it's Time to Hide in the Burndtree

Jack folded up the tommy-gun, klik, klik, klik, like a three-part envelope, stowed it in his back pocket, and legged it through the greenwood after scurrying squirrels. He chased them high, he chased them low, Jack chased those squirrels through the in-between.

Jack had never been through the in-between reaches of the park. He was of course now well off any familiar course: neither here nor there, but somewhere, and lost. His Protag gps-combo wristwatch displayed only Oopsie... .

“Nice watch,” squeaked one squirrel. 

“Very mod,” squeaked another.

Three of Jack’s furry quarry watched him from atop a mossy log. The one in the middle produced a perfect Brazil nut from the inside pocket of its rather splendid waistcoat. “Nut?” The middle squirrel twitched his bushy tail.

Jack spotted a grey squirrel behaving most suspiciously, feigning injury and dragging a hind leg. It loitered before a bramble heavy in bright berries – and a man trap, iron teeth glinting, plain as a nasty August day beneath it. Jack backed a step. Another. He spun. He ran.

The squirrels scurried and leapt after Jack through forest yet more unfamiliar for it being entirely the other way Jack hoped not to be headed. They chased Jack high and low. They taunted him, squeaked unprintable slurs against Jack’s favourite beverage, against Jack’s renowned ban hammer. The ban hammer tapped upon his hip as Jack ran and ran. There wasn’t room to swing it. He dodged the darkening trees. Hurdled fallen logs. Leapt ditches as he happened over them.

Night fell. Still squirrels stalked Jack: howling, shrilly, silly as wannabe wolves. Jack ran and dodged and leapt in the dark. Where the ground fell away he sprang with all the strength in his legs, trusting his feet to land him well.

Inevitably, alas, alack – Aaah! Night air whistled past him. He fell a long way. And landed. Crashed. Smashed. Bashed bushes. Snapped saplings. Bruised berries. Woke wildlife. Stopped. Upright. Sitting. The night and the grey glade he’d stopped in gently swayed around him.

Something stank, sour and choking, like a gym sock aged for the purpose of setting fire to. Jack guessed it might be the burnt tree looming before him, the bark charred halfway up its living trunk.

“They haven’t lost your scent. They’ll be coming,” said the man half in a hole among the roots of the burnt tree. He smoked a reeking cigar. The smoldering coal in its tip illuminated just the lower features of his face.

Distant shrill howling prickled the hairs up Jack’s neck. He found his feet. His hand settled over the satisfyingly solid business-end of his ever-present ban hammer. “I’m to take your word for it. In the little light illuminating your face, I’d describe your appearance diabolical. I don’t as a rule follow diabolical appearing strangers under a tree.”

“Don’t believe me? Stay. Face their wrath. Or come. This goes down a very, very long way. And I’m Al. So we’re not strangers. Savvy?” He squeezed his shoulders down between the roots.

The End

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