Sophie risked a quick peek out her front window, praying for a miracle. Though her eyes quickly squinted shut from the blinding sun, she had seen enough; they were still there. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. Jumping from trees to telephone poles, bouncing off cars, darting in and out of the streets, and screeching a high-pitched maniacal cry which made every one of Sophie’s hairs stand on end. Sophie put her hands over her ears and pressed tight, opening her mouth in a silent scream.

Shuddering, Sophie jumped away from the window and began frantically pacing the floor. She was counting the seconds until her husband Jack returned home and obsessively checking on Olivia sleeping in the crib. Each time Sophie walked into the nursery, her heart pounded; she was terrified her baby would be gone.

Sophie began recording the unusual happenings in her journal right from the start and had a record of the timeline of events. Writing was the one thing that helped her keep her sanity and her hands shook as she pulled out her journal. She sat down on the couch and began gnawing at her fingernails, sucking on the drop of blood oozing out of her cuticle, and skimming through her journal from the beginning one more time.

“June 1, 2022: I have begun noticing a lot more squirrels in the streets, and their behavior is becoming erratic. Everywhere I go, I see squirrel carcasses, and I can’t even walk out my front door without squirrels whizzing past me. Olivia has become terrified of these animals and I am a bit shaky myself. I heard on the news that squirrels have begun jumping into strollers and nipping at children. I hope it’s not true. When we go out, Olivia is in the pouch with my arms around her at all times.”

Tears came to Sophie’s eyes as she read her journal entry, cringing as she recalled the terror on her poor baby’s face. It wasn’t fair that an 18-month-old should have to go through something like this.

“July 15, 2022: nobody can talk of anything else but the squirrels. I wasn’t surprised to hear the experts say the root cause of the abnormal behavior is the pandemic. The third wave of this virus has just been atrocious. The prolonged quarantine has caused squirrels to take advantage of the vast open spaces and create new habitats and reproduce. With very few vehicles on the roads, squirrel fatalities have been negligible, leaving even more of them to produce litters.”

Sophie knew that hindsight was 20/20, just like the year this nightmare began, and she raged at how the president ignored this situation until it was too late. If the government had just done something, anything while there was still time, the country would not be in this dire predicament.

“August 30, 2022: restaurants are still closed and the squirrels have become desperate for food. Normally, restaurants, coffee shops, and other eating establishments discard thousands of pounds of food each day, and squirrels had become dependent on it. Now, with these food sources gone, squirrels have begun adapting to eating non-food items. Just today, I noticed a group of squirrels in my backyard feasting on some of Olivia’s discarded magic markers.”

Sophie got up to splash some cold water on her face. She hadn’t slept well in months and she needed to rest her bloodshot eyes frequently. It was a challenge to fall asleep each night, and when she finally drifted off, she would often wake up screaming, haunted by dreams of small gray ghouls with long bushy tails jumping into the crib and eating up her tiny daughter.

“September 15, 2022: more bad news. Squirrels have adapted to eating wood, dirty diapers, and all types of plastics. They are gnawing on people’s front doors and rooftops and anything left outside. Exterminators are all over town leaving poison pellets for these animals, but it looks as if the squirrels have begun to metabolize the poison as food. Nobody knows what to do.”

Sophie began to have panic attacks weeks ago and was having trouble coping. It seemed that everyone’s mental health was affected. The suicide rate was skyrocketing and people were jumping out of windows.

“September 30, 2022. well, a tiny bit of good news. The pandemic is finally under control.  It is hard to enjoy, though, because the bad news is so bad. Squirrels have begun attacking people, biting their necks and faces and whatever they can sink their teeth into. Animal researchers are stumped and don’t know what to advise. Conspiracy theories are popping up all over the Internet and nobody knows what to believe. Tempers are flaring and everybody is fighting. Every day seems to be worse than the day before.”

Sophie closed her eyes and thought about the time of year. Normally, she loved watching autumn leaves transform from green to orange to gold. Now, she was mourning her dreams of taking Olivia to the park and showing her the beauty of the seasons. The squirrels had eaten all the leaves and grass and now brown was the only color. Although Sophie hated raking leaves, she would have given anything to be able to do that right now.

“October 15, 2022: the squirrels have chewed up cable wires, phone wires, and electrical wires. Instead of killing them, the charge from the electrical wires seem to energize them. There is no longer cable service and electric and cell service are spotty. I haven’t been able to contact my parents for a week now and I am getting desperate.”

Sophie put down the journal to check on Olivia one more time, than picked up a pen for today’s journal entry. She was shaking so badly she could barely write.

“October 31, 2022: the Army has finally been called in. The government will be bombing entire cities one at a time and a massive plan to relocate people has been put in place. Cruise ships have begun filling up with people and, once full, will remain in the ocean until safe. Jack and I have used every penny of our savings to secure a spot on a cruise ship for the three of us plus our niece Harper. My sister is furious with me that I am only taking one of her daughters. I wish to God I could take both, but we have already spent every penny we have. We are packed and ready to go. As soon as Jack gets here, we will drive straight to my sister’s house to pick up Harper.”

Sophie went into the bedroom and packed up her journal, double-checking they had all the essentials. Once again, she took out all the clothes and refolded them, trying to get used to the idea of cloth diapers. There was limited space on the ship and they were only permitted to bring the bare necessities.

After closing the suitcase, Sophie sat down on the bed and lovingly caressed Olivia’s favorite teddy bear as she said goodbye to all of their beloved things. She pulled out the photo album, randomly plucking out photos and cramming them into her pocket. She then went to the kitchen and opened and closed cabinets just for something to do, absentmindedly popping some of Olivia’s cookies in her mouth. When she heard Jack’s car pull up, Sophie let out a huge sigh of relief. Jack drove the car across what was once the lawn and pulled right up to the front door. He had his pellet gun ready and began shooting at the squirrels, scattering the carcasses all over the front yard. As he walked through the door, Sophie jumped into his arms and refused to let go. He had to forcefully pull her off.

He admonished her, “Sophie, it is time to go. We need to leave right now. I’ve just finalized all the arrangements. The National Guard will meet us at the car and escort us onto the ship, where we’ll be safe. I know how panicked you have been, but soon you will be able to relax. We just have to hold on a few more hours.”

Jack went to Olivia’s bedroom and woke her up from her nap. As she opened her eyes, she  screeched out, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” and he couldn’t help smiling at his daughter’s  enthusiastic welcome. Jack picked up the baby and gave her belly a raspberry before quickly changing her diaper and handing her to her mother. Jack had the pellet gun ready and began shooting as Sophie and Olivia raced to the car. Sophie put her hands over Olivia’s eyes, wishing she could do the same for herself. There was no looking back as they set off for Sophie’s sister’s house.

Sophie counted that they had run over 53 squirrels while driving the short distance to Ruthie’s house. As they pulled up to the front door, Ruthie and Jack exchanged places so the sisters could say goodbye in private. They had a quick hug before Ruthie began her desperate plea.

She looked her sister straight in the eye and cried, “Sophie, what’s wrong with you? How can you sacrifice one of my daughters? How could you do this to me? You must take them both. Take them both, Sophie. I am not asking you; I am telling you. I packed for the two of them. Take them both!”

Sophie began to cry, “Ruthie, I love your girls, but we just don’t have the money. We have four tickets only. I’m taking Harper because she is an anxious child and won’t survive this. She is not resilient like Hallie. Please, please, just say goodbye to Harper so we can get going, otherwise the ship will leave without any of us. I swear I will take great care of her.”

Ruthie walked back into her house wailing, her screams echoing through the empty streets and cutting right through Sophie, who began to retch in the car. Two minutes later, Jack and a teary-eyed Ruthie came back out and, to Sophie’s shock, packed Harper and Hallie into the backseat alongside Olivia. Sophie shrieked, “Jack, what are you doing? Get in the car and give Hallie back to Ruthie. We have to go right now.”

Jack shook his head no as he blew Sophie a kiss. With a crack in his voice, he said, “We’re saving both girls, Sophie. I’ve given this a lot of thought and I want us to do this for our niece. It is the right thing to do. I’ll be okay. I will be right here waiting for you when you get back. I promise.”

Sophie began howling, “Jack, I can’t do this without you; how can I do this without you?” But even as the words were coming out of her mouth, she was sliding into the driver’s seat and putting the car in gear. As she gripped the steering wheel, she took one last look at her beloved husband’s face, wiped her tears, and pulled away from the house. Sophie sighed as heard her nieces begin to sob in the backseat; she knew she would have to be brave for all of them. She took three deep breaths and, in her most enthusiastic voice, began belting out the girls’ favorite song, “Let it Go,” from the Disney movie Frozen. It was a song about courageous sisters. What could be more fitting than that?