Protect
rating: +74+x

"See that one?" Garrett said. Jacob nodded. The baby squirrel was chirping peacefully in its nest in the nearest white oak in the playground.

"I'm gonna kill it dead. Soon as we get outside. Just you see." Garrett paced around the room, waiting for the teachers to get done with whatever speech they were giving the class. "It's gonna be awesome. You'll see."

Jacob kept nodding absently. Garrett was always talking about stuff like this, talking about what a big-time hunter he was. Like an eight-year old really killed ten birds on one hunt. Garrett was always full of talk, but Jacob knew it'd be different if he were actually in that situation.

"Look at 'im," Garrett continued. "I bet the mama squirrel's off getting food somewhere. I bet she don't even know what's about to happen."

The teacher, looking impatient at the noise level in the room, finally just opened the door. The kids ran out as the teacher tried to count heads. Jacob was one of the last, preferring not to be trampled by the mob. Garrett ran in a beeline for the tree with the squirrel nest above it while Jacob watched.

"Hey, you peckerheaded lil' fuzzball! You gonna come down here this minute!" Garrett threw a rock at the nest, missing. Jacob was worried for a moment, looked at the teacher to make sure everything was okay. Mr. Carter was talking to another child about being loud indoors and wasn't paying attention. Jacob thought about telling him. Nah, no way Garrett's actually gonna—

Jacob could have sworn it happened in slow motion. Garrett picking up the other rock. Rearing back. Throwing it as hard as he could.

The rock making contact with the nest.

The nest swayed, swayed further. Jacob's eyes darted to the branch just in time to (he imagined) make eye contact with the squirrel as it started falling. Its legs scrabbled against the air as it fell to the ground. Jacob also didn't know if he was imagining the sound of the squirrel's legs breaking when it hit the ground, but it seemed dazed and had trouble walking. It was too young to know what to do now.

Some of the other children fell silent. Quite a few, however, started yelling. Cheering Garrett on. Mr. Carter turned and looked, saw what was happening, started yelling for the kids to get back. Jacob watched, smirking. Now he's going to have to shut up.

Garrett was unfazed by the teacher yelling. "Watch this!" he screamed, and brought his foot up above the squirrel's head. The creature began trying to crawl away with its forelegs, squeaking the whole time. Mr. Carter was too far away still. The other children backed up but kept watching.

Garrett had an enormous smile on his face as his foot came down, heel first, onto the squirrel's upper spine. The crunching and squealing was hilarious to Garrett, who raised his foot up again and brought it stomping down onto the animal's stomach. And again. And again. And again.

Mr. Carter had to drag the cackling Garrett away forcibly, blood dripping from his shoe. All of the other boys were laughing and cheering him on; one of them ran up to the squirrel (oh my God, it's still alive, Jacob thought, I can still hear it, it's still alive) and paraded it around, showing it to everyone. Another teacher had to wrangle him back towards the building as well.

Jacob went inside with the rest of the children. The teachers lectured everybody about how dangerous wild animals were, and about rabies and salmonella and parasites, and how you should never touch a dead animal, and made the kids who had touched it wash their hands, and made Garrett wash his shoe. Jacob overheard one of the teachers say "boys will be boys" to a colleague. Was this supposed to be normal?

The day went on. Jacob was eventually the only one still thinking about the squirrel. People occasionally pointed to where it was lying on the ground, still squirming occasionally. Finally, Jacob couldn't stand it anymore. He waited until most of the class had turned around, turned the doorknob as quietly (but quickly) as he could, and snuck out the door onto the playground.

The first tattles rang out before the door was closed, but Jacob was running at that point. Mr. Carter was yelling, albeit half-heartedly; Jacob wasn't the sort of child he was used to yelling at, the soft-spoken and gentle kind of kid he was used to trusting implicitly. But Jacob wasn't going to do what he was told this time.

He reached the squirrel, seeing out of the corner of his eye that he only had a couple of seconds to do…what? What was Jacob going to do? Without thinking, he reached down, stroked the bloody mess across the forehead, and leaned down close to its ear.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry for us," he said, before Mr. Carter pulled him back into the building.


"Go on," the director of Site 38 asked. "Then what happened?"

"What the file says, David," his counterpart said. "The squirrel was crippled in half a dozen places, bleeding everywhere, guts hanging out. By the time the kid was back in the building, twenty kids and three adults had seen the squirrel get up, completely healthy, and bound off into the great beyond."

"You're going to have to explain this further, sir," David said.

The director of Site 19 sighed. "What is it you don't get? He healed the fucking squirrel. That's not natural."

"But…is he a threat? To anyone?" David asked.

"Come on, David, that's hardly the point," the other man replied. "We aren't called the Eldritch Threat Lockdown Company. We aren't the Demonic Containment Initiative. A kid kills a squirrel, the squirrel stays dead. That's how the world works. If something makes the squirrel *not* be dead, and it's not a veterinarian with a damn fine hand, we get called in. That's called "anomalous," and that's what we do. Secure, contain, protect."

"So…so we're protecting the boy?"

"Eh…sure, if you like," the director of Site 19 replied. "Technically, we're protecting everybody else from a world where dead things don't stay dead. Were we really going to let a wizard, or reality bender, or necromancer, or whatever the hell this kid is go free? Just because he's not a threat, by your standards? Who knows what he can do?"

David frowned. "Do we really have a place for something like this? Is this really what needs to be done?"

"Read the second line of the file."

He pointed at one line on the file in front of the other man, the line that read "Object Class: Safe".

"It's exactly what we do, David. Not everything is grim or dark; some of it is just…anomalous. You'll be taking delivery in the morning."

The other man stood up and left.

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