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Not so much a sneezy story, but a Christmas story for the forum.



This story begins before our hero even had a name. He was a simple red squirrel, gathering nuts for the winter, living at the top of a great oak. He lived with a family of others, for squirrels are social animals and they enjoy company.

That was when he heard it coming - in the early hours, before the sparrow woke up - a battle-call. The squirrel woke and looked to the base of the tree. The darkness around it moved like a rippling lake.


"Squirrels, to me!" shouted the Elder.

The squirrels got up and flurried about the tree, finding what weapons they could - acorns and twigs, mainly.

"They shall not take the tree!" said the Elder. "They shall not take the nuts!"

But the swarm of rats overcame them, until almost everything was gone, except the Elder- and then the king of the rats clawed his way up the tree to speak his mind.

"I am IVAN IVANOVICH, the king of rats." said the great beast, his yellow teeth like small headstones. "Your nuts are mine, and more- your tree will be mine in a year. I give you one year, we can reach a deal. But if not- I take it by force."

With that, he flashed his two front teeth, shining like twin hatchets. Then the Rat King leapt from the tree.

The squirrels were now in confusement and anger. This should never have been allowed to happen, obviously. A traveller must go out and negotiate with the Rat King.

But who would volunteer to do that, and at Christmas? It was like asking someone to put their head in an oven. With a turkey in it.

"I'll go." said a small squirrel. The elders' mouths dropped, showing their pretty white teeth.

"Young man- are you sure?" said an old squirrel.


"What is your name?"

"I- I don't have a name." said the boy. "I'm just a squirrel."

"Well..." said the old-lady squirrel, "You come from an oak, so your name is Oak. Shake my claw, Squirrel Oak."

The young boy rose and touched her claw, honoured by his first name.

Before you go," said another old squirrel, "You will need this." He took out a handkerchief from his shoulder-bag, on which was stiched an intricate map of a country.

"Go North..." said the old squirrel. "This handkerchief is a map to the place where Father Christmas lives. He will be able to help you."

"Thanks." said Squirrel Oak, tucking the handkerchief into his makeshift backpack. "It's going to be a long way..."



Squirrel Oak ran on through the grass. He didn't really know where he was going, and hadn't consulted the map, but somehow he felt guided and was sure he was running in the right direction.

It started to snow - it was so pretty, the squirrel thought - then it was annoying, then a huge challenge as the snow built up in large drifts. Cold was running through his small body. This was a mistake - he couldn't do it.

Squirrel Oak briefly saw the lights of a house, before he passed out.

When he awoke, a black cat was staring at him.


He tried to run but the cat pinned him down with a front paw.

"Squirrels are supposed to be good at riddles, huh?"

Squirrel Oak murmered.

"Hey, little squirrel - what room in the house do ghosts avoid?"

"The- the living room!" he said.

"Wow!" said the cat, easing Squirrel Oak to the floor. "Most rodents don't get that one. Where are you going?"

"I'm on a quest to see Father Christmas - to get help to defeat the Rat King."

Percival drew back. "The Rat King? Ivan Ivanovich?"


"I've had my run-ins with that sod..." Percival pointed to a long scar by the side of his nose. "I'm in, young one. I'm your knight errant. Sir Percival, looking for his own Holy Grail!"

Squirrel Oak cautiously bumped noses with the black cat. The cat rose up, exposing his furry white belly - and sharp claws.

"Onwards to the North." said Squirrel Oak. "To the country of Father Christmas."



The squirrel and the cat went further and further North, until the blizzards began to bite and the food ran out.

"What I would do for a tasty squirrel..." said Sir Percival.

"Hey! None of that!"

"AAAH-DSCHOOOO!" said the cat.

"Bless you" said Squirrel Oak.

"Thank you."

"help us, help us, hear our cry. free us from the trap before the hunter comes by"

"Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"I heard something like two kids asking for help."

The cat stopped and lowered his head.

"...help us, help us,..."

The two beasts looked eye to eye-

"Squirrel, go!"

When they arrived they found two Arctic foxes held in a trap.

Squirrel carefully loosened the locking mechanism and the foxes left. He felt very emotional, suddenly- but he had to keep his mind of the mission.

On the horizon was the tall, silvery fortress that was the home of Father Christmas. A great Ice sculpture that no-one had asked for, but everyone had imagined as a child. A place for Christmas to live.

The Squirrel saw before him an acerage of snow, and two huge ornate gates made of ice, so beautiful that you could sit down and look at them and snap them with your phone, and post them online, and grope for reactions all day. And beyond that a huge spire of coldness.

Percival said quietly "I'm scared."

Squirrel Oak stepped onto the snow.

"It's fine to be scared, my friend."


Edited by Heathcliff
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A booming laugh thundered through the air. Squirrel Oak and Percival looked around.

"Oh, god!"

Father Christmas, on his sleigh, tethering eight reindeer was speeding towards them.

"Percy, get out of the way!"

Clearly Santa hadn't seen them. Now, Squirrel Oak could hear their hooves as they pounded the air.

Percival dived to the right of the snow-bridge at the last moment. Squirrel Oak made himself as small as he could, tucked into the snow and freezing. The hoof-beats of the reindeer became very loud. As Father Christmas passed, the squirrel felt a warmth through his body. Was that normal?

The squirrel dug himself out and looked for the cat.

"Sir Percival? Where are you? Please!"

A wet paw appeared over the side of the bridge.

"Yes, I'm still here." Percy scowled. "I warn you, I'm going to sulk for a while."

"I don't care." said Squirrel Oak, and kissed him on the nose. He didn;t know what to make of that.

The great gates creaked open. Father Christmas was here, after all.

Squirrel Oak and Sir Percival walked up the main square of the snow castle. It was amazing- like a Christmas fayre, people were selling from many stalls... spices and oranges, and toys. And Ikea furniture.

"I wish for an audience with Father Christmas" said Squirrel Oak.
"And if he denies me, I want to know why."

Elves came around, filling his coffee cup and looking at the Squirrel accussingly.

Finally, the booming voice said:
"I have ten minutes."


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Eventually they were ushered in to a small tent. An enormous man wearing red winter clothing and black boots was smoking a pipe by the the fire.
The nutty smell of  the tobacco reminded the squirrel of his grandfather- although surely no squirrels smoked tobacco.

The old man swept back his hood. His hair was white as snow.

"Hello, young Oak- and Percival."

Squirrel Oak, for the first time in his life, was terrified.

"My... my..."

"My Lord, I am honoured." said the cat. "I have hoped for many years to actually set eyes on the saint of Christmas."

"The saint of Christmas? ho ho ho!" said the man. "You must know that Saint Nicholas had about as much to do with christmas as saint Francis has to do with animals."

"It doesn't matter." said squirrel Oak. "It's what you do, and stand for."

"Ho ho ho!" laughed Father Christmas. "The young squirrel speaks the truth. Oh... excuse... ahh- haaahh-" Father Christmas turned, as if in shame, and sneezed "AAAAAAH-TSCHOOOOO!"

"Bless you!" said Squirrel Oak.

"Excuse me!" said Santa. "I simply cannot help it. Aaah... HAHA-TSCHJOOOO!"

Percival had run out of the door, and appeared with a bottle of pills in her wide-smiling mouth.

Take two a day, Father Christmas, and they will make it all fine.  

Father Christmas took the pills while mopping his nose with the handkerkchief.

It would never do to get that wrong, would it?

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