The groundhog's chief handler, Kinka Wena, places the blame squarely at the feet of PETA. Speaking from his hospital bed in Pittsburgh, PA, Mr. Wena explained, "For the last couple years, those self-righteous bastards at PETA pressured us relentlessly to replace our groundhog, Phil, with an animatronic groundhog saying that it was the humane thing to do. So, last May we did and now look what happened."
"I don't know, maybe it was our fault, too. We had a bid for a robotic groundhog from Disney, but we thought the price was too high. The barber here in town told a nephew who goes to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, so he and his buddies brought us a prototype robot that looked and acted pretty good for a fraction of Disney's bid. We should have known--that kid was always a rotten little creep."
"Everything seemed to be going just fine this morning. I reached in the burrow and pulled out the robot, pressed his activation switch and turned him to face the crowd. It started to wiggle around in my arms as programmed, then, all of a sudden, started to thrash around violently until it slipped from my grasp and all I had left in my arms was the furry outer shell. That's when I saw...... IT!"
"Dear God, the thing's eyes started to glow red and it just took off into the crowd, slashing it's way through, flinging body parts into the air. The people began screaming and started to stampede off Gobbler's Knob and back toward town. I can't imagine how many innocent people were trampled to death there on the Knob."
Civil authorities still have no clue as to the whereabouts of the maniacal marmot, which managed to melt away in the melee. Several witnesses, though, have contacted the Pennsylvania State Police to report a small metallic-like figure wearing a black leather jacket and sunglasses riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle in an erratic fashion, carrying some sort of firearm. Reports indicate the suspect was headed westbound on Rt. 422.
Today's calamity was but the latest tragic consequence of PETA's misguided attempt to replace Phil, believing that it was better for him to return to the wild and to live out his days as a creature of the forest.
When the decision was made by the esteemed Inner Circle of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, a secretive organization of local businessmen who conduct the annual Feb. 2nd festivities, to swap the live rodent for a robot at the behest of the animal rights group, it fell to Chairman Wena to break the news to Phil that he was being furloughed.
The winsome woodchuck did not take the news well, although the Borough of Punxsutawney gave Phil a, by all accounts, generous severance package, even allowing him to remain in his old, familiar burrow atop Gobbler's Knob until the first of the year when the new "Phil" was to be installed and activated.
Phil tried to get in the swing of life in the wild, but had few practical skills to survive on his own, after years of having his every whim catered to by his caretakers. He told friends that he never cared for the taste of roots and berries, preferring a large mushroom and green pepper from his favorite pizza joint.
Local townsfolk would see Phil, more often than not, just sitting outside his Gobbler's Knob burrow, reminiscing about his former celebrity, posing for pictures snapped by tourists and fans. He would narrate his encounters with the rich and famous who flocked to see him every February to anybody who would listen.
Before long, Phil was frequenting the bars that line Main St. in Punxy and, as so often happens to the unintiated and naive, fell in with the wrong crowd. In August, Phil and his newfound cronies were busted for operating a meth lab in a ramshackle house on the outskirts of town.
Phil was sentenced to probation, partly because it was his first offense and partly, townsfolk admit quietly, because of Phil's reputation and in appreciation of his many years of service to the borough. Phil and his weather forecasts were the driving economic engine for the 6,300 inhabitants of this sleepy village for over 120 years. There were some attempts to help Phil overcome his demons by concerned citizens, but he began to increasingly become a nuisance and an embarrassment to the town.
An effort by the town council to ban Phil from frequenting downtown Punxsutawney businesses failed by a narrow margin. By now, Phil's antics had progressed from being the loveable drunken groundhog weaving up and down the sidewalks to more hostile behavior, including public urination, destruction of property, verbal harrassment and even physical attacks on townspeople.
The sad story of the outsourced groundhog reached it's inevitable conclusion on a snowy December night when Phil, despondent over mounting debts, increasing alienation from the townsfolk and his imminent eviction from the only burrow he had ever known atop Gobbler's Knob, left Calypso Ray's Island Lagoon Bar & Grill around 1:30 AM and was struck and killed by an unknown hit-and-run driver as he stepped off the curb while making his way home.
No one has ever been arrested nor charged in the case and some locals believe the town council may have had it's shadowy hand in Phil's death. The accident was given a cursory investigation, then hushed up by local authorities, fearing a public outcry over such an ignominious end for such a cherished icon.
Phil was quietly laid to rest, without ceremony or note, in a small plot of woods overlooking his beloved Gobbler's Knob this past Christmas Day, one week before his PETA-approved replacement arrived.
*No members of PETA were harmed in the writing of this post.