With his ears pinned back, Luis trembled like only a Chihuahua could. His feet left the ground, and the dog gazed down, the rough and unforgiving touch of something unknown lifting him higher and higher. Finally, an object came into view, but it was nothing like he had seen before.
“Hello,” the creature said.
Too nervous to bark, Luis whined in response, his survival instincts eventually kicking in. He attempted to howl but something else escaped his mouth.
“Please,” Luis said, shocking himself.
“I’m sorry,” the creature said. “I’ve scared you, haven’t I?”
Just like the prior word Luis spoke, this one was equally unexpected. “Yes.” He paused. “I… can… talk.”
Luis realized he was being held by a branch, several ends of the limb coiling around him like fingers. The face in the tree stared back at him.
“Sometimes curiosity gets the best of me,” the tree said. “I’m Oakley.”
The dog thought about what he wanted to say, and his mouth did the rest. “Luis.”
“Nice to meet you, Luis.” Oakley lowered him to the ground.
“Where am I?”
“The forest,” Oakley replied.
Luis hesitated. “Yes, but what forest?”
The tree shrugged. “It doesn’t have a name. It’s just a forest.”
Confused, Luis looked over his shoulder, skeptical of what he saw. “Where did the tunnel go?”
“I came through a tunnel. It’s how I got here.”
“There’s no tunnel in that direction,” Oakley said. “Just miles of woodlands.” He wavered for a moment. “I have to say, though, that you came out of nowhere. I didn’t notice you until you were nearly beside me.”
Movement in one of Oakley’s branches startled Luis, the tree seeming to sense the alarm on his face.
“That’s just Catsandra,” Oakley said. “She won’t harm you.”
An orange, gray, and white-striped cat jumped to the ground, the dry leaves crumbling beneath its weight. Catsandra eyed Luis with her glowing green irises, keeping a stern face and refusing to speak. Luis swallowed. If lucky, the four-pound Chihuahua was half the size of the full-grown cat, but even that was a generous assessment. Luis paid her no mind and turned back to Oakley.
“I’m looking for a boy,” Luis said.
“A boy?” Oakley inquired. “A human?”
“Who is he?”
“His name is Kendell.”
“And he’s your friend?”
“My best friend,” Luis replied.
Oakley breathed out, some of the nearby leaves moving from the gentle breeze. “Wow. It’s been ages since I last saw a human.”
Those words deflated Luis. “Then you haven’t seen him?”
“I’m afraid not. However, if you’re trying to find someone in these parts, Reagle has probably seen them.”
“Yes,” Oakley said. “He lives in the foothills.”
“And how do I get there?”
“North… in the direction you were already headed.”
“It’s a day’s hike,” Catsandra chimed in, speaking for the first time. Her voice was much kinder than Luis had anticipated. “You’re better off heading out in the morning.”
As Luis contemplated the cat’s advice, Oakley let out a scream. The dog jumped back, noticing a furry, brown animal biting into the tree’s bark.
“Chuck,” Oakley yelled. “How many times have I told you? Chew on Woody over there and not me.”
“Sorry,” the woodchuck said. “Sometimes I can’t tell you trees apart, especially this time of the day.”
“Hey,” a voice called out in the distance. Luis assumed it was Woody. “Why are you always picking on me?”
“Who’s Woody?” Luis asked.
“My cousin,” Oakley answered. “He’s a lot bigger than me, so he can afford to lose some bark.”
“I heard that,” Woody shouted.
Luis watched as the last traces of daylight crept through the trees.
“Evening will soon come,” Catsandra said. “You’re welcome to stay with me if you’d like.”
© Kevin Hopson 2015