One day as Rebecca walked on the OU campus, she noticed one of the campus squirrels running up a tree. “Oh hi pretty,” she said as she drew closer.
Suddenly, the squirrel disappeared.
“Whoa! Where did he go?” Rebecca asked. She had walked around the other side of the trees, towards the woods.
Suddenly the squirrel’s head popped out of a tiny door that was on the tree. He beckoned to Rebecca to come closer.
Oh, this is just too strange, Rebecca thought. I know I didn’t sleep too much last night, but I was sure I was awake and not dreaming just a minute ago.
“Chatter, chatter, chatter, chatter,” the squirrel said, sounding a bit impatient. He was beckoning Rebecca to come to the tree again.
Okay, why not? Rebecca thought. She walked up to the tree, and bent down to the little door. The squirrel had disappeared again. Rebecca put her eye up to the hole and gasped. Suddenly she felt herself being sucked forward an pulled through the hole in the tree. “Ugh!” she groaned as she landed very gently.
Rebecca looked around. She was sitting on a leaf covered floor, of what honestly looked like a room inside a tree. Light was coming from above, through branches. Around her sat a couple dozen squirrels. When she looked at them, then looked at herself, she realized that she had shrunk to be the size of the squirrels.
Okay, way too much coffee recently.
One of the squirrels opened its mouth to chatter, and Rebecca realized she could understand the squirrel’s speech.
“Hello, Miss,” she said. “We are sorry to disturb your day.”
“Call me Rebecca.” If they were going to be part of her dream, they might as well be friends.
“Okay, Rebecca, and I am Berry Root. We need your help.”
“Sure, whatever I can do. But it has to be fast. I’m on my way to an econ test, and my Mom will get really irritated if I don’t pass the test.”
“We need you to carry a basket of pies to Sunny Days.”
“The restaurant across the street? Wait --- carry pies?”
“Yes,” Berry Root, who was doing all the talking said. Rebecca thought that the squirrel lady seemed very formal and prim.
She went on. “We have a continuing competition with another squirrel family two trees to the south. We have had the contract to prepare apple pies for Sunny Days for 87 years, and—”
“Whoa!” Rebecca interrupted, “That restaurant hasn’t been there 87 years.”
“No,” Berry Root admitted. “For only 64 years. Before that we had the contract with a bakery which sat on the same property.”
“You made pies for a bakery?”
“Yes,” Berry Root continued, seeming just a little irritated with the continued interruptions.
“I’m sorry,” Rebecca broke in again. “What is your pay?”
“Oh, the most delicious nuts, bread and cookie crumbs, tiny cake bites.” She licked her lips. “But, let me continue, to get you to your test on time. We have the contract; have had it for 87 years. But this other Squirrel family, the Acorns—” her nose twitched with disgust at the name, “have always tried to take the contract from us. If you don’t help us get today’s pies there before nine o’clock, and the other family finds out and gets their own pies there earlier, we could lose the contract.”
The proper lady took a deep breath. “You see, right now we have only two boys who can carry the basket up to the restaurant. Last night, when they had only been on the way up a few minutes, one of the boys slipped and fell, dragging the basket of pies down and breaking quite a few of them.”
“Oh, that’s awful,” Rebecca said. “Is the boy going to be okay?”
“Thank you, yes. He was not seriously injured.”
“But, excuse me, I thought you said you have two boys who can deliver the pies. Don’t you still have one who can do it?”
The proper lady squirrel took another deep breath. Rebecca could tell that she was trying to be patient. “Yes, but you see, there have to be two boys to carry the basket at the same time. It is too heavy for one to carry it alone. If there are not two, the contract strictly says that there must be a human to deliver the pies.”
“Ooooohhh, I see. So that’s why you need me. But, please tell me, have you ever had to use a human before?”
“Yes. My grandmother told me that fifty years ago they had to use a human.” She pursed her lips in a disapproving way. “It was a professor. And my understanding was that he did not want to help and complained and worried through the whole process.”
“I see,” Rebecca said. “Well, of course, I will help if I can. Will the second boy come with me and help me?”
“That’s the problem. You see, in order that we will have another boy to help carry tonight’s basket, that boy is busy all today, training another boy to go with him. But, we have a younger boy who knows the pie route, and will be able to show you exactly where to go.”
“Oh, well – will I be able to carry it by myself?”
“Yes,” Berry Root said confidently. “Although you have lost your normal human size, you still have your normal strength.”
I hope so, Rebecca thought, flexing her hands and arms. “So exactly how do I do this? And what if the other squirrel family sees me and follows me?”
“My grandson, Nut Root, who will be accompanying you, will be able to hear if anyone gets near. He knows good hiding passages along the way.”
“Okay,” Rebecca said with some uncertainty. She didn’t want to be like the professor and be too much of a complainer and worrier. “And how will I take the pies up? Will I bring them through the same little door I came in by?”
“Oh, no!” Berry Root said, shaking at the very idea. “The pies are already the size they will need to be for selling at the restaurant. Would you like to see where we make the pies?”
“Oh, yes, very much!” Rebecca said.
She followed Berry Root through what seemed like a number of underground passages. They stopped at a little door made of bark, and Berry Root pulled it open. “Come right in,” she told Rebecca.
Rebecca stood and stared with amazement at the room and the work in front of her.
The room was filled with tables, counters, and stoves only a few inches tall.
On some counters, three squirrels worked with tiny rolling pins to roll out one pie crust. Then carefully, together, they lifted the crust, laid it on the pie pan and crimped the edges.
At a stove, two squirrels stood, one on either side of the oven door, with tiny hot pads on both their front paws. They open the door and lifted out a freshly baked pie.
The smell in the room was wonderful. Rebecca’s stomach growled, and she remembered she had not had breakfast.
At some tables, squirrels worked on making the pie filling. One squirrel sliced the apples and dumped them into the bowl. Another took what looked like a tiny measuring cup with a long handle, measured some sugar out of a low container, and dumped it into the bowl. Another squirrel held a bottle of cinnamon and shook it over the bowl.
At another table, Rebecca noticed that young squirrels were being taught how to make the pies. An adult stood by, carefully watching as the little squirrel cut the apples into slices. The young squirrels who measured the sugar and cinnamon had to jump to add their ingredients to the bowl. Jump, shake; measure, jump, pour; jump shake; measure, jump, pour.
Rebecca smiled, trying not to laugh. It was all so carefully and perfectly done.
“Would you like a piece of one of the pies which have just come out of the oven?” Berry Root asked.
“Oh, please, I would like one very much!”
A lady squirrel at one of the stoves cut a slice and laid it on Rebecca’s hand. She had to blow on the piece of pie, and she burned her tongue a little, but it was so yummy!
“Oh, this is wonderful!” Rebecca said.
“Thank you, thank you,” Berry Root said, bowing slightly. “Now here is the basket of pies.”
Rebecca had noticed some squirrels carefully loading pies into a tall picnic like basket. They had to climb small ladders to reach the top of the basket. Now they pushed it toward Rebecca and Berry Root.
“Rebecca, these are my daughters, Tiny Root and Chubby Root. Chubby Root is nut Root’s mother.”
“Hello,” Rebecca smiled at both the young ladies. They bobbed their heads shyly.
“So Nut Root will show me where to go, and then what?” Rebecca asked Berry Root.
“The pie shoot is just the right size for the pie basket to fit into. The wheels on the basket fit right into some grooves in the shoot. You line the basket up inside the shoot and lift it slightly. At the back of the shoot are steps for you to climb. You put your feet onto the first step, and lean back to put your hands under the basket. Then you climb up, pushing the basket up ahead of you.”
“Ooooohhh,” Rebecca said with a little gulp. “That easy, huh?”
“That easy,” Berry Root agreed. “When you come to the top, the basket will push open a small trap door and the basket and you will slide out onto the floor of the restaurant kitchen.”
“And then what do I do? Do I pick up your payment goodies and come back down to you here?”
“No, no. We will get our payment in a few days for the week. It’s safer for Nut Root to hurry back by himself, and try to avoid the Acorns. You just go outside and hurry on to your test. And take a pie out of the top of the basket as a small part of our thanks. We put in an extra one for you”
“Well – thank you. It was very nice meeting you.”
“Thank you so much, Rebecca. And this is my grandson Nut Root. Please hurry now.”
Rebecca took a deep breath and started pushing the pie basket ahead of her, following the young squirrel Berry Root had just introduced. The basket was much taller than her, but it slid very easily ahead of her.
Nut Root was small and young-looking, and very shy. He hurried ahead of her and didn’t seem to want to talk.
Suddenly Nut Root disappeared. Rebecca panicked. Whoa! What should she do now? But in a second, he poked his nose around the corner to the right. “Ssshhhh, come here Miss Rebecca,” he whispered.
She followed him into another hallway, then again around another corner.
“What’s wrong?” she whispered.
“The Acorns are coming. Please stay quiet.”
Rebecca couldn’t help poking one eye around the corner to look. Another group of squirrels was walking very quietly down the hall they had just come down, heading the same way they were going.
“Don’t they know where the shoot is?” Rebecca asked.
“Yes, but they don’t know we didn’t make it last night. They can challenge our contract if they find out.”
So much for a little squirrel to worry about, Rebecca thought.
Three more times, Nut Root pulled Rebecca into a side passage while the other squirrels passed by. There were many turns in the route, but finally they seemed to be where they were supposed to be. The Acorns were not behind them; Nut Root had managed to lose them on the way.
They were at a doorway opening in the wall, and Rebecca could see steps a little farther in.
“Thank you, Miss Rebecca,” Nut Root said.
“You’re welcome, and tell everyone I had a lot of fun.” Rebecca wished she could hold the little squirrel and snuggle and kiss him, but she was sure that would be against his dignity.
Rebecca took a deep breath. Okay, here we go. She pushed the basket into the doorway of the pie shoot, and was surprised at how quickly and easily the wheels fit into the slots on the sides. She pushed, and it also slid up easily.
She put her feet on the first step and started the move. Berry Root was right, it was an easy trip, and pretty quick.
Suddenly Rebecca could feel the basket breaking through the door above. Then again, she felt like she was being sucked through the opening and plopped gently onto a floor. She quickly covered her mouth, so that she would not groan out loud. Next to her stood the pie basket. Looking at it and then at herself, Rebecca realized she was her normal size again.
When she looked around, she realized she was in the kitchen of a restaurant. There were big stoves, counters, and sinks all around. A man stood at one of the stoves with his back to her, stirring something.
Very quietly, Rebecca stood up and looked for a door out. When she found it, she quickly opened the picnic basket and took out the top pie. She moved through the door and found herself standing in the alley behind Sunny Day.
Was it a dream? Had she been sleep walking all the way here? She did hold a pie in her hand. She hoped she hadn’t stolen it.
Rebecca saw something sticking out of her pocket. She reached down and pulled it out. It was a tiny wooden rolling pin. She shrugged and headed off to her econ test.