Don't Feed the Animals
(Here's a story that fits right in with the burgeoning autumn season. Finish carving the pumpkins, grab a cup of hot chocolate, settle in on the couch, and enjoy a scrumptious tale of young love, fall camping, and some peculiar forest critters...)
The seventeen-year-old young man named Brandon William Davies had himself almost convinced there was a God in heaven; the nubile eighteen-year-old woman standing outside his tent—Casey Marie Cumminsworth—could practically make a stone-cold atheist like himself believe there was divine intervention in the world.
Like Brandon, Casey was a senior at Lincoln Park High School. She was a five feet-seven brunette with aqua blue eyes and a body that would make a female porn star jealous. Being the back-up high school quarterback (and would have been first-string quarterback if he hadn't told the coach to fuck off during spring practice) gave Brandon the opportunity to have sex with almost any girl at school. Casey had been one he hadn't been able to score with.
On a crazy whim, as well as having heard she had just broken up with her college freshman boyfriend, Brandon asked her if she wanted to go camping in the Blackstone National Forest. It was an isolated tract of land in the far north of Michigan's upper peninsula with one small, primitive state campground. She had turned down two proposals to get together with him earlier that summer, but this time she had smiled and said yes.
And now here they were during the second week of October. The drive up had been beautiful, with clear blue skies and temperatures in the low sixties. Dark clouds had started to fill the sky in the last hour, and the temperature was down to the mid-fifties, but still, the day was going as well as Brandon could had hoped. The expansive forest, filled with oaks, maple, and birch, was ablaze in colors of red, yellow, and orange. They had seen numerous deer on the way back to their campsite, while bushy-tailed Fox squirrels, red, brown, and black, scurried through the trees chattering like monkeys. A large black bear had even crossed over the two-track dirt road that led them into the forest, eliciting a squeak of fright from Casey.
"Don't worry about any bears," Brandon had told her. "I brought my dad's twelve gauge shotgun just in case."
"I don't like guns," Casey protested. "I think guys only have guns if their junk is small."
"Well, I've never had any complaints in that department," Brandon chuckled. "I promise not to get the twelve-gauge out unless a bear tries to eat you."
Brandon thought of that conversation while watching Casey picking up small sticks around the tent for their fire. She wore blue jeans that accented her perfect ass and a red flannel shirt showing plenty of ample cleavage. I'm not letting any damn bears eat you, baby. That's my job tonight.
"Why don't you take a break and come on in the tent?" He said to her. "We can have a little fun."
"A little fun?" Casey laughed, hands on hips. "I didn't come all this way just to have a little fun."
Oh, this is going to be a great night! "Okay, then, how 'bout you come in here and I'll show you some big fun?"
"That sounds better, but I always have the most fun on a full stomach. Let's get some more wood for a fire, make dinner, and then start the party."
Brandon was out of the tent and collecting firewood in a heartbeat.
"I'm so glad that old man at the gas station told us about this place after we found out the state campsite was full," Casey said. "It's beautiful here."
Brandon smiled. "Almost as beautiful as you." He stopped collecting wood, stretched his muscular back, and casually surveyed their surroundings. It had taken an hour driving a dirt road to reach the area, a depression era commune set up for the CCC, per the old man. All the buildings had long since rotted away, leaving a smooth clear area, perfect for setting up a tent.
"C'mon," Casey said, roaming deeper into the woods, "let's see who can get the most wood in the next five minutes!"
"Hey Brandon—come here," she called out a couple minutes later.
Brandon looked over. Casey was underneath a large oak tree, looking down. "What is it?" he asked.
"A sign or something." She pulled at the object; Brandon saw it was a rectangular shaped piece of semi-burnt wood.
By the time he got to her, Casey had freed the wood from the brambles it had been in. Brandon looked over her shoulder and noticed faint lettering carved into the plank.
Casey frowned, holding out the wood so that it caught the rays of the setting sun breaking through the clouds. "Don't feed the animals," she slowly read. "Why would anyone care if you fed animals way out here in the forest?"
"Probably some eco-nuts from the 90s," Brandon mused. "As dry as it is, that wood should burn pretty well. Let's get the fire going and have dinner."
They made their way back to their campsite, both carrying armloads of timber. Casey expertly arranged the firewood and in no time, the flames were cooking hamburgers. Smells of freshly cooked meat filled the cool night air of the forest while the couple quickly ate.
After finishing, Casey sat back in her camp chair and seductively licked her fingers. "That hit the spot. I'm going in the tent and freshen up. Then we can have dessert."
Brandon squirmed against the growing erection in his jeans. "Give me two minutes to finish eating and I'll be in."
He was so intent on watching Casey glide into the tent that he nearly jumped at the loud clicking noises behind him. Turning, he was amazed to see a dozen scraggly fox squirrels around the campsite. "Where the hell did all of you come from?" he said aloud.
One of the boldest animals, large, dark red with scars on its face, came within three feet of Brandon.
My old man was right—squirrels are just big rats with hairy tails.
"What do you want?"
The squirrel chattered at him, swishing its bushy tail back and forth.
"Are you hungry?" Brandon held out a blackened piece of burger and the squirrel starred at it, nose twitching.
"Didn't think you forest rats liked meat, but—" he threw the quarter-sized chunk of burger in the air. The squirrel caught it like a Labrador retriever catching a ball and gobbled it down.
"Huh," Brandon mused, and almost had time to think about the oddity of a squirrel eating meat when he heard rustling inside the tent. Casey half-emerged.
"Are you ready for dessert?" she innocently asked. "I am."
Brandon was undressing before he was inside the tent. Casey grabbed his shoulders and with surprising strength, flipped him over on his back and tore off his jeans. Straddling him, she reached behind to guide his erection into her.
"OW!" Casey yelled.
"What's the matter, baby? I know I'm big, but—"
"It's not you," Casey said, rolling off him, "it felt like something cut my—" she screamed and started slapping at her lower left leg.
Which was sticking out of the tent with three large squirrels chewing into her tender flesh.
"Brandon, help me!"
Brandon scurried into the far corner of the tent, both hands over his quickly shrinking dick. Casey jerked her leg inside the tent, dislodging two of the crazed creatures. One still stubbornly hung on, long sharp incisors buried deep into her calf muscle. Casey pounded on the squirrel with both fists, Brandon watching but not believing his eyes.
The squirrel finally let go, running out to join the others with a strip of bloody meat in his mouth. Casey held two hands over the ragged tear in her leg,
her eyes wide in shock and fear. "Brandon, close the fucking tent!" she screamed, backing next to him.
Brandon was still paralyzed, unable to comprehend the madness that had fallen upon them. Casey yelled at him again, and he finally shook off his mental lethargy before closing the front tent flap.
The teens sat quiet for a moment, the only sounds their labored breathing and Casey's moans of pain. Brandon dug around in his backpack before finding his large black anodized aluminum flashlight, illuminating the quickly darkening interior of the tent.
"Why the hell...did those animals do that?" Casey said, her voice cracking.
"I don't know. I mean, there were a few of them watching me finish my hamburger, but shit...they're just squirrels!"
"Just squirrels?" Casey said incredulously. "Look at my damn leg, Brandon—are squirrels supposed to do that?"
"No, I mean, I don't know, I mean, fuck, Casey. We've got to get out of here!"
"No shit, genius," she said, pale as a Halloween ghost. Was she going into shock? What the hell was he supposed to do if she went into shock?
Casey looked around the tent. "Where's your gun?"
"I left it in the car. You said you didn't like guns, so I left it in the car."
"Don't be putting any of this shitstorm on me," Casey shot back. "You're the one who wanted to come camping out in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere!"
"It's not my fault!" Brandon yelled. "You think I knew that there were crazy man-eating squirrels here?"
Casey starred at him icily. "Man-eating?"
"You know what I mean."
"Yeah. I do. You and your bullshit misogynistic—"
Her words were cut short by something throwing itself against the side of the tent. The wall bulged in, hitting Brandon on his hip. He quickly scotched away, holding the flashlight out like a sword.
"Shit," he cried, "they're trying to get in!"
"We have to get to the car," Casey said, voice quivering. "Brandon, we need to go. Now."
Brandon looked out the back window. Even though thick clouds now coating the sky, he still could see his black Jeep Wrangler thirty feet away.
He turned to Casey. "Can you make it to the Jeep?"
Casey shook her head, tears streaming down her face. "I don't know...I don't think I can put weight on my leg."
Leave her here. The thought formed in his mind like an exploding star.
"Listen, Casey, I'll go get the Jeep, run over any of the little shits that I can, and come get you."
"No!" She yelled, eyes bugging out in fear. "You're not leaving me!"
"You're not leaving me!"
Just fucking leave her! The same voice in his head, more insistent.
Brandon looked at her, the shadows from the flashlight making her thin face look skeletal. She wiped away tears and blood smeared her cheeks.
I can do this. I carried a two-hundred pound linebacker on my back for ten yards when I ran in the winning touchdown at our district finals last year. Casey can't weigh more than one-twenty-five tops. It'll be easy!
"All right, Casey, I'll help you, okay?" Brandon quickly put on his pants and blue and gold varsity jacket while Casey put on her flannel shirt.
"I can't put jeans on over my leg," she said apologetically.
"That's okay. You can moon those fucking squirrels as we drive out of here."
Brandon hunched over while Casey tightly wrapped her right arm around his neck. He used his left arm around her waist to hoist her up; she whimpered trying to put weight on her injured leg but said nothing.
"It's quiet out there," Brandon whispered. "They're not trying to come through the tent anymore."
"Maybe they left," Casey said hopefully.
Maybe they did, that annoying voice in his head chirped. Maybe the squirrels left and were replaced by bears! You gonna be able to outrun a murderous bear, second stringer?
"Fuck you," Brandon muttered under his breath.
Casey frowned. "What?"
Brandon shook his head. "Nothing." He took a deep breath, tried to slow his pounding heart. "All right, this is what we're going to do. I'm going to open the tent, then we're going to haul ass to the car. Any of those animals try to attack us, I'll smash their heads in with my flashlight. No matter what happens, don't let go of me."
"Not a chance," Casey grunted, tightening her grip. "Okay—I'm ready."
Brandon opened the tent and stepped out.
In the light of the fire that still burned hot and bright, they saw squirrels. Many squirrels. Brandon thought at least twenty but there could have been more. The nearest —the same red one he had fed, the same one that had gnawed into Casey's leg—stood only a few feet away with a piece of flesh still hanging from its lower lip.
"Let's go!" Casey said anxiously.
Brandon's heart pounded into his throat. Tensing his muscles for the run to the Jeep, the pack of squirrels lowly moved forward. It sounded like they were clicking their teeth together in unison, and Brandon visualized their long, sharp incisors cutting into his flesh. He wildly turned in a circle and saw that the animals had surrounded them, the car now unreachable.
Casey, seeing the squirrels move closer, tightened her grip on Brandon's neck.
"You're fucking chocking me!" Brandon grunted. "Let go!"
"No. NO!" Casey yelled.
Brandon dropped the flashlight and used both hands to wretch her away from him, then, without thinking, picked her up overhead like lifting a barbell at the gym and threw her away.
Directly at the squirrels.
Casey's arms flapped in the air like some ancient featherless bird before she hit the ground with a loud thump. The squirrels were upon her like ants to a bowl of sugar, screams of agony soon muffled by the carnivorous mass.
Run, asshole, run! the tiny voice of survival in his head berated him. Brandon turned to the Jeep but even more squirrels came loping out of the forest, some to feed on Casey, some towards him.
Brandon's mind moved second by second, neolithic instincts bred in the harsh epochs of the ice ages surfacing and controlling his actions. He stepped back, shadows of his body throwing dark shapes toward the encroaching squirrels.
The fire! The voice screamed at him. Use the fucking fire! Brandon glanced over his shoulder at the flames, spied a thick, three-foot long branch they had used to move around the rest of the wood. He spun around, grabbed the flaming bough, thrust it toward the squirrels.
The animals stopped, moved back. Brandon stepped forward and hope blossomed in his chest.
"Forest rats!" he screamed, spittle spraying out of his mouth. "You're fucking crazy forest rats but I'm smart! I have fire and you don't and—"
Brandon's words died in his mouth when the first fat drops of rain erupted from the sky.
* * *
The bright blue four by four pickup drove carefully on the deserted two-track through the forest colored with rainbow-colored mists the next morning. At a clearing, it came to a stop behind a rain-streaked black Jeep. Two sixty-something men, one short and skinny, one taller and heavier, slowly emerged from the trunk. They both wore dirty coveralls over blue jeans and sweatshirts. The short one carried two plastic garbage bags, while the taller one carried a Mossberg double-barreled shotgun.
The short man ambled over to the disheveled campsite with a solitary tent standing near a soaked fire-pit. He lit up a cigarette, looked around.
"So they never eat the clothes, Jed?"
"Why would they eat the clothes?" the taller man named Jed replied after lighting a cigarette of his own.
"I don't know. You said they eat everything else like bones and all."
"A lot of critters eat bones," Jed said. "I don't know any that eat clothes."
"Goats eat clothes."
Jed looked at the shorter man named Roy. "Look, I know it's your first time here, but let's just do our job and head back."
"Just tryin' to be friendly," Roy muttered, pulling on a pair of elbow-length rubber gloves. He nudged scattered bloody clothes with the toe of his shoe, then put on Brandon's varsity jacket.
"Whataya think?" He swirled around, the too-large jacket draping over his bony shoulders. "Do I look like a star football player?"
"No," Jed answered. "You look like an old man playing the fool."
Roy frowned, took off the jacket, and stuffed it in one of the bags. He rummaged through Brandon's jeans, pulling out a wallet and set of keys.
"Only fifty bucks," Roy said, leafing through the wallet. "That punk was driving a sweet ride but only carrying fifty in cash."
Jed sighed. "Did you look in the tent for the girl's purse?"
"Good idea." Roy brightened. "Maybe there's some more cash there!"
Jed shivered against a cold gust of wind that rattled through the trees. He looked about him, remembering when he had hunted deer and squirrel in these woods as a boy. But that was ages ago, back when life was simple and pure, before the State had leased adjacent land to an international oil conglomerate, before that company pumped millions of gallons of toxic sludge and waste into the groundwater. After that, miscarriage rate skyrocketed in the county, farm animals were born with three heads or no heads at all, and squirrels grew a taste for meat.
But no one cared, at least no one with the means to do anything about the brutal shitshow that enveloped the county. As a younger man, Jed had railed against the injustice, had tried to make a difference, and what did it get him? Only to end up as a poor, pot-bellied, gray-haired man living in a leaky double wide with no wife or kids to comfort him in his old age, his only companions stupid, greedy men like Roy.
"Bitch only had twenty-two in cash." It was Roy, coming out of the tent. He carried the purse in one hand and the young woman's black lace panties in the other.
"Bet she filled these out real nice," Roy said, looking lasciviously at the underwear before stuffing them in his pocket. "Was she pretty?"
Jed shrugged. "Yeah. Guess she was."
Roy smiled. "You know, maybe next time there's a pretty one we can have some fun with her before, you know—" he tilted his head back, looked up at the trees—"before they get down to business."
"Maybe," Jed said, wishing he had never brought Roy with him. The man was a predatory, ignorant POS, pure and simple.
Not that Jed considered himself much better.
After picking up the rest of the clothes, along with the tent and its contents, Roy placed everything in the two garbage bags.
"You remember what to do, right?" Jed asked after Roy had placed the bags into the back of the Jeep.
"I'm not stupid," Roy said indignantly. "Gonna burn everything bagged in my backyard incinerator. Then I'll take the Jeep to your shop and get the boys to repaint it and put on a new VIN number."
"That'll do it," Jed said. He watched Roy drive the Jeep down the road, the vehicle disappearing into the expansive forest.
Jed made one last trip around the campsite, looking for any signs of the kids that Roy might have missed. Near the soaked remains of the campfire he found a class ring, its silver dulled with a coating of blood. Jed casually dropped the ring in his pocket before walking toward his pickup.
A smattering of red and gold leaves floated to the ground in front of him. He looked up and saw four fox squirrels, high in the trees, running to and fro on a tall oak's thick limb. Jed pulled the double-barrel tight against his chest, only loosening his grip when he made it to his truck.
Yer loosin' it, old man. A few damn squirrels running around with nothing to set them off and you're about ready to piss your pants.
Jed fumbled with his keys after pulling them out of his pants, dropping them to the wet ground. He anxiously chucked and bent over to retrieve them when his eyes spied dull yellow among a pile of red leaves next to the passenger side door.
Is that a clump of hair?
Jed looked up; more squirrels in the tree now, continuing their frantic movements.
You little shits decide to come down to take a look at me and you'll end up as stew.
Jed quickly walked in front of the truck to the other side, kicked the leaves with his boot. The yellow thing wasn't hair. It was a crushed Styrofoam box. He picked it up, sniffed. The box was still pungent with the smell of cooked meat.
That idiot Roy was scarfin' down a breakfast sausage sandwich on the drive over, and if he didn't' finish it...
Jed just had enough time to scream, a scream as loud as his tobacco-scarred lungs could wail, before dozens of hungry squirrels fell upon him from the tree.
"Don't Feed the Animals" Copyright 2023 by Edward R. Rosick. All Rights Reserved.