Gather close, my children, and let me tell you the tale of the three-day Battle of the Corn Pops, wherein Squirrel!Neo the mighty met his match, a bluejay found romance, and the hordes of Gull were beaten back! Yes, it was a terrible fight that raged from dawn to dusk, and dawn to dusk, and dawn to dusk again, while the mighty-thewed combatants struggled no less with their own exhaustion than with each other.
It all started with a Little Prince and a Fair Princess, and a box of Corn Pops.
I usually buy one box of “fun” cereal and one box of “healthy” cereal. They can eat as much as they want of the fun cereal, but once it’s gone the healthy cereal has to be eaten before I’ll buy another box of sugar-drenched marketing. I am Best Mum Ever while the fun cereal abounds, but not so much when they have to eat Cheerios or MiniWheats or something. Most of the time I let them come to the store with me and pick the fun cereal. But sometimes I am thrown back on my own resources to find a box of something that fits their exacting standards.
A while ago, I chose Corn Pops. But apparently the Pops were not fun enough. I had a bowl, and they didn’t set me on fire. I figured that was because I’m not ten anymore. But the kids evinced no interest in the pure sugar, which is unheard-of. After asking them three or four times if they were ever going to eat the damn Pops, I got the bright idea of dumping them in the backyard where I usually scatter bread for the birds. (Yes, I armed myself with the Sandal of DOOM before doing so. No, nothing worth mentioning happened.)
For two days the Pops sat outside, and I was beginning to think eating a bowl of them had been a bad idea. It’s like cockroaches and Twinkies–if the roaches won’t even eat that (admittedly very tasty) plastic spongecake, no way on earth I’m gonna. Little did I know that it wasn’t the Pops, per se, that made everything so quiet.
It was the gathering of forces, the logistics of warfare, that provided the false lull.
I was washing dishes when I saw the first wave. Four squirrels appeared, converging on the Pops. They started stuffing themselves as fast as they possibly could, and I actually felt good about that. You know how I feel about feeding squirrels, but I was just so glad someone would eat the damn things and I wouldn’t have to rake up a soggy mess.
I was actually rinsing my frying pan when the seagulls appeared.
They descended, birds of white death. Seriously. Have you ever looked at a seagull compared to a squirrel, even a big fat crooked-tail ninja Terminator squirrel? I mean, I don’t know about where you live, gentle Reader, but here we have garbage dumps, the river, and some seriously hulking seagulls. And they are nasty. They’re the kind of birds who will knock you down to steal your French fries. (Long story, another day.) They’re not as vicious as swans or as smart as geese, but their roaming-in-flocks thing added to their sheer weight means that the four squirrels on the ground were, to put it kindly, obliterated.
The squirrels fled, chittering. Neo was not among them, yet. They scampered away. One tiny gray fluffball did his best to stand his ground, but the seagulls just laughed and pecked at him, flapping their wings until they’d herded him to the juniper hedge.
I am not ashamed to admit I laughed. Loudly, up to my elbows in soapy water. I was not too happy about a sudden influx of gulls–they’re all right, I have a soft spot in my heart for omnivorous trash animals, you should see my dating history, but they’re messy. I stood there laughing so hard I could barely breathe.
Until, that is, the squirrels massed for counterattack.
“AT ‘EM, BOYS! SHOW ‘EM YOUR KUNG FU! YAH!” Squirrel!Neo led the charge, crooked tail held proudly, swearing like a drill sergeant. I would add “guns blazing” here, except he had no guns. He had only his Matrix training to protect him. It was a glorious charge, him and about five of his fuzzy little brethren. Yes, there were half a dozen squirrels in my yard, and they charged like the Light Brigade. Into the valley of seagull death rode the, um, six or so.
Alas, their heroism came to naught. Or to put it more succinctly, Neo got spanked.
I saw one fat white gull laughing as he flapped, harrying poor doomed Squirrel!Neo, the One of Rodentia, toward the plum tree. The squirrels would regroup and attack, and the gulls would fence up each time, pecking and flapping, dwarfing their rodent opponents. Juliet!Jay showed up halfway through, and sat on the fence watching with much interest. Mercutio and Romeo, however, stayed in the pussywillow tree, and I’m sure Mercutio!Jay was commenting, though I could barely hear him over the ruckus.
“HEY! HEY DIDJA SEE THAT? FUZZY PUNKS GETTIN’ SERVED! YEAH! WHERE’S YOUR KUNG FU NOW, YA STOOPID BUSHTAILED RAT? HUH? WHERE’S YER KUNG-FU NOW? HIT ‘IM ON THE HEAD AGAIN, FAT BOY! YEAH!”
I think I saw Romeo’s beak move, too. “DUDE,” he remarked, “YOU ARE NOT MAKING THIS ANY EASIER.”
Mercutio kept laughing. Juliet was completely silent, transfixed.
Now, my fear of Squirrel!Neo is a healthy fear. I have a great respect for what that little bastard’s capable of. But this was…well…
It was unfair.
I have this thing for the underdog. Mess with me, fine. I’m a big girl, I can handle it. But pick on someone half your size around me? No way, no day. A sizable proportion of the trouble I’ve ever gotten into has been me on my Rocinante, in my busted-ass tin armor, taking on a giant for the sake of the Little Guy. Besides, I felt kind of guilty. I had, after all, scattered the Fruit of Crunchy Discord in my own backyard. And the gallantry of the squirrels was kind of…moving.
I FELT BAD, ALL RIGHT?
I dropped the plate I was rinsing. I didn’t stop to pick up the Sandal of DOOM. No, instead I grabbed one of the Little Prince’s foam-wrapped baseball bats. That kid will not have a Louisville Slugger as long as we live anywhere there’s glass to be broken, because if he has a ball a window will sooner or later get the full impact. (THIS is why I only buy wiffle balls.) It’s not even his fault, really–I’ve seen balls curve to hit the house when he kicks them. They have it in for him.
Anyway. So I was out the back door, howling like a banshee, waving my bright purple marshal’s baton. I was not, at this point, screaming obscenities. Instead, I yelled, “HANG ON, NEO! THE CAVALRY’S COMING! IT’S MY FAULT! JUST HOLD ON!”
I realized I hadn’t even put shoes on as soon as I slipped in the wet grass, my socks immediately soaked. I saved myself with an amazing sideways lunge, and I almost punted a seagull. (He was probably one of the rear echelon troops, or a quartermaster. Maybe a cook.) For the record, this was the point where I started screaming obscenities. Something like, “OH FOR F!CK’S SAKE, YOU BASTARDS, I’M NOT EVEN WEARING SHOES, IMMA GONNA KILL YOU ALL!”
By now, the desired effect was achieved. The seagulls, while they had no trouble dealing with Neo and his plucky bunch of outcasts, did not know what to make of a crazy shoeless woman, spattering dish soap and suds everywhere, waving a kid’s baseball bat. They shrieked. Total confusion reigned. The chain of command broke down. The plump white attackers scattered, and they did what every seagull does when frightened: they lightened for takeoff.
Fortunately, I was out of the blast zone. But their parting artillery shots got most of the squirrels and a liberal portion of my yard. The gulls fled, and I stood there, my sides heaving, still waving the bat. The squirrels were all frozen. A fine misty rain drifted over the battlefield.
Mercutio!Jay hopped up and down on his branch. “JESUS CHRIST, LADY! YOU SCARED ME! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? THOSE SQUIRRELS TRIED TO KILL YOU! ARE YOU INSANE?” Juliet bobbed along the fence, free of her stasis. Romeo looked ever-so-faintly disgruntled.
But Squirrel!Neo, showered in seagull poo, looked wearily sidelong at me. I could swear I saw a gleam of defiant respect in his beady little black eyes. The squirrels limped away, probably to hit the showers, and the jays came gliding down to pick over the battlefield and sample the crunchy discord. Feathers and seagull droppings were everywhere. It looked a scene of unspeakable carnage–but at least none of the Flying Brigade had pooped on the Corn Pops.
Or on me.
I beat a hasty retreat inside, changed my socks, and checked the back window frequently. The Corn Pops sat, soaking in the rain. The feathers blew around. The battlefield was empty all through the night.
The next day, the battle took a turn for the bizarre.