!”
“It’s not my fault you don’t know how to gather acorns," Gwendi went on. "Your parents tried to teach you, but you ignored them. And to think I was actually going to marry you!”
"What's that's supposed to mean?" Skippy frowned. "You don't want to marry me anymore?” Sadness filled his eyes.
“It's over, Skippy. You're lazy and I don't want a lazy husband! Herbie Halftail proposed to me yesterday. He's an honorable knight and a good provider. He has more acorns than everyone else in Maple Grove.”
“You're going to marry that jerk instead of me?”
“It's none of your business who I marry!” Gwendi scowled at him. “Go play with your lonely little chipmunk friend and leave me alone.”
“Who told you I don’t know how to gather acorns anyway?”
“Oh, Skippy.” Gwendi sighed in frustration. “You think I’m that stupid? You never worked a day in your life. I figured out your little game. Sneaking into that backyard, taking all those free seeds and nuts while the rest of us spent hours gathering our own food. You’re despicable!”
“Now wait just a second!” Skippy’s little nostrils flared. “You didn’t mind it when I brought you all those tasty peanuts. The ones we can't get in the forest.”
“I didn’t know you were stealing them from someone's backyard!” snapped Gwendi. “Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if you and Chadmun the Chipmunk are responsible for all the stolen acorns around here.” She shook her head. “You’re nothing but a lazy thief, and I wish we never met!” She turned away and started to cry.
Later that night, Chadmun the Chipmunk paid Skippy a visit in his new pad. Skippy couldn’t sleep anyway, so he didn’t mind the company. Chadmun brought him a few acorns and his eyes lit up. He was starving.
“Where’d you get the acorns?” Skippy asked, gnawing away at one of them. “They’re delicious.”
“Well, I stumbled upon a whole pile of them just outside of Maple Grove,” said Chadmun. “And you’re not going to believe this, Skip... but I saw Herbie Halftail running back and forth to the same pile, adding more acorns to it each time. He’s been stealing everyone's acorns at night!"
"What!!" Skippy dropped his acorn.
"Yes, he's been hoarding them all for himself and—”
Before Chadmun could finish the story, Skippy darted out of his apartment to hunt down Herbie Halftail. Anger welled up inside of him, and he was determined to expose the “knight" for what he was. Chadmun quickly followed behind, to show Skippy where Herbie’s hidden stash was, and Herbie was standing on the acorn pile when they arrived.
"What are you fellows doing up past curfew?" Herbie asked them in a stern tone. “As a knight of The Round Tree Stump, I demand you go back to your nests at once!"
"You're no knight!" shouted Skippy. "You're a thief and a fraud, and you've deceived my girlfriend."
“You think you can take this guy?” asked Chadmun. “He’s a lot bigger than you, Skip.”
Skippy didn’t even think about backing down. He would prove to Gwendi that she was making a big mistake if she married the fraud. In a fit of rage, Skippy lunged at Herbie, and the two squirrels engaged in a vicious brawl. It was a long and close fight, but Skippy was victorious. He made Herbie tell everyone the truth, especially Gwendi, and all the stolen acorns were returned to their rightful owners. Gwendi apologized to Skippy for all the mean things she said to him, and everyone praised Skippy for his heroism.
“Guess he’s not so admirable after all!” Skippy said to Gwendi, but he loved her too much to stay mad at her.
The following morning, Skippy woke up to someone shouting from the ground below his apartment. He looked outside and couldn’t believe it was Sir LanSquirrel himself, captain of the Knights of the Round Tree Stump.
“Skippy Graycoat!" Shouted Sir LanSquirrel. "Come forth at once.”
Skippy, a bit nervous, immediately ran down the tree to meet with the legendary knight.
“Mr. Graycoat,” continued Sir LanSquirrel, “your courage and willingness to face harm for the sake of our community have impressed me. Many squirrels would’ve starved this winter if not for you. We need brave squirrels like you in our knighthood.”
“Umm, thank you sir...but I wouldn’t be much of a knight. I was a careless youth, and I ignored everything my parents taught me about survival.” Ashamed, Skippy could barely look him in the eyes. “I don’t even know how to gather my own food!”
“Then your first lesson begins today!” said Sir LanSquirrel. “By next season, you’ll be a skilled acorn hunter and a true Knight of The Round Tree Stump.”
And so, it was, Skippy Graycoat became a proud member of the knighthood, and he and Gwendi got married on Winter’s Eve. They even made a spare room for Chadmun the Chipmunk in their apartment, so he wouldn't be lonely anymore.
Bio: Peter is an avid lover of the fantasy genre, inspired by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Robert Jordan to name a few. He resides in Westchester, New York, and has been a steady member of WVU for the past three years. He’s been an active member of the Kidz Korner Writing Group, and the World Building Group, where he’s been posting and working on a Middle Grade/YA Fantasy/Superhero novel series. He has finished the first book and is currently almost finished with the second book. His dream is to become a successful fantasy author, to create exciting worlds, with family-friendly stories. He's also an artist and enjoys bringing his characters to life using various media.