Short Story: Squirrels in the Attic

The family had three cats and a dog.  Two of the cats were hunters and came from the same litter – Taffy and Cinnamon. There was a long debate about which cat to put into the attic the first time the family heard squirrels.  Taffy was far and away the superior hunter.  He brought in everything from snakes to bats.  Alive. Apparently bringing them home and letting the humans play with them was the most affectionate thing he could think.  No matter how many times he got yelled at. No matter how often he was reminded “you bring it inside, you lose it!”

Cinnamon might or might not be an amazing hunter; she was smart enough not to be seen bringing in her prizes. The only time anyone knew she had been hunting was when remains were discovered.  Her favorite spot to take these “toys” was the bathtub in the hall.  Somehow she learned that if you put a mouse in the bathtub – you can play with it all night.  Brilliant and scary in a super-villain sort of way.  So great hunter who catch anything, or the smart one?

It finally got decided to put Cinnamon up there first, see what happened.  The entrance to the attic was an access hole in the parents’ closet.  Space was cleared, a ladder brought in, and Cinnamon picked up.  Being smart, she knew something was going on, and looked at the humans with great suspicion.  Then set out exploring the dark of the attic.

Imagine what it was like, the pink paper-covered insulation, the wooden beams of the ceiling crisscrossing. Cinnamon’s green eyes expand their pupils until she can see in the dark.  She moves on the beams to avoid the crinkle of the paper, her claws retracted completely so only the pads touch the smooth two-by-four.  She slinks along the beam, smelling and seeing the traces of the squirrels which are invisible to the human eye.  A cross-beam away, there is a flicker of movement and she turns, muscles tense as the squirrel darts off along a parallel beam, along the outer edge of the roof where the beams are close and tight.

Cinnamon darts across the beam, leaps to the next one – and the squirrel is out the hole underneath the eaves and scolding her from the safety of the sun-drenched roof.  Cinnamon back-tracks the squirrel’s path to find where it had been sitting when she began her hunt.  She memorizes the scent of the prey and prowls through the attic, searching for any sign of another squirrel.  Eventually, she returns to the hatch to go back down to the brightly lit world of food and water.

The family put Cinnamon back into the attic sporadically for the next several weeks.  Then came the day when the squirrel didn’t just run out.

There was no foreshadowing that today would be different. The parents heard the squirrels above their bedroom, found Cinnamon, and put her up through the hole.  They had found the hole where the squirrels came in and out, but without making sure the squirrels were outside – they didn’t dare patch it. The only thing worse than living squirrel in the attic would be starving or rotting squirrel in the attic.

Cinnamon made her way along the beams and then found them. The family. The squirrels had been carefully building up their little nest and had their little ones now among the pink insulation, twigs, and leaves the squirrels had brought in. The parents, with little ones too small to make it outside yet, didn’t run for the hole.  They stayed to fight.

The sound of the fight came through the hole in the attic. The outcome was pretty assured. One strong hunter-cat would win. In the closet below her brother, Taffy, was tortured. He could hear it all. Why should she get all the fun? Taffy is the one who could catch a bat and bring it home uninjured for the humans to play with. Snakes… lizards… a baby possum once… He paced at the base of the closet, staring up at the darkness.

If you were there, you would understand that prayer does work.  At least for a poor cat who is hearing his sister get to do what he loves above all else. Whatever cat god lives in the universe heard his plea.  As the sounds above continued there was a grey puff falling from above, one of the young squirrels fleeing death had not known what the word “hole” would mean.  The little puff landed on the floor practically between Taffy’s paws.

Taffy hardly hesitated, snatched up this morsel and took off. He knew the rules of the humans. Bring the toy inside, you lose it. He couldn’t make it to the cat-door fast enough. The rest of his days, Taffy spent waiting for the god-of-the-hole-in-the-closet to hear his prayers again. When he was a fourteen year old cat, beginning to waste away from illness, the humans picked him up from the floor of the closet on his last day.

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