I have met the devil. He has a bushy tail. Let me explain.
On a dry February morning freshman year, my friends and I met by the Cube to travel to Pennsylvania or Indiana or somewhere like Indiana and Pennsylvania. Iowa?
I stood with Karibou (his real name is Adam — no explanation necessary). We were talking about something light — lamps or feathers, can’t remember which — when something distracted us: a squirrel, the size of a microwave, scuttling beneath a bare-branched tree. I held out my hand and performed my self-taught squirrel call:
He advanced. Cautiously, at first, then closer and closer, until his wet, disease-infested nose grazed my middle finger. Then, because I didn’t have food, he scurried away. It hurt like hell.
“Damn,” I thought and said. Where would I get food? Iowa?
I turned. Karibou was eating cookie crumbs out of pink Tupperware. A sign, I decided, if not from God then from the squirrels.
“Hey man,” I said, all coy. “Could I have some of those cookie crumbs?”
Karibou paused, thought and said, “Only if you use them to feed the squirrel!”
Me: “You know I will!”
Karibou: “Hellz yeah.”
And so it was.
I placed the cookie crumbs on the ends of my fingers and approached the squirrel. He was staring at me with what I’d later recognize as I-can’t-tell-the-difference-between-crumbs-and-fingers eyes. At the time, I thought it was the hey-friend-wanna-hear-a-forest-song look. Mistakes were made.
A few steps closer.
He scuttled up to me.
There was animal in his eyes, but also brotherhood. Or was that a fruit fly?
Tk…Tk – Crunch.
Pain. Shock. Confusion. Incomprehension. Synonyms.
He bit my middle and index fingers, dug his teeth deep into my skin. Sharp, unnatural pain coursed through me — also, betrayal.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH,” I said.
The squirrel said nothing. His mouth was full.
I tried to pry him loose, but his teeth were latched into my fingers like hooks in fish lips. I tugged and grunted and tugged and moaned, but no give. My hand was too delicious.
I panicked. What to do! Lose my fingers? Don’t be dramatic. Scream louder? On it. Call my parents once a week? Irrelevant.
Then, ol’ Alex thought of something he hadn’t before:
Say, I’m stronger than a squirrel.
With a mighty yank, I pulled my arm. My hand followed. Eyes closed, teeth clenched, I threw my fingers back and up like a jazz dancer (is that a thing?). The squirrel’s bite loosened, and I was free!
But don’t cheer yet, friend. Seriously, sit down, Clare. The worst was still to come.
Over my head, a fat brown shape the size of a stunted toddler sailed twenty feet through the air and landed – thud – by the Cube. I’d chucked him. My God, I chucked a squirrel! Balls. He gathered his wits, gave me a reprehensive look and left. A Bite and Run.
I cradled my blood-soaked fingers and said things like, “How!” and “Why!” and “Hellz no!”
Then, I composed myself, washed my cuts and called University Health Services. “Squirrels don’t have rabies, hun.” Phew. All I needed was a tetanus shot within the past seven years, which I had. (High-fives self in face!) No tetanus here. (Just deep, incurable emotional scars.)
Before I could hang up, find a Star Wars band aide and call my therapist (Mom), the nurse offered some advice.
She: “You’re not supposed to feed the squirrels.”
Me: “Well, now I know, but it was fat so… ”
She: “You’re especially not supposed to feed the fat squirrels.”
Me: “Well, madam, I assumed that because it was fat, it’d been fed many times. (I cough. My voice gets higher.) I assumed it was tamed. I figured it might be jolly!”
She: “Ah-heh-heh. No … heh.”
That was three years ago. I’m older now, taller. I drink whisky (1/8 whisky, 7/8 coke). I think about more things, but for shorter time and with less depth. I’m an adult. And I’m afraid of a small woodland creature. Because he’s still out there. Waiting.
If you see him, call me. He’ll be the one stubbing out a cigarette, slipping on a pair of sunglasses and popping the collar of his “Hell’s Squirrels” black leather jacket.
His name is Nuts the Ripper, and he is dangerous.