The cult section of the literary world

Flash Fiction Friday: Barking Squirrels

by Alex S. Johnson

For Chris Ropes

For a long time I failed to grasp the significance, the true import, of barking squirrels.

In my naivete, I thought they might be very small camels braying from the pine woods circling like wagons around my cottage.

But I had never heard a camel, let alone a miniature of the species, so this was speculation.

I speculated a lot in those days, before I came to knowledge. And when I came, it was hard and fast and long and only somewhat menaced by the delivery vector of antidepressant meds.

I thought that perhaps the universe was balanced on a tadpole’s tail, and we were due for a very long fall.

Some spoke of God catching us, or gravity—a soup bowl of some kind—but that seemed dubious.

In dreams I floated on a bark of a different nature.

One night I was dripping hash oil on a cigarette when Bentley made his first appearance.

He coughed abruptly behind my pillows. I spun around. But the little shit eluded me, tunneling into my berserk linen—it had been reading too much M.R. James.

What was his damage?

War? Had he been a POW? Was he partly incinerated in some kind of nanotech camp, then set free to haunt late capitalism with charred, furry vengeance? Was he a fighter, a biter or both?

He wore a plaster cast that had been signed by other animals, notably a bluejay—Sam.

And a few more. Butterscotch the Llama. The Nocturnicorn Brigade (once removed). A murder of crows—literal slaughter. (It was us or them).

Bentley offered a paw, and I shook it. Then drew back. Did he bear disease? Was he the Plaguemaster General? Could the hash oil conceivably nip whatever cancers I might be sprouting in the bud, so to speak, and if so, could I cure others with second hand smoke? Did squirrels get cancer? If they did, and I studied up on enough molecular biology to create some kind of hash-powered hybrid, would I merit the Nobel Prize in either science or peace?

These and more thoughts of the kind swallowed my head in shadows. Bentley shook them off. “Hey, dude, you have to stop with the paranoia,” he chirped at last.

“Who are you, and what have you done with Sam?” I asked.

“Sam is a friend of mine,” Bentley replied in an injured tone. “He came to self-knowledge in the last Morphoclown war, and hasn’t been present in this dimension since. I don’t know what your problem is, but you must, must forbear with the fear. It’s killing you slowly. Then it will kill you rapidly. The outcome is death. A terminal kind.”

“Oh yeah,” I rejoined. “Said the squirrel that swallowed the bluejay. Look, why don’t you go dig up Mark Twain and drop nuts in his eye sockets?”

“That’s a long way down, brother.”

“How so?”

“Because Mark Twain’s eyes went deeper than most understand. If I dropped a nut in his sockets, it wouldn’t reach bottom until the tadpole loses its tail, and as you well know, that’s where we are truly fucked.”

“So that part is correct, yeah?”

“It’s temporarily correct. OK, cards on the table. Ya know Heisenberg, right?”

“Not personally,” I said, attempting humor. I decided to get out the blowdryer and do a rapid dry job on the cigarette. The hash oil was staring up at me with beady amber eyes.

“Yeah well, it’s not funny. Or it is funny—laugh out loud, if you want to know the Illuminati code of it all—but not in the way you imagine. Heisenberg came to me in a dream of Uber truck drivers and a hail of virtual bullets and laid some gospel on me. He said forget Indeterminacy, that’s yesterday’s powdered donut hive. He says it’s back to strict Newtonian physics, and you’re our first subject.”

I swallowed hard. Nobody ever warns you about the Newtonian.

“You mean Isaac, or amphibians?”

“Both, nominally,” Bentley said, crawling up my arm and nestling in the rank pit of yesterday’s toxic ooze.

Then he barked.

I nearly shinned myself scrambling up the arc of the sound wave, trying to measure it, deconstruct it, grasp it with the brains someone had delivered in a plastic box with fake fruit on the side.

“Holy shit!” I said once I’d reached the top. “You guys are so clever. Pretending to be camels, when in reality…”

Isaac Newton chipped himself away temporarily from the Marble Index. He was wearing a paper hospital gown and was weeping uncontrollably.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, forgetting all about the squirrel.

“Heisenberg tricked me,” he gasped at last. “He turned me into a newt.”

“Python fan much? Since when is that the mechanical paradigm of physics?”

“Since…newt.”

I discovered that newts do not bark. That’s a definitive fact.

So the squirrel had been telling the truth about that too. The little fellow was still embedded with the Bacterial Justice Warriors in my armpit and was acting like Che Guevara on a Roughy binge, spastic and uptight and falling down on his increasingly abstract tale.

“Come on, man, I need to get some sleep,” I said at last.

Bentley began to bark, then leapt out the window into a tree in an act of sheer muscular grace.

_______

Alex S. Johnson is the author of such books as The Doom Hippies and The Pit and the Void. His Bizarro, horror, erotica and fantasy stories have appeared in such venues as Bloodsongs magazine, Surreal Nightmares, Terror Train 1 and 2, Ghosts: Revenge and other anthologies from James Ward Kirk Publishing, as well as Master/slave (Penguin Books) and Tall Tales with Short Cocks from Rooster Republic. His recent projects include Cherry Nose Armageddon, a clown horror anthology co-edited with Mary Genevieve Fortier and The Junk Merchants, a tribute anthology to William S. Burroughs co-edited with Dean M. Drinkel. Johnson lives in Central California.

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