The night air was wet and humid. It lay heavily on his body, as if a blanket had been dropped over his head. It was alive, and every time he took expanding his lungs, filling his body, giving him weight and strength while feeding his blood and his mind. His vision sharpened, and in the darkness, he could see the small figure writhing. A wide smile crept across his face and he stepped closer, moving without truly thinking about it. A spark of excitement jumped in his stomach, unleashing a frenzy of anxiousness. He had to get his hands around the thing. He had to feel its body twitching underneath his fingers.
“Now we’re going to have some fun,” said Eric. “Just you and me and the moon.”
He bent down, his eyes straining only slightly in the light of the night. His vision had enhanced to that of a predators’, and there was nothing that he missed. The mouse that he had trapped underneath a shoe box was struggling to escape. He could hear it gnawing the side of the cardboard, and he could hear its frantic squeaking. Eric lifted up the box and his hand shot forward to grab the rodent. Its fur was soft on his flesh, silky and smooth. But what he relished most was the rapid pace of its breathing. In the bone-white luster of the moon, he could the mouse’s eyelids plastered up as far as they could go, giving him a look of pure panic. He could only imagine the way it must feel to be so weightless in some stranger’s hands, far away from any comforting face and knowing that you were doomed. The mouse’s feeble legs twitched and kicked, clawing at his hand with all its might. But it only felt like a soft scratch to him.
He put his lips to the little pink ears on top of the mouse’s head. Its whiskers twitched.
“You don’t like being small, do you?” whispered Eric. He stroked it with his thumb. “I don’t like being small either. People like to tease me about it. All. The. Time.” He only realized he had tightened his fingers when he saw that the mouse’s eyes were bulging out of its small skull.
Eric wanted to lessen his grip. He really did. But his unstable mind began to veer off track. It turned to the bitter dark thoughts and memories that were far more potent than the pleasantries he had floating around inside his skull. He thought of everyone who had called him a name. Each person who had taken advantage of his deformed height. Everyone who had ever doubted him. Every person who gave him a look of sympathy or horror as he passed them on the street. Every time someone told him that he would never be normal.
He felt something hot slide down his cheek. It splattered onto the knuckle of his thumb. He followed it down. It was only then that he realized that the mouse was still.
He forced himself to look at it. He no longer felt the pressure of the mouse’s ribcage coming and going as it took frantic gasps of air. It’s once swiveling and frantic eyes were calm in their sockets. And already he missed the small innocent creature. Already the deep seated anger and regret began to make his throat burn as a hot ball of hate traveled up from his stomach and stuck in his windpipe.
He didn’t want to be this way.
“Eric! Come in please! It’s getting too dark.” His mother was calling him. Eric picked up the mouse and chucked it into the woods. He watched it land near the others who had lost their lives at his destructive hand. He could see it growing to a decent height now. It was almost five inches off the ground, and almost as long in length as he was.
He reset the trap, and then grabbed his crutches.
He hobbled out from behind the shed, careful to watch for any rocks or holes. Eric knew how unstable his balance was. He refused to let himself get careless. At school, he was used to people calling him names and knocking his crippled and deformed legs out from under him. But home, especially behind the shed, was a safe place. He didn’t want it to be tainted by the memory of falling face first into the mud.
He made his way slowly back to the front yard. She was waiting for him, standing in the door in her bathrobe.
“You want some ice cream before bed?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” said Eric. “I’m getting too old for it, I think.” His mother turned to look at him, a bemused smile on her face.
“What do you mean? You’re only eight.”
Eric said nothing, and instead flashed her a smile out of sympathy. He allowed himself to be led inside and seated at the front table. Eric couldn’t see the point in the creamy desert being put in front of him. It wouldn’t touch any part of his being or cause any delight. It didn’t matter how much chocolate syrup he loaded onto the quickly melting humps of cream or how much sprinkles he dotted its surface with. The ice cream would still turn bitter in his mouth.