Everyone is a killer - or possesses that lethal potential - in "Catching Fire," the second book in Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" trilogy.
Yes, even the squirrels. As the narrative recounts one such historic fight-to-the-death competition among young citizens of this post-apocalyptic nation, even the squirrels enter the mix, and they are ascribed with such terrifying attributes as being "fluffy," "golden" and "flesh-eating."
Of course: These are a natural combination. Especially if you happen to be a filbert.
In the first, eponymous book, squirrels are relegated to a more traditional and, alas, more unfortunate role: they are the game (with a lower-case "g") - the hunted, the victims - perhaps not so dissimilar from the young and tragic Hunger Games warriors themselves who populate the novel. In a sorry land of want and deprivation, they are all on the receiving end of so much unpleasant weaponry.
The squirrels' transformation into carnivorous bushytails, however, is quite a feat to pull off, even in the sequel's fictional account. Is this an invention of genetic engineering or perhaps just the byproduct of a tortured, sleepless night endured by the author herself after too much late-night, poorly digested trail mix?
Squirrels, as we all know, do have the potential to be fully equipped tools of mass destruction. Don't let the cute faces fool you. That bushy tail can cloak any number of deadly weapons, from woodland IEDs to granola grenades. And let's not get started on those pearly whites, particularly the front incisors which, as "open-rooted" teeth, grow ad infinitum, always renewing their sharpness, ready for action. These are teeth that can grow into infinity, if need be. They are a dentist's fantasy, a warrior's fancy, and one fiction writer's flight into Hell itself, apparently.
All of this literary defamation, if not humiliation, occurs at the start of a most auspicious annual rite, the launch of Squirrel Week by The Washington Post. Clearly, not all writers - and certainly not columnist John Kelly - view Sciuridae as natural-born killers.
The Squirrel Anti-Defamation League can rest easy where the Post is concerned. But let's hope they're keeping a mindful eye on Suzanne Collins, who perhaps needs a form of therapy no stronger than to sit down with several hours of the classic "Rocky and Bullwinkle."
Or let Collins spend a few hours in New York's Central Park - or Washington D.C.'s Mall - feeding nut meats to roving bands of toothy marauders.
However we choose to play it, let the Games begin.