"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Attack of the Mutant Ninja Squirrels (feat. Guest Artist)

Inspired by Charlie "The Skunk Whisperer" at Notice Your World, I've been meaning to write this up for a while now. I decided his drawings would better illustrate my story than any stock photo stolen from the web, so I've asked him to guest-art my blog today. 

He's also recently published his novel, The Crystal Bridge. For only 3.99$, you should check it out, though you won't find any drawings of rabid rodents.

Mature trees shade most of our backyard. Beds of roses and tulips and peonies line the fencing covered in clinging vines. After a rainy week, our yard tends more toward jungle, but that's the way we like it, hidden away back here in our neighborhood that will never be called gentrified.

That is, until the nuclear mutant squirrels attacked.

The first year we moved in, we ordered expensive, special new windows installed. With windows that weren't 300 years old and sliding out of the frames, our home was considerably warmer. But soon after we had them installed, we had a problem. One day a loaf of bread had been left out on the counter, and my wife and I returned home to find the bag had been torn open and bread crumbs left in a trail across the kitchen. Upon closer inspection, I observed small paw prints along the counter as well, as if a large rat had strolled through some mud then scurried through the house after having a whole grain snack. Worried that we now had rodents in the house, we searched for other signs. That's when we noticed the kitchen window.

We usually left the small window over the sink cracked open maybe two inches. This was the point of entry and egress. The brand new screen was chewed through. The rodent had come in, scampered about the kitchen counter, gorging itself on our 5-grain bread, and when it heard us coming, it must have dashed out the way it came in. The most curious part of this adventure is that in order to get into a position to gnaw into the metal screen, this pest would have to get onto the narrow brick ledge outside the small window, which is located a good five feet directly above a deep window well, which is located at least four feet away from the latticework of our back patio. It would take more than one giant leap for this fellow to make it to the window in the first place.

Now, we knew it was a squirrel because of the other mutant squirrel incidents since we'd moved in. We used to have plastic garbage cans with plastic lids anchored by the handles when you carried them. You know these. It's not lightweight hardware, but our neighborhood ninja squirrels could chew through those lids to get at the treasure inside. We replaced those lids once, then, after there were fresh holes in the new lids, resorted to the noisy, yet infiltration-proof, metal garbage cans.

Also, our first summer was warm inside the house until we got the swamp cooler working. I only had to replace the pump and thread a new 50-foot plastic hose across the roof and down to the water spigot to cool us off nicely every evening. Sometime later that summer, I noticed that there was a lot of water coming down the rain gutter when it hadn't rained for days. The squirrels had decided they were thirsty and masticated on the plastic hose until they divined water. I replaced that hose twice before installing a copper hose instead. Of course, that copper hose burst when I didn't remove it soon enough before the first freeze and I had to do it all over the next year.

But these incidents pale in comparison to the Christmas Assault of '07.

Our living room is decked out each year with Christmas cheer. We have a gas fireplace we don't use because I'm afraid to turn it on, but it's a nifty, stone hearth and mantel with a kind of bench in front where we hang stockings and place nativity scenes and stack presents. The tree was in front of the living room window that year, carefully trimmed and brightly lit to impress the neighbors.

On Christmas morning, my wife said she heard a noise in the chimney, which is kind of funny to say on Christmas. Like Santa got stuck and it's our fault millions of kids had to cancel Christmas. But I heard it, too, and assumed it was just a bird that got stuck. That had happened to me years before, and eventually the bird got itself out. I forgot about the noise.

Later that day, I went into the living room to get a Hershey's Kiss from the plastic candy cane dispenser one of my students gave me that year. It had garnished the hearth for a couple of weeks. I hadn't opened it yet but thought I could use a little Christmas chocolate at this time. I waded through the boxes and wrapping paper left over from morning presents, and I perceived that it had been opened. This aggravated me slightly. I had been saving it for just such an occasion, and along comes May, my wife (no Baby Xander at this time and my two girls were in California like every Christmas), and blithely attacks my own hard-earned chocolate. And I say "attack" because I was in the process of discerning that there were Hershey's Kisses wrappers all over the floor. Red and green and silver foil littered the area. Along with pieces of chocolate. Gnawed, bitten, spoiled Kisses all over the floor, mixed in with the gift-giving debris in the room.

At the same time that I realized the plastic candy cane had been chewed--not twisted--open, I called out in a slow drawl, beginning angry, ending confused: "!Maaaaaay?"

She was the one who noticed the fireplace was open. The glass doors closing off the actual fireplace had a habit of opening with a draft in the house, so that was my immediate conclusion. But the chocolate fragments around us demanded a different explanation. We both recalled the incident with the teenage mutant ninja squirrel in the kitchen and agreed that this was probably the same culprit, or at least a close relative. He must have taken off back up the chimney when he heard me coming.

Satisfied with the inference, but still annoyed that I now had no Hershey's Kisses, I pulled out the vacuum in order to suck up the evidence en mass rather than pick up each piece of tainted chocolate and foil individually. I gathered the vacuum extensions together and elongated the end for easy reaching, then turned it on. At the noise of the suction, a small mammal leaped from our fake plastic tree behind the chair in the corner and flew across the room, landing in the Christmas tree.

This startled me and I threw the vacuum extensions up like a baseball bat trying to hit a wild fastball. The squirrel scampered up and down the tree, shaking the branches, knocking shiny things to the floor. It was Christmas Vacation havoc until I turned off the vacuum. Then came the silence. The nuclear mutant squirrel was hidden. He wasn't going anywhere. May suggested we close all the doors in the house, which was great because in my mind that squirrel had already been throughout the house and found the best hiding place under our bed. So we quickly limited it's route. May grabbed a broom to whack it with, and I opened the front door so we could guide it outside. The last place it was going was back up the chimney where it came from.

We were now unsure that the squirrel was still in the Christmas tree, but we were fairly certain it hadn't scurried into another part of the house. I brandished the sucking extension as my own weapon and turned the vacuum back on to scare it. It was still in the Christmas tree, and now it leaped back to the corner where it was hiding in the first place. The continued noise didn't draw it out, so I turned off the vacuum again. I could see it there, crouched on the window sill behind the tree in the corner, probably scared to death now and wasn't going to move again to save itself.

I turned the vacuum on again. May raised her broom  and swiped at it as it jumped across the main window sill now, toward the open front door. This is one smart squirrel because he saw his opening and took it. Out into the snow and cold  it went and we slammed the door behind it.

Our only consolation is that it probably died shortly thereafter from exposure and chocolate.


  1. Wow. If your Ninja Squirrels and our Marine Corps. Squirrels ever got together with my sister's Jedi Squirrels they could take over the world...

  2. Add my Psychotic Squirrels to the party! They chug our hummingbird nectar from the feeder and then chew it to pieces and toss them on the ground when it's empty. They also chewed open the bait traps we have set for mice and ate the bait (but didn't die). One year they took up residence in our attic where we could hear them dancing above our heads. Took weeks to catch them. I think they are smarter than humans.

  3. You ought to see the squirrels we have at work. Some of the inmates take psychotropic meds and when they don't want them, they toss them out in the grass for the squirrels. It's not them eating the meds that worries me. It's when they come back down again. Yikes!

  4. One of my favorite parts of the story was trying to call the city to find out if they could help out with our squirrel invasion. Instead of talking to animal control I wound up talking to our local squirrel behavioral therapist. Her question to me was, "Why do you think the squirrels keeping coming in your house?" If I listed squirrel mentalist among my talents, I wouldn't be talking to you lady!

  5. @ Chanel: Jedi squirrels, eh? Using Jedi mind tricks to get into the neighborhood trash? Using the force to leap from tree to tree? Sounds threatening.

    @ Lola: I've been pondering the use of rat poison to keep them away, but I think others would just come in to fill the void. Maybe your did die when they ate the mouse traps, but more friend squirrels just showed up.

    They pretty much know what they want and then figure out how to get it. If I could just do that so economically in my life.

    @ rev: Yeah, I think squirrels in withdrawl would be the scariest.

    @ May: I can't believe I forgot about that phone call. Maybe we should ask Charlie the Skunk Whisperer for advice.

  6. Wow. Those sound like some dangerously smart, determined squirrels you've got in Colorado. What's in the water out there, anyway?

    I'm not surprised that Mister Ninja Squirrel went to such lengths to get Hershey's Kisses. Those things are delicious!

  7. HAHHAHAHAHA May's comment made this epic story even better! I just picture squirrels laying on a therapist couch.

    Those squirrels are downright DIABOLICAL, man. Our puny New England squirrels can barely escape my dogs, let alone hatch a Grinchian plan to steal Christmas.

    P.S. LOVED the illustrations! More collaborations, please!

  8. @ Nicki: They're hearty mountain squirrels who came out during the gold rush.

    I'll get Charlie right on more illustrations.

  9. Thanks Nicki! I'll be happy to draw some more.