This week’s Flash Fiction Friday features an experimental piece that I wrote a little earlier on in the week. It has been snowing off and on here for the last few weeks, and I had the idea for this story when I looked outside and saw a squirrel trying to make its way across my snow-covered yard.
A spot of burnt red stood out against the snow as something new entered Collin’s field of vision. It was the first bit of color that he had seen since he entered the city two days before. Everything else had been gray, white, or too obscured to make out.
When the colored dot drew close enough to make out in detail, he could see that it was a squirrel. Collin had never seen a living squirrel before. It made its way toward him in a series of hops, almost live a waveform as it bounded across the snow. He could not estimate how long it had been since the squirrel last ate, but it was lethargic in its movements and appeared thinner than the photographs he had seen.
He considered that perhaps he should not give the last of his food to an animal, but dismissed the idea of keeping it. He had no use for it now, and it might allow the squirrel to survive long enough to find more. His arm strained with effort, but he managed to remove a small chunk of bread from the bag lying half-buried beside him and tossed it toward the squirrel.
At first, the squirrel disappeared behind the trunk of a nearby tree. It was not surprising that the squirrel was frightened. Judging by his recent observations, this section of the city had been abandoned for at least six years. Collin had not seen any signs of life for days, so he surmised that the squirrel had likewise believed that it was alone.
When the scent of the stale bread reached the squirrel, it popped out from behind the tree, nabbed the bread, and scampered up into the branches of the skeletal tree. Most people to whom Collin had provided food did much the same, but they also thought to thank him afterward. The squirrel did not.
That was the thing about squirrels, of course. They were not people and could not be expected to behave as such. Given their lack of higher brain function and inability to communicate with him, Collin decided that the lack of table manners could be forgiven. Of course, the fact that there was no table also had to be taken into account.
It took seventy-three seconds for the squirrel to consume the bread. When no more remained, it slid down the tree and made a quick search of the ground, just in case there was more hiding among the snow and ash.
Collin knew that there was nothing to find, but there was no way to communicate that fact to the squirrel. It continued its fruitless search for twenty-four seconds, then skittered toward another tree to commence another search.
Collin watched as the squirrel moved from one tree to the next, kicking up little gray clouds in its wake and leaving a trail of dotted footprints to mark its path. Collin estimated that it would take the squirrel three minutes, nineteen seconds to reach the end of the block, given the depth and viscosity of the snow / ash mixture, as well as the relative distance between trees.
When the squirrel was no longer in sight, he turned his head from where it lay on the ground to look up at the sky. He knew that it had been blue once, but now there was only gray. Spots of darkness obscured his vision as the snow continued to fall, but he could not brush them away. He no longer had the strength to lift his arm.
When the last of his energy was depleted, Collin’s ocular sensors fell dark, followed thirteen microseconds later by his auditory pickups. In the two point seven seconds before his central processor also ceased to function, he only processed one final thought.