narrated by Bob Eccles
It was June of 2012. The economy was recovering, people had jobs, and a new brand of whiskey was on the market that didn’t damage your liver. Everything was going so well.
Or so we thought.
Another issue lurked in the shadows. It was the squirrels. Little did we know that they were reproducing all too quickly, their numbers growing to the point where the ecosystem couldn’t sustain them. It was madness. Tiny creatures everywhere fought one another, trying to get their paws on an acorn or two, eventually reaching the point where the government had to intervene, lest the country turn into some kind of joke.
The best mediocre minds of the scientific community gathered and formed Project Kill the Squirrels, a top secret project aimed at lowering the squirrel population by 70% while not harming any of the remaining critters.
I was a part of that group.
We worked day and night, calculating equations, mixing chemicals, petting the squirrels, but, finally, we had our answer. We called it, “The Answer.” However, we were wrong. Instead of killing the squirrels, it killed and reanimated them, leaving them with a new hunger.
A hunger for humans.
I was the only one to make it from that base alive. Well, that’s not entirely true. There was also my pet squirrel. I named him Sebastian.
Together we traveled five hundred miles that night, doing our best to get as far away from the hot-zone as possible. And by the time we stopped for gas, the squirrels had already made the news.
“Can you turn that up?” I asked the gas station attendant.
On the television was a Chinese lady in front of the orphanage beneath which we built the secret underground squirrel research bunker. She was saying something about mass death and dozens of casualties. I felt partially responsible; we probably could have chosen a better location for the underground bunker. But before I could reach an actual level of sadness or pity, it happened.
A flying squirrel came from the top-right corner of the screen and attacked the reporter. “My God,” I said. “Did you see that?” The gas station attendant shook his head in agreement. “There were no flying squirrels in the drug trials. That can only mean one thing. They’re infecting the others.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about chaos,” I said, grabbing him by the collar and pulling him in closely. “I’m talking about a world where all those cute little critters are deadly killing machines. I’m talking about hell.” I released his collar and he stumbled back a few paces, a look of shock on his face. I didn’t blame him, though. If I were in his shoes, I’d be shocked too.
“Gather food and go to a bomb shelter. Stay there as long as you can. And if you see any squirrels along the way, don’t feed them, lest they feed on you.”
I left the man and went to my car. Sebastian was standing on the driver’s seat, moving the steering wheel from side to side like he was pretending to drive. “Move over.” He jumped into the passenger’s seat. I got in and buckled him up. “We’re in trouble, Sebastian. Big trouble.”
I started the car and took off, the sun rising in my rearview mirror, determination in my heart.
If the squirrels wanted a war, they’d get a war.
Time was of the essence. With the heightened squirrel population, the infection would spread rapidly, taking out the entire United States in only a matter of days. I needed to make my first move count.
I turned to Sebastian for advice.
“Sebastian, what should we do?”
He was chewing on a roadmap. More specifically, he was chewing on the Rockies. “Of course,” I said to him, petting him gently. “The Rockies. Why didn’t I think of it before?”
Rumor was that a Senator from Colorado was funding the project. His name, Senator Houssenbeakman. Born into a crude oil family, he was known for his hatred of squirrels since birth. It was only logical that he was indeed the man behind the curtain. Maybe he knew of an answer, some secret kill switch that could be of use.
“Houssenbeakman,” I whispered softly, “you and I need to have a little chat.” I kicked the car up a notch, driving dangerously down the highway at five miles over the speed limit. It might have been reckless, but at times like that, one has to take a risk.
In times of war, it is best to be prepared. Knowing that I could be confronted with the deadly squirrel army at any moment, I thought it best to stop into the nearest hick town that I could find and purchase myself some weapons and accoutrements. Luckily for me, Kentucky was full of such places.
I found one such place approximately forty miles off of Interstate 64. With a population of less than 1,000 and the closest town being over a half hour away, it left me with multiple gun shops to choose from, my favorite of which was a shop called “Shoot ‘em and Kill ‘em,” its sign depicting a man in plaid with a bazooka aimed at Bambi. If any place would have what I needed, this seemed like it.
“Excuse me, Mr. Gun Enthusiast,” I said, stepping up to the portly fellow behind the counter. “I require the best gun that you have, something capable of taking out an entire army.”
He looked at me for a moment, arms crossed, piece of wheat rolling around the corner of his lip. “I got this here gun,” he said, throwing a thumb over his shoulder to a camouflage rifle on the rack. “Town S.W.A.T. team used to use it. Killed two men.”
“Huh,” I said. “Interesting. But how many squirrels has it killed?”
“ ‘Scuse me?”
“Squirrels!” I repeated. “Small mammals with furry tails and a pension for nuts and carnage.”
“Oh,” he said, chewing the piece of wheat. “Don’t know ‘bout it killing any of dem things.”
“Then I’m not interested,” I said firmly. “Give me whatever’s spilled the most squirrel blood.”
“I got a BB gun in back. Used it hundreds of times for shootin’ vermin.”
“Does your definition of ‘vermin’ include squirrels?” I asked, eyebrow raised.
“Perfect. I’ll take it.”
“You on some kinda drugs, boy?”
“No,” I replied quickly. “I’m just a man, a man on mission, chosen by fate to stand up and serve as Earth’s last defense in a battle the likes of which this world has never seen.”
“By shootin’ squirrels?”
“If the need arises.”
“Alright.” He shrugged and went into the back room, returning moments later with a rusted steel instrument of death. “That’ll be $30.00.”
“Does that include BB’s?”
“Should be ‘bout twenty or so in there.”
I threw my money down on the counter and reached for my weapon. Feeling my hand slide roughly over the steel barrel, I knew that I was ready. For after minimum preparation, this war could be waged as it was intended.
This day would belong to me.
I got lost several times on the way to the senator’s cabin in the Rockies. It wasn’t my fault, mind you. I just wasn’t aware of how much Sebastian enjoyed playing with maps. Every time I came back from a pee break, there he was, throwing shreds of map in the air, pretending it was snow. I couldn’t stay mad at him, though. He looked so cute doing it.
Eventually I decided to do the wise thing and purchase a GPS. I had a feeling Sebastian wouldn’t be too thrilled about the lack of new snow material, but, given the circumstances, I knew he would understand.
“Sebastian, no!” I shouted as he ran down the sleeve of my shirt. “Quit doing that. Quit biting daddy’s arm.” I felt his sharp teeth pierce the skin and tried my best to fight through the pain, while keeping the car on the road and minimizing the swerving. “Quit it,” I shouted. “Just quit it.” Another tiny puncture mark and, as much as I hated caving to his temper tantrums, I could think of nothing more at the time. “Fine! Next gas station we come across, I’ll buy you fifty road maps. Happy?”
He immediately crawled out of my sleeve and sat contently in his seat. “If you do that again,” I said to him sternly, “I’ll put you in the trunk.” He twitched his nose and fluffed his tale. Deep down, he knew I was bluffing.
By the time we made it to the cabin, it was nearing the end of day two. Over the course of our trip, the zombie squirrels had become widely known, making their way into nearly all forms of mass media. CNN launched a full scale investigation into the issue, Vogue made an announcement declaring “squirrel” the new black, and P.E.T.A., thinking that the great squirrel problem was caused by the unethical treatment of animals, sent out a mass shipment of fliers with the message “This is all your fault” to everyone in the country. And with squirrel attacks being reported left and right, the majority of them coming from towns between the East Coast and Nebraska, though some being heard of from as far away as the West Coast and Alberta, Canada, I knew that hope was dwindling before my eyes, for even if there was a way cure to the infection, it was most likely too late.
I sat there for a minute, car stopped at the senator’s cabin, mourning the current state of the union and contemplating the use of bothering any further.
“It’s pointless, Sebastian,” I said. “Your zombified brethren have won. They’ve already taken at least half the country. Perhaps we should have taken a plane, instead of driving here.”
It was then that Sebastian did something that I never would have expected from him, something that I quite possibly needed, but, at the time, didn’t enjoy.
He bit me in the balls.
I looked down at the squirrel on my bleeding crotch and knew what he was trying to say. He was trying to remind me who I was. He was trying to remind me of what I had to do. He was trying to remind me that if I didn’t go inside, he was going to bite me in the balls again.
“You’re right, Sebastian,” I said, wincing in pain as I readjusted myself in my seat. “Let’s finish this.” I opened the door and got out, then walked to the trunk and pulled out my BB gun, Sebastian watching me all the while.
It was a dangerous mission ahead of me. And for all I knew, there could be dogs inside. Not to mention, the senator hated squirrels. But when an infected squirrel or a crazed hunter could appear at any moment, I wasn’t going to risk leaving Sebastian to fend for himself.
I opened the passenger door. “Come on.”
He jumped on my shoulder and I walked us to the house. Man and squirrel, together in the end, two creatures ready to face their destinies together, just as God had intended.
Senator Houssenbeakman’s hatred of squirrels was not exaggerated. Upon first seeing Sebastian, he reached into his smoking jacket and pulled out a flintlock pistol.
“Relax,” I shouted. “He’s not infected.”
“I don’t care.” He cocked the gun, and I drew mine on him. “Is that a BB gun?” he asked, his face as solid as stone.
“You bet your ass it is. And unless you want to see how hard I can pump this, you best put your gun down.”
“I can’t believe I hired you.” He uncocked the gun and placed it back in his smoking jacket, which, I had to admit, was very becoming of him. “Get in,” he said, unenthusiastically.
The senator’s house was the most unholy sight that I had ever seen. All around the place were tiny animals, stuffed and posed, their cute little faces forced into still frames of horror. Squirrels, chipmunks, even bunnies were kept as trophies of the kill and proudly displayed here in this animal graveyard.
“You like?” he asked, seeing my eyes travel from one abomination to the next.
“What kind of sick bastard are you?”
“I would think of all people, you would enjoy this. You were on Project Kill the Squirrels.”
“I was killing squirrels because I had to, so that creatures like Sebastian, here, wouldn’t die of starvation, while you did so for pleasure. You sicken me.” Sebastian squeaked in agreement. “I came here for your help, but I think I’d rather let the world die than see a monster like you get credit for saving it.”
I turned around and headed for the door.
“I have the cure,” he called to me.
“That is what you’re here for, correct? The cure?”
Damn him, I thought. Why did he have to say something like that, right when I was in the middle of my neat walk-off? I couldn’t simply leave now, not after a statement like that. For as much as I wanted to get out and wage a war without his help, I knew it would be unwise to not hear him out. “Go on,” I said. “Tell me more.”
“Your project was not the first to attempt to lower the squirrel population. There was another. It was called Project Kill All the Squirrels.” I turned to him in shock, my mind unable to comprehend such a horror. “Originally the government decided that it was not cost effective to figure out a way to destroy only part of the squirrel population. Rather, the plan was to eliminate the entire United States squirrel population and import squirrels from other parts of the world at a later date.”
“No!” I exclaimed. “My government would never kill all its squirrels.”
“I assure you,” he said, walking over to a wooden black box atop his fireplace. “It’s quite true.” He opened it and withdrew a purple vial. “Look familiar?” He tossed it over and I caught it. “It’s what you were given to work off of, is it not?”
I examined the vial closely. I couldn’t tell for certain without complete chemical analysis, but it did resemble the purple liquid that we had worked with in the lab and that I was so carefully instructed to keep away from Sebastian. In the end, it could only mean one thing. Those bastards in Washington really did plan to kill all the squirrels. “What happened?” I asked. “Why the second project?
“It’s quite simple, really. The president started dating a vegan and, fearful that project information should get out and he would lose all sexual privileges, the second project, your project, was formed.”
I looked at the vial in my hand. “So you’re telling me that the only way to save this country is by killing all the squirrels?”
“Essentially, yes.” I gripped the vial tightly with rage. “Don’t worry. Should the infection not leave the continent, there will be plenty of squirrels to bring over.”
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, trying to concentrate on the choice ahead of me while Sebastian’s tail tickled the back of my neck. After a road trip filled with overly dramatic thoughts and moments, I had come to a time of actual drama. It was not nearly as fun as the others.
What was I to do? I came here looking for a solution, something that would kill the infected, but not this. If I let the new infection out, all squirrel life on this continent would die, quite possibly on others as well. Then again, if I didn’t, humans would suffer and the entire squirrel population would possibly be turned into zombies anyways.
I don’t know how long I stood in that place of darkness, but eventually there came a sign, a sign in the form of squirrel speak as Sebastian whispered into my ear. It was then that I knew what to do. “If human life was meant to survive, it will survive. If not, then this world belongs to the squirrels.” I chucked the vial into the fireplace, the flame erupting with the liquid.
“You idiot!” the senator cried. “What have you done?”
His hand moved for the inside of his smoking jacket. Quickly, I aimed my gun, pumped it four times, and shot him in the throat. The BB didn’t pierce the skin, but it struck hard enough that he grabbed his neck and started coughing. Using the coughing to my advantage, I rushed in and kneed him in the testicles. He fell over instantly.
“It’s over, Houssenbeakman. It’s all over.”
Sebastian jumped off my shoulder and began to bite him in unsavory areas.
Ignoring the senator’s cries of pain, I went to the window and looked outwards. In the woods, two squirrels were jumping from tree to tree, making their way towards the house. I pumped the gun four more times, in my mind repeating the words that I had said only moments earlier, but changing them slightly to avoid exact repetition and boredom. If humans were meant to live, they’ll live. If not, then this world belongs to the squirrels.
BIO: Bryan Phillippi attended school at Western Michigan University where he received a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. This is his first published story and hopefully won’t be the last.