Ballad of the Headless Squirrel

When we last left our doughty heroine (that would be Yours Truly), she had just encountered a zombie squirrel and left her shovel behind in her haste to achieve shelter. It took a couple days before I was brave enough to go out and fetch the damn shovel, and when I did…things got interesting.

So I finished my morning run, took a shower, made sure I was caffeinated, checked the weather–cloudy, but no rain–and armed myself. With what, you might ask? Well, I had to have a hand free to grab the shovel. So it had to fit in one hand, and since I’d had such luck with a shoe during the last run-in, well…I took a Birkenstock sandal. I figured I could swing it by the strap like a flail or fling it.

Yes, I spent some time thinking about this. Shut up.

Anyway, I was in a nice warm jacket, my heart beating a little quickly, maybe, but all in all I felt reasonably prepared. I opened my sunroom door and stepped out into the morning…

…and almost onto a headless squirrel.

“JESUS CHRIST!” I screamed, and retreated hastily. The body was tucked up against the door, and I’d been so busy scanning for live squirrels I’d overlooked it. I stood there, my heart pounding, and stared through the glass.

Yep. It was a headless squirrel all right. Dead, or at least reasonably dead. Its little paws were pulled up, and since it was splayed on its back I could definitely tell it was a he. The edges of its, erm, neck, were all ragged. Something had chewed the head clean off.

After a few seconds I mastered myself and locked the sunroom door, then went out through the back garage door. First, though, I peered in all directions, and I watched where I stepped. I approached the sorry little headless corpse with all due caution.

Yes, I will admit it. I was afraid it would come back to life.

“Well, jeeeeeez,” I finally said, staring down. “Guess I’m gonna have to bury this one too.”

I edged across the yard, trying to look everywhere at once. This time I had sneakers on, which was a vast improvement. The shovel was wet and jammed up against the fence (I guess I’d really flung it, wow), and the open grave was forlorn, a rain-softened hole. I grabbed the shovel and immediately felt better about the situation. I was all the way across the yard again, looking at the corpse, when I realized I would need both hands to bury him.

This was a pickle. How was I going to keep my weapon while I buried this motherf!cker?

I ended up looping the strap of the sandal over my wrist, sort of an anti-squirrel quickdraw. I eased the shovel blade under the teensy body with an unsettling sensation of deja-vu, lifted it up, and wondered once again what the hell could have bitten the head off a squirrel.

Just then came a tiny mew! I almost jumped out of my skin, because I hadn’t noticed the cat in the rosemary bush. The bush is huge, and on the infrequent occasions my cats go outside in the rain they crouch underneath it, in a little bower. But this wasn’t one of my cats, oh no. My darlings had retreated inside once the rains started. No, this was a tiny fluffy gray thing that usually comes through the yard at about nine AM every morning, pausing at a particular clump of lemon balm, then sitting on a bench under the sunroom window for about five minutes before stopping at the rosemary and sauntering away under the fence. She’s the late cat–the early cat is a half-crazed half-Siamese who attacks the fence behind the apartments’ dumpster every morning. (I can’t make this shit up, I swear.) ANYWAY. Sweet little gray cat cocked her head and mewed again while I struggled to get my heartrate under control.

“You scared me!” I finally said, and I swear to God she grinned. She looked very, very proud. “Did you do this?”

She hopped out from under the rosemary, tail held high, and stropped my legs while I stood there with a dead squirrel on a shovel.

“Well, gee.” I searched for words. “Thanks. I’m, uh. Just gonna bury him now. Unless you want some, you know, some more.”

What the hell else could I say?

The sweet little gray kitty followed me across the damp grass. I eased the corpse into the grave and gingerly tossed a shovelful of wet dirt over it, then jumped back. I almost tripped over the cat, who gave me a WTF, monkey? look. “Don’t look at me like that,” I snapped. “You weren’t here the last time. I swear to God the last time–”

There was a flicker of motion, a flash of blue, and I choked back another scream. I figured I got another two days’ worth of cardio right there. But it was only Juliet!Jay, settling on the fence in the shelter of a tangle of blackberry vines, cocking her head and looking very interested in the proceedings.

You scared the shit out of me, too,” I told her grimly, and edged back toward the grave. I got another shovelful of dirt, and I think it was then that Juliet!Jay realized what was in the hole.

She started screaming. I started shoveling furiously. I wanted to get the goddamn thing buried before anything else happened. Juliet screeched and fluttered, and she finally took wing, zoomed past me, and disappeared over the house. I heard her screaming for a while, fading into the distance.

I looked at the cat, my jaw suspiciously loose and a fresh load of dirt on my shovel. The cat looked back at me.

I licked dry lips. “What do you suppose that was all about? I mean, this ain’t Neo, Neo’s got a crooked tail. Besides, if you killed him, I wouldn’t bury him. I’d f!cking cremate him, you know. He deserves to go to Valhalla, the little fuzzy bastard.”

Then I felt bad for standing at the Nameless Squirrel’s grave and cussing. I heard something else, too.

A faint, distinct cough.

I looked up. The guy on his apartment balcony stepped back in a hurry, a cloud of cigarette smoke trailing him.

Well, great. What could I say now? He’d seen me talking to a cat and burying a squirrel. There was no explanation I could give anyone for this. I finished filling in the grave, tamped it down as respectfully as I could, and cleared my throat a little. Dude was still up there smoking, I could smell it.

“Well, here lies the nameless, headless squirrel.” Maybe I said it a little louder than I had to. Just, well, you know, if I was going to be crazy, I was going to commit, you know? There is no point in doing shit like this halfway. “I, uh. I hope he wasn’t a zombie. Because you ate his brains. Or whatever made him headless did.” I looked down at the gray kitty, who sat with her ears perked far forward, watching this monkey ritual of burying good food with much interest. “May he rest in peace and not come back. And, uh, may his friends not come looking for you. You don’t want that, cat. Trust me. Dude’s friends know kung fu.”

I backed away, stepped down from the railroad ties, and the gray kitty did an honor guard on me all the way back to the garage door. I was still trying to look everywhere at once, shovel in one hand and sandal in the other. I could feel eyes on me.

Before I went in, I turned and took one last look at the grave. The guy on his balcony smoking was now obscured by the pussywillow tree, and I didn’t really want to see him anyway. I let out a breath.

The blackberry bushes behind the fence twitched, and for the thousandth time that morning, I jumped and gave a choked little girly scream.

Squirrel!Neo emerged from the vines, bracing himself on the fence. He looked a lot better than the last time I’d seen him. I shook the sandal, nervously, assuring myself of free play, and then realized I didn’t have a free hand to open the door with. Thankfully, I’d left it ajar, so I backed into the garage.

The last thing I saw was the gray kitty sauntering back toward the grave. Squirrel!Neo sat on the fence, watching her approach. You could almost see a tumbleweed skip across the yard between them.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I chickened out. I slammed the door, locked it, dropped the shovel, and ran pell-mell for the sunroom and a view of whatever was gonna go down.

By the time I got there, though, they’d both vanished. It took another day before I saw them again. And so far, the headless squirrel has stayed buried…

Well. Mostly.

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