by Ron Van Sweringen
Karl Walters enjoyed the squirrels in his yard so much that he spent every Saturday and Sunday smoking his pipe and watching them from a rocking chair on his back porch. There were eight “regulars” living in the huge oak tree next to the fence, and Karl had given them all names.
Any loose change that came Karl's way was collected and spent on peanuts for his friends. Still, money was tight, and Karl's wife, Agnes, never let him forget it.
“I'm going to poison those rats if you keep spending good money on them,” she threatened.
“They are not rats!” Karl replied, gritting his teeth.
“Might as well be,” Agnes retorted. “I'll poison them anyway, those nasty things.”
It rained all day Saturday and Sunday. Karl sat in his rocker watching the water run out of the downspout and across the lawn. His friends hardly showed themselves, preferring to stay curled up and warm in their nests of dried oak leaves and twigs. Karl watched the nests sway high in the oak tree in the chilly November wind, amazed at their resilience.
The following weekend was unseasonably warm and sunny. Karl had cashed his paycheck and bought several bags of peanuts for his friends on the way home. By ten o'clock Saturday morning, he was in his rocker on the porch, beginning a slow tapping noise with his pipe on the wooden porch rail.
One by one the squirrels appeared, scampering down the oak tree in response to Karl's familiar signal. When they reached the porch, they sat up, watching him with their paws in a praying position as he began talking to them.
“Good morning, friends. Are you hungry?” he said, smiling and offering open palms full of shelled peanuts. Soon, as was their routine, the squirrels were on the arms of the rocker, at Karl's feet, and even eating from his hands.
He spoke softly to them, their large brown eyes watching him intently. “I don't know if you can understand me, but if you can, you are all in danger. My wife hates you and has threatened to poison you.”
Suddenly the screen door behind Karl flew open with such force that it almost came off of the hinges.
“You must be crazy talking to those rats!” Agnes screamed at Karl, while flailing a broom in the air. “I'll kill every one of them, so help me.”
The startled animals raced in every direction to escape danger; even so, one was not fast enough. “Ruthie”, named after a high school sweetheart, was the closest thing to being tame. The broom came down with a sickening thud, breaking the squirrel's back. Karl watched the limp body fall to the floor and lay there twitching before going still.
“Ah haa!” Agnes shrieked with delight. “Got one of you bastards. Pretty soon I'll get the rest of you.”
Karl's brain exploded and he lunged at Agnes, wrestling the broom out of her hands. She turned to run from him when he swung the broom and hit her with such force that it knocked her through the screen door and onto the kitchen floor. He was in shock.
“Agnes, are you all right?” he said. “I'm sorry.”
“Not thanks to you!” Agnes screamed at him, getting to her feet. “I'll have you locked up for good. You'll never feed those filthy things again.”
Karl wiped the tears from his eyes and placed Ruthie, the dead squirrel, on the porch railing. When he turned to go into the house, he was amazed to see the rest of the squirrels running in agitated circles in front of the open kitchen door, their tails flicking back and forth violently.
“I'm sorry, friends,” Karl said. “I didn't know it would turn out this way.”
Karl needed time to think. He went into his bedroom and lay down for a quick, solid nap. He had heard Agnes calling the police and was not surprised when a patrol car pulled up in front of the house sometime later. He was surprised, however, when Agnes did not answer the front doorbell.
“Agnes, I think your friends are here! Agnes!”
The ringing of the front doorbell continued.
“OK, OK,” he said loudly, “I'm coming.”
Two police detectives stepped into the living room when Karl opened the door. One of them held up a badge. “We have a domestic violence call from an Agnes Walters at this address. Would she be your wife?”
“For better or for worse, I'm her husband,” Karl replied.
“Would you mind showing us where your wife is, sir, so we can clear this matter up?”
“I think she's in the kitchen,” Karl replied. “Follow me. She must have her head in the fridge. Not literally. We fight, but we're not violent. You'll see.”
When the three men entered the kitchen, Agnes' body was laying face down on the floor in front of the open doorway to the porch. Her head was completely covered under a mass of wriggling and hissing squirrels.
“Agnes?” Karl fell back into one of the officers. “Oh, no!”
“Get! Shoo!” yelled the first detective.
The squirrels scattered, sliding on the bloody linoleum floor and escaping through the open door.
“My God!” the second detective exclaimed, kneeling to turn Agnes' body over. “She's dead, her face has been completely gnawed off.”
“What the hell do we put it down as?” the first detective asked.
“Damn if I know,” his partner replied. “Death by wild animal attack, I guess.”
“Good enough for me,” the other detective answered, noticing the nuts littering the floor. “I don't think I'll ever eat peanuts again for as long as I live.”
Karl gave out a sigh. “She pushed them too far this time. I guess they decided to push back.”
Copyright © 2016 by Ron Van Sweringen