Squirrelburbia: An Oral History (2010 NaNoWriMo Incomplete Novel)


All right, so, there’s this squirrel, see.

Now this isn’t some ordinary run-of-the-mill squirrel. No, this is the baddest fucking squirrel you’ve ever seen. All the guys want to be him, see, and all the girls are totally tails-up for him. Like, there’s this one redtail, lives with that one guy up in the elm tree over by the yellow box, bitch got it bad. Looking at me all the time, I can see it in her eyes, she wants it all right —

Hey, fuck you, I’m telling this fucking story. Shut it. SHUT. IT. That’s your only warning. Next time I shut it for you. Got me? I SAID GOT ME?

Yeah, fuck all of you. So I’m talking about this squirrel. He got some friends, names like Shermie and Jams and Cutter, you know Cutter, and they all hang out together one summer. It’s a good time usually, a good summer I mean, not too hot, little rain sometimes, keeps the nits off, you know? So these guys run all over the place and do the usual, you know, eating and fucking shit up. So this big fuckoff squirrel’s got a nut, dunno what they’re called, little things like ovals, no stems or nothing, over in the big square where that dog lives.

Ma Ne, that dog’s a big black bitch. Heh. You know that’s right either way. But that fucking thing actually caught Big Pete, you don’t know him, little wiry guy, name was like ironic or some shit. But Big Pete could run flat out faster than near anything, grabbing a nut or food out of the dog’s bowl when she wasn’t looking or even some of that weird food shit from the two-legs, like crunchy shit tasted sort of like corn covered with weird-ass powder. Shit, that powder. Gets into everything, right up your nose, all over your tail, under your claws, everything tastes like weird milky shit for a week you get that on you.

So Big Pete can get anything, anything. In his fucking prime. Jump right over one of those fences on the edge of a square. Legs like fucking … I dunno, like bird wings or some shit. Grabs a thing and POW gone up a tree before you can blink. Guy never even had fleas. Too fast for them.

And he’s out there in the square, got a chunk of a nut or something in his paws but still all on alert and shit, and that bitch dog sees him. Halfway across the square. He stares at her. She stares at him. You see that and you know it’s fucking on. Everybody watching from the tree. Big Pete knows he can get out before she can jump, so he starts flopping his tail at her like “hey you dumb shit get a load of this” and she just stares. No blinking. Tail straight up. She takes half a step. Big Pete stuffs the nut in his mouth and kind of crouches. We all start laughing, what a chickenshit, right, everybody knows he can just blow her out of the water.

That’s when she lunges. Just a fucking beeline, straight across the square, like a machine. Big Pete’s instantly hauling ass straight for the closest tree, which is kind of a sidewise run, you know, not straight away, sort of to the left. Still, we all know the bastard can’t lose. Who ever heard of a dog that can outrun a fucking squirrel, let along Big Pete, going flat out like a brown streak.

And Big Pete, he even makes to it the tree, but there’s that damn dog running low with all her legs just flying and she jumps and fuck me if she didn’t catch him in fucking mid-air just as he was jumping up onto the trunk. Poor bastard, never could get his tail all the way down but it had never been much of a problem before. Sure is his problem now. Dogs may not always be great runners but they got all those fucking teeth. Cracked his head like a damn nut. Best runner for nothing. Later that day I was humping his girl like damn. Run from this, bitch. I tell you, grief gets them like horny as hell.

So that’s Big Pete. Died a couple years ago, maybe three, I dunno. Since then the dog’s gotten kind of slow, you know, a little grey around the muzzle, maybe a little limp in her walk, but shit nobody wants to fuck with her even now. Only ones are the young pups trying to get up in one of the girls, so they go sit right on the fucking inside of the fence, you’d have to be a fucking snail to get caught, while the dog sits like allll the way on the other side of the square. Course she doesn’t know it’s that far, she still watches, tail up, like she can fucking teleport and catch the retard doing a fucking mating dance to a damn dog like it’s gonna get her to raise a tail.

Meanwhile I’m up in the tree fucking the girl. Heh heh. You go be a little bitch all you want, I’m the one crotch deep in hot squirrel poon. HOW. You LIKE. THIS. UNGH.

Ahh shut it. Shut it shut it shut it. I told you to shut it, didn’t I? I’m telling this fucking story. Sit the fuck down.

Okay, so there’s this badass squirrel I was telling you about, right, up on the fence. Got one of those oval nut things, dunno what you call it. The black bitch dog is watching from over by the stone box, but she’s lying down, way on the other side of the square, not much of a threat, so the squirrel is being kind of laid back. Takes a bite, takes a look, nothing moving, takes another bite, back and forth. A lazy day for us, you know what I’m saying. Life is good some days.

Then he hears something. Some sort of weird yowl, like a cat but strange. Well I don’t have to tell you this squirrel is on high fucking alert now, but staying cool, still eating the nut because shit you don’t just ignore a good nut. But he’s got his eyes out now. The dog’s got her edge on now too, looking off toward the black ground outside the square. This squirrel sees that, because he’s smart enough not to just run like a fucking hairless spineless piece of crap, and he takes a peep over that same way too.

There’s that yowl again, a little louder. The squirrel’s thinking, hey, could be something good over that way, maybe I should check it out. Maybe some pussies would turn tail, but this squirrel is thinking bigger and better. He’s totally not scared out of his fucking wits like some shitbags would be, hearing some weird-ass yowling.

I know you’ve heard “thinking bigger and better” before, asswipes. Where you think that came from? Hey. HEY! I’m telling this fucking story! Tell you own fucking story when it’s your turn. But this is how it went, and any other story is a fucking lie.

Right, so there’s yowling and shit and the dog, dumbass dog, just goes completely insane. Rowf rowf rowf, like a big drooling fuckass or something. Jumps up and rushes the fence like she’s gonna scare away the sounds by barking at them.

Now I know most squirrels would be long gone, and a lot of the time that might even be a good idea, but this squirrel decides totally rationally that he should run TOWARD the sound. Yeah, I know it’s not what you’d call intuitive, and some dumbasses might even say the squirrel panicked and ran the wrong way, but like I said, this is one genius squirrel. He’s thinking, hey, I bet the yowling is from someone in trouble, maybe they’ll give him a reward! Yeah! Things don’t just yowl for no fucking reason. If I go save it, it’ll be grateful and maybe let me eat it or fuck it. Uh, he was thinking.

He’s off down the fence, nut in his mouth, running even faster than Big Pete, and jumps on the ground outside the square, on the other side of the fence, between the fence and the black ground where it kind of dips and is full of mud sometimes. Ground’s a little soft but this squirrel’s a champ runner and doesn’t even slip a little bit, let alone roll over and get mud all over himself. If he did that he’d be a fucking spaz. But he didn’t and don’t let anyone tell you different. They weren’t there, all right?

But. Wait. But he did stop at the side of the mud puddle, and thought, totally rationally, hey maybe I should get a little mud on my tail, you know, in case I need it. What do you mean why would he need it? Fuck you, this is one brilliant squirrel, I keep telling you. Mud’s good for a lot of things. Just shut up. You’ll hear the rest. Shut it.

So he gets up and BAM right there in his face is something. He can’t even tell what it is at first, but it opens its mouth and there are all these tiny little needle teeth and it yowls, and it doesn’t look like it even has eyes! I tell you, any other squirrel would totally piss all over itself, but not this one. This is one fucking incredibly brave and smart squirrel I’m talking about here. He just jumped right on top of this yowling thing and smeared his mud all over it. Being good and thorough, like a doctor, getting in all the nooks and crannies.

Because he saw all the bugs, that’s why. The yowling monster was just covered with these weird red nits or something that nobody’s ever seen before, and the monster was bit all over and all puffy and feverish. The monster was just hot as hell, but this didn’t scare the squirrel, no sir. He just got his mud all over the monster and then he realized it wasn’t a monster after all, it just looked like it because he was expecting it to be right-side up. Yeah. It was actually laying on its back! That’s why it didn’t seem to have eyes, he was looking at its mouth open from the underside.

That’s when he helps the monster out of the mud and turns it over and finds out who it is. Oh yeah. That’s right.

And I bet you didn’t know the best part of the story. That fucking great squirrel, the one who helped out there in the mud? That squirrel … was me.

Yeah. Yeah. I’m hot shit.

Hey, fuck you.


I was on the fence. I was in the tree.

No, I’m saying I was on the fence and THEN I was in the tree. What. Yes, I was on the fence and then I flew into the tree. Robins can fly, you know. Try to follow along.

I was on the fence, trying to figure out what was making such a terrible whining sound over by the black ground. I was afraid it would disturb my babies. They had just hatched and their eyes weren’t open yet, but you just know that they can hear everything and I was afraid they might get nightmares, the poor dears. When all of a sudden the dog started running toward me and barking. My feathers! Well of course my first thought was for my darling babies. So I took off and was wheeling around when I saw Patch, you know, that squirrel, come barreling out of the alleyway and straight into the mud. Just splash! Oh my did I have a laugh. That little devil is always getting into trouble, isn’t he? Oh the stories I could tell.

But then that’s when that raccoon just seemed to appear in the mud puddle! Oh my I was afraid for Patch. I don’t think he even saw him before that little ring-tailed scamp had grabbed Patch with those odd little hands of his and was rubbing him all over his fur. I found out later he was delirious with some sort of fever. Surely there’s no other explanation for what he was doing.

That raccoon was bad news from the start. I hate to say anything bad about anyone, but that all changed when he started doing his “thinking better” nonsense. Then there was the bad business with Prester and of course Zeb’s monstrosity. And do you know, Gracie from down the street says she found a raccoon trying to pilfer the eggs from her nest. She says she pecked him raw and he still stole one of her little precious gifts of Ma Ne. That certainly reflects badly on Zeb too, don’t you think? Being a raccoon and all. It doesn’t matter what sort of foolishness he was peddling, a mother has to take care of her little darlings.

My that was a time ago. Our babies are all out of the nest now, of course. I’m sure they’re doing just fine. I have a lovely clutch right here now, ready to hatch in a few weeks. I’d show them to you but you know I wouldn’t want them to get cold.

I do get distracted. I was telling you about the raccoon, wasn’t I? Zeb was his name. At first he seemed like a lovely fellow, but as he went along he just started rubbing the others the wrong way. Starting with Patch! All over himself! Ha ha! Patch says Zeb was rubbing fleas or lice off of himself but I couldn’t see anything. Sometimes I wonder. Patch doesn’t have a great reputation around here, you know, and that raccoon was just such a strange one.

Yes, dear, I was up in the tree with my babies. But I have excellent eyesight, and there were no fleas that I saw. I think I’d notice that even from across the square and up in a tree!

That horrid dog kept barking and barking. It was so difficult to keep my composure. You know how dogs are, and my poor babies were all awake and so frightened!

No, dear, I don’t know how Zeb came to be in that ditch. Some of us seem to believe he fell from the sky above the clouds! How ridiculous! Only Ma Ne lives in the sky, and it’s obvious that Zeb had nothing to do with her. I know many birds, of course, it’s hard to be a bird and not know birds from all walks of life, and I knew a hawk once, not like the bigger ones who eat birds like me, a smaller one. Oh my I am rambling a little, aren’t I? Ha ha! Anyway, he says that he knows a bigger hawk who has actually flown above the clouds and met Ma Ne. Can you imagine? I would hardly know what to do with myself. Should I bow? Should I sing? It puts me in a tizzy just thinking about it. Anyway, I asked my hawk friend, and he says that his friend didn’t see any raccoons in Ma Ne’s palace. So that’s just the end of that line of thinking as far as I’m concerned.

And then of course Prester, you know, the badger, knows all about Ma Ne. It’s so convenient, you know, to have someone who knows so much more than us to help keep us from doing something wrong. We’ll be eating and up he comes, bom bom, hello ladies he says, be sure to be safe back at your nest before the sun reaches the top of the sky because today is Ma Ne’s day to fly and you won’t want to get your tail feathers burned, would you? And we say no, no, thank you for telling us. Oh he is a sweetheart. It’s too bad that our little darlings have to go hungry until evening, but still, better that than to get burned. Why how would we keep balance without our tail feathers and ever be able to fly back to our little darlings? It’s frightening to think about.

Oh my heart is a-pitter patter right now. Oh dear oh dear. I could never abandon my babies. Oh never oh never. I can hardly go on talking. You’d better come back later. Oh dear oh dear oh dear.


You know he lay in that hollow for all of a day. Some of us started wondering if he’d be good to eat. The dog barked all of a day too, but we knew about the fence. Dog not get over the fence no matter how bad she want to. We come out when the big bright was under but before the world was black. Dog still barking. Zeb being all quiet. The two-legs light up on the tall tree started up so we can see.

Zeb laying there. We didn’t know he were Zeb then. Just another raccoon. See them sometimes, them and possums and turtles and once an armordiller walk through. Not like us and squirrels and birds. And dogs in they squares.

We come up, about four and me. Zeb a lot bigger than us, so we stay quiet. Raccoons kill and eat us sometimes. Zeb all covered in mud, breathing, looking up. Didn’t know what he were looking at. Didn’t look up. Maybe a trick.

Hello rats, he say, still looking up.

We stop. Dog gone off to get water but hear Zeb say and come right back up, barking like stupid. Zeb close eyes. Hello again dog, he say, and start rubbing eyes.

Couple of us start creeping forward. Zeb big, lots of meat. Good for us. Dog still barking, we think makes it hard to hear us.

Zeb pull in breath and let it out. I know what you’re doing, he say. Sounds tired but not like exhausted tired. Not hear animal sound like that before. He say, I’ve been sick, I just got over a fever. My meat is bad, a bad disease that would even kill a rat.

How we know? That what I say. How we know you sick?

Come smell my breath, he say. But be good or I’ll bite your head off.

We think you bite head off anyway, say friend of mine. Not know his name. Good friend.

You can either have someone come close and smell my breath, he say, or you can go away. There’s no third choice.

I think about that for a while. Seems like trick but can’t see how. The others they stay still, so I go.

Zeb turn head and open mouth and breathe out at me. I sniff. Bad smell. Bad bad sick, worst I ever smell. He very sick, I say.

Kills us? friend ask.

I say don’t know.

Zeb say it definitely will.

Friend say how it kills us but not kills you? We all think yes, good thought. Rats get sick but never kills us, even same sick that kills big ones. Smells the same.

Zeb say something we not hear because dog is still barking big and loud and stupid. We say what, what.

Dog take a pause and then Zeb say maybe it did kill me.


I will now tell you some stories of Ma Ne. Please sit.

There was a time before you were born, and before your mother was born, and your father, and anyone you ever knew. Even the oldest being you can remember. This all happened before.

Back in that time, the world was different. There were no green shoots, or nuts, or seeds, or rain. There were only the animals. And the greatest animal of them all was Ma Ne. Ma Ne was the most powerful warrior in the world. She could kill anything with just a look. This power was given to her by the sky and the ground after she killed all the enemies who attacked them. Crows, mostly. This is why crows are so nasty and loud today. They are only complaining because Ma Ne beat them once and they know she could beat them again. The cries of the crows are only cowardice.

And once Ma Ne had that power, she ascended to the sky above the clouds, where she created all the seeds in the world because she was hungry after all that fighting. And as she ate, some of the seeds fell down into the world and took root and became the grass and the shrubs. And the nuts fell to the ground and became the trees. When Ma Ne became hungry for something different, she created the grubs and the ants and the delicious worms which crawl in the earth.

From her grand palace, Ma Ne can see everything that happens in the world. One day Ma Ne saw a tiny bird who was being chased by eagles, and the bird flew into a thicket of trees and became lost. As the eagles closed in, the tiny bird didn’t flee or fight but instead did something very strange: it began to sing a sad song, a song so sad that Ma Ne took pity on the tiny bird and set an invisible track in the sky which led the bird out of the forest and on to a beautiful island where it stayed for several months while the winter came down and froze the eagles. Then Ma Ne turned the track around so the tiny bird could return home and live life safe for the rest of its years. And that is how birds always know which direction to fly when it becomes the hot season or the cold season.

Ma Ne has done so many things, before and since, that I should have to sit here for the rest of both our lives to talk about them. But now Ma Ne has retreated to her beautiful castle in the sky above the clouds and watches over us all. Sometimes she decides to come down to our world in a disguise and sees what we do, or flies through the sky at night and leaves a fiery streak to remind us that she is there, watching.

If we displease Ma Ne she cries, which makes the rain fall. If we make her especially angry, she sends the flashing power of her gaze to destroy her enemies. I have seen it happen, friends! A light as bright as the sun and a BANG so loud it shakes you to your very heart. It makes trees burn! It causes sparks and fire to fly from the two-legs’ machines! And it KILLS, friends, destroys utterly the target of her wrath! Have you been good? Have you?! Because Ma Ne knows, friends! And Ma Ne will send her terrible gaze upon you! BANG! Through her torrential tears she will release the power of the sky and the earth and it will kill you! KILL YOU! YOU! And your children! And your mates! And your homes! And the boxes of the two-legs! And all the seeds, and all the nuts, and all the grubs in the earth!

But how will you know what causes Ma Ne to become angry, friends? How can we possibly hope to stand against this power? Ma Ne cannot be fought. Not with all the creatures of the world. Her power is far beyond our own. Remember how Ma Ne destroyed the enemies of the sky and the earth? That was before she had the gaze of death. Now she is beyond all hope of fighting. Who can help you? Who knows what makes Ma Ne angry? It could be anything! A word, a gesture, a failure to bow the right way or do the right ritual or say the right thing, anything!

It is scary, I understand. Cry all you wish. Let it out. It is all right. What you need is someone who knows the stories about Ma Ne, and who can decide from his own understanding of how she acts just what she wants from us. Sadly, there are few these days who truly know ALL the stories. There are some which we must never tell except to students and the enlightened.

What was that, friend? Yes, I said “we.” I know the secret stories, which I learned from my own father, who learned them from my grandfather, and so on and so on, back to the very days of Ma Ne’s greatest battles. And it is amazing, my friends, how that knowledge makes one truly appreciate the subtleties of Ma Ne’s character which one could never understand just knowing the common stories that everybody has already heard. Ma Ne is both great and humble, one of us and above us all. Perhaps she is with us even now, walking through the world in disguise. You must be careful who you anger, my friends. And only by knowing the secret stories could one ever hope to know who it might be.

Nobody who is ignorant of the secret stories can tell you what Ma Ne is. She could be any size, any shape, from a mouse to a dog to — heh — to a badger. I assure you, though, my friends, that I am not Ma Ne. I am just a humble storyteller and historian who happens to know everything there is to know about this greatest of all warriors. I have spent my life gathering lore and divining signs of her pleasure or wrath. Ma Ne continues to smile upon this place … for now. If you would like, I could stay around a bit and see what service I might offer. For as long as it is comfortable for me to do so, of course.

Ah, thank you very much. You’re far too kind to a weary badger. Thank you all.

But before I retire, there is just one more thing which I feel I must say to you snd hopefully squelch all rumors once and for all:

Ma Ne is definitely NOT a raccoon.


Understand I loved the guy like a brother, but in the beginning he was pretty fucking strange.

It was a couple of days, I guess. After I’d given that raccoon the old doctor treatment with the mud, I decided, fuck that, I got tail to chase. In my expert opinion he looks like he was going to be okay. Doesn’t need me hovering over him like a fucking wet nurse and get dog drool all over me through the fence. So I lit out.

No, I didn’t know about the rats. Shut up about the fucking rats. The rats don’t matter.

So I see him again a couple days later, out in the field across from the furthest square, all cleaned up this time so I hardly recognized his ass. He’s out kind of ambling around, you know how raccoons are with their big fur and fat asses, like the armordiller sort of. Anyway, he sees me and fucking waves. I mean what the fuck is that? We don’t wave. So I’m already thinking this guy has shit for brains.

Then he starts walking over my way and I’m like, aw shit. Hope the girls don’t see me talking to this blubber butt.

Hey I didn’t know him at the time, all right? To me at this point he was just a big shit-colored pile of fur.

Anyway he comes up to me. Hey, he says, you’re that squirrel.

Yeah whatever, I say.

Thanks for saving my life, he says. You’re the best doctor I ever seen. We should hang out.

Now normally I don’t hang out with the people I save their life, but something about the way he asks me made me think that he just needs a cool friend, so I say yeah all right and we go get a drink at the pond.

Hey. HEY. Shut it. I’m the one telling this. I’m telling you this is how it happened. Were you there? Huh? You think you got some sort of hotline to the truth? Well then why aren’t you up here telling this, huh? You wanna fight about it? Huh? HUH?

Good. So sit your stupid not-knowing ass back where it was making a big smelly dent in the ground and let me tell this fucking story.

So we’re drinking at the pond, right, and he’s drinking kind of slow. So I look at him and notice he’s not like drinking, like gulp gulp. Instead he’s down and like sort of staring at the water. Not in it, like he’s looking for a fish or some shit, but AT it.

Hey, he says, did you ever notice you can see yourself in the water?

Fuck off, I say. I’m up here. The water’s down there. I’m not wet so I must not be in the water.

And then he starts to, like, squint and flick his ears and I’m afraid for a second he’s going to have a fucking seizure or something. Huh, he says after a little while, I squint my eye on this side and the picture of me squints its eye on the other side.

Total nonsense, right? So I’m thinking, okay, he’s gone totally off. If I wasn’t so brave I’d leave him alone. But I was concerned for my patient. Big guy is making faces at the water, you kind of have a moment of compassion. I say hey buddy, let’s go find something to eat. Don’t worry about your little imaginary copycat fish friend whatever bullshit he was making up.

I have to drag him away from the pond, but whatever, we eventually break up his little self love festival and go back under the big tree with the oval nuts. Nuts aren’t really ripe yet, kind of hard to get into, but fuck it they’re food. I’m nibbling along and he goes off to forage for grubs. Fucking omnivores, right? So he’s off for a while and I start wondering what the hell he’s up to, so I take a little stroll with my meal and find him doing the same sort of stare thing, but down in the ground this time. He sort of digs a hole with his forepaws like normal, see, and then he just looks inside instead of, you know, going for it.

Okay so what the fuck is this, I say.

I have a big grub here, he says. I’m watching how it digs.

I start getting a little peeved at him by this point. Look, I say, it’s not going to jump up in your mouth and commit suicide.

No, but take a look, he says, like he doesn’t hear what I say. He takes a swipe at the ground and says so if I dig on this side, the grub turns away, but if I dig in front it sort of pauses, and if I dig behind it it goes this other way. And we’re standing there and he just keeps blathering on and on about how this fucking grub is wiggling its slimy fat white body around while he plays with it. But all this time he’s just fascinated. It’s like he can’t get enough of watching a fucking glob of snot run away from him.

Eventually it starts to slow down and he decides to eat it, but he looks funny when he does. Then he says it’s like he knew that one by name or some shit. I tell him, fuck, grubs don’t have names, they can’t even talk, they’re fucking food, forget about it.

How do you know, he says.

Know what, I say.

Know that they’re food, he says. They’re alive.

I’ve about had it with you and your stupid questions, I say. Look, it’s food because it was made to be food.

He asks by who.

Ma Ne, I tell him.

Who’s that? he asks me.

I turn to him and say you have GOT to be fucking shitting me.


Patch, yeh? You talking to Patch? Patch the squirrel? Yeh. Yeh. He doesn’t know shit. No more than me. I mean I know I know shit. Patch just is what he is.

Okay, yeh. Yeh. Call me Turk. I came down when I heard. You listening to what we say. Yeh. You need to be careful. Some of us tell lies. Guys like Patch. Bigger than me but he still a turd. Yeh. Yeh. Turd.

Look. Look. Yeh. Turk set you straight. Don’t tell Patch.

Turk know Zeb. Know Zeb good. Do a lot of fetching for Zeb. Zeb needs something, he say, Turk, you go get it. Turk better than any of the others. Gets what Zeb wants. Never make a mistake. Turk got a knack. That what Zeb say. Turk got a knack.

Yeh. Yeh. Zeb. Nobody knows Zeb before he come here. Just shows up. Nobody saw him come in. Nobody. No bird, no cat, no chipmunk. Yeh. Yeh. Turk’s a chipmunk. That’s me, Turk. Tell you everything chipmunks know. Turk has friends all over. Chipmunks you can trust.

You listen to squirrels you get earload of shit. Run around with fat tails, yeh, get caught up on things. Chipmunks got tiny tails. Yeh. Yeh. Stay out of trouble. Always on the down low. Yeh. Nobody bothers a chipmunk. Try not to be seen. Yeh. Yeh. Get a nut or some shoots and we’re happy. In and out, quick. Got it, gone. Zeb say it makes me good for grabbing things. Yeh.

Zeb shows up in a puddle or something. Don’t know that part. Just heard it from other chipmunks. Told you, trustworthy, better than squirrels. Way better than cats. Cats are assholes. Don’t get me started on badgers.

So. Yeh. So. Zeb goes into a field with Patch. Chipmunks there too. Not Turk. Not yet. Yeh. But they watch. Raccoons are problems sometimes. Not always friendly. Eat anything. Chipmunks lose babies. Raccoons dig into burrows. Usually, though, eat bugs and leave us alone. It’s a good summer for bugs. Rain. Yeh. Warm. So no panic with raccoons. But watch. Yeh. Keep an eye out. Maybe it just likes chipmunk babies. Never know. Might taste pretty good.

Turk doesn’t know. Don’t eat babies. Sick. Yeh. Eat nuts. Not babies. Learned that from parents.

Zeb, yeh, Turk gets going, forgets. Zeb. Talking about Zeb. Zeb out in field. Patch with him. Zeb acting strange, yeh, what they say. Moving slow. Chipmunks think maybe he still sick. Showed up sick. Sick in puddle. Yeh. Barf in puddle. Don’t know. Maybe. Turk wasn’t there.

Chipmunks watch. Watch close. Don’t know what sick raccoon might do. May have foaming sick. Foaming sick makes you walk slow, yeh. Bad when you get foaming sick. But raccoon not foaming. Just walking strange. Looking at things. Not like, up alert, you know, watch out for something going to eat you. Just looking. Straight at them like he’s trying to focus. Some sick makes you do that. Get fuzzy. But Zeb is different. Like being curious.

Chipmunks don’t get curious. We know what it means, yeh, looking and wondering what what. But we can’t spend much time wondering. Got to get food. Yeh. Got to feed family. Got to find mate. Yeh. Got to watch for hawks and dogs. Be ready to dig a hole in an instant. Wake up, jump in, get food, get mate, dig hole, fuck mate, sleep. Life of a chipmunk.

Zeb is like being curious but even more. He looks and wonders and thinks. Some say it’s because of his fever. Yeh. Fever changed how he thinks. Think better. What Zeb says. Yeh. Think better.

Not sure it’s better. Yeh. Not after what happens. But strange.

Machine. In the field. One of the two-leg machines. Sit there long time. Yeh. Longer than anyone knows. From days of Ma Ne maybe. Smells funny. Birds nest there. Not chipmunks. Birds nest anywhere. Don’t mind how things smell. Maybe make things smell funny just being there. Yeh. Yeh. Don’t tell them I said that.

Zeb, he talking to Patch. Patch telling him things about Ma Ne. Maybe getting him ready to look at the two-leg machine. Other machines like this one, out on the black ground. Make a lot of popping noises, scare birds. Go faster than anyone can run. Faster than some birds fly. Pisses birds off. Yeh. Pop pop runs on big black feet. Noise like growling. Grrrrrooo. Can’t make sound. Yeh. Chipmunks not good at sounds.

Machine in field. No feet. Nobody ever sees it run. Covered with orange chunks, smell like dried blood and whatever the black ground is made of. Grass all growing up. Tree nearby. Bird shit all over.

Then Zeb looks over and sees the machine. His eyes get real big, and he starts kinda staggering. Chipmunks all get ready to run. Everyone afraid it may be foaming sick or maybe something nobody knows about. Everybody runs when they see something they don’t know about. Keeps chipmunks alive, yeh. Anything you don’t know about is bad. Learned that from parents too.

And Zeb, he just falls over in a faint.


I couldn’t say which day it was. It was sometime in the early summer. I was out in the field. Yes. The field is lovely. Lots of nice grass and lots of open spaces for me to warm my shell. It was a beautiful day, not too warm, not too cool, not many bugs. The grass was nice underfoot and so tasty too.

I have lived in that field for a good many years. I don’t really socialize with the others, of course. They seem so frantic, I suppose. I guess to them I seem a little slow, but they don’t know what they’re missing. They don’t understand the value of a nice long summer day, where you can lay out and stay nice and warm. Lots of lovely sunshine. There are plenty of days like that, and if you take some time to appreciate them, you’ll live longer. It’s true.

I’ve found a nice rock which stays in the sun for quite a long part of the day. Ma Ne provides for you when you really need it, and she provided that rock. It’s just so nice to lay on.

Back on the day, I don’t remember precisely, but I’m probably sleeping on the rock, because why exert yourself? I had eaten some delicious grass and a few nice tasty bugs and probably wouldn’t want to eat again for a day or two. And the sun was just so warm.

But then I hear something, someone talking very quickly and trying to wake me up. Now as I say I don’t usually socialize, so my first reaction was to just turn away and try to go back to sleep. Talking to someone who talks so fast is so tiring. But he keeps chattering at me and finally starts thumping my shell. You know my shell is actually part of my back, so it’s very annoying when that happens.

I raise my head when it becomes obvious I won’t get rid of my tormentor. My first thought is to maybe give him a little nip on the leg to prove that I mean business when I’m asleep. I thought everyone knew that you don’t get worked up around a sleeping tortoise.

So I see that this is a squirrel, and he seems extremely agitated. Which I have to admit gets me a little agitated too. Not as worked up as he was, of course. I don’t even know if that’s possible for me. But it did make my old blood race a bit.

The squirrel doesn’t even introduce himself, he just starts babbling that his friend is sick and nobody will help him. I must say it didn’t give me much confidence. There aren’t many sicknesses which I can catch from the warm creatures, but the ones I can catch are very nasty. And it did sound like his friend was sick with something very nasty.

So I turn my old eye at that squirrel and I ask, so what do you expect me to do about your friend?

The squirrel, who I later learned was named Patch, was jumping up and down with excitement. He told me, my friend just needs someone to help carry him to the machine.

Oh, the two-legs machine, I ask. That’s not far from my rock, but you understand it’s something of a big deal for me to move around, what with this shell. I probably won’t be able to move very quickly, I tell that squirrel.

It doesn’t matter, the squirrel says, his friend isn’t going anywhere, he’s just gone unconscious. The others won’t help simply because he had been sick but now he’s over it.

Now you understand I’m paraphrasing what that squirrel said. He was actually much more strident and peppered his speech with some euphemisms which I would prefer not to repeat. But I understood what he meant. Even more importantly, I understood that I wouldn’t be able to get any more sleep until I agreed to help. Or until I bit him instead. He was moving around a little too fast for me to feel confident of that tactic, though.

I bestirred myself and crawled off my nice warm rock. The grass was still a little warm too. The whole area lies in a bright sunny spot with only the one tree over by the machine of the two-legs. It wa a nice day for a walk, though to be perfectly honest is would have been a better day for napping.

The squirrel Patch began to ask me questions as I walked. Another reason why I don’t socialize with the others is because I don’t enjoy answering questions. Especially when they’re mostly the same questions I’ve been asked by generations of animals as far back as I can recall, even before when there were so many two-leg boxes around. What is is like to carry your home around on your back? I like to tell people it’s not my home, it’s my body, so I have no choice. Some of them get it. Others get confused. So I just clam up and stop answering questions. Eventually I just stopped talking altogether.

I answered a couple of his questions, which he asked rather rudely if I recall, and then he yelped about here was his friend. I was surprised. Usually when someone asks me to travel somewhere, it’s a long haul. But the raccoon was right where Patch said he was.

Personally I never had a quarrel with raccoons. One had tried to pry into my shell once many years ago, but then he got bored and left for other foods. There are advantages to carrying your greatest defense around with you at all times.

At this time I was a bit larger than I had been all those years before. With the squirrel’s help, we managed to roll the raccoon’s limp body onto my back. Now despite what you might think, my legs aren’t really any stronger than anyone else’s. And I’m carrying this shell around, as you see. So it was a little bit of slow going to carry a full-grown raccoon to the machine, even if it was just a little distance away. Luckily it was a little bit of a downslope, and there was a bit of mud here and there, which helped facilitate some sliding now and again.

We’re almost to the machine when I feel the raccoon stir on my back. He asks sleepily what’s going on and his squirrel friend barrages him with words. I wanted to tell him, hey, stop! You don’t drown a sleeper with words while he’s still trying to find his way out of the river.

The raccoon takes it all in stride, though, and he clambers on his feet on my back when he sees how close he is to the machine. Now nobody’s said anything to me, so I just keep walking along, nobody mind me, carrying this raccoon. I suppose I should have been a little angry about it being ignored in all this but what’s the point. I didn’t like to socialize anyway.

I didn’t realize until later, when I heard somebody tell the tale as if it were some sort of mythical lore, what sort of interesting procession it might be for an old turtle to arrive at the machine with a squirrel by his side and a raccoon riding on his back. I certainly hadn’t considered how it might appear. Mostly I was just looking for another place to settle down and take a nap with a little dignity without a squirrel jumping up and down on my head.

The raccoon jumped off my back and rushed over to the machine. The squirrel ran off with him. So I guess they just didn’t need me around anymore. I turned around and started my long trek back to the nice warm rock and take another little nap before dinner.

It was such a pretty day. So much sun.


Oh that raccoon did make a racket.

We were nesting, the wife and I, no eggs yet but she said it would probably be soon enough. By a stroke of luck we had managed to find a really choice spot in the machine, with lots of air and protection from the rain. The wife had already started foraging to stuff herself enough to settle down for a while. I was going back and forth gathering junk for the nest, you know, bits of string and whatever fluff we can find in the trees or the two-legs squares. I had just come back with a nice fat twig when what did I see but that raccoon riding that old crotchety turtle. Nobody really likes to talk to that turtle. Everyone was amazed that he would bestir himself enough to walk around, let alone carry a whole raccoon on his back.

The other birds started getting restless as they approached. Raccoons are sort of a menace to birds. Eggs. You know. So when that raccoon just leapt into the machine, well you know everyone just exploded out of there. Well, everyone except me. I suppose I was curious, and I had the luxury of a clear escape route and nothing else to lose but my nest. I would have hated to lose the nest, of course, but there’s nothing wrong with starting over anew somewhere else. The wife would find me by song, and I know she would understand.

So I just sat up in the top part of the machine and watched. Luckily it was apparent from the start that that raccoon wasn’t really interested in food, even with the few eggs that were exposed in there. Instead he seemed intent on just running around at random. He jumped in from the side, stared at the great circle thing, looked at the sticky-up parts, pushed and pulled on a few things.

Of course it was instantly apparent that he was mad with some sort of brain fever. He seemed terribly pleased with himself just by pushing on a sticky-up thing and making some sort of horrible screaming noise. There’s no way any raccoon would be pleased making that sound. And raccoons are sort of unusual customers. I didn’t have much dealing with any of the few who had passed through that I knew of, but everyone had stories about them. Always up to no good, raccoons, acting almost like the two-legs who we can’t figure out at all. We birds like things simple and easy to predict. Raccoons are very clever, which birds don’t get on with at all. And the two-legs just seem completely random. Sometimes they kill us and sometimes they feed us. And sometimes they feed us food that kills us. Or somehow make our trees fall over and then just leave them to dry out and rot in the fields. No sense at all, two-legs. Bit of a nuisance.

The raccoon was certainly busy being clever. It almost reminded me of two-legs in fact. He kept chuckling and muttering to himself whenever he would make something move or turn or squeak or clang. I just watched over the edge of my nest and tried to stay quiet.

At one point he looked over his shoulder and I’m certain he saw me, but he didn’t say anything. Instead he just sort of bobbed his head. Like it was some kind of acknowledgement or something. At least I assume that’s what he was doing, because to birds bobbing your head is the first step of a mating dance. And I’m certain he didn’t want to mate with me. Although looking back on it I suppose a raccoon with a brain fever might be so inclined. Maybe I should have been more nervous.

But I wasn’t. I really wasn’t. I don’t know why I wasn’t. A raccoon running around your home doing bizarre things is usually cause for alarm. But he also gave off another sense, something I couldn’t really say what it was. Like he really wanted to be there pushing plates and yanking things. He spent a good long time, several seconds, just staring at the shiny thing which hangs off the machine’s side. We didn’t really have much use for it, sometimes you can see a tiny sun and a bunch of tiny birds in it but they never had any food for us so we didn’t really pay much attention. But this raccoon was transfixed, waggling his ears and blinking. He said something about water which went completely over my head.

Then he turned to me as if it’s the most common thing in the world for a raccoon to be talking to a bird and asked if I knew how this machine works. Well I was a bit surprised to say the least, and I admit I tensed up to fly back out and away if he seemed to want to jump at me or something. But no, he just sat there, looking at me as if he expected an answer.

So I thought, well, why not? And I told him that I had no idea, nobody did. This machine was a landmark. Nobody alive had ever seen it run on the black ground.

He hummed a little and thanked me and went back to his banging and clanging. After a little while he jumped up through the big opening onto the wide metal place and thumped his hand against it a time or two. He looked back at me and said hey, did you know this is hollow, I wonder what’s underneath. Then he jumped off the wide metal place onto the ground.

It was strange. I guess not seeing what he was doing made him seem more frightening, or maybe I just realized that how he was acting was unnatural, but I suddenly got spooked. So I gathered up a beakful of string and fluff and flew off. I knew I wasn’t going to hang around with that crazy raccoon under there, and I can build a nest anywhere. My wife would have to find me in the trees.


Ma Ne, bringer of light, who allows the sun to rise in the morning so it may warm our faces and nourish our trees, had sent me a disturbing sign while I was walking through my burrow that very morning. A fat worm, pink and wriggling, fell from the ceiling right in front of me and quickly dug itself into the ground underneath before I could lunge forward and eat it. Ma Ne was angry, my friend. She was tantalizing me with food that I could not catch to fill my hungry belly. A bad omen. Very bad.

I knew she was angry, but why? Well, sometimes there’s nothing to do but come out into the light, the life-giving light of Ma Ne, though it burns my eyes to look upon, and learn what may be happening that is wrong so I may make it right.

My first stop is the birds. The birds are lovely company, really, and they like to chat. They’d chat all day long if you let them. And I walk up to them and say good afternoon, ladies.

Oh, good afternoon, Prester, it’s so good to see you, they say, how are you today. They really are such lovely ladies.

I bow my head and say that Ma Ne provides for us all. What’s the news? I ask them.

This is how I learn that there is a strange sick raccoon in the area. Now of course I will never turn my back on the sick or the infirm, but I don’t need to tell you that there’s potential for trouble when a sick individual enters your territory. While they say he doesn’t seem to show signs of the foaming sickness, I have to admit to being rather skeptical of his intentions.

So where is this poor sick fellow? I ask.

Over by the machine in the great field, they say. He scared away a great many birds and seemed to be making a terrible noise in the process.

Like crying? Is he in pain? I ask, confused.

No, no, they say. He’s making the machine make noise.

Now I’m sure you understand why this alarmed me greatly. It has never, ever paid off to be too curious about the machines of the two-legs. The stories of Ma Ne are quite clear on this fact. Some people don’t know, but the two-legs were part of the great conspiracy against the ground and the sky which Ma Ne fought and won single-handed. After the battle, the remaining two-legs cursed Ma Ne and in return lost the ability to speak with the rest of our kind due to madness, as well as losing their fur and fangs and claws. Ma Ne felt pity for them and taught them how to build their boxes and how to put fences around their squares. But even then, the treacherous two-legs perverted their knowledge and began destroying our trees and homes to build their own, and covered the natural earth with the black ground, and patrolled their areas within the terrible noisy metal machines which run on the black ground. The two-legs take much from us and only a few of us dare to take anything back in return, showing the true fighting spirit of Ma Ne.

Some stories say that Ma Ne will return and fight the two-legs again, and teach them their place in the world once and for all. But until then, we must remain small and quiet and leave them to their own boxes and machines and strange actions in their madness. The only machines we may approach are the ones left alone out away from the black ground. The black ground must be the source of their power, because few have seen a machine which can run off of it, and when they do they seem much slower and sometimes the machines even die. The cold quiet skeletons of the dead machines are no threat to us.

I of course promise at once to travel to the machine, though it will be a long journey. The lovely ladies agree it would be a great thing for me to visit the raccoon, make sure he’s up to no trouble and set their minds to ease. They are truly dear ladies.

I mention that I shall set off immediately, though my stomach is empty, because any hardship is worth bearing when it comes to the comfort of my dear friends. And the ladies, such wonderful ladies, immediately shout no! No! We could never allow you to walk all that way hungry. Several of them fan out through the woods and squares and within minutes they lay out a scrumptions collection of grubs and worms. I am of course most appreciative and soon have the energy to shoulder such a worthy burden.

The trip itself takes a fair portion of the day and I must avail myself on the hospitality of the birds and creatures along the way. I am humbled by the positive influence my presence seems to have on these poor creatures. I am most happy to regale them with tales of the greatness of Ma Ne. It’s the very least I can do, to soothe their minds and hearts. In my life I have become convinced that many of my friends would not be able to function without the knowledge of Ma Ne’s wisdom which I may provide them through the old stories.

By mid-afternoon, I had reached the great field. Now at my height I can see little through the waving weeds and tall grass, but I can certainly hear it! On certain days, the two-legs leave gifts of pungent food in strange metal cans outside their boxes, and a huge machine piloted by three of four two-legs will pass through the entire area picking up the gifts. The noise I hear from the direction of the machine in the field reminds me of the sound the two-legs make feeding their gift-devouring machine. Bang, bang, clatter.

One of my good friends, a chipmunk named Rafe, dashes up to me with his fur all standing up. Prester, Prester, he says, glad you’re here. Raccoon is crazy, tearing apart the two-legs’ machine.

Well of course I rush through the weeds as fast as my legs can take me, with Rafe running just ahead. Soon we reach the machine and what a sight! I hardly know how to explain it. This is the first time I ever catch sight of the raccoon, and he’s truly a mess, great black marks in his fur, and a smell! Like nothing I’ve smelled before. Well that’s not true, I’ve smelled it often; it smelled rather like the evil black ground. Somehow, this infernal raccoon has managed to pry open the large metal place on the machine and is busily pulling whole pieces out, looking at it closely, then setting it aside slowly as though he’s afraid he might break something. The ground is already littered with black worm-like protrusions and hunks of metal and round pieces and some things which I could talk for an hour and never really describe.

A squirrel runs up to me, I think I might recognize him, and he begins babbling about how the raccoon (which I discover is named Zeb) had some sort of fit and just decided, out of the blue sky, that he wanted to destroy the machine. That’s the only explanation the squirrel could think of, and it looked that way to me as well. There was no rhyme or reason to the raccoon’s rampage.

Has the raccoon hurt anyone? I asked the squirrel.

No, no, the squirrel said. He just jumped in and began bleeping tearing the bleeping thing apart like he owned the place. (Sorry for censoring myself there, but this squirrel did certainly use some salty language which might not be appropriate for the younger listeners. Squirrels tend to have little self control in their language. Remind me later to tell you the story of Ma Ne and the squirrel’s tail, which might help explain why.)

In any case, it’s obvious that I have to take control of the situation before the raccoon either becomes or uncovers a danger to the community. So I raise myself up on my haunches and shout in my best bellow, NOW JUST WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?

The raccoon stops for a moment and pokes his head out at me. He cocks his head and says, surprisingly politely, Excuse me, but do you know how this machine works?

Of course not, I reply, and neither do you. Now get out of there before you hurt someone.

The raccoon looks down at all the parts he’s pulled out so far, and says in the most matter-of-fact voice, That’s just the thing. I think I might.

Might hurt someone? That’s pretty obvious, I say.

No, no, he says. I think I might be able to figure out how this machine works.

That was of course the point when I realized he was completely insane.


Yes, dear, I’m feeling much better now, thank you for asking. You’re quite the sweetheart. I just have those little panic attacks sometimes. It comes with the territory of being a robin, you know. Some say we’re just a little high-strung. My mother used to panic at the slightest thing. Even a leaf blowing could make her so scared she could barely breathe! Isn’t that silly?

So anyway. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten. How could I forget? That terrible raccoon just went straight to the two-legs machine in the field and began tearing it to pieces. And they say I’m high strung! Ha ha! Well that wonderful Prester the badger went to see what was the matter. He’s such a nice fellow, always looking out for us. He calls us “ladies,” you know. Very genteel. And though he isn’t really my type I have it on good authority that he’s quite a good looking badger. Oh he sets us all aflutter.

So Prester went down the the machine and spoke to the raccoon. Well you just know that raccoon said something that set dear old Prester off. There are so many stories about what he said. I heard from a finch that heard from a grackle who was good friends with a snake who lives in the great field that the raccoon had said something bad about Ma Ne. Just imagine! Nobody would dare say such a thing out loud, let alone right to Prester’s face.

Prester would have none of it, of course. They only talked for a short time when Prester came out and told everyone that the entire area was off limits. Nobody should enter or leave the area around the machine, which was really quite a hardship for a number of birds who were nesting in the machine and had a clutch of eggs already getting cold. Oh all those poor babies who never got to be born! And it was all that terrible raccoon’s fault.

Prester even had a funny word for it. Quar — quorum — quran — quarateem. Something like that anyway, how would I know, I’m just a robin. I have babies to take care of so I can’t learn all the words that the educated types use. I don’t have to know them anyway, that’s what Prester is for.

Anyway. Nobody who lived in the machine was allowed to return, for their own safety. The raccoon was obviously a bad influence. How could we raise our babies anywhere near such a ruffian? Certainly not. I would just as soon have my own eggs get cold than have them hear a single word against Ma Ne after they hatch. Ma Ne keeps the water flowing and the grass growing and the bugs nice and fat and tasty. If we started saying bad things about her she might take all that away and our bugs will go away. I can’t feed my babies without regurgitating those lovely juicy worms.

The creatures immediately took Prester’s advice, of course, pledging not to go near the machine or help the raccoon. We all expected that he would eventually get hungry and go away, or at least stop pulling apart the vehicle and let us help him. Some of us even thought maybe he would get so sick and weak that Ma Ne would take care of our problem for us. It probably wouldn’t have taken very long with no food or fresh water.

But that nasty old raccoon played a trick on all of us. You just can’t trust them. I told you. No sir. No sir.


I don’t usually have much of a problem with Prester, he does his thing and I do mine, but in my humble opinion he was being a fucking prick.

I’m trying to get to Prester to talk to him about the whole situation, but all the little fucking woodland creatures come out and mob him every time he makes a public appearance so I couldn’t get within a moose’s dick of him. I know Prester didn’t know what I know. That raccoon is weird, sure, he was just sick and now he’s acting all loony, but I don’t see anything that makes me think he deserves fucking quarantine. That’s either exile or a damn death sentence, and for what? Ripping up something that nobody can use anyway? Making some noise? Total overreaction, you ask me. And you are asking me.

Zeb don’t seem to care or even notice. He’s still ass-deep in that thing, banging around, happy as a maggot in shit. I try to get over to the machine, maybe talk some sense into the poor schmuck, but suddenly I’m covered in fucking flapping wings. Some of the birds had somehow spontaneously decided to become the fucking meadow squad or some shit. Go back! Go back! Flap flap flap. Maybe some pecks in there too. Fuck that. I scarper back to the closest tree and they let up. Go up and start flying in fucking circles like vultures. Eyes on the ground. Somebody tries to come close they’re ready to kick their ass.

I know this situation will require some brain power to figure out, so I go looking for nuts. Shit, I know I just ate but some problems are just two-nut jobs. Energy is important for both thinking and running. And I was pretty fucking sure I’d be doing a lot of both.

The day wears on and the sun’s starting to slant down and it gets pretty warm out there. I’m still up in the tree, eating nuts and thinking. I was too thinking. It just looked like I was taking a nap. Fuck you. I think best with my eyes closed.

So the sounds suddenly stop over by the machine. There’s a long silence. Nothing moves. Everybody in the tree kinda pokes their head out, but, you know, casual. Curious but not wanting to look like it. All the circling birds have gone on to other trees when nobody else tried to get over there, but you know they’re around somewhere ready to rip all over the next asshole who sticks his nose out.

When the sounds stop of course I’m instantly up on alert. He’s my patient after all. Anything happens to him I feel kind of responsible.

Zeb, he comes out from inside the machine kinda dragging one of his paws behind him and at first I think, oh shit he’s gone and busted something. Dead for sure if that happens. I hear some birds doing that flutter thing against some leaves and I figure if Zeb tries to walk away he’s gonna get a face full of sanctimonious bird ass.

But then Zeb kind of heaves and a big chunk of metal just comes scraping over the lip of the machine. Makes a noise that makes me think my teeth are gonna explode out of my mouth. Zeb somehow manages to haul this piece of fucking metal, bigger than he is, out of the machine and onto the ground. Then he flops out after it and lays there on the ground for a while, breathing heavy.

Nobody moves for a long time. We’re all watching Zeb, see. I don’t know about any of the others but I have to admit I’m pretty fucking impressed. That was a hell of a thing. Next time I talk to him he says something about how the metal is weighted heavier on one end than the other and he really didn’t have to push so hard, but from where I was sitting it was like he’d knocked over a tree with his bare paws. All the little fluttery birds settle right the fuck down. Nobody wants to tangle with some sort of crazy strong raccoon. Take your wings right off, one swipe.

I think stuff like that is where he started to get all the stories made up about him. Some of us will tell you he, I dunno, picked up the whole machine and carried it around in his mouth, like he’s tall as a tree and has like fire shooting out his ears or shit like that. Well don’t you believe it. He’s no stronger than any other raccoon. Although, yeah, that was still one fucking cool show.

Finally Zeb rolls over and everybody is like holding their fucking breath waiting to see what sort of weird supernatural shit he’s gonna pull next. I swear not a leaf was stirring. You could hear the whole sort of underlying sound of the two-legs’ machines patrolling the black ground far away, but back in the real world we were all statues.

Then Zeb has to go and fucking ruin it by attacking this chunk of metal like it had insulted his mother. He’s all over it, scratching it with his paws, biting it, growling and grunting and huffing. And he keeps this up for almost an hour, as shade from the tree covered him over.

I can’t stand it. If nobody else will go out there, I will, feathery assholes be damned. Nobody stops me as I run down the trunk, but I set one foot on the grass and I hear that fluttering up in the tree again. Somebody notices me. I take another couple of hops, sort of experimenting, you know, glancing around casual like ho hum, just out for a stroll, not going out to the crazy raccoon attacking a shiny rock, whatever gave you that idea. I pick up a nut although to be honest I’m sick of nuts by this point, but fuck it, it’s plausible. Then I hop another jump or two, closer, not looking at all.

Then I hear a sound up above and birds just come busting out of the tree branches, leaves dropping all over the place, all heading toward me. And I think, fuck. I know, big surprise there.

I start doing the squirrel evasion thing, you know, jump left, jump right, taking corners like nothing. Some of the more jealous creatures will talk about a squirrel tail like it’s some sort of burden, but fuck that. Give it a jerk while you’re running and POW you’re going way the fuck over the other direction than anyone ever thought. You don’t even have to think about turning. It just happens. We just sort of have this thing where we see a spot and we can jump to it. Short-tails can’t match that.

So over I go, jump jump jump. I can see the shadows of some of the faster birds moving around the grass in front of me. I don’t really think that the sun’s behind me so the shadows make it look like they’re gonna drop right on me at any second and it sort of freaks me out that the shadows look like they’re getting closer when they get bigger. I know from experience that squirrels can’t really outrun birds in a flat-out race, and while my evasion is pretty awesome it’s also slower than a really good run.

The first bird lands hard right next to me but I’m already off and away in a completely different direction. The second manages to clip my back so I lose some momentum on my next jump. Something scratches my haunch but I smack it away with my tail. I start thinking I’m doing pretty good, considering. Then I make the mistake of looking up, just for an instant, and see that I’m about to get fucking mobbed by these jerks. Each one that lands makes my path just a little narrower, and by the time I realize I’m being herded ih a certain direction something just hits me like WHACK right in the back of the head.

The sun goes bright and then dark. That’s all I remember.


Yeh. Yeh. Birds all going shit crazy. Got a squirrel trying to run across the great field and everyone watching that. Loud. Lots of shouting. What that squirrel ever do to deserve that.

Chipmunks don’t get involved. Birds do what they do, chipmunks stay out of their way. Yeh. Yeh. Turk sees all this. Wasn’t there at first but then I hear about the quarumteen, whatever, big word, wants to see what it’s all about. Go to the great field and it’s boring, just everybody looking at the machine while Zeb rips it up. Turk has to run across a bunch of black ground, almost gets caught by a two-legs machine. Then turns out it’s just staring party. Yeh. Bullshit.

Find some food though. Tree there has good nuts. Grass is young and tasty. Go see relatives in the field, play a little. Good time in the great field. Don’t want to live there but nice to visit.

Come back to tree when it start to get dark, see what’s going on or if it’s still bullshit. Mostly quiet. Sounds like Zeb fighting someone. Don’t see that. But see squirrel jump out of tree and start running, you know how squirrels are, all tail. Fast, kinda slippery, birds try to catch him but miss.

Everybody watching birds fight squirrel. Yeh. Yeh. Nobody watching Zeb. Zeb sits up, Turk sees him now. Zeb looks concerned. Don’t think many notice him yet. Birds still doing a number on squirrel. Squirrel still jumping all over like a blur. Good jumper. Squirrels always good jumpers. Not like chipmunks. Yeh. Gotta stay low, gotta dig holes, stay out of the way.

But Zeb. Zeb picks up a shiny thing, don’t know what it is, some piece of machine, and he just hauls back and chucks it in the air. Think he’s throwing at birds. Yeh. Some say he’s aiming at squirrel. But I see. Looks up at birds when he throws.

Raccoons not good for throwing though. No. Short little forearms, fat haunches. Sort of ridiculous. Yeh. Yeh. Don’t tell him I said that. You can’t tell him that. I remember. Can’t talk to him anymore. But don’t tell.

Shiny thing flies through air. Not like bird. More like when seed falls off branch. Tumbly tumbly tumbly. Shiny, blinking in sunlight. Then bonk. Hits squirrel right in head.

Birds are like whoa shit. Fly up in panic, from little dense group into big cloud like leaves. Go back up into trees. Scared, making a lot of noise. Squirrel does like a beautiful flip, right up, tail curving over, and down into the grass.

Oh crap, Zeb says. Starts running over to squirrel. Birds who landed fly up again, try to get away, bunch of cowards. Yeh. Chicken birds. Yeh. Yeh. So much for quarumteen. Zeb goes, picks up squirrel in his paws and kind of waddles back to the machine. Squirrel not look that bad hurt. No blood. Just asleep looks like. Funny to watch raccoon walking around with squirrel in his paws. Nobody laughing though.


The first time I ever saw Zeb, I had heard something about an animal who had gotten sick out in the field. It didn’t seem like such a big deal. The others do like to make a fuss, though, and were under the impression he might be dangerous somehow. I thought it might be for the best if I slithered on over and had a look.

I was something of the unofficial doctor to the larger animals at the time. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s something of a stigma of my species. Even that doesn’t make much sense. Snakes eat small animals. It’s just what we have to do. Nothing else is very appetizing or may even make us sick. I’ve tried. It’s unfortunate but sometimes it’s a fact of life.

Perhaps that’s what gives us an appreciation for the other species. I suppose that’s as good an explanation as any. I’m careful not to harm anything that I don’t have to to survive. I just think that’s being considerate.

A little bird came to where I was sunning myself and told me about this sick raccoon. I was a bit sleepy, having just fed a couple of hours before, and the sitting in the sun makes us pretty drowsy. So I told the bird tht I trusted Prester to make the right decision, and if the animal seemed to be dangerous, to tell him to quarantine him until I could take a look.

I had to repeat the words a few times and teach the bird to sound it out. Finally I told him that if he got close enough, that Prester would understand. Off the bird went and I admit I fell asleep again.

The sun had crept up over the top and on its way back down when the little bird returned and told me that Prester had done what I said. What’s that, I asked. Still a bit sleepy, of course. Quarumtoon, the bird said.

I opened my eyes. The bird hopped back in alarm, even though I try not to eat birds much. Quarantine, I said, Prester quarantined the animal.

Oh yes, said the bird, I told Prester that you said to quarumtoon the animal if he looked dangerous.

I thought, huh, first time the bird ever got something right that I said. Well, mostly. The bird went on to tell me that the raccoon was over at the machine in the field and he was waiting for me to arrive.

This was a little problematic, since the field was a fairly long distance from where I was, and I try not to travel openly in the daytime. The two-legs have killed a large number of my kind. They have some sort of aversion or phobia. Prester says my kind were close allies of Ma Ne during the rebellion. Perhaps there’s a secret story which explains why they hate us so. Prester is rather close with his secret stories, and I know better than to push. I like to think that a great snake warrior was a close friend of Ma Ne and delivered a terrible blow to the two-legs which knocked off their fur. Of course, Prester tells us not to make up stories about Ma Ne which we don’t know is true, so I don’t dare tell Prester.

I told the bird to fly back and tell Prester I’d be there as soon as I’m able. The bird said that Prester wasn’t actually at the field. He had some sort of important business. I told him just go tell whoever needs to know and he flew off.

I had to take my time, staying to shadows and avoiding the wide open places, so it was late afternoon by the time I reached the field. The birds were swarming something or someone and raising quite a ruckus. I hoped it wasn’t the raccoon. If it’s sick, that sickness can travel to other animals. Nobody really knows why. Some of us think it may be carried in the breath, since the breath is a part of our life force, so it carries the corrupted life force that is disease from one to another. Others think it’s a series of invisible spirits sent by Ma Ne to test or punish us. I tend more toward the latter. But if the raccoon is being tormented by Ma Ne’s spirit servants, we have to be careful when we get near him or else those servants may attack and corrupt our life force as well. They want to have him all to themselves, you see. The purity of Ma Ne’s justice is subverted by unnecessary attacks or kindnesses.

The birds dissipated as I approached the area. I was on the other side of the machine, and from my low vantage point I could hardly see what was happening. I decided to enter the machine and use it as a vantage point.

Instead, I heard the raccoon drop something heavy and meaty inside the front compartment of the machine and then scramble in himself. Perhaps he had caught a bird, I thought. This was a good sign, since it showed that his spirit wasn’t so corrupted that he couldn’t find something to eat.

I noticed several bird nests in the back of the machine, where I entered, a few with eggs in them. I have to admit I was a bit hungry after my long trip, and I had to pull myself away from the nests with willpower. It wasn’t time for this. Perhaps I could eat the eggs later as payment.

I crawled over the soft parts of the machine, in the big compartment under the roof, and started to stick my head over into the front compartment, which I noticed for the first time was open. I don’t think anyone had ever seen it open before. Very startling, though at the time I didn’t connect it with the rest of the current situation.

But as I started over the edge, the raccoon was right there, staring at me. He seemed agitated. Now I admit I’m a fairly large snake but there’s no way I could eat a raccoon, and surely he could recognize this. I flicked my tongue and detected something else, another animal with fur, not the bird I was expecting. A mate? No, not a raccoon, something else. I couldn’t quite tell.

The raccoon was still staring at me. I noticed he had something in his paws, something shiny and long and metallic. I’d seen the two-legs stand like that, holding a weapon. For a raccoon to do that was disconcerting and a little bit frightening, to say the least.

Uh, hello, I said. My name is Victor.

Get out of here, snake! he said, and waved the piece of metal toward me. He really did intend to use it against me. I was fairly flabbergasted.

Now don’t be hasty, I said. I’m here to help you.

Help yourself to my friend, you mean, he said.

There’s something else here? I asked. I thought I could smell something.

Keep your tongue in your mouth, he said. I wondered how he knew that’s how I smell things, but I kept my silence. I won’t let you eat him. Now get away.

I shook my head. You don’t understand, I said, I’m here to help you get better. I’m something of a doctor.

He took a swipe at me with the metal piece and I drew back. You lie, he said, the only snake I ever knew killed my mother with one bite.

Ah! I said. I’m not that kind of snake. Don’t worry. I don’t have poison. I’m a corn snake. The worst I can do is swallow.

He didn’t seem very convinced, so I said look, and then I opened my mouth wide, showing him that I don’t have fangs. I just have these bony plates, as you see. Aaaaahhhhh. I can’t even chew what I eat.

Eventually he lowered the piece of metal. Okay, so you don’t bite, he said. Do you eat squirrels?

I have eaten a squirrel or two in my time, I said. But you must understand I’m not here to eat. A least not squirrels, I thought, but I didn’t say that out loud. The eggs back in the other compartment were still on my mind.

He looked over his shoulder and I chanced flicking my tongue out again. Ah yes, it was a squirrel. Then he looked back at me and said, I think I may have hurt him. I didn’t mean to. I was just trying to chase the birds away.

I can look at him, I said, but you’ll need to put down that club of yours.

He looked at it as if he suddenly realized he was still holding it. Okay, he said, I’ll trust you. But if you make a move against me or my friend, it won’t be hard for me to pick this up again and knock you out.

I nodded and he dropped his makeshift weapon. He took a step to one side and I immediately recognized his little squirrel friend Patch. I know this squirrel, I said as I slithered over to look him over. He’s a friend of yours? He doesn’t have a lot of friends.

The raccoon had taken a few steps back in case I were to take a strike at him, or whatever he was imagining I might do. I don’t know if Patch is really a friend of mine, he said, but he’s the only one who seems to care about me, so that’s good enough.

Meanwhile I was close enough to give Patch a good going over. I couldn’t smell any sickness, and he didn’t seem to have any blood on him. I quickly determined he had taken a pretty good konk on the head judging by the new lump, but he seemed to be breathing all right. I turned back to the raccoon. Did you say you did this to him? I asked.

The raccoon immediately looked down at his paws and sort of fumbled them around. Not intentionally, he said. I threw something at the birds and hit him by mistake.

I hissed a little and looked at Patch again. Some quick tongue examination led me to believe the lump wasn’t too serious. It was hot and dense, which, well, I suppose it’s a little technical really, you don’t want to hear a lot of that I’m sure, but it indicated that the spirit’s attack hadn’t penetrated very deeply into his body and he wouldn’t have much confusion when he awoke.

You’ll be glad to know, I said, that I don’t think he’ll require much attention. When he awakens, watch his eyes and make sure he can focus both of them on objects close and far away. If not, you’ll need to get him into a stream and get water on his head. Sometimes the spirits of the winter will remain in running water even into the summer, and the coolness will help fight the effects of the spirit attacking his brain.

He wasn’t attacked by a spirit, the raccoon said, I accidentally hit him with a piece of this machine.

I shook my head. You threw the piece because the spirit wanted you to throw it, I told him. It wasn’t your fault. The anger you felt toward the birds was secretly a way for Ma Ne’s justice to reach Patch for something he did. The spirit left you, traveled through the piece of the machine that you threw, and entered Patch’s body, attacking his life force and causing him to fall unconscious.

That seems needlessly complicated, he said.

Sometimes it seems that way, I replied. But think: When you saw Patch fall unconscious, did you still feel anger?

He looked a little startled at that. I guess I didn’t, he said, I just felt concern about my friend.

Exactly, I said. The spirit was gone by that point. It had attacked Patch. You were merely the agent to deliver it to him.

So why didn’t the spirit just attack Patch directly? he asked.

I rolled my eyes. This one was so terribly naive I could hardly believe it. I said, maybe Patch needed it to come from you so it would have more impact on his future actions. Just being attacked by a random invisible spirit doesn’t carry much of a message.

He thought about that for a moment. Then he said, I’ve been sick. Just yesterday I was lying in a mud puddle covered with itchy bugs and delirious with fever. Is that Ma Ne’s justice too?

Of course, I replied. You must have done something terrible to be so sick, but not so terrible that you died. Maybe one of the spirits who were attacking you was the one attacking Patch now. Do you still think you’re sick?

He shrugged and said, I don’t feel bad anymore. But I do feel different.

I asked if he would mind if I examined him. He looked a little squeamish at that. Before I could convince him more, Patch stirred and Zeb was instantly by his side like a mother with her cub.

Patch opened his eyes. I could see that they were tracking all right and relaxed. Patch rubbed his paws on his head and said, fucking birds.

Uh, yeah, Zeb said.

Still groggy, Patch looked around a bit and saw me watching over at him. He screamed and jumped over the lip of the machine, running away from us without any sign of weakness or unsteadiness. I knew that was a good sign. Zeb was startled and looked out at his retreating friend, then glanced back at me. What caused him to run like that? he asked me.

I bobbed my head a little. He doesn’t like me very much, I said.

Why’s that? Zeb asked.

Well, I replied, I sort of ate his brother.


There was a long time after the squirrel suddenly emerged from the machine when we didn’t have any idea what was going on. I was up in the tree, but the angle wasn’t good enough to actually look down into the part of the machine where Zeb was. The wife kept at me to gather things for the new nest, and I did know it was a good idea, but you know how we get when there’s drama.

And that raccoon, Zeb, was all anyone wanted to talk about (besides my wife and the new nest, of course). Doing this, doing that, making noise. For Ma Ne’s sake, birds make a lot more noise than the raccoon ever did, all day and sometimes all night depending on our species, but I suppose we get used to it. Raccoons make noise too sometimes, but one of them starts making a racket that might drown out some of the quieter birds and whoa nelly everybody has a conniption.

Sorry, I don’t mean to get worked up. My wife and I are hard at work trying to rebuild a nice place to nest, lay some eggs, and settle down, but suddenly everyone wants to talk about the raccoon and the strange behavior of the screaming squirrel. I was on the ground picking up some dry grass, which wasn’t in any great supply, it had been a nice rainy summer so far which is great for grass but lousy for nests. Anyway I was foraging and had found a little tuft of dying grass when the squirrel Patch came barreling past me screaming SNAKE! SNAKE!

Naturally I was in the air immediately. I’m not so large that I have nothing to fear from a good-sized snake. I even lost my beakful of dried grass, but of course I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. Patch made a beeline for the tree and shot straight up the trunk. Now at the time the tree was pretty heavy with birds, and they just exploded out of there, crying out in panic.

I admit I’m not the bravest bird around but the reaction of most of my contemporaries was pretty shameful if you ask me. There would be no way that I could get back to our nest-building for a while, the way all the other birds were flying about and carrying on. Something about the raccoon and the quarantine had spooked a lot of us already, I guess, and all it took was a tiny bit of commotion to drive us into a frenzy.

I’m not sure why I flew toward the machine, though. Everyone else was panicking and I guess I sort of got caught up in it. Unfortunately, where most of my peers seem to have a high sense of self-preservation in a crisis, I seem to have the opposite reaction. Maybe some part of me still thought of the machine as my home, maybe it was just random flight, but in the end it didn’t matter. I had almost lit on the open lip of the machine when I realized there was supposed to be a quarantine.

But then what would I do? I probably couldn’t turn around and fly back right away, considering the way everyone was acting. Their paranoia was so high I could very likely have been attacked. Some of them might have even thought I was in collusion with the raccoon or the snake, though I hadn’t seen a snake yet. I’m not sure how I could be in collusion with a snake but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t consider the logical aspects of the case.

So I landed on the open compartment of the machine. I was frightened, sure, but it was a different sort of fright than the mindless panic that was going on behind me, and I guess realizing that gave me a strange sort of courage.

Then, of course, I saw the raccoon talking with Victor. I almost laughed out loud. Victor isn’t much of a threat unless you’re really sick or slow or unlucky. Patch was just being foolish.

Then they both turned to stare at me. Oh, I thought. Huh. I guess I did just arrive unexpected and unannounced. Maybe I should say something.

So, I said. Hi.

Hey, the raccoon said. You’re the bird from the back.

Yeah, I said. Hi. I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Dart.

Hello Dart, he said, I’m Zeb. This is Victor.

Oh we all know Victor, I said.

And then we all just sat and looked at each other for a moment. The birds were still making a terrible row behind me.

Excuse me, Dart, Victor finally said. Can we help you?

Oh, uh, no, I said. There’s just sort of some craziness going on back at the tree. Patch has started a riot and I can’t get back to my nest.

I thought you had a nest back there, Zeb said, pointing his paw back to the other part of the machine.

We have to move, I said. Prester’s declared the machine off limits.

What, why, Zeb said, then he suddenly cocked his head. Because of me? he asked.

Victor said, I’m afraid so. Your behavior is really rather unusual for a raccoon. We’re just afraid you may be carrying some strange new madness which may spread.

Zeb hummed a little and said, So you think I may have a spirit in me which may jump out and bonk people in the head.

One or more, Victor said. Since they’re invisible and intangible, You could be the host of dozens of them.

So why aren’t you afraid, Zeb asked.

I said, Actually I am pretty afraid. But I can’t get back to the tree without getting attacked, so this seems like the most safe place at the moment. I’d rather take my chances with invisible spirits which may or may not attack me as opposed to some crazy birds who I KNOW will kill me.

Zeb actually laughed out loud and said, I like you, Dart. You’re all right.

Victor said, As for me, I don’t seem to be attacked by many of the same spirits that attack your warm bloods.

Why is that? Zeb asked. Do you live an exceptionally virtuous life?

Victor shook his head and hissed out. No, certainly no more or less than anyone else. I wish it was that easy to explain, he said. For some reason Ma Ne doesn’t inflict my kind — cold bloods — with many of the same spirits which attack your kind. But on the other hand we have different spirits which will attack us but not warm bloods. Either way, it makes our kind better choices to deal with sick members of your kinds. Dart there, he added, looking at me, Dart will get some of the same sicknesses as the furred beings, but not all of them. After several years of observing, I think I can narrow down which sicknesses will spread and which ones won’t.

And this is all due to the spirits, Zeb said.

As far as we can tell, Victor said.

Zeb thought about it for a second. So, he said, so Ma Ne sends spirits especially to attack those of us with fur, and other to attack those of you with feathers, and he pointed at me when he said that, and a third kind to attack those of you with scales. But then there are some that will attack two or more kinds, and a few that will just go after anything they can reach.

Victor nodded wisely. Absolutely right, he said.

Wow, Zeb said, shaking his head. This is going to be hard to keep straight. Is there any way to predict what to do to keep from being attacked?

Oh sure, I piped up, just talk to Prester. He knows all the stories.

Zeb said, Prester? The badger? I’m not sure if I want to talk to him, since he’s the one who put me under quarantine.

Actually, Victor said, that was mostly my doing. Sorry. I think there was some miscommunication between myself and Prester with a small bird in between. Uh, no offense, he said to me.

None taken, I replied. I know how birds usually are.

Victor continued, I told Prester that he should declare parantine if you seemed to be a danger. But it’s pretty apparent that you’re not.

Well I did throw someting at Patch, Zeb said.

Ah, but that was the spirit attacking Patch, Victor said.

And we both have fur, Zeb continued, so the spirit could be any type.

Oh, no, no, Victor said, chuckling. Spirits of vengeance don’t discriminate. That’s entirely different from a spirit of sickness. You can be angry or attack anything, and it’s always the spirit invading your life force.

Now I admit that by this time I was getting a bit bored by this conversation. The only thing that I thought was interesting was that apparently Zeb hadn’t been taught all this back when he was a cub. I noticed that the ruckus back at the tree had subsided somewhat, from a whirling madhouse to more of a jumpy chirpy one. Maybe it would be safe to get back.

Zeb, meanwhile, was tapping his head like it hurt. Okay, one more thing, he said.

Hey guys, I chimed in, I think I’m going to get back and do some work on my new nest, the wife’s been eating a lot and needs someplace to lay her eggs, so.

All right, Dart, Victor said, but then Zeb held up his paw. Hold up, Zeb said. Let me ask you a question.

Sure, I said.

You have a mate, right?

Well sure, I laughed, I wouldn’t be building a nest otherwise.

Zeb said, and have you ever done anything wrong?

What, I asked, like hurt somebody, that sort of thing?

Yeah, Zeb said.

I thought about it. Well not really, I finally said. Not since I was young, and even then it was mostly a peck here or there. I had to fight for my mate, that’s the worst fight I’ve ever been in.

Did you kill the other suitors, Zeb asked.

No way, I said, we don’t kill just to mate. It was just a show of dominance. You guys get away from her, she’s my mate, that sort of thing. There were plenty of other mates to choose from this season so most of them just went and pursued their own.

Zeb said, so you attacked them and drove them away.

Sure, I said, not seeing where he was going.

Then he said, YOU attacked them and drove them away. Not a spirit.

Well, I don’t know, I replied. I don’t know what the spirits had in store for those other suitors. Maybe they had hurt somebody and deserved to be hurt back.

But, Zeb said, acting like he was being patient with a small child, if they hurt somebody, wasn’t it a spirit that made them do it?

I suppose, I said. I looked at Victor but he looked as lost as I felt.

Zeb rubbed his head again. So your spirit of vengeance, or mating, or whatever, was taking its violence out on another bird, who had itself just been the vessel of vengeance or mating or whatever upon some other poor schmuck bird who had done something else due to a spirit.

What are you saying? Victor finally said.

Zeb threw up his paws and shouted, It’s spirits all the way down!


Mother told us, seek the dark spots, always eat what you can, drink when you can, don’t listen to anyone else. Keep on alert. Sleep only when you know it’s totally completely safe. Even then keep ears open. We’re small. Run away. Eat and mate.

We live in two-legs box, whole family here. Lots to eat if you know where to look. Sometimes two-legs trick us, kill one or two, but we keep on. Learn to stay quiet inside walls. Don’t scratch too much, only when too hungry and not enough other food. Then they give us food and we eat it and some of us get snapped on the head. But they keep rest of us safe. Two-legs think we’re all gone and so we keep living.

Spend much time with the two-legs. Some think we brave for doing this. They don’t know. Two-legs have no fur or tails, bad eyes, bad nose, not very fast. Don’t eat our kind. Two-legs eat weird meat, can’t tell what it is, full of spice, no blood, usually burned, leave lots of meat on bones which they leave behind. Have funny foods like puffed up hard corn and spoiled milk pieces and paste made of nuts and fluffy bits which give us lots of energy and make us sleepy right after.

Easy to live with two-legs when you’re small. Like us.

Mother tells us she once lived out of box. In field. Grass so tall you can’t see over it. Two-legs grass is short and easy to walk on. Can’t hide in two-legs grass. Mother says grass in field is so tall dogs can’t see. Sounds interesting.

We have lots of food in box. Two-legs bring more in all the time. Don’t even have to go all around. Most food in the same place. We live in small nest far away from food place. Mother says we don’t stay near food because two-legs will kill more of us if they see that we’ve been eating their food. We stay quiet, go where food is in dark time when two-legs are asleep. Mostly eat crumbs. Sometimes get into big food, covered in funny skin, easy to chew through, eat lots of food then. Afterward two-legs kill a lot of us. The rest stay quiet. Small. Can’t see us. Can’t smell us.

So much food. Safe. Warm. But Mother tells stories of field, big blue sky, warm sun. Also talks about rain, snow, hiding from birds and big animals. But we aleady hide. Hiding all our life. Cramped up in corner, trying not to get killed, eating little bits of food, sometimes easier to find than others.

So I run. Want to see. Want to have new stories to tell. I find crack to outside, run through two-legs grass and across black ground. Hide from dogs, big loud dogs. Stay in cracks, under rocks, be careful. Run, stop, hide. Run, stop, hide.

I cross black ground and then the grass is different. Much much taller. I run into it and feel like home. Can’t explain it. Ground under paws, smells of dark dirt, moist, paws sink in and fit. Grass over head, sky above that. Wind blows, smells like living things. Air in two-legs box smells like dust and sweet and dry wood and dead bugs. Air in field smell like every animal all together, being alive and mating and chasing and killing. Makes my blood race. Heart go thud inside. Makes me want to laugh and cry and run run run.

So much to see. I run until sun up high, find a tree root, burrow under, sleep. Know I’m exposed, easy to find by big animals maybe, doesn’t matter, feels so good to be out in field I almost be okay with dying. Already in best place. Ma Ne’s palace not as good as this to me.

What? Yeah, know Ma Ne from Mother. She tell us stories about Ma Ne falling in love with mouse, mouse dies, Ma Ne eats mouse so they together forever. Good story. Makes us cry in nest. When Mother dies we eat her. Part of us forever. Think about her and she talks to us from our memory. Mother with me in field, talking to me, protecting me. That why it was okay to leave box. Mother with me, say it’s okay. Didn’t want me to go when she was alive but changes mind after she joins me. She learns how grown up I am. Says she’s proud of me.

I wake up, sun low in sky. Not eaten while asleep. Good. Decide to look around a little. Come out and there’s a big furry one right next to me. Never seen anything looks like him. Like big BIG mouse with really long hairy tail. Not really looks at me. Looks at ground. All slumped.

Hi mouse, he say, like he tired.

You eat me? I say, all ready to run away.

No, fuck you, he say, gets all mad, I don’t eat fucking mice. I don’t eat anything with a face, okay? Not like that snake asshole.

What snake? I say. Never hear of snake. Mother not tell stories about snake.

He looks at me. Where the hell are you from, kid? he say. How can you live in the great field and never hear of a fucking snake?

I from two-legs box, I say. Far away. Just come to field. Sorry not know about snake.

Oh one of those, he say. Don’t worry about it. Apparently it’s a big joke to be afraid of snakes around here.

Oh, ha ha, I say. Funny joke. Don’t get it though. Just laugh to be polite.

He close his eyes and say, go back to your box, kid.

No! No! I say. Want to stay! Field is so good! Don’t want to go back to box!

He look at me again. Ma Ne, he say all quiet. Okay, you can stay. Don’t go crazy like everyone else has been today.

Good, I say. Then I sit up like he is, on back paws, and look around like he looks around. He kind of laugh at me. Hey, he say, before I forget, welcome to the field. I’m Patch.

I bow. Thank you, Patch, I say, the way Mother taught me. My name Thunder.

Patch laugh. I not know why Patch laugh, but I laugh too to be polite.

Then he say, Well, you’ve officially cheered me up. But how’d you get the name Thunder? Of all the names for a fucking mouse.

I say, Mother names all of us from things she knows from outside the box. I Thunder, also sisters names Rain and Wood and Grass, brothers names Tree and Rock and Winds and Flowers. Mother say she likes me best so she names me Thunder.

Patch say, I bet she told all the others the same thing.

I take a moment to ask Mother, then say, no, Mother say I’m favorite. Likes others too but I win, best mouse in family. I run away, I leave. Others don’t. Best mouse runs away.

Patch sort of turns his head a little sideways. You’re one weird little dude, he say.

Thank you, I say. Just say to be polite.


Of course I have far better things to do than to stand around a field making sure that a necessary medical quarantine is in effect. Zeb was just one raccoon, and at most I had displaced five or six families. Regrettable but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The spirit of protection moves me so often, you know. Ma Ne sends spirits to me often, spirits and omens sent by spirits. She does this because she loves us, Ma Ne does, and she wants us to be safe. The spirits move me, cause me to say and do things. I’m glad to do it, because I know the secret stories that tell why Ma Ne does these to us.

No. Sadly I can’t tell you these stories. But they truly do explain everything.

I have returned to an area near my home which occasionally has a lot of worms. The birds discuss this area often, and Ma Ne provides for her faithful. If I can, I prefer to eat worms, you know, There are others of my kind who are less picky and attack small animals and birds, but I just don’t have the heart. These are my friends, they rely on me. I will only eat one of them if there truly is no other option. Perhaps this is why I get along so well with Victor the snake. He and I see eye to eye on this.

Now if one of us does kill an animal that’s too much for us and our mates to eat, we’ll often contact the other. No reason to let an animal go to waste. Victor requires his prey to either be very recently dead or still alive, though, so usually he gets in touch with me and not the other way around. He’s good to me, he really is. I assure him Ma Ne gives extra consideration to the generous of heart.

Anyway, I’m busy finding some lovely fat worms just a short dig down in the worm patch when the little blue bird we use for communication flies down on a nearby branch. Finn is a good bird, not bright, but fast and has the eyes of an eagle. Yes, Finn, I say, what news from Victor?

Ma Ne provides, Finn begins, as always. Victor says he believes the raccoon is not an immediate danger. He no longer suffers from fever and doesn’t seem to have the nits on him that he claims to have when he first came here.

I ask, What about his behavior? Has he finished attacking the machine?

Finn replies, He says the raccoon seems to be very curious about everything, and is very …

I wait a moment then ask, yes?

Finn shakes his head for a second then jumps and chirps, Naive! Sorry, I didn’t remember the word. Victor says the raccoon doesn’t know much about how the world works and goes off on some strange paths in his conversations.

Finn cocks his head. Maybe you should go see the raccoon, he says. He needs your help and guidance.

Thank you, Finn, I say. Tell Victor I shall visit the machine soon. Until then, the quarantine is still in effect.

It is? Finn says. Why is that?

Ah, Finn, I say, I would like to lift the quarantine, I really would! But it’s dangerous for a strange raccoon to be wandering around the area, especially if he’s full of strange ideas. I will need to speak with him and determine if he’s well and truly capable of functioning among my friends who put their trust in the wisdom of Ma Ne.

I see, Finn says. I understand. I’ll go tell Victor. And he flutters off in a burst of blue feathers even before I can give him leave.

Ah well. I return to my burrow to prepare. By the time I get there, it’s obvious by the angle of the sun that I won’t be able to complete a second journey all the way over to the great field before nightfall, so I find my mate and we spend much of the evening discussing the events of the day. I expect the quarantine will wait until morning.


Once I completed my examination of the raccoon, it was fairly obvious that he was healthy except for his newly strange outlook on life. Perhaps he was possessed by a type of spirit I had never seen before. His actions had a sort of logic, but they could be difficult to follow.

I listened in particular fascination as he discussed the machine and what he had learned in tearing parts out of it. The compartment that we currently sat in, he surmised, was not intended for anyone to live in, since the large number of parts that he had found that moved would make it very uncomfortable. Meanwhile, the compartment behind us contained a number of soft smooth surfaces which made him think that was where the two-legs were supposed to sit.

This was rare insight, but generally useless, I thought. There’s no great profit from any standpoint in knowing where the two-legs like to sit. But then Zeb started off on one of his tangents, pointing at various unidentifiable pieces of the machine and noting what he believed they were “for.”

Finally I asked him, What do you mean by ‘what they’re for’?

He shrugged and said, I think all the pieces of this machine fit together somehow in a pattern. Everything that you see here contributes to how it all works somehow. We’ve all seen the machines of the two-legs, right? They run by themselves without much of a problem. I think this works the same way. And when I look at the pieces, he went on, I can just almost make sense of it all.

I looked at him closely. He was looking at the machine with the sort of intensity I usually chalk up to stalking prey. His eyes were bright and clear, his carriage strong and confident. He showed no signs of physical illness.

But there had to be something, I reasoned. Some rare spirit of Ma Ne sent to torment him with this mad delusion that he could ever possibly decipher the machines of the two-legs. Whatever he had, it was the most subtle infestation I had ever seen. His body was in good order, a little underweight maybe, but his fur was thick and even and he told me straight away that he wasn’t feeling any pain beyond some aching joints, which aren’t unusual after an intense fever.

He saw me looking at him and chuckled. Still trying to find something wrong with me, he said.

A snake’s prerogative, I said.

He said, I thought a snake’s prerogative was to eat anything it couldn’t cure. Just right out there, very bluntly.

That stung me. I flicked my tongue in frustration and finally said, we’re here to talk about you, not me.

But he didn’t stop there. How do you put it all together? he asked. I have been known to eat a thing I could talk to from time to time, but it makes me feel a little off afterward. Since my fever I think that’s just gotten worse. I remember a lot of them, mice and baby birds and one I think was a small bat one time. They were terrified, but I was hungry, and I was bigger, so I won. It was always a little weird after I was done to think of what just happened. I’ve been thinking of them a lot after my fever. I can see some of them when I close my eyes, hear their voices.

I admit this took me off guard. I thought about it and put together my answer very carefully before I spoke. It’s true, I said, that we have the advantage of size over anything smaller. But it was a matter of survival.

Yes, I know, he said, but what made me, makes us, worth surviving more than the smaller ones?

It’s the order of things, was all I could say.

Ordered by Ma Ne? he asked.

I shook my head. I don’t know all the stories of Ma Ne, I said, but the order comes from even before she existed. It was the way of all living things since the sky met the earth and everything came to be.

Okay, he said, but a long time ago I knew a horse. Now this horse was huge, and he didn’t like me very much and I didn’t think much of him either, but from what I could see, he only ate grass and grain. An awful lot of it, but that was all.

All right, I said, a little confused as to where he was going with this train of thought.

So, said Zeb, that horse didn’t eat raccoons, or two-legs, or even mice, even though he was way bigger than any of them. I was mostly worried that he’d stomp me, not take a bite out of me. And if he had killed me for some reason, it would have been out of anger, or spirits of vengeance, or whatever, and not for food.

Now that’s different, I said. Some creatures are herbivores and so don’t need to eat living things.

Is it a choice? Zeb said. For anyone? I know I can subsist either way, but what about a snake, or a squirrel?

For omnivores it is a choice, I said. Onmivores are blessed.

Yes but I didn’t ask for this blessing, Zeb said.

Now how do you know that? I asked. You may have asked for this before you were sent into the world, and then forgot. Anyway, speaking as a carnivore, you certainly are blessed. I wish I could make that choice. But my body is what it is. You should count yourself lucky.

It’s not luck if I asked for it, he said. More like I should count myself a selfish bastard in the time before I was born. Did I take this spot away from someone else who now suffers having to kill others because I was squeamish or something?

Maybe, I said, you’re fulfilling a destiny by being who you are right now. We all are.

Hm, he said. So even the animals we eat are part of that destiny? Sent here to die in our stomachs so that we may live and fulfill a greater purpose?

I hadn’t really thought about it that way, I said, intrigued by how the raccoon seemed to be able to cut to the heart of the matter. It does hang together.

I guess it does make a sort of grisly sense, he said. Of course, he added, that also makes us sound like supreme badasses of the universe, so I think we may be predilected to like that explanation. The poor schmoes that we kill just have to grin and bear it, because make way for the big important destiny snake and raccoon! We will eat you and you will like it!

My sense of self-worth, which had already started to be stoked by his talk of destiny, deflated like a wet bird. Now hold on, I said lamely, trying to keep up this thought, we’re not here just to eat other beings. That’s just a detail next to our true calling.

But if we have a destiny, he said, then why do we have to be carnivores? Or omnivores in my case, but you get the idea. Couldn’t we fulfill our destiny as, say, squirrels, and just eat a bunch of nuts and fruits? Or cows? Or birds?

Absolutely not, I said, warming up to the argument. This at least was something I felt I had a firmer grasp of. I continued, part of our destiny is the problems we wrestle with. We may feel guilty for eating smaller beings, but that guilt goes into our life force and turns us into something we could never be if we didn’t have that guilt. It changes us into the beings that can fulfill the destiny that we have.

He frowned a little. That’s some interesting gymnastics you just did there, he said.

Does it not hold up? I said.

Well, yeah, he said slowly, but the problem is it also holds up if you take away the destiny part completely. Then it turns into “We are who we are because we are who we are,” which is as good an explanation as your destiny thing. Maybe even better because it’s completely obvious.

I mean, look, he went on. A big problem of a lot of answers to these questions is that they make sense.

I laughed despite my rising sense of being baited by a crazy warm blood. Isn’t that the point of asking questions, to find answers that make sense?

Yes, he said, but they make sense in a way that almost always benefits us. We are the center of attention. We are the winners. Logic dictates it. We’re the best!

Well, I said, so why wouldn’t we be?

He smiled a little. Because, he said, we get sick and we get cold and we get covered in nits and we get trampled by horses. Things suck, generally speaking. They suck less for the big things and the herbivores. They suck more for the baby mice I ate a few months ago. But they do suck, and as long as they do, we’re not on top.

I pondered this for a long moment. The sun was setting and the temperature was already dropping; I knew I would have to get back to my hole soon. And for the first time I realized that I did kind of get the short end of that deal; the warm bloods aren’t nearly as affected by the cold and there’s never anything I’ll be able to do to change my own sensitivity. I’ll never know what it’s like to run, or have fur, and before that didn’t seem like such a terrible thing but now for some reason I missed being able to do what other beings take for granted.

Zeb looked up at the coloring in the sky. Oh hey it’s about dark, he said. You’re welcome to stay here if you like.

No thanks, I said, the metal in the machine is too cold for me.

Well, Zeb said, you could stay close to this big piece of metal. He put his paw up against the huge chunk of the machine which crowded the compartment we were in. It’s been sitting in the sun all day, he added, and I think it’ll hold the heat. I nearly burned myself touching it earlier.

I slitered closer to the big chunk and realized that it was nicely warm, much warmer than the surroundings. I appreciate this, I said, but aren’t you worried about having a big snake nearby?

I don’t know why I should be too worried about a snake that couldn’t swallow me in a million years, he said. Anyway, I know you’ll go back into the other compartment and eat the eggs back there. I saw how you looked at them when you came up. Then you won’t want to eat for a good while.

I nearly thanked him before the bluebird Finn landed on the hunk of metal. Hey Victor, message from Prester, he said. Quarantine is still in efect until tomorrow morning, Prester himself will come out then and talk with the raccoon.

I’m standing right here, Zeb said.

Hello raccoon! Finn said. Your quarantine is still in effect until tomorrow morning.

Yes, I heard you the first time, Zeb said.

Okay! said Finn. So, Victor, tell everyone to stay away from the machine and the raccoon.

You too, Zeb said.

Finn looked around and suddenly his eyes got real big. Oh! he said, and flew away.

I shook my head. I guess I should go, I said. I was looking forward to those eggs, too.

Well, Zeb said, if you feel like you have to leave I can’t stop you. I’ll save the eggs for you.

No need, I said, they’re probably already dead by now and they’ll just spoil. If you’d like to eat them, go ahead. You could probably use the food more than me.

Dead? he said, startled.

Yes, I replied, eggs require their mother to set on them until they hatch. If the eggs get cold, the baby birds inside will most likely die. These eggs have been abandoned for most of the afternoon. I doubt many of them would hatch now. When the sun goes down, their death is pretty much assured.

Zeb rubbed his face. Those poor babies, he said.

I tilted my head and said, They’re just eggs. Their parents will lay more.

Yeah, but still, Zeb said, these eggs could have hatched and grown up and become parents of more birds who would have hatched and grown up. I get the feeling this quarantine has already had far-reaching consequences.

You know, I said, just when I start to think you’re all right, you say things like this. The new eggs will be birds just like these. Ma Ne will provide for the new chicks. In the end there’s no difference at all.

I hope you’re right, Zeb said.

I said my farewells and left. When I looked back, I saw Zeb sitting on the edge of the machine’s open compartment, staring at the eggs in the nests with a strange sad distant look on his face. I felt sad for him, a sort of sympathy, that I admit I’d never really felt before.

I shook my head. Perhaps the quarantine was a good idea after all.


So apparently I’ve picked up some sort of fucking shadow, or hanger-on, or some shit like that. This little mouse named fucking Thunder, don’t even think he was full grown yet, weird little bastard.

I never spend a lot of time around mice, you know? Most of them run around, darting in and out, trembling all the time like they’re scared of fucking everything, gives me the creeps. But this guy, Thunder, guy either has no fear or is fucking retarded. Says he grew up in a two-legs box. Guess he never learned that things can get dangerous out in the big bad world.

You remember that. Little factoid from Patch, there. Everything is out to cut your fucking balls off. You gotta keep your eyes open and be ready to do the right thing at an instant’s notice, and you better do it right the first time or you’re either shitting yourself or dead or both. That’s the difference between being a hero and being a dead fucking pussy.

So I’m telling Thunder all this, right. And Thunder is pretty much listening calmly. And you know, even though I think the way mice usually jump around is creepy, to have one just sit there taking in every word you say just weirds me the fuck out.

What is it about today, I’m thinking. First I pick up that raccoon, and that hasn’t done me any favors, and now I have some sort of fucking mini-rat chasing me around like I’m his daddy. All I need is a damn bird companion and I’ll be the fucking Queen of All Nature. Ma Ne got nothing on me. But then I’m afraid that Ma Ne can somehow send a spirit to know what I’m thinking and will go back and tell on me, and then I’m thinking, hey, maybe that stray thought came from a spirit of Ma Ne in the first place. And then I get a headache and stop thinking about it because who cares, fuck off with that line of thought.

This bird comes up from the vehicle and flits around telling the other birds something up in the tree. After a while it gets out to those of us without feathers that the quarantine is still in effect. Thank you for telling everyone and not just your bird pals, your royal fucking highness bluebird piece of shit. I’m being what you call sarcastic there in case you can’t tell.

Other birds flying in for the night start talking about seeing Victor leave when they fly overhead. Okay, I’m thinking, maybe now it’ll be safe to try to sneak back there without having to worry about getting chomped on by a big slimy snake. Don’t give me that, snakes just look slimy, all shiny and slithering around. Gives me electric fur thinking about it.

Thunder, I still can’t believe that’s the little prick’s name, but fucking Thunder says he’s curious about the machine and would like to go see it. I tell him it’s probably not a good idea to get out in the daylight, especially for a mouse, since he’d be less than a mouthful for some great fuckoff bird or snake or something. But then he says something about not being able to see the machine in the dark and then he just starts running straight out into the field, leaving me behind.

Now I’m slapping my head, you know? He’s doing an okay job staying under the grass from the ground but I bet you a dozen nuts he’s wide open from the air. The taller grass grows in these tufts, see, and mostly they stand straight up, not a lot of overhang to hide under.

I’m keeping an eyeball on the sky for Thunder’s sake and sure enough it’s not three shakes before I see a fucking hawk. Those shitfuckers will snatch up and eat a mouse without never blinking. And you know the little shitty birds in the tree wouldn’t interfere with a hawk. Those guys are like fucking stars to ordinary birds. They got this sort of noble reputation which in my opinion is totally undeserved. Maybe it’s the way they stand. They always look like they got a stick up their ass, which I guess translates into “noble” for birds and not so much “holy fuck somebody pull this thing out I gotta take a shit.”

I’m looking into the field now and I see a couple of little wiggles in some grass. The little shithead doesn’t even know how to run through a fucking field. That shit’s like jumping up and down while screaming Eat Me to a hawk, and if I can see it I know those birds can.

Remember what I said about doing the right thing at a moment’s notice? Well it’s hero time, right then, and what do I do but I rise to the fucking challenge. No way I’m going to let some asshole bird eat a mouse friend of mine, event a retarded one named Thunder. He may be weird but he’s all right.

I guess I just take up causes for basket cases. Kind of noble when you think about it. I’m good that way. Hey shut it. Shut it. You giggle again and I stop telling this fucking story, all right?

That’s what I thought.

So out I run into the field again, even with those crazy birds behind me and a fucking hawk overhead. Now don’t think I’m scared, although I have every right to be. You only get scared doing something you know you shouldn’t do.

Anyway, I get going and there go those birds again. There’s a sort of pause since I think they’ve relaxed a little for the evening, but somebody spots me and suddenly it’s like screeching bird central. I hear fluttering flapping wings from all over the place behind me. I take a chance to look behind me and it’s like the tree grows, this huge cloud of birds somes shooting out like a wreath.

I just put my head down and haul ass toward the machine. It’s a little run, and the birds will easily get to me before I get there, but with some luck maybe I can reach Thunder before they get to me.

I’m running and I can hear some of the birds getting close to me already. They’re not even really flying hard. Birds are just that fucking fast. One of them remarks that this squirrel must be fucking stupid to try this twice, and I just snicker. Because what they don’t know is, this is my plan all along: I fill the air with so many fucking birds that that hawk can’t get to my mouse pal.

And there’s Thunder right in front of me, and he looks back and just has enough time to squeak Oh dear before I grab him under one of my paws and run hell-for-fucking-leather toward the machine. Something with a fuckton of feathers misses me over my head and I begin screaming HEY ZEB WAKE YOUR ASS UP YOU GOT COMPANY.

Now the sun’s right on the horizon but it’s not dark yet by any stretch. So when Zeb comes leaping out of the machine everybody in the air sees it and just about shits themselves. And Zeb stands up and throws out his paws, he’s probably a third the way from us to the tree, and he just roars out QUARANTIIIINE like it’s a battle cry or some shit.

You never saw a bunch of fucking birds backpedal so fast. It was beautiful.


Get to see machine. Machine is pretty cool.

Don’t know what Patch does. Grabs me up while I run through the field. Staying low. Staying quiet. Like Mother taught. Mother tells me she’s proud of my progress and then Patch has me and I don’t even know why.

Patch takes me toward machine. We pass big raccoon. Gets me nervous a little. Raccoons are big and have sharp claws and teeth. Mother tells stories about almost being eaten by raccoon. Then Mother would have been with raccoon the way she is with me. Makes me sad to think. Mother is with me and my brothers and sisters, not with raccoon. But if raccoon eats me, then Mother be with raccoon. Probably not able to hear Mother as well as I can. I knew her very well. Raccoon probably didn’t, has no memory to draw on. Mother is very weak then. Maybe not even able to give good advice to raccoon like she does with me. Scary to think about.

Patch say he saves my life in field. Birds about to kill me, he say. Didn’t see birds. But glad Patch saves me. Mother probably not very strong in birds either. I think I must not get eaten. Didn’t really think that before. Must protect myself. Keep Mother in my memories. Otherwise Mother gone for good. Except for my brothers and sisters. But she doesn’t like them best. She tells me. They don’t listen to her good advice like I do.

We get to machine and Patch drops me and goes to breathe hard somewhere else. Machine is huge. Big shiny. Reminds me of two-legs machine in the big cold hard floor room. But bigger, less shiny. Red color, shiny parts, but also bird poop. Some pieces all out on the ground in front, on side where light ups are. Watch two-leg machines before. Mostly go one way, toward side with the big white light ups that are very bright in dark times. Blind Thunder sometimes. Sometimes go other way, toward side with little red light ups, like when they leave the big cold hard floor room. Never see one go any other way. Don’t know if they can. Thunder can go sideways but maybe machines can’t or don’t want to. Weird.

Thunder look at big red machine and pieces. Two-leg machines smell really funny. Full of things we not supposed to eat or drink, slimy black and yellow pink and and blue, makes us sick. Mother says. Drip slimy stuff sometimes, not to drink. Machines big heavy, can crush us, have things inside that move and get hot and can chop and hit. Lost sister in machine once. Sister falls asleep in big dark under front of machine and then two-leg comes out, gets in, wakes up machine, and suddenly machine come alive and eat sister. Now sister is part of that machine, like Mother is part of me. Maybe sister gives machine advice and helps it live better life. Hope so. Sister was pretty smart. Machine should listen to her.

Raccoon come up. I hide behind part of the machine. All birds gone now. Raccoon say Hi mouse. I say, You eat me? Raccoon say no. I relax. Nice to know.

Squirrel come up, must be friends with raccoon. Raccoon seems happy, laughing. Says you picked up a straggler. Patch say the little shit keeps following me around. I have a soft spot for hard luck types. Don’t know what he’s talking about.

I jump inside machine. Different than two-leg machines back in box. Two-leg machines don’t sit flat on ground. Big round feet hold it up. Not like here. This machine all the way down on ground, like crouching. Make me nervous. Maybe it going to pounce on Thunder or Patch or the raccoon. Big round feet not so big or round here.

Parts missing. I guess parts are from stuff all around outside. Weird looking like this. No black tubes. No funny bottles. Smells a little like two-leg machine but more like old metal. Box where I lived has two-leg things sitting in square, metal things made for two-legs to sit on. Metal things sit outside all the time, get patches of brown flaky stuff after a while. Not good to eat. Tastes terrible. Makes us sick. Mother warns us. Ate some anyway. Made me sick. Mother was right. Inside of machine smells like this too.

Raccoon comes in with Patch. Kind of crowded in compartment with big metal chunk in center. Patch say tell him what his name is. I tell him. Patch laugh like I say joke. Raccoon doesn’t laugh. Raccoon sits up and says nice to meet you Thunder. I say nice to meet you too. Just being polite. But really it is nice to meet raccoon.

Raccoon say what do you think.

I look around and say looks broken. Pieces gone.

Patch says see what I’m talking about. Little asshole keeps talking that way.

Wouldn’t mind seeing asshole that can talk. Sometimes Thunder’s asshole talks. Don’t understand what it says though. Need to learn how to speak the language someday.

Raccoon ask if I ever been inside a machine like this before. I say a few times back in two-legs box where I come from. He say, give me a tour. Patch rolls eyes and goes to find something to eat.

I jump around and talk about what I know about the inside of a two-leg machine. Here is where big box is that makes fur stand on end. I smell that one. It smells bad, worse than I remember in other machines, like burning, and covered with white flakes like the metal flakes but smells WAY worse. Definitely not good to eat. Learned my lesson. Mother proud of me for learning.

I find chopping fan that ate sister, tell sad story. Raccoon seems sad. I find thing that smells like dog piss in big box at very front of machine. Normally full of yellow liquid. Dry here. Still smells like dog piss though. I run along bouncy trail, but here is all cracked and dry, tell that in the other machines this is tight and smooth and doesn’t bounce as much. Things are in strange places but I can find some of them. Mostly I just describe what I smell and talk about what we shouldn’t eat.

Raccoon listens close. Sometimes asks questions. Sometimes I can answer them. Nice to feel like raccoon cares what a mouse has to say. Think I will make him friend like Patch.

I ask, are you afraid machine will come alive and eat you? Raccoon say I know about your sister but I don’t think this machine is in any shape to come alive. I say it was strange when sister died because machine was cold and still just like this one. No breathing, no tummy rumbles, nothing flicks or moves. Just squeaks a little and bounces when two-leg gets inside. But then whole place turns crazy, chopping fan starts, fumes all over, hot, loud. Sister just fly through air and hit fan and disappear. Not even see blood. Little cloud and gone. Scary.

Raccoon say this machine has been quiet for a long time, many summers and winters. And there’s no two-legs getting in to wake it up. Makes me feel better when he says this.

Raccoon thank me for my help. Don’t see how I helped but say okay. Sun down by this time, still light in sky but sun gone behind trees.

Patch still gone getting food. I pick some grass and nibble on it. Have to eat a lot to keep up energy. Most furry ones do. Good thing I can eat almost anything. Lots of grass in field. Tasty grass.

Raccoon keeps pacing around looking at the machine, picking up pieces he pulled out and fitting them in empty places on the big metal piece. I don’t understand. Don’t care. Eating natural grass, not chopped grass from two-legs square. Much tastier. More seeds.

He say can you keep a secret. I say no. He snort and go back to looking at machine. Then he say I’ll tell you anyway. Today when I was in the field I saw a grub. Big fat grub. I look down at grass. Suddenly doesn’t taste as good anymore. Nice fat grubs are tasty too and give a lot more energy than grass.

He say so I thought about talking to the grub. Is that weird? I say yeah. Grubs don’t talk. Can’t talk. Grubs are food like worms.

You eat grubs? he ask. When I can, I say. Don’t dig much. Just to get under roots or loose leaves. Don’t go digging for food. Most food is out in open. Especially in two-legs box.

He say he never has been in a two-legs box. I say wow, didn’t know many people who hadn’t been a in a two-legs box. Though it would be hard for a raccoon to hide in a box. And the two-legs trap for him would have to be huge. Big as this machine.

Then he say, most animals eat worms. I say yeah. He say wonder what worms did to deserve that. I say Ma Ne makes worms when she is hungry after great battle and some of them fall to earth. Worms and grubs are food for Ma Ne so they’re food to us. Why they don’t talk too. Seeds don’t talk. Neither does grass.

He seem surprised that I know Ma Ne story. I don’t talk out loud but I think some thanks to Mother. Mother say I am a good son. Her favorite.

Patch come back then, with some nuts. Don’t know where he gets nuts. Maybe they seeds. I just think of that. All this time I wonder. Anyway, he come back with little pile of food. I hop over and take a little kernel and Patch start yelling hey you fuckass get your own food, I worked hard to get this shit. I say sorry, sorry, but don’t put down food. Already half eaten. Got to eat fast. Mother tells me.

Raccoon say aw, let him have a piece or two, he’s been a real help. Patch say fuck that, he hasn’t been any help to me, making me run out into the field and get attacked by birds for the second time today. If anything the little jerk should be getting me food for saving his life.

Raccoon walk over and get a nut, I thought it was nut, it was probably seed, and start eating it. Patch say sure you can have some, thanks for asking. Raccoon just pick up another nut seed while eating first one and give it to me. Patch say hey now. Raccoon say, you’re letting let me have my pick, so that seed was mine when I picked it up. And since it was mine, I can give it to Thunder if I want.

Patch grumble but can’t say different. Second nut seed eaten by the time he stops. Eat fast and quiet. Like Mother tells me to.


I was really just passing through, flying well overhead. The moon was out very bright that evening as I recall, and I was simply on the hunt.

I hadn’t found a mate that year, so I didn’t really have much of a home where I came from. Mates have become scarcer and scarcer for owls these days. Eventually I realize it’s possible that I’m in the wrong area for finding mates, though in the past I and my father and his father before him had no trouble. Lucky for me, I suppose, but if the mating lands had moved then I supposed I needed to start traveling afield. And so there I was, in an unfamiliar land looking for my breakfast.

The field seemed like a good place to look for something small and tasty. I began circling closer. Even in the darkness, with a good moon I can see nearly as well as during the day. Maybe even more so, since the sun is nearly blinding at times. My eyes are very sensitive because they’re so large, you know. It makes for some ungainly flying, since my head has to be big to accommodate my eyes.

I hadn’t realized this at the time, of course. I was just hungry. That was before I met Zeb and he taught me a new way of thinking.

It was really just luck. I flew over the field, picking out the obvious spots for rabbit warrens or places where field mice might live. One such place was an abandoned two-legs machine sitting in the middle of nowhere, really, close to only one lone tree which was obviously heavily laden with birds. So I decided to investigate.

As I approached I could sense something was off about the area. Machines like this were usually full of mice or birds, but the scent was all wrong for this one. It smelled … well, it’s hard to describe, but “cold” is a good word, like a warren that’s been recently abandoned. It had recently been the home to several birds, and I could smell broken eggs. PErhaps some predator had taken up residence, and so I should be on my guard, but there was still no scent of anything that might run off so many small animals. There was a raccoon there, that much was obvious, and maybe something smaller like a rat. I’m not large enough to tangle with a raccoon, but a rat could be interesting it if was small enough.

I landed as quietly as I could, which is unfortunately not very quiet at all. We owls have a reputation for being swift and silent hunters in the air, but we make up for it by being terribly stiff and awkward on the ground. Sadly I couldn’t hunt inside a machine without landing, so I would just have to suffer hopping around.

Not two heartbeats after I landed, a small mouse popped up its head from the front compartment of the machine. Hello, it said, completely without fear.

I cocked my head at it curiously. Should I respond? Would I possibly awaken something worse if I did? The mouse was a little outside of my usual striking range, and if I lunged at it I could have been easy prey for something lurking down below. I know I just said I’d only smelled a raccoon, but someting this thorooughly abandoned could hold something more dangerous and difficult to smell, like snakes if they hadn’t lived there long enough to fill it with their own unique stink. Feh.

My apologies, I don’t care for snakes.

The mouse continued to stare at me. It lowered its ears and said, I’m Thunder. You eat me?

Now this made me even more curious and somewhat confused. Was this little fellow inviting me to eat it? That was suspicious behavior. Eventually I just shrugged and said, perhaps not at the moment. Hello Thunder, my name is Fagin, it’s good to meet you.

Okay good, it said, and dropped back down out of sight. I stood there for a moment trying to make sense of what I had seen.

Then it popped back up again. I was angry at myself for no hopping closer to the edge when I had the chance; Thunder, if that was its name, was still too far away to get a good jump on. What you doing here, it asked.

I glanced around. Nothing moved, and I couldn’t feel anything under my feet, so I was apparently still safe at hte moment. I was just flying through, I said, and wanted to rest for a few minutes. Is that all right with you?

Sure, Thunder said. Thought you want talk to Zeb or Patch, but they sleep. I stay awake, keep watch out in case someone comes to the machine.

What is so special about this machine? I asked, I noticed that there was nothing nearby. Is there something bad going on here?

Oh no, said Thunder. It just quarm time.

Quarm what? I asked.

Quarm time, he said. Maybe I not say it right. Others not supposed to come to machine because Zeb sick.

I felt a sinking feeling then as I began to understand. I asked, is the word you’re looking for “quarantine”?

Yeah that it, he said, quarm time.

Well hell, I said, nice talking to you, got to fly. I lifted off immediately. Thunder may have said something but I didn’t hear it over the beat of my own wings.

Unfortunately, I also didn’t hear the other birds. Apparently when I landed on the machine, a few of the larger birds in the tree took off and formed a wing patrol overhead. Now most birds won’t fly at night; the night sky usually belongs to owls for their sight and bats for their … well, to be honest, I’m not sure how bats see in the dark, but then I haven’t known very many of them except by reputation.

So for normal day birds to fly at night is rather unusual, even despite the bright moon, which is why their attack took me by surprise. Before I knew what was happening, I received a savage blow to the wing. It took me a moment to realize another bird had collided with me head-on.

I said they were flying in the dark. I didn’t say they could see anything. It was a totally random collision. But no matter the reason or wherewithal, I found myself spinning out of control back down to the ground. I managed to even out the spin and take up a swoop position despite my injured wing.

A swoop position? Well, it’s faster than a glide but slower than a stoop. We usually do it to pull out of a dive. Somehow I had managed to say just a little distance above the ground. I glanced back to see if any of the birds might still be following me, which is why I ran straight into the side of the machine.

It was loud. Very loud. The tree went up in a cacophony of twittering and shuffling. That’s how most birds assert themselves when they’re afraid, you know. Flapping their wings, puffing themselves up, and putting on a show of how frightening they are to discourage predators.

Meanwhile I lay flat on my back looking up at the side of the machine while I waited for my head to stop ringing. I flopped over and discovered that my right wing didn’t close all the way. Wonderful, I was thinking. Looking back on it now I was lucky that I hadn’t broken my neck, but at the time my wing was the most terrible injury imaginable.

I hopped around the machine looking for a place to shelter. The other birds apparently lost sight of me when I dropped down near the ground. Their vision is just not made for looking at things from a height in the dark. If I’d been pursued by other owls I would have been a sitting duck. Er, pardon the idiom.

I shuffled around on the ground trying to get my wing to close, but every time I tried a terrible sharp pain radiated along the length. I’ve already said my species is not made up of great walkers. The dragging wing kept pulling me in circles.

What the shit is this? somebody said from above me. I looked up. A squirrel stood on top of the machine, outlined by the moonlight against the stars, staring down at me, his tail quivering. What are you here for, asshole? he shouted at me. Get the fuck away from the machine!

Look, I said, holding up my wing, I’m injured —

Shut it, he interrupted me. Shut. It. I don’t care what the fuck is wrong with your wing, just get the fuck out of here you stupid owl. That squirrel really did have the most abrasive way of speaking.

Then something growled. Nervous, I looked over. In one of the round cave holes on teh side of the machine, something stuck its head out. I couldn’t see what it was in the darkness. Friend, it said with a sort of calm even menace, are you here to try to eat my friends? Because if you are, we will have some trouble here.

No, I said. No. I was hunting but I’m not anymore. I’m not. I just need someplace to heal for a few days.

Oh I see, he said. So you want us to let an owl in here where my friend the mouse is staying.

No, no, I promised Thunder, I babbled. I promised Thunder that I wouldn’t eat him. Please, let me stay here, I won’t be able to fly out. I ran in a few circles to demonstrate.

There was a long pause and I was afraid he was going to jump out. I remembered smelling the raccoon and I started panicking even more. Some raccoons are twice my size. I know that predators don’t taste very good but there’s also the territorial factor to consider. If the raccoon had decided this was his territory, and if he really was sick, well, I just didn’t want to think about the consequences.

Finally the dark figure said, you really met Thunder and promised him you would not eat him.

Sure, yes, I said, ask him.

Well there’s a problem with that, he said, with growing anger. We don’t know where Thunder is at the moment. We haven’t seen him since we woke up.

I didn’t know what to think about that. I said I promise I didn’t eat him, I’m very dizzy with the pain and my broken wing but I know I talked to him, he told me about your quarantine. You’re Patch, right?

No, fuckwad, the squirrel said overhead. He hadn’t moved. I’m Patch. The guy you’re talking to over there is Zeb.

Zeb, yes, sorry, I said, he didn’t say which was which. When he told me about the quarantine I took off and then a bird hit me and I fell down here. I won’t hurt any creature here, I will eat worms instead, or mites, just please, I need to stay somewhere.

Then I just jumped and started running again, for no real reason, in a wide arc around the machine. I guess I had finally reached my limit and was just running on pure fear. A bird, even an owl, in the open with a broken wing is just asking to get eaten by something either on the ground or in the air. I didn’t want to get eaten. I hadn’t even mated yet.

And then there was Thunder, standing out in the wide open in front of me. I stopped running. Holy shit, Patch called, get the fuck out of there dude, what the fuck is wrong with you?

Thunder stood up on his hind legs, nose twitching. He was very close now, standing right in front of me, well within my reach, and where I was standing there was no way that the inhabitants of the machine could reach me before I could snatch him up.

Thunder said, you eat me?

I looked down at him. I looked over at the machine. They were frozen, watching us. I turned back to Thunder. It would have been easy to gobble him right up.

But. But I just couldn’t. I shook my head and said no. No I won’t eat you. Not ever.

Okay good, Thunder said, goodbye Fagin. He ran back to the machine.

I watched him go in despair. There was no place else to go but I had to go somewhere. I decided to try for the tree and hope the inhabitants there would be more welcoming. My wing dragged in the dust as I started shuffling off.

Hey Fagin, Zeb said, where are you going?

I turned back around. Get under here before you get caught by something, Zeb said, and retreated back into the machine. Patch waggled his tail a few times in irritation but eventually jumped back down inside too. The machine was clear.

I had no idea how completely it would change my life when I walked back there.


Oh yes, dear, my mate was part of that daring night-time raid against that nasty owl. He said it was terribly dark and dangerous. I was so frightened for him. I wish I could have gone with him to keep him safe, but of course I had my babies. The little dears were so scared, since the tree was so terribly crowded.

Yes, all because of that darn raccoon. Stories about Zeb had been circulating, some talking about how he was destroying the machine for no good reason and others saying he was talking about making it get up and run away like he had the knowledge of a two-legs or something. I have no idea where people get their crazy ideas from. But before long it seemed like the entire neighborhood wanted to find a perch in the tree and watch this fabled creature and whatever he was doing with the machine.

Some will say that Prester asked some of us to come out to the tree specifically to keep watch and report back, but I didn’t see any evidence of that. You’d expect spies to look, well, like spies. All suspicious and peering out of the corners of their eyes and refusing to talk to people. But everyone was perfectly nice, and the tree was certainly full of chatter. I learned more about what was going on in the immediate area than I had in months of flying around and talking to people in their own homes.

It was just a little after sunset. The moon was out, so big and beautiful, and the rumor started coming down from the top branches that someone saw a bird crossing the field and it looked like it was trying to reach the machine. Well of course we couldn’t stand for that, and my mate, such a brave robin, selflessly joined some of the others to go out and meet the owl, just to warn him away. I pleaded with him but you know how husbands are when they get an idea in their heads.

So he and some of his friends took off. Now you know robins don’t have very good night vision, so I had no idea what was going on. All I heard was a terrible CLANG out in the field and oh my I was so frightened I almost took wing right then and there to get away. Why it makes my heart patter just thinking about that. But I couldn’t leave my dear babies, who all started crying and me without any good food to give them. It just tears your heart out to hear your babies cry, doesn’t it? Oh, there’s nothing worse.

Yes, dear, I’m sorry, I was talking about Zeb. Well, not long after we heard that awful clatter, my husband came back. I was so relieved you don’t even know. Even my babies started crying, but out of gladness for him instead of for food. He told me that they had managed to drive the owl away. When I asked him how, he just said good night and hopped off. Such a strong mysterious type. And such a bright red breast! Is it any wonder why I chose him?

So I spent the night feeling perfectly safe, knowing that my darling and his friends were watching out for us. So imagine my surprise when the sun came up the next morning and we saw that horrid owl hopping around the machine like he owned it! Though he seemed to be holding his wing strangely, but that didn’t stop him from pecking at the ground like an ordinary bird looking for his breakfast.

I tried to sing a song to bring my husband back so we could discuss what had really happened last night. But it seems he had already lit out before sunrise to find us some breakfast of our own. He’s such a wonderful provider.

By the time he got back with some yummy worms I had completely forgotten the owl. It’s funny really, that I can think of it now but back then it was just gone, voop, out of my head, ha ha. He stayed long enough to drop off the food and off he went again, saying his friends were going to patrol the area and make sure nothing else managed to smeak into the quarumteem area overnight. I love his social conscience even if it does keep him away from home so often. I hardly get to talk to him, he’s so busy with his friends. I would ask what he does but I’m afraid I wouldn’t understand. He’s as smart as he is handsome. Certainly smarter than that Zeb fellow. Oh Ma Ne yes.

You know Prester tells us stories about Ma Ne. We females are so proud of her, since she was so brave and strong, but Prester cautions us not to be too hasty in trying to be like Ma Ne. She was a great warrior, with warrior training and amazing strength, so she was suited to being the defender of the sky and the earth. But we’re locked in our forms at birth, aren’t we? I wasn’t born strong or with the ability to learn combat. Oh heavens as if any female could learn combat or want to! So we shouldn’t be like Ma Ne, Prester says, we should be like other birds and take our special place in the great world. MY special place, of course, is to lay eggs and keep my babies strong and healthy. Without someone to do that, oh dear what a terrible fix we would be in. And I quite enjoy it, you know, I quite enjoy raising babies and teaching them how to live so they can go out in the world and I can make more babies to replace them. It’s a fulfilling life. This is what I’ve been taught since birth and Prester agrees. And if Prester says so, well, it’s certainly good enough for me.

Oh dear I am getting off the trail again. That raccoon Zeb, though, he started something out there in that machine. He and that owl and mouse and those chipmunks and that potty-mouthed squirrel. I hate to say anything bad about anybody, but really, that squirrel needs to have his mama peck him to within an inch of his life. Well, maybe not peck. Whatever it is that squirrels do to punish each other. Probably something with their tails.

Still, that awful Zeb turned out to be the worst of them. And they started it right out there. Who even knows what sort of terrible seditious things they were doing and thinking out in that machine, that morning. Something awful, that’s for sure.


I wake up in that machine just as fucking horny as all hell.

Yeah, yeah. But you don’t know what it’s like to be a squirrel at the height of summer. Every female is tails up ready, I’m telling you. Even the ones who seem kinda standoffish. They just need some convincing. Every species is like that. We’re just honest about it, we squirrels are. But then the wind blows, and there’s something in the air, like the scent of a hot little thing or even just something that smells kinda like a female in heat, there are some flowers and shit that kinda have that musky thing going on for instance, and sproing! Good morning, bitches, Patch got a little something for ya.

Problem is, all of us in the machine that morning are dudes. Zeb is still asleep, those big furry guys tend to sleep a lot more than squirrels, guess I can’t complain. Thunder is wrapped up in a little furball next to Zeb. I think that’s just cute as fuck. And up on the corner of the machine, the owl has his huge fucking head tucked under his good wing.

That fucking owl. Just comes out of nowhere, hi guys, let me come in and eat your food and shit all over the place. You ever smell owl shit? It’s got, like, whole dudes in there, so it doesn’t just smell like shit, it smells like, I dunno, shit plus dudes plus the shit that was in the dudes before they became shit. And the rest of us are pretty good about going in this one part of the machine so it won’t stink us all the fuck out, but owls don’t get that kind of thing. Just be sitting there like he’s all wise and whatever and then dump. Like in the middle of a sentence even. Hey everybody I have this great idea PHRRRRRT PLOP PLOP why don’t we go do something PHRRT PLUP. Just get the fuck out of here with that shit. Literally.

But that’s secondary to my original thought, right, which is: Must fuck something. I get a bone on and I gotta do something with it, otherwise it’s gonna be tripping me up all day. Okay, yeah, squirrels don’t actually get a bone until it’s time to get a bone. We’re lucky that way. But I get this itch in my sack, and my legs feel funny, kinda wobbly, and the last thing a fucking squirrel needs is to be all wobbly. Best thing for me in that situation is to find a sheath for my love sword.

Hey, fuck you, I’m calling it my love sword. Maybe if you ever grew one you could name yours whatever you like. Oh yeah I said it. I SAID IT. EAT IT BITCH.

Right, so. Don’t start with me. So I’m running around with the itch in my sitch and I’m trying to figure out where the fuck I can get some. Not gonna fuck one of the guys, naturally; none of them are squirrels and that would be weird. Got nothing against other species in principle, but no way am I gonna go there.

So I figure what the hell, it’s still not quite light, sort of a pink smear over in the sky there, maybe I can get over to the tree or out to the two-legs squares and see who’s in the mood. I know some pretty hot numbers in the area, easy hook-ups. Nothing fancy. Some of them got kits that look like me, know what I’m saying? Good to be a squirrel.

Guess I’m lucky this time, because I get up a good run and get out without anyone even stirring. The birds are asleep, probably stayed awake all night after that fucking owl took a header into our new home. Right before morning is a good time of day to get around. Everything’s either asleep or just waking up. Evne the fucking dogs are sleeping. There are a few birds out sometimes but usually they don’t have much to do with squirrels so whatever, have fun doing whatever the fuck you do, feather face.

I go on past the tree. Way too crowded and way too many guys up there who know I’m breaking quarantine. So out I go into the big wide world, and it’s amazing how few others there are out. It’s like eerie or some shit. I guess everybody was sitting in the tree watching us. Surprised branches don’t come crashing down out of that thing, loaded with every animal from chickens to cows. Heh. That’s pretty funny.

I’m running from nest to nest looking for the usual girls, but no dice. Pretty weird, right? Must be in the tree or somewhere else they can see the machine. I start thinking, damn, I’m kind of a big deal now. I wonder if everyone is thinking that I’m in some kind of pack, you know, like wolves and shit. One of the bad ass animals who hang out at the machine with the bad ass raccoon, everyone being all afraid when we walk past. That kinda strikes me. Yeah, it’d be nice to have bigger animals step off when they see a fucking squirrel walk down the path. Between you and me, squirrels don’t get a lot of respect. I know that’s a big surprise. Yeah, you look shocked. Sorry to turn your worldview upside down, there.

So yeah. We got Zeb and Fagin on muscle, and Thunder may be a little dude but he’s got the biggest balls in the fucking neighborhood, so I guess that just leaves me as the brains of the operation. Yeah. Yeah, that appeals to me. Right. I just gotta get back in and get the gang organized. We’re gonna tear down this place. Call us the Quarantine Pack or some shit. It’s starting to get pretty light now so I know I got to get running back there before anyone sees me.

I rush back fast as I can and I’m just turning the last corner, running up on one of the two-legs fences, get a good view of the great field and my stomach just goes thud down in my balls. I know there’s no way in fuck I’m gonna get back to the machine anytime soon.

Prester and his fucking retinue are halfway across the field.


Wake up, somebody hitting machine, bonk bonk. Shouting Prester is here, wake up, Prester want to see Zeb. Think it’s Mother telling me to wake up. Maybe it is. But pretty sure I hear bonk bonk on outside of machine.

Zeb laying next to me. Good and warm. Good to sleep next to. He kind of raise his head and say just a moment. He don’t seem to want to move fast. I understand that. Nobody wants to move for a few seconds after waking up. I curl up into a tighter ball and hope noise goes away and Zeb stay laying on ground. Nice and warm.

But no, Zeb get up and pat me on back, say I guess it’s time to get up. Be on your best behavior. Then he look up at Fagin and say you too. Fagin look hurt, say as if you even need to ask. I not know what that means but I say no, we don’t, don’t worry. Just trying to be polite.

Zeb look around and say Patch, same goes for you. Double. Patch say nothing. Look around, he not where he sleeping last night. Zeb say if you’re thinking of doing something funny, just hold off. Still Patch say nothing. Must still be asleep, I think. Good for him. Wish I was.

I jump up on side of machine next to Fagin. Fagin look down at me like he surprised. Don’t know why. I say hello, he say hello.

We look outside. Bunch of animals, all kinds, standing outside front of machine. Kind of standing outside where Zeb threw parts when he pulled them out. Like it some sort of two-legs fence. See big black badger, two stripes on head. Bigger than Zeb. Also lots of birds and squirrels and chipmunks, all kinds of things, some I don’t know what. See a snake in there too. I want to run down and ask if he eat me, so I know if I should be scared, but then I remember Mother say don’t talk to strangers if you not have to because some strangers will put you to sleep and you not wake up again. Just got up. Not time to go to sleep again. That would be silly. So I stay up with Fagin.

Zeb do thing with front paws like wiping his face, not sure what he doing. Later he tells me he was grooming. Not sure what that is. He look fine before. He not look much different when he finish. He say it was for his benefit. I still don’t understand, since he can’t see how he looks, eyes don’t turn that way. He just shakes head and smiles.

But back on morning, he grooms himself and then climbs up so he can see over the top. His eyes get big. Wow, he say, this is more than I expected. Hello everybody. He wave his paw.

Everybody just stare. The big badger steps forward into the cleared area with all the machine parts. Good morning, badger say.

Good morning, Prester, Zeb say. Sorry, I guess we got off on the wrong foot yesterday.

Oh no doubt, Prester say, no doubt. I admit my initial reaction was over the top. I’ve been considering the stories of Ma Ne and have come to the conclusion that we need to have a private conversation. I’d just like to ensure that you are no danger to my friends here. Badger stand up and wave paws like he giving all the others there a big hug. I think he look friendly but Fagin sort of squint his big eyes like he disapprove.

I’d be happy to have a private confab, Zeb say, but since the machine is under quarantine my friends here can’t leave.

Oh, that’s no problem, Prester say, the machine has two compartments. We can stay in the open one and talk while the others can stay in the other.

Zeb look over at us. I nod. It sound like good plan to have private talk. Fagin sort of shrug and wince because his wing hurt.

Zeb say, well guys I don’t think this should take very long, and hop over to big open space in machine with the squeaky soft places to sit. Prester have his friends help push him over into the big place too, then they start wandering around.

Fagin watch all this but not say anything. After a moment, he hops back down inside front area and wave that I follow. I hop down too. Nobody see us.

Thunder, he say, do me a favor and try to sneak into the other compartment. I think we need to know what they’re saying back there. Listen, and then report back to me.

Why? I say. They having private talk. We not listen. It wouldn’t be polite.

Fagin scowl and mutter someting about eating somebody when he had the chance. I not understand what that means. But then he say sometimes you have to do something that isn’t polite. Is it polite to take food that isn’t given to you?

Well, I say, but before I can finish he say of course not. And I honestly believe we could be in trouble with that conversation. I say why we be in trouble and he say because of the animals I saw in the group. There are some pretty nasty customers in there, big rats, a snake, even a cat. The badger himself could probably take out Zeb in a one-on-one fight, and the others could eat us up without much effort. Owls hunt easy prey, we don’t fight big predators. But if you go over and listen to the conversation, you can come back and warn me if something is about to happen, and I’ll hop over and do what I can to help. We have to stick together now.

I don’t really follow what he say. He say a lot. But Mother think it good advice, so I say okay and find a good spot down low, hole in big metal wall, to sneak through to the other side. I stay in dark spot, don’t even stick out my nose, walk on my pads and not my toenails like Mother teaches us. Say low, Stay quiet.

Zeb and Prester already talking. You understand, Prester say, that saying you know how the machine works is a difficulty.

Zeb sits on big squeaky soft place, back against tall side. I see him from where I am. I hope he not see me. Don’t think he can. It dark down here. I hunch down to make me smaller anyway.

I’m not sure I do understand, Zeb say. It’s just an amazing machine. Did you know that there are depressions in the side of the big piece of metal up front, and there’s some sort of pump that makes some cylinders in those depressions go up and down?

Prester let out big breath. Zeb sound really excited, make me excited too even though I not understand what he say, but I guess Prester not excited. I’m sorry, he say, but I don’t see what that has to do with your present situation.

I’m just trying to figure it out, Zeb say. I think there are a lot of things in here to see and do and take apart and put back together, and if I can understand how it works then maybe I could make it run again.

But to what purpose? Prester say. Don’t you see what I’m saying? There’s no practical reason to making the machine run again. The machine only works, or doesn’t work in this case, due to the curse of madness which Ma Ne visited upon the two-legs.

It’s a curse? Zeb say.

Of course it’s a curse, Prester say. The two-legs cannot speak with us, they do strange and random things, they separate themselves from the world in boxes, they kill us and tear apart out land and homes for no reason, and they build these abominable machines which create breaths which choke us. They cover the land in black ground, they build fences around their squares, and they overrun our territories. The more machines which don’t run, the better. We will live in their skeletons and give them a real purpose in the world.

Zeb think for a second. So, he say, they create their own homes, they make machines that run faster than any animal, they destroy our homes with a thought and none of us can stand up against them.

That’s right, Prester say.

Zeb say, so that’s a curse? It sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

Prester make a funny noise, like a mouse squeak. Make me want to laugh but must stay quiet, Mother reminds me, so I make me smaller still instead. Watch and listen. That’s what I do.

Prester calm down, say no, the two-legs are definitely under a curse from Ma Ne. You notice their strange hairless skin, not teeth, no claws. They can barely smell anything. They are weak and small.

Zeb say, wait, so why are they even a problem? We should just fight them. With some organization we should be able to take them down without much trouble.

Ah, Prester say, but the curse also gives them their boxes and machines which you seem to find so fascinating. They stay apart from us so we cannot reach them.

Hmm, Zeb say, I think you may have the curse thing backwards. It sounds more like we’re cursed, not them. How else can you explain that they can attack us, kill us, destroy our homes, cover our land, poison our air, and yet we can’t touch them?

Prester say I think you misunderstand my message. The stories of Ma Ne explain the truth about the two-legs.

Okay, say Zeb, help me understand.

Would that I could, Prester say, but that particular piece of knowledge is hidden in one of the secret stories of Ma Ne. It’s not something I can just tell to everybody. You’ll have to take me at my word, though, that it does explain that, yes, the two-legs are the ones who are cursed, while we continue to live under the grace of the mighty Ma Ne. Doesn’t that make you feel better? To know that we are truly blessed and protected?

Now, wait a moment, wait a moment, Zeb say. I think you skipped a step.

I’m sure that I did not, Prester say.

Yeah, say Zeb, we went from the beginning to the end without any middle. How exactly did we get from ‘we are the cursed ones’ to ‘Ma Ne loves us’?

You toy with dangerous thinking, Prester say. Do you doubt Ma Ne’s love and devotion? Is it not her tears that fall as rain? Is it not her anger that flashes from the clouds? Are they not her spirits which punish the guilty, lay low the violent, smite down the bully? Did Ma Ne not give us trees? Did Ma Ne not set the clouds in the very sky, and build her castle on top of them?

Prester get kind of a head of steam going now, his voice getting louder. I start to notice other voices outside the machine who start calling things out, like “Yes!” and “You tell him!” I get nervous a little thinking about how many of them there were and also what Fagin said about maybe having to fight, but they don’t sound mad, though maybe sort of aggressive. I think they must really agree with Prester. Prester sound convinced about himself for sure.

Zeb act totally confused. You’ve, he say, then he say wait, then he say you’ve again, like he can’t decide where to start.

Prester push ahead, he say I have confronted your like before, raccoon! (Ones outside say oh yeah.) There is a spirit inside you, a terrible spirit, worse than any sickness, worse than any vengeance, one that can strike any of us at any time! (Ooooh, ones outside say, kinda spooky sounding.) Without warning, Prester say, it comes out of the sky as clear as any great flash that Ma Ne can project from her eyes. It is the Spirit of Doubt!

Ones outside scream like they scared. I think why Prester want to have private talk with Zeb if he going to have audience? Maybe he not think he going to talk so loud. Or maybe they making ooh noises and screamy sounds for totally different reasons and it just big coincidence. Mother not sure she believe that, though, and so me neither.

You suffer from this spirit! Prester shouting now. It colors your world, it turns you against the true path! It wracks your mind just as other spirits wracked your body with fever, and caused a spirit of vengeance to flow from your body to your squirrel friend through the shiny rock!

Zeb say how do you know about that? But Prester just keep saying a spirit of doubt is a terrible thing to carry. It makes your head grow heavy and your eyes grow dim. It makes you desire things that you cannot have! It makes you want to know things that you are not supposed to know! You question the stories of Ma Ne, raccoon, and you question yourself, you question your friends, you question your very society, and ultimately you question the whole world!

I sit down there just like wow. Hair standing up on back, tail rigid, eyes all open up. This spirit of doubt sound like bad times. I watch Zeb through all this and he sit there like he not able to move, his eyes big too. He look scared sorta. Having spirit of doubtyness in you make you feel scared all the time maybe. Or, I just think of this, maybe spirit is scared and Zeb just along for the ride.

So what do I do? Zeb say. How am I supposed to get this Spirit of Doubt out of me? I know I don’t want to be stuck with something like that forever.

Prester change his tone, say I was hoping you’d say that, in a voice sort of deep and soft but still pretty loud enough. Is that what you truly want, Zeb? Do you want to get rid of this terrible spirit and go back to living your life in harmony with the rest of the world?

I guess so, Zeb say, but Prester say snappish, No! This isn’t something you can just guess at! You have to truly want to have the Spirit of Doubt, that horrible old thing that plays and gnaws and scratches at your mind, you have to really WANT it out of you! Is that what you want? Do you want this grotesque thing to be gone from you?

I do want it, Zeb say. Voices outside make sort of encouraging noise.

Say it louder! Prester say.

I DO want it! Zeb say louder. Voices outside say Yeah and Woo.

Once more! Prester say. Let everybody hear you!

I want this Spirit of Doubt to be gone! Zeb shout.

Big cheer from crowd outside. I get a little choked up too.

Prester wait a little while for cheer to die down, then say, I’m glad to hear it, my good friend Zeb. But unfortunately wanting it to happen is just the first part. You’ll have to work to get rid of this spirit. If you promise to work at it, to wrestle with your doubt, to talk to me, to listen to what I have to say, we can conquer it together.

I’m ready, Zeb say, still sort of carried up on the energy of the moment. Let’s get started right away.

Now let’s not be hasty, Prester say with a little laugh in his voice. You’ve taken a big step today, my good friend. We’ll talk soon and I’ll start teaching you the stories you’ll need to know about Ma Ne. With those in hand, and if you take them to heart, you should be able to conquer your doubts without any trouble at all.

In the meantime, he keep saying, the quarantine is lifted!

All the creatures outside cheer. I feel vibrations in ground like they jumping up and down. Sounds like a good party. I getting tired being all scrunched up in this little pipe, wouldn’t mind jumping around just to stretch.

Zeb seem all super happy and surprised. Thank you so much, he say.

Not at all, my friend, Prester say. I’m confident that you are no threat to the rest of my friends outside. They, and I, will be glad to support you through this travail as you attempt to shed the spirit which has taken hold in you. Food, shelter, anything you desire. It’s the very least we can do.

I don’t know how I can repay you, Zeb say. Party still going on outside, I think they stop listening by this point, so the conversation really does go back to being private for a while.

Your rehabilitation is payment enough, say Prester. Now come and join us. We’ll find you someplace proper to stay and get you all cleaned up of these streaks of … whatever … in your fur.

Zeb look surprised. Why can’t I stay here? he ask.

Oh, no, Prester say. This place is full of too many temptations for you to slip back into doubt. Trying to understand this machine is a sure way to invite the curse of the two-legs back on yourself. If that happened, you would never be able to rejoin our happy family. It’s far too dangerous. Better that you find someplace proper for a raccoon and live a life free from doubt and anguish.

But I’ve learend so much here, Zeb say.

Better you learn the power and majesty of Ma Ne, Prester say. It’s for the best, believe me. And once you start learning the stories, you’ll thank me.

I think so we have to leave machine now? That make me sad. Machine is super cool place to live. But then maybe I don’t have to leave. Only Zeb have to. But it not as much fun without Zeb and Fagin and Patch.

Prester say, come with me and let’s wave to the crowd. Zeb say all right, and crawl over away from where I can see. I think their talk over anyway, and crowd outside make anothe big cheer, so I turn around and go back to front space in machine.

Fagin sits there, listening to the big party going on outside. I start to tell him what I head but he look down at me and sort of frown, so I stop for a second.

He look back up over where the party is outside and say, can you believe this horseshit?


I’m barely awake that morning when a few grackles and bluebirds flutter through the tree, claiming loudly that there’s going to be a party over by the machine. All we have to do is make some noise and we’ll all get fed.

Well sure I was game. A lot of us were. We birds already make a lot of noise in the morning, so why not over by the machine? I guessed that Prester was about to lift the quarantine and we’d have a big welcoming party right after. Now I’m an adherent of Ma Ne just like everyone else, but Prester has a tendency to come on a bit strong. Still, hey, it was free food.

I look down and sure enough there’s old Prester. A bunch of my friends have already started leaving the tree, circling around to get a better look at the procession. I start warming up myself when I see the group surrounding Prester and get cold feet. Or cold wings, I guess.

Well, there was Victor. I wasn’t too worried about him, of course. But then there was Racer the cat, who a lot of us have tangled with in the past. Shady character, Racer is. Major league claws and a pretty fair jumper. She’s killed more of our kind that I care to think about despite being fed regularly by the two-legs. They seem to like her for some reason. That’s enough to make anybody wonder, you know?

I also saw some of the rats. The rats around here are aggressive. Rumor has it that they almost attacked Zeb on his first day here but he managed to talk them out of it somehow. They’ve also attacked dogs, chipmunks, squirrels, birds, you name it. The only thing that keeps them from being extra deadly is their smell, since they’re always picking around the two-legs sacrifices to the big eating machine. Worse than skunks.

Then there was your usual jumble of chipmunks, who are really just kind of noisy and annoying but I still don’t want to party with them. The grackles joined the group after they flew through the tree, hopping along with the rest of them on the ground.

I was especially surprised to see Prester’s mate Ganna there too, walking a good ways back in the crowd. She’s a little smaller than he is, which isn’t hard because Prester’s a pretty big member of his species, but she has a reputation as a rabble rouser. What he would need her there for, I had no clue.

Anyway, I got a bad vibe off the group and decided to sit this one out. Not the females, though; they swoon like chicks every time Prester makes a public appearance. My mate is level-headed enough not to fall for that sort of thing, but other guys weren’t so lucky. By the time the “party” started, almost all the females had gone to ground except the ones with eggs or chicks to tend to.

Prester reached the machine and talked with the raccoon there for a moment while Ganna took a smaller contingent of animals over to the long side. She helped Prester climb over the side as soon as he had finished speaking with Zeb, and then she just stood there, nose up in the air, as if waiting for something. A few of the grackles walked among the other birds and pecked them sharply on the wing if they were talking too loud among themselves. The rats seemed to be policing the chipmunks the same way.

This is the strangest party I’ve ever seen, I thought, and flew to a higher branch to see just what was going on. Most of the other birds in the tree were acting almost petulant that they didn’t get to go, so the best viewing branches were wide open.

By the time I was back in view, somehow Ganna had managed to get everybody’s undivided attention. Not easy, considering that lot. She sat up on her haunches and raised her forepaws, then simply stood there, waiting. She turned her head like she was listening to sometihng. I suppose Prester and Zeb were talking inside, but I couldn’t see anything from that angle.

I almost decided to fly back down low for another look when Ganna suddenly waved her paws. One of the grackles shouted Oh yeah! and a rat said You tell it! Ganna looked very pleased with herself. The other animals in the group looked around with a little confusion, but the grackles just bobbed their heads and laughed, and Genna let out a little giggle too.

I don’t know what they were up to but it seemed infectious. The other animals began to titter a little. Ganna turned her head to listen again. The next time she waggled her paws more of the group got into it, shouting All right! and That’s how it is! Then Genna suddenly dropped her paws and kind of lowered her head like she was sad, and all the animals (grackles and rats first, then others) all went Awwwww and Ooooooh. A little while later she waved her paws again and everyone went Tell it! and Okay! and Hooray!

I watched this strange performance for a good while. Genna kept the crowd completely under her spell for several minutes, playing this strange game of voices and sounds. But everybody was certainly into it, and they did seem to be enjoying themselves. I’ve seen squirrels acting like this, playing games that are a sort of pantomime, and I guess Genna was leading the group in the same sort of fun to keep them busy until Prester could finish his talk with Zeb.

Genna led the group through noise, making progressively louder and louder sounds, tension growing, some of the smaller animals nearly vibrating, until finally she threw her paws up in the air and shouted Hooray!

At that point the whole party became pandemonium. Chipmunks were doing backflips, birds leaping and fluttering. From somewhere, I never did see where, great tufts of seed pods and grubs exploded over the crowd. Somebody must have started throwing them around. Maybe the rats had buried a cache there at some point.

It looked like a fine party and I decided to fly down and join them. Why not, Prester be damned, it was a fun time for everyone. I took wing and glided down over the fluttering jumping cheering crowd. I noticed several dances going on among the birds and smiled to myself. It doesn’t take much to get the younger birds in a mating mood, especailly in early summer.

The food was plentiful and the fun was definitely there to be had. I think I may have actually made friends with a rat, which I wouldn’t have expected to happen in a million summers, and met several more of my neighbors. Some of us tend to be a little, I don’t know, insular maybe, but at this party everybody was everybody else’s friend. It made me feel pretty good about Prester and his wife, actually.

Speaking of Prester, he and Zeb suddenly made an appearance at the side of the machine and everybody started cheering again. A rumor started around that the quarantine was lifted, which was a relief to me. Maybe finally life could go back to normal.

I had a particularly wiggly grub in my beak, and when Prester started speaking a few words about how Zeb was going to be our friend again the grub kind of popped out of my mouth and made a break for it. I laughed and turned to peck awkwardly after it.

At the back of the crowd, I noticed Racer the cat slinking away. Well, why not, I thought, still a little giddy from all the camaraderie, I should go talk to her, bury the anger, let bygones be bygones and maybe even start over fresh. I gobbled up the little wiggler before he had a chance to dig himself in and hopped past a few rapt robins toward the retreating cat.

Hey Racer, I said, hold up, it’s me, Dart. Let’s talk.

Racer just sort of froze, head and shoulders down, butt high in the air like cats will do. She didn’t turn to look at me.

Look, I said, still hopping toward her, I know we’ve had our differences in the past, but I was thinking, you know, since everybody is friends now, that maybe —

Go away, she said through her teeth, still not looking back.

I should have stopped but the spirit of fun and good times was still pushing me forward. Aw come on, I said cheerfully, you don’t have to leave, things are just getting started.

Then I came up close to her head. Her huge yellow eyes tracked me with tremendous menace, but the first thing, the thing that is still seared in my mind even after all this time, was seeing the little bluebird, Finn I think his name was, dangling limply from Racer’s mouth dripping blood on the ground. Finn was still breathing, rapidly. Finn’s eyes were open. He looked straight at me. I looked straight back at him. He was still alive. He wouldn’t be for long. We both knew it.

Go, said Racer around Finn’s body, away. Now.

So I did. Ma Ne forgive me, but I flew. I took wing and flew over the crowd, as fast as my wings could carry me, further and further, until the vehicle disappeared behind the two-legs boxes and trees and the far distance where my eyes could no longer see.


The caterwauling went on for some time. Zeb came down and asked me and Thunder if we wanted to go wave at the crowd too. Thunder thought it sounded like a blast. I demurred.

No matter what their intentions toward Zeb, I could see that having him leave would be disastrous to me. A bird with an injured wing is less than useless. I might be able to work up some sort of stuttering flight, not for very long, more of an extended hop. But there wasn’t any way I could hunt like this, and there were cats in the area. An owl would be a major prize for a cat, especially given our reputations as silent hunters of the night.

I scratched glumly at the ground, looking for food. My talons are very sharp but fine. I can’t subsist very long by digging because it blunts them, and then when I return to flying it would take a long time for them to grow back out to their original sharpness. Of course prey is much easier to kill with sharp talons. I’ll spare you the details.

I pecked and scratched for a while, not finding much. At least without flying I could conserve some strength and subsist on the few little organic treats I found in the ground there. The grass didn’t grow under the front part of the machine, since it had been covered over by the big flat piece of metal until Zeb figured out how to open it. I could potentially eat grass in a pinch but I don’t enjoy it at all.

Pecking around like a common bird, I found a fairly large flat white rock, not so big that I couldn’t shift it but potentially big enough that it might have some bugs underneath. Ah well, beggars can’t be choosers, I thought, and started prying.

To my surprise, the rock twisted to one side and partially fell into the ground. I had somehow uncovered some sort of underground tunnel. It stank of rabbits, which made me hungry. Unfortunately there wasn’t any way I could get into the warren, and upon further smelling I determined the warren had been abandoned a while back. Too bad, I would have loved a fine rabbit feast.

Thunder hopped down next to me. It a nice party out there, he said. Lots of food. Come have some.

No thanks, I said, currently occupied with examining the hole in the ground. I’m not that hungry yet. Maybe when everyone leaves I’ll go pick through the leftovers.

Thunder sat up and sniffed around. I smell long-ears, he said. Two-legs from box once have long-ear inside metal box. Dug all day and night but never go anywhere. Didn’t talk much. Just ate and pooped and died.

It’s this hole in the ground, I said, interrupting his lovely story. There was a rabbit warren under here once. Who knows how far it goes.

Thunder find out, he said, and hopped right down into the hole without waiting for me to answer. The little fellow had no sense of self-preservation at all, but somehow that made him almost endearing. I thought briefly about other mice that I had caught and eaten on the wing. If I’d known that they could be so entertaining I might have spared a few of them.

I waited around a few minutes but Thunder never reappeared. I shrugged. Oh well, I thought, he can take care of himself, and even if he can’t there’s not much I can do about it right now. I wandered off to find more bugs to eat instead of fretting.

Zeb scampered across the edge of the machine, looking down into the compartment. Hey Fagin, he said, come on out. These guys are amazing. They’ve promised to give us a place to live and shelter from other predators if we just listen to some stories.

I swiveled my head to look at him. I don’t think they’ll look too kindly on a predator who can’t defend himself, I said. And anyway, we have a place to stay. This machine is practically a ready-made home.

Zeb looked a little disappointed. Yeah, I know, he said, but we can’t stay here anymore. It’s part of the deal.

Sure, I said, but why take that deal? It may be all right for you, Zeb, but I hunt alone.

If you hunt alone, then why stay here with us? he asked.

Well, I said, I usually hunt alone, when my wing isn’t sprained. Normally staying with other animals gives me the willies. But I don’t know, you guys are interesting. I guess I’m just sad to see it break up like this.

Zeb cocked his head and frowned at me. No need to be sad, Zeb said, this is the good life just outside the door. Some free food, no need to hunt, stories to listen to, time to heal up and we’re ready to go. What we’re giving up is worth what we’re getting.

I glanced at the big metal piece in the middle of the compartment, the piece which Zeb had been fiddling with constantly since I got here. So, I said, you’re ready to give up the machine?

He glanced where I looked, and his eyebrows raised in a sad way, but he said yes, I’m ready to give it up.

For good, I said.

Yeah, of course, he said. I mean I’d like to stay and see if I really can fix this thing, but that’s not me talking, it’s the spirit of doubt. That’s not the natural way for a raccoon.

Despite the brightness of the rising morning sun, I opened my eyes wide. I said, you mean to stand there and tell me that you didn’t enjoy taking this machine apart and try to find out how it works?

Well, sure, he said, seeming to get uncomfortable, but it wasn’t me enjoying it. Somehow. I’m not clear on it yet. But I’m assured the stories will explain everything, and I’m willing to listen to them in case it really does help.

I sighed. Fine, I said. I haven’t really spent much time around you, and I have to admit that your obsession with this machine is pretty strange for a raccoon in my experience. And if you’re doubting your current lifestyle, then maybe you are inflicted with a spirit of doubt. I’m sorry to have made it worse. Maybe I was just inflicted with a spirit of selfishness so I wouldn’t have to face leaving the machine.

He smiled a little. If you were so selfish, he said, you’d have eaten Thunder by now.

I just kept my distance because I wanted to hang out with his friends, I said. If we’re going to break it up, there’s nothing stopping me now.

Yeah, Zeb said, but you won’t.

I took a long breath and I let it out and I said, yeah, I won’t.


It’s like a fucking party out there and I’m missing it.

I still don’t know what the fuck is going on. Maybe they’re executing all the guys and cheering that the quarantine is being taken care of permanent style. So I’m like flitting from branch to branch and post to post trying not to be seen. Now I don’t know what you think about squirrels, but our greatest asset, our tail, can be a stone bitch when you’re trying to hide.

So what do I do? I’m thinking. If they’re knocking off the guys, I should make myself scarce. But if it really is a party, then I’ll be running away from a party like a fucking retard. And nobody calls me a fucking retard, not even me.

Now a normal squirrel would be shitting himself with this sort of decision. But me, I’m crafty. I hang back and keep my eyes and ears on full alret. Eventually one of these guys is going to break away from the party. I know that not even a squirrel with brass balls like mine could fight his way through that entire group, but give me something smaller and I’ll make him sing. Even if it isn’t a bird.

So the first thing I see leaving the fun times hoopla is Racer the cat. I’m still trying to decide if it’s even worth talking to a cat when I see her scare off some asshole bird. Yeah, fine, pussy bitch, you just be all growly and shit at tiny birds, you’re sooo scary. So I decide, fuck that, not worth my fucking time.

But a little while later I see a chipmunk, little fat guy, start rolling off on his own, probably looking for someplace to take a shit. Chippies are good that way. Ought to introduce them to Fagin, teach him which is an appropriate place to take a crap and which isn’t.

So little chipbutt gets off next to the tree and I pounce on that fucker like that cat bitch only wishes she could. Scares him so bad he pisses all over the place. I gotta do a dance not to get splashed. Hey, shithead, watch the bladder, I say, pinning him to the ground.

What, what do you want? he says.

Just some information and you’re free to go, I say, all sweet. What’s the skinny on this party?

It’s a party, he says. Like any party. Prester throwing it because the quarantine’s being lifted. Don’t hurt me please.

Yeah yeah, I say, doing the tough guy thing, which isn’t hard because you know I do it all the fucking time, it comes natural. I say, so what’s going on inside the machine, huh? They killing the raccoon?

What? No! he says. Party is for raccoon and friends inside machine. Food and games.

That doesn’t make sense, I say. What’s the point of a party? Why the welcome wagon out here right now and not yesterday or last week when Zeb got here?

Don’t know, don’t know, the chippie says, pissing again. Little fart really needed to go. I almost have sympathy, which is a big deal for me.


… aaand that’s it. This is where I stopped back in 2010. I may finish it someday. Who knows. Watch this space.