Sample Chapters of "of Mice and Magic"
Please enjoy these two sample chapters
Of Mice and Magic
Chapter 1. Minor Miracles
Miracles occur right under our snouts every day. We just don’t look closely enough to see them.
Benjamin Ravenspell’s mother Mona liked to put things off. She never paid her taxes until the tax agents beat down her door. She could go months without mopping. And she never bothered to cook dinner—period. Instead, she’d just waste away and waste away until hunger drove her to throw Ben in the car and then race to the nearest fast food restaurant.
Which is how nine-year-old Ben Ravenspell found himself eating at McDonald’s at midnight on Christmas Eve. The speakers overhead played “Silent Night” as Ben’s mom scarfed down Chicken McNuggets and asked absently, “So, honey, what would you like Santa to bring you tomorrow?”
Finally! Ben thought. He’d been waiting for weeks for her to ask that question, but she had put it off and put it off—as usual.
“Mmmph.” Ben tried to clear a French fry from his throat, then blurted, “I want a pet!”
His mom’s eyes grew wide in surprise, and her face went as red as a pomegranate. She coughed up a chicken McNugget. It arced right over the table and plopped onto some bald guy’s neck. The fellow grabbed it, eyed it suspiciously, and then plopped it in his mouth.
“But, but,” Mona sputtered, “I thought you wanted a baby brother!”
Ben thought back. He had wanted one last year on his birthday, but that was forever ago.
“Not anymore,” Ben said.
His mom shouted hysterically, “What if it’s too late to change your mind?”
Ben knew then, that he wouldn’t get a pet for Christmas. His mom probably had a baby already hidden in her closet. All she’d have to do is wrap it in gold foil and shove it under the tree.
Ben explained, “Colton, who lives down the street, asked for a baby brother—and the doctor gave him a sister! All she does is stink up diapers and suck on stuff. She leaves a slime trail wherever she goes. The kids call her the ‘Rug Slug.’”
“Okay,” Mona said, as if searching for some way to change his mind. “What kind of pet would you like? You know that I’m allergic to cats and dogs.”
Ben shouted, “Could I get a mammoth?”
“Mammoths are just pretend, Hon,” Mona said reasonably.
“Well, I want something cool. I want a pet that I can play with and talk to, one that will be my friend. . . .”
“We’ll have to think about that,” Mona said, which was her way of putting him off.
* * *
As he tried to sleep that night, Ben heard his mom and dad downstairs under the Christmas tree. Ben always wore a football helmet to bed and took a baseball bat with him—just in case a monster invaded his closet. So he removed his football helmet, laid his baseball bat by the bed, and sneaked to the top of the stairs.
“What are we going to do?” Mona was asking dad. “We’ve tried for a baby for months. And now he’s changed his mind.”
“I’m glad he changed his mind,” Dad said. “If we had a baby tomorrow, he’d get bored with it in a week—and we’d be stuck with another kid.”
Ben inched to the landing and peered through the banister rails.
Mom and Dad were kneeling under the Christmas tree. Mona had never taken that tree down. It had been sitting in the corner for two years, and had gathered so much dust, it looked as if it was covered in gray snow. Cobwebs seemed to be holding it upright.
“Ben needs a friend,” Mona said. “Ever since Christian . . . he’s been . . . lost.”
Ben felt a pang. Christian had been his best friend. Then Christian’s dad said he got a job at a penguin cannery in Antarctica, and the whole family moved away.
“What does Ben need friends for?” Dad asked. “I never had any, and I turned out all right.”
“I had a friend, once,” Mona said. “You have to have a friend to learn how to be a friend.”
“He’ll never have a friend,” Dad objected. “At his age, there are only two kinds of kids: jocks and the nerds. Ben isn’t either.”
“He’s a jock, definitely,” Mona said. “He’s almost got his black belt in karate.”
“He’s a wimp,” Dad objected. “You can only be a real jock if your knuckles drag on the ground. Besides, he reads books, for heaven’s sake! What kind of weird kid reads books?”
Dad was right, Ben thought. Most kids specialized in something. You could only be a friend with a jock like Spencer Grimes if you could hawk boogers all the way across the playground, and you could only be friends with a nerd like T.J. Piddly if you had all gazillion Yu-Gi-Oh cards.
But Ben’s friend Christian had been the kind of kid you could jump puddles with, or explore sewers with, or just talk to. Friends like that were hard to find.
“Ben needs to learn how to get by without friends,” Dad concluded. “Maybe if we could make him grow up faster, he could get through this awkward phase. I know: we could try steroids! In a couple of years, we could turn that kid from a runt into a grunt. I made plenty of friends when I was in the Marines!”
“You know,” Mona said, “Ben has a birthday coming up in a couple of months. . . .”
“Well,” Dad said, “Ben’s not ready for a pet. He’d have to feed it and clean its cage. Any kid who doesn’t keep his own room clean, isn’t ready to have a pet.”
Humph! Ben thought. By Dad’s way of thinking, his mom would never be ready to have a kid!
The truth was, neighborhood kids kept themselves scarce mainly because Mona never cleaned the house and Ben’s dad never repaired it. The house wasn’t easy to overlook. Looming over smaller houses, it groaned on its foundation stones like a giant accident victim—shutters hanging askew, paint peeling, and funky odors wafting through the windows.
At school, they said it was so dirty you had to wipe your shoes after you left. They called it the Roach Hotel. No one ever wanted to come over, and Ben figured, if he got any less popular, even his imaginary friends would start to avoid him.
“All right,” Mona said. “We’ll tell him tomorrow. If Ben can prove he can be responsible, we’ll take him to the Noah’s Ark and let him pick out a pet.”
“What kind?” Dad asked, “A guppy or a gorilla?”
“A small pet,” Mona said with finality.
So Ben crept back into his bed, and in his dreams that night, a talking rabbit took him fishing for perch on the Long Tom River.
The perch lurked big and purple under the water, like bruises, burping.
A mallard duck with a dozen yellow chicks swam by, warning her young, “Be careful, those hooks can put out your eye.”
When Ben tried to put a worm on his hook, it wriggled away crying, “Why can’t I be your pet? I’m not as slimy as a little sister!”
And if darker dreams disturbed his slumber, Ben did not recall them in the morning.
* * *
Ben’s mom and dad didn’t talk to him about the pet that Christmas morning, but Ben thought about it all day…
He cleaned his room that day, and when his mom took him to town later that week, he stopped at Noah’s Ark and peered through the windows at the hamsters.
He tried very hard to start growing, so that his dad would like him better, and he only read in secret.
In an effort to make some friends, he tried smiling and being friendly, even to the weirdest kid at school, but it wasn’t about being friendly. It was about having a coolness factor that another kid could take to the bank, and as far as coolness factors went, Ben was flat broke. No one wanted to be his friend.
* * *
On the thirteenth night, of the thirteenth month, of the new millennium, Ben sensed a change. He could feel it in the wind, and wondered at it even as he dressed for bed. Something was different. He could almost smell . . . magic in the air.
All day long, snow had fallen. Lazy flakes drifted into heaps, settling between the fir trees in his backyard. Then the clouds fled and stars simmered in the sky, casting a web of silvery light on the snow while the moon sprung up as orange as a pumpkin.
The neighbors still had their Christmas lights on, winking from the eaves.
In the backyard, a snowman leaned over, almost as if to pick up the carrot nose that had fallen from its face onto the ground.
Suddenly, a light streaked overhead, a flaming yellow ball that struck Bald Hill, exploding in a blaze of glory.
“Look, a star fell!” Ben told his mother Mona, who was staring in awe at the clean sheets Ben had starched and ironed and put on his bed that morning.
“Make a wish,” Mona said.
Ben’s heart hammered. He let his mind drift, as if seeking across the world to connect to the object of his desire. He whispered, “I wish I had a pet, uh, I mean—a friend. I mean a friendly pet.”
He pulled on the football helmet resting on his nightstand, grabbed his baseball bat, and jumped into bed.
“You know,” Mona said reasonably, “other children sleep with teddy bears to help them feel safe.”
“That’s crazy!” Ben said. “If a robber broke in here, hitting him with a teddy bear wouldn’t help. Would it?”
“I suppose not.” Mona sighed. It was an old argument. Ben had slept with his bat and helmet for years. “I guess that I should be grateful you don’t want to keep swords in your bed.”
Hmmm . . . swords! Ben thought, but Mona drove the idea from his mind by having him say his prayers. Then she gave him a peck on the cheek, wished him “Goodnight,” and slipped from his room…
* * *
…while outside, miracles occurred.
Thirteen minutes after the first star fell, another streaked through the sky at a perfect twenty-degree angle to its left. Every thirteen minutes after that, another star fell, until thirteen had fallen in all, each aligned perfectly with the thirteen cardinal points on the compass—at least as cardinal points are understood by crows.
And in Dallas, Oregon, though no humans took notice, small wonders broke out everywhere!
Thirteen dazed children suddenly put aside their video games and rushed to do homework.
Thirteen mutts began to howl so beautifully, the nuns at St. Mary’s thought they were a heavenly choir announcing the Second Coming.
In Ben’s backyard, the snowman leaned over, picked up the carrot, screwed it onto his face, and trudged away.
While down at Noah’s Ark pet shop, the greatest wonder of all occurred: beneath the pale lights thrown by the fish tanks that held the neon tetras, a mother mouse gave birth. Twelve small, pink kittens she had in her nest, all with eyes closed. The other mice gathered and gazed on in awe.
Even the angelfish across the store gaped with eyes as bright as gold coins.
The lights above the fish tanks flashed brightly, and their green glow came together to form something that lived and breathed. Thirteen luna moths took form from the weaving light, circling above the mouse pen like a crown, pale green wings flapping in unison, graceful tails sweeping behind.
The feeder crickets at the front counter began to fiddle in orchestral tune as the thirteenth mouse made its way, squeaking and squirming, into the world.
As it dropped into the wood shavings, a wise old mouse named Barley Beard said reverently, “Thirteen mice in one litter—and the last is a girl, just as the prophets foretold. A thirteenth miracle on this night of miracles.”
“But Grandfather,” a young mouse asked, “what’s so special about this mouse?”
Barley Beard scratched his head, as if looking for an answer, and said, “I only know the number thirteen is normally unlucky, and in some ways this kit is destined to lead a dangerous life, for her enemies will seek to destroy her. Yet on this night of nights, all of the fortune in the world will flow into this child.”
“You mean she’ll be lucky?” the young one asked.
“More than lucky—” “she’ll be magic! Not since we small creatures ruled the earth has a mouse like this one been born.” Barley Beard peered at the glass walls of his cage and longed to escape.
He didn’t need to remind the young ones that to be born in a cage was hard indeed. No mouse of the field could be born to a more humble fate.
Barley Beard only hoped this young kitten, this “thirteenth mouse,” would find a way to free them from captivity in the pet shop.
A shadow darkened the window to the pet shop. Barley Beard glanced outside just as a snowman plodded past. It was dressed in a fine top-hat and it twirled a cane.
Why that’s very odd, Barley Beard thought as he watched the man of snow go strolling under the streetlight, the ice crystals glittering like diamonds.
But soon the snowman stepped into the shadows and disappeared from Barley Beard’s view. The snowman trudged several blocks down the street until he found a snowgirl in a yard nearby.
Then he cuddled against her, and wrapping one arm around her shoulders, fell silent, waiting for spring.
- Is Amber the Thirteenth Mouse special?
- What are some clues that there is something different about this little mouse?
Everyone lives in a cage. Sometimes the cage is made by others, but mostly we live in cages built by the limits of our imaginations.
Ben’s mom and dad never mentioned the pet again. Still Ben did his best to show that he could be responsible.
Every afternoon when he got home from school, he cleaned his room. He pushed the vacuum cleaner over the floor so much that he sucked fibers out of the carpet.His room became an island of neatness in a sea of chaos, and his mother worried about his strange behavior so much that she went so far as to think about calling a psychiatrist.
But of course, like everything else, she put it off.
After cleaning, Ben practiced karate and did homework. When he ran out of homework, he made up math problems and solved them. He wrote essays on how to take care of pets he’d like to own—from anteaters to a T-Rex.
He did so much homework that at the end of a week, his teachers sent angry notes to his parents. “Don’t you think I have better things to do than correct papers all night?” bleated his English teacher, Mrs. Lamb. “Give me a break!” grunted his history teacher, Mr. Hogg. “Get a life!” howled his math teacher, Mrs. Vixen.
But no matter how much homework Ben did, he couldn’t impress his parents.
So a week before his birthday, he came home with a plan: “Mom,” he said, “this kid from school, Hakim, is going to New York for a couple of weeks, and he said he’d pay me ten dollars if I’d take care of his lizard. Can I babysit his lizard?”
His mother grew suspicious. Ten dollars seemed like a fortune just for taking care of a lizard. She knew to never trust a deal that sounded too good to be true. “Well, do you know how to take care of it?”
“Hakim said it’s easy. The lizard hardly eats a thing. He wrote directions.” Ben handed the note to his mom. Hakim was in fifth grade, so he’d written in cursive, which Ben had a hard time interpreting. Everything Hakim wrote looked like Arabic. Ben couldn’t figure out what the squiggly marks meant.
As his mother read, her face paled and her hand began to tremble. She asked, “Can you handle this?”
“You bet!” Ben said. What better way was there to prove he could take care of a pet than to do it?
So that night, Hakim brought the lizard. It was a Nile monitor, nearly black with sandy yellow stripes on its tail and gorgeous yellow spots on its legs and back. At nearly three feet long, it was a monster!
* * *
For her first few days, the thirteenth mouse trembled in the wood shavings, weak and scrawny. Her pink skin had no hair, and she shivered most of the time. Being born blind, she couldn’t see where to find food, and her larger brothers and sisters shoved her aside at feedings, so she got almost nothing to eat.
She grew weaker and weaker, until she was too weary to shiver. Barley Beard feared that she would die.
So he nuzzled up to her, pushing her tiny body with his nose so that he could urge her toward her mother. The kitten was too weak to crawl.
Barley Beard whispered, “Live, darned you. Live!”
And in a faint voice, the baby mouse asked, “Why? Dying would be so much easier.”
“Because we need you,” Barley Beard said. “I need you. Your mother and brothers and sisters all need you.”
“What for?” the babe managed to ask.
Barley Beard wasn’t sure how to answer. “We live in a cage,” Barley Beard said at last.
“The walls around us are invisible, but they are thick and real, and there is no getting past them.”
“Who holds us here?”
“Strange creatures called humans. They are like pinkies, like mice born without fur, except for a little on their heads.”
“Can’t you bite these pinkies?” the babe asked.
“The pinkies are enormous. They’re a hundred times taller than a mouse and a thousand times fatter. We cannot fight them. We are powerless.”
“Why? ” the baby mouse asked weakly. “Why do they want us here?”
“From time to time, the big pinkies take us from our prison. Some say they love us, and when they take us, they Embrace us—they usher us to their havens, where they pamper us on exotic foods. In the havens, the wood shavings are piled deep, and every mouse has a warm corner where he can lie down in his own nest. There are running wheels to play with and other toys, and when you tire of them, the big pinky children preen you and cuddle you and give you the love you deserve.”
By now, the other mice had gathered around to listen. They circled Barley Beard and his ailing charge.
“It sounds wonderful,” one young mouse said. “Why would she want to save us from that?”
“Because,” Barley Beard said, “there is something better than being Embraced. There is something called Freedom.”
Barley Beard studied the babe. She was small, blind, hairless, and too weak to move. “Once, long ago, another mouse came here a—wild mouse—who scurried under the Pet Shop door. He told about life beyond the cage, life away from the big pinkies, in a sunny place called the Endless Meadow. It lies just outside the Pet Shop, he said. It is a place the Great Master of Field and Fen created just for mice. Food there grows untamed atop the tall grasses, and all you have to do is shake a hay stalk, and grain tumbles to the ground. There, you can drink sweet water from dewdrops that cling to the clover. There, he said, beautiful wildflowers tower overhead in a riot of color. Wild peas grow thick among the fields, and strawberries fatten on the vine, just waiting for you to nibble. There, he said, the sky fills with sunlight and rainbows by day, and twinkling stars and crescent moons by night.
“The Endless Meadow,” Barley Beard sighed. “I have never seen it, except in dreams. But that is our true home. That is our destiny. And if you will live, little mouse, you can lead us there.”
The baby mouse listened, but Barley Beard could not tell if she heard him. Her eyes were cloudy. Most likely, she was off in a dream, and she would slip in and out of it until she starved.
All day long and far into the night, Barley Beard rested beside her, warming her with his own body, nuzzling her tummy so he could stimulate it to hunger.
He prayed to the Great Master of Field and Fen, begging him to spare her. And at dawn his prayer was answered. A big pinky, a human woman who the mice called The Feeder, came to their pens, humming an ancient tune. She carried away six blind kittens.
“Hooray,” the kittens cried as Feeder lifted them. “We’re being Embraced. Good-bye. Have a good life!”
So the pet shop mice rejoiced for the young ones. And with them gone, the thirteenth mouse finally had a chance to get some food.
But Barley Beard worried that relief from hunger came too late.The little one had starved too long. “She’s so thin and sickly,” he mused, “will she even be able to lift her head to eat?”
For though there was now space for her to drink, she was too far gone to crawl to her mother. That night, the young kitten lay as still as a corpse.
Several times in the darkness, Barley Beard felt her chest fall, and it did not rise again for a long time. He feared that she had stopped breathing altogether.
But at sunrise, she raised her head one last time, and began to struggle through the deep wood shavings to her mother’s side.
“Go,” Barley Beard urged her, tears flowing. “Go now, and feed.” The other mice cheered, rallying her on, and the thirteenth mouse kicked until she reached her mother.
On that glorious morning she fed.
By the end of her first week, she began to grow. The thirteenth mouse looked different from other pet shop mice. She wasn’t brownish-gray like her brothers and sisters. Instead, her coat came in with a slight yellow tint. Because of her strange color, her mother named her Amber.
And in three weeks, tiny Amber began to play with other pet shop mice.
Now, a week to a mouse is like a year to a human, so Amber grew quickly, and it was time to find out what she was made of. Each day, Barley Beard urged her to test her magical powers.
But as far as Barley Beard could tell, Amber had none. He begged her to wish for things to happen, but nothing did. He coached Amber to focus, tried to get her to cast spells by repeating rhymes. She tried waving her paws in mystical gestures. She tried dancing until she entered a trance. But nothing worked. She couldn’t shatter the walls of her cage, or grow wings and fly out.
Perhaps, he realized, she needed motivation. So he told her, “If ever you get outside the cage, you must take care. For monsters live in the Endless Meadow too, like things called snakes. They are simply a long gut with a mouth attached. They can slither into your burrow and swallow you as you sleep. And there are hawks that can swoop out of blue skies and carry you-impaled on their sharp talons to their nests— And there are stoats—oh, wicked stoats—with bodies like wire that can twist and leap on you quicker than a blink.”
Amber’s mouth grew dry, and her heart hammered. “That’s terrifying!”
“Don’t worry,” Barley Beard tried to soothe her. “Just put your trust in the great Master of the Field and Fen. Sometimes it is our lot in life to become food for other creatures, but more often we are spared.”
Amber tried not to be alarmed, but old Barley Beard’s warning troubled her. She sat for hours that night, snuggled in a corner, peering through the glass wall toward the fish tanks and the frog terrariums. She wondered what purpose her life really served. She sneezed a tiny kerchew, which fogged the glass. She rubbed the fog out with her soft coat, and peered at her own reflection. What purpose could a tiny runt mouse serve in the world? She sniffed and turned away. There was none that she could see.
On the shelf above her, the fancy spotted mice raced about in their elegant mouse habitat, exploring brightly colored tunnels. They often called out, “Wow, I found another yogurt chip in our gourmet feed. Too bad you brown mice don’t get any.” Then the other spotted mice would laugh, and shout down to the brown mice, “Say, why don’t you get out of your cage and come up to play on our exercise wheel?
What will I ever do? Amber wondered. Is this all there is to life, burrowing in my wood shavings, trying to find a clean place to sleep?
She wanted to be special, even more special than a spotted mouse. She wanted to believe old Barley Beard—wanted to believe in magic. But it was clear to her that she had no magical powers. She couldn’t free herself, much less, the rest of mousekind.
* * *
That morning, the pinkies Embraced Amber’s mother. A day later, they took Barley Beard.
By then, all of Amber’s brothers and sisters had gone, and though there were still plenty of pet shop mice in the cage, Amber felt uprooted, completely alone.
She longed to be free of her dull surroundings, and only hoped to be Embraced
* * *
All week long, Ben coddled the monitor lizard. He took baths with it and found that the lizard, whose name was Imhotep, loved to dive and thrash his tail. Then Ben would take Imhotep out, dry him with a blow dryer, and they would watch cartoons beneath a special lizard lamp.
Ben made sure that Imhotep got plenty of water to drink, and kept him warm. And late in the afternoon on Ben’s birthday, March twenty-sixth, Mona told him, “Hop in the car. We’re going to the pet shop.”
Though Noah’s Ark Pet Shop was only three miles from his home, this was the first time Ben had ever been allowed to enter.
Inside the store, the hedgehogs drew his attention as they rooted in their sawdust, grunting merrily.
But his mother marched him to the back of the store, handed him a dollar, and said, “Pick a mouse.”
“Which one?” Ben asked.
“Any mouse!” Mona said. “Just buy it, and put it in a bag. I don’t want to see the horrible thing.” She sneezed and covered her nose. “I’ve got to get away from these cats before I choke.” She took off running.
“A mouse,” Ben whispered. “I never thought of getting a mouse!”
But it made sense. Dad had said that if he showed that he could be responsible, he could get a small pet. And what was smaller than a mouse?
He imagined what fun he could have. He could hold it, and pet it, and carry it to school in his lunchbox. He’d let it run around the room while he did homework.
It wouldn’t eat much, and no one was allergic to mice. A mouse could be a wonderful pet!
Ben peered into the cage. Dozens of fine mice burrowed in the wood shavings, drank at the feeder, or raced around playing tag.
They were plain brown with beady black eyes. A cage nearby had white mice with brown spots, but they were two dollars each. Ben didn’t have enough money for a fancy mouse. The ones he looked at were only fifty cents.
He finally noticed one mouse that was different, the smallest of the lot, sitting in the shavings. It had a yellow tinge to its fur, and it folded its paws across its belly. It peered right into Ben’s eyes, as if it had been waiting all of its life for Ben to appear.
“May I help you?” a clerk asked, stepping up behind.
“Yes,” Ben said. “I want the little one.”
* * *
“I’ll name it Amber,” Ben said in the car. He sat in the back seat, with his mouse in its sack. It peered up at him as he petted it with one finger. The mouse sniffed at him, its little whiskers pulling back. Ben didn’t know where he got the name Amber. It had just popped into his head.
“I wouldn’t get too attached,” Mona said as she drove.
“What do you think it eats?” Ben asked. “Would it like pickles? Do we have any pickles in the fridge?”
Mona just kept driving.
“Do you think it’s a boy, or a girl?” Ben asked.
“I don’t think it matters,” Mona said. “Just keep it in the sack.”
Ben sneaked his mouse out. His mouse, his first pet. It climbed up the front of his shirt. It perched in a fold of cloth on his chest and closed its eyes. Ben kissed it.
“Did you just kiss that mouse?” Mona asked, peering at him through the rearview mirror.
“No,” Ben lied.
“Never kiss a mouse,” Mona said. “They’re like rats. Like midget rats. The dirty vermin carry disease.”
“What kinds?” Ben asked, suddenly worried.
“Like the Poopopolous virus and the Black Plague. Now put it back in the sack!”
Ben frowned. He picked up his mouse and hid it in his cupped hand. It didn’t look dirty or sick. It just sat with its eyes closed, sleeping. He held still, afraid that the mouse might wake if he moved. Amber rode without making a sound until they got home.
When the car stopped, Ben rushed to the living room, where dad was watching Samurai Jack. “Dad, look,” Ben called. “I got a mouse, a real mouse. Its name is Amber!”
Dad leaned forward in his chair, eyes on the t.v. “Fine,” he said in an annoyed tone. “Now march upstairs and feed it to the lizard.”
Ben’s stomach sank. “Why? What do you mean?”
“You read Hakim’s note,” Dad said. “You have to feed the lizard once a week.”
It seemed to Ben that the heavens opened and the pure knowledge coursed through him. Hakim had said that his lizard didn’t eat much, but it had to eat something. Of course! Mice. It ate mice!
Ben had never felt so awful. He got sick to his stomach, and the room seemed to sway.
Dad commanded, “Just drop the mouse in the cage. The lizard knows what to do.”
“No,” Ben pleaded in a small voice. “Please. I . . . can’t.”
His dad gave him a hard look. “Ben,” he said. “You agreed. Imhotep is your responsibility.”
“Butts,” Dad rumbled in his sternest tone, “are for spanking.” He pierced Ben with his steely eyes. “Now be a good Marine.”
Mona spoke up. “Look, if you go feed this mouse to Imhotep, maybe we’ll get one for you next week.”
His dad gave Mona a sharp look. They hadn’t talked about this.
“Really?” Ben asked. “Can I get my own mouse?”
Dad grew angry, but said, “Maybe.”
“What if, what if I keep this one?” Ben asked. “I’ll pay you for it with my own allowance.” Ben’s mom was really lousy at paying allowance. She would put it off and put it off, until she owed Ben a small fortune. He figured that right now he had about fifty dollars in back allowance owed to him. “We could go back down to the pet shop and get another mouse,” he said eagerly. “That way I could keep Amber.”
Dad bayoneted him with a stare. “The pet shop is closed now. The lizard is hungry. Do your duty, soldier.”
Ben faltered. Dad never called him “soldier” unless he was in deep trouble.
Ben’s heart sank. He tried one last desperate plea. “Couldn’t we just feed it . . . Spam, or something?”
Mona looked up at him and said in a sad voice, “Honey, no one—human or animal—should be forced to eat Spam. That’s just too cruel.”
Caught between his father’s threats and his mother’s promise, Ben didn’t have a choice.
Cupping Amber in his hand, Ben marched upstairs, lumbering painfully up each step.
As he reached the top, his heart pounded in his ears. He wondered if he dared fake it. Maybe he could hide the mouse under his bed, and pretend that he’d fed the lizard?
No, he decided, that would be too dangerous. The lizard might get hungry and die.
He opened his bedroom door.
The beautiful Nile monitor stood regally in his cage, front paws on his sunning log. Imhotep flicked his dark tongue and eyed Ben expectantly. It was as if he’d been waiting for this moment.
Maybe I could give him some candy, Ben thought. He still had some marshmallow chickens in his drawer, leftover from Easter. But that wouldn’t do, Ben knew. The lizard ate mice. Candy might make it sick.
Amber huddled in Ben’s palm, fast asleep. “I’m sorry,” Ben told her. “I’m so sorry.”
Amber half woke. The mouse sniffed the air.
Ben couldn’t think of anything else to do. He carried Amber to the lizard’s cage and slid the screen lid partway open. He took Amber by the tail and lifted her gently.
“Good-bye, Amber,” Ben said with quavering lips.
Amber woke. Her dark eyes peered at the lizard. She began squeaking fearfully and wiggled from side to side, swaying as she tried to escape.
The mouse’s terror riveted the lizard.
Imhotep flicked his forked tongue, tasting the air, and he stood eagerly with head raised, ready to pounce.
Then something strange happened.
The mouse shrieked louder and louder, until the whole room echoed with its cries.
Ben heard a rumbling sound, like thunder. A blinding blue light flashed.
In an instant, everything changed. Ben shrank out of his clothes, or else his shirt suddenly grew as large as a circus tent. At the same time, something yanked his nose and ears, and pinched the skin at the top of his butt—stretching him in impossible directions. His thumbs shrank to nothing, and his front teeth grew enormous.
Tears of pain blinded Ben’s eyes.
The mouse was screaming. Screaming.
Ben let out a high shriek.
Amber’s tail grew huge. One second, Ben held it between two fingers. The next, he could hardly hold it at all.
He fell with Amber, headfirst, and landed- splat!—right into the deep sand by the lizard’s water dish.
Ben blinked. He was no larger than Amber, who sprawled next to him. The glass walls of the cage rose like cliffs around them.
The lizard Imhotep towered above him, too. Ben suddenly knew what it would be like to stare into the face of a hungry dinosaur. “Allah be praised,” the lizard said, flicking his tongue. “Now, if only I had some fava beans and a nice Hawaiian Punch. I love having friends for dinner.”
- Did Ben really read the note about how to care for Imhotep?
2. Why do you think you should you always read and know what is in a contract before signing your name to it?