Plague

By Rylee Rucker

 Living in a building with several hundred humans is usually a pretty sweet deal. There are plenty of people leaving food out, and there’s plenty of trash being made, and there are endless places to hide. Overall, life is good.

But there’s one time of year that just isn’t fun for anyone.

“Achoo!”

“I thought rats were immune to the plague?” Calliope asked, trying to force open a bag of chips that had been left in a colorful cardboard box that almost looked like a giftbox.

“And I thought that humans would be sanitary enough not to cause a plague outbreak, but here we are,” I said, sniffling a bit. Calliope’s bag popped, and she squeaked happily as she dove into the salty potato chip goodness. “Thanks so much for your sympathy and consideration Callie.”

“You’re welcome!” she said through a mouthful of chips. I groaned and laid my head on my paws in misery.
Every year when the weather gets hot, nearly all the humans leave the building, and after a few months of that, new humans come to replace the old ones. And every year, without fail, the new humans all start to get sick. And then they get me sick, and I get to spend several weeks being miserable about it.

“Achoo!”

“Gesundheit,” Calliope said, her voice slightly muffled by a mouthful of chips. Though even if she hadn’t been eating, I’m not sure that I would have understood her.

“I—what?”

“I dunno what it means, but I keep hearing humans say it to other humans who sneeze,” Calliope said, pausing in her munching as she spoke. “The afflicted human always says thank you after, so I thought maybe it might be some kind of ward against sickness.”

“Don’t you think that if the humans had a magic anti-sickness word, they would stop getting sick every year?” I asked, fighting off another sneeze. “Ah-ah-achoo!”

“You make a fair point,” Calliope conceded. She finished off the last of her chips, then leaned back on her hind legs to try and catch the scent of more food. “Hmmm. Would you rather have leftover chicken or leftover…I’m not actually sure what that second scent is, but it’s some kind of meat.”

“Chicken,” I said. Calliope scampered off through the garbage, following her nose. Calliope may not have been the most sympathetic friend, but she did make sure I was still getting food, which was more than most would do. It must have been a mouse thing, just like how she never got ill from the humans. Stupid mice.

Calliope reappeared, dragging a red and white bag along with her. She squeaked proudly as she stepped aside, and I gave her a grateful look before diving into the leftover sandwich she’d found for me. Humans were so wasteful.

“Achoo!”

I paused in my eating, turning to Calliope with wide, gleeful eyes. She met my gaze with equally wide eyes, though the way her ears had flattened told me that she was more horrified than happy.

“Callie, did you just sneeze?”

For a moment she looked like she might deny it, but then she sneezed again, and let out a whine. “This is your fault. You’ve gotten me sick.”

“And I feel so terrible about it,” I said, making no effort to conceal my smugness. Maybe mice weren’t so immune to the human’s plagues afterall.

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