Even before the acrid-sweet smell of urine and cedar assaulted me, I knew. No usual scurry of rodents swarming to greet me, their provider of food, water, and amphetamine. My eyes adjusted to the crimson light intended to keep the animals in a constant state of calm. On the left counter, Dinesh’s white mice, fat from gorging three times their weight every day, bumped up sleepily against Plexiglas. In the adjacent cage my new rodents, the experimental ones shipped this week from Cornell, shuddered with shallow exhalations.
But not my bipolar mice. In that cage I didn’t discern any shadowy humps or sleeping forms, just smaller shapes larger than droppings and food pellets. I tapped the glass, hoping to prod my manic, nicotine-addicted subjects from under shavings and race to me, back-flipping and tumbling over each other in their eagerness for attention and drug.
I rattled the cage. Still nothing. The glass was splattered with black dots. Dread pushed past my chest. I should’ve listened to Dinesh; he’d mentioned that batch was acting bizarre, nipping each other and the fingers that fed them. Of course he blamed J25, but I’d brushed him off, attributing the biting to the genetic modifications in that particular mouse strain.
The silence troubled me. My hand trembled on the wall-switch, hesitant to flick on the lights, to wake the mice and screw up their circadian cycle.
I blinked in the abrupt fluorescence.
Jesus. A severed tail poked through wood chips. Under the water bottle, a gnawed paw and a flurry of black hairs littered the cage floor. One body lay twisted in the corner; the slick white of its spinal cord glistened. An ear mangled in the running wheel. Several bloodied quadriplegic trunks scattered in the cages, surrounded by other, less recognizable lumps of flesh. I counted. Five mice, dead. Where was the sixth?
Acid burned my throat. I swallowed and swallowed as seven years of meticulous scientific inquiry horribly deep-sixed. As hope for my own silver-bullet cure vaporized.
Shavings rustled. An ebony mouse crept from the carnage, chin and whiskers reddened. In that instant, the murderer seemed to grin at me. Something in my heart clanged, another tumbler on a lock, and shut down, click-click-thud. I pulled out the drawer, reached for the camera, the lab book, but there was so much, too much, to document. It was still early; no one else was in the building, not the techs who would incinerate the animals. Later, at feeding time, Dinesh would find the mice, and Dinesh was a good friend, a loyal colleague. He’d clean up. He was good for cleaning up messes. Besides, I didn’t have time, I had a train to catch, funeral arrangements to make.
Those were my excuses. I flipped off the light, picked up my bags, and fled.
(Excerpted from PURE, a novel under destruction)
BEG, BORROW, STEAL Book Give-Away ===> We gotta a winner! Actually, we have three winners! Other Press sent a promo copy along with a personal copy, so I'll give away both AND will donate a copy of HURRY DOWN SUNSHINE, out in paperback, to a lucky third winner. More than two dozen readers expressed interest in Michael Greenberg's latest work. Winners were selected using the most scientific of methods -- I wrote everyone's name on strips of paper, balled them up, and threw them in my Greek fisherman's hat.
Drumroll please... and the first name is... Paige! The second name drawn is... Reesha! Third prize winner of the HURRY DOWN SUNSHINE goes to Marye Ulrich, herself an aspiring memoirist. Please drop me a line with your email (drwasy AT gmail DOT com) with mailing addresses and I'll get these shipped out el pronto.
Reesha gets bonus points for leaving a comment: Begging is definitely my favorite method. Most of the time it has involved begging off work for time to write, begging fiance/family members for time alone to write, or borrowing someone else's time while they read my manuscript and give me feedback. I have a wonderful cousin who always takes my calls at 3 in the morning if I have writer's block and patiently listens to my writerly woes. But the time is borrowed. She calls me in the middle of date night sometimes!
I'm with you on the begging, and may I please have access to that cousin of yours?