Introducing Roco

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[This is a sample of my novel, Roco, about a squirrel who turns into a human. I wrote this piece solely for this challenge—it's not an excerpt, although it features characters, themes, etc., from the novel. More technical details after the sample.]

The squirrel paused on the treeroad—really, a few branches in the proximity of each other—and surveyed the forest floor. To us, the squirrel would have looked like any other Western Gray with his silver fur coat and creamy white belly all shadowed by a tail-banner.

But to other rodents, this squirrel was instantly recognizable from tiny unique features on his face, ears, and fur, and by his smell—a mixture of oak tree, sugar breath (his family had a secret patch of berries), vinegar, and rectum. His name was Oakbear.

“Roco!” shouted Oakbear at the still woods. "You've gone too far!"

Oakbear had come to a perimeter in the trees invisible to us but easily detected by the sensitive nose of a squirrel. Here was a disturbing lack of familiar smells, specifically the fur trace and rectum oils of the Village. Oakbear didn't know this forest except in the abstract. These trees hadn't been frequented by squirrels for a few summers because the dreys had become nesting sites for owls. In chasing season, those damned birds hunted tirelessly, mostly for mice but sometimes four-legged meat as big as a Western Gray. While the Village hadn't heard hoots this year, it didn't mean there wasn't a nest being developed somewhere. In the heat of the chase, if a squirrel wasn't careful, he might find himself embraced by claws sharper than a broken beer bottle.

Vibrations on the treeroad told Oakbear someone was coming. He looked back, his head motion almost mechanical, and peered into the leaf-cover with a discerning black eye. But it was only Sudry, a pup about the same age, who still lived in a drey with his parents.

It was apparent Sudry's parents had just birthed a new litter, because the squirrel's fur had the sour scent of nursing whelps. To give you a complete account, Sudry smelled like sour hair, wet leaves, botfly, cinnamon, and rectum. He had a few things to work on before he’d be a suitable mate. The Western Gray's scientific name is Sciurus Griseus, phonetically 'greasy scurrier,' an apt description here.

"Where is she?" asked Sudry, panting.

"Somewhere around here," grumbled Oakbear. "You know, every other female lets her mate catch her after awhile. Somehow I ended up chasing the one squirrel who doesn't want to be caught."

"Maybe she's not ready to settle down."

"But I have the drey in Meadowbrook. The one with the view of the valley. And I have access to a bear's horde of berries. And—" Oakbear struggled to think of more reasons why he was such a desirable squirrel. "And I'm strong!" To prove his might, Oakbear picked up a bark beetle and broke it in half. Sudry tried to look impressed, but he'd seen all of this before. "And—"

"And your cheeks," said Sudry.

"Right! I could fit a hawk between these chompers."

"Mind, too."

"Thank you! Almost forgot—I have the memory of a bluejay. Never misplaced a cone." 

As Oakbear reviewed how fast he could scamper, how many worms he could dig up, how warmly he could cuddle, Sudry watched a squirrel wriggle onto a branch overhead. Then a cone plonked on Oakbear's back.

"Owl!" shouted Oakbear, jumping away, his hair jutting out like a porcupine. He would have fallen right there if his leap hadn't luckily taken him to another branch—a branch which he clung to tightly, upside down.

Above, a high-pitched: "Rocococo!"

Roco also looked like every other Western Gray Squirrel, although she was a little slimmer, having been something of a runt. Although Sudry couldn't smell her from his branch, he knew she was an odd concoction of familiar and exotic scents. Even if she smelled of the usual fungus, nuts, moss, the sides of trees, carcasses, bugs, and mud—they were not the fungus, nuts, etc., of the Village.

But Roco was not named for her smells. Instead, she was named after her ululating laugh, which sounded something like“rocococo.” It was an odd thing for a squirrel to do. Although squirrels often lived carefree and simple lives, they were more prone to scold than scoff. But Roco was always laughing, and at events nobody else found funny. She chuckled when Hepper’s mate discovered her husband had eaten all the foodstores for winter—she rococo’d when Mottle mistook a pebble for an acorn—and she collapsed when Elder Smells-Like-Bark-Beetle accidentally fell on a beaver. Now, her prank was creating all sorts of undignified chatter.

"Roco, you could have killed me!" shouted Oakbear. Roco downclimbed (for treetrunks are highways to squirrels) and stood on Oakbear's branch.

"Still chasing me, Bearbutt?"

"Yes," said Owlbear, looking nervously at the forest floor. Squirrels were immune to the fear of heights, but Owlbear was unaccustomed to being vulnerable.

"Why don't you go find some pretty pup in the Village and leave me alone?"

"But—my berries," reminded Oakbear.

Roco made a choking noise, and for a moment they thought she was sick. Then she coughed up a slimy blue pebble.

"Already found your patch. Thought your family could squirrel that away forever?" Roco looked to Sudry, who was watching her shyly. "Hello, friend." 

"Hello."

"Race you to the lake."

With that, Roco leaped away, taking the treeroad deeper into the wood. Her two suitors, however, didn't need any more prompting to head back. 

* * *

Regarding the Novel
Title: "Roco"
Genre: Modern Fantasy (Native American & Norse Mythology)
Target Audience: Teenagers and above.
Age Range: 12+, although it's YAF, I think twentysomethings would enjoy this, too.
Word Count: 50,000+
Author: Desmond White
Project: Modern fantasy is a popular genre right now, and my book comes at it from an interesting angle: a squirrel turned into a human! Plus, I'm going to catch those nostalgic Animorph fans.
Hook: A squirrel who's been turned into a human must rescue her friend from an ancient order of snakes who inhabit (and control) people's bodies.
Synopsis: Roco's mother, Nutsour, filled their warm, comfortable nights in their drey with stories about ancient squirrel heroes outwitting all sorts of nasties—from hawks to foxes to eagles to bears. One day, the opportunity for adventure presents itself when a human girl on the run (and slowly recovering from a poisonous bite) hides in the Crown, the squirrel's hill-village. The girl, who can use spellrunes to perform feats of magic, is able to communicate with the squirrels, and soon contracts Roco to be her sentry in exchange for bits of a granola bar. The girl saves Roco's life when the squirrel is attacked by an owl—an act that reveals the girl's position to her pursuers. Now, Roco must rescue the human girl from these mysterious enemies (which look like human beings but smell like slithering things) on an adventure that will pit her wits, and her mother's stories, against ancient monsters and mages. Roco's story becomes even stranger when a "helpful" ancient spirit, in ironic jest, turns her into the most powerful creature on the planet—a human being. A human girl, in fact.

Regarding the Author
Bio: A high school teacher who writes when his students aren't looking.
Platform: Prose, Personal Blog
Education: UCSB College of Creative Studies (B.A. in Literature); HBU (Master of Liberal Arts)
Writing Style: Poetic, Concise, with a snap of Snark
Hobbies: Playing & Designing Board/CardGames; Reading & Discussing Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Old Books; Doting on my Wife and her two Evil Cats
Hometown: Sugar Land, Texas
Age: 27, going on 28 in August
Website: www.desmondwrite.com
Twitter: @desmondwrite