When Gary Sanchez woke up in the king-sized bed of his spacious loft he felt sick enough to wish that he’d never woken up at all. Yesterday, as he knelt down in front of his sink and reached blindly into the cabinet beneath for the powdered bleach, he had been bitten by a mouse. The pain had been intense but brief, like a lesser version of a bee sting. It didn’t keep him from freaking out though, shouting in shock, and shoving his arm back into the cabinet to grab and crush the pest. It jumped out however, shooting through the space between his bent legs, and scuttled along the black and white linoleum, its small pink tail swinging behind it.
Gary Sanchez had turned to chase it, but it was out of sight, likely under one of the two living room couches. Gary looked at his hand, examined the break in the skin and the quickly reddening area where he was certain blood would soon ooze out. He wondered how in the world a mouse could make it this high in a building. He lived on the twentieth floor!
“Yeah, I’ll get you,” Gary had muttered, ripping two squares of paper towels from the roll on the countertop. He pressed it to the webbing between his right thumb and forefinger, his eyes on the living room. He wanted to deal with the rodent now, lift up the couch and hopefully be quick enough with his foot to stomp the life out of it, but he’d had to meet up with his coworkers from the local auto sales lot for a drink that day.
He had cleaned the wound with disinfectant and left his apartment and had forgotten the incident five minutes later.
Presently, Gary sat up, his head throbbing like a marching band was in it. His nose was clogged and dried mucus was caked on the area above his upper lip. He knew it was there by the feel when he stretched his arms and opened his mouth up wide to yawn. Mid-yawn he broke into a fit of wet, thick coughs, tearing through a throat that felt as if some sick doctor had doused it with acid in his sleep.
Gary took the top off an Advil bottle at the bathroom sink and turned it over and spilled three brown pills into his open hand. He bit his bottom lip and furrowed his brow in thought, and a second later emptied another pill into his open palm. He took them, showered, dressed in his work clothes and left the apartment for work.
If you have a job, you got to work, he thought.
An hour and a half later, strolling down one of the aisles of the car lot he worked at, listening to questions from an elderly lady who seemed to have an issue with letting him speak for more than ten seconds, he fainted. The combination of the blazing sun, his throbbing head, sore throat, and weariness had been too much. The Advil hadn’t done jack.
A few hours later, being granted a few days off from work by his manager, and fresh home from the hospital, Gary Sanchez worked on breaking the resilient plastic name band around his left wrist. The hospital had given him something that worked, and he felt good again; good enough to go back to work tomorrow if Mr. Khan—his boss— would let him. The look in Mr. Khan’s eyes as he’d knelt over him in the scorching car lot had suggested otherwise though.
It wasn’t until then that Gary thought of the mouse and that he’d been as healthy as an ox until the mouse from under the cabinet had bitten him.
Gary managed to get the band off his wrist and threw it in the kitchen trash. He plopped down on the living room couch, grabbed the remote and flipped on the TV, and just as he was about to settle into Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room, something stung his foot.
He shouted in surprise and shot up from the couch, looking frantically in all directions, unaware of how crazy and Einstein-like his hair looked. He spotted the mouse from yesterday scuttling away from the couch and down the hardwood floor of the hallway, toward the three rooms of the loft.
“Oh no you don’t,” Sanchez shouted, started after the mouse, stumbled over his own foot and fell hard to the floor. “You damn mouse!” he screamed on the hardwood. “You damn mouuusse!”
Gary Sanchez woke up two points down against Mr. Jolly Mouse, which is a nickname he gave the mouse as he was escaping into sleep the night before. Gary felt worse than ever. So bad in fact, that at first he thought he’d died in the night and had woken up in hell. His mouth tasted like he’d been eating vomit in his sleep, he couldn’t suck any air through his nose which was clogged like Houston traffic on I-45, and his head was screaming like a madman. All this despite having cleaned the wounds with disinfectant each time.
“Mouse,” Gary muttered, slid out from his covers, and put his feet down on the cold floor of his bedroom. Then he was bit. As sure as he felt sick he was bit. In his shock he fell off the edge of the bed and to the floor, and reached out and clenched his right foot in both hands.
Jolly Mouse scuttled out the door and banked right as sharply as a criminal in a car chase with the police, its familiar pink tail trailing behind him.
“Damn mouuuussee!” Sanchez screamed, shaking a fist at it. “I’ll get you mouse! I swear I’ll—”
Gary vomited then, all over himself and the floor, a blend of meat, cheeses, and soups that amounted to a hot steaming and smelly mess.
“Damn mouse,” Gary muttered, and coughed up the last bits of vomit. He wiped his mouth with the back of his wrist. “Damn mouse.”
Gary struggled to get up, almost slipped when his bare foot touched on the chunky hot mess below him, then he limped to the bathroom with two separately bitten feet. He took two of the pills that the doctor had given him, limped back to bed without cleaning the wound and went to sleep.
Gary didn’t get out of bed for nearly twenty-four hours, and when he did he felt better, but not quite one hundred percent. It was Saturday, and when he looked outside at the few clouds in the sky and the sun making its way to its high point from the east he knew it was going to be a nice day.
But first things first. He had to get rid of the mouse. Gary moved slowly around his apartment, feeling his stomach clench and his head get light if he moved too fast. He grabbed his keys off the counter and wallet off the dining room table and left to go get some stuff for Jolly Mouse.
When he came back from the grocery store, he placed ten mouse traps around the house, baiting them with his favorite Swiss cheese, feeling a bit dismayed that he had to waste such good food on such a prick of a mouse. But at least he’d finally be free of the mouse and be able to focus on other things besides having to deal with a virus. Gary sat back down on the living room couch and watched TV, this time making sure he didn’t take his socks off like he normally did.
He kicked his feet up on the couch an hour later and went to sleep there, hoping to rest away what was left of this virus and that the mouse would have his neck broken under the metal bar of a mouse trap when he woke up.
A few hours later he woke up with a headache, stood up from the couch and went to the bathroom to get some pills. Besides the headache he felt pretty much new again, and was ready to cook himself a big meal for dinner tonight. Maybe spaghetti or hot wings.
He stepped into the bathroom, flicked on the light and lifted one arm as he yawned and used the other to open up the medicine cabinet. After he took some pills he might—
Jolly Mouse flew off the middle shelf of the medicine cabinet and latched his tiny teeth and claws onto Gary’s face and Gary screamed. He gave a loud curse. His nose erupted in a flare of pain as he fell to the ground and landed hard on his tailbone. He attempted to reach for Jolly Mouse with both hands—hopefully to squeeze it to death—but missed by mere inches as it jumped off his face and ran out the door, banking right toward the living room.
Gary scrambled to his feet, fully awake now and the headache forgotten for the moment. Blood ran down the tip of his nose and his eyes watered.
“I’m going to get you Jolly Mouse!” he screamed. But when he arrived in the living room, his face red, bleeding and sweating, Jolly Mouse was nowhere in sight. Gary looked to the right, toward the coat closet and a window. Nothing. He looked to the left toward the dinner table and the balcony. Nothing there either.
He moved for the couch, lifted it up with two hands and looked under. It was one of the places that he’d left the cheese in the mousetrap but the mouse wasn’t there. Just a couple of quarters and a piece of lined paper, and the undisturbed mouse trap.
Gary put the couch down with a thud, and then stood there, hands on his sides, biting his bottom lip. He gave a wet cough, cleared his throat, and went on standing there, not really looking around but instead thinking hard. He gave two more wet coughs and put his hand to his mouth as he did.
“The mousetrap will get you,” he said quietly, and nodded. He smiled. “Yeah, the mousetrap will definitely get you Jolly Mouse.”
Gary shuffled back to the medicine cabinet with a hand over his mouth as several wet coughs ripped through him. On the last one he had to break into a run to reach the toilet in time, the cough turning into a need to puke. More of the hot, wet and chunky mess from his stomach came up and spilled into the round opening of the toilet bowl.
“Damn mouse,” Gary muttered, his head resting on the cold porcelain of the toilet rim. He swiped at the puke dripping from the corner of his mouth and flicked his hand absently toward the tiled wall of the shower, splattering drops of bile like a spray of blood.
Gary struggled to his feet and shuffled to bed. He woke up the next morning sicker than he’d ever been in his life. His face felt swollen; his head, throat, and stomach hurt. His nostrils felt as if they’d been filled with liquid cement that had dried overnight.
When Gary managed to grab his pills and make it to the kitchen for a cup of water, he finished what was left. As he drank the water to swallow the last four pills, he rested one arm against the counter to keep on his feet. When he’d swallowed the pills he fell forward, hitting his chin hard on the tiled floor and knocking himself out, the blue cup he’d used for the pills spinning on its side a foot away.
The cheese hadn’t worked apparently. Two days later, when Gary felt well enough, he contacted a black market dealer through a coworker at work, saying to the coworker to tell the black market dealer that he was in desperate need of some firearms. The coworker didn’t give Gary so much as a prolonged look—being the one who always let Gary know he knew people on the black market in the first place—and said he’d get back to him as soon as he could.
After giving the coworker fifty dollars for his trouble, the coworker provided the address and meeting time that Gary needed that same day, and on a Wednesday night Gary Sanchez met up with a guy named Roberto Marks, in a trash-littered alley behind a soul food café.
It was cool out, and Roberto Marks wore a blue hoody with the hood up, and for most of the conversation kept his hands shoved in his pockets. He was professional but impatient the whole time.
An hour and a half later Gary arrived home with a black duffel bag containing one machete, two nine millimeter pistols, an Uzi, and a shotgun. It also contained plenty of ammo and some green army fatigues neatly folded on top of the weapons. He locked the door, turned on the light, dropped the duffel bag, and began undressing right there. Gary hadn’t touched a gun in over a decade—when he’d been in his late teens—but something about this mouse told him now was the time.
When he had the fresh, unwrinkled set of army fatigues on, he went back toward the duffel bag for a gun. That’s when he was jumped on, Jolly Mouse leaping on him from above (God knew how!). Gary felt Jolly Mouse’s sharp, tiny teeth sink into the nape of his neck, felt Jolly Mouse’s claws sink into his skin. For a moment Gary was still, eyes watering under the pain of the germ infested teeth that Jolly Mouse had pierced him with. He knew if he reacted too quickly Jolly Mouse would be gone in a flash, like a lightning strike.
Yeah, I’m going to get sick as hell again, Gary thought, but that’s okay. It’s perfectly okay.
“That’s a good mouse,” Gary said, and cracked a big smile in the confines of his loft. He slowly reached back and was surprised when the mouse remained latched on his neck, as he touched the warm fur on its back side with his fingertips. There was a squeak and Gary was bit again. More pain flared up in the back of his neck.
He can sense an attack, Gary thought. He’s letting me pet him because I haven’t made any sudden moves.
He decided not to grab him yet. Gary took the tips of his fingers off the mouse and leaned slowly toward the duffel bag, and peered inside. He examined the weapons carefully for a moment, and reached in and grabbed the cool metal surface of the nine-millimeter.
The mouse bit him again and Gary winced. He carefully put his hand back on the mouse, and closed his palm around it.
“That’s a good mousey,” Gary said, still grinning, and gave a loud stupid chuckle. He sounded like his own ridiculous impression of a mentally challenged person. The mouse bit him on the inside of his palm, but Gary knew Jolly Mouse was done for.
Gary could feel warm blood spilling down the back of his neck where the mouse had been, and soon felt warm blood inside the hand he held the mouse in. For a moment Gary did nothing, considering the nine-millimeter he held, his brow furrowed. He tossed the unloaded gun back in the bag. It’d be too difficult to load while he held Jolly Mouse anyway. But he didn’t want to squeeze the mouse either. Doing that didn’t seem to fit the situation.
Squeak! More sharp pain stung his flesh as he was bit again. Gary’s eyes centered on his pained hand and he closed his other hand over it.
“So,” Gary Sanchez said to the mouse inside his palms. “You like to bite people, huh?”
Fresh blood trickled out of his hands like he was squeezing the water out of a balloon. Gary brought his closed hands to his face—close enough to keep the mouse from being able to get away—opened his hands the tiniest bit, and began sinking his teeth into Jolly Mouse’s furry white flesh.
Jolly Mouse struggled, scratched with his tiny claws and tried to bite Gary back.
Jolly Mouse squeaked again.
And with a thin spray of blood Gary Sanchez bit down and tore off half his tiny body with his teeth.
J. Marshall's Ebook '70 Minutes At Roberts', a collection of short stories and novellas, available at http://jmarshallbooks.mybigcommerce.com