First, the news: If you have an ebook reader and are in the US, and you want a sneak peek at the upcoming Jill Kismet book, Heaven’s Spite, check out the Orbital Drop.
Next, a question. My book-finding kung fu is usually pretty good. Which means I get calls in the middle of the night from people who can’t remember a specific title, or who know only the color of a book. (Hey, at least they’re calling. Otherwise I’d feel lonely.) But this particular request has me stumped.
Here’s what we know about the book: the cover was black, it had “Osiris” in the title, it was around in the mid-70s, and the publisher’s logo was an Aladdin’s cave-style oil lamp. Not sure if it’s hard or softcover, and it’s metaphysics/occult, not poetry or history. Any hints are welcome. (Translation: I am releasing the hounds of the Internet Hive Mind! HIDE!)
And now, about my fence.
A couple days after Squirrel Matrix Training, a day or so after the falling squirrels, I shambled to the treadmill in a fog. I yawned, climbed on, suppressed a coffee-tasting burp…and realized something was not quite right.
There was a huge bloody hole in my fence. I went out to examine, my jaw suspiciously loose.
I have a chain link fence with those plastic strips worked through the links for privacy. The metal bits were still standing, but the plastic had been melted in a five-plus-foot hole right behind the plum tree. At first I thought it was some kind of chemical, since the strips were gnarly-melted.
“Sonofabitch,” I said, plus other words too.
It used to be a beautiful field back behind my house. Alas, the Powers of Development arose and stuck an apartment complex there. It would be fine if the kids from the complex didn’t throw trash over my fence, or steal things out of my back yard before I put a lock on the gate back there–and let’s not even talk about the petty vandalism on the padlocks I put in, until the hedge-bushes managed to grow enough to make it hard to get to. The whole thing is compounded by the fact that there’s a humongous dustbin right behind my back gate, so there’s all sorts of bloody hijinks and interesting smells.
Anyway, there was the hole in my fence and I couldn’t do anything about it right at the moment. So I decided to repair to the treadmill and think about things. I didn’t trust my temper without exercise to ameliorate it, and the fence was already damaged. I was already in my exercise togs, I might as well get the run out of the way, take a shower, and then start planning. It sounded a very adult thing to do.
Right as my first mile clocked over, I saw the maintenance man from the complex taking pictures of the hole from his side of the fence, wedged into a convenient hole in the hedge. I was off the treadmill in two seconds and in the back yard to meet him.
“I hope you’re as concerned about this as I am,” was my opening shot.
The poor guy. Apparently there had been a fire the previous afternoon. Someone had called him instead of calling 911, it was a miracle the fire hadn’t spread to the plum tree or the juniper. And now here I was, breathing hard like a crazy woman, sweating a little, and in exercise togs.
“Damn kids,” I said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve had problems.”
He sighed, his shoulders slumped. “Well, yeah. I’m going to see if the landscapers can trim the bushes away, so parents can see their kids playing…”
I gave him an are-you-high? sort of look. I mean, come on. If the parents were paying attention the little cheeseheads wouldn’t be throwing crap over my fence all the time. “Um, that’s not such a good idea for me,” I said, rather diplomatically I think. “When the bushes were smaller we had a lot more rubbish thrown over the fence.”
He winced. “Well, you can just throw it back…” He seemed physically unable to end a sentence with a period. Instead he’d trail off, hang his head to the side a little, and give me a sheepish look.
That’s not the point, I thought, but manfully restrained myself. I did extract a halfass promise to get my fence fixed, which I will no doubt have to twist an arm or two to have made good upon. I don’t even want to think about that right now, it makes me tired. At this point I just wanted to go back and finish my run, and I was pretty sure he wanted to be anywhere else but there talking to me.
And then Maintenance Man glanced up over my shoulder. “Huh.”
I looked back. And I flinched.
Squirrel Neo was on the roof. Beady eye fixed upon us, he chittered loudly. I didn’t need a squirreltongue dictionary to figure out it was a warcry.
“Oh no,” I said. I was presented with one of those exotic moments–how do you explain to a guy just doing his job that a squirrel knows kung fu? How do you even begin to explain the squirrels falling out of the sky? Where do you even start with something like this?
I was saved the trouble. Because Neo hurled himself across my roof, leapt off, spun on the birdfeeder a couple times, was flung through the air, landed in the middle of my yard, and came scampering straight for us.
I didn’t have time to say more than “AUGH!” Maintenance Man let out a “Jesus Christ!” worthy of King Arthur. Imagine two grown adults quailing as a squirrel leaps through ankle-high grass–look, we’ve already established I should mow more, all right? Don’t judge. Anyway, we cowered.
It was not my finest moment.
However, we weren’t Neo’s targets. He leapt up into the plum tree and furiously upbraided us. Again, I’m not way up on my squirreltongue, but I think he was saying something like this:
“YEAH! NOW YOU SEE! NOW YOU SEE IT! I KNOW KUNG FU! NEXT TIME IT’S NOT JUST A GRENADE, GODDAMN YOU! YOU TELL THAT PONCEY BLUEJAY I’M COMIN’ FOR HIM! YEEEEEAAAH!”
“What the hell–” Maintenance Man stared in wonder. I was backing up.
Squirrel!Neo scrambled through the branches, extended in a flying leap, and landed on the fence not two feet from Maintenance Man, who let out another strangled sound. Neo scurried along the fence, all the way across my back yard, hopped down into the brush that used to hold the compost pile, and disappeared into my neighbor’s yard.
I took stock. We were both still alive. Nobody had been kicked in the head. “Jesus,” I breathed.
“Never seen one do that before…” Maintenance Man swallowed visibly. “So, yeah. Anyway. Thank goodness the fire didn’t spread…”
Did you not just SEE that? I stopped myself just in time. I mean, the situation was bad enough. I wouldn’t make it any better by ranting about a squirrel. See, this is the difference between me now and me fifteen-twenty years ago. I know to keep my fool mouth shut sometimes. “Yeah. Thank goodness nobody was hurt. I’d better get back to my treadmill. I look forward to having the fence fixed.”
And I beat a retreat.
I won’t lie. I felt better inside, with the sunroom door firmly closed and bolted.
After that, I didn’t see a single squirrel for a couple days. Am I a coward if I admitted I was grateful? My gratitude, however, was short-lived.
Neo wasn’t done yet.
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