General Fiction posted January 22, 2016


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Wally Birdwhistle has a squirrel problem in his attic.

The North Hill Mafia

by J Dan Francis


   It has been a banner week in North Hill. A productive week I would say, leading right into Thanksgiving especially since the weather has been unseasonably warm for this time of year. So warm, that just about everyone in town had put off raking leaves and doing all their usual autumn clean-up and "button-down" as we like to call it here. Buttoning down in these parts just means getting ready for the long cold winter to come, and North Hill has surly been through its share of harsh winters. So we pull down the window screens and put up storm windows in place, plug up any drafts coming in, and cover the bushes and roses and turn over our kitchen gardens. Then we bring in and store what we can of the seasoned firewood we had cut back in summer for our woodstoves and fireplaces. And whatever wood we can't fit into our basements and onto our porches we stack as close to the house as we can in case we need to run out there in our bare feet to get more wood. Almost every house in North Hill has a woodstove or a big fireplace; it sure makes it cozy and takes the bite out of those long cold winters.
  
   Fall clean-up and button-down was no exception for Wally Birdwhistle and his wife Loretta. Perhaps though, maybe it was a bit more eventful and out of the ordinary, more so than their neighbors. You see Wally and Loretta live in a big old Victorian home right on south Main Street in the middle of town, next to the firehouse. It was one of the more stately homes in North Hill and Wally and Loretta prided themselves in its largeness and historical beauty. You could almost say they were obsessed with it and their obsession was pretty much obvious to just about everyone in town; especially all the fellas who hung out at the firehouse.
  
   Wally was raking leaves and Loretta was stacking the wicker furniture on the porch, and Wally Junior, their son and only child (Every man in town had a namesake called Junior it seemed) was moseying about, reluctantly helping with the chores acting insolent like most boys his age; which is fifteen going on eight.
  
   Junior was your typical teenage boy who had only two speeds, slow and girls. Seeing a girl is the only thing that would put him into overdrive. Other than that, he wouldn't know enough to jump in the lake if his pants were on fire. Anyway, as he was raking close to the house he felt a thump on his head. It startled him and he looked around and saw no one standing nearby. It wasn't a hard thump mind you, just enough to get his attention. Not knowing what it was, he went back to his slow mode of raking and at about that time he was hit with another two thumps. Junior dropped the rake and quickly felt the top of his head and looked all around him. He saw Wally Senior standing about fifty feet away busy raking under some hedges and his mother was up on the porch humming and stacking the wicker furniture, both were oblivious to their son's distressing distraction.
Junior bent down to pick up the rake when all of a sudden, thump... thump thump... thump... thump thump thump thump, right smack-dab on his cranium. He started flailing his arms and yelling and cursing and jumping up and down, that it so frightened Loretta out of her wits that she dropped one of the wicker chairs and ran to the edge of the porch leaning frantically over the railing in total shock at hearing her precious boy's newly acquired godless profanity laced vernacular. Wally came running over and grabbed Junior and shook him.
"What on God's green earth is wrong with you, boy," he yelled?
"Someone's been throwing something at me, hitting me on my head," Junior yelled back.
  
   While holding Junior by the shoulders, Wally looked to his left, then his right. He then walked quietly over toward the fence that bordered the firehouse and peered over, but no one was there. He went back to where Junior was standing when a single acorn fell at his feet. He looked all the way up to the eves just beneath the roof of the attic. Wally tapped Junior on the arm with the back of his hand then pointed up. They could see there was a big hole in those eves, just under the overhang about six inches round and there were two squirrels who seemed to be defiantly looking down at them.
  
   Wally looked down at the ground and at all the acorns around their feet. He laughed then pointed again to the two squirrels that were still looking down at them.
"One of those guys has got a good pitching arm," he said.
  
   Junior was being peevish and waved the two squirrels off; he bent down and briskly picked up the rake and began raking hard and fast gathering up the acorns. Wally on the other hand knew he had to get up there and plug that hole before the snow came or he was going to be playing host to a squirrel convention all winter long. So off to the garage he went to get the ladder.
  
   A few minutes later Wally breathlessly came walking out of the garage struggling while carrying an ancient heavy monstrous wooden ladder. It was all he could do to hold onto it while Junior just stood there looking vacantly at him not even offering any help, until that is, Loretta yelled out from the porch.
"ARE BOTH YOUR ARMS BROKEN? HELP YOUR FATHER!"
  
   She could be a very loud persuasive woman when she wanted to be. Junior looked over at her with that sullen look only a teenager knows how to give. It's the look that makes every parent ask themselves, why did I ever have children? He sauntered over at a snail's pace as Wally struggled to lift the ladder up against the house to no avail. Finally with what little help he got from Junior they managed to get the ladder up just under the hole where the two nervous squirrels were looking out. Wally stepped back looking up holding his thumbs out like some sketch artist sizing up his subject, then walked back to the garage. He was in there a while as Junior waited by the ladder doing nothing while trying to stare down his mother. They could hear the distant muffled sound of wood being sawed and wondered what Wally Senior could possibly be up to in there. Soon he emerged from the garage holding a piece of wood and a hammer; four were nails sticking out of his mouth. Loretta walked back in to the house and was heard saying something along the lines of, "this is not going to end well."
  
   With the hammer in one hand and the piece of wood in the other he mumbled to Junior to hold the ladder steady and began his agonizingly slow ascent to the top. Half way up he looked down, which was a mistake because Wally turned white as a sheet. He began to shake uncontrollably, and then one of the nails fell out of his mouth bouncing off a window sill below, hitting Junior on his forehead as he looked up. His knees were knocking and he felt his sphincter start to dilate and whistle so he quickly clinched his cheeks real tight and didn't move until the sensation passed... or for something else to pass for that matter. Loretta was right; this was not going to end well.
Finally, Wally made it to the top; it was no small feat, mind you, and it seemed to take forever. But he was there and he had a job to do. He got as close to the hole in the eaves as he could get and tried to look in. The squirrels were nowhere in sight, but it was too dark in there to really see anything, so Wally began to speak into the hole softly, as if he was approaching the alter of some ancient deity in an abandoned cave.
"Hellooo," he called in.
  
   Junior began to laugh and shake his head in disbelief rolling his eyes. He then took his hands off of the ladder, and the ladder shook a little. Wally looked down and became filled with absolute fear. While he still held the board and hammer in his arms he pulled himself in closer holding tight as best he could.
"HOLD THAT LADDER!" he yelled down, as another nail fell out of his mouth.
"Oh yeah Dad, like those squirrels are gonna listen to ya."
"THAT'S NOT THE POINT!" he said in a screeching whisper.
  
   Wally, summoning up all of his strength against his acrophobic fear, very carefully and gingerly took the hammer with his other hand of which was holding the board. He did that with such slow precision one would think he was defusing a bomb. (Hmm, do I cut the red wire or the green wire? I'll cut the red one.) Meanwhile thirty feet below Junior was growing ever more impatient. Wally then put his hand into the hole to feel around; he was wincing while doing it, as if he was expecting the house to blow-up, or maybe he was going to touch some kind of gooey slime. He pushed into a pile of acorns which brought some temporary relief to his fear of the unknown. Ah, the motherlode, he thought. He pushed the pile of acorns around with ease as about twenty or thirty came pouring out raining down on Junior who jumped out of the way making the ladder jiggle which totally scared the daylights out of Wally; bringing out the best and by far, most melodious tune his sphincter had ever belted out. At that precise moment Wally felt something chomp down on his middle finger, and it caused such great pain shooting right up his arm making him spit the remaining two nails out of his mouth as he screamed. One of the squirrels had bit him. In all that mayhem he dropped the board and hammer, which glanced off of Junior's shoulder. Wally lost his footing and quickly slid down the ladder like a sailor sliding down from the crows-nest at lightning speed hitting the ground with a thud and an "Oooof" as he landed square on his backside followed by what looked like bushels of acorns pouring down on top of him. Junior stood there rubbing his shoulder with a flabbergasted look on his face. Loretta started screaming frantically, and the two squirrels were nervously peering out of the hole in the eves screaming and jumping and chattering in their loud obnoxious squirrel speak... And other squirrels were racing back and forth on the roof and in the trees and through piles of leaves on the ground. There must have been ten of them maybe twenty. There was even a chipmunk that got in on the excitement. They all came out of nowhere it seemed. They were like an army gathering to meet the enemy to do battle... Should have cut the green wire.
  
   Wally shook off the remaining acorns that had landed on him, he was looking dazed and confused and wondering how he had ended up on the ground flat on his back from thirty feet up when his finger had started throbbing. He sat up looking at his hand and the swollen bloody digit. He looked up at junior with obvious disgust. Loretta came running off the porch yelling and crying incoherently dropping to her knees hugging and fawning all over her husband when she looked up at junior and yelled.
"THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!"
  
   Junior kicked the rake half way across the lawn and stormed off mumbling something to the effect that he had homework to do and that they could rake the lawn themselves. His mother was about to unleash a barrage of her own profane invective bluster but knew it would fall on deaf ears, so instead turned her attention back to Wally and helped him to his feet; defeated he limped away determined this war was not over, yet.
  
   That night Wally laid awake in bed, his hand all bandaged up, throbbing, and his backside sore from the fall. He was thinking about his close encounter with that mob of squirrels occupying his attic, moving in on his territory. He wondered why they picked his house and family to harass. He thought of them all running around his roof and yard chattering away probably planning their next attack when he finally fell off to sleep into that subconscious wavy land of dreams as his thoughts ran away into thinking what he was really up against.
He was dreaming of squirrels and chipmunks and trees and rooftops, and everything was racing and rolling through his mind when he figured during that fitful restless sleep those squirrels were probably like us humans with their own set of rules and laws and system of governance. It was obvious they had their own language, "squirrel speak." And they seemed organized and ready to protect their turf when Wally agitatedly turned over in his bed. It dawned on him in a dream. Mafia!
  
   Those squirrels had their own little mafia and they were taking over the Birdwhistle household and they would stop at nothing until they eliminated the entire Birdwhistle family, or at least drove them all crazy, but not if Wally could get them first. It was definitely war he had declared restlessly turning over. He was up against a notorious squirrel mob. Probably known as the Squirrleone family with Vito Squirrleone as the Godfather... Maybe all the other squirrels called him Don-Squirrileone or something along those lines. The entire little soldier squirrels would line up to kiss Don-Squirrileone's little paw after he would give them orders. There must be other Mafia squirrel families out there too, with names like Squirrelzini and Squirrelozzo. And then there is the Squirrelgatto's and Squirreltaglia's, and they all have their underbosses and soldiers with names like Luca Squirrelasi, and Squirrely Paulie, maybe there's a chubby squirrel called Squirrelmenza; "Leave the gun -- Take the pistachios."
And he wondered where that little chipmunk came from as he tossed and turned some more, when it dawned on him? Of course... It was little Fredo. Fredo always wanted to be a squirrel soldier but he was too small. He was the kind of chipmunk who thought he could handle things but he was "stepped over." He was smart... not dumb like all the other squirrels would say behind his back. All little Fredo ever wanted was respect.
  
   Wally tossed and turned the whole night often waking and sitting up to faint sounds he could hear coming from the attic above. He dismissed it all as phantom noises that were not really there. Finally morning came and Wally awoke to a screeching and thumping noise that was definitely coming from the attic. Loretta was already sitting up in bed frightened out of her wits with her knees up to her chin and the covers pulled up close. She was wide eyed looking at Wally then pointed her finger at the ceiling. It was an ungodly noise of high pitched squirrel speak and running around and loud thumping that seemed to vibrate the bedroom walls, then some more running around and a loud as all get out blood curdling squirrel screeching scream... then silence. Wally and Loretta looked at each other in absolute fear, wondering what could possibly happen next. The silence and suspense was quietly overwhelming until they heard the sound of shiiiish-shiish...shiiiiiiiiish...a faint thump then shiiiiiiiiiiiiish...shiiish... like something being dragged across the attic floor. Then there is another moment of silence when Wally suddenly notices something fall past the bedroom window and he hears a thud below. He jumps up out of bed and runs to the window and opens it and sticks his head out looking down. He sees a lifeless ball of fur lying on top of a pile of acorns on the ground. It was a dead squirrel he surmised. The poor thing had met his fate in the Birdwhistle attic. Wally quickly made the sign of the cross blessing himself.
"What is it?" Loretta asked, shaken.
"It's Luca Squirrelasi...He sleeps with the acorns," Wally replied.
"What, Luca who?" said Loretta.
Wally laughed.
"Never mind Loretta, but the Birdwhistle's are at war and it's all hands on deck today, so get dressed, I'll go wake Junior."
  
   Wally, Loretta, and Junior met out in the yard to form a game plan that would undoubtedly once and for all rid them of the little thugs that have come to wreak havoc in their lives. Junior was less than enthused and would much rather be back in bed sleeping till noon as he had grown accustomed to on weekends, but Wally would have none of his lazy defiance.
"Strength in numbers," he would remind his loved ones. At least Loretta tried to get into the spirit of the moment, even if she thought Wally was biting off more than he could chew.
  
   Wally had concluded that the squirrels were only using the attic as a place to hide their loot, the loot being acorns of course. He figured if he could disrupt their flow of goods and find where they live and destroy their nest then the squirrel mafia would move on. So he had everyone scour the property and trees for nests.
  
   Junior saw it first. He pointed straight up into the big oak tree in the back yard at three huge spheres of leaves resting in the crooks of some branches. There were squirrels coming and going out of those spheres.
"Looks like we hit pay-dirt," Wally said. "It's a whole damn neighborhood of em living up there."

   He got Loretta and Junior to help him with the ladder and they stood it up against the big old oak. Loretta had a sick feeling about the whole thing and was beginning to have second thoughts. Junior could not have cared less and was anxious to get out of there and back to the confines of his own little world; his bed, with headphones wrapped around his head blasting soundwaves powerful enough to crack open walnuts.
Wally walked back into the house leaving Loretta and Junior wondering what oddball scheme he was getting ready to hatch up. It got to be a doozy because he didn't come back out for almost half an hour. They were beginning to worry amongst themselves and almost had a mother-son bonding moment when suddenly the bilco doors to the basement flew open and out came Wally dressed in the most hideous outfit most men wouldn't be caught dead wearing at night with the lights out no less. He had on three sweatshirts that were tucked into his Levi's, and his Levi's were duct-taped at the ankles around an old pair of army boots. He was also wearing neoprene gloves and they too were duct-taped at his wrists to the sleeves of the three bulky sweatshirts. He had on a wool knitted winter balaclava, safety goggles, and a full faced Plexiglas shield over the goggles. He topped it all off with one of those Styrofoam safari hats that postman wear. The scary part was that he was carrying one of those pump action home defense twelve gauge shotguns you see advertised in magazines like Soldier and Fortune or Garden and Gun. The twelve gauge had a fold out steel stock, and it was locked and loaded. And, he had two bandoleer ammo belts fully stocked with twelve gauge shells draped over his shoulders. Wally wanted to look mean and ready for action, but He only managed to look like a cross between that poor kid from the movie "The Christmas Story" whose mother always overdressed him and some kind of Zombie Space Invader. It was painfully embarrassing for Junior to look at his father. The fellas at the firehouse were having a good laugh though as they had begun to curiously gather by the fence to see what Wally was up to.
"What's up with the shotgun," Junior asked. "I mean, do you really think a shotgun is necessary?"
"Just watch and learn boy... Just watch and learn."
  
   Junior looked over at his mother who seemed a bit bewildered at Wally's approach to the situation when one of the firemen yelled over the fence.
"YOU GET'N READY TO MEET UP WITH THE MOTHERSHIP WALLY?"
They all started laughing hysterically, and then one by one they started calling over to Wally with one stupid comment after another. Wally looked over at them and just sneered, he then turned back to Junior and pulled a twelve gauge shell from one of the ammo belts draped over his shoulder and held it up to Junior's face.
"Know what that is?"
"Yeah...it's a twelve gauge shotgun shell, so what," Junior replied sarcastically.
"Nope! It's pest control... Bout time you learn something boy."
  
   At that point even Junior was trying to hold in the laughter. If the old man didn't look so embarrassingly stupid he might just take more of an interest at what Wally was trying to teach him. But as he looked up and around he could see that a crowd was beginning to gather on the sidewalk and more over by the fence at the firehouse. Loretta was already thinking of the disastrous consequences. Wally held the shell up closer to Junior's face for closer inspection.
"This little baby's got bird shot, rock salt, and red pepper packed into it," Wally proclaimed..."This will take care of our little Squirrel invasion, you'll see."
  
   Junior started to laugh, "so, what are you saying Dad? That you're gonna kill'em and season'em at the same time....A little extreme don't you think?"
"Notice that I'm not laughing, Junior. Now just hold the ladder...And no sudden moves this time."
Wally slung the shotgun over his shoulder and then turned and stiffly put one foot on the bottom rung of the wooden ladder...Someone in the gathering crowd yelled over.
"GO GET'M WALLY!" Everyone broke into laughter.
  
   He began that long slow ascent to do battle with the Devil on his own turf. Junior stood there holding the ladder looking down at the ground shaking his head in embarrassment, not looking at the neighbors as they were still laughing. Loretta came over to offer Junior some comfort and comradery, but she was not helping the situation. They looked up and Wally wasn't even ten feet in the air, and the ladder was shaking from his knee's knocking, and it looked as if it was about to fold up under all that unnecessary weight he was carrying. It would crack and creak at even the slightest movement. And that ever growing crowd was only making things worse.
"We're gonna be here all day," Junior commented to his mother.
"Oh, It will go quicker than you think...probably go like yesterday, your father will end up falling thirty feet flat on his back... With all that padding I don't suspect he'll get hurt too bad...Once your father sets his mind to something, no one can talk him out of it... Anyhow, Fire Chief had them fella's park the rescue truck and ambulance outside to be on standby just in-case."
"Everyone just loves to watch a train wreck," Junior said. Loretta turned and surveyed the crowd..."Don't they," she replied.
  
   Every time Wally looked down it brought new meaning to the word vertigo. He was only halfway up when he started to question his own sanity and wondered that maybe this might be a good time for him to pause a moment and seek the Lord in this madness and renew his spirit and kinship with the Almighty... Kind of like doing a last minute equipment check while you're standing at the door just before you're about to jump out of a plane. It never hurts to make sure you're in good standing with the Lord; especially if you're looking death in the eye. And also a minute or two of stillness might help to calm a nervous sphincter; of which Wally's was whistling quite melodiously at the moment.
Wally was just standing there quiet, not moving, still ten feet up holding onto the ladder with both hands, his head bowed, eyes shut, lips pursed. Junior and Loretta were looking up at him, then at each other, then at Wally again. Junior scratched his head with a look of uncertain hesitation.
"Everything ok Dad?" Junior asked. Wally didn't answer him.
"Dad?"
  
   Wally still said nothing as a few minutes passed. Junior looked at his mother and then shrugged. Loretta didn't know what to make of the moment and was about to call up to Wally when he had started climbing again... slowly and methodically. It took almost fifteen minutes to get up to the top, seemed like a lifetime to those waiting below. Even the fellas at the firehouse had begun to be somewhat enthralled with North Hill's latest demonstration of insanity.
  
   Wally got himself situated and secure and waited quietly a minute or two. He wanted things to settle down and let the squirrels get used to his presence while they went about their normal routine oblivious to his being there. His mission was to divide and conquer. He slowly and quietly pulled the shotgun from around and positioned it so he could get perfect aim at the biggest nest. That's where he figured most of them lived. Carefully he looked through the sight, and then slowly moved his thumb over the safety; click, the shotgun was now fully armed. "Patience," he said to himself as he waited for the intended targets to appear. He had all day and all night if need be. He brought protein bars, a canteen of water, and even his pocket bible.
  
   Down below everyone was looking up in anticipation, growing restless; some became bored and just walked off. One of the fella's down at the firehouse was standing next to the fire call box mounted on the firehouse wall. He was sniggering and laughing like he was up to something. A couple other men who were also acting like they never left high school were egging him on to pull the handle on that call box and set off the fire alarm which was a high pitched, ear piercing, very loud siren mounted on top the firehouse. It was in close proximity to where Wally was up in that tree. Wally waited patiently not knowing he was about to get his ears cleaned. And sure enough the sophomoric trio had moved closer to the call box and before anybody could stop them a hand reached up and pulled the handle. There was a click and a bell rang like you would hear at the end of class in school. Everyone was startled and looked over at the firehouse as the three men ran away. Just then there was a low slow whirring sound and Wally looked behind in the direction of the all too familiar noise when all of a sudden the low slow whirring became a high pitched deafening ungodly blare. Wally went to cover his ears and the shotgun went off and blasted the biggest nest which sent the squirrels scrambling for their lives running back and forth and up and down and coming right at Wally. Wally got so scared he lost his footing and kicked the ladder out from under himself just as he grabbed the big branch the ladder was leaning on and was able to wrap his arms around it, dropping the shotgun to the ground as the siren got even louder The chief ran into the firehouse to kill the siren. The gun hit Loretta right square on the noggin knocking her out cold.
Wally was in the fight of his life. And the squirrels not wanting to be disrespected mounted an offensive so vicious that it sent everyone below scrambling to get out of the way. Wally was hanging there some thirty feet in the air kicking and cursing and screaming as the squirrels pounced on him. Junior was frantic trying to revive his mother as Wally was begging God and anyone within earshot for help. The siren finally stopped and was backing down to a low whirring sound when Junior picked up the shotgun and aimed it in the general direction of the frenetic squirrels pointing the muzzle left then right then left again then up more. He was trying to get a bead on those vicious critters as they were tearing into Wally but none of them would sit still long enough. Wally looked down and saw Junior pointing the gun up his way.
"WELL, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? JUST SHOOT!"
"I CAN'T...THEY WON'T STAND STILL!"
  
   It was mayhem and Wally couldn't hold on much longer. The squirrels were winning. The Chief came running over with a couple of fella's to help set the ladder back up when Wally started pleading to Junior again.
"JUST SHOOT ON UP HERE AND PUT ONE OF US OUT OF OUR MISERY!"
  
   It was three weeks before Wally was sent home from the hospital; two broken legs, a ruptured disk, a sprained wrist, and three gunshot wounds with severe pepper burns. His backside still stung from the salt pellets. Junior was charged as a juvenile and got three years' probation for discharging a fire arm within city limits and reckless endangerment. He is no longer speaking to his parents. Loretta is healing quite nicely from that bump on the head; she's just starting to recognize the important people in her life and is now back on solid foods. In conclusion I would like to take this opportunity to let you all know that no squirrels were injured or killed during the writing of this story.







 


Recognized


This short story is part of a series I am working on titled "The North Hill Chronicles"
The North Hill Chronicles is a fictional compilation of short stories about the serious and often comical situations of a small town nestled in the Adirondack mountains.
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