How was your weekend? I rearranged my dining room and went to a bouldering clinic at the Circuit. Incidentally, if you ever get a chance to take a clinic with Alex Johnson, do. She’s utterly delightful.
I’ve been putting off telling you what happened next in the Kingdom of Backyard, haven’t I. Well, that won’t make it any better. *sigh*
So. When last you saw Squirrel!Neo, he was being peppered with pinecones and various other materials. (I did not know squirrels could fling poo like monkeys. Well, lesson learned, but I’m not telling THAT story. I have some pride. Anyway.)
First, King Neo got mad. Then…he got paranoid.
You see, the bombardment only happened when he was alone, and only in the backyard. When the posse was with him, Neo was safe…but he was also nervous. Paranoia made him mean.
You can’t keep your position as King of the Backyard for very long if you start randomly screaming “BITCHIKNOWKUNGFU!” and jumping on whoever happens to be closest to you at the time. I mean, you can for a while–but that sort of behavior leads to rebellion sooner or later. (This is the reason dictatorships inevitably crumble. Trufax.)
And what, you may ask, was lean and reddish Steerpike!Squirrel doing all this time? Well, he was dancing attendance on Neo whenever the posse was around, and getting as close to the king as possible. Which meant he got jumped more often than not. Oddly, he didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he seemed almost to provoke the king into a rage, by dancing about and chittering, full of high spirits and cheer.
Neo, doughty warrior that he was, lasted about a week.
A bright afternoon came, one of the hot ones we had months ago. The air was so wet it felt like breathing through a towel. The weather would whipsaw back and forth, one day raining, the next steam-jungle-hot enough to drive you to drink, and then make you sorry you’d taken down anything but water. It was wet and miserable, and even Miss B, the most cheerful dog on earth, had her snappish moments. Getting her to go outside to pee was a chore. “ARE YOU KIDDING?” she would mutter, looking sidelong at me. “HAVE YOU BEEN OUT THERE? IT’S DISGUSTING, AND I’M WEARING A FUR COAT.”
And my muttered reply, “So help me, I am not having you pee on the rug. COME ON.”
So out we went. I leaned against the house, watching as Miss B slunk about in the shade, searching for The Perfect Spot. Now, I want you to remember that she’s lurking. Don’t forget that.
Juliet!Jay and Romeo!Jay were in the pussywillow tree, canoodling softly. Mourning doves were in the neighbor’s pines, exchanging comments on the weather and the old-man-pee smell of simmering juniper. Miss B slid around the corner of the house, seeking more shade.
And forth from the back corner, where the Headless Squirrel lay interred, came the posse, snapping their fingers. Neo was at their head, and he had relaxed slightly. Steerpike was capering alongside, and Neo kept giving him sidelong little glances.
I wished I knew squirrelese. “That’s right,” I breathed. “Suspect him. Oh, suspect him.”
Steerpike kept capering. They moved out into the middle of the yard, tails twitching and noses lifted. I daresay there was even some sauntering going on. Steerpike, getting no reaction from Neo, turned his attention to a squirrel girl–oh, let’s call her Bettina–and they gamboled rather acrobatically. Bettina!Squirrel used to be Neo’s girl, but she had taken to avoiding him and hanging at the back of the posse. I didn’t blame her. He’d jumped her once, and only Steerpike’s intervention had avoided Severe Unpleasantness.
Because no matter how badly Neo’s being gaslighted, I won’t have squirrel domestic violence in my yard. That’s why the Sekrit Weapon was near the sunroom door. Remember that, too.
So, the stage was set. I was a little uneasy, and I was watching Steerpike. Who was unconcerned, smiling and handsome, rolling in the sun with Bettina!Squirrel.
And then. Yes, you knew there had to be an “and then.”
We heard him before we saw him. Mercutio!Jay coasted in, tail fluttering, in fine feathered form, landing on the ground near a bank of lemon balm. “ON TOP OF OLD SMOOOOOOKEY, ALL COVERED WITH BIRDSEED–HEY EVERYONE! WHAT’S–AUUUGHT! JESUS CHRIST!”
It was the final straw. Neo’s nerves snapped. There was only a gray blur, silent and deadly.
Mercutio went into the bank of lemon balm, screeching bloody murder. Feathers flew. “FIRE! MURDER! THIEVES! SMOOOOOG!”
Juliet!Jay hopped down, peering curiously into the green bank. I opened my mouth to protest, but she was already yelling. “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU–ULP!”
Neo barreled out of the bank and hit her dead center.
And Romeo!Jay…well, he’d had enough, at that point. Nobody messes with Juliet while he’s around. A streak of blue-feathered brilliance screaming “BAAAAANZZZZAAAAAAI!” smashed into Neo, who was giving as good as he got. Rarely has there been such a display of kung-fu prowess in the Kingdom of Backyard.
You have to realize, this happened all within a few seconds. I was still inhaling to warn Julie when Miss B–remember her?–burst around the corner of the house, drawn by the ruckus. Every circuit in her little doggy brain fused. “HEEEEEEEERD IT!” she bellowed, and bolted across the yard.
All at once: Mercutio: “JESUS CHRIST!” Juliet: “AUGH!” Romeo: “JUUUUUULIE!” Neo was making THAT SOUND. Again. He was holding off three jays at once, including a maddened Romeo who didn’t give a shit about kung fu, he was going to get his hammer and beat some ass.
Now, I am possessed of no sense at all. Instead of going to get my Sekrit Weapon, I took off barefoot across the yard, my own “OH FOR CHRISSAKE CUT IT OUT–” drowned in the hubbub. The combatants, at that precise moment, noticed the impending canine tornado.
“HEEEEEERD IT!” Miss B bellowed again, and the yard exploded.
You know how in cartoons there will be a stampede, dust flying and the camera shaking, and Bugs Bunny in the middle with his shoulders hunched, his ears flapping a little bit as everyone pours past him? Yeah. That was me. Squirrels at my ankles, the jays suddenly remembering they could fly, and Miss B streaking by so fast the wind of her passing hit my shins. Neo, cut off from the juniper hedge, crazed and screaming, bolted for the gate on the far side of the garage. Steerpike lolloped afterward, high-pitched terrifying laughter bursting out of him and adding to the chaos, Bettina and the others had nipped through the fence for the safety of the neighbor’s pine trees, where the mourning doves were watching with bated breath and a great deal of interest.
Neo nipped between the gate and the garage wall. Steerpike ducked after him, still grinning. Miss B dug in, but was going too fast. She hit the gate with a yelp and a crash, backed up shaking her head, and turned in a circle a couple times, yapping with sheer joy and frustrated herding instinct.
Feathers drifted down. My ribs heaved even though I was standing still. I heard a deathly screech from the front yard.
This is not going to end well, I thought.
I ran for the back door, wrenched it open, scooped up my Sekrit Weapon, and booked through my house for the front door, leaving Miss B to sort herself out.
You see, like Romeo!Jay, I’d had bloody well enough.
…to be continued.