I don’t know if people care what influences a piece. I’m not sure I want to tell you everything which influenced this. Part of it was driving and seeing the leaves falling, and the wind is just that right chill to feel like autumn. It’s relaxing and gives peace. The other part has to do with a number of hallucinations in the past couple months. They’re more common than usual, but always peripheral. Granted one of them was a Guatemalan woman in a purple sweater and black skirt. I saw a woman the next day on the streets of Antigua, matching that description. I’m obviously prophetic and not insane. It also comes from a webcomic I can’t remember, where the writer had a squirrel that talked to him during Ramadan when he couldn’t eat.
I walked down the street on a chilly autumn day. I wore my black coat, made for business. It was sleek and still got the job done. The silver and blue scarf was wrapped around my neck. I wasn’t quite sure how to make it functional, but at least it looked good. I had worried that thinking too much about such an accessory made me feminine, but you can’t put a price on confidence.
A sharp inhale and slow exhale allowed me to see my breath, which brought a smile. I loved seeing my breath, watching the puff of steam from my lungs as they warmed the cool air. I don’t know why. Perhaps the sign that I was alive, instead of the walking dead. Maybe just the idea it was that cold already. Whatever it was, I enjoyed it, and it made the walk relaxing. I giggled a little, then looked around to make sure no one heard it. I was alone, though, those few outside caught up in their own autumnal wonderland.
Leaves were brown, gold, red, and orange on the trees, though the trees were nearly barren already. Children helped their parents rake up lawns, jumping into the piles, shoving leaves down the backs of shirts, and generally having a good time. It caused a yearning in my chest, a desire. Some day I would be that family entirely wrapped up in the life of my wife and children. Not today. But there was still an underlying joy. I knew somewhere my brother was enjoying such an experience, and that would do for now.
There was a squirrel climbing down a tree, twisting around it, likely hunting for the final acorns of the season before he was trapped within the tree, keeping warm from the unforgiving cold of Wisconsin. It moved with jerks, its nose poking up into the air and sniffing now and again until it reached the base. Children gave chase, and the creature darted this way and that, trying to find safety in the mounds of leaves, only to be surprised by an ambush of five and six year olds jumping it.
With a craze in its eyes, it ran towards me. My eyes followed suit. Why was this creature darting towards me? I didn’t care for the creatures, at least up close. If they were at a distance, that was fine, but not this. Not this burst of a little rodent towards me, an intelligent insanity glistening behind his dark eyes. He reached my legs and climbed up, under my shirt, claws tickling and creating pain at the same time. I winced and tightened my core against the cold feel.
“This isn’t happening.” I didn’t want to move. What would I do? I’d likely just agitate it. Then the children went back to their fun and games, without the harassment of wildlife, and the squirrel came out of my shirt and perched on my shoulder.
“Those kids are a horror.” My jaw dropped. Not only was this anxiety riddled creature perched relatively calmly on my shoulder, it was now talking in a language I could understand. I looked around, but no one seemed to notice. I started to walk, and I could feel the horror obvious on my face.
“You’re talking,” I whispered.
The squirrel nodded, “What of it? I walk, I talk, I eat, I sleep. I even pee and poop, but just did that a bit ago. Kids shouldn’t have jumped me like that.” I gawked. “You have words that come out of your mouth or not, human? Usually you’re all so talkative.”
“You’re a squirrel.”
“We on repeat, here? I’m a squirrel. I talk. Get over it. Can we go somewhere? I’m itching to move, but I also have a thing for you. You can hear me.”
I cursed in my head and started to move forward. No one looked at me funny, as they were all still stuck in their little worlds. But you’d think a man with a squirrel on his shoulder would garner some attention. Then my face drooped. “You’re not real.”
“Nope. Took you a while there.”
The visual hallucinations had been gaining in severity and magnitude over the past few months, but it was always peripheral. There were never auditory hallucinations. It was happening. I was going insane. “Why now? I’ve lost it. I’m getting locked up.”
“That and you’ve been living off noodles for the past three weeks. You’re hungry beyond words, you’re stressed out because life’s not fair, and your imagination is kicking into overdrive with NaNoWriMo coming.”
“So I’m on a spirit quest and my spirit guide is a squirrel.” I wasn’t sure if it was a question or not, but the squirrel didn’t answer, so I took my voice was enough statement to ignore further explanation. He just sat there, nibbling on something he must have found on the ground. “I always thought I was schizophrenic, you know.”
“Of course I do. I’ve cracked you already. I’m in you. Why are we taking a walk, by the way?”
“Clear my head. Seems to work. I get to see things I wouldn’t otherwise. I can’t live as a shut in. I won’t learn anything.”
“Truer words, my nutty friend. Is it working?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Then it’s not. You want those kids, don’t you?”
I looked horrified, “Of course not! I wouldn’t dare kidnap them.”
He knocked on my skull a few times, “Not like that. You want to make your own. Have a family.”
“I’m an uncle. I have my brothers.”
“You’re not fooling me. I’m in your head. We’ve established this.”
“You’re an annoyance. I should smother you.”
“Happiness is the path to smothering the disquiet soul.”
“So be happy and I smother you? Was that a quote from somewhere?”
“Happiness gets rid of the things you’re seeing, yes. As for it being a quote, not sure. I store nuts, not knowledge.” The little vermin snorted a few times, an attempt at a human giggle. I ended up with snot on my scarf. Great.
“What’s the way to find happiness, spirit guide?”
“That sounds official. How do you find happiness? You find it within yourself. Not without.” He climbed my head, standing upon it as if I were a mast to some ship. “You will not find happiness out yonder, my friend, but within your heart and soul. Within your own self worth. Do you have self worth?”
“You’re the spirit guide. Do I?”
“No. If you have to ask me, you do not. You should.” He leaned over and opened my right eye wide with his tiny paws. “You’ve a lot to feel worthy about.”
I glowered as he released my eye lids. “I’m aware, yet here we are.” I furrowed my brow. “Do you die when I become happy? That’s a bit sad. Sure you’re a hallucination, but I don’t want to kill you.”
The squirrel twitched. “I’m a part of you. I splintered because you’re a bit messed up. I become a part of you because you’re less messed up. You don’t kill me.”
“I eat you.” I was dazed at this thought. I never had squirrel before.
He twitched again. “Whatever lets you make sense of it. Good grief, kid. You’re jacked.”
A smile crept along my face. “I know.” We walked back home. “Goodness I know.” I extended my arm to a tree and the squirrel scrambled across to the tree. “Anyway, it’s been fun. I’m back home and need to eat.”
“Noodles? I can share my acorns. They have protein.”
“That’s fine. I don’t want your nuts.” I giggled and walked in the house.