It started with a silence, not a noise. The kind of silence that makes a parent sit bolt upright in his bed; an unnatural awakening, a feeling of...something wrong. It was 3 a.m. when I got up to check on the girls, but they were sleeping comfortably, as evidenced by the fact that they were both completely tangled in their sheets, heads dangling over the edge of beds, arms splayed in painful angles across their faces...in short, at peace. No indications of the tragic drama that had just occurred.
What had awakened me was the absence of the usual nocturnal scratching that our pet rodent made, that annoying chewing and scratching that once scared the life out of me when I was up late under the covers reading Jurassic Park by flashlight: "The velociraptor approached almost silently, the only noise coming from the click of its central claw on the floor...."
I didn’t realize it was only the hamster in the next room until I’d already leapt into the closet, yelling back to my wife, "THERE’S SOMETHING HORRIBLE IN THE HOUSE! GO GET THE KIDS WHILE I WAIT IN HERE!"
But no noise tonight, and that could mean only one thing. (Well actually, two things, if you count the fact that my wife’s "Learn French While You Sleep" tape had stopped. Why? Je ne sais pas.) The silence meant the hamster had escaped.
And there it was: an empty cage with the top askew. Dangling from the side was a crude little rope made of tiny hamster sheets tied together. In the morning we would go through the tearful motions of searching for the errant rodent. But I knew the odds were against us.
You see, we have cats. Smart, very alert cats. My kids call them "Blackie" and "Whitey‚" but on the street they go by "Black-E" and "Why T." Tough cats. Not the kind of cats who’d catch a hamster and just give it a good talking to before putting it back in its cage.