Writer: John Rhodes Junior. Editor: Ralph.
PORT CHARLOTTE, FL. – It was a Saturday morning, sunny and quiet, and Florida writer Malcolm J. Brenner was feeling pretty good for a change. The crippling combo of vertigo and chronic fatigue, which had weighed on him for years, weren’t bothering him much, and the many superficial scars from Perugia nodularis, a weird ingrown-hair condition created by inherited psoriasis, were somehow healing. All in all, the morning was ripe with favorable omens, and Brenner felt an uncommon sensation of hope wash over his thin, 5′ 9″ frame.
Grasping the blue, artificial fabric leash attached to the muzzle on his mostly-black-Labrador bitch Epic’s snout tightly in his left hand, Brenner stood in his doorway and took stock of the situation. For their morning walk, the first of the day, the dog and her master turned right at the end of his driveway and followed the sidewalk clockwise around the block on which Brenner’s unassuming but totally adequate yellow General Construction house, a remnant of the 1959 Florida housing boom, stood.
The driveway was getting rather pitted, Brenner noted, and he thought of calling an asphalt contractor for a bid. But that would have to wait until he replaced the decorative wooden post that the bitch had pulled down. Epic had run out her cable barking at a neighbor and his dog walking by, and the cable was connected to the post, which fell down. (“If you push something hard enough, it will fall over.” – Fudd’s First Law.) Fortunately, it wasn’t a load-bearing structural member for the carport, and the roof of the structure remained intact, somewhat to Brenner’s surprise. It had been a few days since the incident, and he counted his blessings.
Suddenly, a loud rustling caught Brenner’s ear, coming from a native cabbage palm to his right. The tree stood adjacent to his lot, at the corner of his neighbor’s property, a nice normal couple named Willy and Rachel, and their several kids. Brenner glanced up, and could see the green, leafy fronds of the palm’s crown in violent motion. Some kind of action was going on inside, something not the common squabbling of birds, as Brenner had seen many times before. Something possibly… BIG.
Taking a moment to reflect on what could be causing the rustling, Brenner mused aloud, to his dog in particular, “I bet that’s a squirrel, Epic, the birds don’t make that much noise!” And then, throwing caution to the four winds, the couple set out on their morning circumambulation… the path taking them right under the suspect tree.
“We had only gone two steps, and then it struck me,” Brenner recounted, sweat beading his 69-year-old brow. “I mean, it didn’t really strike me, or the dog, but it just barely missed us! And it didn’t seem to jump from branch to branch and miss, like they sometimes do, it just fell straight down and landed right in front of us, startling me and bringing Epic to a sudden halt.”
Something small, gray, and fuzzy. Something that barely avoided the stony concrete sidewalk an inch away in its rapid descent, something that landed with a loud THUD! in the soft sand that passes for soil in Florida, leaving a small crater, which Brenner surveyed later.
Not a coconut; cabbage palms don’t grow them. Not a dead bird, or a broken branch, or a cluster of palm berries, like he might have expected, but… a squirrel!
Yes, a ferocious, wild, undomesticated creature now lay before them on its stomach, immobile. Only the Fates knew if it was dead or alive… and capable of attack at any moment!
There was a millisecond of stunned silence. Even Epic, who, being a dog, as the late 19th Century English adventurer Rudyard Kipling pointed out in his classic childhood espionage novel Kim, could fall asleep in the road and wake up instantly just as the wheel of an approaching wagon was about to crush her, was struck dumb by the rodent’s sudden and unexpected, calamitous descent from the vegetative organism, and stood unmoving, too startled by the sudden spectacle to even bark, or whimper helplessly.
“The English have a word for it,” Brenner later recounted breathlessly in the still, humid air, “what is it, Godspell? No, that was a Broadway Jesus musical back in the Seventies. It must be something else… wait… damn it, it’s on the tip of my… oh yeah! Gobsmacked! That’s how Epic and I both felt, utterly gobsmacked by this damn kamikaze rodent plunging towards the Earth and barely missing us! Another two feet and it might have landed on my head, giving me a new, Donald T***p-style hairpiece for free, and possibly knocking me out, too!”
Epic had no comment on the situation, but her soft brown canine eyes betrayed her stress, even hours later.
But before either dog or man could so much as bat a lash, the rogue rodent recovered its senses, gathered its wits and disappeared in a blur of gray under Willy’s white Toyota truck with a camper shell on its back, the good strong fiberglass ones, not the cheap, thin aluminum ones. And then it was gone, gone for good, for better or for worse.
Brenner shook his head, recalling the rampant craziness of the moment.
“I seen them varmints jump before, and a-yup, they’re pretty good at making leaps even a cat would think twice about, and grabbing a branch skinnier than an anorexic model with bulimia, and then they’ll just skitter right on up that tree and out of sight,” Brenner recalled, “but this one was just plain GONE, man! I mean, ZOOM, gone, down on the ground right from under our noses, and that was it. Over and done with. Gone.”
His senses reeling, his mind churning, Brenner and Epic nevertheless managed to complete their morning walk without further incident. But hours later, the ramifications of the event still troubled him.
“That squirrel had no business being in that tree,” he opined. “I mean, I know they live in trees and all, but that tree… that was a bird tree, maybe even a bat tree, you know, a tree for flying things, and squirrels… they definitely do not fly! I seen ’em, they fall down just like you or me, and land with a thud. So that squirrel musta been up to some mischief there, maybe looking for his breakfast eggs or some hatchlings in a bird’s nest. Yeah, they’re supposed to eat nuts and stuff, and they look all cute and cuddly, but they’ll fool ya and chow down on some baby birds if they can get ’em! Squirrels don’t live on nuts alone!”
Two days later, the incident still left Brenner shaken, and shaking his head in disbelief.
“This world we-all are living in, what’s it coming to when a man, standing on his own property, walking his own dog on his own stretch of sidewalk, has to fear the fall of a robber squirrel from a tree? It could have hurt me, wounded me, or even crushed me, if it was an elephant and not a squirrel, and Epic let it escape without an apology, or even so much as a howdy-do!
“It ain’t natural! Ain’t nothin’ natural left except Dr. Bronner’s Soap, and I hear they make that from mary-jawanna these days. What’s the world coming to? It coulda been a burning jetliner, or a falling satellite, or even an big ol’ asteroid, roaring down to extinguish human civilization forever! But a squirrel…?”
He left the portentous words hanging heavy in the dank, thick air, and poured himself another drink. Epic lapped water nervously from a bowl on the floor.
The proper authorities have been notified, and are taking action to prevent squirrel falls from interfering with the day-to-day life, work and recreation of other Charlotte County residents. Reportedly, they are installing Chinese-made falling squirrel catchers, like a wide, plastic ring, around the trunks of every tree in the county. Further down the road, they are considering the cost and effectiveness of requiring arboreal squirrels to wear mini-parachutes when tree borne. But the shock stays with the victim.
“I can’t get over it, and neither can my dog,” Brenner concluded. “She ain’t been the same since that… danged thing dang near fell on us! She’s been whimpering and howling and keeps looking up tree trunks, like she expects a danged cheetah or something to jump down and rip her up! I don’t know what’s coming next, and I can’t eat nor sleep at night for worrying, and I can barely pour a drink of tequila to calm my nerves. It’s a regular calamity, I tell ya. A regular calamity!”
Among local mammalogists, exactly what the squirrel was doing in the tree that morning remains a matter of intense speculation. Was it gathering an innocent, vegan breakfast of palm berries, or were its furry jaws slavering in anticipation of a bloody meal of baby birds? Or maybe even something unthinkable, unguessable, unimaginable, something that only a hunger-crazed rodent would contemplate?
Only the squirrel knows for sure… and he or she isn’t talking.
Editor’s Note: John, what are you trying to do to me? I need more copy on this! You’ve given me 6 paltry inches, and we’ve got a hole the size of Alaska on page 3 because Numbnutz pulled their ad over the dolphin sex story on page 4, and they are now threatening to cancel their whole year-long contract with us! I know this is pretty thin, but can you somehow stretch it to 30 or even 40 column inches? Come on, guy, pad it out a little like you did with that story about the overweight chick in Spandex. I know you can do it by deadline, just give it the old college try, and for once get it in on time! My wife is threatening to leave me and take the kids if I don’t make it home in time for supper tonight! Mama Mia! — Ralph