[The following is another excerpt from my upcoming book, The End of Fear Itself, and will probably be in the section on real Fear, i.e., the fight or flight kind. It’s been polished a bit, but I’m sure there will be additions, subtractions, and revisions to come before the final version. Enjoy.]
There was a disturbance in the kitchen.
There was a rustling sound, a hiss, then a cacophony of pots n pans spilling across the floor.
I was sitting at my desk, typing on my laptop, just as I am right now, one day last year, when I heard a crash in the kitchen. I had been writing for nearly an hour, I suppose, without incident, when the kitchen exploded.
You see, I’m a writer, obviously, and I work from home most of the time. We have a small house in St. Paul, on the West Side. It’s only about 11 or 1200 square feet in size. The downstairs consists of only three rooms: the living room at the front of the house, the kitchen in the middle, and my home office, at the back of the house, overlooking our deck and garden through a large sliding-glass door, which that morning was fully closed. This is an important fact, as you’ll soon see.
I was peacefully writing that morning, when all of a sudden, the kitchen erupted in a violence and a ruckus unlike I had ever heard.
“What the fuck!?” I yelled.
I hate being interrupted when I’m writing. It’s hard enough to get into the dance with the Muse, as it is, and when that dance is interrupted, it’s really hard to get back into it. The Muse doesn’t like to be troubled with shit from the sidelines. She really loves to dance, but brooks no distractions.
And the clashing and banging from the kitchen was more than a distraction; it was like dropping a bomb on the dance floor.
I lost concentration for a second, let loose my curses, then realizing that it was probably just the Viking Pirate Kitties—Punkin’ and her troublesome, aloof sister, Squish—I turned back to the task at hand: writing, with the thought that I’d deal with the clean up when I was finished.
I knew the sound well enough, I thought, even though the one that morning seemed a bit pronounced compared to times past.
In the kitchen, under one of the windows, there is a radiator, that supplies ample heat to the room in the Long Dark that is our Minnesota Winters. Over the radiator is a metal cart with a butcher-block top that we use to support the toaster, baskets of bread, usually a cookie jar, and various other sundry that collects on a kitchen counter.
It was spring or summer when this incident occurred, so the windows were open to let the fresh air waft through the house. They were protected by screens, to keep the Skeeters—that’s mosquitoes, for those of you not from the South—from wafting through the house along with the breeze.
As I said, in that first second of disturbance, I cursed, then directed my attention back to the keyboard and the masterpiece I was working on at the moment. The cats were always screwing around on the radiator, and just below it, on the front edge of the cart, was a wire shelf, a narrow one, on which sat a small sauce pot with lid, that Paysh used to make popcorn.
There are also a couple of cast iron bacon presses next to it. It was customary for the Pirates to jump down off the radiator and knock all of that shit right into the floor, and that’s what I surmised had happened on the morning in question.
I was wrong. Partly.
Something much more intense and deadly was at work: a life and death struggle, and shitloads of Fear.
Just as I turned my attention back to my writing, a second or two after being interrupted, something smashed into the sliding glass door to my left, and slightly behind me, over my left shoulder.
I jerked around in my office chair, banging my right knee on the desk in the process—which occasioned a string of profane curses only heard on board Naval and Fishing Vessels around the world—only to see the blur of a grey fur, and a long bushy tail as it rebounded off the glass, to be met by a blur of ginger fur, and slashing claws, and hissing teeth.
There was a squirrel in my house!
There was a little grey squirrel loose in my house, and he was in full flight mode. This was real Fear, my friend, not the bullshit, projected Fear that most of us feel when we need to ask for a raise, or think our spouse is upset with us. Hell no, this was life and death Fear and Rocky the Squirrel had quickly abandoned the fight response for the opposite one, ‘run like fuckin’ hell!’
And run he did.
Right behind him, catching up to him as he bounced off the rear door, was Punkin’, the runt of her litter, half the size of her sister, but fast as lightning, and with claws and teeth sharp as razors. She has drawn more than a few pints of life blood from the humans in the household, and that was only while playing. She wasn’t’ playin’ with Rocky. She had one thought in mind: KILL HIM!
And she was on him like ugly on an ape.
It was in that moment—when I realized what was going on, only a second or two after the clash in the kitchen, and at the moment the Rocky rebounded off the glass door behind me—that things really sped up.
The rest of the incident that I’m getting ready to relate to you, took no more than 6 or 7 seconds in real time, 10 at the very most, but I would bet on less than 6. It was a blur of action like I’ve never seen in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of action.
As I leaped from my chair, knee screaming in pain from jamming under the desk, I let loose another curse, “What the FUCK!? There’s a squirrel in my house!”
By the time I had said this, Punkin’ had leaped onto his back, clawed him, bit him, he shook free, and they were off! back out of the office, into the kitchen. I ran, limping after, thinking, “I have to get a door open, let out the squirrel, but not Punkin’! How the fuck am I going to pull THAT off!?”
As I ran into the kitchen, I saw Rocky launch up over our sofa in the living room, and half the way up the blinds on the front window, with Punkin just behind, hissing and slashing with her deadly claws. She was really into this, man. I thought ole Rocky was done for, and for only a split second, wondered where Squish was, and her dog, Bubble. “They must be asleep, I quickly reasoned, or they would be down here in middle of this, and Rocky would be fucked.”
Before I could finish thinking all of that—which simultaneously occurred as I was reaching to open the front door–Rocky gave into Newton’s Law of Gravity, and came back down the window, bounced off of the side table next to the sofa, and kicked into turbo drive on his way back towards my office with the world’s fastest lioness on his tail, blood in her eyes.
It was then that an idea flashed into my head, and it was a good thing, for Rocky anyway.
Before I could fully formulate my plan, I yelled at Punkin’, “PUNKIN’! STOP!”
And luckily, for Rocky, Punkin’ responded to her daddy’s voice.
You have to realize that Punkin’ is the cute, sweet Viking Pirate Kitty. When she’s not chasing squirrels, or mice, trying to disembowel them and rip off their heads to leave as trophies at the foot of mommy’s bed, she’s usually curled up in a ball, sucking on the end of her tail like a baby, binki. It is simply the cutest thing in the history of cuteness.
But when she’s on the hunt, forget about it. She’s deadly, and relentless. But she does love daddy, even if she doesn’t really listen to commands. She’s a cat, after all, far superior to the so-called, advanced species of monkey that humans think themselves.
But the force of my command caused her to pause, for just a second, which was long enough for me to reach the French door to my office, and slam it shut, just as Rocky careened into the sliding glass door at the back of the house, again.
I stopped. Sucked in some air, and looked back at Punkin’ who was staring up at me, not a little irritated and hurt that I had interrupted her hunt. Her blood was up, and she was not happy that I had intervened on behalf of her prey. Maybe for a second, she thought that I might be trying to assist her.
A part of me wouldn’t have minded if she had killed the squirrel, though I have no animosities towards the species. I don’t want them in my house. Once the wild get in, they’re fair game for the Viking Pirates.
But I had no relish for the aftermath of such a hunt. The entire house might collapse into dust, like 10,000 Jerichos, from such a chase, especially if Squish and Bubble were awakened to join in. God only knows the damage they would have inflicted in the pursuit of little Rocky. Luckily, I had contained the problem, and the damage. But Rocky was still in my office, with no way out.
I took a few steps towards Punkin’ to ensure that she retreated a bit, and then I opened the office door, and plunged in, closing myself in the room with Rocky, who was probably pissing himself, metaphorically, if not literally.
He was all over the place, knocking books off shelves, jumping up on chairs, and trying to get out of a door that wasn’t budging.
I raced to the back door, unlocked it, slung it open, and managed to the get the screen door open just in time to avoid Rocky blasting right through it. He was off, and free, to race across the backyard.
I’m certain he didn’t stop runnin’ till he reached the rocky shores of Washington State.
Somewhere out there, in the misty forests of the Great Northwest, there’s a squirrel named Rocky, with an eye patch, and some nasty scars, sitting at a squirrel bar, drinking nutty squirrel ales, spinning the harrowing tale of the day he broke into a monkey house, only to be confronted with a vicious, enormous lioness, who he only just managed to escape thanks to the philanthropic aid of a large, ape, in shorts and Birkenstocks.
How did he get in in the first place?
Once the excitement of the chase had subsided, I asked myself the same question. And since the chase seemed to have begun near the radiator, in the kitchen, that’s where I focused my Sherlockian powers. And there, in the corner of the window screen, was a hole, no more than 2 or 3 inches in diameter, that Rocky had managed to rip open.
If only he’d known ahead of time what was on the other side, he’d have saved himself a lot of Fear, and a very long run to Seattle.