Tonight, at the lavish White Rock, a lively colony of Rocky Mountain Pikas are attending another party, and outsider Sam reluctantly agrees to attend, as she is determined to give her furry ‘friends’ the benefit of the doubt.
by Gabriel Merithew
Five whole hours. The parties went well into the evening. And it wasn’t as if the colony of Pika’s only hosted on Fridays and Saturdays. No. There was a party to be attended every night of the week. All seven days. And attendance was mandatory, at least if one was to be on good terms with Martha.
Martha, the proud owner of White Rock, with her sparkly little rodent shoes and her sparkly little rodent smile. Everyone in the colony loved her, or at least had convinced themselves that they did.
And even now, as the sun plunged lower in the sky, it cast its remaining warmth onto White Rock, that lavish chunk of quartz, like a beacon, signaling to the whole colony that the time had come for a party. Sam watched them emerge from the boulder field one by one – dozens of tiny fuzzy heads squeaking their way down to Martha’s for another evening of unparalleled… boredom.
Oh, how the previous party Sam attended had blown – like the winds that cascaded down from the jagged mountaintop. It had started out alright. The gatherings always did. But despite her best efforts, the excitement always seemed to eat her alive and leave her wanting either an overlong nap and a shower or a five mile jog – just to rid herself of the experience. Yet, despite all of this, the merry sounds of laughter that emanated from White Rock each evening, was enough to leave her wondering if it was time to give the charade another stab.
Wide-eyed Gerald had poked his little head in just as Sam had finished organizing all the seeds she’d collected over the course of the day In his enthusiastic squeak, he told her that he was calling on behalf of Martha herself, who had insisted Sam attend her event that evening. Sam, of course, scrambled to think up a solid reason to stay behind – maybe to get one last armful of seeds from the forest below before sundown, but Gerald wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“You’re beyond lucky,” He said, “Oh joy, you’ll get to hear all about Martha’s new pebble. That’s right! I’m sure she’ll tell you all about it.”
“A… pebble?” Sam asked, incredulously.
“Only the smoothest, nicest, most stunning pebble you’ll ever see. And you won’t get a chance to lay eyes on its magnificence if you stay here all night.”
Sam thought for a moment. She did not give one twitching whisker about Martha’s new pebble, or wish to hear anything about it, but at this point the party seemed to be becoming an inevitability. She stared at Gerald’s snout, positively quivering with anticipated exhilaration, she found herself considering the whole thing. If nothing else was to come from it, at least her agreeing to heed Gerald’s invitation would surely make him jump about with glee. She liked to have such effects on her fellow rodents.
It didn’t matter how excruciatingly boring the party had been. To write the whole thing off before even giving her many colleagues their rightful two hundredth chance… Well, that would be silly. Tonight could be different, and as she strode out into the open she decided to make it so, and told Gerald as much. He proceeded to hop about like his tail had spontaneously ignited, then fell into stride with her. Sam smiled and listened with intent to Gerald’s many promises of the joys forthcoming, figuring that if she was to be a belonging member of the colony, she’d better start walking the walk.
Leaping gracefully from boulder to boulder, Sam and Gerald made their way across the field as the massive chunk of quartz loomed before them. It was a magnificent landmark and dwelling. Owning such a home was the dream of every Pika, and as long as Martha wasn’t around, snatches of conversation could be overheard, claiming it was no fair that Martha owned the rock and they didn’t. But strangely enough, at no point in these conversations did anyone bother to question how the lucky Martha had obtained it in the first place. So no one knew.
Sam slower her pace as they neared the big white colossus. The familiar cacophony of elated squeaking and the way the setting sun made the granite gleam, left no doubt as to why this was the only logical place for parties to be held.
“Come on!” Gerald was practically levitating with excitement. “You’re the only one who ever misses one of these. Everyone’s dying to see you!”
“Oh.” Sam was now second guessing herself. She lingered a moment, perched there on the rock overlooking the merriment below. Maybe just maybe, this was the beginning of a massive mistake. “You’re sure they want to see me?” She asked, more quietly than she’d intended.
Gerald’s fuzzy snout crinkled up in a huge grin. “Of course they do! Goodness me, you have the most interesting life of anyone here. Mark my words, before the night is out, we want to hear all about what you’ve been up to.”
Sam couldn’t help but smile. What a prospect. Why, maybe if she tried really hard to be her polite, caring, amiable self… Just maybe tomorrow she’d have a friend or two to go collect seeds with – if they showed such interest. This, as everyone around knew, was what she was best at. No one had an eye for seeds like she did. Any little fuzzy-butt with the attention span of a horse fly could bring home an armful of seeds, she’d often find herself thinking, but it took a seasoned pro to spot which ones were rotten and which weren’t. It was on this skill that she prided herself. Even the remembrance of this fact now brought a gentle warmth into her tummy like she’d just drank a mug of tea made of ninety percent courage and ten percent cautious optimism. Of course she could do this.
Gerald was looking at her with expectant urgency in his wide, shining eyes.
“So?” He prodded, actually poking her with a tiny finger.
“Okay! Let’s do this!” Sam didn’t wait for Gerald. She leapt from the rock and landed right in the middle of the milling crowd.
All at once there was an uproar. For a moment, Sam wondered if the colony was about to attack her for being such an outcast – one who was the opposite of punctual – but looking around, she realized the clamorings were exclamations of joy.
“Sam?!” A rather plump Pika by the name of Toby, perked up his ears.
“It’s her! It’s her!” This was the voice long-nosed Janet.
“I wondered whether she’d show!” The raspy drone of bespectacled Franz sounded behind her.
“Is it?! Is she here?!” Bushy-haired Edith’s huge voice drowned all others.
Gerald nearly belly-flopped beside Sam in his eagerness to be the one to introduce the guest of honor. “See? I told you!” He said, a bit breathlessly.
“Wow. This is lovely.” Sam squeaked, beaming around at everyone. “Sorry I wasn’t able to attend these last few weeks, I’ve just been…”
“Oh. My. Goodness!” Interrupted long-nosed Janet. “Where did you get that gorgeous coat?!”
Sam looked down at her furry belly. She didn’t know what to say. It wasn’t as if she’d bought… “I… grew it. It’s my natural coat.”
“Well, it’s darn spendifourous!” It was plump Toby who spoke up. “I just bought my dear Penny a designer coat from Pyne & Needl, and believe me when I tell you it cost more than her name.”
There followed a chorus of high-pitched laughter that made Sam’s eardrums quiver.
“That’s lovely. I’m sure it’s very…” Sam began.
“Ladies and gentlerodents!” Boomed Gerald suddenly. “It’s been a while since…”
“Move. Move. Move please.” Everyone looked around to see Martha pushing her way through the crowd, arms outstretched, her singsong voice distinctive and demanding of respect. Eagerly and with reverence, the crowd parted to let her through. “Sammy? Is that you?!”
Sam grinned. Despite her pompous manner, she couldn’t help but like Martha, or at least what Martha stood for. “Martha!” She held out her arms as well.
“My dear!” Martha burst through the crowd and skidded to a halt before Sam, a picture of refined, tasteful elegance in the evening glow. That was what Sam thought of her as she awaited her hug. But the hug didn’t come. Martha didn’t throw her little arms around her. Instead, she thrust them forward, positively beaming, holding a shiny pebble in her silky paws. “Look! Isn’t it just magnificent?!”
Sam lowered her arms awkwardly, as she tried to choose whether to burst out laughing or be embarrassed. But she couldn’t quite decide, so she just stared at Martha’s pebble.
“It’s my new pebble.” Martha relished the last word.
“I… I can see that.” Sam didn’t want to be rude, but there was no getting around the fact that she was being presented with a much smaller and less significant version of the rocks that were even now surrounding them on all sides. “It’s… very nice.”
“Thank you! I’ve been saving up for ages. I would’ve treated myself to this little treasure sooner, but I’ve had to plan and host and clean up after all these parties.
“So thoughtful.” Said Franz.
“So brave.” Said Edith.
“So beautiful.” Said Toby.
The Pika’s were staring at Martha in envious adoration.
“Thank you for inviting me, Martha.” Said Sam, once the love-in died down.
“Think nothing of it, dear. You’re welcome at my home anytime.” Martha said, not looking at her, but instead at the pebble that she now held a little higher for her audience to see. Sure enough, there echoed an awed chorus of “ooohs”.
“I might just have to take you up on that one of these days.” Said Sam, wondering if there was even a brief moment of eye-contact to be had with the distracted Martha. “If you’d like I can bring over some nuts. I’ve been in the forest at all hours collecting the finest and you can have your pick.”
To Sam’s surprise, Martha did indeed look up from her pebble and directly at her. Her smile was amused. “That’s sounds just… splenderflous, dear. Oh, goodness. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You truly are one of the most inspiring rodents I know. Working so hard. Skipping parties to prepare for the winter. Oh… You remind me of me before… all of this.” Martha beamed and gestured around at the giant White Rock looming above them all.
“Huh.” Sam’s jaw clenched and she looked away, a prickle running up her neck. “Well, this has been amazing, Martha, but I really should get back. I’d like to make another trip into the woods before dark. There’s this pine tree on the north side… Oh wow, you can actually see it from here. I think it has the potential to be…”
But Martha wasn’t listening. Toby had evidently asked to get a better look at the pebble, and it was now being passed between paws as Martha hopped alongside begging everyone to be careful with it.
Sam looked around for Gerald. She would just thank him again for inviting her before heading out, but after several moments of scanning the crowd, she spotted him chatting up a group of lady Pikas, and decided that immediately was the best time to go.
On her way home, Sam was glad to get away from it all. She could hear wind again. The calls of the birds on their last flight of the day. She breathed in the cool air and looked back at White Rock. It was still magnificent, and surely the self-obsessed Martha didn’t deserve it. But that was besides the point. Someone ought to live there. And whoever did was surely expected to host parties.
Sam decided then and there to avoid the horribly bland Martha at all costs, but also had to admit that she was almost proud of her for becoming such a universally-loved figure.
Sam went to sleep that night with the incessant squeakings of the crowd in her little fuzzy ears, and was relieved to drift away from it all as slumber pressed in. That night she dreamed not of being universally loved, but of what nuts she might find beneath that towering pine tree. The possibilities made her smile in her sleep.
The next morning she was up early. She knew everyone else in the colony would be sleeping late after the party, and took pride in not doing the same. She would be back here with an armful of seeds before any of them had woken up. That sounded like a plan, and a plan like that made her whiskers quiver with excitement.
After a hearty breakfast of three passable grass seeds (she liked to save the good ones for another time) and a read of Nuts Weekly with a delicious pine coffee in hand, she dashed from her boulder house and leapt from boulder to boulder down the mountain, enjoying the way her hair flew backwards when she ran faster than was logically safe.
Later on, heart racing from the trip, Sam bounded through her front door and collided with none other than Martha.
“Goodness!” Sam recovered herself and brushed a piece of pine needle from Martha’s coat, then scrambled around, picking up the scattered seeds she’d been carrying. “Are you alright?”
“I’m just… great.” Martha didn’t meet Sam’s gaze. She was wringing her hands. She didn’t look great at all.
“Is there something wrong?” Sam asked, her voice softer now.
Martha bit her shiny little nails. “I came over…”
“I… I know you did.” Sam wasn’t sure what was going on.
“No.” Martha was looking more distraught by the second. “I came over… to tell you that… to say…”
Sam blinked. “What is it?”
“To say thank you.”
This took Sam by surprise almost as much as seeing little tears popping up in the corners of Martha’s eyes. Martha finally looked at her.
“What for?” Sam asked?
“For being the only person in my whole life who actually listens to me.” Martha burst into tears and stepped forward, arms outstretched.
Sam looked down at them, half expecting to see the pebble again, but Martha was hugging her.
Slightly stunned by this unexpected development, Sam hesitated for the span of a second, then hugged her back.
And in that moment, Sam wondered if Martha was a very different person than she’d seemed to be, and if Martha might actually listen to her now. Maybe they could both take turns listening. If there was one thing she knew for certain is that they both had a lot to say, and not about pebbles.
But that was a matter for later. Right now she’d enjoy the hug.