by A. D. Burrows
©2008 A. D. Burrows
Excuse me, said the gerbil, could we have another carrot, please? This ones nearly gone.
Mr. Smith, the pet store owner, sat down heavily on the floor. The voice hadnt come from one of his smart-alec customers after all: It really was the gerbil talking.
You just spoke, he said.
Yes, the gerbil replied patiently. After a discreet pause, it added, Wed like another carrot, please.
How how How did
If there are no more carrots, could we have more rat chow, please?
Smith stood up, rather clumsily, and got a carrot from the fridge in the back. He pushed it through the wire mesh of the gerbil cage and topped up their hopper of rat chow. Then he stood and watched, astounded, as the little rodents made small talk.
We had the Super 8 film analysed frame by frame, said the radio show host, and our experts say its real. Grainy and off-colour though it is, those gerbils were actually speaking. Mr. Smith, why didnt you just use a video camera?
Smith gawked at the host.
Ive got animals talking on film, and youre geeking over the format!?
Medium, the host corrected.
My gerbils ask for carrots!
Theyre very polite.
Polite!? The bloody things talk!
For a long (on air) moment the two men just stared at each other.
I cant find anybody to do anything about it! Mr. Smith exclaimed. The army isnt interested since I went public. The National Institute for Mental Health just tells me they have enough rodent problems. Show business agents say theres no call for animal acts right now. What am I supposed to do?
And thats where you come in, listeners! the host interrupted. What should Smiths Pets do about their talking gerbils? You know the number, so call now! Mr. Smith, while we wait for a call, tell us how you trained your gerbils to talk.
I didnt! Smith replied. One day about closing time, they just started asking for carrots!
Its a treat for them.
We have a caller nowBob from Silliwhack. Bob, what do you think Mr. Smith should do about his gerbils?
Oh, wow, am I on the air? Bob asked.
Yes, go ahead.
Bob cleared his throat.
So, these are gerbils and they, uh, talk, right?
So, doesnt that mean they can, like, think, sorta?
Did you catch the beginning of the show, Bob?
Naw, I got off work late, just tuned in a minute ago.
So, did that guy ever ask the gerbils what they want?
Ask a gerbil??? an incredulous Smith replied.
Well, they can talk, Bob argued. They could say. You want em to be happy, dontcha?
Mr. Smith the host began.
Yeah, Smith, Bob corrected himself.
you have one of your gerbils with you, dont you?
Yes, hes right here.
Smith lifted a small cage from the studio floor and set it on the desk. The rodent inside sniffed at the microphone.
Hello Erh What is your name? said the host.
Oh, were not given names until were sold, the gerbil replied. Thats an owners prerogative. For now, just call me gerbil.
Theyre well-spoken, too. Folks, I want to stress that the wee, small voice youre hearing is not Mr. Smith talking in falsetto. Im sitting here watching a gerbil talk! Well, um gerbil, what would you like Mr. Smith to do about you?
We feel that we are able to prove that we are sentient in any reasonable test. As thinking, reasoning, speaking beings, we wish to be admitted to the United Nations.
Aw, you dont want the UN, Bob replied. Theyre a buncha puppets an clowns!
Notwithstanding, the gerbil replied, we believe that its our best chance to be recognized as something more than an amusement or a source of protein.
Point, said Bob.
So we find that the problem, as such, said the Secretary General, is not that you arent human.
Im glad to hear it, the gerbil replied, and nibbled on a slice of apple.
Its more a matter of the status of gerbils as a nation. Nations, as we define them, occupy specific, contiguous and definable areas of land. You gerbilsplease dont misunderstand me, I dont mean this to be disrespectful, merely stating a factwell, you live all over the place.
As did the Jews, the gerbil replied, during the time of the Diaspora; as they do today, even after the re-establishment of Israel. Would you treat us as lesser citizens than aboriginals, whose homes have been taken away?
So youre saying that gerbils are an occupied people?
From what, please?
Owls. Eagles. Snakes. Small mammals. Were hunted in the wild.
And so you take refuge among humans?
Some of whom also eat us. Mr. Secretary, I believe youll find that territory will be less of a problem than you think. Land was put aside for the Jews; a homeland for us could be carved out of Mongolia without inconveniencing too many humans. Of more immediate concern to you, I should think, would be the matter of United Nations membership fees. The current cap is twenty-two percent, I believe, and your operating budget this year is five billion dollars, or half the value of Bill Gates toilet. If you will examine this piece of paper Im sitting on, youll find it to be a statement from a numbered account in a Bermudan bank. I think youll find the bottom line adequate. And the piece of paper under that represents a quite generous voluntary contribution.
The gerbil got up and moved aside with a flourish of his tail. The Secretary General looked at the first statement. He spoke a most ungentlemanly word in his native Mandarin, then recited its equivalents in French, Spanish, Russian and, as it turned out, Anglo-Saxon. He looked more timidly at the second statement and gasped.
Where did you get all this!? he exclaimed.
The source, really, is not as important as the fact of it, the gerbil replied. This will be our first contributionand you may count on subsequent assessments to be similar.
Forgive me, Mr. Gerbil, but I must be certain that the United Nations is never beholden to sources that are ah less than above-board, shall we say?
I can assure you that we gerbils are every bit as honest as China, Russia or the United States.
Damnation by faint praise, the Secretary General muttered but he didnt put the bank statement down.
Honoured fellow members, the gerbil intoned, members of the press, ladies and gentlemen. Ive little doubt that you are wondering about the future right now. When big changes happen in our lives, the future is what we think about. How will life be, now that you are no longer alone in the universe, or even the world that you now share with another species? It can be a very different place, if you will let it be. We do not ask for that, however. We only ask to be left alone to do what we do. Stop treating us as pets, as pests or as food. See us as fellow passengers on this spaceship Earth, and dont stick your noses into our berth without good reason. Nobody cannobody shouldask for more than this
Youre listening to live coverage of the inaugural address of the gerbil delegate to the United Nations, the radio show host interrupted. Mr. Smith, what do you think of the gerbils message to humanity so far?
I think hes full of it! Smith replied. Look: Gerbils are rodents, and that means theyre opportunists. They want something more than a hunk of Mongolia, you can bet on it!
And Lloyds of London is currently placing odds of fourteen to three that the gerbils want more than a portion of Mongolia. We now return to the speech.
more importantly, the gerbil intoned, we can help to control the worlds population of problematic insects. Grasshoppers and locusts are a delicacy to us
Suddenly there was a piercing shriek in the chamber of the General Assembly, as if tens of thousands of tiny voices were all raised at once. It was quickly joined by human cries of pain and panic.
Ladies and gentlemen, the host exclaimed, the General Assembly has been invaded by rodents! Ratsmicesquirrelssmall pets of every descriptiontheyre running around, biting human delegates! Theyre swarming the guards, pulling them down under sheer numbers, biting and biting! Theres blood flowing! Oh, the humanity! Im turning off the screen now so that I dont have to see! Oh, this is terrible
I knew it! Smith exclaimed. I knew the little pests wanted more than freedom!
And Lloyds of London stock has jumped by seven points. Wait, there are further developments in the General Assembly! We return you to the chamber where the gerbil is speaking again
Humanity! the gerbil spat. I welcome you to the the dawning of the glorious Empire of Rodentia! Do not try to enter this hall or our hostages will be gnawed to death! We order you to turn over your military assets to us or their deaths will be much less kind! You have twenty-four hours to surrender, without conditions, starting now!
Smith growled, And to think they used to be my favourites
The Security Council met in a secure room deep beneath the basement of the Pentagon. The President of the United States sat at the head of the table and banged a gavel.
Hoo-whee! he said. That dingus sure is loud, aint it? All right now: I dont hardly need to tell you gentlemen what kinda crisis were defacing up against. And Im sure I doublespeak for all of yall when I say that we must not give inches to terrorists. We must strike back derisively and with determination.
And the hostages? the French delegate asked.
Well, now, thats what you call a noble sacrificeafter all, you cant scrabble an egg without makin a hamlette. Dont you worry none, gentlemen; Washington is very much an outsider in the blast zone.
I beg your pardon, Mr. President, the British delegate replied, but did you say blast zone?
I surely did! Mr. Limey, there ain't no way in Hell were gonna leave any one single one of those mutato rodents alive. The world is threatened by their presentience, and that means no price is too high for their determinating!
Yeah, right, a high, squeaky voice replied. An it dont hoit that New York aint voted Repugnican in twenny years, Washingtons wanted ta get shut o da UN for nears long as dat, plus yer favrite preachers had it in for animals since dis all started. Noble sacrifice, my ass! it spat. Deyll all die happy. Yousell have to scuse my altitude, I happens ta live der!
Every head turned towards the source of the voice. It was coming from a Secret Service agent who held an albino ferret in his black-sleeved arms. The ferret looked around the room until its sharp gaze fell on the President.
I hears ya gots a problem wit rodents, it said. Im here t help yez. But deres a price, o course.
I presect that, the President replied. Being up front, coming straight to the hardpoint, no wastrel words. Yessir, I truly respectorate that. Now, what exactly do you proffer up to the table?
Awright, den. I represent a consortium o weasels an felines. We got some canines woikin fer us, too, not ta mention our crack squad o door-coons. But its mainly us weasels. Well take out dem rodents, save da humans, den jus fade back inta da forest an ya wont never hear from us again.
The President nodded. And the price?
The ferret smiled.
One: Dem goibils gave da UN a pile o money; we want a thoid. Just a thoid. Two: No more leg-hold traps for nuttin, deyre woisen moider. We cant say nuttin about huntin cause we do it, too, but dem jaw traps has gotta go! An last: If ya cant leave us enough free land t live on, ya gotta find a way t let us inta da cities. Dats it. Okay?
Seems fair, the President replied. Except the money. Whats yall need all that for?
Dats our business. As far as youse is consoined, its a fee f soivices rented. An ya aint got much time, so take it or leave
Suddenly the ferrets ears perked up. It sniffed around itself, then jumped from the Secret Service mans arms to the table. It kept sniffing as it scampered around. Suddenly, it dove under the table between two delegates. There was a scurrying and lifting of legs and a high pitched shriek. The ferret climbed the leg of a Canadian functionary and onto the table with a freshly-dead mouse in its mouth. It muttered something, then dropped the mouse on the table.
Spyin, it said. Proof enough Im on da up-an-up?
One other thing while youre here, the British delegate said. How did you and they come so recently to be able to speak?
Ida expected dat o youse; humans just fugget about stuff dey dont like. But ders some o youse remember da big race. Alla us animals was gonna prove once an fer all who was da fastest, strongest, smartest, an like dat. Youse humans used tools an numbers to cheat an win, but ya still couldnt beat da bear. So youse offed da bear! We aint had nuttin ta say t youse since den. Not til dem muddafuggin goibils broke da rule, dat is.
Never you remind all that, the President said. Youve bought us under a barrel-roll, so this great nation aint about to look a dead cat in the mouth. Do we got us a deal, or not?
Sure ting, boss! Well start da raid in one hour. Jus lemme use da phone, is all.
The President nodded, then looked at the Secret Service agent whod brought the ferret into this conference: Youoperationalfind a terraphone for this ferret and see that hes not misturbed. Oh yeah, and flush this mouse.
The agent took a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and picked up the dead mouse with it. He then picked up the ferret and took both creatures away. The President took out his cell phone, tapped a single key and held it to his face.
Sunglass Boy with the ferrulet? He might could be compressomized. Dont trust him until every agent jerkin up and down his chain is reproved, and him, too. Damn right.
Gentlemen, he went on, as he put his cell phone away, we drop the bomb in one hour ten minutes. That should give the ferrets time to get right where they want us to get em.
Mr. President, the French delegate spoke up, surely we are at least going to let the weasel consortium rescue the hostages?
Like I said: When demonic animal spirits depose the righteous way, no price is too high to extermorate themespecially all at once.
But sir, the Canadian delegate said, the ferret said that all animals can talkthey just wont talk to us! There are millions of weasels in the world, billions of rodents! How can we know that
You shut your Goddamned mouth, boy! the president explained. You just go back to your crossword puzzles an leave the thinkering to us real men! You just nod an say Yessir! when you hear someone say Canada, you understained? Canada!
The Canadian delegate nodded sadly, said Yes, sir, and went back to taking highly classified minutes of the meeting.
Smiths Pets burned down that night. His computer burned with it, as did all of his paper records. And his stock. The fire marshal said it looked like arson, but Smith had lots of witnesses to say he was elsewhere and, after his gerbils attempted takeover, he had plenty of enemies who might have done it. The police went through the motions of a perfunctory investigation, then deemed the case unsolvable and left it nominally open. When they asked Smith questions about his stock, he would only answer that they were shipped to him from New York City. It satisfied the authorities.
Smith was sitting in a local bar, sipping a brew while he pondered insurance forms, when he heard what sounded like a gerbil squeaking. He looked around him at the table. There didnt seem to be that many bottles but there did seem to be a gerbil.
Good evening, it said.
Smith said nothing.
Youre not drunk or hallucinating, if thats what you think.
Smith still held his peace.
I just wanted to apologise for all the trouble youve been caused. The rodents you dealt with were a fanatical faction; they did not represent all animals, all rodents or even all gerbils. I promise you, there will be no more trouble.
Good, Smith muttered.
I only hope you wont take your anger out on us, sir. We only want to live in peace, as Im sure the vast majority of humans do as well.
Smith glared at the gerbil.
That was all I wanted to say, Mr. Smith. We wont trouble you again. Thank you for your kind attention. And one last time, were all very, very sorry.
The gerbil skittered to the edge of the table, jumped off and was gone. Smith watched the place where the gerbil had been for a while. Then he got a new sheet of paper, laid it on top of the insurance forms and put the tip of a pencil on it. He didnt move the pencil for a while, just stared at it. Then he began to doodle. He found that he was drawing a van.
Handy things, vans, he murmured. You can keep things in them. If youre careful, frugal, organized, you can keep a whole life in them. Maybe even a death
He doodled some more, made the van look more real. It would take changes in his lifestyle, training for a new profession. The Secret Service man had promised him thered be an insurance pay-out. The money should be enough to live on; enough even to start again, if he was careful.
Smiths Extermination: It had a nice ring.