The Wane and the Wax of the Moon

Submitted into Contest #55 in response to: Write a story about a meeting of a secret society.... view prompt

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Mystery

He slithered out onto the hard dirt floor. His tiny paws scrabbled at his mother’s underside. He wanted to go back to the warm world where he was perpetually surrounded by the warm yolk of his mother; it was cold here.

Harsh sounds came from the door of the tiny shelter. There were three small shelters within the cage; he and his mother were in one now. A bulky adult male, not his father, stepped inside and dealt a blow to his mother’s back. “What did you bring another child here for, eh?” he roared. “It’s just another mouth to feed!”

His mother whimpered. A thinner, but just as mean, adult male stepped up behind the bulky one. “Yeah, you’ve hogged the shelter for too long.” Together, they rained a few more blows on his mother.

Another adult male stepped into the shelter. “Enough!” His voice was strong and commanding but slightly panicked. “That’s my mate and child! Get out!”

After some bickering and blows, the two males finally retreated. His father sat down at the door of the shelter. “I’ll protect you, my loves.” A thin rain drizzled down miserably into the cage. Dusk fell. A full moon shone dimly behind a wispy grey cloud.

The moon waned and waxed.

Oscar was hungry. The human, the master of this cage of thirty or so guinea pigs, had not brought food for three days and three nights. He had been completely weaned off milk a few days ago, so now he had to eat solid food. Except there was never enough food. Oscar sat between his mother and father and stared at the door of the human’s mansion. It had remained shut for too long. All around him were many other guinea pigs, all crammed in the one cage. Bleak and silent, they waited for the arrival of food. A biting wind blew. It was bitterly cold. There was no sun at all. All of it added to Oscar’s hunger.

At long last, the door to the human’s house opened. It walked over to the cage, food bowl in hand. It opened the cage door and tipped the food onto the ground inside. It was bad food: mushy leftovers and a few rotten cabbage leaves. But it was better than nothing. Oscar sprang forward eagerly, knocking into a few other guinea pigs as he went. He aimed to get a cabbage leaf. Just as his teeth were going to clamp on one, he was knocked to the side by a bulky adult male. Emma jumped forward and whisked Oscar away before he could be beaten or trodden on. 

“Be careful, son,” she said with both parts concern and indignation. “This world’s a dangerous one.” 

Oscar looked helplessly at the belligerent throng of guinea pigs gathered around the little pile of food. “But the food’s going to be gone!”

“I’ll get some.” George, his father, entered the fray. He emerged again with half a rotten cabbage leaf. “I’m sorry, loves. This was all I could get.”

They ate together. The biting wind continued to blow. There was no sun at all. They shivered. 

The moon waned and waxed.

When the human brought food and the guinea pigs surged up to snatch as much as they could, George stood up and stopped them.

He gathered the food up into a pile and stood his ground in front of it. “Hear me speak,” he commanded. Surprised, the guinea pigs retreated. Nothing of the kind had ever happened before. 

“I believe we should devise a fairer system of eating food. We should share evenly instead of fight over it.”

He turned around and began sorting the cabbage and lettuce leaves. He sliced each of the leaves into two equal pieces. “Every guinea pig may take half a leaf for itself,” he announced when he was done. “I’ll supervise to make sure everyone is honest. I can go last.”

The guinea pigs filed up one by one in silence to take their share, Emma and Oscar included. There was no fighting that day.

Dusk fell. It was time for sleep. The bulky adult male stood up and pushed past the other guinea pigs to get to a little shelter. “This one will be mine tonight.” But he was stopped by George.

“There are only three little houses in this cage,” George said. “We should share them too, like we did the food. That way, everyone can sleep in a house every few days.”

“But I got here first!” The bulky adult male said angrily. His name was Isaac. “I got first dibs!”

“Very well,” George said. “You can have it for tonight.” He let Isaac go into the shelter. “But that’ll count as your turn. Tomorrow night, it’ll be someone else’s turn.”

Then George assigned the remaining houses to two mothers and their children. 

Oscar watched his father and slowly realised the importance of kindness.

So, life in the guinea pig cage became better. Once every day, when the human brought food, it was George’s role to divvy it up and distribute it evenly among every guinea pig in the cage. They shared the houses evenly too, by taking turns. Because there were thirty guinea pigs and three houses, every guinea pig got to have a turn every ten or so days. They shared the space too; three guinea pigs walked ten laps up and down the length of the cage so they could get some exercise, while the others squished up and made room. When their ten laps were done, they switched with three other guinea pigs. In this way, everyone got some exercise. 

In this manner, life became slightly better. George became their unofficial leader; the one who was looked to for guidance and justice. Isaac and the other strong bullies in the tribe slowly became less aggressive and more considerate. 

The moon waned and waxed again.

Emma lay inside a house. Her alternating wails and groans could be heard in the whole cage. George and Oscar paced up and down in worry. All the other guinea pigs held their breath. 

The wails and groans died down. Unable to resist, Oscar peeped into the house. Two dead baby guinea pigs, covered in blood, lay beside his mother. Emma opened an eye and tried to smile; but to Oscar, it seemed like a grimace. Then she was gone.

Oscar was devastated. So was George. 

All normal activity ceased that day. When the human brought food, it was Isaac who shared it among everyone; George was huddled in a corner, numb and unresponsive, Oscar sitting in a daze beside him. 

A few days later, the human brought a dog into the backyard. The guinea pigs had never seen a monster like that before. It prowled up to the guinea pig cage and sniffed at it curiously. The guinea pigs shrank into a corner. The dog hopped on top of the cage and reached a paw in, trying to grab a guinea pig. Terrified, the guinea pigs scampered around the cage, trying to avoid the paw of the dog. Oscar couldn’t find the strength to run; the grief of his mother's death lay too fresh on his heart. The dog’s paw descended on him.

“No!” George leapt up and knocked Oscar aside. The paw latched onto George instead. George was too big to fit through a gap in the wire mesh of the cage roof, but the dog pulled and tugged until there was a sickening crack and George popped out onto the other side. The dog snapped his neck with his jaws then ate him. Bits of blood and bone rained down on the shell-shocked guinea pigs below. 

Three more guinea pigs died that way. The rest of them fled around the cage mindlessly, terrified beyond reason and thinking only of avoiding the dreaded paw for another moment. In all that time, the human stood to the side, watching with dark laughter in its eyes. Finally, it took the dog away. The guinea pigs collapsed onto the ground in exhaustion. No one spoke. 

Dusk came. The human brought them their daily meal of food. Oscar walked up, subconsciously thinking of taking much of the food for himself. He mindlessly batted away a guinea pig child that had gotten to the food before him. Only as he tore aggressively into a rotten cabbage leaf did he realise the irony of what he’d done. He, son of their great leader, had just repeated the selfish move done to him by Isaac all those moons ago. He was horrified.

Hurriedly, he gave the cabbage leaf he’d been about to eat back to the scared child. With a closer look, he saw that she wasn’t even that much younger than him; she was just too emaciated and under-nourished. Then he divided the rest of the food evenly and bade the others to come take their share. They did so gratefully, happy that someone had stepped up to take the place of leader.

As they did so, Isaac came up to Oscar. “I just saw what you did,” he said gravely, “and I’d like to say I’m sorry for doing that same thing to you so many moons ago. Looking from a third person perspective, I only just realised how selfish and arrogant it was. And I’ve never properly apologised before.”

Oscar tried to smile, but it turned into a grimace. “That’s ok. Glad we’re friends now.”

“That’s my daughter, by the way. Her name’s Olivia.” Isaac nodded at the child Oscar had given his cabbage leaf to.

The moon waned and waxed and waned and waxed.

There was a day with a terrible rainstorm. The guinea pigs were drenched even when they squished under the flimsy roof that covered half their cage. Olivia lay inside a shelter, groaning and writhing. Oscar sat beside her. He felt faint with fright. What if Olivia and his children turned into a replay of his mother and would-have-been siblings? The rain pounded the cage more heavily than ever. The backyard turned to mud. The hard-trodden dirt floor of the guinea pig cage turned into mud too. 

Then, even as the rain pounded as heavily as ever, the sun started to creep out. The guinea pigs’ fear was pushed aside by wonder. They peered out in amazement. Sun and rain existed simultaneously. A stunning rainbow arched across the sky. With a shriek, Olivia pushed her son into the world. A healthy young child with a tired but healthy mother. Oscar was ecstatic. Slowly, the rain died down and the sunlight became stronger. The rainbow faded away. A vigorous warmth, such as they had not felt for a long time, caressed the guinea pigs’ waterlogged fur. Amid the sunshine and the whimpers of his newborn son, Oscar saw new hope.

The moon waned and waxed. 

Oscar stood at the side of the guinea pig cage. Benjamin, his son, and Olivia, stood on either side of him. Three guinea pigs were lined up in a row at one end of the cage.

“Ready, set, go!” Oscar shouted.

The three guinea pigs shot forward. They turned sharply when they reached the other end of the cage then sprinted back to the starting line. When they were finished, they lined up against the side of the cage again and three more guinea pigs came up.

They were training in speed and agility. They had started a moon or so ago. Apart from that, they were also observing the human and dog’s activity and habits. They were planning their escape.

The moon waned and waxed.

The sun had just risen. Dewdrops glittered on the grass outside the cage. There was a chilly but refreshing breeze. Everyone was up and about already, nervously pacing back and forth or surveying the yard outside in agitation. 

Oscar cleared his throat and stood at the head of the cage, which had become his spot for making announcements and delivering speeches. He started speaking.

“Today is the day.”

There were a few quiet cheers from the assembled guinea pigs. But most of them were too anxious to make a sound.

“The dog dug a hole in the bottom of the fence yesterday. We saw it ourselves and the human scolded it for doing so. We also saw a few rats crawl back and forth under it, so we know it goes through to the neighbour’s yard and is not merely a dead end.

“The human is taking the dog to the vet today, as it injured its paw from digging the hole. We saw the blood and we heard the speech of the human. So, there will be no dog to hinder our escape today.”

A few more quiet cheers.

“Just a reminder of the plan.” Oscar swallowed. Nothing like this had ever been attempted before. “The first row of guinea pigs, you’ll rush forward and take the human by surprise. The second row will follow the first. The third will have to do some dodging. I’ll be going last. Let’s arrange ourselves in our rows now.”

They set themselves up just in time. For the human had come out and was walking over with food bowl in hand. It opened the cage door and the first row of guinea pigs bolted out. It shrieked in surprise and tried to grab the fleeing guinea pigs, but its groping hands and stomping feet couldn’t hit a mark. Meanwhile the second row was streaming out after the first row. The human turned around and came back to close the cage door. The third row dashed out and dodged the returning human. Oscar just managed to dart out before the human slammed the door. 

Oscar raced for the hole in the bottom of the fence. The last guinea pig, besides him, had already disappeared out of sight. Oscar dove into the hole and he could see the other side!! Lush green grass dotted with yellow and white flowers. A bright blue sky. A row of fragrant trees laid with fruit. But he couldn’t get through. The frantic scramblings of the guinea pigs before him had dislodged dirt and collapsed the walls. Benjamin and Olivia, who were already on the other side, tried to pull him through. “Dad!” Benjamin cried, tears flying from the corners of his eyes, heaving at Oscar’s paws. “Hurry up! It’ll be too late!” But it was already too late. The human, catching up, seized Oscar by the haunches. Oscar took one last look at his son and wife. “Look after the others for me! Don’t worry about me!” And he was hauled back into the world of nightmares that he’d spent his whole life in, that he’d come close – oh so close – to escaping.

The moon waned and waxed and waned and waxed and waned and waxed again.

The joyful jabberings of the guinea pigs filled the air. The human of this yard had cheerfully welcomed in all twenty-nine guinea pigs. It gave them three meals a day and rich fruit from the fruit trees. There were warm houses, cosy but spacious, to sleep in at night. There was a big yard to run around and play in by day. It was a life previously undreamed of.

Today, Benjamin and Olivia weren’t playing. They had something to do. Benjamin gathered five sliced carrot pieces, five lettuce leaves, five cabbage leaves and five sliced apple pieces into his pack. Olivia did the same. Then they heaved the packs onto their backs. At the edge of the yard was a little tunnel, concealed among a cluster of blueberry bushes. They had dug the tunnel themselves. It led back into the yard of nightmares. Benjamin and Olivia padded down the tunnel. 

They reached the end of the tunnel and emerged out into the yard of nightmares. The entrance was concealed by bushes. They checked that the coast was clear, then tiptoed over to the guinea pig cage. It was always jarring to see it from the outside. And heartbreaking to see Oscar still trapped inside.

“Hi, Dad. We brought some more food.” Benjamin dropped his pack on the ground and took out the pieces of food. He passed them into the cage through the wire mesh, one by one. He struggled to hold back tears.

“Are you sure you won’t get discovered by the evil human?” Oscar asked in concern as he took the food into one of the shelters to hide it from the evil human’s eyes. “You don’t have to worry about me, you know. There’s more food to eat now that there’s only me in the cage. Honestly, I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not!” Benjamin exclaimed indignantly. Olivia nodded fervently. “I hate how you’re still trapped here. If only there wasn’t wire under the cage. If there wasn’t, we could’ve dug a hole straight into it and rescued you that way. But don’t worry, we’re working on it. We’re developing a wire-cutter that will be able to snip right through. Then you’ll be able to see the world on the other side. Oh, it’s such a good world.” Benjamin’s tears were flowing freely now. “I can’t believe you’re still trapped here. I can’t believe we can only come visit once a moon.”

Olivia smiled through tears. “Soon, we’ll be able to break you out. But we have to go now.” She put her pack on her back. Benjamin did the same. “Bye, love.”

They walked back to the hole. “Bye, Dad!” Benjamin took a last look at his father. “You’ll get out of there soon, I promise!” 

Then they disappeared down the hole.

Oscar smiled. He wished Benjamin and Olivia could see that he was already happy. Happy that he helped his tribemates escape. Happy that they and his family were safe. Happy that his torturous life hadn’t been a waste. He sighed, part in relief, part in regret, and closed his eyes. 

August 22, 2020 03:55

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1 comment

Joy Read
02:04 Aug 27, 2020

Interesting story :) Guinea pigs are one of my favorite animals so I genuinely enjoyed reading this. Keep up with the good writing. Could you check out my latest story if you have the chance? Thank you :)

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