Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Toilet Squirrels, inspired by true events

There once was a guy in a little blue car. It was a sunny morning and he had a winding road, the wind in his hair, and a full cup of coffee. Life was good and he was happy...

Wait, I can't start there; that's the beginning of the story. No one starts at the beginning of the story anymore. Not since the ancient Greeks did away with that sort of thing.[1] This is a modern story of terror, of the harsh realism of modern life and the fragile underpinnings that anchor our society. It’s a tale of grief and woe and it should begin at the darkest moment, preferably during the high point of the action.

We'll start again.
There once was a goblin named Thistlepin who loved his job just a bit too much.
Yes, a goblin, shut up.
On this particular day, this particular goblin was bored. It was a slow day and not much was happening at Fate.com and like all bored creatures since the invention of the internet, Thistlepin was taking selfies and posting them on Instagram. 
That’s when the red light on its console began to flash.

FLASH FATE TRANSMISSION MESSAGE BEGINS>>>>  > Instagram user ‘swalkerperkins’ has ceased posting pictures of > cats and food and dared to post a selfie in his little car.
> Has declared unapproved moment of contentment.
> > Did not knock on wood or suitable substitute.
> > Take appropriate action.
> >  

Thistlepin chortled a gobliny chortle[2] and opened a window on its browser.
There was swalkerperkins, mugging for the camera. He had a shaggy beard and hipster glasses. He looked the sort who would tempt Fate. The sunroof of his little car was open and a blown-out sky beyond the open roof betokened a sunny day and little skill at cell phone photography.

          In the twenty-first century, physical manifestations of psychic phenomena don’t get a lot of respect. Every day in the modern world, Death was cheated, Time wasted, War averted, Nature tamed, and Fate tempted. Only Fate, though, had the goblins to get hers back.
Thistlepin was one of her best.
He was the cleverest, the most devious, and the most devoted to punishing those who tempted Fate’s wrath. Death, Time, War, and the rest were constantly trying to hire him away with promises of salary and all the garbage he could eat, but Thistlepin was a company goblin and Fate made sure her star player wanted for nothing.
Thistlepin called up the poor sap’s dossier. A week previously, the guy had posted another in a series of too-long blog posts about how deplorable it was that the world had forgotten how to dream optimistic dreams. He liked the movie Tomorrowland. His favorite song from The Who was Boris the Spider. His house was painted yellow. The car with the open sunroof was a blue Mini Cooper named Sweetie.
The guy was practically begging for it.
The goblin pondered the smug mug and carefully cracked each of the thirty-six knobbily green knuckles as it planned a diabolical plan. Finally, the cracked black lips drew back to reveal a rictus grin. This would require a comeuppance of unparalleled uppance.
Thistlepin fished the chain around its neck out of the front of his dirty white tee shirt and inserted it in a keyhole on the console that hadn’t been used in so long that it squealed as the knotty green hand forced the key to turn.
Lights lit, klaxons wailed, wood knocked, and on Earth a squirrel crawled into the exhaust pipe on the roof of a small yellow house on an island somewhere off the coast of Washington state.


Scott was depressingly good at what computer programmers and science fiction authors call pattern recognition. When a picture of numbers crawled across his social media newsfeed challenging him to spot the 6 among the 8’s, he never reposted because it felt too simple a puzzle. He grew up on a steady diet of Highlights puzzles and Sesame Street rhymes about one thing being nothing like the others. He excelled at find-a-word puzzles and the spot-the-difference pictures on the back page of the Sunday comics.
When he opened the toilet lit, he wanted his brain to refuse to accept a shape that was quite clearly a squirrel but his brain wasn’t having any of it. His brain didn’t reject patterns it found familiar no matter how much he begged it to.
Maybe someone forgot to flush the toilet.
Turd. Obviously.
It's a squirrel.
Over time water and waste can sculpt strange shapes.
Including a bushy tail?
Look, it’s brown!
With a reddish chest and tiny paws?
Maybe someone needs to see a doctor?
You do if you think that’s anything other than a squirrel.
Well, at least it’s dead.
He’d lost track of which voice was which.
Scott mentally redacted every expletive he could think of.
He lowered the lid and walked out of the room.
From the kitchen came a muffled answer that sounded like “What?”
“Why is there a squirrel in the toilet?”
His wife’s hands are at her side. The look on her face is not a good one.
“There’s a squirrel,” he said. “In the toilet.”
She went and checked. Because this is apparently a story that people tell. A joke. A jape. A prank. Some sort of… squirrel.
His brain gave up making excuses. There was a dead squirrel in his toilet.
“You are taking care of that,” she said. “And can I say how glad I am that I’m not the one who found it?”
Because even in enlightened 21st century households, there are boy jobs and there are girl jobs. Either that, or as an MBA candidate, his wife had taken on the lessons about delegating jobs to fit candidates to guide their professional growth.
Besides, she wasn’t the one who tempted Fate.
He thought he heard a gobliny cackle.
His wife went into the library and he went to the bedroom to change. What do you wear to fish a squirrel out of a toilet? Not work clothes, certainly.
He put on canvas dungarees and an old teeshirt and wandered into the library to find his wife on the computer with the Google open on the screen. The internet was singularly unhelpful.
The normally reliable “Straight Dope” forum was already there with the aspiring stylings of the North American Itinerant Internet Humorist. A user named Polycarp summoned this gem from the back row of a high school physics classroom:

It's Schrödinger's Squirrel. At all times and places, there is an infinitesimally small but non-zero chance that a macroscopic object such as a squirrel will coalesce out of zero-point enerhy. You drew the short straw.  Just be glad it wasn't a moose.”                            “Polycarp” (Guest user) Straight Dope Message Boards
How Did a Squirrel Get In My Toilet? (discussion thread)
Accessed 9 June 2015, 9:25 pm

When he wasn’t tempting Fate, Scott was a science fiction author of a strange bent and that explanation pleased him on some perverse level even as it lit up some hitherto unnoticed dark corners of his imagination.
Terrific,” Scott thought. “Now I have to worry about a toilet moose.
That’s what he thought.
To himself.
No man gets credit for speaking that kind of thing out loud, and he’d been married long enough to know that. His outside voice said “Do they say how to get it out of the toilet?”
She checked again.
“No.” She paused. “Gloves?”
“I am not touching that thing.”
“Maybe the fireplace set has tongs…”
Scott tried to banish the fact that his world had expanded to include toilet mammals as a genus/species combo as he lined an orange Home Depot bucket with trash bags. The log lifter tongs made short work of the tiny furry corpse and he flushed the toilet.
Thistlepin whispered in his wife’s ear and she came running into the room to deliver the coup de grace.
“Oh my God, you didn’t flush it did you?”
“No,” he said. “No, I’m not that crazy.”
He tied a knot in the sack and headed outside.
“Dinner’s cancelled. Eat whatever you want; I don’t think I’m going to feel up to food tonight.”
As he headed outside, dead toilet squirrel in hand, he chanted quietly to himself over and over, It could have been worse, at least it wasn’t a moose.

[1] Not since the Greeks invented the "cold open" for their iconic dramas featuring the recurring hero Ἰάκωβος πέδη.  This innovation allowed them to show the hero smashing the Kakos syndicate before they went to the bother of showing him meeting their leader, cheating at baccarat, or wooing his bride. They also invented the little known speculatori ex machine but the Romans stole it and claimed it as their own. Bloody Romans.
[2] The goblin was required to chortle. It was in the handbook. A good gobliny chortle was a prerequisite for Fatework.

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