Early in 2017, I entered a short story contest through NYCMidnight.com. They hold multiple contests throughout the year. In fact, I’m currently awaiting results from Round 2 of their most recent Flash Fiction contest.
Anyway, with NYCMidnight fiction contests, they give you a series of prompts: genre, setting, and a person/object. It can be really trick and intimidating, especially if you’re assigned a genre you’ve never written before and you’re only given a short amount of time to write the story.
This is what happened in this particular round of the short story contest. I had already made it through the first round (horror/surprise party/substitute teacher) and I was pleased enough with that. Then came Round Two.
For this one, I was tasked to write a 2,000 word maximum story in 48 hours, which is daunting under the best of circumstances. The assignment made it even more so.
I had to write a comedy. A COMEDY, mind you, that included a foot race and a rookie police officer.
Now, I’m a funny lady, but I had never set out to write a comedy before. In 48 hours. Well, shit.
SEBASTIAN THE SAFETY SQUIRREL was the result. I did not advance past this round, but the feedback was mostly positive. It’s unlikely I’ll ever try to have this published, so I thought I would share it here.
I hope it makes you laugh. I certainly laughed while writing it.
Sebastian the Safety Squirrel
When my shift started I was excited, eager for the chance to prove myself. By the time it ended, death would have been preferable.
Feedback from a microphone echoed through the large purple head I wore. Through the nylon eyes that tinted everything blue, I watched as a thin blonde sashayed across a rickety platform that lurched with each step she took.
“Welcome to the Wenley Elementary School Jump-Into-Summer Fair.” She beamed as if she were Miss America as meager applause and half-hearted wolf-whistles rose from the group of bored parents and hyper children. “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Marcie Harrelson, Wenley PTA President. There’s lots of fun activities today for everyone, including the Pre-K Olympics on the far side of the field past the tug-of-war station. Be safe and be sure to wear your sunscreen!” She blew a loud whistle and the crowd scattered.
I glanced at Captain “Just call me Lou” Dowsett as he stood at attention, his badge gleaming like a beacon against his dress uniform. I had only met him once before, briefly, during my five-week tenure at the Wenley Police Department, and now I had to work with him all day. While dressed as Sebastian the Safety Squirrel.
I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried. Still, this was my chance to impress him. To make a difference.
Lou’s voice was muffled as he tapped me on my shoulder. I struggled to pull off my purple head, wincing as it caught on my long, red ponytail.
“You okay in that thing?” He sounded smug, the bastard.
“Yeah.” Sweat was pouring down my face. Day-Glo head included, the outfit had to weigh 50 pounds, which wouldn’t have been so bad, except it was fucking June. Do you have any idea how bad it smelled inside that head? Remember when you left your workout clothes in your trunk and forgot about them for a few months? “It’s a little hard to hear you in here.”
“Don’t I know it. Look, we all have to pull our weight on these Officer Friendly gigs. Soon enough, you’ll get to be Friendly while some other noob gets to be the Squirrel.”
“I don’t mind.” I did mind. I minded a fucking lot, but I kept that to myself. I had wanted to be a police detective ever since I had first seen Lennie Briscoe on Law and Order. I would hold Barbie weddings for Stabler and Benson, officiated by Ice-T himself. I had aced my associate’s degree in Criminal Justice. I speak three languages. I graduated at the top of my class in the Academy. I was born to be a cop.
I was also a giant purple squirrel.
The Officer Friendly booth was set up between tables full of baked goods, watered-down drinks, and lukewarm pizza—all proceeds benefiting the almighty PTA—and the field where frantic teachers tried to wrangle sugar-addled kids from one activity to another. A bounce house stood forlornly empty, its teenage assistant apathetically hosing it down. Again. A young boy sat and wailed for his mom, mourning either his lost chance in the bounce house or his piece of pizza that was now oozing out through the mesh walls. Groups of moms clustered around the fringes, shooting poisoned darts of judgement at each other and occasionally shouting out to a random Ethan or Emma, always causing at least one quarter of the kids within earshot to turn and scream, “What?”
“Put your head back on, Berger. Gotta stay in character.”
“Yes, Sir.” Fuck you, Lou. I forced the shaggy head back on.
“That’s the attitude I like to see. Willingness to do what it takes.” Damn, he was a prick. I wondered what it would take to kick his balls up through the roof of his mouth.
And so began our routine of Officer Friendly and his sidekick, Sebastian the Safety Squirrel. I’d dance around and pantomime in response to his lecture on the horrors of drugs, strangers, and not looking before crossing the street.
As a squirrel, even an oversized one with purple fur, I took that last admonishment as a personal criticism. But it was our schtick: we use crosswalks and hold hands, or people die. Rodents, too.
Lou kept taking breaks, hustling off to have a smoke in the shady corner by the gym or to grab a piece of pizza, leaving me alone to fend off kids who kept throwing balls at my head and running away. He’d come back and we’d do another round of safety lectures. He’d leave again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Then, as if the day wasn’t absurd enough, Lou suddenly bent over double, clutching his stomach. “I’ll be back.” He lurched off towards the bathrooms and I was, once again, on my own.
No kids were nearby, so I tidied up the D.A.R.E. pamphlets and put out a new box of Sebastian stickers. They said, “Police officers are SAFE friends,” and I wondered if I was, in fact, a trademarked character.
I was watching a tug-o-war game between some older kids and a clown, when I felt someone tugging on my arm. I looked down to see a little boy, maybe six or so, bawling. His face was bright red and a green pendulum of snot dripped from his nose. He was pointing frantically toward the other side of the field. What’s that, Lassie? Timmy’s in the well?
I crouched down, tilting as the weight of my head threatened to pull me over. “What’s up, kiddo?” Now, technically, Sebastian wasn’t supposed to talk, but what the hell else was I going to do?
Gasp, gasp, wail. “My mommy. She’s hurt.”
“Where is she?” I looked around, searching for some poor woman writhing on the ground or carrying around her newly amputated arm. Or something.
“She didn’t feel good. She went to rest in the car while I played. I’m tired and want to leave, but the car door was locked and I could hear her inside. She’s hurt! Please, Sebastian, you have to help!”
A hot flame of purpose flared in my chest. Lou wasn’t back. And the asshole had taken the radio with him. I was on my own.
“Which car is she in?”
“It’s a gray minivan.” Of course it was. “Over there.” He pointed vaguely toward the parking lot riddled with, you guessed it, gray minivans.
“Can you tell me anything else? Bumper stickers?”
He howled in response. People walking by stopped to stare, but do you think they offered to help? Of course not. Fuckers.
“Okay. What’s your name?”
“Ethan.” Of course it was. “Please, you have to help my mom!”
“I will, I will.” I looked around, hoping to see Lou heading back, but no such luck. “Ethan, I need you to go find Officer Friendly. He went to the bathroom. Tell him what you told me, okay? Go on, now.” I gave him a little push on the shoulder and turned towards the field. As I ran, an awkward task in squirrel feet, I tried to pull off my head, but it caught again on my hair. I had an easier time with one of my squirrel hands, sending it flying like some gruesome taxidermy exhibition. I stabbed at my cell phone. 9-1-1. Dispatch picked up right away.
“This is Officer Berger. I’m at the Wenley Elementary School Fair. Reports of a woman injured and in need of assistance. I need a bus.” I had to shout to make sure I was heard through the damned squirrel head. My breaths came in gasps as I lumbered across the field. Then it happened. In no uncertain terms, Sebastian the Safety Squirrel was fucked.
I sensed it coming. My peripheral vision was completely…furry. I turned my head to see what could only be described as a herd of four-year-olds stampeding towards me. A whistle blew frantically in the background but, like lust-crazed buffalo, the sound only made them charge faster. I never stood a chance.
Time slowed as my internal expletives flowed to the tune of ‘Chariots of Fire’. It added the necessary solemnity to the occasion, I thought.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. Shit.
I went down hard as the first tiny body collided with mine. Then a Stride-Rite light-up sneaker made contact with my clavicle, a blow only slightly cushioned by my purple pelt. Then another. And another. Shoes flashed all around me. I imagined it was like being at a rave, but without the good drugs. Not that I would know.
Then a well-timed sneaker caught its toe under the edge of my fiberglass head. My neck wrenched to the side as the squirrel cranium went flying, taking with it streamers of my red hair, and I could see Queen Elsa’s bland smile looming as a shoe conked me in the forehead. Screams erupted all around me as Sebastian’s head bounced away. Kids scrambled over me and then they were gone, leaving me staring up at the sky with a lump between my eyes and wondering what the hell just happened. In the distance, I could hear cheering and laughter and a little voice screaming, “I won, I won, Daddy! Did you see me? I won.”
Lou’s face swam into focus. “Holy shit, Berger. What’s going on?” He pulled me to my feet, looking disgusted, as a megaphoned voice announced the winner of the Pre-K 50 Yard Dash to be one Emma “Fuck You, Sebastian” Reynolds.
“Sir, we’ve got an injured woman in the parking lot. Her kid told me. I’ve already called it in on my phone. We need to go, sir, now.” I lumbered away, amazed at how much easier it was to run without that damned head on.
“Officer Berger, wait!”
I didn’t wait. I charged into the parking lot, peering inside every gray minivan I could find. I could hear sirens approaching. Good, the ambulance was here. Everything was going to be fine. I was going to save Ethan’s mom.
There it was. A gray minivan, engine running with no one behind the wheel. I peered into the side windows, but all I could see through the baby sun shades was shadowy movement in the optional third-row seating.
“Open up! This is Officer Berger with the Wenley Police! Is everything okay in there?” I pounded on the side of the minivan. Behind me, a crowd had gathered. Lou was pushing his way through, speaking quickly into his radio.
The minivan’s side door slid open silently, suddenly, as if by magic. Blinking, a woman climbed out, clutching a crumpled yellow Wenley Elementary t-shirt to her bare chest. The crowd burst into laughter, which grew even louder when she was followed by a slightly flabby middle-aged man who hadn’t yet remembered to zip up his fly.
“Mommy? Are you okay?” Ethan threw his arms around her, bursting into tears. He hugged her furiously for a long moment, then looked up in surprise. “What are you doing with Coach Seaver?”
Silently, but with her face so red it was incandescent, Marcie Harrelson, President of the Wenley Elementary PTA, loaded a confused but relieved Ethan into the gray minivan. Tiny bits of gravel peppered us as she accelerated away from the fair. The tug-o-war clown grabbed Coach Seaver by the arm and started yelling.
“But Principal Mitchell, you don’t understand…” was all I could hear as the men walked away.
The crowd roared with laughter and then melted back into the mundaneness of the School Fair. Although this would be my first, and last, turn as Sebastian, I knew this day would become a Wenley Elementary legend.
Officer Friendly and Sebastian the Safety Squirrel. These are their stories.