Rocky sat in his den, staring solemnly out at the yard. It was a sunny spring morning in Scarsdale, a leafy and well-off suburb of New York, and in a normal year, Rocky would have been outside, running through the grass and playing in the trees. But this spring has been different. With a pandemic menace threatening him and his neighbors, Rocky only goes out for the bare essentials.
“It started slowly. We noticed people weren’t coming home with the normal load of groceries, but none of us took it seriously. Yes, people started behaving oddly, like pulling up at their house with a whole trunk full of toilet paper, but people were always doing crazy things. Then The Betrayal happened. All of us saw it, and that’s when we realized how much danger we were in.” Rocky’s grey tail trembles.
It’s only been three weeks, but The Betrayal is already a whispered legend in the treetops. Rocky’s neighbor, Ethel Redwing, had the best view.
“I’m not one to cast judgement, mind you,” explains Ethel, cleaning her breast, “but that Lil’ Ginny Flutterbottom was always a bit light between those giant ears. She should have known better, but I guess the siren call of those carrots was just too much.”
“I used to fly over Ms. Wilson’s house everyday. It was on my daily circuit out from the nest, so I got to see how it started last year with that Wilson lady trying to entice Ginny over, waving those carrots, talking sweetly, encouraging Ginny to come closer, step by step. Within a month, that sweet, stupid Flutterbottom girl was sitting on that lady’s lap every morning, enjoying a carrot and a gentle petting.”
“It became their daily ritual, and it might have even been okay. The humans here have always been pretty decent, but then that economic downturn thing started. They started behaving strangely, never leaving their nests. As time went on, we noticed the normal evening smells of cooked cow and chicken were gone. The night before The Betrayal was a beautiful, clear warm night, so I went out to ride the updrafts and survey the neighborhood. On a night I should have seen smoke from a hundred different backyard grills, I didn’t see a single puff.”
Ethel shivers her wings. Her chirp drops to a whisper. “I happened to be watching when it went down. The Wilson lady was petting her as always, but then her fingers slid down, and she got a touch of Jenny’s fatty, succulent haunches.” Ethel pauses, her red wings draining to a weak pink color. “I saw that lady’s eyes change. And then it was over in a moment. One quick flick of the wrist, and she was carrying Jenny’s limp body into the kitchen.”
Ethel’s face clouds with anguish. “She served her with a side of glazed carrots.”
Since then, the pandemic has spread with lightning speed through the neighborhood. With grocery store shelves empty of beef and chicken, people have fully embraced the locavore movement, using BB guns, traps, and cinches. The carefree life of the suburban woodland creature, who’s biggest dangers were previously limited to car tires and overweight dogs, has been turned upside down.
Young Bradley Whitford III, a Harvard sophomore, who previously dined with his family every Friday at Sparks, has embraced the change. “Hey, Ma, I done caught me two of the fattest squirrels you ever done seen!,” he cried, running in barefoot with two grey squirrels impaled on a metal stake. His mother embraced him. “That’s a good lad, Bradley! Now take those into Esmeralda and tell her to make a stew from them. This calls for a bottle of the Cakebread from the cellar!”
Rocky later identified one of the devoured as Spinny Spinnaker, formerly of the Big Oak Behind the High School.
The pandemic has since spread across all of Westchester county. Not everyone is complaining. Clarence Perkins, rodent specialist at the local Petco for the past twelve years, says sales have never been better. “Lots of people are taking advantage of the quarantine to adopt dogs and cats, believing, correctly, they will have more time to train them. The wonderful surprise is that new pet owners have even been more passionate about our smaller animals. We are sold out of everything.”
Clarence adjusted his pony tail and noted a cautionary note. “I have 13 rodents of my own, so I understand why people love these playful little guys, but I do worry that some inexperienced owners may be getting in over their head.”
“One lady came in yesterday and said she wanted to buy all our guinea pigs. Then asked me how much we charged per pound. This other fella asked me what would go better with a South African Cabernet, ferrets or hamsters. I was like â€˜what, dude, that doesn’t even make sense’, but he just said he’d take two of each.”
Clarence laughs ruefully, “Poor guy will surely be returning them next week when he realizes they can’t stand each other’s pheromones.”
With the pandemic now in full blossom, consumer companies are being forced to adjust. At McDonald’s corporate research kitchen in Yonkers, chefs are testing new sources of protein. Head chef Yves Raton notes that with many of the traditional slaughterhouses idled by the economic downturn, meat supplies are down sharply.
“We are working on new recipes and testing them with focus groups every day. Our quarter pounder is now an eighth of a pound of beef and an eighth of muskrat. Our focus groups are also in love with swamp rat nuggets, at least until they find out they’re made from swamp rat. The marketing guys have their work cut for them.”
He pointed to their recent success introducing the Filet O’ Night Squirrel sandwich, which has rode squirrel meat mania to become McDonald’s top seller. Deep fried, slathered in mayo, topped with pickles, and served on a sesame seed bun, it has inspired lines outside McDonald’s nationwide.
“Naturally,” Raton confides, “there is no such thing as Night Squirrel, but while the marketing guys loved our recipe, they said they didn’t think Filet O’ Bat would sell.”