It started with the guinea pigs. We got two guinea pigs, both female, for Marshall’s 4th birthday. We kept them in the enclosed back porch, in a little glass aquarium. (The book on cavy care said that cages were dangerous because they could catch their little feet and lose toes. I’ve since decided it was wrong and that’s why the little ones died prematurely. Even with best cleaning in the world, it wasn’t ventilated. But our story is from before that….)
When spring came, apparently female guinea pigs thoughts lightly turned to thoughts of whoopee. At least I presume that the guinea pigs woke up and lo, realized they were alone and there were no cute boy cavies around. So, they did what came naturally.
This means we woke up late in the night with a sound like weeeeek, weeeek, week – reminiscent of the psycho shower scene.
Understandably alarmed, we rushed downstairs to see if by chance the guinea pigs had installed a mini-shower in the aquarium, because you never know, and were knifing each other.
No. Both girls were standing in the middle of the aquarium (the lid was netting) giving full throat vent to what I presume were mating cries and sounded like a particularly annoying car alarm.
We tried to calm them down and when that failed, we went back upstairs and slept with our pillows over our head.
We thought that was all.
The problem, you see, is that they kept doing this for a month. And the year being rather warm, we had the windows open.
We did not know the danger we were courting.
A month or so later, Petronius the Arbiter the Old Firm’s (we call the old set of cats the Old Firm) Resident Evil TM who was always inside/out because no walls could contain him (you only think I’m joking. If he’d not been surgically incapable, he’d have sired every kitten in a forty mile radius. As was, we had to keep a certificate of neutering because of owners of females who came to our door demanding we take half the kittens.) got in a fight with something bigger than him and had to be brought inside for healing.
The sick room was the powder room in the attic, next to my office, where he was – as he always did when he was sick – behaving as though he were a poor, decrepit and inoffensive cat. I’d like to point out that whenever he got in one of his epic fights (he fought a car at least once. No, don’t ask. I’m not sure he didn’t win, either) the vet would cooperate with this act by shaking his head and saying that poor Pete was probably not long for this world. And three days later, Pete was outside again, talking up the girls and running every tom off the neighborhood. (His skin was held together with scar tissue, and his vocabulary was ¾ cursing and ¼ spitting. He was full of guile and malice … and he let Robert drag him around by his tail, and sleep with his head on him as though Pete were a pillow. I like to imagine it’s because Robert had a heart so pure the cat forebore to strike. Don’t ask me what I think in my darker hours.)
So, anyway, here he is in this tiny room in the attic, and we had to go out to run errands for the afternoon, so I told Dan I’d just go check on Pete.
I go up the stairs to the attic, and I hear this awful choke-gasp, choke-gasp. I will right here and now confess my reaction to suffering comes in two modes. Either I go hyper cool or I lose my head. This time, I lost my head. I didn’t finish going upstairs, and instead came down screaming and crying and going “Dan, Pete is having a heart attack or something.” (Note that I hadn’t even opened the door to the powder room – in retrospect a good thing.)
Dan comes running up – true story, he once left a meeting and risked being sacked because Pete had got stung by a bee (he was deathly allergic) and we only had a car. So Dan came home and grabbed Pete and we took him for a shot. As Dan is on his way back to work, I get a phone call because from his reaction they thought Pete was our son – opens the door…
Instead of ailing, Pete has cornered… a squirrel. The horrible sounds are the squirrel spitting defiance and Pete. Pete is so startled by this – bears didn’t spit defiance at Pete – that he’s not leaping for the kill. Dan is stunned too… which means the squirrel runs out between Dan’s legs and to the little office across the way, where Dan did our financial stuff. We close the door, so Pete doesn’t chase the squirrel over the receipts and stand there not knowing what to do.
Here I should add this is Manitou Springs, which means that squirrels are potential carriers of the black plague. We call animal control who says “Manitou? You’ve got to be kidding me. Squirrels have the black plague. Don’t touch him.”
Which is all very well supposing we wanted to play ambush with a squirrel in the office for the rest of his natural life. Also, you know, Pete is going to catch him sooner or later and I understand the IRS is notoriously averse to blood-soaked tax returns, even from writers (Possibly particularly from writers. That whole, can’t get blood from a turnip thing.)
Meanwhile the squirrel has made it into my office and his hiding in a bookcase behind a row of books. We call animal control again. I don’t think we threatened to take the animal control officer and make him eat the squirrel, but that was the gist of it. So he tells us… to open the door wherever the squirrel is, and make a path to the exit where he can’t veer elsewhere.
Now, this was a Victorian. We were in the attic. Down a flight of stairs was the bedroom floor, where all doors closed off from a long hallway. Then there was another long flight of stairs, leading to the front door. To the right was the living room doorway which had no door. To the left was the library which had a door, and down the hallway, opposite the front door was the kitchen and the back porch, both open.
So I get cardboard boxes and boards and put them in front of every possible exit….
And we open the door and try to scare the squirrel down. (We should have loosed the Pete.)
Squirrel comes out of my office, goes into the bills office. He finds the one hole in Dan’s antique desk, and ensconces himself in the drawer – where he sits screaming defiance at us.
I did what any sane writer would do – I went nuts. (The definition of a sane writer is, he/she is just below going nuclear at any time.) I ran to the phone and started madly dialing private animal control people.
One of them finally agreed to come over d*mn the black plague.
So he comes in and he looks like an older Indiana Jones. We have cardboard blockages still up, on the off chance he can chase the squirrel down the stairs. He looks at us like we’re nuts (Indiana Jones and the temple of cardboard) and tells us that “Nah, I’m going to gas him.”
By this time our adorable moppets, then aged eight and four, are aware of the squirrel in the attic TM and think of him as a sort of additional pet.
Indiana Animal Controller assure the boys he’s not going to kill the squirrel. He’s just going to put him to sleep. I wonder if this is true, but at the point I don’t care.
The squirrel keeps telling us to come at him, all together or in single file, but he won’t get out of the drawer – the coward.
So, the animal control guy brings in a gas canister, and starts pumping gas into the drawer. The chattering increases.
After half an hour he looks concerned. “I risk killing him if I give any more gas” he says. At this point I’m concerned enough that I – the woman who steps carefully over beetles on the sidewalk – said “I don’t care.”
So he pumps more gas in there. The chattering continues. Indiana Jones in the Temple of Squirrel looks scared by this supernatural resistance to gas. “I’ve never in fourteen years…”
So he stops pumping gas and I’m afraid that he’s going to leave and leave us stuck with super squirrel. I should have remembered we were in the west. “Ah, no,” he said. “I’m going to lasso him.”
I don’t think I looked doubtful, but I probably did. The squirrel is still yelling.
Indiana Animal Control puts on thick leather gloves, gets a little rope lasso. Opens the drawer a little. I’m thinking “yeah, right.”
Super squirrel is not stupid. He doesn’t make for the opening. So, Indiana reaches in… The squirrel surges out, and with his third hand (do you have a better explanation) the animal control guy lassoes him, and grabs him. The squirrel is biting him and going nuts but Indiana has leather gloves. He dumps the squirrel in an animal carrier.
“We’re going to move him,” he says. “To x neighborhood. Plenty of squirrels there.”
The kids ask to say goodbye to the squirrel and are allowed to look through the bars at the prisoner who is still chattering defiance. No word on whether he was holding up a little fist and chattering “I will be back.”
So… Five years later we move to… the same neighborhood. I have no proof that the old squirrel who used to dance on the fence and taunt our cats – battered, beaten, one eye missing – was the same one that had come in and – clearly – tried to rescue our guinea pigs from durance vile.
And I will not mention that sometimes I see squirrels acting oddly military on the garage roof. I could be wrong. Maybe there is no Rodent Liberation Front.
Or I could be right. And they could be watching me.
UPDATE: Different Post — a Chapter of Elf Blood — At MG C