Arbor Day

Marvin’s war with the squirrels began with the roar of a chainsaw. He stood in his backyard wearing a Budweiser baseball cap, a pair of short shorts, and a farmer’s tan. Red body hair nearly hid a faded “April” tattoo that arched over his round gut. My daughter Tressa watched him front the fence line, as I sweated in to a fresh hole that would soon be home to a young oak tree.

I wiped the sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand and tossed the shovel aside. “Honey, come on back and give me a hand.” Don’t make eye contact with him, I thought. He might come over here.

Tressa wandered back to the hole, weaving across the grass. She seemed to drift rather than walk as her new spring dress swirled in the breeze. “Why does he have the month tattooed on his stomach?”

“I don’t think that is the month, kiddo. It’s a woman’s name.”

“But his wife’s name is Sandy.”

I wasn’t sure where to go from there, so like any good parent, I let the line of questioning vanish. Marvin helped out by cranking up a Jackyl cassette on a beaten-up boom box. He downed a can of beer, crushed it, and then tossed it in a growing pile of aluminum next to his patio door. The King of Beers was lucky to have such a devoted subject. Marvin gunned the chainsaw in time to the music as he laid in to an old maple in the center of his yard. Squirrels fled, leaping from its limbs to a nearby oak or fleeing to the grass to be chased by Red, Marvin’s barking pitbull.

Red snatched a squirrel that had moved too slowly and shook it. Red strutted to Marvin’s side and dropped his prize. Marvin stopped cutting and patted the dog’s head before picking up the squirrel and punting it over our fence. Tressa hurried over to it.

I called after her. “Don’t touch it, Tressa. Squirrels can carry diseases.”

She dropped down to her knees beside the body. “Poor squirrel. He’s a mean man. Why is he cutting down the tree?”

I pointed out a large box next to his house. “Looks like he bought an above ground pool at Walmart.”

“But it’s Arbor Day.”

“I know, honey. Some people don’t celebrate Arbor Day.” And some people are just assholes.

Tressa glared through the fence at Marvin. His hairy tattooed gut caught a mist of sawdust. He smiled with long, gritty teeth as he finished the cut. The tree came down with a thud that shook the earth. Marvin threw his hands in the air and laughed, victorious over nature.

Tressa’s face grew red. “The squirrels are going to be very upset.”

“They are just squirrels. What are they going to do?”

As if in answer, one drilled Marvin in the head with an acorn. Marvin took off his Budweiser cap and rubbed his head, screaming profanities up at a few squirrels that nestled in to the limbs of the oak tree. He took his chainsaw to the trunk, revved it up, and was about to start cutting when another acorn struck him, and then another.

I laughed. “I guess they won’t go without a fight.”

Tressa stood at the fence line, her tiny hands balled down by her sides. “He is not going to cut that tree down.” The conviction in her voice shook me.

“They really can’t stop him, Tressa.”

Her hands clenched so tightly that her little body shook all over. I heard a rustle in the trees overhead, and then more all around me. Hundreds of squirrels streamed towards Marvin’s oak tree like ants. They leaped between limbs. They ran across power lines. They dashed across yards and tip-toed along privacy fences.

“He will not cut down that tree.” Tressa’s green eyes shined like polished emeralds.

The scene had gotten a little too weird for me. Trying to remain calm, I grabbed Tressa’s wrist. “Let’s go inside and get some lemonade.” I pulled, but she would not budge.

Red barked at the oak tree, a whiny high-pitched howling bark. He was answered with a hailstorm of acorns. Red yelped and retreated to the house, his long brown tail tucked between his legs.

Marvin covered his head with his arms, cursing and staggering away from the tree. I pulled on Tressa arm, but she could not be moved. Her feet sat rooted to the earth, her red hair burning beneath the sun.

“He will not cut down that tree!”

Robins, blue jays, blackbirds, and doves screamed war cries as they flocked down from the sky, dive-bombing Marvin and speckling him white with shit. Garter snakes advanced in slithering circles, snapping at his bare legs. Rabbits attacked from the flanks, leaping to bite and claw at his arms and torso. Blood ran from a wound that dotted the “i” of April. A flurry of fur, and feathers, and shit covered Marvin as he struggled to get away.

“THIS IS ARBOR DAY!”

Marvin escaped to his house for a moment and returned fire with a pump shotgun, blasting in the general direction of anything that moved and cackling madly. I wove a serpentine pattern to April, wrapped my arms around her waist and yanked her away from the earth. The tension gave way, and she slumped over my shoulder.

I darted through our patio door into the kitchen, praying that Tressa hadn’t been shot. I laid her down on the cool linoleum and checked her over, my hands moving, but my brain in a fog.

“Tressa, baby, are you all right? Talk to me, honey.”

She looked up at me, tears in her little green eyes. “I’m hungry.”

I hugged her tight, watching over her shoulder as Marvin continued firing his gun, though at what, I couldn’t imagine. All the animals had fled from the approaching sirens.

Tressa was ravenously eating her cupcake and milk when they took Marvin away in handcuffs. Police in ballistic vests and dark sunglasses led him to a car while he screamed that the animals were trying to kill him.

Tressa took a long drink of milk and wiped her lips. “We should finish planting that tree. It’s still Arbor Day.”

“Yes,” I said, looking at my daughter a little differently, searching for any sign of the fiery wrath that she had shown in the yard. “It’s still Arbor Day.”

Jack Campbell, Jr. is a dark fiction writer in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in various venues including Twenty 3 Magazine, Danse Macabre, and Insomnia Press. He writes about reading, writing, and life on his blog at www.jackcampbelljr.com.

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