Predawn. The world is hushed and gray. A rabbit goes streaking across the field, but Miss B takes no notice. her ears are perked, she is expectant–
–and Phred the Coyote, low to the ground and moving deadly-silent, grabs the bunny neat as you please. A snap and a shake, Mr. Lapin didn’t even have time to scream.
Phred looked up with a mouthful of fur as we passed. I swear to God he said, “MRPHLE!” Which is, I guess, coyote-talk for “Ohai! Gotta go. Breakfast.” And he trotted off, vanishing into underbrush near a fence. Miss B kept looking up at me.
Seriously? she was saying. Really? Is that what you do when you catch one? REALLY?
I sense trouble in our future.
Anyway. Today I want to take you back a few months. There was trouble in the land of Backyard, but it started very small.
WHEN LAST WE SAW Squirrel!Neo, he was the victorious general of the Corn Pops War. He was Big Man on Campus. He swaggered. He had all the babes. But there was another squirrel in the wings, a little reddish thing with a gleam in his nasty rodent eyes. He was lean and hungry, and such squirrels are dangerous.
It was subtle, at first. Steerpike!Squirrel (for so he was named, this lean hungry one) was in the background, watching as Neo swaggered. Then he moved forward, and for a while, there were no better friends than the victorious general and the whip-thin youngster. There were babes aplenty (and apparently it was mating season, DO NOT ASK FOR THAT STORY, just trust me) and Steerpike!Squirrel was always on hand to fetch and carry.
But there was one disturbing incident.
Your humble narrator was washing dishes one fine, partly-sunny afternoon (it does happen) and gazing reflectively out the kitchen window. Squirrel!Neo pranced past, alone for once, a lone gray squirrel with a crooked tail, veteran of many wars, the very Squirrel Revivified. He lashed that crooked tail, paused to admire the bank of fragrant rosemary swarming with busy bees…
…and the pinecone smacked right into his head.
Neo tumbled, his warrior reflexes a little rusty but still good. Two more pinecones plowed into the ground around him as he rolled. “ARTILLERY!” he yelled. “GET DOWN GET DOWN, WHERE’S THE GODDAMN PLATOON, GET THE TANK KILLER BRIGADE!”
I stopped, holding a pasta pot that needed scrubbing, and stared openmouthed. Squirrel!Neo kept rolling, got his feet underneath him, and scrabbled for the fence. He vanished into the juniper hedge, and I cocked my head. “Huh.”
A few moments later, as I was rinsing the gleaming pasta pot, who should appear but Steerpike!Squirrel, slithering from the pine trees and cutting across the corner of the yard. He moved low and slow, glancing around to make certain he wasn’t being witnessed.
“Huh,” I repeated, and even though I was inside the house, perhaps he heard me. He halted and glanced over his shoulder, staring at the kitchen window with disconcerting directness. A flash of crimson far back in his pupils, and he was up the fence in a flash, and gone.
I suspected worse was to come.
I was right.