The combatants lay on the road under a curtain of rain. Lightning flashed again. The water coming from the sky was blood-warm, each quarter-sized drop sending up a puff of dust where it hit the tired, dry ground, a sheen of dust and oil soon floating on a thin scrim of rain.
When we left off, Jerkass Redtruck had decided cowardice was the better part of valor and peeled away from the scene of the crime. Miss B was still crashing around and barking hysterically, apparently having worked off her concussion. My M*A*S*H T-shirt was soon sticking to me, and my bare feet were soaked by the time I reached the road at the bottom of my driveway. I was still clutching the Sekrit Weapon, and my hair was starting to drip in my face. Holding my breath, I approached the two sodden lumps of fur.
Blinking furiously, I could not figure out why my eyes were burning. There was another photoflash of lightning, and I saw what was what.
It wasn’t pretty.
He lay on his back, guts actually spilling out of his exploded belly and his face turned up to the rain. His claws were outstretched, and already–how do they do this?–a fly had found him. Thunder rattled, and even Yours Truly felt a little queasy. It’s not every day I get so close to roadkill.
I held my breath, and looked at the other squirrel.
He appeared whole. His paws twitched a little. Maybe he was just dazed. I stood there for a second, in the rain, with the golf club, and thought it over. The rain intensified, and thunder boomed again. The law of first responding is to care for the living, right?
Inside the house, the thunder was muted but the rattling of rain on the roof was loud. Miss B was hysterical. “WHAT’S GOING ON? YOU’RE ALL WET! YOU SMELL WEIRD! WHAT HAPPENED? MY HEAD HURTS! WHEN’S DINNER? DO I GET A TREAT?” I got the front door closed and leaned against it for a second, then slowly put the golf club away. I petted Miss B absently on my way to the garage. The sound of the big garage door opening was lost in the rain, and the a burst of fresh-washed wind tiptoed around my car. Miss B, left inside, scratched at the door, but I did not want her getting a snootful of dead squirrel. I spent about thirty seconds getting everything set up, then I turned toward the back corner.
It was time for the Shovel.
Now, as I’ve explained, the Shovel is a serious piece of work. It’s flat, and red, and heavy–ideal for home defense. It was kind of ironic that now, when everything was said and done, I was better-armed. I trudged down my driveway and stood looking at the mess in the road.
“Shit,” I muttered, and set to work.
Getting the dazed squirrel onto the shovel was kind of nerve-wracking. I mean, I expected him to shake off his torpor at any moment and decide I was a threat. He was heavier than you’d think–deadweight, I thought, and flinched as he twitched again. Up the driveway and into the garage, where the sudden cessation of rain didn’t wake him up either. His eyelids flickered and his wet furry sides heaved.
I settled him in the cat carrier, on top of the torn towel I was gonna get rid of anyway. I crouched there, the Shovel still at hand, and peered into the depths of the carrier. “I don’t like you,” I said quietly. “I’ve never liked you. But I am going to trust you not to destroy my goddamn garage while I get his grave done up. Then we’ll talk.”
Out into the rain again. My shirt was sticking to me like I was going to win a contest, my hair plastered to my head, and the thunder was getting closer. It would just cap the whole goddamn thing if I got hit by lightning while burying a goddamn rodent, I thought, and picked up the pace a little. The squashed squirrel wasn’t looking any better, but I got most of him scraped up into the shovel. He was heavier than you’d think too, deadweight for real. Along the side of the house to the back gate, my face squinched up and dead squirrel held in front of me, I got the gate open and got through, closed it behind me. I headed for the back corner and the Headless Squirrel’s grave.
Now, there was a dilemma. I didn’t want squirrel guts getting all over everything while I dug the grave for the bits that remained. (Get it? Remaining remains? I kill me. Uh. Yeah.) Fortunately, I had Planned Ahead, and brought a big black rubbish bag. I got the remains unloaded onto it and began digging.
And then, I realized that in all the excitement, I’d forgotten to close the back door.
Miss B had her nose in the squirrel before I could yell. “JESUS CHRIST, THAT’S DEAD, LEAVE IT ALONE!” I screamed, and she jumped, guiltily. I weighed the likelihood of getting her inside, tried to catch her collar, and found out she thought this was some sort of game. “Oh, for fucksake, this couldn’t be EASY, could it! Fine! Just stay out of the guts, okay?”
She was really interested, but she decided the corpse belonged to the alpha, so she’d wait for her bits like a good submissive pack member. I got the shovel worked into the dirt and began digging my second squirrel grave.
In the rain.
“DIGGING?” Miss B was beside herself. “OH PLEASE OH PLEASE, ME TOO! ME TOO!”
I’ll gloss over that part. Suffice to say it was interesting, and I used language that would have scorched the ears off my sainted grandmother if she was still alive to hear me.
When it was deep enough to suit me, I folded up the wet rubbish bag, and interred him with as much care as I could muster. Miss B had finally given up and cavorted in the rain, unable to understand what I was doing but distracted by WATER! OMG! FROMTHESKY! I filled in the grave, but there were no words of farewell. It was just raining too damn hard, and the flashes of lightning were getting closer together. I tamped the grave down, hoped it would be deep enough to keep Miss B out, and flat-out dragged my dog and the Shovel inside. The Shovel went in the sunroom, because dammit, i was going to dry off before dealing with this any further.
So it was that ten minutes later, I was sitting grimly at my kitchen table, shelling peanuts. (The Princess likes them, okay? There’s no other use for them. NONE. I SWEAR.) I got a good bowl of them together and a bowl of water too while Miss B pounced on her rawhide in the living room, teaching it a lesson. “MY HEAD HURTS,” she would remark occasionally. “TREAT? TREAT? FOOD FOR THE DOG?”
She’d already forgotten the excitement. A Zen creature of the Now, that’s my Aussie. She didn’t even protest when I gave her a sharp “No!” as she tried to follow me into the garage.
The driveway was a river. The rain came down in rippling sheets and lightning crashed, followed a bare two seconds later by thunder. I was a little more sanguine about my chances now, though.
I half expected the cat carrier to be empty. But apparently he had some sense, because when I cautiously crouched and peered in there he was. He’d moved, curling up in the back as far away from the wire door as he could get. I saw the gleam of one beady eye.
So he’s still kind of ambulatory. Okay.
“You’d better not have rabies,” I breathed, and very slowly, very gently, slid the bowl of water in. The bowl of peanuts was next, and I closed the door as quietly as I could. The spring locks made more noise than I liked, but I wasn’t taking any chances. Then I sat back on my heels and realized what I’d just done.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” I said. “I’ll check on you, and as soon as you’re dead or recovered you’re out of here. This doesn’t mean I like you, and it doesn’t mean we’re friends. It just means I didn’t leave you in the goddamn road.”
I waited, but he said nothing. I hauled myself up and went inside, closing the garage door…
…leaving Squirrel!Neo alone to convalesce.
When he got better, things got interesting.