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Fiction #220
(published March 31, 2005)
Red Berries
by Chase McGuire
Okay, I'm going to tell you this story. You might think it's boring, but I don't care. I'm going to tell it anyway. I told it to Katie Santretti, and then she said that it was just a boring story. Then I told it to my mom one night when she took me to get McDonalds, and she thought that it was good. She said, "Wow, that's very interesting. It looks like a lot has been going on this summer."

I was outside, walking around in the woods behind my house. It was hot and it was summer time. I felt kind of cool in the shade under all the big trees, because in the woods behind my house, most of the trees are big and tall, and have lots of branches and leaves, so they can do a good job of blocking out a lot of the sun. I was cooler there, but still not that cool. I was still sweating and all of the sweat started to sting and itch me on my skin. Also, there were a lot of flies and mosquitoes and gnats buzzing everywhere all around me.

Then I found this tree branch that was just laying on the ground. It was long and at the tips the wood was really thin, like twigs that could just snap off real easily. But further down on the base of the branch it got kind of thicker and heavier. So I snapped off some of the light branches at the tips. And I kept snapping them off and snapping them off and the branch got shorter and shorter. Then it started to get to the thick part of the branch and I had trouble just snapping it apart with my bare hands. It was about as long as a broom stick now. I held it in both hands and swung it had hitting it against a tree trunk. I heard a kind of crack like it had been split a little bit. I swung it again with all my might and the thing cracked right in half. The one part still tight in my hands, and the other part flew all jagged through the air kind of like a boomerang and fell sharp just kind of like sticking into the ground.

So there I was with it in my hand. It was clean yellow at the point where it was fresh broken off. It was sturdy and solid and strong in my hand. Kind of like those sort of billy club night sticks that the police officers have in London. I swung it around some more. Kind of like a lot, and it rolled through the air, and started to feel heavy and pull on my hand and arm.

Then Tommy was standing there in the woods. I didn't know it before, but he was there and he came up to me talking and everything. "Aaron, what are you doing waving that stick around like a mad man?"

"Tommy, it's not a stick, it's more like a nightstick. Like a billy club that the police officers in London use." I told him.

"Shut up, you don't know, you've never been to London."

"I know, but I learned about it in school." He always tries to make me look stupid and like he knows everything.

"Besides, that looks more like an Indian war mallet to me."

"Yeah, it's that too kind of." It was. I just kind of forgot that was what it was like when I first found it. I needed Tommy to remind me.

"You know that you can't use it anyway without war paint on."

"I know that. I was just going to put on war paint." I was going to, because I knew what to do and everything to put on war paint. There's this kind of bush. It's a special kind of bush that has these red berries on it. They look like really really small tomatoes, but you can't eat them because they taste like hot sour blood or something and it cuts into your throat if you swallow them. But you smash them up and they make a kind of slimey jelly in your hands. Then you rub that on your skin and it's just like Indian war paint. I knew that and everything, but Tommy didn't know it. So I had to show it to him.

Those kind of bushes are everywhere. The kind of bushes that have the berries you use to make Indian war paint. They are all over in the woods behind my house. You only have to walk like six steps and you'll find one. Not even six steps, more like four steps. Just walk four steps and you'll find the bush. So I walked and found the bush that had the kind of red berries that I needed. So then I started talking to Tommy about it all. "You see, Tommy, this is the kind of berries that you have to use to make the Indian war paint."

"I know that. I was the one that told you to put on Indian war paint with your Indian war mallet anyway. I know all about the war paint too."

So then I took a handful of the berries and smashed them all up all over the palm of my hand. They felt kind of like jello as they got as goopey and the red juice squished between my fingers. Then I put my hands up to my face, with the smashed berries smeared all over my fingers. I put little lines under my eyes like the Indian war paint. So then I was all like an Indian, "Look out for me. I'll smash your head in with my war mallet and I'll scalp you."

I heard a skitter through the trees above me. I kind of hear noises like that all the time in the woods with all the wind and leaves and sticks there are always a lot of skittering noises. But for some reason when I heard that particular skitter I stopped making any noise at all and looked up to the branches above. There was a squirrel up there. I could only see his shadow up against the rest of the white hot sky. The squirrel looked like a black little dot that bounced and jumped. Then it made this big leap like it was trying to get to a branch that was just a little too far away for it.

Well, I mean, I guess it didn't make the big leap, because it missed the branch. I suddenly felt very scared for the squirrel as I could see it free fall through the air like a rock. It's tiny little legs were wriggling like maybe they would turn into wings or something and he could fly himself to safety. But that never happened. The poor little squirrel just kept on falling and falling until I saw it land hard on its soft white belly. It let out a squeak. Like a kind of creaking that old door hinges make or something.

It lay there. The gray hairs all over its body looking crisp and clean like they were under a microscope. The eyes were in a weird half open kind of way. Same with its mouth, half open so that I could see all the little teeth and the little tongue. Everything about it was so little. It had a little stomach that I could see kind of moving while it worked to breath. The little fingers that were black like leather gloves and were twitching.

"Oh my gosh," Tommy started saying, and I had forgotten that he was even there because I was thinking so much about the squirrel and everything when I saw it fall. My muscles were still all kind of tight and strained. "Oh my gosh," Tommy kept saying, "that squirrel just fell." So then I said,

"Yeah, I think it was trying to get to a branch but didn't jump hard enough."

"It's still alive."

"Yeah, but it looks like all paralyzed and like it's going to die and stuff." I said, then Tommy and I kind of tip toed up to it. Real slow until we were standing right over the squirrel, looking down on it. Then Tommy was being his usual stupid annoying self and so he started asking all these dumb questions like, "Well, what should we do?"

"I don't know."

"Well, it looks like it's in a lot of pain. See how its little hands are kind of moving and it's eyes are half open still."

"Yeah, I know Tommy, I can see it." I told him and I was getting kind of mad about it like he thought I was blind and I couldn't see the poor little squirrel that was kind of slowly dying all in front of me and was probably in a lot of pain. Then Tommy was still talking and still saying stupid things.

"We can't just leave him here like this. I mean, he's hurt pretty bad."

Then I felt like something, and I don't know what I felt like, but it was pretty strong whatever it was. I lifted my hand that was holding the Indian war mallet. I held it high above my head like it was a torch or candle. Then with all that weird feeling in my arm. I didn't know what it felt like, but I had the weird feeling all in my arm, and I hammered the war mallet straight down onto the squirrel. The crisp yellow part of it hit hard on the belly. I don't know how or why, but as soon as the war mallet hit the poor little squirrel, my eyes squinted shut. Then I suddenly felt real scared. Scared like I was a bad person. Tommy didn't help me feel any better. He just all stared at me and was like, "Oh, my gosh Aaron. What did you do?" And I just looked at him, and then I ran away.

I was just like running so fast and so hard, and my arms and legs were all pumping through the air and across the ground. I just kept going through the woods tearing past and through leaves and sticks and bushes until I came out of the woods and into my backyard. I kind of sat down on the grass Indian style like and tried to catch my breath.

Then my mom called me and said I had to go eat my lunch. So I did. I was sitting at my kitchen table feeling really kind of strange. Like I was tired but I didn't want to sleep. My mom said I looked as pale and as white as a ghost. She also said that I was acting kind of funny and I was being really quiet. I finished eating my lunch. Then I walked back into the woods. I walked real slow in between the trees and everything. Like I was trying to waste my time and make the hours of the day pass by. I kept looking down at the leaves and the dirt on the ground, and I heard some voice and I kept walking in the direction of where the voices were coming from.

It was Tommy. He was with his little sister. Her name is Grace. She had some of her toys with her. Like kitchen kind of toys. She had like a little plastic pan and some cups and stuff that were like from her tea set. They were playing around some of the bushes that has the berries on them. You know, since those bushes are everywhere in the woods.

"Hi Aaron," Grace was saying to me, "Why don't you come over and play here with us. We're playing camping trip. Only Tommy doesn't want to play it with me." Then Tommy was looking at me kind of mean. Like he didn't trust me or didn't know me or anything.

"You should take off that war paint," He was saying to me, "Without your mallet, you're not an Indian and you shouldn't wear that paint." I started trying to rub it off with the open palm of my hand. I had even kind of forgot that it was there, and I didn't want to have Indian war paint on any more. It was making me feel bad. Then Grace started talking and she was saying,

"Okay, we're playing camping trip and pretend that I'm making you guys soup for your dinner with these berries here." She took a handful of those red berries that look like little tiny tomatoes. Then she put them in her little plastic pan. She also put in pieces of leaves and dirt and mushed it all together with a stick she had. I sat down next to her. She asked her brother.

"Tommy, now that Aaron is here and he's playing camping trip with us are you going to play camping trip with us now too?" Then Tommy started talking with her and he said,

"Yeah we're playing and everything, but it's not just like that we're on a camping trip. You see, we're explorers and we have to find all kinds of new animals so we can write books about them and learn science about them and everything like that."

"Yeah, okay," Grace said looking all happy with her eyes kind of bright and I started to think this was a good idea too to play the game. Then she was saying, "I'm making your breakfast of this soup and now I'm going to go get like fresh water or something." She got up and left, pretending like she was going to get us some fresh water. She was humming a song and talking about how much she liked animals to herself.

She was gone and it was just me and Tommy sitting by the bush with all the red berries. It was quiet and we didn't talk to each other or anything. It was hot now in the afternoon and my sweat on my body was stinging and itching my skin. All I could hear were the leaves and trees in the wind and all the gnats and mosquitoes and flies that were buzzing around. Tommy was digging into the dirt with a stick and I was scratching my elbow. Then we heard a scream. It was loud and scary like a ghost and we knew it was probably Grace.

We found her and she was looking down at the squirrel almost kind of crying. Tommy pushed her a little bit on her shoulder and was telling her to calm down a little bit, but he looked more scared like he didn't know what to do. I kept feeling even worse and worse and wanted to rub off the India War Paint. Grace could kind of calm down and was holding her hands and her fingers up and around her face. Then she said that we should bury the squirrel.

And we did. All three of us kind of dug out a hole in the dirt with our hands. The dirt got under our fingernails and was black. The hole was pretty deep. Deep enough to be a good grave for the squirrel.

The squirrel was bloody where I had hit it. The stomach had like exploded open where I had hit it at with the war mallet. The guts were pink and slopped out and looked all wet and glazy. I got a different stick and used it a little to push and roll the squirrel into its grave. It was limp and rolled with the muscles jerking a little bit along with the stick. We all flinched at every little movement. It finally fell into the grave with a kind of earth clod little noise and we covered the gray and red messy body up with all the dirt.

So that's the story I told you. I don't know what it means and everything and I don't even really know how it makes me feel or stuff like that. Maybe that's why Katie Santretti thought it was boring. Things like what happened with the squirrel are weird and hard to understand.

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