REJECTED: Julian the Mouse

Every now and then, I slam out something unsolicited with a particular publication in mind. More often than not, they don’t want it, so it goes here. In this case, it was NPR’s Three-Minute Fiction competition, Round 11: “A character finds something he or she has no intention of returning.

Julian the MouseIf he hadn’t been dawdling over lunch, Eric might never have heard the soft scratching noise from the next room. As it was, he still clutched his beverage as he stood to investigate.

He entered the living room just in time to see a mouse pop out of the opposite wall, seemingly by magic, and scurry in his direction. They both halted in their tracks at the exact same moment, eyes glued to each other. Eric brought the milk to his lips, downing the last of it in one gulp and turning the glass upside down in his hand. He inched forward, his socks sliding nearly silently across the laminate flooring.

He was able to slowly crouch down without scaring the tiny animal off, until their faces were just a foot or two apart. He hadn’t been certain at first, but at this distance the two black dots above the mouse’s nose were unmistakable.


“I need my critters,” Tammy had said when she moved in. Besides Julian, there were twin guinea pigs Leonard and Christine, hamster Beverly, and rat Alyssa. Lenny and Chris shared an aquarium, but everyone else lived in separate plastic cages with tubes extending above and around them for exercise and exploration.

“Why do you need both a rat and a mouse?” Eric asked her. “Isn’t a rat just a big mouse?” They didn’t have sex for a week.

The smallest of the plastic cages, stripped of all excess tubing so Bev and Alyssa could have more, had remained behind when Tammy left. That was the only reason she would ever see him again, she said – only for a reunion if Julian ever reemerged.

For the first few weeks, Eric left bits of cheddar in humane traps scattered around the house. None was ever eaten. When the decaying cheese began smelling up the place, he chucked the traps entirely and hung sachets of potpourri in every room. The odor was gone within 24 hours.

And so, Eric noticed only then, was the scent of befouled woodchips. Tammy had been decent enough about cleaning her pets’ habitats, but always did it on the day after garbage collection. The stink never failed to waft its way back inside, as if there were a miniature jet stream straight past the trash barrels and into the stove hood vent.

Eric glanced away from Julian’s spotted face to the corner where the rodent’s erstwhile residence was installed, its only accessory a hanging water bottle. It sat upon a small table with a single drawer, picked up for seven dollars at the last tag sale he and Tammy had attended together. Two more romance novels and yet another rabbit figurine rounded the total out to ten bucks.

He really could use a table on the other side of his bed, he thought.

“Boo!” he shouted, whipping his head back to face Julian. The little mouse unfroze, scampering away from the noise and into an impossibly tiny hole just above the moulding in the living room’s south wall. Eric grabbed a book and slapped it in front of the breach, pressing it as flush as it would go.

Julian’s cage fit easily in the largest outside trash barrel. Eric was pretty sure he had a tub of spackle in the garage.

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