Though he was not yet two years old, his name had grown so long with so many segments as to take several minutes to say. Most of the segments were of the squirrelishly obscure variety, so we will call him by the name that Beth christened him with: Ninja Squirrel.
Beth had come upon him shortly after beginning her time at college. There were many squirrels on her college campus, of course, but none of them so bold and cheeky as Ninja.
Ninja would often confront her on the sidewalk and attempt to engage her in conversation. Beth’s ability to understand squirrel had waned as she had grown older. Certain things still leaked through, but mostly on the unconscious level, and that was probably a good thing because people who say they can speak to squirrels are often fitted with funny coats with long sleeves and spend a good deal of time hugging themselves.
When Ninja tired of waiting for her to answer, he would often segue into preaching. He liked quoting extracts from the story of Nut-gazer and the story of Postumus. He admired the heroism of Postumus’s death and the mystery of Nut-Gazer’s disappearance. Whenever Beth tried to escape because she was late for class or simply had something better to do than listen to a squirrel chatter at her, Ninja would dodge in front of her and block her way until he was finished with his sermon.
She had given him the name Ninja because he would vault down trees and leap across sidewalks to get to her when he saw her coming out of one of the buildings on campus to walk across the quad.
Because of his long and weighty name and all the acts that earned it, Ninja Squirrel was greatly respected by all of the other squirrels on campus, at least the ones were followers of the teachings of Postumus according to the Council of Lincoln Park. Being on a college campus, the squirrels were a very independent lot. Some of these denied there was a Source, some denied there was a First Tree, and some of them denied there were any trees at all, as trees were simply a social construct. They often proclaimed this very thing while sitting in a tree.
There were those, however, who believed and faithfully followed the teachings of the Council.
Beth herself was gaining a long and weighty name. Her mother had always called her Beth, but when she came to college and heard the professors calling her name from the roll as Elizabeth Katherine Rosewood, she liked the heft of it. Beth was your friend, but Elizabeth was a queen’s name, a couple of them in fact. While she didn’t mind being Beth with her mother and her childhood friends, she rather liked the way she felt when her professors and her college friends called her by her full name.
This may very well have been part of her kinship with the squirrels going back to Postumus. The squirrels, more than anything else, understood the power of a name. In their culture, their religion, their names were the very things they were. They remembered their achievements, both positive and negative, by commemorating them in name segments. While a hero might take the segment Car-dodger, another less heroic might have the name segment Almost-dodged-a-car. One of this variety might also be missing a part of a tail. Sometimes the final name segment was Didn’t-dodge-a-car.
Though she went to college during the day, she still lived at home as the college was but a half-hour walk away. She enjoyed the walk back and forth everyday as it gave her time to think and experience nature. She enjoyed it especially well as the autumn progressed, the evenings cooled, and the leaves turned.
She enjoyed it except for one thing.
There was a young man who sometimes crossed her path as she made her way home. He was not un-handsome, although he wasn’t nearly so handsome as apparently he believed himself to be. When their paths crossed, he spoke to her, and she would be polite, but no more.
As was said, before the Fall, Man could talk with the animals. A good part of that ability resided in the reading of body language. The body tells its own story whatever the mouth might say. When different stories are perceived, this creates a disconnect.. When this young man talked to Beth, it left a disconnect which she, being talented with words, had no trouble putting a name to. Indeed, it only took one word in English: creep.
Had this young man been a squirrel, he would’ve had a long name: the word creep repeated a thousand times. Being less separated from Nature than Man, squirrels would’ve worked in dangerous a dozen or so times along the way.
One could discuss how the young man had gotten to be that way. One could talk about ways he might be changed. At this point for Beth, for Elizabeth Katherine Rosewood, it doesn’t matter. The Creep was like a wolf. She felt that. She started altering her path to and from the university so as to avoid him.
And so it was on this particular autumn night Beth was going home from the university. She had stayed on campus late because there was a speaker that interested her. She heard the speaker, lingered for hor d'oeuvres, and then began her way home in darkness. Her way was dark, but not particularly scary. At one point, it took her past a part of town that had not been developed. It was wooded and quiet and very, very dark.
While many people might’ve been very afraid while walking in this part of town, that was not Beth’s nature. She wasn’t afraid until the very moment she felt an arm crooked around her neck, a knife scratching her under her chin and drawing a trickle of blood, and a body pressing her backpack into her spine.
She struggled but she couldn’t get a way. She tried to scream but the arm rammed under her chin wouldn’t let her. Her assailant threw her to the ground so hard that it knocked the breath out of her.
There were all sorts of things she might’ve thought but didn’t. She saw the glint of the knife and there was no thinking; there was only fear.
Then something very odd happened.
The figure above her began to make noises.
“Ouch! What the? God dammit!”
He rolled off her and began to tug at himself somewhat frantically. He was pulling at his sides; he was pulling at his neck; he was pulling at his head. He was pulling things from his body and flinging them to the ground.
This gave Beth time to think. While part of her wanted to hit the man who had attacked her, the smarter part told her to run. And she did just that. She was a block away before she even slowed. She then found a house that was lit and awake in which some college kids were drinking beer, playing cards, watching TV, and doing anything but studying. Beth hammered on the door screaming and crying.
She explained to the college kids that she’d been attacked. The boys ran down the street to where it had happened, and the girls called the cops.
It was the boys who found the body and stayed with it until the cops arrived.
When the cops shined their lights on the body, they couldn’t understand what they saw. There were hundreds of bites on the body. Many of the bites were through the man’s clothing. One of the bites--the fatal one--had gone through the carotid artery.
They brought out Beth who identified the man as the fellow she knew as the Creep.
The detective on the case was a very practical man. He looked at what had happened and could not come up with a narrative that fit all of the evidence. Given that, he decided to ignore quite a lot of it. In his report, he suggested that the assailant had suffered some sort of a fit while he was attacking his victim and had accidentally stabbed himself. Case closed.
The truth would not have been believed anyway.
The for those who believe, the answer isn’t so complicated. One of Ninja squirrels squirrelly name segments was He-who-guards-the-Emissary. He followed Beth back and forth from the university as a part of a holy vow he had made to keep the Emissary safe.
He was good to his vow and, and he and a group of his disciples were following her tree to tree when the Creep attacked her. It was Ninja himself who had delivered the fatal bite. His name grew even longer among squirrel-kind.
Beth, for her part, had seen more than she realized while it was happening, though her rational mind was having trouble letting her believe it. The things the Creep were pulling from his body made noises, and she believed she recognized the noises.