by Sean M. Foster
©2007 Sean M. Foster
Although my weakly squeaks are, at best, doubtless no more than partially comprehensible to you, I implore you to look with credulity upon the story that I recount, for it is true in spite of its exceedingly appalling nature. As I pass on the terrible tale, please do not be shocked if I should periodically micturate upon the fluffy pine bedding immediately below my miniscule feet. The harrowing facts that I have learned since my life began here in this Cage have left me broken; no hope remains within me, and I spend my days utterly bereft of anything that even the kindest soul might deem so much as an inadequate facsimile of a higher aspiration. No, you see before you the merest inconsequential shell of a hamster, one who merely survives rather than thrives. I am not satisfied that you or anyone else will judge my tale valuableI even wonder whether it obliquely reveals a truth that should have remained forever hidden from mortal eyesbut I am, nonetheless, compelled to relate it in the perhaps futile hope that I may dissuade others from retracing my Icarian trajectory.
My name is Waddles, and I hail from a proud, ancient lineage of Winter White Russian hamsters. It is rumored that I am a direct descendent of the great Phodopius Petsplusovsky, though I acknowledge that I cannot be wholly and entirely assured of such things. What is certain is that my ancestors settled in the Grand Cage more than a decade ago; this assertion may seem ludicrous, given the tremendous span of time involved, but I confidently attest to its veracity. During that propitious, antediluvian dawn, my forefathers resided in peaceful sophistication, exploring the Grand Cage, excavating the pine shavings, constructing august mansions from dilaniated cardboard. Oh, to dwell within such a sublimely virtuous utopia! The present age finds this once-stately land infested with degenerates and newcomers: Shamrock OPetco and his unbalanced sister Banshee, for example, who this very moment regard me with the repellently dull, ophidian eyes and perplexed expression of the undiagnosed imbecile. Perhaps, however, I should envy the OPetcos. For while it is undeniably true that their inferior minds prevent them from grasping the greatest truths and beauties that the universe possesses, so too does their manifest decifit in intellectual capacity insulate them from the horrible realities that I myself am cursed to comprehend.
Though the melancholy conclusion of my tale has been only recently revealed, I am convinced that the meandering route of said tale was preordained by none other than the callous and unyielding Moiræ. I was a precocious hamster, fully maturing in mental capacity by the age of twenty-five days. Although my advanced intelligence was lauded by my admittedly-feebleminded acquaintances and relations, they also gradually apprehended that I was a brazen dreamer; this disconcerted them, for in spite of (or, perhaps, because of?) their all-devouring stupidity, they were in agreement that II, a majestic Petsplusovsky!should pursue precisely the prosaic, banal life that they, themselves led. Despite their countless attempts to persuade me that my path was foolish, even perilous, I remained fascinated by topics antique, arcane, forbidden; I desired to comprehend exactly who the Masters of the Grand Cage were, and I planned to reveal through my studies the precise nature of the World Outside. While I toiled, perhaps in vain, to restore the enlightened age that my perspicatious progenitors had so delicately nurtured, the masses preoccupied themselves with pastimes hedonistic and worldly, pursuits wholly and inescapably unworthy of one in whose veins runs the proud blood of Petsplusovsky. My co-residents in the Cage (for such I deem it better to name them than the genealogical relations, gossamer-thin as that relationship may be, which I must shamefully admit that harsh, brute Reality has made them of me) seemed especially entranced by the spacious Wheel positioned to one side of the Grand Cage; habitually they would enter the Wheel, run for an interval, and then disembark, perhaps to imbibe a little water or to partake of some of the delicious food pellets that occasionally appear in a broad basin in the corner. This never failed to capture my attention, for it seemed like a singularly profitless activity to indulge in, even for a moment, let alone the profligately elongated spans which they did, indeed, spend within the palpably unwelcoming Wheel. What benefit could such brutish, moronic nonsense possibly offer?
At this juncture within the narrative, it should be noted that for all my gifts in the intellectual realm, admirably extensive as they are, at one and the same time it is also true that I am rather unremarkable in such plebian, purely physical areas as stamina and constitution; as a result, I (true scion of Petsplusovsky though I be!) have, not infrequently, found myself afflicted with fatigue and assorted ailments. In addition, I am forced to endure peculiar fainting fits that often present themselves in tense situations. Try as I might, I cannot but recollect that particularly loathsome night on which I remained awake in a valiant bid to observe the method via which the precious fluid within the Majestic Water Bottle was replenished; when I finally awoke from the ensuing swoon, I realized that morning had arrived and that I possessed no recollection whatsoever of the ostensibly dramatic events that had transpired.
In my youth I labored for a time upon what I intended to be my magnum opus, Historia Cricetidarum; ultimately, however, it became apparent that I possessed neither the capacity to read, nor the capacity to write, nor yet any suitable surface to write upon nor implement to write with. Therefore, I was obliged to turn my attention to other, equally-fulfilling, ventures. For several days, as I roamed across the ftor-ridden bedding, I composed lush pastorals; later, I sought to explore the eldritch Dreamlands until I was compelled to eternally depart after chancing upon the putrid, vile nightmare city known as Ulthar (may its monstrously voracious populace decrease!). I passed few moments with the bustling, squeaking crowd, but this did not concern me in the least, for I was and remain an individualist who prefers a dignified solitude.
Yet as I attempted to author the Historia, as I composed my pastorals, as I traversed the Dreamlands, always was some portion of my mind preoccupied with the Wheel beside the easternmost wall of the Grand Cage. I cannot deny that in some abstruse sense it was intrinsically intriguing; more and more regularly, I discovered myself sitting adjacent thereto in silent scrutiny. Distant relations and acquaintances alike entered the Wheel, scrambled forward, and finally emerged: Precisely what was the inexplicable allure of the thing? Surely these ignorami could not be cognizant of some worthwhile feature of the apparatus to which I, myself, with all my intellectual blessings, was unaccountably oblivious?
Eventually I came to acknowledge that I would, perforce, need to enter the Wheel personally in order to determine whether it genuinely possessed value. This, I concluded, was a necessary evil, inasmuch as I could hardly rely upon others shoddy sensoria to provide them an accurate, impartial impression of the experience, even did they possess within their etiolated crania sufficient vocabulary with which to relate it to me. Subsequent to a prolonged period of building my confidence, therefore, I gingerly stepped onto the series of narrow bars comprising the Wheels floor. All at once that floor began to sway; you cannot imagine the unnerving sensation with which I was immediately seized. My throat tightened, my pulse quickened, my vision grew nebulous; I must then have fled, although I possess no memories whatsoever of said flight, for after my swoon I suddenly awoke, not within the Wheel proper, but upon a bed of newly-enurinated pine shavings some few body-lengths away.
For days I situated myself distinctly opposite the Wheel. It had bested me, and it now assailed me with humiliating ridicule perceptible only to my ears, and mine alone. Struggling to rebuild my collapsed confidence, I found solace in the knowledge that I am a descendent not of cowards but of heroes; and so, scarcely a week after that ill-fated initial encounter, I stood once more beside the vexatious device. My paws quivered as I stepped within, yet I succeeded in conquering my fears and the nausea that gripped me; inhaling deeply, I then began to hasten forward. I fully expected to collide with the Wall of the Cage before me, as I generally did when speeding in a single direction for longer than a few seconds; however, when after ten consecutive seconds I reopened my eyes, I realized that although I had at no time ceased to run, nor yet so much as paused for the least, most trifling portion of a moment, nevertheless did I remain some little distance from the Wall!
My heart thumping wildly, I vaulted out of that incredible Wheel and struggled to catch my breath. As inconceivable as the notion may appear, I had been, while running inside, simultaneously moving and not moving! With all of my preconceptions about the nature of Reality unceremoniously obliterated, I lay catatonic for the remainder of the afternoon. Perhaps the answers to the questions that I had asked so passionately for so long were finally within earshot?
The following morning I repositioned myself adjacent to the Wheel. Although I possessed no sensible explanation for the fantastic phenomenon which I had experienced, that phenomenon nonetheless existed; as a result, I was obligated to investigate until its sphingine secrets had been divulged and comprehended. I laughed while those around me climbed inside and hastened along, all blindly unaware of the profound enigma which surrounded them; despite the fact that the mystery thus bared itself to them, they failed not only to understand it, but even to acknowledge its very existence!
I assure you, long and prolifically fecund were the unnumbered hours I passed in discreet meditation, contemplating the bizarre datum that I had perceived. At length I attempted to gain some insight into the true essence of the device; I performed many cunning experiments and crafted many theories. Perhaps the Wheel functioned as a portal into a dimension in which physical mechanics operated in a fashion far more marvelously refined than our own? Or perhaps the Wheels exquisitely curvilinear form, Giottine in its stark perfection, somehow permittedno, no, not permitted, but encouraged!spatial and/or temporal anomalies to manifest themselves within the coarse fabric of this, the paltry universe that we flatter ourselves we think we know?
Regardless of the many seemingly insoluble conundra that plagued my wearied mind, I was again and again presented with one irrefutable fact: Within the Wheel, one was capable of running as swiftly as one desired for as far as one desired for as long as one desired. This concept soon preoccupied my attention, and I began to wonder of the possibilities inherent therein. Then, upon awakening from a modest slumber designed to replenish my waning energy, it abruptly occurred to me that if one ran swiftly enough and far enough and long enough, one might actually be able to utilize the Wheel to pass through the bars and emerge into the mysterious World Outside. Although it was pellucidly evident to me that the notion was possessed of potential, I was likewise convinced that it was deeply fraught with peril. I paced, I fretted, I fainted; and, in the end, I bravely adjudged that the arguments in favor of such a quest absolutely and utterly overwhelmed all arguments against.
On the succeeding morning, therefore, I bade farewell to my nonplussed acquaintances and relatives and, after my second cousin Snowball lumbered out of it, myself reentered that horrible Wheel. For several moments I fought to sustain my resolve; then, in a manner entirely befitting my distinguished ancestors, I started off. Lunge after lunge I took; step followed step followed step followed step. I felt my narrow throat becoming quickly parched, yet still I ran; my muscles ached, yet did I ever refuse to accept failure. Sadly, however, I was, as I had always been, a hamster of rather questionable endurance, and fatigue eventually seized me; in shame I slumped to the floor beneath, defeated.
The sway of that forsaken Wheel gradually declined while I lay on the metal bars following what had proved to be a futile dash toward the World Outside. A full three minutes had departed, as I myself had endeavored to do; yet whereas that trinity of diminutive handmaidens of Chronos had succeededand succeeded gloriously!I had failed, and failed miserably. Exhausted and discouraged, I torpidly dragged myself across the repeatedly-enmicturated bedding in the direction of the Majestic Water Bottle; from it I quaffed deeply, knowing that my purely physical thirst would be satisfied, albeit not the cruelly thwarted desires of my celeritously-pulsating heart.
But then, as I feverishly darted my tongue out at the notionally-indestructible sphere separating my mouth from the source of that necessary fluid, something deep within my soul suddenly compelled me to re-examine the Wheel in which I had been racing for what had seemed endless æons. I resisted, somehow understanding what I should find there, but my will failed me in a mere instant. Therefore, I turned my head to gaze at that terrible Wheel; and what I beheld is that which has reduced me to the shivering individual now haunting this inescapable prison.
Yet exactly what was it that I saw? What abhorrent monstrosity, what foul apparition, could possibly break the spirit of a hamster of such proud and noble blood? The truth had been revealed to me at last: Regardless of how precipitous the velocity with which I had been able to run, regardless of how protracted the period during which I had been able to scamper, no conclusion to my insane pilgrimage could ever have been expected. For the wicked Wheel in which I had passed those woeful minutes was fixed to a stationary axleI had been running in place the entire time!