Squirrel on a Stick

14

Jessica Dufresne stepped over the ruins of the doorway and directly into a drift of squirrel corpses. Bones crunched underfoot and she half-shrieked, tripping forwards and catching herself in the darkened, blood-spattered entryway of the ruined house somewhere outside Sudbury.

"Ohhhh fuck," she panted, breath fogging the inside of her face mask. There were bits of squirrel hanging from the ceiling. Bits of squirrel coating the walls. You could hardly see the bullet holes for the chunks of squirrel meat.

"Ohhhh fuck."

Three hours previous it had seemed exciting, thrilling, even- her first proper cleanup mission with India-13. Two-Eight-Six was still rampaging somewhere in the woods kilometers away, and the other members of the team were dealing with the mounds and mounds of tiny furry bodies coating the neighbourhood outside. She steadied herself- the dim drone of the radio in her ear helped a bit.

[-moved behind that tree there- -engage, engage- -slippery little shit- -aw hell where did it get that hand grena-] She turned the volume down as low as it would go.

"It's a long way away. You've got this."

She picked her way down the hallway, taking a left at the creaking, squirrel-spattered stairs. There looked to be a kitchen down at the end of the hall, dining room to the right. Probably best to start from the top and work her way down. She tried a light switch. No dice. The Squirrel- she'd heard so much about it she was thinking in capital letters, goddamn- had thrown itself into the transformers down the block, cutting power to the whole area.

It took her several minutes to get up the stairs. Someone had obviously been using a shotgun, and indiscriminately at that- there were big chunks taken out of several steps, and the blood-slick wood made it hard to keep her footing. She knew the protective suit was necessary- she knew exactly what kind of bloodborne diseases you could get from squirrels- but it was bulky and even if it had been tailored to her the ankles didn't fit quite right.

The second-floor hall looked almost undisturbed, save for the bloody bootprints tracking down it. The evening sun pouring in the square window down at the end made for stark, deep shadows- and a glint of movement.

She flinched despite herself, turning on her headlamp- another squirrel corpse. Another Squirrel corpse. With what looked like a human toe dangling from its mouth. Wincing, she unfolded a three-ply garbage bag from the pack on her waist and gingerly tossed the corpse into it, thankful for the double-layer gloves she was wearing.

It took her half an hour to work her way through the first bedroom and the single bathroom on the second floor. By the end of it, things had gotten dark enough that she had to leave her headlamp on. Her mind drifted, musing on how little her civilian hazardous materials training had prepared her for the Authority. They'd gotten her not long after her mother had passed.

"You're well-trained and you have no close family, why not come to us so we can transport you halfway across the damn continent and pay you fourty an hour to fill plastic bags with killer squirrels," she mumbled absently to herself, as she plucked dozens of tiny teeth out of the closet door they were embedded in. Jesus, the Squirrel had really done a number on this place.

She straightened up. Only one room left. The place was still a mess, obviously- blood and bullet holes everywhere, but as long as it was Squirrel-free then they could claim it was gang-related crime and dose everyone in the area with amnestics. Or so her supervisor had claimed. It seemed above her pay grade.

The second and final bedroom at the end of the hall had had its door blown off its hinges, and she stopped in the entryway, aghast at the state of the room.

"No fucking way."

The floor of the room was littered with what looked like bear traps- she saw dozens of tiny interlocking bone mechanisms, their tips smeared with what could only be feces. Some of them had been tripped. One of them had blood on it, mixed with the shit. On one wall, the drywall was smashed in, as if something human-sized had crashed into it at considerable speed. She bent down to investigate, the traps snapping harmlessly against the boots of the suit as she pushed her way through the mess.

Right at where she guessed eye-level would be on a human figure slumped against the wall, there were deep scratch marks- as if something had leapt atop whoever had fallen over, and then… there was something caught in one of the scrapes. She wriggled it free. It was a tiny finger, with wet scraps of meat and fur sticking to one end.

…It had leapt atop whoever had fallen over, and then clawed at the person's face so hard it had torn off its own fingers. She choked back a dry heave.

Something clattered downstairs.

In the brief moment of animal panic that followed, something one of the India-13 instructors had said had flashed into her head.

"Now, the important thing when you're clearing a structure is you check everywhere. If there's even the slightest possibility there's a hostile entity still there, you don't poke around. You don't start working again. You get the hell out of there and you get someone with a bigger gun than you to double-check. I'm not gonna lose anyone because one of you dumb rookie janitors thinks 'oh, it was nothing.'"

She said the next words out loud.

"'It's never nothing.'"

As another clattering noise, fainter this time, echoed through the empty house, she reached down and carefully, ever-so-slowly, turned up the radio again.

[-Roger, command, Papa-84 confirms they don't have eyes on the bastard either. Repeat, we've got no eyes on the Squirrel. Dropped off the thermals about-]

She turned it off, and drew the revolver at her hip, feeling pathetic as she did so.

"Your sidearm is there as a last-ditch emergency tool," rang the voice of the instructor. "You're not combat personnel, you're not expected to play Rambo. So don't."

In a haze of fear and adrenaline, she slowly, painstakingly inched her way out of the bedroom and back down the hall. In the evening darkness, the bloodstains were black as pitch. The trip down the stairs might only have taken ten seconds- somehow her feet were steady even as the bile rose in her throat and she shook uncontrollably- but it felt like ten thousand years.

It was in the kitchen.

Something metallic clanged to the floor. Part of her was screaming to run, to get out, to just go-

But she had to know. She had to know what this thing was, this tiny insignficant mammal that had just beaten three Authority MSTs and caused dozens of casualties and oh my god it was in the next room.

Driven by an instinct that was half blind terror and half curiosity, she threw herself down the last step, rounding the corner of the French doors that led to the kltchen. There was something gray and furry on the counter, a matted tail twitching to and fro.

She pulled the trigger of the revolver almost convulsively, and in the same moment her boot slipped on a pile of squirrel intestines on the wet linoleum, sending her tumbling forwards. She went face-first into the edge of the countertop.

By the time the rest of the cleanup team arrived, drawn by the gunshot, to find Jessica Dufresne unconscious on the kitchen floor, the terrified raccoon had scrabbled off the counter and vanished into the darkening evening.

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