By Patrick Barb

Go to Chapter II

Chapter 1: The Crew

Asher Black remembers the tree on fire, his family burning as the dry trunk explodes from the inside out. Once brown strips of bark, turned white with age, then consumed by orange, red, and yellow tongues of flame, shrivel to sticky black, like tar. A greedy predator devours everything in its path. Feeding off the air itself.

He remembers himself—young, no longer a kit but not full-grown. This previous Asher bounces from branch to branch, ears twitching, trying to pick out the screams of his mother, father, and siblings, all trapped by the relentless inferno.

When he closes his eyes, he returns to thick smoke and bright flames, so bright it’s like the glowing orb of the sun’s crashed onto Earth. In memory, Asher runs, seeking the chittering, chattering, squealing voices of his kin. He wants to join them.

He runs toward a wall of jagged fire, his hindquarters tensed, tail twitching. He dives into the fire, unconcerned for his safety. Tiny lungs fill with smoke, and black eyes bulge from their sockets.

The black fur around his face peels back on one side. Whiskers sizzle to nubs, then to nothing. His fur’s stripped bare. Nothing will grow on this half of his face ever again. One part remains black, like the shadows, like the impenetrable wall of smoke which drowns his loved ones before the fire finishes its job. The other half’s a wounded pink. Raw. Like he’s regressed to a helpless newborn, unable to open his eyes.

He remembers jumping, expecting to go deeper into the network of branches, expecting to find a family member. He intends to sink tiny claws and teeth into black-furred flesh, then pull them to safety. He plans to save them all. Going in and out of the fire, not stopping until all are rescued or he’s dead or the tree’s collapsed into cinders, soon scattered by the wind and blown across the manicured lawns of the Majestic Forest neighborhood.

But he’s turned around. The smoke, the insistent tongues of flame, something leads him astray. If it’s not one of those things, then it’s everything, working together to thwart his efforts.

Asher jumps through the flames and the sky appears clear before him. Its blue’s threaded with silvered filaments of smoke coming from the tree. His limbs pump wildly.

But he finds no purchase.

He falls, crashing to the singed earth below. He lands on the ground where nothing will grow once the old ash tree and the black squirrel family who called it home are gone. Even as the tree burns to oblivion, Asher’s on the ground, the ragged, scorched end of his black tail twitching.

He doesn’t remember the sleep that follows. Or the darkness taking him into its embrace…

But they come for him all the same.

* * *

Asher wishes he were asleep now. Slumber’s preferable to getting held upside down by his incomplete tail courtesy of two of Oakley Grey’s heavies.

The gray squirrel duo’s all muscle and fatty proteins without a kernel of a brain between them. Each gives the remnants of Asher’s tail a too-tight squeeze. When the black squirrel opens his mouth, his yellow teeth move up and down, side to side, in silent screams.

But he won’t give the bushy-tailed assholes the satisfaction of an actual squeal.

The gray squirrels hold him over the open darkness of a drainpipe bolted to the side of a single-story convenience store. The pipe’s white metal comes wrapped in vines on the outside and caked in a slimy fungal growth whose dim neon green illuminates the ragged, rusted edges where the metal twists inward along the pipe’s interior.

“Please, fellas,” Asher says, twisting his body to avoid the sharp edges at the rim of the pipe, “you’ll ruin my beautiful face.”

The two lugs, Birch and Maple by name and trees of birth, don’t laugh. Whatever brainpower they’ve got between them’s devoted to the pursuit of tree nut consumption and kicking whatever asses they’re told to by their boss. And that’s it.

At least, their fox squirrel handler DW, watching from the other side of the gutters, click-clacks his tongue against his cheeks, giving Asher’s self-deprecating wit some appreciation.

Before Asher can thank him, DW’s front paws dig deep into the scruff of the black squirrel’s chest. He pulls up hard but keeps his grip tighter still. Asher ends up stretched across the drainpipe’s opening. Face-to-face with the lanky fox squirrel consigliere of the Grey Gang, Asher shuts his mouth.

On his own for so long, Asher’s talked his fair share of trash, letting those who might want a piece of him know to keep their distance. On the other paw, he’s also grown damned good at knowing when it’s in his best interest to keep quiet.

“We got witnesses who put you by the park benches near the water fountains.”

Asher stays quiet.

“They put you at the spot of one of Mister Grey’s…one of our acorn caches.”

So there’s a cache of acorns there? Well, now, I’m not so sure I’d go around giving that information out all willy-nilly…to so-called “notorious acorn thieves.”

Again, Asher stays quiet.

“Our witness says they watched you dig up and steal our…”

“Bullshit!”

Asher knows when to keep his mouth shut.

But he doesn’t always do it.

Caught off-guard, DW relaxes his grip on Asher’s fur by the slightest degree. But it’s enough. The black squirrel kicks off, pushing his hindquarters paws-first into the chests of the gray squirrel enforcers, slapping them with the remnants of his tail on his way to freedom.

His front claws slash across DW’s chest. Let’s see how he likes it. When he lands, Asher bounces off the gutter and makes hard contact with the black tarred surface of the roof.

It’s a short-lived, hollow victory.

Maple and Birch pounce, pressing their full weight on Asher and holding him fast against the roof’s lumpy darkness. If it wasn’t for the pink scar tissue on his face, the roof would make for the ultimate camouflage for the black squirrel.

“What’s that again, Ashy?”

“I said it’s ‘Bullshit.’ There ain’t no way anyone caught me digging up those acorns.”

He shrugs, trying to get Maple and Birch to loosen their grip. But it ain’t happening.

DW grins, like one of the feral cats stalking the tall grasses between the older Majestic Forest houses. “So, you admit you did steal our nuts?”

“Buddy, someone stole your nuts a long damn time before I came arou—”

This time, when DW lashes out, his claws slice through the pink tissue on Asher’s face.

This time, the black squirrel does scream.

DW wrenches back, keeping hold of Asher’s skin. Struggling, Asher moves his head from side to side, still trying to hold back from the extreme response his pain wants him to have. Asher wants to make sure the fox squirrel’s claws don’t dig too deep a gouge into the side of his face.

DW gives a slight tug, as though to say, Ya done? Had enough?

Asher responds with silence.

“Let me ask you again: do you admit to stealing the acorns we buried by the benches on behalf of Mister Gray?”

Asher remembers the tree on fire, his family burning. He remembers jumping through the flames and finding blue skies and loneliness.

Remembering, he nods. “Yeah, I took ‘em. Figured you all had enough to spare.”

The bell on the convenience store door rings below, ting-tong. Someone’s coming or going. Human musk wafts up to the squirrels. Cooked meats in plastic wrap. The rich, heady aroma of coffee. Dried bubble gum, shoved sticky into door jambs and solidified by the passing summers, providing a sickly sweet note at the end.

A scratching from further back on the rooftop brings all four squirrels to attention. Maple and Birch get off of Asher. But he doesn’t run. Instead, he stands back to back with the others, tails twitching against tails. Ears twitch, noses twitch. Eyes move everywhere, searching for the source of the interruption.

Everyone’s on high alert. Everyone’s on edge.

But when the source reveals himself, Asher alone remains tense. The other three relax, letting out a hearty, “Hello, Mr. Grey.”

Where his enforcers are thick and musclebound and his fox squirrel consigliere who he adopted into the gray squirrel fold is lean and wiry, Oakley Grey is pleasant and plump. He doesn’t so much skitter to the gutter, as he hops. He lands heavy on his back paws, tail sweeping debris behind him as he moves.

“Mr. Black! It’s been so long.”

Since the tree burned. The ash was one of the last remaining originals from the old days when Majestic Forest was an actual forest and not a half-truth told by Them as they took over more and more of the land.

After the tree burned and my family’s bones lay as powder in the ruins, there was only the oak tree in the park. Oakley Grey’s tree.

Asher mumbles his greeting even as thin trickles of blood run down his face from the spots where  DW’s claws got stuck moments before.

Oakley approaches with forelimbs stretched wide, heading for an awkward embrace. “I trust my associates relayed the information we received. About the crime you committed against my property?”

Asher opens his mouth, but the tiny red dots on DW’s claws let the black squirrel know he’s reached a point where it’s in his best interest to shut the hell up. So, he nods his head in the affirmative instead.

“Good, good,” the boss squirrel continues. His arms close around Asher’s shoulders, pulling the black squirrel into his gravity. He presses his bushy maw to Asher’s ear. “I’m here to talk about your penance.”

“Penance?”

Oakley pulls back, his face close to Asher’s. They’re nose to nose. Oakley’s smiling.

“Of course,” he says, “I believe in second chances. How else can we grow? Or learn?”

“Get to the point.”

Before DW lands a retaliatory blow, it’s Oakley, all smiles still, who delivers a solid rib-cracking punch to the black squirrel’s mid-section. Asher’s left bent over and wheezing.

The smile never fades, as the boss squirrel continues. “I need you to take some of my crew on a job. The job. The biggest one. You do this and I’ll forgive your trespasses against me. All ya gotta do is break into the Nut House.”

This time, when Asher laughs, no one strikes him. They let him go until he’s all laughed out. His belly aches after he’s finished, a combination of laughter, previous injuries inflicted by the gray squirrel enforcers, and the fact he hasn’t had a chance to sample the acorns he did indeed steal from Oakley’s cache.

When he’s done, Oakley’s still there, waiting, smiling, Asher’s expression changes as he realizes the request’s a serious one.

“Wait a minute. Are you for real?”

Oakley nods.

“You know one of my forebears…a grandfather, great grandfather, hard to say which and it doesn’t matter, he was on the run from some fox squirrels, my dear DW’s old gang, carrying a mouthful of acorns and a couple more nuts tucked under his arms to boot. This old-timer carried the biggest score of acorns ever. Certainly, the biggest since They moved in and changed our forest into Their Majestic Forest.

“But imagine one squirrel carrying all those acorns, Mr. Black. One hit to his neck, one bad landing on his stomach, and my kin woulda choked and died on the spot.

“But luck was on his side. Always has been for my family. He made it up top to one of Their dwellings, while it was still being completed. Not a finished home then, but a skeleton of one. Like one of our trees, stripped of its bark.

“Anyway, you know the rest, right? Sure. Every squirrel does. Hell, every animal in the Forest does.

“The gray squirrel ran from where he’d hidden the acorns, meaning to come back later and collect. Except he waited too long. I don’t blame him…that part of the neighborhood used to be fox squirrel territory, not the most civilized location. Not surprisingly, they’re no longer with us here in the Forest. Good riddance, I say. Right, DW?”

Oakley’s consigliere remains still. “Sure, boss.”

“By the time he got back, They’d put meat on the skeleton, so to speak. The Human-Female who lived in the house all alone moved into Her dwelling. She settled in for the long haul. Kept up Her repairs and  got regular visits from the ones who put down their death traps and spray poison clouds outside. As if They have any more rights to the outdoors than us.

“The Nut House was locked down tight.

“You probably catch wind of stories now and then, tales of mice, rats, other ground critters, getting inside. But they never come back out.”

“But now?”

“Easy, Mister Black. That busted tail of yours is swishing back and forth like you’ve got somewhere to be. But truth is, at this moment, where you need to be is where I tell you.”

Asher doesn’t drop his eyes. He keeps his head up, staring straight ahead at the boss squirrel of Majestic Forest. His tail’s sweeping motions don’t end either. He wants to make it clear to Oakley and the others: he’s sticking around but on as close to his terms as he can get.

“Bet, you wanna know what’s changed? Why I’m here talking to you about the Nut House and not allowing my associates to make both sides of your face match up…”

Oakley rubs his belly as he answers, making slow strokes around and around. “It’s the storm. Last night’s storm. Lightning hit one of the branches on a tree near the house, not one of our trees though thank goodness. Branch split from the trunk, and as it came down—ba-blam!—it caught the corner of a window in the upper portion of the structure.”

“Don’t worry, Ashy, the lightning didn’t set the tree on fire or nothing,” DW adds, leaning in like he’s ready to inflict more violence on the black squirrel. The two heavies chuckle along with him.

Asher and Oakley both wait for the trio to finish. Noticing his boss isn’t joining in, DW leans back, glaring at Asher. If eyes were paws, this particular fox squirrel’s peepers would be wrapped around the black squirrel’s neck and squeezing tight, then tighter still.

Ready to get on with whatever fate’s got in store for him, Asher fires off more questions at Oakley, keeping focused on the one who controls his fate. “So, the window upstairs’s the way in? What’s to say the Human-Female won’t have it repaired by the time we get there??”

“What, you can’t go tonight?”

Asher rolls his eyes. He snorts hard, the breath expelled from his nostrils pushing down the fur on Oakley’s face, like a blast of wind bending blades of grass. “You want the job done…or do you want me dead?”

Before Oakley or any of his gang can answer, Asher cuts them off with a wave of a paw.

He understands the answer’s both.

Oakley nods, something close to respect in his expression. “No one’s seen the Human-Female for a while. DW’s been watching the house even before this most recent development. Right, Dubs?”

“Yeah, you’re right, boss.”

“The old Human-Female’s gone. No stretched-out shadows against the curtains. Nothing moving for a while.”

“Who’s my crew?”

Oakley spreads his arms wide, showing off the other squirrels surrounding them. “You’ve already met most of ‘em.”

“That can’t be everybody,” Asher says, affecting a grumbling monotone.

Now, Oakley laughs.

“Dubs’ll fill you in on the details. Then, you’ve got one night to decide. Don’t imagine you can run away though. We will catch you. Don’t think you can hide. We will find you. And when we catch or find you, we’ll tear the rest of the black fur off your pink, shriveled body. You’ll wish you’d burned with the others.”

Asher can’t figure how the gray squirrel manages to laugh even while delivering his threats.

* * *

A Human-Child’s first-floor bedroom window sits open, facing a well-manicured backyard. A wooden fence made from cedar surrounds a perfect square of evenly-trimmed blades of grass. A metal screen covers the opening into the house, placed so the cool post-rain shower breeze blowing through Majestic Forest slips inside, but with links tiny enough to keep most bigger bugs and other pests out. Asher dives off the top of the fence, grunting from the injuries sustained at the paws of Oakley Grey’s goons when he lands. He sprints through the grass, tail slashing against dandelions, sending white seeds above him like a fireworks display.

When he reaches the house, his claws sink into the sun-damaged peeling paint under the window.

One, two, three.

Then, he’s up on the sill, scratching at the screen. One scratch echoes up and down the intertwined links. Peering through those diamond-shaped holes, Asher watches the Human-Child toss and turn in Her bed, dreaming under pink and purple sheets. Her black hair’s like oil spilled over the pristine whiteness of the pillowcase.

On the interior windowsill, a shoebox’s ragged cardboard top shifts. An undersized grey head pokes out from above a layer of white hand towel curled around the box’s insides. It’s not the scruffy, “dirt on your paws” gray sported by Oakley and his gang. This is the gray of storm clouds on a summer day, rolling across the sky in broad brushstrokes.

The creature’s paws grip the edge of the box. Then, he drags himself over the top. When he’s about to face plant, slamming the spruce-green pools of his eyes into the sill’s white-painted surface, he extends his arms. The membranous flesh between his mid-section and the undersides of his arms is spread wide. He floats the short distance down for a safe landing.

“Asher, you scared me,” the flying squirrel says, getting his bearings amid the glitter and princess stickers covering the spot where he’s landed. “So easy a caveman can do it…

Ignoring his friend’s strange comment at the end, Asher replies, “To be fair, everything scares you, Flippy.”

The flying squirrel, once named Willow but re-christened “Flippy” by the Human-Family who keeps him, folds his arms across his chest, hiding his gliding “wings” against his body. “I suppose you’re right. A little dab’ll do ya.

The corners of Flippy’s mouth turn up slightly, less of a smile and more the reaction to a memory of one he might’ve worn long ago.

Flippy and Asher go way back, almost as far as whatever unfettered grin the flying squirrel’s recalling. There’s a lot to read in glances and the slow steady movement of a ragged black tail behind the larger squirrel’s back. For squirrels, like any animal, the movements often mean more than the words.

“But you’re not much better,” Flippy adds. “Do more, feel better, live longer.

Asher sighs, nodding. Used to his friend’s fragmented way of speaking.

He met Flippy in the animal hospital after the tree burned. They stayed in cages side-by-side. Each fed from a clear plastic dropper with a black rubber plunger at the top. Sugar water—sweet and soothing. “To get your strength back,” the Human-Female with big hair and bigger gold earrings dangling from her exposed brown ear lobes told them, between her cooing attempts at a gibberish version of their language. By their cages, she set up a tiny handheld box with pictures, flashing lights, and voices emerging in staccato bursts. Asher ignored it, but Flippy grew entranced.

At least the feedings worked. More for Asher than Flippy. Asher’d lost everyone, everything. Without hope, he found solace in dreams of revenge. But against what? Considering their animal hospital days, Asher wonders if his single-minded motivation made it easier for Them to assume he was healed, to believe in his readiness for a return to the “natural” wonders of Majestic Forest.

Not so for Flippy. He had nothing to go back to, not even vengeance. The flying squirrel was abandoned by his kin, shoved out of their nest to the ground below. As he fell, he forgot how to fly. After all this time, he’d regained the ability to glide the distance from the shoebox to the sill. But nothing more.

A chance encounter with a Human-Family seeking an unconventional pet meant at least he wouldn’t have to go for the final sleep at the hospital. He wouldn’t have to enter the bright room at the end of the hallway where others went in…and never came out.

Not unlike the Nut House.

“You look terrible,” Flippy says, eyeing the contusions and welts swelling under Asher’s fur.

“Then again, you always look terrible. Have you had your break today?

Asher gives his friend the single-clawed gesture and they both fall on their backs laughing.

“She gonna sleep?” Asher asks when they finish, cocking his head in the direction of the Human-Child whose snores join the chorus of crickets warming up behind the black squirrel, the insects hidden in their performance spaces between blades of grass.

“Yeah, she had the sniffles, so Margaret gave her some cold medicine…M’m M’m good!

Asher shakes his head. He’s amazed by how Domesticateds like Flippy absorb the strange words and customs of Them.

“I want to pick your brain about something.”

“Is it about how not to get killed by Oakley Grey and his goon squad? Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline.

Asher stares through the mesh at Flippy’s arched brow.

“Am I wrong? Taste the rainbow…

“You’re not…but there’s more. It’s part of it, but…I don’t know.”

With a sigh, Asher lets the story spill out. All the details about the Nut House, the job, and the crew he’s saddled with for making the score.

Flippy listens, transfixed. Doesn’t twitch at even the slightest sound nearby. Not the creaking floorboards in the hallway past the door. Not even the humming and bristling of horsefly wings flitting against the upper portion of the window screen.

“So other than the fox squirrel and Oakley’s thugs, who else’s in the crew? What can Blue do for you?

“They tell me they hired Chee-Chee.”

“Chee-Chee? The chipmunk? No rules, just right.

 “Yeah. She’s gonna be there.”

Flippy nods. “So, why’re you here, Asher? Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

“You don’t know?” Asher asks, gesturing toward the inside.

Flippy’s insights on Them have proved invaluable for his friend’s survival in Majestic Forest. They’ve kept Asher one paw ahead of danger,  avoiding the sudden death lurking around every corner for those animals living wild in Their spaces.

“Going into the Nut House…it’s not like digging up one of Grey’s caches in the park. Not like raiding a tree. I wanna understand how to navigate a house. You’re my best bet for getting the kinda insight I need.”

Flippy scratches his chin. With his other front paw, he reaches out and presses against the screen. It shifts slightly, revealing an opening to the outside world. Asher hops back. Surprised. He didn’t know Flippy had a means of escape.

Fly the friendly skies,” the tiny flying squirrel whispers. There’s a sadness in his inflection, the meaning behind his borrowed words becoming a leaden weight on Asher’s shoulders.

Then, with a shrug, Flippy continues. “Ask away,” he says, “You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.

* * *

The next morning, waking with the leashed dogs brought outside by tired masters to piss and shit and snort up all the scents of Majestic Forest stirred up by its nighttime denizens, Asher meets with DW, Maple, and Birch at the edge of the Nut House front lawn. A curly-haired poodle, whose leash-holder’s oblivious to Her surroundings, lunges at the foursome from the sidewalk.

All ringleted fur and sharp teeth

A chipmunk with stained and crooked chompers leaps out of nowhere, imitating the barking of a much, much larger hound.

Ar-roof! Ar-roof!

Ki ki ki kiki ki!

The poodle spins around at the sudden appearance of the strange barking creature, twirling the leash in its owner’s hand so it tightens around Her wrist. The Human-Female pulls back, yanking the dog onto its back paws, the collar tightening against its neck. Its panting tongue hangs out like it’s dead.

Chee-Chee laughs, before joining the others.

“Asher,” she says. “Other squirrels.”

“Chee-Chee, nuts as always, huh?”

The chipmunk eyes Asher suspiciously. “Nuts? What’s this some kinda squirrel humor?”

DW clears his throat. Waits for the others to give him their attention.

 “If we can please get down to business,” he says.

Asher claps his front paws together and holds them under his chin. “Please, I’m all ears…”

DW’s insulted, but trying to hide it. He waves for the others to follow as he moves closer to the house.

They scamper across the front yard, leaving behind the ivy-wrapped trellises on the front porch and heading to the back where the broken window’s waiting. On the way, Maple elbows Birch. “You catch that?” he asks.

“Whatcha mean?”

“Thought somethin’ was movin’ behind the curtainwindow.”

“Your nerves got ya hallucinatin’, pal.”

“Yeah, yeah, probably so.”

They pull up short of the house’s foundation. Above them, a long tree branch runs down from the second-story window and dangles against the creamy yellow siding.

DW holds up a paw. His gesture’s meant to keep back Chee-Chee, who’s got violence in her eyes, and Asher, who’s trying to push his way to the front of the scrum.

Because someone’s waiting for them outside the Nut House.

Flippy sits under the broken branch, enjoying the sun on his face, the breeze massaging his fur. He turns to Asher who’s firing off a million questions at once but finishing none of them. “The great outdoors,” the flying squirrel says as though it’s explanation enough.

“Who’s this?” DW asks.

“Lunch,” Chee-Chee answers with a snarl.

“No!” Asher says, “He’s my…he’s…”

His mind’s racing. Normally, he’s talking himself out of bad situations. Speaking for others isn’t something he’s had much practice with.

But he’ll try.

“Flippy’s the best home invasion specialist in the biz.”

“’zat right?” DW asks, not believing him.

Asher doubles down.

“It’s true. I don’t do this job without him.”

DW spins around, getting up on tip-toes so he’s towering over the black squirrel. “What’s to stop us from tearing your wee friend to pieces? What’s to stop us from letting Chee-Chee have her way with him?”

Alvin, Simon, Theodore. Doot doot da doota doot!

Chee-Chee backs off when Flippy starts singing jingles.

Like even she’s not too sure what to make of him.

When DW turns to his heavies, they’re not even paying attention to the Flippy-related drama. They’re watching the Nut House. The black squirrel follows their sightlines up to the roof. A brick chimney rises like an angry thumb from the shingled rooftop. The way the gray squirrels squint, you’d assume the whisper-thin clouds drifting overhead were traces of smoke rising from the house.

But that wouldn’t make sense, unless…

DW claps his paws together to get the gray squirrels’ attention. “Hey, hey, hey, what’re we paying you for?”

“Sorry, boss,” they mutter.

DW sighs, trying to regain control of an already spiraling situation. “Alright, if this guy’s the B&E expert you say he is…then let’s have him go up first. Then, once he’s up…you follow, Ashy.”

“No…” Asher’s protest gets cut off by Flippy hopping forward. The flying squirrel’s front paws stretch to the jagged part of the branch, its lightning severed and cauterized end still releasing a smoky odor.

First in flight,” Flippy says. “Don’t worry, Asher.”

Then, he pulls himself up the branch. One paw in front of the other. DW gestures for Maple and Birch to hold Asher back. There’s no helping his friend here. He’s going to have to watch.

Flippy scrambles, smooth claws scraping against bumps and cracks in the wood. He wobbles, the branch shaking the higher he goes.

The twigs protruding from the upper end of the branch, hanging off the windowsill like fingers, scrape across the black-painted feature. This time everyone on the ground notices a shadowed curtain moving.

Flippy’s almost there.

“C’mon. Flip…” Asher mumbles.

And then, he’s up. He’s made it. Flippy turns around, gazing down at the distance he’s traveled. “You’re gonna love the way you look. I guarantee it.

Asher shrugs the gray squirrels off. “Okay, let’s go.”

On the sill, Flippy’s turned his back to the others and stares through the hole in the broken glass. He’s the first of the gang to glimpse the Nut House interior. Something no animal’s done in years.

Asher’s halfway up the branch, the rest of the crew following behind.

Flippy turns to his friend. “Asher, you’re not gonna believe it. There’s…”

Stretching his paws the final distance to the window sill, Asher misses when something grabs hold of Flippy’s paw, yanking him through the glass shards on the window sill and down into the Nut House.

To be continued…

Go to Chapter II

Subscribe to CHM for even more terrifying content each month!

* * *

Patrick Barb is an author of weird, dark, and horrifying tales, currently living (and trying not to freeze to death) in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He is the author of the dark urban fantasy novella Gargantuana’s Ghost (forthcoming from Grey Matter Press, October 2022), the talking animal/cosmic horror novella The Nut House (currently serialized in Cosmic Horror Monthly), and the collection Pre-Approved for Haunting (forthcoming from Turner Publishing, October 2023). In addition, he is an Active Member of the HWA and a Full Member of the SFWA. Visit him at patrickbarb.com or follow him at twitter.com/pbarb.

Comments are closed