“Rumplesynopsis,” by Iris. J. Melton

Dec 20th, 2022 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

“I don’t care if you have to lie down in a fucking coffin like Edith Sitwell,” Beelzebub says. “Get me some pages!”

This is my agent speaking. His name is not really Beelzebub—that’s just how I have him listed in my phone contacts. He’s very professional and he’s never spoken to me like this before. It’s just that I’ve pushed him to the end of whatever tether good agents are connected to their writers by. OK seriously—that sentence I just wrote? That is nothing like my usual high-quality prose. But just now, something really bad is happening to me.

It started when Word changed the double quotation marks to guillemets, for no apparent reason. Yeah, I’ll let you look it up—I had to. It didn’t take me long to correct it, but then I fell into some sort of vortex where I started to research the names of all the symbols, and then, of course, the advanced symbols. And then, for the really odd-sounding ones, I researched the etymologies.

When I got back to the page I was writing, I just sat staring at the cursor. A couple of words. No. Delete. Cursor… cursor… curse the cursor. Hmmm… isn’t cursor Latin for something like “runner” or “messenger?” I wonder what the O.E.D. says about it…

So that was the first step on the journey to whatever hell this is. I haven’t thought of a clever name for this place yet, but it is hades/inferno/the abyss. That’s why I changed my agent’s name in the contact list to Beelzebub. And no, I am never, ever telling him.

Here’s the situation: several publishers are excited about the first book, but they want something more for a multi-book deal. An outline, chapters, a synopsis, something. I’m more of a storyboard and post-its type of writer. But Beelzebub has said amazing things about my talent, my discipline, my professionalism. And here I sit staring out the window like some sort of captive miller’s daughter trying to spin gold from straw.

So, I’ve sequestered myself in my house on this rainy afternoon (no phone calls, no texting, no going out for anything) until I have a draft of the synopsis. Hmmmsequestered. No. No. No. I am doing this. I am finishing a five hundred word synopsis today. (I’d prefer to suffer from a loathsome disease, but…hmmmloathsome.)

That’s when I hear a tapping sound. Like fingernails on glass. Nobody at the door. No cars in the yard. It’s coming from the French doors on the back. I look up from my laptop and see no one, yet the tapping continues. I walk to the door and see a mangy-looking little squirrel tapping on the glass. He bares his sharp little teeth at me and keeps rapping with one paw.

“What do you want? I’m busy—go search for nuts or something,” I say, looking down on him.

“There’s a big hawk out here trying to eat me,” he answers in a slightly raspy voice. “Open the door.”

He looks right and left furtively, still rapping on the glass.

“I’m not letting you in here. You’ll probably hide in a closet and shit on my sweaters, or something.”

“Fuck you. Let me in!”

I rub my hands over my eyes vigorously, and put my glasses back on my face, but he’s still there.

“I must be hallucinating—it’s this fucking synopsis,” I mutter to myself.

“What will you give me if I write it for you?” the squirrel says.

This is not real, I think. Squirrels cannot type. But. Why the hell not? I’m not getting anywhere.

I finger the pearl necklace I always wear when I write. So what? Seuss wore a hat, Amy Lowell smoked cigars, and there was that other guy with the rotten apples. We writers are a superstitious lot. But the squirrel isn’t getting the pearls. Hmmmpearls before squirrels… oh, just stop!

“I’ll give you two chocolate truffles with almond butter inside,” I offer.

“Sold!” he squeaks.

I open the door and he scampers to the chair I was sitting in. He looks back at me and bares his long, yellow front teeth again. “I’m going to need a box or something to sit on, genius. I can’t hover like a hummingbird.”

I take a box from the recycling bin, open it, and place it on the chair. Then I put a small pillow on top and pull the chair close to the table.

“Pull the laptop to the edge,” he says. He wriggles his furry rump into the pillow until he’s comfortable and then, after rubbing his tiny paws together, starts to type rapidly. He types for about half an hour without stopping, and then slowly maneuvers the cursor up to file/save.

“Truffles?” he asks, leaning back and resting on his tail.

I retrieve the agreed upon payment and place them on the table next to the computer. He sniffs appreciatively, grabs the foil-wrapped chocolates, and runs out the French doors.

I stand staring after him for a few moments, and then, without bothering to close the door, look at what he has written. It is succinct, yet flowing. Bare bones, yet compelling. And only four hundred seventy-five words. It is awesome. I read it through a couple of more times. No typos. No grammatical errors. It is gold. I email it to Beelzebub.

I take a deep breath, stretch, and pour myself a large glass of Malbec. Do I feel a twinge of guilt because I didn’t actually write the synopsis? Well, yes, but no one would believe a squirrel wrote it. So.

The phone howls. Beelzebub texts a hearty Attagirl!

I watch the clouds, feed the hummingbirds, and water the flower garden the next day. That’s all. No synopsis shit. Then the phone rings. It’s Beelzebub.

“Well, you did it! I’m impressed as hell. Do you think you could write another synopsis this week, for the third book? I can get you a much better deal if I have more… and if it’s anything like the second…”

My spirit sinks in inverse proportion to his rising excitement.

Maybe if I do the same thing, with the same sequence of steps, I can fall into a hallucination and write another one. Because really? A squirrel? That did not happen.

I sit there looking at the cursor for a while. Make some false starts. Try to write an outline on a legal pad. Tear it out, wad up the paper, and throw it at the French door. Where is that fucking squirrel when I need him?

I am ready to start drinking whiskey when I heard the tapping. Yes!

He is sitting outside the door, vigorously scratching the side of his head with his rear leg. When he has satisfied the itch, he bares his teeth and says “Let me in. What are you waiting for, stupid?”

“Same deal?” I ask, opening the door.

“Fuck no! I want something better this time.”

“What do you want?” I ask, nervously stroking the pearls.

He studies my hand on the pearls, then crouches on all four paws, and pivots from left to right, glancing at all the objects in the room. Then he makes a noise that sounds like a combination of a grunt and a sigh.

“What would I do with any of this crap?” he says. “How about this? I’ll write another synopsis for you, and you buy me a year’s supply of miscellaneous nuts, in the shell. And none of those fucking Brazil nuts—I hate those.”

“Done,” I say. I retrieve the box and the pillow and he leaps up to the table and begins to type. He’s done in less than half an hour this time.

“Since you don’t have the nuts yet, how about some of those truffles for now?”

“Of course,” I say, placing the chocolates on the table.

“More,” he says. “You got any other flavors?”

I drop a handful of dark and white chocolate truffles on the table and he scurries away with as many as he can carry. He races back in to get the surplus just as I start to read.

“Pretty good, huh?” he says as he sidles out the opening to the deck. “Just so you know, the next time I see you, I will ask for one last thing as payment.”


Beelzebub sold the novels in a three-book deal. Let’s just say it was a lot of money, never mind how much. Of course, I still had to write the second two, but that was the fun part, and those goddamned synopses were done before I started.

I was busy for the next year and a half—between the writing and the book signings, you know. I did leave the nuts for the squirrel, just as I had promised, and I thought of him from time to time, but my mind was busy with other things.

Beelzebub suggested that I take a little break, maybe write some short fiction, while I was planning another series. It sounded good to me and I started on a themed collection about fairy tales late this fall.


The afternoon skies darken early and the leaves are beginning to fall off the trees. I sit in my usual place, tapping out the sentences happily, and when I hear the rapping, I immediately think of the squirrel. But no. I haven’t seen him in almost two years. It can’t be.

When I see his long yellow teeth bared at me through the glass of the door, I smile. He looks older and I notice a limp when he comes into the room.

“What happened to your leg?” I ask.

“Hawk. She almost got me.”

How were the nuts—did I buy enough?”

“Enough with the small talk,” he says. “You’ve been pretty fortunate since meeting me. Now I think I’ll ask for that thing I mentioned, you remember?”

“You never said what it was.”

“Well, I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and I’ve decided what I want.”

“And?” I ask.

“I want my name on the cover of the next book.”

“Oh, come on!” I say. “How can I give author credit to a squirrel? And then everyone will think I didn’t write the other books—you know how that shit goes.”

“Hey, that’s your problem, bitch,” he rasps.

“What are you gonna do if I don’t agree?”

“You have no idea how thoroughly a small mammal can torture you. A thousand tiny torments—and you know how creative I can be…”

Goddammit. I am already imagining the kinds of crap he will come up with. I chew my lower lip a little as I tried to think of an appeasement.

“Tell you what,” the squirrel says. “You were as good as your word on the other stuff, so here’s what I’m willing to do—if you can guess my name in the next twenty-four hours, I’ll let you off the author credit, but I still get a priority mention in the acknowledgements.”

“OK,” I answer. Should we start now?”

“You’re ready to start guessing?” He draws his lower lip under his front teeth, squints, and cocks his head. 

How hard could it be? He’s a squirrel.

“Is it Alvin or Theodore?” I ask.

He shakes his head in disgust. “Those are chipmunk names, stupid.”

“I wasn’t aware there were special names for squirrels,” I say. “How about…” Here I ran through a list of monosyllabic American men’s names. Shit. Maybe it isn’t even male. I test a few female names, but he just erupts in a squeaky trill of laughter.

“Look,” he says, when he’s recovered from his hilarity, “I’ll come back tomorrow and you can try again. Maybe that brain of yours works better on names than it does on synopses, but I doubt it.” Then he turns and sidles out the door. I’m pretty sure I hear him snickering as he scampers away.

I don’t sleep at all that night. I research famous squirrel characters: Rocky, Scrat, Sandy Cheeks, Bucky, Slappy, Hammy, Skippy, Secret squirrel, Conker, Surly, Pachirisu, Benny, Ginger Nutt, Grayson, Screwball, Ch’p, Felldough, Ranguvar Foeseeker. I research literary squirrels: Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin, the squirrel in Nabokov’s Pnin, Nietzsche’s King Squirrel I. And I find that a series of unfortunate squirrels are brutally killed in Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, Blades Small Game, and Chekov’s “St. Peter’s Day.”

But the story that reverberates the most is Fitzgerald’s A Diamond as Big as the Ritz: a squirrel leads to the discovery of the massive diamond and is never thanked or mentioned again. Seems relevant.

So, I write all the names on a list. I also put bowl of chocolate covered almonds and cashews just outside the French doors. Then I wait quietly for the knocking.

An hour passes. No squirrel. Maybe he’s rehearsing some of the passive-aggressive torment he has planned if I don’t follow through. Another half hour passes. I go and stand in the doorway and look out into the woods.

Very high on one of the taller trees, a branch shakes violently and I hear a thrashing sound. Then a huge red-tailed hawk comes sailing out of the sky. She leads with her gray legs outstretched and her black talons reaching for the rail of the deck. With two flaps of her wings, she settles and stills. Then she looks directly at me: her yellow eyes are shaded by the heavy brow, and the intensity of her focus is fierce. She is perfectly still, except for the breeze that ruffles her banded chest feathers. Then her head twitches sideways and she suddenly launches from the rail.

I stand listening to the silence for several more minutes. The afternoon light is fading and still no squirrel. Then I hear a thrashing in one of the trees. Some leaves fall as some small violence occurs, but it’s too dark to see what’s happening.

The squirrel never shows. Well, maybe tomorrow.

When I wake up in the morning I go to the doors and look out. I forgot to take the nuts in, and the bowl is overturned and empty. There are some brown marks on the deck – maybe chocolate? But I can’t tell if they’re squirrel or raccoon tracks.


My name is the only one that appears on the cover of the book. I do mention some vague shit about being inspired by nature in the acknowledgements, but that’s it. Because, after all, I never got his name, did I?


Iris J. Melton is a former waitress/attorney who lives in a growlery in the Appalachian Mountains. She learned to swim from a book and has a perverse affection for the Oxford comma.

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