Laika yipped and bounded playfully around DL, as he tugged his sweater on over his shoulders. The thin young man was wearing a white T-shirt and black sweats with pinstripes, and shoes that were comfortable, but with the nip in the air, it was hardly enough. Hence, the sweater. His tattooed hands and fingers with the black nail polish slipped through the warm, thick dark green woven material, and snuggly fit against his lean frame, like the arms of his grandma hugging him. He didn’t want to appear too much of a wimp before going outside, so he didn’t button more than the top two buttons, before he gave it a final adjustment tug, and opened the front door. “Ok, ready now, “ he said in a matter of fact tone.
The Inu was smiling … no, grinning, because they were going for a walk through the woods.
“Calm down, damn it, “ DL said, with a grudging smile, feeling the infectious joy from Laika, as he automatically did the pat-down check of his various pockets for wallet, phone, and then his keys. That ritual complete, he opened the front door, and stepped out, Laika bounding ahead of him into the leaf-strewn yard.
Their little green and brown house was more in the country than the suburbs of town, on a cul-de-sac, away from the main road, and near the beginnings of the Fierbolg Woods. Farm land lay between him and the city, while at the back of the house was a the woods.
DL breathed in a deep breath, and the air was crisp, a bit chill, but not cold, with a soft autumn sun that was playing hide and seek behind fluffy clouds. Perfect sweater weather.
The forecast had said that later that eve it might turn more into a rainy autumn day, but for now, it was sunshine, cool autumn breezes, and the colors were absolutely at peak changing. The reds, oranges, yellows and browns all mixed to make an amazing tableau scene as the trees were changing both in the valley and up on the hillsides, for miles as far as the eye could see.
Laika put his butt up in the air, and his little wiggling tail swayed almost like a cats, as he hunched down in the front, and then sprang into a pile of leaves that had been piled up near the dirt road. He dove into the leaf pile, and vanished below the surface, as if it were a small pond. He bounded out the other side, showing brown and colorful leaves all over the roadside, as he turned back to see if DL was going to do the same.
Tugging his green sweater tighter around his waist, but not bothering to do up the lower buttons, DL was comfortable with this level, his hair pulled back into two pigtails on either side behind his ears. The soft reddish brown hair gleamed in the soft sunlight of the late afternoon, as he laughed at Laika and the Inu’s antics. “You’re silly, you know that? “
The canine yipped and then rolled his eyes, and then ran back up to push his back against DL’s leg. His tongue lolled out to the side as he cocked his head, as if to say, “You’re not joining into the fun!” With a bark, he headed to the road ahead of the lanky young man.
And so they started down a trail, something that they’d walked along many times, leaving behind the dirt road behind them for this more arboreal path, stepping around bough and branch, limb and twig, shrub and fall. Leaves were carpeting the floor, and at times his steps would make crunching noises through the path they would take.
Laika’s tail started to quiver, and uncurled a little, as he crouched, and seemed to almost stalk his way along a straight and narrow part of the trail that was leading up to the trunk of an enormous old oak. A squirrel the size of a housecat was sitting there, stuffing it’s face with acorns, as Laika lept and bounded up to the creature, And DL shouted, “Laika! Wait! Don’t!” And then the young man sighed, gripping the edges of the sweater tight in his fists in expectation.
Laika bounded in fast, expecting the great squirrel to scamper up the tree, and into the relative protection of the leafy limbs above. But it did not, in fact move. Instead, as Laika came in fast and crazy, it stumped its foot down, which levered up a branch that popped up through the leaf cover on the ground, right in his path. This tripped up the Inu, sending him into a back-ended summersault, an ungraceful tumble and he came to a skidding halt several feet away.
Laika let out a soft whine, and the squirrel turned and put its little arms on its hips, and glanced up at Laika, and chittered a little laugh, and then glanced up at the slow-jogging DL. “You should tell him that I don’t do the chasing game, any more. My old body just doesn’t like being chased like that. “ The squirrel’s voice was high and reedy, but definitely male and amused, with a husk of age to it. Its fur was silver streaked through the brown pelt with black stripes.
Little bracelets of woven leather were on each of his wrists, as he picked up a small leather bag from the leaf-covered ground and spit a mouthful of acorns he’d collected into it. “I’m trying to complete my winter stores anyway, but I’m not surprised to see you up the hills on such a fine day, “ he continued, as he looked up quizzically at DL. Laika slowly rose, his teeth pulled back just a little, with the barest of soft growls. He wasn’t happy at his friendly play being met by such a cool and calculated trap. But he sat on his haunches and pressed in against the leg of DL’s pants, as the young man came to a halt beside him.
DL made an elaborate show of looking around the little area around the mighty oak, and then down at the squirrel. “No booby traps for me, eh, Sparks? That was kinda cruel, doing that to Laika, even if you aren’t in the mood,” DL said in a chiding tone. “We don’t have many days like this left before the snows start.“
Laika snorted his approval of what DL said and then softly started to pant beside the brown-maned boy.
Sparks huffed and shook his head, slung the bag of nuts over his little furry shoulder. “Hey boy, I don’t go chasing him when he’s doing his business. I expect the same courtesy! Now, is this a social call, or do you have business out this way, today?”
DL chuckled, “Purely social – just taking a stroll. Enjoying the day. I’m surprised you haven’t already stacked up every nut, and berry left in the area of the forest. I’d imagine your larders are stuffed to capacity by now. “
Sparks glanced carefully at Laika, who stopped panting, and cocked one ear and tilted his head, as if he were about to glean some secret of the squirrel’s hidden supplies. Then the squirrel grinned and shook his head, “Oh, I’m always laying in even more stores. You can’t ever have enough. You just never know when you’ll be taking in refugees if there’s a particularly bad winter. And yeah, its been an incredible harvest year. Almost too good. Makes me wonder if the winter isn’t going to be super-long this season.”
“Maybe you’ll just be a fat squirrel when winter is over, and I’ll have to come down to your nest with a prybar to get you out?” DL chuckled as he said that, and Sparks rolled his eyes, and Laika yipped his agreement.
“You really have such a low opinion of my self control, eh, beanpole?” The squirrel retorted. “But then a skinny boy like you can cast aspersions on someone of my age. You’ve not been through the great winters like me. “
DL glanced upwards as the sun seemed to dim at that moment, and a large dark cloud passed before its face, hiding it for long minutes as a chill wind seemed to blow through the trees, sending hissing sounds of brittle leaves skittering along the ground and in the boughs above. DL gripped the edges of his sweater, and tugged them closed against the chill breeze, and gave a tiny shiver. “I would not want to argue with you on the possibility of it getting butt-cold this season, but let’s hope it doesn’t last any longer than normal, eh?”
Laika gave a bark in support, and the squirrel shivered a little and curled its tail in closer as the sun finally won free of the clouds above, casting its wan warming rays down once more. “There’s a storm coming in, DL – I’d suggest you turn around and head for home now. You might just make it back before the worst of it hits. But I can already feel the temperature dropping. You’ll need to button up that 2nd skin you call a sweater before you make it home.“
As DL looked skyward, and to the east, he could indeed see that the dark clouds were gathering fast. If they weren’t being blown in on the breeze, they were starting to form, gathering low and heavy, as if eager to begin a chill rain on an otherwise beautiful warm fall day.
“I guess you’re right, my friend. But are you gonna be able to get to your nest in time? You seem to have quite a bag of nuts to haul, “ DL Said in a soft chuckle.
The squirrel put one of his little paws on his hip, and swished his tail, “I’ll be just fine, don’t you worry – and NOT I’m not inviting you in – you’ve got plenty of time to make it back to your own nest.. But I’ll keep my ears pricked for news. If I hear word of anything unusual, I’ll contact you at your place. “
DL nodded, then gave a little salute, before glancing down at Laika. “Time we headed back, come on. “ Laika yipped, and then gave a little playful jump, and then they trodded back down the path that they’d come.
It took a little time, but as they approached the final leg of their trip back, and the sky was getting darker with heavy clouds, pregnant with rain waiting to be unleashed, Laika said, “You know, Sparks is kinda an ass, don’t you agree? What was it with that branch trick! So mean!”
DL laughed and reached down to stroke Laika’s ears and the inu gave him a doggy grin and licked his hand, and nipped at it playfully. “You did kinda deserve it. He’s an old squirrel, and you’d have probably knocked him down, spilled his nuts and thrown his tail into a kink. “
“Bah.. “ was all Laika said, as he looked ahead, “Better button up that sweater, DL. The rains coming down. Let’s make a run for the house. “
So they ran the last mile, and got soaked the last quarter. They’d spend the next hour or two, drying off and getting warm in the cozy cottage, but the season was turning fast. Sweater weather or no, they had a winter to prepare for.
Hair-!Oleander ~ Skye (The Epiphany)