For this challenge, once again I tapped into my twin personal themes of squirrels and taxidermy. Also, I'd had a dream with a girl named Ginevra in it, then I'd read this story, so the name was popping in and out of my consciousness.
“How can you say you don’t like Billy Joel?” Carl said, for about the thirtieth time. Really, he’d said it about that many times. This morning, at the Fryeburg Flea market, he had found a Billy Joel retrospective four-CD set in mint condition. They were on the third disk now, and he’d said it after every song.
“I just don’t,” Ginevra shouted. She was driving, and she’d always heard the rule was, the driver chose the tunes. Except maybe not so much in this case, since she had to drive the whole way from Maine back to Montreal, because Carl had no driver’s license.
“But he’s so talented,” Carl said.
“Not my thing, I guess,” Ginevra said. Carl had already accused her of having no taste, of being jealous of Billy Joel’s success, and of lying and actually liking Billy Joel now that she had been exposed to his complete oeuvre. Or three-quarters of it, anyway. "And what's that smell?" She rolled down her window.
"It's probably that thing you bought," Carl said.
Over the tediously dulcet opening bars of “Piano Man” there was a scrabbling sound in the trunk.
“Did you hear that, Buddy?” Ginevra said to the seven-year-old in the back seat. But he was asleep.
“What?” said Carl.
“Turn down the music a second,” Ginevra said. “I heard something in the trunk. The cooler could be leaking?”
“Not likely,” said Carl.
“Maybe it tipped,” Ginevra said.
“That would be bad,” Carl said, and without turning down the music he jostled his son’s knee. “Hey.”
The last time the trunk had been opened had been at the border.
“Be nice to the guard,” Carl had said, the whole wait in line until they had to talk to the customs official. “We have nothing to declare.”
That was untrue. She didn’t know what Carl had hidden in the cooler, but she hoped it wasn’t drugs. Personal electronics were more his style.
So when the border guard asked, third question, out of spite, Ginevra said “Just the dead animal.” She’d meant it as a joke. The whole thing was a joke, actually, a little bit of revenge for the Billy Joel box set. The taxidermy squirrel wore in a suit and breeches and held a driver mid-swing. “It will be a perfect gift for my dad,” she’d said. Carl had never met her (non-golfing) father, and wasn’t likely to after this trip.
“That is the most disgusting thing ever,” Carl had said. “It should be properly buried.”
“It’s a rat with a fluffy tail, I didn’t kill it so it’s not my fault, and it doesn’t have a soul,” Ginevra had answered, paying two dollars and sticking the squirrel in a bag with some Ken Follett paperbacks and a nerf-gun for Buddy that she’d already confiscated.
“It’s going to smell in the heat,” Carl had said.
“It’s a good thing it’s a cool day, then,” Ginevra had answered. But maybe that's why he'd gotten the cheap aftershave, which must have been expired.
So at the border, the guard naturally wanted to see the dead animal. “It’s taxidermy,” she’d said. He was a native French speaker; that didn’t seem like a common ESL word.
“Let’s have a look,” he’d said.
"What's that smell?" the border guard had asked as Ginevra got out of the car. She gestured at Carl. The guard smirked.
The air was blessedly clean out here.
She’d taken the bag from the trunk, grabbed the squirrel by the clothes and drew it out.
That had gotten a smile from the security guard. “Do you have any other interesting purchases you wish to declare?” he’d said.
“Just the gun,” she'd said.
He didn’t seem worried.
She drew out the plastic orange, yellow, and blue weapon, careful not to point it at him. You should never point a gun, even a toy gun, at a border guard, or anyone else, unless you mean to shoot them.
“A dead animal and a gun to declare, miss. You have a nice day,” the border guard had said, and gone back to his hut.
“Can I have my gun?” Buddy had aske. She'd handed it through his window but confiscated the bullets, got back into her car, and drove away.
“That was totally unnecessary,” Carl had said.
Now he was shaking his son awake. There was the scrabbling sound again. “Buddy, can you pull down the seat back beside you and see if everything’s okay in the trunk?”
Buddy did wake up. When he finally managed to flip the other back seat down, the squirrel hurtled inside.
“What the fuck?” Carl said.
“Must be the magic of Billy Joel,” Ginevra said. “He’s awesome enough to raise the dead, but I still don't like him.”
The squirrel was alive, like a zombie is alive, moving under its own steam and going for Carl’s head. Maybe it liked the smell of his aftershave.
“Ginevra, bullets!” Buddy strained against his seatbelt.
The squirrel in Carl’s hair chewed madly, and Carl screamed and flailed his arms.
“Right,” Ginevra said, and fished around in the map pocket, retrieving four of them and handing them back. She’d have slowed down the car they hadn't been in a construction zone with concrete barriers and single lane traffic that still moved at 100 KPH.
The first nerf bullet hit Carl in the eye, which is why you’re not supposed to shoot at close range.
The second hit the squirrel in its hind-quarters.
The boy had his range now. The third bullet hit the squirrel in its pouchy face, and it lost its grip entirely and blew out the back window.
"Why did it come to life?" Buddy asked.
"What was in the cooler?" Ginevra said.
"My aftershave," said Carl.
"Shit," said Ginevra. "It was strong enough to raise the dead."
They pulled over at the side of the road. Ginevra opened the trunk. The cooler was tipped over, the aftershave open, poured out, gone. The air was clear and quiet.