Title: Gary Learns to Talk
**Author’s note: I hate that things don’t end well for the world’s first talking rodent, but it just came out that way. I love that Gary is learning to think as he learns to talk, and that pop culture phrases seem already pre-programmed into him. And of course my sick mind loves the tragic irony of the idea that advent of speech among the animals maybe begins and ends with one forgotten rodent. Ouch.**
Cats strutted past the cage in the alley, craning their necks casually lest they reveal their interest in the cage’s inhabitant.
Gary knew he was meat. It’s all in perspective. To a cat, a rat like Gary was meat. To a rat like Gary, a human toe might be meat, or a smaller rat.
“We aren’t picky.”
Jesus, why did I say that out loud? I am really losing it. How had I even arrived at “we aren’t picky” as something to mumble nervously instead of trying to figure out how to get out of this cage and past those cats? And what is this anyway, Cat Alley?
“Shew. ‘Cat alley’? Corny. I really am losing it when I can’t do good comedy.”
Where did that damned kid go? Gary licked his right paw and slapped at the cage door with it. He was embarrassed, but he couldn’t NOT try. He had only just now learned to talk, so he wasn’t sure WHAT was real and what wasn’t. Maybe my spit is magic. Don’t judge.
Was he the first? He gnawed on what remained of the sponge the kid had thrown in for the trip – and thanks a fucking lot for that, a dry sponge – and really pondered this, his beady eyes growing wider.
“Why did I think ‘beady eyes’? Is that accurate?”
I try to take good care of my eyes. No seeing in the dark without good peepers, you know. But are they beady? If only the kid had left a spoon in here for me to look in.
“Hey kid!” Gary yelled. He was sure THAT would bring the kid back – what was quite probably the world’s first talking rat calling for help from his cage in a dirty alley. It had all the makings of an epic western, or even better, Alexander Graham Bell calling his lab assistant: I want you.
“I want you!” Gary yelled.
Fuck. That sounded desperate out of context. And what’s a western and an Alexander Graham Bell?
“Dude! I think I’m learning to think and stuff too. And learn stuff. My brain feels weird. And did I mention I am most likely the world’s first talking rat? Nothing? Hey kiiiiid!”
Okay, now he was just angry. The yelling had somehow made the cats bolder, and now three or four at a time purred past the cage and looked directly in. One had even taken a playful slap at the locking mechanism.
“Okay, Gary. Breeeathe. He has to be back. If he were going to murder you, he would have just flushed you. Or fed you to a snake. I had an uncle that went that way. But no one just drops a rat off in a cage in a city alley in the middle of summer. If nothing else the cage costs money. And then there’s this sponge.”
He looked down at the sponge he was chewing on and for the first time really tasted the mildew and dirt lurking in its recesses and sinkholes.
“What have I become?”
He looked up at a looming shadow.That cat looks like he’s – OH FUCK!
The cat’s head made contact with the middle of the door, denting it and forcing the entire cage back several inches. The cat shook it off, licked its lips, and charged again.
“No! Dude, I can see your ribs! I know you’re hungry, and I can relate, but—“
The door buckled even more and the cage was propelled backward again until it came to an abrupt stop. Gary flew to the back wall, hitting it hard with his shoulder.
“But don’t make ME dinner. Let me help you find some.”
The cat tilted its head as if listening and licked its lips. Can he hear and understand me?Two more cats sauntered up to join the first. Maybe they would all headbutt the cage together. Gary had to ACT. He stood and pushed his chest out.
“Stop! Hear me. I have achieved the ability to speak and to reason. I even know things I don’t know HOW I know. In fact, I now see how to get out of this cage, assuming you haven’t overly damaged the door. It is as easy as the flip of a switch. Do you…understand me?”
Gary returned to all fours and inched toward the buckled mesh door, limping. Rotator cuff, he thought. How do I know that?
The cats all tilted their heads in the same direction. Curiosity or Darwinian calculation?
“I am going to operate on the assumption that you good creatures understand my words. Listen to me carefully.” He slipped a paw through the mesh and pulled himself closer. This was going to work! “I know where there is a store fullof cat food. Dog food and rat food and all kinds of other food too, but sooooo much cat food. The wet stuff, my friends. The dry, if that’s your thing. And do they have holey plastic balls with bells in them? How could you even doubt it? Of course they do! You have never seen such balls!”
I have them. I know I do. They have yet to advance, and their heads are tilted to one side. Isn’t that what they look like when they’re thinking? Yes. Yes! By god, I think it is. Maybe we have all achieved enlightenment at once, and this is our time to move the world!
“Yes!” Gary shouted, clutching the mesh. “Rise up! Our time has come!”
And I shall lead them! This is perfect!Gary’s tiny heart raced and he wondered if just below his whiskered snout was an actual smile. The next cat’s head to hit the mesh door shattered poor Gary’s right paw. It also broke the simple locking hasp that Gary had spotted and understood. The door shot inward, pinning him to the wall. The cats’ frenzy to reach him first killed Gary before they ever tasted of him.