How the Squirrel got his tail – a short story

This story is written in response to a challenge, from a friend, to write in the genre of another writer. Here I borrow Rudyard Kipling’s style as in “The Just So Stories”. I have read these stories many times (to my younger siblings, to my children and to my grand-children). I love Kipling’s sonorous repetitious style and hope that I come close enough for you to enjoy even if it is ostensively a children’s story.

This, oh Best Beloved is a story of the High and Far off times when the earth was young and the animals were new and learning how to live with one another. In the very middle of those times there were three creatures living on the banks of the clear Pedernales. They looked alike with most beautiful soft brown fur, tiny beady eyes and tails of no memorable quality. Don’t forget their tails of no memorable quality, oh Best Beloved. Their names were Rat, Rabbit and Squirrel; and they quarreled incessantly, without pause, day and night.

They quarreled on the banks of the clear Pedernales. They quarreled in the daytime. They quarreled at night. They quarreled over dinner, they quarreled when it rained, they quarreled when the sun shone, and they quarreled when nothing much was happening. Their incessant quarrel was so raucous that they disturbed the peace and equanimity of the region. The other inhabitants could get no sleep, and so they sent an urgent message to the Great Arbiter of fairness and truth to visit them to settle things once and for all.

When he received the message the Great Arbiter finished his business at hand and made haste to the banks of the clear Pedernales. When he landed he heard the cross voices of the incessantly quarrelsome three arguing without pause. The Great Arbiter set up court in a hollow under a pecan tree in a field of bluebonnets close to the banks of the clear Pedernales. He called Rat, Rabbit, and Squirrel before him and chided them for their incessant quarreling without pause day and night. He told them that quarreling is unproductive and destroys the natural harmony. They answered, all speaking at once, making such a raucous noise that the Great Arbiter twisted his turquoise ring of power and temporarily tied their tongues.

He called upon Rat to speak. Rat spoke in his squeaky voice.

“Oh, Great Arbiter of fairness and truth,” for that is how all creatures must address the Great Arbiter, “in the beginning you instructed me to live with the humans and to eat what they eat. But Squirrel explained to me that my fur is too light, and I cannot hide, and so I hunt in the fields. This upsets Rabbit and Squirrel and we quarrel.”

The Great Arbiter twisted his turquoise ring of power and spoke, “From henceforth your fur shall be black, and you shall skulk among human dwellings. As a reminder your tail, of no memorable quality, shall become long and thin. Let your new tail be a reminder to you to desist from quarreling for now and forever. As the Great Arbiter spoke, Rat’s fur darkened and his tail, of no memorable quality, grew longer and longer until he fled from the presence of the Great Arbiter and hid in a little hole under the Man’s house.

The Great Arbiter called upon Rabbit to speak. The Rabbit spoke in his soft voice.

“Oh, Great Arbiter of fairness and truth, in the beginning you instructed me to live in the fields and eat the produce of the fields; but Squirrel points out that there is much danger out there. I am continually frightened, and so I stay close to the humans, and this leads to quarrelling with Rat and Squirrel.”

The Great Arbiter twisted his turquoise ring of power and spoke, “From henceforth your ears shall be long to capture distant sounds, and your eyes large to see danger, and, as a reminder not to quarrel, your tail, of no memorable quality, shall become small, white, and fluffy. Let your new tail be a reminder to you to desist from quarreling for now and forever.” As the Great Arbiter spoke Rabbit’s ears and eyes grew larger and larger and his tail, of no memorable quality, turned into a fluffy white appendage at which point he fled from the presence of the Great Arbiter and hid in a hole under the roots of a nearby pecan tree.

The Great Arbiter called upon Squirrel to speak. Squirrel spoke in his clicking tones.

“Oh, Great Arbiter of fairness and truth, in the beginning you instructed me to live above the ground and to eat what I found in the trees. But then Man came along and gave me additional instruction when he named me Quarrel. I’ve done my best egging on Rat and Rabbit and contributing what I could.”

The Great Arbiter twisted his turquoise ring of power and spoke, “Oh, thou of little sense, your name is Squirrel, not Quarrel. From henceforth your eyes shall be large so that you do not see in Rat’s domain and your stomach shall be changed so that you cannot steal from Rabbit. You must remember that your name is Squirrel for now and forever. As the Great Arbiter spoke the Squirrel’s eyes grew larger and larger and he felt his stomach churning into its new configuration, but he did not flee from the presence of the Great Arbiter.

Squirrel spoke again, “Oh, Great Arbiter why didn’t you replace my tail, of no memorable quality, as you did with Rat and Rabbit?” Now, oh, Best Beloved, you know why you were not to forget the tails of no memorable quality.

The Great Arbiter spoke again, “I do not award foolishness.” But Squirrel was unabashed and persisted. “Oh, Great Arbiter, it was not my fault that Man mumbles. Replace my tail, of no memorable quality, so that I may redeem myself and undo the bad publicity that the name of Quarrel has given to me.” The Great Arbiter smiled upon Squirrel and twisted his turquoise ring of power. “So let it be; but, to remind you to be respectful, I give man permission to seek out your tail to make paintbrushes for his art for now and forever.

Squirrel looked down at his new tail and liked what he saw, but he still didn’t flee from the presence of the Great Arbiter. Instead he fluffed his new tail over his head and made himself as attractive as possible. “Oh, Great Arbiter of fairness and truth, if Man is permitted to steal my tail hair, and I am to live in trees give me the ability to descend face first, so that I can protect my tail.”

At this request the Great Arbiter slapped his sides, laughed and twisted his turquoise ring of power. “So let it be that you can descend trees face first to protect your tail; but always remember that your tail is your talisman for good public relations, and a reminder that your name is Squirrel, and quarreling is forbidden for now and forever.”

There are times, oh Best Beloved, when the Squirrel forgets his name and then he chatters in the trees stamping his feet and making a loud noise, but this is only when he is provoked and becomes forgetful. When he is reminded that his name is Squirrel, he fluffs his tail and takes up his public cuddly image which serves him well now and forever.

8 thoughts on “How the Squirrel got his tail – a short story

  1. Very Kipling, I found this read and what a read it is. Transported me back to my childhood days, yes it did, took me over the horizon and dropped me gently on my mother’s soft warm lap it did – this wonderful tale of the rat, rabbit and squirrel. Sigh, thank you for the read 🙂

    • Thank you Eric, I’m glad that you enjoyed the transport, – I was worried that some might not be familiar with Kipling’s “Just So Stories”. They are rmarvellous arn’t they? I enjoyed my excursion into Kipling’s language! Cheerio, Jane

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