Joe Barkin sat on the park bench, his hands resting on the warm wood, as a soft breeze blew over his face.

His two-year-old son Mikey waddled around squeaking with joy.

He looked over at the ground where his husky dog, Shadow, was napping and ran a hand through the dog’s fur. This elicited a wide-eyed look and a lick.

“Good boy.”

A breeze swept over him. The warm sun shone on him.

His baby crawled on the ground, shoveling handfuls of sand into mounds beside him.

Some birds chirped from a tree nearby. The dog started snoring, a gentle trombone sound.

“Nice sandcastles,” he called out to his son.

Mikey gave a huge smile and started burbling some baby talk.

He laughed.

A couple of squirrels scurried through the sandbox, chasing each other. One of them leaped on another one and disappeared into a bush, while the others scattered.

The sound of footsteps prompted him to look up.

A father was entering the park with his young son.

He would often see these men enter the park, their brood running ahead, looking for a fellow man to cut the tension with. They would introduce themselves with their overeager smiles and dumb trying-too-hard-to-relate jokes.

They’d take a seat beside him, disturbing his peace without an apology. The dad would try to relate to him about some inane topic like work, the stock market, politics, whatever. Joe would disagree on principle and the dad would nod in agreement, laughing, amused at his own idiocy. If there were women around, the guy might make some risqué pun which was so cringy, it provoked a desire to punch rather than laugh.

Joe would close his eyes, pretending to take a nap, and the guy would chatter on like a wind up toy.

His eyes followed them as they approached. The kid was holding a ball, the father saying something to him, giving Joe a nod.

Joe nudged his head a little and leaned his head back, closing his eyes. A rustle on the bench beside him.

“Nice day.”

He opened his eyes and gave a sideways glance to the guy. “Helluva nice day, ya.” He looked over to the guy’s son. “Cool ball.”

“Say thank you, Ben.”

Ben stared, throwing his ball up in the air.

The guy leaned forward. “Name’s Derek.”

And here we go.

“Cool stuff.”

Derek gave a little chuckle.

“What’s your name?”


“Nice to meet you, Joe. Nice dog you got there. Looks like the kind of dog that would protect you in a tight spot. Whadaya do?”


“Oh man, you know what they say about lawyers.”

The ball rolled out of Ben’s hands and bounced over to Mikey.

Mikey grabbed hold and examined it. He looked at his father.

“Wanna play with the ball?” Joe asked.

Mikey grinned and nodded.

Ben pointed and started whining, “My ballll…”

Derek laughed. “Hey buddy, this guy’s a lawyer, he might sue us,” he gave Joe a little nudge. “Watch out.”

Ben walked over to Mikey and held his hands out. “That’s my ball.”

Mikey looked unsure. He looked back at Joe and hugged the ball to his chest. “Mine.”

Joe grinned.

“My kid’s playing with the ball now. Wait your turn.”

Ben’s lip trembled and he ran to his father, hugging his knees.

Derek glanced at Joe then stood.

“Did you ask the boy for your ball back?”

“I just did!”

“Maybe ask again?”

Ben stared at his father. His face became red and started to crumple. Tears fell.

Derek shot another glance at Joe then turned towards Mikey. “Hey. I think it’s time to give Ben back his ball.”

Mikey shook his head. “Nope. My ball.”

He took a step over to Mikey.

Joe stood up.

“Umm…” Derek stood there, hesitating. “Could we please have our ball back?”

Mikey shook his head. “Mine.”

Ben started bawling. “I want my ball!”

Derek took another step then glanced over at Joe and hesitated.

“Look, Joe, could you tell your son to give my kid his ball back?”

“He’s busy playing with it. He can wait until he’s done.”

Derek’s face became tomato red. His hands were shaking. He took his son by the shoulders and shot Joe another glance. He opened his mouth, then shut it and dragged his son away.

“We’re leaving now.” he said in a shaking voice from down the path. “We need our ball back.”

“My son’s not finished with it.” He waved. “Bye now.”

Derek hunched his shoulders and picking up his sobbing son, walked away.

Joe sat back down and relaxed, closing his eyes against the hot sun.

Mikey laughed as he bounced the ball.

He listened to his son play, the warm air and sunshine enveloping him.

Mikey squealed.

Another squeal came, but not his son’s.

His eyes flew open.

A squirrel stood a few feet away from his son.

Its hands were working in an idiot, repetitive way. It was foaming around its mouth. A strange, chilling squealing sound emanated from it.

He jumped up.

The squirrel didn’t move.

It took a step closer to Mikey.

“Mikey, c’mere!” he screamed, a cold chill crawling up his spine.

His son giggled and pointed to the squirrel.

“Get outta here, you fucking thing!” he roared. His body was tense, his stomach a roiling snake.

It was as if he hadn’t spoken.

The squirrel’s eyes blinked like a broken traffic light. Its focus was only on his son. It took a step closer.

He made to run over, then hesitated. What if by approaching, it’ll harm his son?

I have to do something!

He felt the adrenaline shoot through him and he made to approach again, then hesitated, uncertain.

His heart pounded with fear and paternal instinct, but his legs refused to move.

Then everything happened fast.

The squirrel let out a mad squeal and made for his son.

He let out a terrified, helpless howl and ran unthinking towards it. His feet bumped into something and he lost his balance.

The fucking ball.

He tripped and fell.

Mikey screamed.


Shadow leaped through the air, landing onto the squirrel. He growled and barked then let out a cry.

Yelling voices. People ran towards them.

He felt pain from his fall and opened his eyes, wincing.

Someone was holding his son.

Shadow was lying on his side like he was taking a rest.

But the darkening sand surrounding him said otherwise.

Men were shouting to call the police. They threw sticks and stones at the mad squirrel. Parts of Shadow were dangling out of its mouth as it raced around in its madness.

He noticed Derek and Ben approaching, Ben retrieving the ball.

“Too bad about the dog,” someone said.

“Make way; this guy’s a vet.”

Derek’s eyes met Joe’s as he leaned over Shadow’s body. He looked like he was going to say something.

He looked away, eyes blurring.

“Give me my son!” he cried out before a rush of dizziness came over him and he passed out.