So there I was. In the rain. Digging a grave.
OK, OK, let me back up. This was about a week or so ago, the day after Squirrel!Neo and Juliet!Jay had their little interaction and Mercutio!Jay entirely lost his shit. Anyway, for some reason I hadn’t had coffee with my oatmeal that morning, I was just going to deal with caffeination after I ran some ungodly number of miles. Just…remember that the series of events I am about to relate happened while I was completely uncaffeinated.
So. Kids were off to school, it was raining, I went out to put my freshly-charged IPod on the treadmill before I changed into my running togs. I yawned, glanced out into the back yard…and paused. And stared.
There was a dead squirrel in my back yard. He lay on his back, little paws curled up, soaking in the rain and covered with what looked like mud. I couldn’t tell at that distance. I just saw his white chest and his little spattered belly, and he was so, so still.
“Oh, Christ Jesus,” I actually breathed. “Neo!”
I considered just doing my morning run and then dealing with the, ahem, crime scene. But then I thought of running six miles and staring at a dead rodent, and it just didn’t seem appetizing.
So I went to fetch a shovel.
This was the straight-edge shovel I bought when we needed to scrape moss off the roof ages ago. It’s practically new, and it’s a Serious Effing Shovel. Red and black and heavy-reinforced enough to be deadly in the right hands. You could seriously whap someone with this shovel and then use it to dig a grave in rocky soil. I believe in quality.
So there I was, in the rain, near where the compost pile used to be. I was half-soaked by the time I had a decent hole. I didn’t want the cats digging him up, or the possums, or anything. The little peanut-flinging cat-kicking bluejay-ambushing bastard was annoying, true. But he had also provided me with priceless amusement and (more importantly) several blog posts. I wanted him buried decently, at least.
I trudged across the wet, ankle-high grass (look, okay, I mowed this past week, all right? Don’t look at me like that.). My yard shoes were soaked, my socks were wet, the persistent rain was working its way through my hoodie, and my spectacles were already spattered with rain. But I was determined to Do The Right Thing. I approached the dead rodent with all due reverence, and gently worked the shovel underneath his supine form.
He was heavier than I thought he’d be. Dead weight, I thought, and I immediately felt bad, because I snickered. I tried to observe a proper gravitas as I carried him across the yard. My yard shoes are more like clogs, so I was shuffling through very wet grass and squelching a bit, which sort of defeated the gravitas. But I tried. I even kept my head up despite the rain smacking my spectacles. I figured a good show was the least I could give, right?
It took some doing to slide him gently into the hole.
I didn’t want to just fling him in, all right? I also didn’t want him to land all cockeyed and have me out there with the shovel trying to arrange him for his eternal rest. I am many things to many people, but a rodent undertaker is just not in my job description. He was sopping wet and covered with something that looked like mud and dried blood, and his fur was all rucked up already. His tail was a wet draggle. I just, I don’t know. I wanted him to be comfy in his little squirrel grave, all right? Don’t judge.
So I slid him gently off the shovel bed, and thank God he landed kindly. The bottom of the hole was very, very wet–I dig a good grave, thankyouverymuch. I believe in quality work. I took a nice big shovelful of wet, rocky dirt, steeled myself, and sprinkled it in the hole over the poor, wet, draggled little corpse.
I swear to God I heard thunder crackle. The next thing I knew, I was screaming “JESUS CHRIST!”
Because Squirrel!Neo? Had shot up into a crouch. His little black eyes snapped open, and he filled his teensy lungs. He began to produce a sound I can only describe as a squirrel’s imitation of Sam Kinison in a blender. It almost drowned out my scream.
This is the point at which I will kindly ask you to remember that I had not even had any coffee that morning.
So there I was. In the rain. The squirrel was screaming at me, I was screaming, I stumbled back and lost one of my clogs. My sock squelched in mud, and Squirrel!Neo hopped up to the edge of his grave and KEPT. MAKING. THAT SOUND. He moved quick, too, for a little bugger who had just been singing with the choir eternal. Once he’d gained the lip of his own grave, he actually bounded at me.
His eyes were on fire. His coat was shedding water and mud in rivers. I was out of my mind with fear.
I threw the shovel.
Yes, friends and neighbors, I threw a shovel half as tall as I am at a tiny revivified rodent. But that’s not the worst part. Oh, no. Are you ready for the worst?
The shovel sailed over Neo’s head. It hit the corner between my and my neighbor’s fence with a clang that probably woke all the other dead wildlife in a mile radius. I should remind you that the squirrel was still making THAT NOISE and I hadn’t run out of air yet, so I was making a high-pitched squeal like a girl in a horror movie.
Hey, I’ll admit it. I’m not proud.
I kept backing up, wet sock flopping, spectacles now drenched, and Squirrel!Neo bounded forward twice more. Mud flew. Now, it was a scene of utmost tension, and I’m not sure I heard him right. But I think what he was saying went something like this:
“WHAT THE F!CK ARE YOU DOING? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? WHAT THE HELL? ONE MINUTE I’M JUST MINDING MY OWN DAMN BUSINESS, THEN NEXT–LOOK AT THIS! LOOK AT MY COAT! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? BITCH, I KNOW KUNG FU!”
At this point I’d run out of “Jesus Christ” and the horror-movie squeal, so I was cussing back. I tripped and went down–on my ass, thank you, and since I lost a lot of weight it hurt, and my teeth clicked together hard. Plus my pajamas–oh yeah, did I forget to mention that? I had not even changed out of my sleeping gear–now had mud and grass stain on them. And my spectacles were wet, goddammit.
So I was using Language Unbecoming. Example? Okay, here goes: “MOTHERF!CKER! DON’T YOU KUNG FU ME, YOU WERE DEAD! I WAS F!CKING TRYING TO PROVIDE A DECENT MOTHERF!CKING BURIAL, YOU RODENT-ASSED JACKASS!”
Yeah, something like that. Squirrel!Neo bounded forward again. It was like the little bastard didn’t even need to breathe, because he was making THAT NOISE again, while he was cussing me out. I yelled something about zombie-f!cking-oatmeal-squirrels, grabbed my other shoe–my only remaining weapon other than my devastating ironic wit–and flung it at him.
This time, my dears, Li’l Lili Oakley didn’t miss. I nailed him with my yard shoe. He made an ulp! sound that would’ve been funny if I hadn’t immediately felt mortified. Yes. You read that right.
I felt guilty over hitting him with my shoe.
At least it stunned him into silence. He went ass over teakettle, fetched up on the edge of his own grave, stood up, shook himself like a golden retriever coming up out of the water, and dashed to my left. He made it to the juniper hedge and vanished.
Which left me in the rain, on my ass, shoeless, half-blind, calling down the wrath of God onto zombie Frankenstein ninja squirrels and their progeny yea unto the seventh generation. (Who knows? I’m a witch, it might stick.) I finally collected enough of my wits to stand up, shut my fool mouth, collect my shoes, and retreat inside to peel off my muddy clothes, wash my spectacles, and take my morning run. Oh yes, my dears. I ran six miles after that little episode, and I didn’t feel a single one of them because of all the adrenaline soaking through my nervous system.
But I sat down and had a cup of coffee first. My hands shook. I kept scanning the backyard nervously, and the rain intensified all that afternoon.
I left the goddamn shovel out there for a couple days, but I couldn’t leave it forever. The day I went out to get it, well.
Things got interesting.