With Our Hearts in the Sky

“Hurry up, Aspen!”

“A-Azalea, you’re running too fast!”

“Oh, grow up, you slow-slug!” I burst onto the top of the hill, the wind coursing through my fur. Out here, I felt free. It was in the wind and under the sky where my dream came alive. Since I heard of them, I always wanted to be a flying squirrel, soaring above the clouds like a bird. Everyone told me I was crazy, that I needed to come back down to earth. Everyone… except Aspen. I blinked back at the boar behind me, a pang of affection welling in my chest. The sky was bright and clear behind me. Ahead, however, was a different story, with gray smoke billowing like large storm clouds that hung so low, they touched the sparkling water underneath.

Aspen clambered beside me, gaping at the scene. “Azalea, what are we doing here?”

“This is a great place for food!” I lilted, bouncing down the hill. Aspen shouted after me, bouncing to catch up. Persimmon, the head squirrel of our scurry, had sent us out for food; and if the discovery I made yesterday was real, I knew exactly the right place to find it. I led a skittish Aspen around large crates and barrels the humans had rolled out along the ground. I leaped onto one, my tail twitching in excitement as I stared into it.

“Just like yesterday!” I cried, diving into the barrel. “Come on Aspen, what’d I tell you? This is the best place for nuts! Look how many are…” I trailed off, my blood running cold. A shadow fell over me as I turned around. With horror, I saw a large round disk being lowered on top of the barrel as Aspen was struggling to climb inside. With shock, I screamed his name, pulling him inside just before the barrel was sealed tight. The nuts and seeds under us shook. We were moving.

“What’s happening?” Aspen gasped, his paws grabbing for anything stable underneath him.

“I don’t know!” I replied. Pushing my own paws against the sides of the barrel, I tried breaking free. It was impossible. “Aspen, help me!” As the two of us struggled to do something, anything, to get free, the shaking stopped. Exchanging a small twitch of our whiskers, we set our paws on top of the barrel and, with one strong motion, we worked together to lift the disk away.

“Where are we?” Aspen wondered, gaping at the dark room they had somehow arrived in.

I slid out of the barrel and sniffed around. Other barrels lined the space, making it difficult to move around. As I inspected one of them, a pair of human footsteps sounded nearby. A door swung open, revealing light outside. I raced toward it, feeling an invigorating breeze whip through my gray fur. I glanced over my shoulder.

“Aspen! Hurry!” I shouted. Aspen stiffened and bolted toward the door. I grabbed his forepaws with my own and pulled him through, barely missing its closing as the human marched away. 

“That was close,” I breathed, staring at him as his whiskers twitched in agreement.

“Wh-what is this… human mess?” Aspen stammered, staring in terror at the scenery around us.

Humans marched around us, each carrying something, or yelling at each other. Aspen jumped as one of them ran past us, narrowly missing his tail. I lightly motioned him toward a corner, out of the way of any unsuspecting human.

“I think the humans call this a ship,” I whispered when we were safe in the shadows. “I think we’re on the water.”

“These things float on water?” Aspen breathed in wonder and terror.

I nodded. “Let’s see if we can find the land. There has to be something around here…”

We managed to scamper up to a higher place, somehow not getting squished. I leaped onto the ledge of the ship, gaping out at what was behind us. Only blue as far as the eye could see.

“Azalea? Do you see anything?” Aspen asked, jumping up beside me. He stiffened in horror. “We’re on the water. No land in sight. No way home…”

“I’m sure we’ll think of something,” I reassured him, hopping down. “Let’s find somewhere to rest for the night, okay? We’ll get back in the morning.” Aspen nodded, and followed me down. There was a subtle rock of the boat, and I peeked an eye open. The humans were shouting and waving, and I leaped to my feet in delight. We were on land again!

“Aspen! Wake up!” I shouted, pawing him urgently. “We’re on land!”

I bolted toward the ledge again, staring out at the land. Was it getting… further away?

“A-Aspen!? I think we’re leaving again!” I cried in panic. Aspen was immediately beside me, gaping at the land below.

“We have to jump for it!” Aspen said.

“Are you crazy? We’ll die!” I barked. He blinked at me, sharing my fear, but also with kind eyes. “You’re crazy,” I breathed.

“Last I checked, so were you,” Aspen replied. “You wanted to fly, Azalea. Then do it. We’ll go together.”

“You’re shaking,” I stated bluntly, and he clucked in embarrassment. Nonetheless, we backed up together and, with one breath, the two of us bolted toward the edge of the ship… and jumped.

It was a thrilling moment, soaring, and then it was over. My paws hit the earth below, right next to Aspen. We blinked at each other, then at the ship. That was when horror struck me again.

“Aspen. This isn’t home.”

Aspen glanced around. “You like adventure too, don’t you?”

“Isn’t it too much for you?” I asked.

He chuckled a little, his gray fur blowing in the wind. “We’ll make it together, like everything on the ship. Like how we made the jump.”

I smiled at him. Yes, we’d make it together. With our hearts forever in the sky.

Written by Emily