Mouse 0001 woke up inside a steel container, with nothing else other than a few pieces of straw. This was different than the box he was used to. Usually, the boxes are colorful and plastic, and they always contain one or two more mice. There is almost always a place to go for food and water. Not this time. There is nothing other than the cool metal and harsh gray tones.
The last thing Mouse 0001 remembers is being given a special treat. It was the kind of food he only got when something different was happening. He knew to be suspicious, but he also wanted to eat the treat more than he was scared of whatever was about to happen. Sure enough, as soon as he came over to the hand, a needle pierced his back and he hit the floor as he fell asleep.
Regaining consciousness, Mouse 0001 wasn't super worried. He had been made to fall asleep before and survived. He started grooming himself and wandering around the box, reaching out with his whiskers to see if he felt anything interesting. There wasn't much space to explore, but there were a few small holes on one of the walls. Through the holes, Mouse 0001 could see a forest. He hadn't grown up in a forest. Mouse 0001 had been born and raised in a laboratory in Montana. Even so, looking at the trees and flowers blowing in the breeze, he felt a strong, instinctual connection to the land.
Mouse 0001 didn't realize this, but the forest he was looking at was not a normal forest. The trees and flowers he saw were slowly dying. Most of the animals were gone. There was a layer of slime covering almost everything, draining life from whatever it touched. A thick smog was being carried by the wind. This forest was dying, and Mouse 0001 was about to be sent straight into it.
A hand came over to the side of the box with the holes. It was covered in a blue glove, and the person it was attached to was wearing a full body suit. The hand lifted the side of the box so Mouse 0001 could crawl forward. As he did this, Mouse 0001 took some time to study his new environment. He felt the ground with his whiskers. He scraped the dirt with his paws. He sniffed the air as much as he could. The last action proved to be the most useful. As he sniffed, Mouse 0001 detected his favorite food, placed further into the forest next to an old tree.
Mouse 0001 moved toward the food, driven by a ravenous hunger caused from his recent lack of eating. He ate the first piece he found, then another, then another. Each one moved him further into the forest. But as he moved from tree to tree, it became harder and harder for Mouse 0001 to find what he was looking for. The smog made it almost impossible for him to see. He tried to rely on his sense of smell to guide him, but that meant breathing in the pollutant, which then lead to a coughing fit. His whiskers and paws were still somewhat useful, but they were getting covered in a strange, slippery layer of slime. It weighed on his fur like a heavy blanket.
Mouse 0001 wanted to get away from the smog and the slime, so he decided to ignore the food and look for shelter instead. He managed to make his way to a few trees and examine them for holes. It was difficult, but after a long time of searching, Mouse 0001 reached out with his whiskers and felt an opening at the base of an oak. He crawled through the small hole and was greeted with a larger area inside.
The opening to the alcove was small enough that not a lot of smog seeped through. However, the area was covered in the slime. It touched every surface of the tree, and it was slowly starting to cover Mouse 0001. He was getting more tired every second. His light brown fur, usually properly groomed, was a mess. Mouse 0001 felt weak. His muscles were sore and it was difficult for him to move. His senses were diminished. Why had he been taken to this place? This was a strange experience for Mouse 0001. He considered going back to the silver box and the human with the blue glove. He could still remember how to get there. But he was weak. Mouse 0001 lay down for a quick rest. He breathed shallow breaths as he settled into a small gathering of leaves. For the last time, Mouse 0001 closed his eyes.
The human with the blue gloves and the body suit came back the next day and found Mouse 0001. She picked him up and took him back to the lab, where she would try to figure out how he had died. He was the beginning of a long line of mice used for this purpose. Although most humans will never know of his existence, Mouse 0001 offered a great service to humanity. He bravely explored a dangerous area so that they might understand it better, and for that, he is a hero.
1. Aguilar, Shaina. “White-Footed Mouse.” BioKIDS, 2020, www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Peromyscus_leucopus/. 2. Choi, Charles Q. “Did You Hear Something? Mice Can Cough, Study Finds.” LiveScience, Purch, 29 Mar. 2013, www.livescience.com/28308-mice-can-cough.html. 3. Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish. “White-Footed Mouse - Peromyscus Leucopus.” White-Footed Mouse, 9 Dec. 2020, fieldguide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=AMAFF03070. 4. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 2020, uwm.edu/animal-care/training/manual/mice/.
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