A True Tale of Marietta, Ohio
Marietta, Ohio was a nice town. Not a great town but a nice town. It was the kind of town where people would send meatloaves upon the death of a family member. It had a kindly little Mayor who was noted for his crapulence.
The townsfolk were, generally speaking, good-natured. The men went to work at the factories and the women all stayed home and made improvements to their claims and children all went to the little school were they received instruction on becoming productive citizens. At least this was the way most remembered it. That was before the squirrels came.
Now most people would think what harm could a few squirrels do? Well we're not talking hundreds or even thousands of squirrels. Heck a few thousand squirrels would be a blessing even enjoyable, the little critters scampering around the trees playing squirrel tag with their squirrel friends.
No we're talking tens of thousands of the little blighters. Squirrels in the trees, squirrels in the bushes, anywhere a squirrel could put up shop there were two or three. Squirrels had laid siege to the town and taken over. The trees in the town had started to show the wear of so many pesky squirrels. Trees that were once full and green were starting to droop and their leaves were beginning to drop off.
Someone had noticed that the squirrels seemed to be even eating the bark off of some of the younger trees. Like a swarm of locust the squirrels descended on this sleepy little town in biblical proportions. Nobody really knew were all the squirrels came from but they all agreed it seemed to be out of nowhere.
There were so many dead squirrels in the roadway that they had to hire extra road crews to try and keep up with the task of removal. The putrid stench of decaying squirrel had become unbearable. Squirrels started turning up in the most unlikely places. Everything about Marietta seemed to be changing even the old reliable courthouse bell no longer had the usual ringing when it struck the hour it would just make a kind of thudding sound.
One morning young Mary Martha was opening the local Tavern and to her horror found that in the middle of the night squirrels had broken in and sacked the place. There were potato chips everywhere. The shelves had all been knocked down and there were broken mugs on the floor. They had overturned the liquor cabinet and tried to chew the tops off of the bottles.
They had managed to remove the corks from some of the wine bottles. This was around the time that the people of Marietta started noticing the unusual aggressive behavior in some of the squirrels.
At first it was just the occasional bluff charge when the unwitting person would stumble upon a squirrel and startle it. But then reports started circulating of beloved pets disappearing and their bodies or, what remained of there bodies, loose skins really, would appear high in the tops of the sycamore trees in Muskingum Park.
This was all accepted as part of the natural course of things with most of the easy going Mariettans until young Jimmy Martin was attacked on his way home from school one day. The squirrels caught Jimmy crossing the railroad bridge from Harmar Village on his way home and mauled him severely.
All feared young Jimmy's life would have ended that day on the trestle if not for the selfless act of his pet beagle who valiantly gave up his life so that young Jimmy could escape. This was what caused the town elders to finally take their demand to the Mayor. Something had to be done.
The Mayor agreed that it was time to do something but what? The local exterminator had left town because he said he couldn't compete with Walmart. Someone said they knew where he went but when contacted all he said was, "Have that stewed Mayor go ask Sam Walton what he thinks you should do!" before he slammed the receiver down.
The townsfolk were left in a quandary. One person spoke up at a town meeting later in the week and had a great idea of setting all the trees on fire and burning the little devils alive. One guy thought it would be a good idea to take all the grain in the surrounding area and dump it in Williamstown across the Ohio River and when all the squirrels scurried across the bridge blow it up, stranding the ones that made it across in West Virginia. Even some of the West Virginians agreed this was a good idea. But the Mayor balked at the idea.
Then one young lady in the back spoke up and said, "Why don't we'ns put an ad in the paper and offer a reward?" When she spoke this, a murmur of approval went through the crowd and when Mr. Cawley stood and seconded the motion the crowd voiced its general approval of the idea and the motion carried.
So the next week in the "Marietta Register" the call went out that whoever could rid the town of the little pests would receive the whopping sum of $20. The ad ran for a whole week and no serious inquiries were made. None except the guy who volunteered to start lighting the trees off. Well there was also the Williamstown faction that viewed the squirrels as a resource and many also believed they deserved the squirrels.
After the ad ran for that first week and there was no takers, Mr. Cawley stood at the next meeting and agreed with some prodding from Mrs. Cawley that he would start a "Remove the Squirrels Fund" and he himself would personally act as Treasurer. To show his determination he also agreed, with some prodding from Mrs. Cawley, to be the first to contribute to the fund. He agreed to donate the sum of $180 to the Fund to bring the total to $200.
Well this augmented ad ran for another week and in the meantime the squirrel population more than doubled. The aggressive tendencies were becoming more apparent too. It was getting so that some little old ladies were missing church on account of the squirrels. Then one day it happened.
On an otherwise beautiful May morning the employees of Smitty's Pizza were showing up at their usual time to start their workday when they realized the shop had not been properly closed the night before. The lights were left on and the work table was still covered with flour. They noticed that the mop bucket had been filled but still stood in the corner apparently unused. Someone went out back and noticed the shed had been left open all night. They became concerned when the otherwise punctilious Mrs. Lannigan failed to return their phone calls.
The police were called in and a crime scene established. As one of the detectives was taking statements from the employees an officer rushed in and said that it appeared that a struggle had taken place out by the shed. The other officer as well as the employees all ran out to look at the site and sure enough there among hundreds of cigarette butts and thousands of tiny scratch marks in the dirt was the proof. The scene told of a frenzied clash between the tenacious Mrs. Lannigan and her assailants. No one wanted to be the first to speak what all knew to be true that poor Mrs. Lannigan had disappeared.
An emergency meeting of the city council took place at the armory and the Mayor spoke briefly to calm fears. He said that he had contacted the Department of Homeland Security and had spoken directly to Micheal Chertoff and was assured that he would handle the problem. He said that Mr. Chertoff had listened attentively to the problem and although he hesitated to agree that it was a disaster, he also hinted that federal funding could be allocated to combat the menace.
The Mayor said that Mr. Chertoff appeared to be very sympathetic and after hearing about poor Mrs. Lannigan agreed to call out the Georgia National Guard. That's when the crowd seemed to all shout in unison "THIS IS OHIO!"
The meeting was about to descend into a riot when a silhouette of a lone figure appeared in the doorway. Order instantly returned with the appearance of the pudgy stranger. He slowly walked to the front of the meeting hall and spoke in an almost whisper. He said that he had come to collect the moneys that were offered to rid the town of the squirrels. The Mayor was in the process of handing the money over when Mr. Cawley spoke up and said that the stranger should first explain just how he planned on doing this.
The stranger gazed at Mr. Cawley almost menacingly for a moment before speaking. The stranger said "Do You'ns want the squirrels gone or don't you'ns?" That's when the crowd all burst forth with pleas to the stranger that they would pay anything if the stranger had a way of eliminating the squirrels, as long as it didn't include burning the town to the ground that is. The only thing the stranger did was turn toward the door and start to leave.
The Mayor seeing the stranger's intent threw himself at the doorway to block his egress. The stranger was about to speak when the Mayor interrupted saying "Please Mr. we are just a simple folk with particular ways" and then he apologized if Mr. Cawley had offended him. He spoke to the stranger with a pleading tone that almost embarrassed the townspeople within hearing.
Then the Mayor leaned in closer and spoke in an inaudible tone to the stranger. On this the stranger perked up and then relaxed a bit. The townspeople saw the stranger shake his head in agreement then grasp the Mayors hand to signify that a deal had been struck. At this the whole body of people breathed a long sigh of relief and the mood lightened considerably.
The Mayor escorted the stranger back to the front of the room and introduced him as "The Man who is here to help" and the crowd burst into an applause with shouts of "God bless you sir" and "Hallelujah!" Well when the calm regained the crowd the stranger spoke briefly in generalities and then that's when he shocked the entire assemblage by saying that he would be happy to help but that it was going to require an additional $1800!
It was as though the stranger had slapped the face of everyone's mother in the room! The crowd began to take on the appearance of a lynch mob when, motivated by desperation and a sharp elbow from Mrs. Cawley, Mr. Cawley leaped to his feet and shouted above the roar "I'll pay it!" At this the crowd returned to a more subdued state and the stranger approached Mr. Cawley.
Mr. Cawley and the stranger stood facing each other for what seemed like an eternity. As they stood there the crowd noticed the way the stranger confidently stared at Mr. Cawley and the way the light reflected off the perspiration on Mr. Cawley's forehead. About the time that everyone in the room including Mrs. Cawley thought that her husband was about to faint the stranger spoke, "I'll do it for $200." Then he swiftly turned and disappeared through the door in which he had came.
The Mayor followed by most of the assemblage started for the door when a faint plucking sound resonated off the walls of the hall. The sound momentarily froze everyone in their tracks. But upon regaining their strength they passed through the very same threshold that the stranger had crossed and to there utter shock and dismay they saw the stranger strolling down the sidewalk playing what appeared to be a five-string banjo, beautifully yes, but apparently not overly concerned with the squirrel problem.
They all shouted after the stranger "When can we count on your help?" The stranger, glancing back just shook his head and laughed to himself then turned away. This is when the most peculiar thing happened. It seemed as though the very town itself trembled for a moment and the trees of the town looked as though they came to life.
At the sight of this one of the townspeople pointed up at the trees and screamed "SQUIRRELS!" The crowd turned as if one and stampeded back into the hall with a flagrant disregard for the elderly and infirm. From inside the hall the whimpering of women and men alike could be heard. The Mayor full of bottled fortitude stepped up gingerly to the windows to behold the most unusual site. The squirrels appeared to be following the stranger!
At the site of the Mayor's puzzled expression a few of the more spirituous crowd gathered at the window to behold the site. The entire congregation was dumbstruck. No one could believe what they were seeing. As the stranger got smaller and smaller the crush of squirrels became larger and larger until it took on the appearance of a large mammalian serpent slithering into the distance.
After the last of the squirrels had passed from site the crowd inside the meeting hall, regaining its courage, left the building to survey the damage wrought upon their little town. The town was in complete disarray the trees were literally stripped bare of all foliage.
The Muskingum River even seemed lower than usual like some great beast up stream had been slaking an intense thirst. The trail of the squirrels was obvious even to the people from across the Ohio. It looked as though an 18th century herd of Buffalo had crossed directly through the town. The local Native American, Joseph Running Bear, was even overheard muttering something about "Tatanka" with a tear in his eye.
As the weeks passed life in Marietta returned to normal. The factories reopened and the men went about their business. The womenfolk returned to do what they do best, sprucing up their claims. School was back up and running in a few days and life was on the mend.
Although they had never found Mrs. Lannigan's remains, at the next town meeting someone made a motion that they should have a ceremony for her and erect a statue in Muskingum Park with a plaque that reads "To a Tireless and Benevolent Citizen". Mr. Cawley, without the motivation of his wife stood and seconded the motion to the general approval of the present crowd. With this the Mayor was raising his gavel to adjourn the meeting when the now familiar silhouette of the pudgy stranger appeared in the doorway again.
The stranger seemed to be dismayed when he was greeted with only stares from the crowd, after a minute someone in the crowd spoke up and said, "What the hell is he doing here" and someone else laughed, "Yeah where's his banjo!" which was greeted with great guffaws. At this the stranger approached the still chuckling Mr.Cawley and asked about the $200. Mr. Cawley with a visage of great outrage turned and looked upon the besotted Mayor. The Mayor also with a look of utter amazement, indignantly stood and questioned the stranger about where he had been and, before the stranger could answer asked him why he would expect payment on such a late date. The stranger shifting uneasily in his position to the mayor said that he would be happy to leave if only he could get the moneys that were owed him. At this the crowd broke into great guffaws once again and the Mayor had some difficulty quieting them. Once the crowd was hushed the Mayor said with a look of total sarcasm "I think we're done here" And dropped the gavel to adjourn the meeting.
Before the crowd had time to rise the stranger spoke with a command in his voice that froze the assemblage in mid motion. "You'ns thinks ya can pull a fast one on me do ya. Well you'll see that I aint fer givin' up so easy. Now you'ns got the choice to live up to yer end of the bargain er I guess I'll have to get my recompense in other ways!" with that the stranger turned and marched out with such command of the room that the crowd sat agape in disbelief at the boldness of the stranger.
Immediately upon exiting, the crowd heard the pluckings begin anew but this time with an intensity unlike before. The twanging sounds reverberated off the inside of the hall with what seemed like deafening concussions. The crowd all rose and ran to the door and again the town seemed to tremble and again the trees seemed to come alive but this time it wasn't the squirrels that the bucolic minstrel called forth but the teenage daughters of the townsfolk.
The young girls all between 16 and 19 with a look of complete mystification walked after the stranger. Drawn by the seductive symphony of the banjo man, the crowd of young and impressionable girls struggled and tore at each other in a vain attempt to get closer. Pushing past frantic mothers and fathers, the nubile horde strode down the path that just weeks before was the sight of the squirrel's exodus.
As fathers fell to the ground weeping and mothers threw their babies into the air in blind hysteria, the strangest thing of all happened; Mrs. Lannigan reappeared looking as all would later agree tanned and happier than ever. She said with a smile, "Mark what the hell are you doing?"
The townsfolk, with a jolt (as it was not her custom to use such expletives) regained a measure of composure as the nasally vibrato ceased. The banjo man who was apparently named Mark turned beet red and hung his head as he stuttered some words of apology to the new and improved Mrs. Lannigan. Then turning around to face a large crowd of bewildered young ladies he said "How you doin'?" And in unison they all giggled their approval.
The fathers all picked themselves up and the mothers all caught their babies and the town gathered in the Park for a celebration. They still raised the statue of Mrs. Lannigan and they still adorned it with a plaque and as Mark stood off to the side surrounded by adoring girls he looked on in great satisfaction. For the first time he realized... he didn't need the banjo to be a hero.