Oscar sat quietly, as still as possible, hoping the boy would overlook him… the boy seemed to be easily distracted, so maybe he could be bored into leaving Oscar alone…
Oscar thought back to a month ago, the day he was scooped from his bright glass tank where he lived with his brother gerbils and into a dark cardboard box. By the time he chewed a hole large enough to squeeze through, he was plopped unceremoniously into another cage. This one had wire bars, just like a tiny jail cell, and no brothers to play with. Instead, he was stuck with the most horrifying of creatures – an unsupervised 5-year-old boy. Dylan.
Oscar had hoped the passage of time would improve his relationship with Dylan, but things just seemed to go from bad to worse. It all started when Dylan poked Oscar repeatedly with colored pencils stuck through the wire, painfully jabbing him in the side as Oscar napped. Oscar tried to avoid Dylan (and the pencils), but the kid was good at problem-solving. The boy would slide cardboard between the bars, trapping Oscar against the side of the cage, then poke at him while Oscar tried to scramble away.
Dylan was a very spoiled little boy. He was smart, which made him even more difficult for Oscar to evade, and more difficult for his parents to stay ahead of. He had a television in his room, which he left on continuously. This gave Oscar all the educational benefits daytime television could provide. He was probably the only gerbil who knew the manufacturer’s suggested retail price of a leather sofa and love seat. He knew how to twist straw into gorgeous “rustic” bows… if only he had packages to wrap… And he was shocked at the shenanigans of the soap opera cast (although he secretly thought Seraphina should dump Granger and get back with Claus.). And he learned about parenting techniques for out-of-control children. Apparently Dylan’s parents needed to watch more daytime television.
Dylan seemed to take great pleasure in being mean to small animals. Fluffy the Persian cat and Taffy the Chihuahua dog ran and hid from Dylan, but occasionally they suffered pulled tails and pinched ears. However, they weren’t stuck in a cage in the kid’s bedroom! Fluffy and Taffy stopped by Oscar’s cage now and then to commiserate, but they were distracted. Fluffy was torn between his desire to have Oscar for lunch and his innate sense of empathy. Taffy shivered withy anxiety every time he was near Dylan’s room, so he skittered out quickly. They weren’t optimal companions.
As the days went by, Dylan spent more time poking, shaking, and grabbing Oscar. Today, Oscar had enough. Instead of not noticing Oscar, Dylan made a beeline for the cage, and slid the door open. As Dylan grabbed Oscar and tightly squeezed, Oscar did what any healthy gerbil would do. He sunk his teeth into a finger.
Dylan let out a scream that shook the windows, and his mother ran in. “Dylan! Baby Boy, what’s the matter?” she shrieked, scooping the howling boy into her arms. Dylan continued to holler a noise like brakes on a freight train, and Oscar jumped down and scurried to a corner under the bed. As hysterical Dylan showed his finger to his hysterical mother, Oscar made his getaway. Out the door he hopped, around the corner, and down the hallway into the kitchen. He heard approaching footsteps of Dylan’s father, and quickly ducked under the refrigerator.
What a perfect space! It was warm and well-hidden, so he was safe from the humans (as well as Fluffy). And there was a buffet of crumbs under there, mixed in with enough pet hair to knit a sweater from. It was a much better space than his cage! And best of all, no Dylan!
Oscar nibbled on a piece of chocolate-flavored cereal and pondered his options. From the news channel, he knew he lived in the Pacific Northwest, somewhere near Seattle. The weather was not gerbil-friendly, since his ancestors lived in the dry steppes of another continent. Rainy Washington state was not appropriate for the outdoor life, so Oscar needed an indoor home. Somewhere warm, safe, and with a good food supply. So far, living under the refrigerator fit the bill.
After gnawing on several crumbs, enjoying bread, cracker, and cake tidbits, Oscar’s stomach was full. His eyes drooped with fatigue, and soon he was curled up in a wad of cat hair, sleeping soundly.
Oscar wakened to a terrifying sight – he was surrounded by zombie mice! They stared at him and made unintelligible, nasty sticky sounds! He spoke the mouse language fluently, but he had never heard anything like this! Their faces were half obscured by brown, dripping masses that shook when they spoke. He let out a frightened squeak and looked around for an escape route.
He immediately noticed a pretty young mouse sitting on her haunches slightly back from the others. She had no brown mass, but was holding a piece of cereal daintily in her paws. She looked at Oscar and smiled. “Are you okay?” she asked.
Oscar was shaking from fear, but quickly darted to her side. She looked friendly and unzombie-like. “What ARE they, and why are you with them?” he asked. He glanced back at the zombie mice, and was startled when one of them sneezed, the big mass of brown flying off in all directions. “Wh-wh-what?” Oscar stammered.
The sneezy mouse scurried over, and Oscar could see remnants of the brown goo on the mouse’s whiskers. The girl mouse giggled. “Oh, them? They found an old teething biscuit behind the dishwasher, so it foamed up pretty good. I warned them, but do they listen to me? Noooo.” She smiled and turned back to Oscar. “My name is Daphne. You’re new here!”
Oscar realized the brown masses were from teething biscuits gone wild, and several of the mice were looking normal again as they finished their treat. “Oh, wow! That was really freaky there for a minute!” He shook his head and looked back at Daphne. “My name is Oscar, and you’re right. I just escaped from Dylan’s room and thought I’d hang out here for awhile.”
“Dylan!” hissed Daphne. The other mice overheard and hissed, too. “We can’t stand Dylan! So YOU’RE the ‘mousie’ he refers to! Lucky cheddars that you escaped!” Daphne gestured to the crowd. “This is my family, and we’ve lived in the kitchen wall for my whole life, even before my great-grandparents! Welcome to the kitchen!”
Oscar grinned at the group, realizing how un-scary they really were once the brown foam was gone. “Hi, everyone! I hope you don’t mind me being in your neighborhood. I haven’t really decided where to go, but I really needed a spot to rest and come up with a plan before I move on. I’m open to ideas.”
The crowd of mice chattered for a moment, then a large, silver-whiskered female skittered forward. The other mice backed away respectfully. “I am Mus, the great-great-grandmother of this family,” she declared. “You are welcome to stay here for as long as you wish, Oscar. We will share our bounty with you, and help you in any way we can.”
“Thank you,” replied Oscar, bowing his head slightly. He recognized royalty somehow. “If there’s anything I can do to repay you, please let me know.” he added.
Mus sat up a little straighter, her eyes suddenly gleaming. “Actually, young Oscar,,” she said slowly, “There IS something you can do.” The crowd of mice quietly chattered to each other excitedly, curious to hear what favor would be asked. “Is it true you lived in the human child Dylan’s room?”
“Yes, ma’am” answered Oscar, confused.
“We have need of information from you ,” Mus stated. She looked around at all of her family, then back to Oscar. “I have a plan, but it requires knowledge of the child’s sleeping habits. Are you willing to assist?”
“Of course I am,” Oscar said, more bewildered than ever. Mus gestured for everyone to crowd forward, and quietly explained her plan.
The following morning, Dylan ran crying into the kitchen. His mother was standing at the center island making a sandwich. “What’s wrong, Baby Boy?” she asked, in her whiny, ‘baby-talk’ voice.
Dylan threw a pair of wooden blocks on the floor and raged. He stomped, he screamed, and he slammed cupboard doors with all his might. After carrying on for several minutes, he screeched an explanation to his mother. He was playing with his stackable wooden blocks, and nothing he built would stand upright! His mother looked confused.
A row of mice and one gerbil watched from under the refrigerator as Dylan screeched again, and his mother covered her ears. “Dylan, little Baby Boy, please stop!” she pleaded. The animals glanced at the blocks, noting the freshly-rounded edges with satisfaction. It would be really hard to make those blocks stand with the corners chewed off! Fluffy sauntered in, her curiosity overcoming her screech-aversion. Dylan took one look at the cat, and kicked at her midsection! Fluffy raced off, uninjured but offended. Dylan’s mother frowned but said nothing.
Oscar and the mice looked at Mus, who shook her head. “Phase Two is needed,” she said.
A similar scene played out the next morning as Dylan pitched an even bigger tantrum. This day’s projectiles were freight cars from his wooden train set. Again, the row of mice-and-one-gerbil watched as Dylan stomped, yelled, slammed, and screamed. He managed to explain to his mother that his “train wouldn’t go!” The animals glanced at the tiny wooden train pieces, one edge of each wheel chewed flat. Several mice high-fived. There was no way a train with flat-sided wheels would roll.
Unfortunately for Taffy the Chihuahua, she chose an inopportune time to skitter into the kitchen for a drink. Dylan screamed at her, grabbed her by the collar, and lifted her off the ground by the neck! The rodents gasped, but Dylan’s mother had enough. “Stop it!” she said firmly, grabbing the wriggling dog away from the boy. Taffy ran off, shivering as usual, but unhurt. Dylan’s mother picked up a train car as Dylan stormed out of the kitchen and ran to his room, slamming the door. Dylan’s mother looked closely at the wheels, frowning. She set the train car on the countertop and sat still, deep in thought.
Under the refrigerator, Mus was likewise deep in thought. “Phase Three?” asked one of the older mice. Mus nodded.
That night, the mice busily worked on their ‘project’ while Oscar sat at the family computer. He had learned to read over the past few weeks, so he was in charge of the message for Dylan. He stared at the icons on the screen, then carefully leaned over the keys, selecting one at a time. After several visits to the Backspace key, the message was done. Oscar found the PrtScn key, and jumped straight up, startled, as the printer started feeding a page into the slot. When the printer finished, Oscar pressed the Delete key, then hopped to the printer. Three mice joined him, and together they dragged the sheet of paper down the hall to Dylan’s room.
Several mice stood ready at the corners of Dylan’s bed. Dylan was fast asleep, blissfully unaware of the rodent crowd gathered around him. Soft light spilled from the still-playing television. Mus nodded as Oscar and Daphne perched on the footboard of the bed and lifted the message between them. “On the count of three…” Mus murmured. “One, two, THREE!”
Suddenly, the mattress dropped to the floor, startling Dylan awake. Unhurt, but shocked into silence, Dylan looked around to see the dog and cat, 48 mice, and one gerbil surrounding him. The gerbil and a mouse held up a sign reading, “BE NICE TO ANIMALS OR ELSE!”
Dylan took a deep breath and screamed. The mice and gerbil scurried off, dragging the paper with them. The dog and cat slunk out the door and hid in the kitchen. Dylan’s parents raced into the room. There sat Dylan, mattress on the floor, screaming himself silly. Oscar crept back to the doorway and listened as Dylan tried to explain, words garbled and nonsensical. Who could believe it: The gerbil holding a sign? The animals have it in for him? A warning?
Dylan’s mother hid her smile and explained that he had not been nice, and from now on he really should be nice to animals. Dylan’s father looked at the edges of the bed and exclaimed how cheap manufacturing must’ve made the wooden supports give way. Dylan’s mother nodded and smiled again. She glanced toward the doorway. Oscar froze. Did she see him?
Oscar started to hop back to the kitchen when he heard Dylan’s mother remark, “By the way, here’s some gerbil news: Did you know the neighbors got a gerbil for their daughter? Little Nadia is a sweetheart and really loves animals. That gerbil will be well taken care of.” Oscar’s ears perked up.
“Really?” asked Dylan’s father. “That’s nice for her. Did they find Dylan’s gerbil or something”
“Nope. They went to the pet store. They picked out a female gerbil!” Dylan’s mother glanced toward the doorway again.
Oscar sat up. A female gerbil? He turned and bounded down the hallway. NOW he knew where to go.