“Gwalk! Gwalk!” she chortled as the cold seeped into the pads of her feet. “What is this stuff?” Ozette asked, dipping her paw into a bush now white with the fat flakes. She smacked her lips, as she tasted it. “Doesn‘t taste like much of anything. Could use a little salt or better yet sugar. Yikes. It is really cold.”
Ariel, one of her fairy friends, looked at her, puzzled. “Haven’t you ever seen snow before?” Ozette shook her head.
“That’s right,’ Sydney said. “This is your first winter in Farlandia. Snow is sort of frozen water.”
Splat! Something cold and hard hit Ozette on her shoulder. ”That hurt!” she yelled. She turned in time to see Ariel forming snow into another ball. Ariel was ready to pelt Ozette with another snowball when Cassady grabbed it from her hand.
Around and around she ran with the snowball in her mouth until it was reduced to a few flakes. Oliver threw her another one and soon everyone was throwing snowballs. Except Ozette. She was staring at her garden. What had happened here? It was all different, and squirrels are creatures of habit and are not fond of change, especially such a drastic change.
“Ozette,” Sydney said, touching her friend’s shoulder. “It is winter now and soon it will be Christmas. The plants are still there under a blanket of snow. The snow will shield them from the cold. They are resting until spring and will return. You will see. It will be Christmas soon…” She noticed Ozette’s blank expression. “You do know about Christmas, don’t you?” she asked.
Ozette shook her head. Oliver, Ariel and Sydney led Ozette over to a corner of her garden and sat her down. “We need to tell you about the wonders of Christmas,” Ozette,” said Sydney as Cassady rooted her nose through the snow, flinging it up in the air.
For the next hour, her friends talked to her about Christmas. Ozette learned about the winter solstice, spiritual beliefs and religions customs from other countries in Earth World, about giving gifts to show your love, holiday decorating, good will to men and peace on earth.
Ozette’s eyes were starting to glaze over and cross from information overload when Oliver burst out, “And, Ozette, on Christmas eve, Santa Squirrel visits all squirrels who have been good - well, at least tolerable - all year and gives them neat gifts.”
Ozette perked up. “Santa squirrel?”
Oliver was warming to his subject. “Yes, and he drives a sleigh to carry the presents and the sleigh is pulled by...by a team of 8 mice!”
Ariel rolled her eyes and Sydney poked Oliver in his shoulder and shook her head. But Ozette was focused on Oliver and did not notice.
“Ohhh,” said Ozette, pursing her lips. “What kind of presents?”
“Well, it depends what you ask for. Could be clothes, toys, goodies, whatever….” Oliver replied, waving his arms wildly.
“But I have everything I need. I have enough,” Ozette said, gesturing to her cozy nest.
“Certainly there must be something you want,” Oliver said scratching his head.
Ozette shook her head and teared up. “I just want my garden the way it was. I miss my flowers and bushes. And white stuff is so...cold,” Ozette said sniffing.
“Let me tell you more about Santa Squirrel….” Oliver started.
Ariel and Sydney grabbed his arms and said, “Getting late, Oliver. Let’s go. NOW!!”
It was almost dusk, and bidding Ozette good night, they headed down the path. “Boy, Oliver, you really stepped in that one,” Ariel chided.
Oliver looked at the bottom of his pointed shoes. “I didn’t step in anything!” he said, puzzled. Cassady sniffed Oliver’s foot and headed toward home.
“You made Ozette believe that there is some chubby squirrel in a red suit with a sleigh pulled by mice that will bring her gifts. Think how disappointed she will be Christmas,” Sydney chimed in.
Oliver looked stricken. “I didn’t...think,” he said, eyes downcast.
“Like he ever does,” Ariel muttered, a comment that earned her a glare from Sydney.
“Maybe we can tell her she wasn‘t good enough this year when Santa Squirrel doesn't come,” Oliver said.
“Right, elf boy,” Ariel said, poking her finger in his face. “Tell a squirrel who has helped save your elfin hide more than once, one who has designed special boxer shorts for your scrawny behind, one who has been a true friend to you that, she has not been good enough? I don‘t think so,” Ariel said, now on a roll.
“Stop it, you two,” Sydney chided. “Oliver, we know you love and appreciate Ozette. Maybe you can just tell her the truth in the morning; that you were mistaken. And, Ariel, his behind is not scrawny,” Sydney, always the peacemaker, said.
“Maybe we can find a potion…” Oliver started.
“NO POTIONS!!!. Don’t even think about it,” Ariel and Sydney yelled. Even Cassady barked in agreement.
After her friends left, Ozette looked at her garden with fresh eyes. The trees and bushes looked elegant with their snow blankets. She sniffed the evergreen trees. Hmmm. A nice fresh scent. Everything was so silent! Maybe this Christmas stuff was not as grim as she thought. And Santa Squirrel. That was really something! She climbed up her tree and settled herself in her nest.
Someone had left some stinkerberry jam and biscuits in her nest and she feasted on those, licking her paws. Could there really be a Santa Squirrel?
Maybe that was why there were so many mice in her garden; they were staking out her garden—casing the joint—she had learned those terms once in the real world when she was gazing into a window while the occupants were watching TV.
She was more intent on figuring out how to get the bag of almonds sitting on the table than in watching the action on the television, but she did remember that.
And Oliver had mentioned gift giving. She often gave little presents to those in Farlandia, but this sounded like an organized effort.
The next morning, Ozette awoke to the sound of music. She popped her head out of her nest cavity and six of the Spice Squirrels, decked out in red hats with white fuzzy trim were singing. She clapped her paws in joy as she spied the twins, Chloe and Zoe, and Bonnie and Nissa and Bunko and Lizzie. She listened. “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Here in Farlandia” they sang in their clear squirrelly voices. “Look! There’s a snowy owl. A big red fox as well. And birds and mice and deer are on their way.”
Ozette was so delighted to see the Spice Squirrels and so enchanted by their songs that she scrambled down the tree in record time and threw her paws around them. “You came to see me even though there is all this snow”
Just then Ozette heard a “Yahoooooo” and looked up just in time to see Baby Fiona, the skydiving squirrel, come wafting down to the garden in her little walnut helmet and spider web parachute. “Wow, Ozette. Your garden looks spectacular! So festive! I think you have more snow in your end of Farlandia than there is anywhere else! This is so exciting!” Baby Fiona shouted, clapping her paws. Soon it will be Christmas and Santa Claus and his reindeer will be coming.”
Ozette snorted. “Listen, squirrel girls. You want excitement—do you know about Santa Squirrel?
The Spice Squirrels shook their heads. “Well, he comes on Christmas Eve in a sleigh filled with goodies. And guess what pulls it?”
The Spice squirrels put their heads together. “An albino skunk?” Nissa asked in all innocence. They all roared.
“A unicorn?” piped in Zoe.
“I know! I know! A dragon!” shouted Bonnie.
Just then Cassady shook snow all over them. No way would he haul a sleigh with some overweight squirrel all over Farlandia.
“Even better. Mice! Eight little mice pull the sleigh!”
“Are you sure about this, Ozette?” asked Chloe, who tended to be rather analytical. “I have never heard of such a thing. Perhaps it is a myth. We know all about Santa Claus, but Santa Squirrel??
I don‘t think so.” Ozette put her paws on her ample squirrelly hips and snorted. “It is the truth. Oliver told me and Oliver would never ever lie to me!” she said indignantly. They were so intent in their conversation that they failed to see Oliver, his eyes downcast, standing behind a tree. He had come to tell Ozette that there was no Santa Squirrel, but the word was out now. He could not do it. He hung his head and slunk towards home.
Ozette served the Spice Squirrels loganberry tea and some pecan nutters she had stashed in her nest. They talked excitedly about Santa Squirrel.
“What are you going to ask for, Ozette?” Bonnie asked.
“You know, the earth has always taken care of our needs. As long as we are not greedy, we will always have enough. More stuff will just clutter my nest and be more to take care of,” Ozette said, chewing on a stray acorn she found on the snow.
“I agree, Ozette. But surely there is something we might want. Isn’t it sort of silly for Santa Squirrel to fly around delivering nothing?” Nissa asked.
“Hmm. Well, I have heard it is going to be a cold winter. A nice fuzzy blanket to cuddle up in might be nice. And a bag of fresh acorns so I can plant more trees—once this silly white stuff is gone,” Ozette said, scooping up a pawful of snow.
The squirrels decided to all ask for the same things to make it easy on Santa Squirrel: fuzzy blankets and a bag of acorns.
“I still think this Santa Squirrel stuff may be a bunch of hogwash,” Chloe said. Baby Fiona and Bunko nodded in agreement.
Ozette glared at them. “You’ll see. You’ll all see,” Ozette said.
Ozette sprinted to Sydney’s cottage to share her idea for Christmas presents for all of her fairy and elf friends. She found her friend deep in conversation with Oliver. They seem startled and a little embarrassed when she approached them.
“Is everything all right?” she asked. Oliver gave a weak imitation of his famous Travolta smile and offered Ozette some catnip tea.
“Sydney, I have a great idea for Christmas presents for all my friends. I want to make Oliver boxers for the elves and bootie bloomers for the fairies. But I need you to teach me to sew,” Ozette said.
Sydney looked at Ozette’s paws and frowned. “Sewing might be a difficult skill for a squirrel to learn, Ozette, but if we could come up with one design for the bloomers and one for the boxers and if you help me with the cutting, I think we can do it,” Sydney said.
They decided on blue Oliver boxers with a simple Pegasus design. For the fairies they would create pink bootie bloomers sporting rainbow dragons. That way, they could wear them year around.
“Is anything wrong with Oliver?” Ozette asked, concerned, as Oliver paced the garden.
“Ozette,” Oliver asked, turning toward his friend, “ I just want to ask you something. Do you promise, no matter what ever happens, you will still be my friend?”
“Of course, Oliver. Nothing can ever harm our friendship,” a puzzled Ozette said, giving the elf a hug.
Ozette headed for home, stopping to enjoy the beauty of the wintry day. As she walked past a patch of bare ground around a bush, she thought she saw something move. Ozette walked closer and saw a small gray furry heap, shivering in the frigid air. A baby gray squirrel! Maybe 6-8 weeks old, Ozette thought. But where was its mother? She touched it gently with her paw and the baby jumped, startled. It was fully furred and its eyes were open, but it was tiny.
“Who are you?” the little one asked, its eyes large in confusion.
“I am Queen Ozette of Farlandia,” she said. “But a better question is who are you?”
I am Gizmo, and I don’t know where I am,” he said, tears streaming down his soft furry face.
“You are in Farlandia,” Ozette said. “You don’t look familiar. Where did you come from?”
The tiny squirrel shook his head. “The last thing I remember was crossing a road. It was a much different place than this one. I heard a loud squealing noise and saw a huge shadow. Then nothing. And now I am somewhere else.”
“Ahhh,” Ozette said, cuddling the icy cold squirrel to her chest to warm it. “Well, young Gizmo, you are in a very wonderful place, a place with magical folk called fairies and elves and all manner of critters. I will take you to my nest, get you warm and feed you.”
Ozette grabbed the baby squirrel by the scruff of his neck and carried him to her nesting cavity. She kicked a few items out of the way to make room for the baby.
“Are you hungry?” she asked him as she tucked him into some moss, leaves, bits of feather and tufts of fur to warm him.
“Very hungry. Can you feed me?” the baby asked. Remembering the tiny teeth, Ozette doubted that he could crack nuts yet, so she cracked walnuts, acorns, and hickory nuts for Gizmo. He ate eagerly, then curled up against her and fell asleep. Soon Ozette was snoozing, strangely content.
Suddenly she felt something tug on her. Oh my goodness! Gizmo was trying to nurse! Yikes! What to do? She remembered some small bottles of unicorn milk she had stashed away. Where had she put them? She quickly disengaged the squirrel. Bits of seed and nutshells, feathers and leaves went flying, but soon she found the bottles and poured the milk into a half walnut shell. He learned quickly how to lap the milk and drank greedily.
“That does not taste like my mama, but it is sure good,” Gizmo said, smacking his lips. Ozette cleaned the baby and they both fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning, after feeding Gizmo—for a little guy he sure could tuck into a meal—she took him to Sydney’s garden so they could start on the bootie bloomers and Oliver boxers. The shy baby clung to Ozette when she introduced him to Sydney.
“What exactly do you know about raising a baby squirrel?” she asked Ozette while Gizmo nibbled on some peppermint-pecan bunnettes Sydney had made. Ozette shrugged. “How hard can it be? I feed him, clean him, teach him the ropes—make that trees—so to speak.”
“ And when it is time for him to go out on his own, can you let go?” Sydney knew her friend very well, and she noticed the look of adoration in Ozette's eyes when she looked at the baby.
“I will cross that bridge when I come to it,” Ozette said, picking up the scissors and cutting out another pair of bootie bloomers.
“He is just adorable,” Sydney said, ruffling the squirrel’s head. Just then, Oliver slipped into the garden. “Well, what have we here?” he asked, spying Gismo who was playing with scraps of fabric.
Ozette told Oliver the story of finding Gizmo, and Oliver broke into his famous Travolta smile. Ah, he thought. This will distract her from Santa Squirrel. She has probably forgotten all about it.
As if reading his mind, Ozette said, “I told him all about Santa Squirrel, and he is so excited. He wants a furry stuffed toy to play with and a warm blanket,” Ozette said kissing the baby’s fuzzy head.
Oliver's heart sank. This was even worse than before! Now he had a baby squirrel believing in Santa Squirrel. When would he learn to just shut his mouth! Sydney sensed his distress.
“Show him how your Oliver boxers work,” Sydney said. The elf sat down and the albino skunk emitted a fragrant citrus odor. Gizmo laughed so hard that Sydney stopped her work to fashion him a miniature pair to wear.
Ozette and Sydney were frantically busy over the next few days making bootie bloomers and Oliver boxers for all their friends. Sydney seemed distracted, but Ozette blamed it on the deadline they were under. She did not see much of Oliver and missed her friend.
Ozette had gone to the elf king and had him concoct a special elfin toothpaste to enhance Oliver's famous Travolta smile and had traded some nuts for a lovely blue sweater for him. She was really getting into this Christmas spirit!
That evening, in honor of the Winter Solstice, the Spice Squirrels hosted a concert. They sang such favorites as “I’m Dreaming of a Squirrelly Christmas,” “Santa Squirrel is Coming to Town,” “Little Drummer Squirrel,” “Walking in a Winter Farlandia” and “I saw Mama Kissing Santa Squirrel.”
Ozette and Gizmo climbed into the nest cavity, exhausted. Ozette wasn’t used to sharing her nest, but was very attached to the baby squirrel. Friends who had met him were enchanted by his sweet, loving disposition. Fairy friends stopped to visit Gizmo daily and he relished the attention. Ozette kept him so busy he had little time to ask questions about how he ended up in Farlandia. Ozette was not looking forward to explaining this to him, especially since she did not really understand it herself.
Ariel had brought Gizmo a candy cane, and Ozette licked the sweet remnants from his mouth. He drank his unicorn milk, curled onto his back, his tail tucked between his legs, and sighed. Ozette heard him stir, whisper “Mama” and fall asleep.
While they slept, Oliver walked home from a visit with Ariel, feeling dejected. What a mess he had created. He could think of no way out of his deception, and it was starting to ruin his Christmas. Maybe he could just tell Ozette that Santa Squirrel had come down with the flu and couldn’t come Christmas Eve. He would bring her and Gizmo lots of lovely gifts to make up for it. That was the best he could come up with. He stopped short as he entered his garden. There in the snow was written, “Believe in Magic.” It was signed—“Santa Squirrel.” Oliver scratched his head. Who had written this? Was this some sort of a joke? Was someone taunting him? He looked around, but the garden was empty. However, that night, for the first time in days, he slept soundly.
Oliver woke, feeling refreshed. He put on a pair of festive Oliver boxers—green with candy canes embroidered on them—and started baking. Soon, his garden was filled with the scent of all manner of goodies—peppermintos, divinity divine, neenernutterinos, and walnutkissettos. He rolled out dough and painstakingly cut out squirrels to take to Gizmo. He adored the baby.
“Yoo-hoo,” he heard as he took the cookies from the oven. He looked up and saw Ariel and Ozette. The white squirrel was carrying Gizmo in her mouth.
“We wish you a squirrelly Christmas. We wish you a squirrelly Christmas,” Gizmo was singing in his high, clear voice. Oliver grinned and offered the baby squirrel a star-shaped sugar cookie.
“That’s the last cookie today for you, young squirrel,” Ozette chided, taking a tree-shaped cookie from the platter and nibbling daintily at its edges before stuffing the rest into her mouth. “Just stopped on our way back to the nest. Gizmo and I are going to Ariel's to bake some cheddar-cheesettes for the mice and some neener neener walnettos for Santa Squirrel. We figure they will be hungry with all they have to do,” she said.
Oliver’s heart sank once again. That night, just as Oliver drifted off to sleep, he heard a voice say, “Have faith, little elf. Have faith.”
Ozette was frustrated. She had interrogated every mouse that came to her garden to see if any of them were going to pull Santa Squirrel’s sleigh tonight. “Dense creatures,” Ozette muttered after being looked at like she was nutty by the 100th mouse. She spent the day delivering Oliver boxers and bootie bloomers to all her friends, singing “Here comes Santa Squirrel. Here comes Santa Squirrel. Down to Farlandia.”
At dusk, Oliver and Sydney headed to her garden, laden with presents for Ozette and Gizmo. The tags all said, “From Santa Squirrel.” Despite the signs that all was well, Oliver decided to hedge his bets. Sydney had reminded him that squirrels were diurnal and Ozette and Gizmo would be sound asleep and not awaken until morning. They were halfway to her garden when Oliver gasped.
There were signs everywhere leading to her garden. “Ozette’s nest—this way.” A few feet later, “We believe in Santa Squirrel” and down the path, “WELCOME Santa Squirrel!” Another said “Don‘t Miss Ozette and Gizmo,” and as he approached her garden, “Yoo Hoo! We are here!” with an arrow pointing to the nest.
Worst of all, Ozette was awake and literally bouncing off the trees! “Why aren’t you asleep?” Oliver asked, his eyes wide.
“And miss Santa Squirrel? One of the elves made me some extra-industrial strength non-drowsy tea so I can be awake when Santa Squirrel comes. Gizmo is snoozing but I promised to wake him!” Ozette said.
Sydney had hung back and was busily tearing the tags off the presents. She came forward and said, “These are from Oliver and me, Ozette.” She dared not look at the elf.
Oliver headed to Ozette’s garden early Christmas morning, laden with his special Yuletide Omelettos. Ozette was hosting a brunch and had invited all of her friends to come. He was not sure what his reception would be.
He hoped she would not be too angry with him for misleading her about Santa Squirrel. He found her high on a branch wearing a red-striped sweater and red boots against the morning’s chill. Gizmo was wearing a white hooded snuggly and had a lovely emerald green angora blanket wrapped about him, a gift from Baby Fiona and Ariel. In his arms, he was cuddling a toy stuffed lamb.
“Oliver!” Ozette shouted giving the elf a hug as he flew to her branch.
“You’re not mad?” he asked.
“About what?” Ozette asked, puzzled.
“About Santa Squirrel,” Oliver answered.
“Why would I be upset about that? Oh, Oliver! It was so wonderful! He showed up just like you said he would, and he gave us so many wonderful gifts,” Ozette said joyfully.
Gizmo pulled on Ozette’s paw. “Tell him about—you know. The mice.”
“Don’t repeat one word of this, Oliver,” Ozette said, leaning over and whispering something in the elf’s ear.
“Cassady was guiding the sleigh??” he shouted, incredulously. “A golden retriever? Santa Squirrel?” He sputtered in amazement.
Ozette put her hand over his mouth. “Hush. She is so embarrassed, but the eight mice weren’t able to budge the sleigh. So Cassady sort of was volunteered,” Ozette said, smiling at the memory of the sleigh, Santa Squirrel surrounded by gifts with mice and Cassady pulling the sleigh through Farlandia.
“Cassady did balk, however, at wearing a red nose,” she added.
Gizmo grabbed Oliver's arm. “And Santa Squirrel let me go with him while he delivered gifts! At least for a little while. I rode in the sleigh and got to tell Cassady what to do! It is my most special Christmas ever,” Gizmo whispered as he cuddled his toy. “Oh,” he said remembering, “It is the only Christmas I have had.”
Oliver kissed the baby squirrel on the top of his fuzzy head and said, “Little one, you have no idea how special this Christmas was. No idea at all!”