Charles snuffled the grass at his feet, dragging his snout through the dew and loose ground. He could easily smell the squirrel. It was so close he could probably swing his head around and find it staring him in the face. Squirrels might be quick and all, but they weren’t the smartest. Slow and deliberate, he stepped backwards, one foot at a time, like he wasn’t really thinking about turning around, just sniffing in reverse.
Mocking chitters rang out behind him. Whirling on his back legs, Charles reared up and brought his front paws down hard on the empty earth behind him. Blowing air through his muzzle, he glowered at everything he could see, looking for some sign of where the squirrel was hiding. It was no good. Not a blade of grass twitched in the night smeared forest. He straightened his spine and whined into the darkness. More chittering spilled down from the branches of the oak beside him. Wrinkling his nose he looked up, his fangs flashing in the sliver of moonlight that managed to burrow down through the leaves.
“Well, that’s just rude,” he said staring at the tiny black orbs looking down at him. “How can I ever catch you if you keep running up a tree?” With a soft, complaining wuff, he dropped his rear end tiredly onto the ground. “I give up.”
“I would expect you to have learned to look up by now.” Giving him a scowl that only a squirrel can make, the rodent inched onto an overhanging branch and stretched out, letting its tail hang down. “Wolves are especially praised for their intelligence. What happened to you?”
“I’m tired. We’ve been playing for hours.” His voice was almost a whine.
Rubbing one foot across its face, the squirrel looked down with an expression of extreme judgement.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you wanted to learn to hunt. If you’re too tired, by all means we will stop.” Thoughtfully, it pulled at the small, branching leaves and let them pinwheel to the ground.
“You don’t need to be a bitch about it.” Aggravated and not in the mood, he shook his shaggy head back and forth, dislodging the tree litter from his fur.
“Ooo, somebody needs a nap.”
Another leaf floated down, twirling across his nose as it landed. He gave the branch, and its occupant a hard look.
“We can start again tomorrow night. I need to get some real food and try to sleep.” Pushing against the ground with his front paws, Charles raised himself back to a standing position and tilted his head to stare at the red rat. “You look like you could use a rest yourself.”
“How considerate of you. Thinking not only of yourself at a time like this.” With a sneer, it dropped another leaf. “You are a prince among wolves.”
“Whatever!” Charles wanted to rip the bushy tail down from its branch and fling it against the tree trunk. The whole night had been nothing but chittering and mockery. He was sick of it. Maybe he would ask one of the cats to help him. They at least knew how to hunt. What did squirrels know about it? The gathered nuts and stored them in knotholes.
“Fine, go home and take a hot bath like the human that you are.” The squirrel sat up and began combing through its tail with its paws. “When you decide you are serious about being a wolf, let me know.”
Lowering his head, Charles let his ears droop and looked stricken.
“You don’t have to be so mean,” he said softly. “You have been a squirrel for years. I have only been a wolf for a month.”
Pausing in its grooming, the squirrel twitched its nose and sniffed at him.
“My bad. Clearly you should be given special consideration because you’re new. The safety of werefolk everywhere should be disregarded while you grab a sandwich and a soda.” The sound of the voice rose high in aggravation, morphing into a chitter.
Belatedly Charles realized that he could understand it. Their conversation had changed from words to growls and squeaks. Delighted with the novelty of it, he grinned, letting his tongue loll freely out one side of his jaws.
“Pffft!” The squirrel pointedly turned its back and scratched at the branch with its back legs, sending a shower of bark down on the wolf.
With a tremendous leap, Charles sprang high into the air and closed his jaws tightly onto the bushy, well-groomed tail. The squirrel shrieked with surprise as it was dragged forcefully to earth.
“Very clever,” it gasped, its whole pinned against the dirt by one massive wolf paw. “You tricked me.”
“Not really.” Charles growled through his teeth without letting go of the tail. “I just got tired of your chatter.” Lifting his foot, he gave a sharp twist of his head and flung the squirrel against the trunk of the oak.
Lightly he pawed at the body, confirming that the spine had broken. He snuffled it thoroughly before crunching it between his jaws. It wasn’t a large meal, not nearly enough to fill his belly, but definitely satisfying. He had been correct, Squirrels were not the smartest animals in the forest.