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RUMBLE IN NORTH GLADE (featuring Stellar The Squirrel


By Tom Waltz
Copyright © 2001





Stellar Squirrel swooped over the small meadow, looking down upon the hundreds of field mice that were running panicked in all directions. With his ultra-keen powers of sight, he could easily see the fear in their eyes--even from his high altitude. His super-enhanced hearing kicked in as well, picking up the frightened screams of the scurrying creatures.

These are rodents who are obviously in need of a hero, Stellar thought, smiling. My time has come. My first mission as a superhero!

He changed course, making a quick, beeline descent toward two mice he saw standing still amongst all the chaos. It appeared to be a mother and her child. As he approached them, his thoughts took him back through the years, over the endless hours and days of anticipation leading to this moment.

*

Since the time he had arrived from outer space, travelling across the many light years separating his home planet of Acornia from this, the Earth, Stellar knew he was destined to be a superhero--a guardian of the innocent and helpless.

Acornia was now gone, destroyed by the evil Shellolio and his even-more-evil weapon, the Nutcracker of Death. Only through the courage and foresight of his parents was Stellar able to flee the doomed planet. Loading him aboard a large walnut escape pod, they launched their beloved son out into space, away from the impending destruction, and toward a brighter future.

Destination: Earth.

Eventually he arrived, crashing unharmed into an oak tree in the middle of the Great Wood. He was discovered by Zeb and Mitzy Maskface, an elderly racoon couple who took him in as their own, raising him to the best of their abilities, fostering in him all the good things about what it meant to be a racoon... and a squirrel. They named him Sammy.

Time passed, and young Sammy Maskface began to display odd traits--powers, really--that transcended normal racoon (er, squirrel) capability. He was fast--really fast! He could climb--really climb! He was strong--really strong! And he could fly, which for a squirrel isn't so strange, except that Sammy went up instead of down--and could stay up! It didn't take a dolphin's brain to know that there was something different about him. His father took him aside one day.

"Son," he said, his face serious. "There's something you should know."

And then he shared with the lad the story of his discovery in the Great Wood at the foot of the old oak tree where the space walnut had crash-landed. As his father spoke, Sammy's yellow eyes brimmed with tears. He was not sad. On the contrary, it was happiness that overcame him as he listened to his father's tale; he'd always known he was different, but now he was sure he was special. Very special. Fated for greatness. (He also realized he was some kind of space alien from another planet, but decided not to dwell on that fact.)

His father, smiling now, relieved at the confession, put his paw on his son's shoulder and looked him in the eyes.

"Sammy, we all know what you are capable of," he said. "All we ask--your mother and I--is that you use your powers for good. Always. Please promise."

"I promise," was Sammy's wholehearted response.

The two embraced, then his father led him to the remains of the crashed space walnut, which he'd kept hidden for so long, and in it Sammy found the true story of his birth--and of his escape from Acornia. At last, he knew who and what he truly was. At that moment, that wonderful moment, Sammy made the most important decision of his life (except for the one about not dating porcupines--which came later, of course): he would become a superhero!

*

And now, as he landed next to what turned out to be a mother mouse and her babe (as he had suspected), Sammy--Stellar Squirrel these days--realized that his heroic origins weren't all that original (neither were flying squirrels, for that matter, but he didn't know that... yet), but he was proud anyway. He would prove himself worthy of his parents--all four of them--and of those he had sworn to protect.

His time had come.

He made a firm and confident landing next to the child and mother. The young mouse was wide-eyed and gape-mouthed, and as soon as Stellar touched down, she began to cry uncontrollably.

She's obviously scared, poor kid, Sammy deduced. He was certain that his arrival would soon change all that.

He threw his green cape back, adjusted his green cowl, and thrust his chest out, making sure the bright, yellow walnut that was emblazoned across the front of his white, spandex uniform was clearly visible. Finally he spoke, his voice loud so he could be heard over the sob-filled cries of the child next to him.

"What's happening here, ma'am?" he asked the mother.

The mother mouse stared at him, silent for a moment, a funny look on her face. Then she asked, "Where's the moose?"

Stellar was confused. "Huh?"

"The moose," she repeated. "You know: flying squirrel...doofus moose...crazy Soviets... oh, never mind." She looked away from Stellar and gazed down at her bellowing daughter.

"Kiki, hush!," she whispered to the child.

The girl didn't.

The exasperated mother faced Stellar again, who was still trying to figure out the moose question, and loudly explained the situation.

"It's like this," she hollered. "All us mice were at the market, okay, just minding our own business, trading goods for goods, and so on. Then out of nowhere comes this giant bird--a hawk, I think--shrieking and diving, trying to grab up any one of us he could get a hold of. We all ran like crazy, you know, trying to get away from the darn thing. My Kiki and I only stopped because I saw him finally catch somebody in those sharp claws of his. I'm pretty sure it was Maggie Cheeseovitz, the poor thing." She let out a sad sigh, then continued. "The bird took off after he caught her. That way." She pointed to the Northern Glade, a dense section of the wood. Her daughter continued to cry.

"Hmm... a hawk, eh?" Stellar asked, scratching his chin. "A worthy opponent, to be sure." This last statement was to himself more than anyone else. He looked down at the weeping child.

"Ma'am," he said, placing his paw on the child's tiny shoulder, returning his gaze to the mother. "Don't you worry. I'll handle this vile hawk, whoever he is, and see to it that your lovely daughter has cause to weep no more."

He smiled at the lady, rather smugly, then turned and took to the sky without waiting for a response. As he flew away, his super-enhanced hearing easily caught the sounds of the mother scolding her child, who had finally ceased crying.

"Kiki," the mother asked, "why the heck were you blubbering like that? The hawk is gone, you silly thing. We're safe now."

The girl took in a few deep sobs before she replied. "B...but, Mommy," she pleaded, "I couldn't h...help it! That goofy squirrel was st...standing on my tail the whole t...time he was here!"

Streaking into the North Glade, a rosy-cheeked Stellar Squirrel pretended not to hear her.

*

The North Glade looked like a thick, emerald carpet to Stellar Squirrel, who flew high above it in search of the terrible hawk who had kidnapped Maggie Cheeseovitz. Seeing Stellar at that moment, one might have thought him to be all serious business by the determined look covering his half-masked face. But inside Stellar felt only adrenaline-laced anticipation, an uncontrollable eagerness for the task at hand. He couldn't wait to take on the hawk and to show the world its newest (and mightiest, he liked to think) hero.

He didn't have to wait long.

Below, in the middle of a break in the trees, Stellar (with his ultra-keen vision, of course) spied a huge, black hawk, naked except for the white band tied around his head, the letters "HH" harshly written in red across the front. He was holding in one wing a terrified Maggie Cheesovitz, while the other wing was busy shaking pepper onto the poor mouse's head. Maggie was squirming desperately in the grip of the hawk, sneezing and sobbing, sneezing and sobbing.

"Stay still, you infernal thing!" the hawk hissed at Maggie. His blaze-orange beak was bent in a jagged frown as he continued to vigorously shake the pepper onto her head. She sneezed again, and the hawk began to shake her as well.

It was all Stellar needed to see.

In a wink he landed next to the hawk and his helpless victim, and in his best superhero voice, shouted, "HALT!!!"

The hawk was caught by surprise, jerking his head in the direction of the newcomer. Upon seeing Stellar, however, the hawk appeared unruffled (not to mention unimpressed), and, relaxing his pepper-shaking wing (as well as his Maggie Cheesovitz-shaking wing), gave Stellar a casual smirk.

"Oh, hi," he said, then chuckled. "Nice p.j.'s you got there. So, where's the moose?"

The moose again!

"There is no moose!" burst out Stellar. "What is it with you people and a moose?"

He was angry; this was supposed to be his show.

The hawk remained calm. "Oh, well, you know, I just figured with a flying squirrel there was bound to be a moose not far behind. 'Nothing up my sleeve', lion from a hat, and all that." He paused and looked at Stellar's blank face. "Never mind," he stated flatly. "Anyway, you're in the territory of Hellion Hawk, now, my friend, and I would advise that you make a hasty departure. I don't like to be interrupted at meal time."

He turned away from Stellar without a second thought and commenced to peppering his prey once again.

Stellar was steaming. The moose thing, not to mention his new enemy's blasé attitude, had him over the edge.

"Listen, Hellion Hawk," he demanded, his hands planted firmly on his hips. "First of all, I'm not your friend, and second of all, this territory belongs to all the good creatures of the wood; your claim to it is nothing but pitiful, bully tactics, and I intend to see to it that your terroristic hold over it ends today." He pointed a green-gloved hand at Maggie. "Unhand that lady and face me... if you dare!"

Hellion Hawk stopped peppering and let out a deep, frustrated sigh. He'd had free reign over the land for time on end, so he didn't appreciate this nosy squirrel in pajamas butting in where he didn't belong. Still, Hellion knew the rules: he was a super villain, and this squirrel apparently was a superhero (though he had his doubts), so... "All right, Bucky--" he started to say.

"That's Stellar Squirrel to you, you foul, er... fowl, er, foul fowl," Stellar retorted.

Hellion sighed again. "Whatever. All right, Stellar Squirrel," he continued, "we'll have at it as you wish. But I warn you, I'm hungry, and when I'm hungry I get irritable, so I can't be held responsible for the damage I inflict. You sure you want to dirty up that nice new costume of yours?"

"I'll worry about my laundry, thank you," replied Stellar. "Besides, I don't expect they'll be soiled much. Not by the likes of you, at least."

Hellion rolled his eyes. Bloody superheroes, he thought to himself with disdain. He set down the pepper and Maggie, violently smacking the latter with his wing, knocking her out cold.

"Stay!" he ordered the unconscious mouse.

Then he turned to completely face Stellar.

"Okay, squirrel," he said, holding his wings out, as if inviting Stellar over for a big hug. "As we say in the rougher parts of these here woods, bring it on!"

The two squared off, circling each other, first left, then right, waiting for an opening. Hellion scowled, Stellar sneered, and all around them creatures of the wood, who had been hiding in the shadows of the trees, came out into the open, surrounding the two combatants. A low chant started from somewhere within the crowd, quiet at first, growing steadily louder. Soon all had joined in the chorus, paws pumping in the air.

"Fight! Fight! Fight!"

Now it was Stellar's turn to roll his eyes.

Suddenly, Hellion leaped at him, head first. Stellar moved to his side, attempting to avoid the strike, but wasn't fast enough. Hellion's serrated beak caught his shoulder, ripping the spandex and fur that was there. Stellar spun around, grasping at his wounded shoulder, making a mental note at the same time that he wasn't made of steel as he'd believed. He'd have to be more careful around sharp objects from here on out.

He regained control, just in time to see the red "HH" of Hellion's headband directly in front of his face. Then he felt all the oxygen in his lungs explode from his mouth as his opponent smashed into him, slamming him to the ground, then pinning him where he lay.

Stellar gasped for air, weakly struggling against the massive bird that now sat upon his chest. He looked up and saw that the hawk was busy taunting the crowd now, making sure they were aware of his prowess. Stellar attempted another futile shove against the heavy weight on top of him, then let his arms fall limp to the ground.

He was in trouble.

He turned his head toward the crowd, hoping to plead for assistance. But his breath hadn't returned enough to let him speak, and all that came out was a raspy whisper. Before he could try again, he spotted two weasels standing next to each other, both in overalls, whispering conspiratorially.

"I'm tellin ya," the weasel on the left said. "That there hawk's gonna whup that squirrel. It's a done deal Bob-O."

"I don't know, Billy," Bob-O replied. "That squirrel's got some nice duds. Might still got somethin left yet, I say."

Billy gave his partner a funny look. "What's duds got to do with it, Bob-O?" he asked. "I'm tellin ya, he's one dead furry tail! Hey, maybe that hawk'll share him with us when it's over. Them squirrels taste a lot like chicken, they do."

Stellar felt nauseated. Not only had he failed his first test as a hero, now two of the folks he was here to protect were sharing poultry recipes that included him as the substitute main entrée. Could things get worse?

Above him Hellion began to shout to the crowd.

"Who's bad?! Who's bad?!"

Shame filled Stellar's heart, and he was ready to give up, to accept his untimely demise at the wings of this filthy bird, when his head was filled with a voice. He'd never heard the voice before, yet it was strangely familiar. He focused his little remaining energy toward it, concentrating. Then, suddenly, he knew...

It was his father! (No, not Zeb Maskface. The one from Acornia.)

"Qwdetafed," his father's voice said.

Stellar was confused. "What's 'Qwdetafed'?" he asked the voice with his mind.

"That's your name, stupid!" his father's voice rudely responded. "Didn't you pay attention to the tapes in the space walnut?"

Stellar was embarrassed. "Oops... forgot. Sorry."

"Well, never mind that. You've got bigger worries, dummy. You do realize there's a large beast crushing you at this very moment, don't you? And, I don't think he has any intentions of letting you go...at least not breathing, that is."

Stellar let his father's voice know that, yes, he was painfully aware of his current situation.

"Well, then listen, sonny," the voice continued. "Your mom and I didn't go to all that trouble of loading you aboard an escape nut, shooting you halfway across the galaxy, just so you could get your butt whipped by some demented Earth bird! Get up and fight, for cryin out loud!"

Stellar felt new energy surge through his body. (He also felt his bladder let loose, but decided he'd worry about that later.)

"Yes, sir!" he shouted with his mind.

Returning his attention to Hellion Hawk, Stellar delivered a crunching right hook to the bird's exposed side. Hellion, who had been blowing sarcastic kisses to the crowd and wasn't expecting retaliation from the squirrel beneath him, was sent sprawling across the forest floor.

Stellar was up and after him in a heartbeat, his gloved hands extended before him, his green cape flowing behind. He grabbed the dazed hawk by the neck and flung him hard against a tree. The bird sunk slowly to the ground as the fight-crazed crowd moved with the melee, encircling the tree now. Stellar commenced to pummeling Hellion's head, battering him with vicious rights and lefts. Finally the bird slumped over, beaten and unconscious.

*

Stellar stepped slowly back. He was victorious--a true hero at last--but before he could revel in the damage he'd inflicted on his first villainous foe, Maggie Cheesovitz suddenly stepped out from the crowd. Stellar stood still, excitedly waiting for the thanks he was sure she was about to offer. Instead, she walked right past him, over to the prone form of Hellion Hawk. Then, with an angry gleam in her eye, cocked her leg back and delivered a swift kick to the bird's already battered head.

"Bastard," she said, then turned without another word, and walked away sneezing.

Stellar watched her leave and slowly shook his head in disbelief.

No thanks, he thought. No freakin thanks. Sheesh. Ah, well. He turned to face the crowd.

"Fear not, all of you!" he shouted. "Hellion Hawk is defeated. I, Stellar Squirrel, have seen to the end of his terrible ways. Be happy...you are safe once again!"

The animals, however, didn't hear what he'd said, as they were too busy passing money back and forth to each other--winnings or losses from the fight bets they'd made. Stellar sadly shook his head once more, and prepared to gather up the dead-to-the-world Hellion Hawk, when he felt a tapping at the back of his shoulder. He turned and saw the two weasels he'd overheard earlier standing behind him with eager looks on their faces. One of them (Billy he was pretty sure) spoke up.

"Heck of a fight, there, Squirrely," he said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "Bob-O here and me knew you could do it all along." He looked down and grinned. "Oops... wet your knickers, there, dintcha? Don't worry, ol' Bob-O does it all the time."

"Thanks," Stellar replied, shamefully turning his yellow-streaked pants away from the weasel, but nonetheless happy to finally be getting some respect. "It's what we heroes do, you know."

Billy paused for a second, wondering if the squirrel meant fighting or pissing in his drawers.

"Uh, yeah, I suppose it is," he continued. "Anyways, Bob-O and I was wonderin if you wouldn't mind a little help takin care of this here hawk. Uh, my cousin, bout ten trees yonder, is in charge of the local jail, um, so we, uh, thought we'd take this baddy over to him and lock him up for ya. Save ya a lot of time and trouble, you know, what with all the other crimes you probably gotta go stop."

Stellar thought about it for a moment. "Yes," he finally said. "I'd appreciate the assistance. It's encouraging to know we heroes can depend upon the help of normal citizens such as yourself."

"Uh, yeah," Billy said. He turned to the other weasel. "C'mon, Bob-O, you grab that end and let's get a goin'!"

Bob-O grabbed the bird's feet and, along with Billy, who had the bird's head, began to drag the hawk away from the scene. "Say hello to the moose for us," he said to Stellar as they left.

Stellar felt his face go red with anger. "There is no moose!" he started to yell, but stopped himself. "Fine," he said instead. "I'll tell the moose you said hi."

Then he turned to fly away, on to his next mission, satisfied that his duties here were at an end. As he flew, his super-enhanced hearing picked up Billy talking to Bob-O as they struggled with the massive bulk of the defeated super villain.

"Hurry up, Bob-O," he was saying. "We gotta get this here bird home quick, fore it wakes up. We'll grill it up nice and crispy! Tastes just like chicken, these hawks do."

Streaking out of the North Glade, a much-humbled Stellar Squirrel pretended not to hear him.

The End


© 1999 Tom Waltz






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