Ferdy still felt bad when he remembered how he had disappointed his family by going to Japan. They had all been worried sick for him, and when Anica, Laurina and he had arrived home, none of them had wanted to talk to him for a week.
He also felt bad when he remembered the taste of the weird fluid. In his memory, it had tasted wonderful, and even though he knew how he had felt afterwards, he wanted to taste it again.
He thought about talking to one of the others, but they were still pretty mad at him. He realised that it was because they loved him so much. It still hurt and he felt sad and alone.
Ferdy actually spent a lot of time thinking about this fluid. He thought that his problems might go away if he just got to drink that more often. Then he was ashamed.
Since he did not have much to do all night he roamed the lab. He had not gone back to the place where the other mice were kept since his escape, but now he got curious. He did not remember exactly where he had come from. One night he stumbled onto a big room filled with cages. He jumped out of the ventilation system onto a rack and sniffed. The hair on his back suddenly rose when he realised that the cages around him were not filled with mice but rats. He shrieked in fear, took all his strength and jumped back into the ventilation system. There he sat down and took a couple of deep breaths, until his heartbeat was back to normal. He was getting careless, he should have smelled the rats from much farther away. It took him a while, but slowly his adventurous spirit returned. He went a few paces to the other side and glanced down into another room. Here it smelled like mice, but he was still not sure if he dared to go down.
“Hello Ferdy, what are you doing here?”, asked a voice behind him and Ferdy jumped and almost fell down into the room. He turned around and saw Nina, who was grinning at him.
“Nina, I didn’t hear you”, he said and knew it sounded lame.
“I didn’t want to startle you. I come here often, you know?” She went past him and jumped down on a rack with cages. He followed her.
“What are you doing here, then?”, he asked.
“Oh, mostly I just watch the mice here. During the day there are often humans around, and they take the bottles out of the cages and weigh them. It is pretty stupid, but they are humans, after all.”
Ferdy climbed on one of the cages and sniffed. “These cages could use some cleaning”, he decided. Then another scent caught his attention. At first he couldn’t believe it, but when he got closer he was sure.
“Say, do these mice only get water to drink?”, he asked as casual as possible.
“We can speak, too, you know?”, a voice came from under him.
He stared down and saw that the mouse in the cage had woken up and was looking at him.
“Sorry, I thought you were sleeping”, Ferdy said. The other mouse ignored him.
“Hey Nina, nice of you to drop by”, he said instead. Nina smiled.
“Ferdy, this is 334. We’ve talked a lot during the last days, since he saw me watching the humans.”
“Oh.” Ferdy didn’t know what else to say. Then he thought of something. “If you know that it is possible to escape, why didn’t you? You could come live with us.”
334 laughed. “Sure, I could. But what about my brothers? We can’t all escape, the humans would notice and find us again. And besides, I would really miss the alcohol.”
So that’s what the weird fluid had been. Alcohol. 334 did not seem to be embarrassed about drinking it.
“I could do without, though”, another mouse, apparently 499, said from the neighbouring cage. “The stuff tastes horrible and I would not drink it even if I had only alcohol here.”
“That’s because you’re not a mutant”, said 334 drily.
Ferdy’s head was spinning with excitement, but he did not dare ask questions while Nina was in the room. He was not sure why but he felt that the others would not understand his attraction to alcohol.
So he left a little later together with Nina. The next night, though, he came back very early. He had made sure that Nina was still occupied gathering food, so when he jumped into the room he was alone.
“Ah, a visitor again”, said 334, and Ferdy could hear in his voice that he was already a little drunk.
“Hello 334”, he said carefully. He didn’t know how to say it gently, so he just came out with it. “Do you think I could have some of your alcohol?”
334 laughed. “Sure, no problem”, he said. “You’ll need to push this bottle back a little, then you should be able to reach it.”
He watched as Ferdy struggled to reposition the bottle. When he tasted the first drops of the alcohol, he sighed happily.
“So you’re hooked already, he?”, 334 asked.
“Nobody’s hooked”, Ferdy said defensively. “I just like the taste, that’s all.”
334 shook his head. “Tell that to yourself all you want, but honestly, nobody drinks it for the taste.”
Ferdy started coming back there every night. Sometimes Nina also appeared, and then he did not drink any alcohol. He still didn’t want anyone from his family to know. During these nights he was always cranky and during the day he didn’t feel well. Life was so much better when he was able to drink.
Then Nina joined him for almost a week. Ferdy was getting more and more impatient. He was daydreaming about the alcohol, and he could see the pity in 334’s eyes when he sat next to Nina and just talked about things that weren’t interesting at all. Actually, nothing was really interesting now, except to find out when he would be able to drink again.
Finally, there was a night when Nina didn’t come. Ferdy was so happy he jumped down on the cage too carelessly and hurt his foot. He did not care. He repositioned the bottle, as he had done before so many times now, and started drinking. After a while, 334 said, “Buddy, don’t you think you should slow down a little?”
Ferdy ignored him. It was so good to feel the alcohol take away all his tension. He started seeing everything double, the room was spinning in front of his eyes. He decided to lie down for a minute.
He woke from the frantic squeaking of 334. “Ferdy, get up! Ferdy!”, he shouted. “Feeerdy!”
Ferdy slowly opened one eye and closed it again quickly. It was much too bright.
“Whassup?”, he mumbled.
“It’s daytime! The humans will be coming soon. You can’t stay here!”
334 had always pretended to be indifferent about Ferdy, but now he was frantic with the idea that his new friend could get caught.
Ferdy tried to put the pieces in his head together, and failed. “Wherem I?”
334 sighed in exasperation. “You need to leave, now!”
It took a little time, but finally Ferdy was able to open his eyes. The ground was swaying beneath him. He looked up at the opening in the ceiling. “I ssshoul’ gettup there?”, he asked. He started climbing up the rack and fell down again immediately.
Then they heard something.
“Ferdy? Are you still down there?”
It was Nina. She jumped down to Ferdy and said, “The humans will be here any minute, I have already seen them on the corridor. Are you coming?”
334 said, “He can’t. He drank too much and now he can hardly move.”
At first Nina didn’t seem to understand what he meant, but then she spotted the bottle and nodded.
“Okay, Ferdy, I’ll climb up there now and pull you up after me.”
Ferdy stared at her but finally nodded.
It took them ten more minutes to get Ferdy into the ventilation system, and another hour until Nina had brought him back to his sleeping place. She left him there and he fell asleep immediately.
When Ferdy woke up it was dark again. Around him sat all the other mice of his little family. They looked at him with concerned expressions.
“Ferdy”, Nadine said, “Nina told us what happened.”
Ferdy’s ears turned red with shame.
“How long has this been going on?”, Sophie asked.
He explained everything, from his adventure in Japan to his frequent visits with 334, and his craving for alcohol.
“That is strange”, Wulfric stated. “I never knew any mice who liked to drink alcohol.”
“334 said that he was a mutant”, Nina said helpfully. “He said only mutants like to drink alcohol, whatever that might mean.”
“Anyway, you need to stop drinking”, Gulliver pitched in. “We can help you forget about the alcohol, but you really have to want to stop.”
Ferdy nodded miserably.
“Ok”, he said. “Let’s try.” Then he added, “But I want to find out why I like it so much, too.”
(c) 2013 Stefanie Uhrig