Mary and Dan had one child -- a tremendously happy and healthy child, named Elizabeth. This must be understood if any good is to come from what follows. Evenings of late, in their vernacular home, they would ponder the possibility of a second child. After all, they were led to believe by many who would never have to care for a potential addition, that they were "good at making babies".
Mary felt that, perhaps, Elizabeth might be bored alone or, at least, could use a sibling with whom she would develop the genteel habit of sharing. Dane's countenance on the matter was rather cynical, his having been convinced for some time that a "perfect" first child was a bait-and-switch trait of evolution, as second children were, more often than not, more heartache, backache, and headache than the firstborn. Surely, were seconds first, then seconds would not be at all.
And so it was, one New Year's Eve as they lie together in repose under heavy sheets at 9pm with a 4-month-old between them. A stirring in the fireplace did not surprise them, as it was the vent for the boiler and prone to hissy fits. However, the noise grew as might a thicket of briars in summer -- both ever-present, yet frustratingly impermeable -- until it stopped. Traditionally, as these Dickensian morality tales go, this is the point where the first ghost enters. Enter the squirrel.
"So you want many young?" asked the bushy-tailed apparition. Placing one's-self in the story at this time is fruitful, as one then understands the full palette of issues facing the parents: 1. there was a squirrel in their bedroom, 2. there was a squirrel in the same room as their baby, 3. said squirrel appeared to be a ghost, 4. said squirrel spoke English, and 5. said squirrel asked a question that would require it being either a voyeur or mind reader.
Dan's answer of "Yes?" came from a mouth hidden by a sheet clutched by trembling hands.
"Thought as much..." replied the squirrel, pacing as if nervous. "Look, for us squirrels it's no problem. We eat our extra young. But, for you, cannabalism is mostly frowned upon. So, you very much need to go into this decision with a clear mind. That's why I am here."
"To help us decide whether to eat babies we have not had yet?" asked Mary in the kind of cautious voice one uses when addressing an acquaintance who has just revealed they are newly divorced.
"No" said the squirrel. "To tell you that you will be visited by five ghosts..."
"What?? Two more than even Scrooge??" cried Dan before he realized he did not even yet comprehend WHY his household would be visited by any specters at all, nonetheless five, announced by the ghost of a heretofore unknown squirrel.
"As simple math would have it, the five ghosts that will be visiting you are indeed two more than the three that visited Scrooge. Jacob and I cancel one another out.
So, again, you will be visited by five ghosts. All at once. If you choose to be fruitful after their visit, you are well-suited for that endeavor..."
"In the eyes of providence?" asked Mary.
"Mary," said the squirrel "do you think if there was a god, it would send a squirrel to aid human parents in making important life choices? Granted, that makes as much sense as virgin birth or talking snakes, but that's neither here nor there. Trust a squirrel to know a nut, and I'm not one -- merely an interested party."
Taking the parents' blank stares as permission to proceed, the squirrel did so. And also let it be known that, during this time, the baby stirred not a wink. Your humble narrator told you no false tale in attesting to Elizabeth's good behavior.
Invoking not one, but two fallen fellow forest friends, the squirrel conjured up a family of five human ghosts: mother, father, brother, sister, and brother, in respective order of apparent age. They hovered, as if waiting for some cue recognizable only to the departed, with eyes as vacant as a forgotten slot machine long-lonely for a player's warm and hopeful hand.
Then began the action that would decide the fate of the couple's future...
End of Pt. 1