A sweet flowery smell drifted on the gentle breeze… a breeze which tickled the green leaves of the tree branches. The rays of the bright sun danced on and through the leaves, making shadow light and light shadow. The light that managed to trickle down to the ground danced as though alive. Laughing. Playing.
Ezra walked on the cobblestone path, enjoying the day. The crisp smells of the summer-the distinct smell of heat, and nature delighting his senses. Strolling without a care in the world, he came to a slatted bench and took a seat. Leaning back, he started to reminisce. He could barely remember the last time he had been to Boston in the summer when he'd been a teenager attending school here. But the Boston Common was always a sight to behold in the summertime. People were everywhere, but not in the claustrophobic way that could make one crazy. The Common was big enough for everyone to enjoy.
Vendors hocked their wares, ranging from tee shirts that plainly said "BOSTON" to the more specific "Boston University", "Harvard," "Boston College", or any of the major sports teams. Being summer, Red Sox apparel was everywhere, in every color imaginable. From his bench, Ezra could see a pink Red Sox hat with a dark blue "B" on it sway in the breeze as it hung over the side of the cart.
Other nearby vendors catered to the needs of the hungry: hot dogs and sausages, hot pretzels, Italian slush. All extremely overpriced, of course—a trap for tourists. The smell of these delicacies drifted on the same dancing breeze.
Sounds of laughter and playful shouting floated through the air, punctuated at times by an irate motorist's horn, wishing a plague on all houses. People moved about on their daily walks with dogs, big and small, while others ran through with headphones dangling precariously out of their ears.
'How do those stay in?' he thought dreamily.
People dressed in unfortunate, but necessary fashion choices wandered by on the pathways: nice-looking women in business suits adorning Adidas footwear. Hopefully the appropriate dress shoes were in their over-sized bags. Otherwise, it would be such a travesty.
'What day was it?' he thought. 'I can't remember.'
Ezra remembered sitting on these benches as a young man, just enjoying watching the people. It was one of the few reprieves he could afford himself while trying to make the best of his studies. One could never be too sure how long they would remain in this school.
Tipping his head back as he spread his arms over the back of the bench, he closed his eyes and took a deep cleansing breath. He felt so calm, so relaxed. He hadn't felt like this in a long time. Opening his eyes, he watched a bird flit from branch to branch in the green canopy above him. Playful. Like the breeze.
Reacting to a new thought, he sat up abruptly, almost making himself dizzy. The playfulness of the bird reminded him of another playful creature. One that he had spent many an afternoon being entertained by their antics. The squirrels of the Common. Looking around from his bench, it didn't take long to find the first of many.
"Hey little guy," Ezra coaxed, holding his empty hand out to entice the small critter closer. The squirrel knew very little fear of people, as is the way with many of the squirrels of the Common, knowing that people usually meant food. The small gray squirrel came prancing merrily over. "I wish I had something to feed you," Ezra said quietly. Sitting back, his hand struck something on the bench. Looking down at the small brown bag he realized it was an uneaten bag of popcorn. It was still warm. Ezra could have sworn that the bag hadn't been there when he sat down, but stranger things had been known to happen.
"Well, what do you know, my friend? It appears that this is your lucky day."
The squirrel sat up on his haunches and bobbed his head up and down, smelling the food. Ezra reached out his hand, several kernels resting on his open palm. The squirrel took two small steps towards him, always wary, and gently took a piece before scampering back a foot or so. The squirrel nibbled contentedly. Ezra smiled.
Other squirrels started coming towards him, all wanting their share. Ezra scattered a large handful on the ground in front of him and watched as squirrels, chipmunks, and several pigeons descended on the feast. One brave, darker gray squirrel jumped up on the bench next to him, still out of arms' reach, and stared at him.
Smiling, Ezra asked of his furry friend, "What do you want?"
The squirrel tilted his head, and Ezra swore it cocked an eyebrow at him. Then his little mouth moved, saying, "You know what I want. We've been through this already." The voice was menacing.
"You just talked," Ezra said, disbelievingly.
"Don't be smart," the small rodent snapped back.
"I… apologize?" Ezra half-asked.
"Listen," it huffed at him, "I've had about enough of your shit."
"Here," Ezra said as he held the now mostly-empty bag of popcorn to the dark gray rodent.
If a rodent could look mad, Ezra imagined it would look like this one. Staring right at the southerner, it took a deep breath and blew it out, then smacked the bag out of his hand, scattering the remaining contents on the ground. Their audience of creatures chomped merrily on the newly offered bits.
"Jesus Frank," one of the other squirrels piped up around a full mouth of popcorn. "He's got nothing left." It sat on its haunches, still nibbling merrily.
"Shut up," Frank barked at the other squirrel, who returned to the scattered popcorn as though nothing had happened.
"Red's right, Frank," a very bushy, rather fat gray squirrel added. Ezra glanced back at the other squirrel, 'Red', apparently, and realized it had a red tint to his fur. He looked back at the fat squirrel, who continued to speak. "He's no use to us if he can't give us what we need. Lay off." The pudgy squirrel had bright blue eyes. Was that possible?
Frank stared at Blue Eyes, whose gaze didn't waver. Red began to clean himself, having finished his share of the popcorn.
"So, what then?" Frank asked.
"We need a better plan," Blue Eyes said and scratched his chin.
Ezra stared in wonder. He looked left and right, to see if anyone else was within earshot to behold this odd display. Strangely enough, the people who had been too over-present not long ago, were now quite absent. All the sounds of the day seemed to eek away, leaving an empty sound of nothing. It was unnerving.
"I'll get more popcorn," the southerner said, and began to get up from the bench. Frank and Blue Eyes both jumped onto his chest, pinning him back to the bench. "Or not," he amended. Who knew that squirrels were so damn strong? Baffled by the situation, Ezra didn't fight them.
"Don't move," Blue Eyes sneered in his face, poking him with one furry little digit. His tail twitched in annoyance.
Ezra brought his hand up to swipe the tiny paw away from his face. He found that it had been restrained by Red, who was apparently done with his grooming. Only Red's grip didn't feel like fuzzy squirrel paws, it felt more like, well, skin.
Confused and starting to panic because he couldn't move his arm, Ezra spat, "Get off of me you stupid rat!"
Blue Eyes looked genuinely hurt for a moment, then wound up and slapped him hard across the face. Ezra's head recoiled from the blow, and he couldn't help but wonder how something so small could hit so hard. Or why it had hit him at all. Or why it hurt as much as it did. This was a rodent for crying out loud!
"I told you, enough of your shit," Frank said, smiling a furry lopsided smile. He looked on as Blue Eyes rubbed the sting out of his small paw.
"I'm out of ideas," Blue Eyes said.
Blue Eyes, Red and Frank exchanged looks. Ezra was confused, and still couldn't move. He blinked dazedly, head lolling slightly. He was feeling nauseous and dizzy. This is new.
Noticing the southerner's head bobbing, Frank put his hand under Ezra's chin and brought his head up. The rodent looked right into the confused green eyes. What a big hand, Ezra thought, and vaguely sensed rough calluses on the not furry paw.
"He's about done," Frank announced, then let go of Ezra's jaw. Ezra's chin came down towards his chest.
"So now what?" asked Red.
"I think we should…" Blue Eyes started, but was interrupted by the backfire of a nearby car. Ezra jerked his head up and towards the sound, but couldn't see the source. Everything seemed so… fuzzy.
Blinking rapidly, he tried to focus. Red, Blue Eyes and Frank all scurried away from him, and were now met with several more squirrels, a chipmunk and a crow. The crow swooped at the three squirrels, pecking and clawing at them, while the chipmunk and the four new squirrels starting twitching and screeching, biting and scratching at each other. It should have been incredibly loud and unpleasant sounding, but in all honesty, it was playing out to a tune in Ezra's mind. If he remembered correctly… yes, it was "In the Hall of the Mountain King."
Ezra watched intently as the chipmunk and one of the larger new squirrels double teamed Blue Eyes, and pinned him to the ground. Ezra noticed then that the squirrel had the longest whiskers… Like a catfish's whiskers… The chipmunk continued to chatter about excitedly, and the long whiskered squirrel shoved him playfully. The crow had landed and was hopping about, cawing.
Ezra started to hum along with the tune in his head. It was all very exciting! This was better than the Discovery Channel! Red was tackled and rolled with a slender squirrel, whose fur was a bit longer than the others. They rolled ass over teakettle a few times, and Long Fur came up on top. "Don't move!" it growled. Red's eyes opened wide in terror as he nodded slightly. Survival of the Fittest at its best! Ezra's head was moving in time to the tune he was now more than humming. If it had words, he would be singing them loudly.
Frank had tried to scamper off to a nearby tree, but a lighter colored squirrel managed to stop him. It wasn't a tackle, like Long Fur had done, but he did manage to pin Frank and deliver a few solid punches to his furry face with a tiny fur-covered right jab. Who knew squirrels punched?
While all this was happening around him, and Ezra supplied the soundtrack, a chocolate brown squirrel had tentatively hopped over to Ezra's position on the bench. It moved cautiously, as though approaching a startled animal. The southerner watched the squirrel's movement with confusion, perhaps a bit of fear. These things hit hard! But its eyes were gentle, kind. Dark brown and deep with empathy.
"Ezra?" its small mouth asked in a voice that could not have come from something so small. The voice was smooth, soothing. Familiar?
"I'm… out of popcorn. I'll get more," Ezra said meekly, apologetically.
"We can do that in a minute," the chocolate squirrel replied. "Are you ok?"
"I… can't move my arms," Ezra half asked. He didn't know why he wasn't able to.
"Ok, let's fix that first." The squirrel hopped out of view, and in a moment, Ezra could move his arms again.
"Don't get up," the squirrel said as he came back into view. "I want to check you out first."
"Thank you," Ezra said. He looked at the battlefield in front of him, and noticed that Frank, Red and Blue Eyes were now oddly missing. The chipmunk, three remaining squirrels and the crow looked on inquisitively. The crow hopped closer, as did the lighter colored squirrel.
The light squirrel jumped up onto Ezra's lap, and he did his best not to flinch. I don't want to get hit again, he thought.
Hard green eyes looked up at him, seemingly through him, as the tail twitched.
"Ezra," the squirrel said. "You with us?" A small paw came up to his face, feeling more like a large hand. Ezra panicked.
"No!" Ezra shouted as he tried to scramble backwards, tumbling the bench as he went. He rolled and came to his feet unsteadily. Then he started to run. When did the Common get so dark? It was almost like they were inside instead of out. But he was mobile, and he was not going to be ambushed by a bunch of… wildlife! Oh, the indignity!
"Ezra, stop!" several voices shouted. In the few seconds he had to run, he didn't get very far. He swore he heard footsteps in pursuit, but when he looked behind him he saw a small fleet of squirrels prancing and bounding after him.
"Stay away!" he called over his shoulder. "God damn squirrels!"
Feeling arms encircle his waist, he was tackled to the ground held on his stomach, arms pinned. Trying to catch a glimpse of his captor, all he saw was a flourish of black feathers. Grunting in frustration, he spat out, "Stupid crow! Stupid squirrels! Let me the fuck up!" He started struggling harder.
"Jesus, do something!" That sounded like the green eyed squirrel.
"Soon!" The crow added.
"Hold him, I got it." The chocolate squirrel commanded.
Ezra felt a small prick and then a burning. He fought and struggled for another few seconds, then went still.
Chris leaned over his agent, looking into the confused green eyes. The pupils were dilated. "Ezra," he said. "You with us?" Chris reached his hand up to touch the southerner's face.
Chris saw the gambler's eyes go wide with panic a second too late to shout a warning.
"No!" Ezra yelled and tried to get away from Chris's touch. He tipped the chair he had been tied to over, knocking Nathan and Chris down as he went. Shakily, he scrambled to his feet and started to run. Josiah was after him immediately, as soon as he had yelled.
"Stay away!" he called back. "God damn squirrels!"
Josiah caught up with him and snaking his arm around the southerner's waist, he took the woozy man to the floor as gently as possible. From the look of Ezra's bruised face, he had been worked over a bit before they found him, and Josiah didn't want to hurt him any further by restraining him more forcefully than needed.
"Stupid crow! Stupid squirrels! Let me the fuck up!"
JD looked at Buck from where they stood, several feet away. "Squirrels?"
"I don't know, kid." Buck's tone did not hide his worry.
"Jesus, do something!" Chris snapped.
"Soon," Josiah added as he continued to hold the struggling man beneath him on the floor. His eyes told the others that Ezra was doing a pretty good job of fighting him off.
"Hold him I got it!" Nathan announced as he pulled a syringe and shot it into Ezra's arm.
Ezra struggled another moment, then went eerily still.
"Nathan, what did you give him?" Vin asked.
"Don't worry, it's safe," the healer said.
"What did they give him?" Buck asked, nodding back to where the three men were detained.
"I don't know Buck. We'll know after we get him to the hospital," Nathan spoke as the ambulance arrived outside.
Chris looked at Josiah who had just picked himself up off the floor. "Josiah, you ok?"
"He thought I was a crow." Josiah's voice was flat and disbelieving.
Chris just nodded, knowing how the profiler viewed the birds.
"PCP?" Vin asked, startled at the results. "What the fuck were they hoping to get from him?"
"I don't know Vin. But he's gonna be fine," Nathan said, standing next to the southerner's bed.
"No wonder he didn't feel those bruises," Buck said, motioning towards the slumbering team member on the bed. Ezra's face beheld some magnificent purples and reds, as did his torso.
The men just looked at their brother in silence for a moment, each thankful that he was alive.
Ezra's breath hitched while sleeping, and he let out a long sigh.
"He waking up?" Chris asked.
A small grunt answered him from the bed.
"Hey Ezra, you with us this time?" asked Nathan.
Ezra's eyes fluttered open, and he looked blearily at Nathan. He blinked a couple of times, then his face took on a pensive look. "Fluffy," he croaked out.
Nathan looked at the rest of the men in the room, silently asking if they knew what they hell 'Fluffy' meant. Apparently no one did.
"Ah told you," the southerner began, "Ah didn't have any more."
"Any more what?" asked Josiah, who had moved more towards the head of the bed.
"Popcorn." He huffed out a long breath and rubbed at his eyes. "Greedy little bastards ate it all."
"Who?" asked Chris, thoroughly confused.
"Squirrels," Ezra huffed out, as though the answer was obvious.
The room was silent for a minute. The Buck spoke. "Right. Um, what squirrels Ezra?"
"On the Common. Most are friendly. These ones weren't though." He yawned. "Then there were four more, and a little chipmunk, and a big damn crow. I told them I would get more popcorn…"
The six remaining men looked at each other again, all with the same bewildered look on their faces.
"That's ok Ezra," Vin said. "You can get them some more popcorn later. Get some rest now."
Ezra sighed and seemed to drift off to sleep.
They all looked at Vin.
"I don't know," he said defensively. "Worked though, right? He's restin," he said as he gestured towards the bed.
"He said something about squirrels when he was running from us," JD said.
"PCP does have hallucinogenic properties," Nathan reasoned.
"You don't think… he thought," Chris started, disbelievingly. He pointed to the slumbering agent as he spoke.
"He thought I was the crow," Josiah added.
"Squirrels though?" Chris finished his thought.
"Must have been one hell of a dream," Buck mused.
"Wasn't a dream Buck," Nathan reminded.
"Well whatever it was, I hope he remembers it. I am dyin to hear what he saw." A huge smile graced Buck's face.
"Let's go grab something quick to eat, while he's sleeping," Nathan suggested.
"I'll stay here," Vin offered. "Bring me back a soda."
The rest of the team filed out as quietly as possible, leaving Vin to sit in the hard plastic chair next to the bed. Looking at his friend, he caught the gaze of two glassy green eyes staring back at him.
"Hey," Vin said, leaning forward.
Ezra half smiled and blinked slowly. He reached out and petted the soft fur of the squirrel sitting next to his bed talking to him.
Vin didn't move as Ezra stroked his face, seeing something that obviously wasn't there.
Ezra sighed. "Fluffly," he said as he drifted back to sleep.
Vin smiled. Yep, that must have been some dream.