Bert Hansen wedged the front door of Hansen’s Pet Shoppe open, and began sweeping the sidewalk, just like he had been doing every day for the past thirty years. But that morning something was different. As Bert swept, he was frustrated to find a fine powdery dust that kept settling on his freshly swept sidewalk. He looked around for the source of the dust, but soon realized it was him - his fingers were disintegrating. He didn’t even notice the driverless BNW that slammed into another driverless BNW at the end of the street, or the city bus that plowed into the McBurger’s with a deafening crash. Bert’s broom clattered to the concrete, his shoes sat empty on the sidewalk, and a fine dust that used to be Bert Hansen, drifted away on the faintest of breezes. He was not alone, for at that moment, every other human on the planet also turned to a light dust. Empty trains derailed, vacant planes fell from the sky, buildings tumbled and fires burned unabated. It was terrible and mysterious, and altogether final.
Patch was desperately hungry! He tried to hide his trembling paws from Tidbit for he did not want to worry her in her condition. He had let her eat the last of the food, hoping that the people would return to feed them, and talk to them, and clean their cage, but hope faded when the people failed to return after two days. Patch watched the sun rise and set through the window of the pet shop, but he saw no no sign of humans. No cars drove down the street out front. There was no honking in the distance or the sound of screaming sirens. There was no laughter or shouting - it was like all the noisy people had just vanished!
Then the water bottle ran dry, and the situation became dire. As he watched the last drop of water fall from the metal spout, Patch knew he had to do something, anything, so he started chewing frantically on the plastic covering on the latch to the cage he shared with Tidbit. Stealing a glance at her, he could see she was uncomfortable, clutching her belly, her breathing rapid and shallow. Teeth be damned! He chewed faster, the metallic taste of blood flooding his mouth.
Finally he had chewed a hole in the latch, and reaching in with one tiny paw, he grabbed hold of the spring. Gripping the cage with his hind paws, he tugged hard until the spring popped out, and he tumbled onto the wood shavings of his cage. The cage door silently swung open. How did he know how to do that, he wondered?
“C’mon we gotta go!” shouted Tidbit, clutching him by the paw. They hopped out of the cage and scurried along the shelf, weaving between the hamster bubbles and aquarium decor. But, the shelf soon came to an end. They stood on the edge high above the floor looking around for an escape.
“There!” urged Patch, pointing at a mouse-sized gap between the wall and cabinetry behind the customer service counter. But when he looked back at Tidbit, he saw the cage behind her. A peanut butter colored guinea pig stared out at them with desperate, sad eyes. They could not abandon her.
The guinea pig cage had a double latch. Opening it required pushing each simultaneously so Patch and Tidbit pressed the levers, squeaking from the strain of it.
“I would help, but my arms are too short,” said the guinea pig, holding out her limbs as proof. The latch finally sprang and the guinea pig bounded out of the cage to embrace them both.
“Okay, okay, that’s enough! We gotta go!” shouted Patch, but as they turned to leave, they saw all the cages that filled the pet shop. Each cage held a small animal of some kind, all staring out at the three escaped rodents with a mixture of awe and longing. Tidbit, Patch, and their new companion, Grumple, did not even waste time thinking about it. They knew each of these innocent creatures would perish if they were not helped. Silently, they worked together to liberate the captives, each freed animal adding to their efforts in whatever way they could. Soon all the animals were free, save one plexiglass enclosure that housed a furry gray kitten with yellow eyes and ears tipped in black. ‘Smokey’ was the name on the cage.
“Meow?” asked the kitten weakly.
“Don’t do it,” urged Grumple. “In a few months this thing will be twice as large at least. And it’ll be eating critters that look a lot like us!” Patch stood in front of Smokey’s cage, holding a moaning Tidbit, and he looked in the kitten’s eyes.
“I could leave you here and lose little sleep over it,” he squeaked. “But I feel that is not my decision to make. You deserve freedom like any other animal.” He and Grumple sprung the latch, and the kitten sprinted for escape. “That’s the last of ‘em,” squeaked Patch. “Let’s go!”
Tidbit climbed upon Grumple’s back and clung to her light brown fur. They scurried away, out of the pet shop and down the abandoned sidewalk, sticking to the shadows and looking for safety. They didn’t have a lot of time to be choosy, and soon they found themselves on an abandoned residential street. Patch eyed the green street sign that read ABIGAIL LANE. He committed it to memory.
“There!” he squeaked, pointing to a three-story red brick house whose door was hanging wide open. In the doorway, a set of shiny leather shoes and a briefcase were all that remained of the most recent owner. A telephone pole had been hit by a garbage truck, and had fallen into the house, but otherwise it seemed intact.
“She’s not doing well, we need to find a good place to nest!” urged Grumple. They scampered up the steps, and once inside, they carried Tidbit to the cavernous living room and made a makeshift nest behind the sofa using a throw pillow and toilet tissue. They were just in time. Of Tidbit’s litter, only one, tiny, pink mousling survived. But to the three rodents, the infant was a miracle. Grumple put her arm around Patch’s shoulder and they gazed at Tidbit sleeping curled up with the baby.
“We’re going to name him Meziah,” whispered Patch, and Grumple approved, wiping a tear from her eye.
“Time to find food,” she whispered eyeballing the cavernous kitchen. “Calamity always makes me hungry.”