The Forest Thief

Christine Kelly January 17, 2019
Animals
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    Greyfell the ground squirrel considered himself to be the best forager in the forest but he had a problem. Every night he would go to sleep in his burrow and every morning, when he woke up, all the food he had collected had disappeared.
    His nearest neighbours were Finn the fox, Odell the snowy owl and Wray the short-tailed weasel. He had always considered them to be his friends but one of them was a sneaky thief, the question was – which one?
    The snow was beginning to fall and soon he would have to hibernate. If he had no food, he wouldn’t be able to survive in the Spring.
    Greyfell spent all the next day foraging for food and that night, as usual, he settled down in his burrow to sleep. When he woke the next morning, the food was gone but, this time, there was a clue.
    Greyfell looked at the fresh snow around his burrow. “Fox prints. I knew it – it was Finn.”
    Finn the snow fox was curled up beside a pile of berries.
    Greyfell scuttled up to Finn and stood up tall on his hind legs. “Those are my berries! You stole them.”
    Finn licked the juice from a paw. “They are my berries and my berries alone. Be very careful who you call a thief. I may be your friend today but, always remember, a fox can hunt down a squirrel. If you want to find the culprit, I suggest you talk to Odell or Wray. They are both slippery customers.”
    Greyfell spent the next day foraging for food and that night, as usual, he settled down in his burrow to sleep. When he woke the next morning, the food was gone.
    Greyfell looked down at the snowy ground. “Owl prints. I knew it – it was Odell.”
    Odell, the snowy owl was nestling in a tree, chewing on some nuts.
    Greyfell scuttled up to Odell and stood up tall on his hind legs. “Those are my nuts. You stole them from me.”
    Odell cleaned his beak with a claw. “These are my nuts and my nuts alone. Be very careful who you call a thief. I may be your friend today but, always remember, a snowy owl can carry off a squirrel. If you want to find the culprit, I suggest you talk to Finn or Wray. They are both tricky customers.”
    Greyfell spent the next day foraging for food and that night, as usual, he settled down in his burrow to sleep. When he woke the next morning, the food was gone.
    Once more Greyfell looked down at the snowy ground. “Weasel prints. I knew it – it was Wray.”
    Wray the short-tailed weasel was munching on some juicy grubs.
    Greyfell scuttled up to Wray and stood up tall on his hind legs. “Those are my grubs. You stole them from me.”
    Wray twitched his whiskers. “These are my grubs and my grubs alone. Be very careful who you call a thief. I may be your friend today but, always remember, a weasel can easily outrun a squirrel. If you want to find the culprit, I suggest you talk to Finn or Odell. They are both crafty customers.”
    Greyfell returned to his burrow, deeply dejected but desperate to solve the mystery of his missing food. He would go to see Paulus the wise old polar bear.
    Greyfell explained his problem to Paulus; how he had followed the tracks but still had no idea who the thief was. The snow was falling heavily now, there was very little food left in the forest and soon he would soon have to hibernate. What’s more, he had accused each of his friends of being the thief and they might soon become his mortal enemies.
    The bear sat back on his haunches. The fine whiskers on his snout started to twitch as he considered the problem.
    With his large paw he gestured towards the forest. “Collect the last of the berries, nuts and grubs then return to your burrow and sleep well, my friend. The mystery will be solved tonight.”
    Paulus summoned Finn the fox. “At the going down of the sun you will hide outside Greyfell’s burrow. If you find the thief you will be richly rewarded.”
    Paulus then summoned Odell the snowy owl. “At the going down of the sun you will hide outside Greyfell’s burrow. If you find the thief you will be richly rewarded.”
    Finally he summoned Wray the short-tailed weasel. “At the going down of the sun you will hide outside Greyfell’s burrow. If you find the thief you will be richly rewarded.”
    As the sun set, Finn, Odell and Wray all made their way in turn to Greyfell’s burrow and hid in the snow.
    All night long they waited, shivering in the cold but each one of them determined to find the thief and claim their rich reward.
    The sun was just appearing above the horizon when they heard a distant rustling, then a snuffling, then a munching.
    “Got you!” Finn leapt of out his hiding place.
    “Got you!” Odell leapt of out his hiding place.
    “Got you!” Wray leapt of out his hiding place.
    “I thought it was you.” They all shouted together.
    As they looked around trying to work out what was going on, they followed the sound of the munching. It was coming from inside the burrow.
    “We’ve got him.” whispered Finn.
    “He’s trapped. There’s no other way out.” Odell ushered them towards the burrow entrance.
    Wray looked cross. “Greedy devil couldn’t even wait to get home.”
    As they made their way further into the burrow, they began to have second thoughts.
    “It might be a bear.”
    “It might be a wolf.”
    “It might be a snow leopard.”
    As their eyes adjusted to the dark, they could see the outline of a creature helping themselves to the last of the berries, nuts and grubs from the food store in the corner. It wasn’t a bear. It wasn’t a wolf. It wasn’t a snow leopard. It was Greyfell and he was fast asleep.
    Finn, Odell and Wray stood before Paulus the polar bear. Greyfell was hiding in the corner.
    Paulus laughed a big gruff old laugh. “Sleepwalking – I knew it.”
    Greyfell inched forward and gave a nervous cough. “How on earth did you work that out?”
    Paulus prodded Greyfell gently in the stomach with a paw. “I see more than you know. The food pile was getting smaller and smaller, but your stomach was getter bigger and bigger.” They all laughed.
    Finn was puzzled. “If you knew it was Greyfell all this time, why did you put us on watch?”
    “All three of you thought badly of your friends. I wanted you to see it wasn’t one of you.”
    Finn smiled. “So the generous reward?”
    Paulus shrugged. “You cannot steal your own property, my friends . There was no thief.”
    Odell looked at the others. “So we get nothing?”
    Wray looked indignant. “Nothing at all?”
    Paulus pointed at Greyfell who was shaking in fear. “Each one of you will put aside one third of your food store for Greyfell to eat in the Spring.”
    Now Finn, Odell and Wray were thinking that Greyfell might make a tasty meal himself.
    Paulus put his giant paws around Finn, Odell and Wray. “For far too long the forest creatures have been thinking about their own needs and not the needs of others. We must learn to share if we are all to survive.”
    “Greyfell, you will have your long sleep and, in the Spring, once your strength returns, you will run faster than Finn, you will climb higher than Odell and you will dig deeper than Wray. You will find the juiciest berries, the tastiest nuts and the choicest grubs, which you will give to Finn, Odell and Wray with your grateful thanks for ensuring you had enough to eat when you really needed it.
    They all stayed true to their word. After his long sleep, Greyfell gained his strength from the food he had been given by his friends. In time he became an even better forager. Finn, Odell and Wray ate the best berries, nuts and grubs they had ever tasted and, what’s more, they had enough spare to share with those creatures who were unable to forage for themselves. There was even a new unwritten law among the forest creatures. ‘Never, ever, leave any food in Greyfell’s burrow at night while he is sleeping. You will never see it again.’

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