Fiction: Small Spirits and Squirrel Leather
Photo Source: Flickr
I made myself late to work crouching on the sidewalk in front of the fire station, queasily trying to discern the identity of a baffling object: a cardboard-flat, grey Rorsarch test of possibilities. Like an optical illusion inverting itself, the image came clear. The four blobs protruding from the distorted margins were paws, and the arc of the tail could be discerned by the sparse hairs that clung to the dried flesh. Any sign of the head was lost in the ballooning of what must’ve been its belly and gullet. This squirrel, which had tragically met its end under the wheels of some careless driver, had been reduced to a scrap of squirrel leather.
I lost track of time marveling over this improbable object, wondering over the story of its formation and journey onto the sidewalk, until I remembered: a soul can’t escape the body when its mouth is facing the ground. From what I could tell, this remnant laid on its tummy.
I retrieved a stick from the grass and flipped the squirrel over. It clattered like a stiff shoe sole. Its other side was inchoate, without any identifiable features. A wavering, like a heat shimmer, drifted up from a ragged section that may have once been a mouth. It floated through my curious, leaning head, and communicated something that, approximated into spoken language, would’ve been, “Thank you, I was getting itchy and cramped in there.”
The squirrel’s soul rose through me and floated out of sight, up to the sky, to wherever souls go. I smiled at its passage.
The flattened corpse, now irrelevant to the soul’s journey, remained in front of the fire station for three months. Though kicked around between sidewalk and grass, the squirrel remained the same, except when in the rain; then the hardened material would become supple, revealing its layers, and smell faintly earthy.
One day, I was walking to work when a street sweeper roared past, churning dust into the humid air and showering me with detritus. Ah, so that’s what happened! After the squirrel’s death, the crushing passage of cars flattened the corpse, making it almost indistinguishable from the asphalt, until a street sweeper came along and frisbeed it onto the sidewalk.
A few days later, the squirrel disappeared. I subjected my friends to a joking rant about how the discarded red t-shirt in the fire station’s garden feature remained, but someone had taken my sweet squirrel away. Genuine sadness hid behind that humor -- I loved checking on that little corpse, empty vessel though it was, my little reprieve on those long and painful walks to and from work.
I think about the squirrel whenever I pass that spot. I am left without a squashed squirrel, but with an odd story that will be with me as long as my memory lasts. Now I flip over every belly-down animal corpse I see, for even the smallest spirits feel discomfort, and deserve to join the souls in the sky.
Lyra Meurer has wanted to be a writer since they were a stream-wading, story-inventing child. Now they restlessly pursue that dream in Colorado, where they live with their husband, pet rats, and overflowing collections of journals and books. When they’re not writing, they can be found down the Wikipedia rabbit hole or sitting in a sunbeam like a lizard. You can find more of their short fiction in Night Terror Novels’ anthology This is Not A Horror Story.