Squirrel Tale
A Short Story by Tim Josephs
Written using the suggestion "Step"
Originally featured on 11-09-2007
As part of our series "Journey To A New Word"

“Can you believe I get paid to do this?”

Ethan never thought he’d hear those words come from a taxidermist but that’s exactly what the owner and proprietor of Gary’s Taxidermy had just said. Ethan watched him straighten a llama’s head on the wall and then step down from a paint-splattered ladder. He was exactly what Ethan expected a taxidermist to look like: big white beard, red flannel shirt, it was as if Santa had decided to go into another line of work.

“So, what can I do you for?”

Ethan cleared his throat. “Well, this might sound kind of weird but I need a squirrel’s tail.”

Gary grinned and Ethan quickly added, “It’s for my daughter.”

Ethan’s eight year old daughter Lauren had been working on a project for school — something about forests — and had crafted out of clay a surprisingly good looking squirrel, her absolute favorite animal. The pipe cleaner tail, however, hadn’t worked out and she had gone to bed the night before red-eyed and cranky.

Ethan had spent all day thinking about what he could do to help her. It was only on his way home from work that he thought about the taxidermist. He had driven by the small yellow building for months but this was the first time he really noticed it. He had quickly pulled into the graveled parking lot and after a moment’s hesitation, got out of his car and went inside.

“Hold on a second,” Gary said and disappeared into the backroom.

Ethan heard some rustling and a few muffled grunts. He shifted on his feet a couple times and glanced around the small, musty store. It was crammed with animals and every one of them, crows, rabbits, deer, seemed to be staring at him.

Just as he started thinking about leaving, Ethan heard Gary say “Ah ha!” and he emerged holding a cardboard box. He dropped it on the counter and Ethan glanced at him and then slowly peered over the edge. Inside were several different animal tails.

“Let’s see,” Gary said, and started rummaging around the box. “Squirrel, squirrel. Nope, looks like I’m all out. How ‘bout this?”

He pulled out a shaggy, brown and black striped tail. Ethan cringed.

“Is that from a cat?”

“Probably,” Gary said.

“No squirrels?”

Gary shook his head. “Wait, I do have this.” He quickly walked around the counter and over to a dusty shelf in the corner. He reached up and, pushing aside a parrot and Chihuahua, grabbed a stuffed squirrel. The gray squirrel had either been killed while it was enjoying a nut or put in that pose sometime afterwards.

Gary held it up with a smile.

“I actually don’t need the whole squirrel, just the tail.”

Gary frowned.

“I don’t know what to tell ya, pal. It’s either this or the cat tail.”

Ethan thought about Lauren. She had worked so hard on her project and he hated for her to be disappointed.

“How much?”

Gary’s smile returned.

 

Ethan had asked for a bag but after Gary had offered an old Burger King sack, he took the squirrel as is. At first he had it sitting beside him on the passenger seat, but after a few miles, and several uneasy glances to his right, he had to pull over and put it in the trunk.

When he got home he found a note on the fridge from his wife Beth: “Went to pick up Lauren at Molly’s, be back soon. B.”

Ethan smiled. Beth and Molly’s mom could talk for hours so he knew he’d have time to get the tail off and onto Lauren’s creation.

At first he tried just pulling it off, but besides a few cracking noises, nothing happened. After trying a pair of scissors with no luck, he thought for a second and then went out to the garage. There he found a rusty saw the previous owners of the house had left. He had always meant to throw it out but now was grateful he hadn’t. He was about to start cutting the tail on the hood of his Lexus but thought better of it and went out to the old oak tree stump in the backyard.

Ethan laid the squirrel down and rolled up his sleeves. Placing his left hand on the tiny torso, he began sawing at the base of the tail.

“Jesus,” he muttered, already working up a sweat. “What did he fill this with, concrete?”

After several more pulls across the tail, Ethan dropped the saw and picked up the squirrel. There was barely a scratch. He put it down again and tightened his grip on the small head.

“Damn it!” he cried, and quickly gazed at his hand.

There were a few tiny points in his palm and blood started dripping from them. Ethan glanced at the squirrel’s little grayish teeth and frowned. He pulled out a handkerchief from his back pocket and wrapped it around his hand. Then he snatched up the saw and, changing the location of his grip, began violently cutting the tail again. After a few minutes, he stopped and checked his work. Now there was a visible line but the tail was still firmly attached.

Ethan tossed the saw away and, grunting and cursing, tried breaking off the tail again; this time he stepped on it with one brown loafer and yanked, but it still wasn’t moving. Suddenly he stopped and smiled. Replacing the squirrel on the stump, he headed back to the garage.

A moment later he returned and, now brandishing an aluminum softball bat, yelled and charged at the squirrel. His first swing missed and he toppled over, hitting his head hard on the ground. He stood up a little shakily and glanced down at his pants; both knees of his gray suit were now covered in dark grass stains.

Ethan growled and raised the bat. His second attempt was more successful and the bat collided squarely. There was a solid thud but the squirrel remained intact.

Now panting, Ethan lifted the bat again and as hard as he could, began beating the squirrel. When at last the animal started breaking up, he grinned. When one small arm, along with the nut, fell to the grass, he howled with laughter.

“How do you like that, squirrel?! Huh? How do you like it now, you little-!”

“Ethan, what are you doing?!”

Ethan, in mid-swing, glanced up to see his horrified wife and daughter staring at him. Sweat was dripping from his forehead and bits of fur plastered his face and clothing.

“It’s not uh…it’s a fake, well, not fake, but I didn’t do this, I mean it was already…”

Lauren burst into tears and ran inside.

“I was just trying to get a tail for your…” He noticed the bat in his hands and quickly dropped it. Beth was glaring at him with her arms crossed. A small white bag was sticking out of her purse.

“What’s in the bag?” he asked after a moment.

She pulled out a bushy piece of fabric that looked a lot like a squirrel’s tail, even more so than the tattered one now barely clinging to the rodent corpse.

“Art supply store, they have all kinds of animal stuff.”

Ethan nodded. “Of course they do."

Read More By Tim Josephs

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