The Gaslighting of Neo

Another predawn sighting of Phred the Coyote. The Bunny Brigade was taunting him, but they lost another one of their number. Ah, the circle of life.

Anyway, when last we met, I was telling you about the mysterious peppering of Squirrel!Neo with pinecones. I saw Steerpike!Squirrel slinking away afterward, but that wasn’t, so to speak, proof enough to convict. It was, however, enough to make me wonder and keep an eye out.

Picture this: a cloudy afternoon, the squirrels going about their business. You know how, in a group of people, a sudden silence will fall? (Hermes is among us, they used to say.) It’s kind of like that in the Kingdom of Backyard. There will be a crowd, and all of a sudden, everyone will disappear except for one lone squirrel. He’s got a crooked tail, and he’s a little bigger than Yon Average Yard Rodent. He glances around, sees that he is alone, and immediately is on high alert.

Because that’s when it strikes. A pinecone, a small rock, any type of ammunition. Always when he was alone, always from an unexpected direction. Other squirrels would show up and give him curious looks as he stood, shaking his fist and chittering angrily, or desperately trying to convince them to stay under cover.

The first stage was anger, of course. He’d be pelted, and would take out his aggression on the first thing he saw. Most of the time it was other squirrels. But this particular afternoon, he was bombed from the plum tree with something that looked suspiciously like an acorn. (I don’t know where the hell it came from, there’s not an oak tree for a few miles.) Neo hit the dirt, rolling, and just barely avoided getting hit in the head. He came up, furious and looking for the perpetrator…

…just as Romeo!Jay, his brother-in-arms, glided down to land near him and shoot the breeze. Romeo doesn’t talk much–he saves most of his words for Juliet!Jay, as we saw during the Corn Pops War. But he does like to hop around after Neo and his cadre, occasionally getting in a screechy joke that will make all of them laugh. I get the idea that with Mercutio!Jay around, Romeo doesn’t often get a word in edgewise, so he’s learned to make them count.

Neo went off.

“BANZAI!” he yelled in squirrel-ese. “MOTHERFUCKER I’VE GOT YOU NOW! BOMB ME WITH NUTS, WILL YOU?”

“JESUS CHRIST!” Romeo!Jay screamed, taking off in an explosion of feathers. “WHAT THE HELL, YOU FURRY DUMBASS?”

Your Humble Narrator stood in the sunroom with a watering can–yes, I was watering my goddamn bonsai, that’s a whole ‘nother story–and a slack jaw, observing this.

All Squirrel!Neo’s considerable fury and frustration had boiled over. He leapt after Romeo!Jay, screaming like a banshee. Yes, he was making THAT SOUND, like a wineglass, Sam Kinison, and some steak caught in a possessed blender. Romeo, normally an easygoing guy (he used to be a little more wound up before Juliet noticed his existence, now he’s pretty damn calm for a jay), spread his wings, let out a warning screech, and pecked Neo.

On the head.

It was a perfect kung-fu peck (where the hell do all these animals learn their goddamn martial arts, I’d like to know), and it rang Neo’s chimes pretty good. Romeo hopped back. “WHAT THE HELL?” he squawked again. “HAVE YOU LOST YOUR TINY LITTLE MIND, DUMBASS? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”

Neo lay stunned on the grass for a moment before hopping up. “YOU FEATHERED BASTARD!” he screamed. “OH YOU FEATHERED FUCKING BASTARD, I’M GONNA–”

“YOU’RE GONNA WHAT?” Romeo cocked his head. “ANYTIME YOU THINK YOU’RE BLUEJAY ENOUGH FOR THE JOB, FOURLEGS. BRING IT.”

With that, he spread his wings again and took off, brushing over Neo’s head. The King of Backyard ducked as the jay buzzed him, and Romeo was gone over the house in a flash of blue feathers. The King shook his tiny little rodent fists and bayed furiously at the cloudy sky.

That’s when the other acorn pasted him right on the noggin as well. This one came from the plum tree too.

Behind Neo.

“Holy shit,” I breathed, looking down at Miss B. She cocked her head, wondering what in the yard was holding my attention so much. “Somebody’s gaslighting Neo.”

I got the canine equivalent of a shrug–she can’t see out into that part of the yard when she’s under the picnic table in the sunroom. (Don’t ask.) I looked up just in time to see Neo’s tail disappearing into the juniper hedge next to the plum tree as yet another acorn-shaped thing plowed into the ground behind him.

I waited.

Sure enough, after an interval, who should come sneaking down the plum tree but a certain reddish squirrel?

“You bastard,” I muttered. “Oh, I don’t like you.”

Steerpike!Squirrel glanced at the house as if he’d heard me. He flicked his lean reddish tail twice, smoothed the fur on his tiny head, and I could swear to God he smiled before vanishing into the hedge after the sorely-tried King of Backyard.

I had a sinking feeling things were about to get ugly.

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