I have a job for you
The bedroom window was open as it was a very balmy night, it wasn’t open wide, just wide enough to let some air in. The first cat was a large male, I first noticed that he was sat on the window sill and barely had enough time to see a terrible rash all over his body before two more cats came in and all three ran quickly into my en-suite. I was still in shock from seeing the cats when a tall man entered the room, he was dressed in a black suit and claimed to be a Scientist. He had a large tank in his hand that appeared to be full of animals; I could see many balls of grey fur and right at the very front were two rabbits that looked identical to Bonnie and Lilly, two rabbits that had lived with me many years before. The grey balls of fur were chinchillas all that looked very much like my chinchilla Bruce, who sadly died six years ago.
“I have a job for you”. Mr Scientist explained, he then left the room and returned with two smaller tanks, one larger than the other, both also filled with animals; one tank appeared to be filled with insects and large spiders whilst the other seemed to be full of fancy mice and small birds.
“What is the job?” I asked.
“It is a research position”. He replied. He then handed me two envelopes. “Open these envelopes in 48 hours, no sooner, by which time you will have found suitable living quarters for all of these animals”.
“I’m sorry” I replied, “but I really don’t have space for all these animals”.
“Yes you do!” he shouted and went on to open a door that I have never seen before. “Look” he said, opening the door which revealed a huge room the size of a basketball court.
“Wow, I have never seen this room before”. I said, turning round to find that Mr Scientist had disappeared.
I thought back to the cats, typical, I had never had mice, chinchillas and rabbits in this room before and now that I did I had three strange cats, one with what looked like a contagious skin condition, hiding in my en-suite. I decided it would be best to move all three tanks into the large room and get a better idea of what I was dealing with. First I emptied the large tank – a decision I would immediately regret when I realised what was actually inside. As soon as I opened the tank a ferret wearing a muzzle jumped out of both the tank and muzzle and began to run around the room, quickly followed by at least twenty chinchillas and fifteen rabbits, all of which looked identical to either, Bruce, Bonnie or Lilly. I could not bear the thought of witnessing a ferret attack on such obvious prey, so decided to make a harness out of some braces I had in my room. When I realised exactly how big this tank was, I thought about the other two tanks, perhaps I could split up the animals in the other tanks between the three tanks. Mr Scientist had said that I must find suitable accommodation for all of these animals after all.
Looking closer at the smaller tanks I realised that the spider and insect tank housed only tarantulas and crickets, should I separate them? If I took the crickets out, what would I feed the tarantulas? I decided to leave them in. That left the tank containing the mice and birds, these must be separated. I chose to keep the mice in the small tank and move the birds into the larger tank until I could find something more suitable, this task was a lot easier than I thought, I just put the smaller tank into the larger tank, opened the door and all the birds flew into the large tank leaving me with a small tank filled with around fifteen fancy mice.
Now what about these three cats? Were they part of my task? Mr Scientist hadn’t left any contact details and seemed rather serious about me not opening the envelopes for at least 48 hours. What should I do? I went to see if the cats were still in the en-suite and indeed they were. As I opened the door the large male – who I will now call Scabby, began hissing at me, the smaller cats were both asleep on the floor. I slowly reached out to see if it was possible to calm Scabby down, but he let out a loud screech and scratched my arm. Fantastic, I guess this means that the cats want to live in my en-suite.
Now I had found somewhat suitable accommodation for all the animals, I decided it was time to make a wee shopping list. What did I need? My first thought was hay. I would cover parts of the basketball court in hay, loads of hay. What about the birds? Bird food was needed and definitely branches. The mice? Mouse food and wood again. The cats? Cat food and definitely something for Scabbys’ skin condition. There seemed to be more than enough crickets to keep the tarantulas going, thankfully.
I can’t drive so I am going to need to let someone in on my task, although for some reason I get the impression this isn’t such a good idea, at least not until the 48 hours are up and I know what the actual task is. My thoughts kept returning to Scabby, his skin condition looked awful, and if these cats were part of my task, did the en-suite count as suitable accommodation? I couldn’t think of anyone I could share this with. I guess I could just go to a big pet shop and get a taxi home.
I headed out to pets at home (I know, but needs must) as I knew I could get everything there, even branches. I will admit the whole basketball court full of animals excites me somewhat. I hope I get to keep the basketball court when this is all done. As I ticked everything off my list and headed towards the check-out, a sales girl approached me.
“Wow” she said. “That’s a lot of stuff”.
“Yeah” I replied, how observant. She wasn’t finished “What do you need all this for?” nosey.
“An animal sanctuary” more or less the truth I guess. I avoided eye contact as I really couldn’t be bothered with more questions this was my task and mine alone.
I got home, set everything up and released the birds from the large tank into the basketball court, and then remembered the wee ferret. I had left him tied up. I guess I was going to have to keep an eye on him. I picked him up and luckily he seemed rather tame, I named him Hamish and decided that he would be my new pal.
“Come on then, Hamish; let’s see what we can do for Scabby”.
“I will help you if you don’t make me wear that muzzle” Hamish said.
“You talk?” I did not believe it, but I guess all of this was rather strange.
“Yes, sometimes too much which is why I’m always wearing that muzzle”.
“I thought that was to stop you eating the animals”.
“I wouldn’t eat my friends”.
“Do you know what’s wrong with Scabby?”
“He has an attitude problem”.
I like this ferret. “No, I mean his skin?”
“It looks ok to me”.
“What?” I said looking round at Scabby, “Haven’t you seen the state of his f….”
I turned round to see Scabby, sat on my toilet cleaning himself, without any sign of a skin problem.
“But earlier, he was covered in scabs and he looked contagious”.
“He has many ways to keep people away”.
Ahh, this is all too weird. I am talking to a ferret. This was exhausting, I was now down to around 42 hours, but I guess I have done what was asked? Had I?
“Do you know anything about my task?” I asked Hamish.
“I assume you got the research position and not the lab technician role?”
“A lab technician role? What kind of lab?”
What have I got involved in?
“They have a few different types of labs, it’s all kept rather hush-hush as the public tend not to approve”.
“I don’t think I approve”. Where do you stand on all this?”
Hamish looked rather upset. “I am very much against it, but also rather grateful”.
“Yes, I am grateful that a failed experiment means I can talk. I will never be considered replaceable. A talking ferret is rather valuable to Science”.
“Wow. What about the rest of the animals?”
“I am the only talking subject left from my generation. Back then we were mainly used for testing painkillers, painkillers intended or human infant use.”
“Is that when you found you could talk?”
“That was during a study on pain and vocalisations, I am not sure how it happened exactly, and I just remember one day I found that I was able to think out loud. It’s just a shame that the rest of the animals cannot”.
“What tests do they do now?”
“It’s mainly cosmetics and household products. It’s much harder to justify than testing for the sake of children”.
I nodded in agreement, although I still could not believe I was having this conversation with a ferret.
“Do you know what happens to these animals at the end of my task?”
“They will go back to the lab”.
This was depressing. What had originally felt like a dream was now feeling like my worst nightmare, literally.
My head was racing. What kind of test was this? Could I get out of it? I got the impression it was best not to ask Hamish too many questions at the moment. Was my task to save these animals? Perhaps that’s what was meant by finding them suitable accommodation? Did I feel capable of giving these animals back to Mr Scientist knowing their fate? Especially considering that so many of them so closely resembled animals that I had loved in the past. I thought back to the lion-head rabbits and chinchillas in the basketball court. They were identical to Bonnie, Lilly, and Bruce. Was this a coincidence?
I decided it was best to look around for more clues. I left Hamish sleeping in my bed and went into the basketball court to have a look.
Read chapter 2 here Mr Scientist – Chapter 2