K. Marvin Bruce

The March Editor's Pick Writer is

K. Marvin Bruce

Please feel free to email K. Marvin at: kmarvinbruce@gmail.com


by K. Marvin Bruce

I should’ve left when I saw how they’d destroyed The Predator. It was gashed and slashed and gnawed to pieces. I was afraid even to touch the heavy plastic casing. Their attack had been vicious. I’d been trying to be humane, but they wouldn’t. Now it’s too late.

Home ownership had always been a fantasy. Given my career trajectory, it seemed impossible. Gary, the financial advisor, scratched his head. “You can afford a house, but not in New Jersey or New York. Have you considered Pennsylvania?”

Connectivity is essential, but what sold me on the property was the converted barn. Set a hundred feet from the house, the barn had been reconstructed on a freshly poured concrete slab. “Made into a garage, and wired, by the previous owner,” Tom the realtor had said. “It has an upper floor that can be used for storage.”

Storage. That’s what a packrat needs. Having grown up poor, I learned two big lessons: you never know what’ll appreciate in value, and if you throw something away you’ll quickly learn what had. The movers groaned and complained. Their job is to move people’s stuff—why do they always complain? I wouldn’t keep it if I didn’t need it.

On closing day, we inspect it again, Tom and I. “Did they do the repairs you requested?” He scratches his ear.

“I asked for the animal access to the barn to be sealed. They just used expanding foam. Won’t keep the squirrels out for long. I need this space for storage.”

Tom looks dyspeptic. “Mr. Weeks,” he sighs, “it’s been a seller’s market all year. The inventory hasn’t been this low since the recession. There just aren’t that many houses available. If you back out now you’ll lose your deposit and you can’t recoup the inspector’s fees. Do you really want to walk away because some critters can get into the garage? You’ll lose money on this if you do.”

“Gary says I should buy.” I say. I quote him, “If you want to retire, you’ll want equity.”

In my mind I’ve already become a remote worker. No more daily commute to Manhattan. No more getting up at 4 a.m.

I sign the damn paperwork. The seller says no more than he absolutely has to.


The squirrels took just a week to chew through the expanding foam. My plans for making the upper story of the garage into my library falls apart.

I value the books. I can’t have brainless rodents snacking on them so I keep those in the house now. Instead, the seasonal and seldom-used stuff goes up here.

I watch the grays all summer. They are abundant and, I thought, playful. Not very afraid of people. If a morning’s suddenly rolled-up shade frightened them, they’d pause a moment—head up, paw mid-air. Noses twitching, they’d fix me with their black eyes, stare a moment, and get back to squirrel business. I don’t feel threatened. Yet.

I find walnut shells on the porch.

Carelessly left or a peace offering?

Winter comes, and they keep to themselves in the garage ceiling.

When spring sends me upstairs in the garage, my jaw drops. The wood-plank cathedral ceiling has been knocked in here and there.

I heard their feet scrambling out as I opened the door. My storage items are covered with debris that’s fallen from their messy nests. Bits of styrofoam food containers slip between the planks.  The wires for the ceiling lights are chewed through; the fixture is smashed on the floor. The curtains—I always wonder why there are curtains in a country garage—torn down. 

The squirrels have taken over. This is war.

“The squirrel’s need to chew is overpowering. Their teeth continually grow and they must gnaw incessantly to prevent over-growing. If they stop chewing, they’ll die.” So the internet informs me. They’re chewing machines. “They will gnaw concrete, and have chewed through cinderblocks in desperation.” Not comforting words.

I don’t like hurting animals. A memory still haunts me:

Out for a drive one autumn day along a wooded road, a squirrel darts out in front of my Miata. I swerve, but feel the thump as my front tire hits. In the rearview mirror I see it thrashing its tail in agony as it drags itself off the road with a smashed leg. I didn’t sleep that night. The squirrel was only doing what animals do. Why hadn’t I been going slower? Why couldn’t I have reacted faster? I was responsible for some poor animal’s suffering. It had crawled off alone to die because of me.

I’ve been more vigilant ever since.

The next morning I head to the garage. The sudden scrabbling of claws startles me as a squirrel jolts up the planks and into the hole chewed through the foam. It sticks its head out and scolds me. Chattering angrily, it wants me to leave its home.

I hate to admit it, but I’m intimidated. I forget what I came out for. Besides, it’s time to start work—my deadly-dull internet job.

Right now, I have a more immediate problem. Squirrels are destroying my property. My options are limited. Capturing them by humane traps will only result in more moving in. Where could I release them far enough away? Philadelphia?

Squirrels are everywhere! I can’t reach the roof of my two-story barn-garage to properly repair it. I can’t afford to pay a contractor to do it. Rodent repellent may be the answer. I have to buy a hundred-foot hose. There’s an Agway a few miles down the road.

I unroll the hose and screw on the repellant bottle. Water pressure reaches where I’m not able. Ghost peppers, the label says, will deter just about anything. I soak the holes they’ve chewed. If they’re trapped inside, I realize, they’ll chew another way out. I have to wait to see if it works.

Suddenly I notice that squirrels begin to regard me with some intention. One morning I open the shades. Four squirrels on my back porch look a little startled, but not afraid. They stare at me through the glass, noses twitching.

Something in that stare frightens me. I feel it in the center of my chest. I stare at them as an animal lover. Their gaze says something far different. Then one of them swishes her tail. The others, obviously males, immediately follow her. They are multiplying.

I turn on the coffee maker and wonder. Property ownership’s a strange idea. We can drive in yard spikes to frighten away moles. Spray repellent to keep out most mammals. There’s nothing we can do about birds, though. Animals were here first, after all.

Winter is coming again. In the fading light after work, I go out to the garage to see if the spray has worked. A squirrel scrambles up the boards, heads to the hole and then scurries around it, up onto the roof. Inside I hear them. More styrofoam containers.

I haven’t solved the problem. The hose doesn’t reach to the far end of the garage. They’ve chewed a hole on that side. A dead squirrel on the floor makes the place smell putrid. I don’t want to touch it. Trying to cover my face with one arm, I grab a shovel and slot it under the rotting corpse. Toss it outside.

That’s when I found The Predator. The ultimate in human superior thinking. It’s a device that can run on electricity or batteries. It has high frequency sound that drives squirrels away. It also has a predator setting with recorded wildcat calls. And a strobe light. The instructions say that after about a week most squirrels will leave, not standing the irritation.

“Warning,” it says, “under extreme conditions, survival pressure on an animal becomes great enough to overcome any deterrent.”

These are squirrels—what can they do? They’ve got the whole woods to survive in. Pennsylvania’s got enough space to keep everyone happy.

The Predator’s a sleek machine. Sturdy plastic case. Approved for outdoor use. It can take abuse. I walk to the garage. Up the wooden stairs. I’m afraid to plug things in because they’ve been chewing wires. But I feel compelled to do this anyway.

I set the volume to max, although I can’t hear it. Put on the strobe just to make sure it’s working. I’m not hurting anything. Just encouraging them to go elsewhere, right? They’re animals. They evolved to live outdoors.

The next morning, The Predator’s destroyed. They’ve attacked it. I look up at the plank ceiling where they’ve knocked the boards down. I see their heads with their eyes peering down at me. I don’t like the feeling. I back away to the stairs, shutting the door behind me.

I want to ask the neighbors if they have this problem too. I’ve never met them. Their lot’s a mile from mine, backing into the same Bucks County woods. Do you just pull up in someone’s drive, knock on their door and say “Are you afraid of squirrels?”

Afraid. There it is, out in the open. Squirrels can be tamed, to a degree. They’re prey, not predators. Timid. They rely on their speed and amazing climbing ability to escape. They run from people.

I look up from my computer screen. A squirrel sits on my window sill. Sitting up on its haunches, I see the little chest rising and falling. Its black eye bores into me. It has a paw on the glass, as if testing it. I fling my hands up in a sudden move. It doesn’t move until I round the desk and approach the window.


Tonight I hear them on the roof. Rampaging around in the dark. I can’t even count how many.
Farm houses, Tom told me, follow no particular plan. Built to meet the needs of the individual or family, they are idiosyncratic—not following a standard plan. Although only two floors, mine has a full attic and reaching the roof is something that requires a thirty-six foot ladder. But ladders cost over $300 on Amazon. Maybe next year.

Noises, the website says, frighten animals away. I’m a quiet guy. I live alone. How much noise can I make?

The former owner had the garage loft set up as a rock studio. I assume so, anyway, from the guitar brackets left on the walls, and the quiet room for recording. That’d keep squirrels away.

The sudden silence when he moved out was their formal invitation. I don’t know how far they’re carrying the styrofoam food containers, but it’s got to be a distance. They’ve chosen my barn. They own it.

It’s my name on the deed, but that only means others of my species recognize my ownership. Logically we might argue people built this structure so people own it, but that’s not really true either, is it? We made those rules. We build our houses where other creatures lived first, and we make laws saying we own it. What about animal laws? The laws of nature?

The stuff in the garage is getting ruined. I can’t afford to move again. And the squirrels seem too intelligent for me to handle. How’d they figure out The Predator was making the noise? How’d they know to destroy it? Under extreme conditions, survival pressure on an animal becomes great enough to overcome any deterrent. What extreme conditions? They have the entire Bucks County woods.

Work gets in the way of solving such problems. Long hours in front of the screen turn into a week and soon I realize the rodents have had all this time to make their own plans. They don’t rely on paychecks to stay in their chosen home. They don’t need the internet to stay connected. They don’t awake by alarm clock and eat on cue. Theirs is the day. Theirs also is the night. Somebody else owns my time.

Now that winter’s approaching once again, it’s nearly dark by the end of the work day. I fear going out to the garage after dark, but I grab a flashlight anyway. The summer insects are gone and the night is silent. Country silent.

The path to the garage is well worn. The quiet is unnerving. The hasp on the door is down at the bottom and I have to squat to dial the combination. I need both hands. Light held under my chin. Rustling in the tall grass behind me. I’m not alone.

“Who’s there?” I instinctively call out. The flashlight falls. Goes out.

Rustling in the weeds. My ears prick up. I left the back porch light on. I run for the house, small feet behind me. Slam the door. The porch is flooded with gray squirrels that squirm and almost undulate. I can’t count them. Their eyes are staring. Knowing. I pull the shade.

Tomorrow’s Saturday. I’ll drive to the neighbors’ place, although I don’t even know their name. Ask them what they do about squirrels.

Tonight I hear them on the roof again. Tiny claws above as I try to sleep. “If they find exposed wood,” The Predator website said, “squirrels can get into your house.” When had the roof last been replaced?

Awake in my bed, I’m thinking about ownership. Could other animals develop a sense of it? We call some animals territorial. Isn’t that a form of ownership? We took the land from large predators by driving them near extinction. Had smaller creatures filled the void? Do squirrels think they owned my garage? That I, who paid for it, am the interloper?

The irrationality of sleeplessness haunts me. I need to think clearly. The night is very long. Is that chewing I hear above my head?

First light. The squirrels appear to have vanished. I see none at all. A quick breakfast. I’ll drive to the neighbors’ place, I tell myself. Ask if they’ve seen what I have.

It’s chilly enough for a jacket. I examine the space outside the door. No sign of squirrels. Some walnut husks on the porch. Outside I glance around cautiously. Nothing.

The garage is just a hundred feet away. Of course, it’s their property. I solve the combination. Slide open the door. Lift the aluminum car port door. No squirrels. Get in. Try the ignition. Nothing happens.

Try again. Pop the hood. I dread to look.

The wires have been chewed through. Anything plastic has been gashed to pieces.

I feel the hairs at the back of my neck stand up. I slowly turn around to look. A squirrel appears at the garage door. Sits up. Stares.

I run to the house. Squirrels are inside!

The spare bedroom, with my computer, is clear. I slam the door, but they can chew through mere wood.

Open a chat app. I need help! Just as long as I can let someone know before they find the mains. No mains, no electr

K. Marvin Bruce is a self-taught writer who makes a living as a nonfiction editor in New York City. He has published twenty-eight fiction stories in a variety of venues. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, the Write Well Award (Silver Pen Writers Association), and the Best of the Web Award, and has won prizes from Calliope, Danse Macabre, and Typehouse Literary Magazine.