Copyright @ Sam Knight. “Ted E. Hamster” was originally published in Freakend Madness (February 2015). This story may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s express written permission.
TED E. HAMSTER
by Sam Knight
Ted E. Hamster was a fat, fuzzy, waddling teddy bear hamster, and my seven-year-old daughter, Melody, thought he was the cutest thing ever. She made me buy the little ball of golden fur on the spot. It was my fault for trying to be a good father and taking her to the Animal Rescue. After her elementary school decided to sponsor the shelter, she said all of the kids kept talking about going there, and I didn’t want her to feel left out.
Besides, who expects to find rodents in an animal rescue? If only we had been ten minutes later … some poor sap was asking about hamsters just as we were walking out.
When we got home, Melody got on eBay and picked out the biggest, most elaborate contraption of plastic tubes for him to live in that she was able to find.
I couldn’t tell her no.
She’d wanted a pet since she was old enough to ask, but dogs weren’t allowed in our small apartment. There was no place to walk one anyway. My wife, Anne, was allergic to cats, so those were out. And fish just aren’t cuddly.
So, we got a hamster.
At first it wasn’t a big deal. Ted lived in his plastic tubular castle and slept the daylight hours away. When Melody was home, she would take him out and let him sit on her shoulder as she lounged in front of her bookcase and re-read the Harry Potter books. Sometimes she put him in the clear plastic ball and watched him waddle his four-legged penguin walk, rolling it all around the apartment. She even had a ball of yarn she teased Ted with. He chased it like a kitten.
Nights were a different story though.
My nights were hell.
Ted rattled around inside his cage incessantly while I was trying to sleep. I don’t know why it didn’t bother Melody or Anne, but they slept right through it.
The little plastic wheel built into the side of the cage had a particularly unholy squeak that set my soul on edge. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I’d get up and wander around our little apartment. Eventually I always ended up looking into my daughter’s room, where the noises came from.
Melody used a black light for a nightlight, and although Ted turned dark in the light, he was easy to spot in the glowing neon tubes making up his castle. As soon as I peeked into the room, Ted froze, his beady little black eyes locked on me, reflecting the purple light back eerily.
We would stare at each other.
The first few times this happened, I was just tired, but as time went on, I began to glare hatred at Ted. Flat out hatred. He glared the same at me. You would think I was just having projection issues, thinking the little rodent hated me because I hated him. But he really did hate me, I know it. And every night he woke me up with that ungodly squeak squeak squeak of that damned plastic wheel, I hated him more.
Eventually I stopped going into my daughter’s room. I felt guilty looking in with something less than fatherly love and concern. And I didn’t like actively hating anything as much as I hated Ted.
Worse, I’m ashamed to admit, Ted scared me. I couldn’t believe something so small was capable of emanating so much palpable animosity back at me.
I tried using spray lubricant on his wheel one day when Melody wasn’t home. I didn’t want her to be afraid the oily stuff would make Ted sick. It was all I could do to stick my hand inside the plastic cage. Ted stared at me the whole time, and all I could think about was him biting me. Sharp pain, big red bead of blood on my finger….
I knew that’s what he wanted. I could see it in his eyes.
The spray didn’t work. It made things worse. Apparently, it is good for everything but polycarbonate plastic. The squeak got louder.
I checked the pet stores and the internet. Turns out you can’t replace the wheel without replacing the whole damned castle, and I couldn’t even find another one of those.
My nights grew longer as I refrained from roaming. Instead, I stayed in bed and fantasized about horrible things happening to Ted. I would imagine ‘accidentally’ knocking over his cage while vacuuming, and, with a flup noise, Ted would vanish into the machine. I envisioned incidents involving toasters, microwaves, blenders, toilets, and open doors.
It became my nightly routine. I would lie down, wait for the squeaking to start, and try to come up with the perfect hamster murder. I had given up on accidents I knew would never happen; no cat would ever sneak in and get Ted, he wasn’t going to get stomped on by a fat aunt who was afraid of mice, and no bald eagle was going to spot him through the open window and dive bomb his castle.
My musings always ended at the thought of Melody in tears over her lost baby. There was nothing I found more distressing than my daughter in pain.
Except possibly that squeaky wheel.
It drove me insane, all night, every night. Squeak, squeak, squeak.
Until it stopped.
My eyes opened wide. Ted never stopped.
Yes he did.
He stopped when I looked into the room.
He stopped to stare at me, to shoot his little rodent hatred at me through his nasty little black eyes. It had been so long since I’d looked into Melody’s room at night, I’d forgotten the sound of the silence as the abhorrence hung in the air between us.
My ears strained at the silence in the house.
What was going on? Had the hateful little fuzzball died of a heart attack? I almost smiled at the thought.
Then I heard something. A very small scratching sound.
Had Ted finally found a way out of the castle? I did smile at the hope Ted might fall into the toilet.
But then I had a darker thought.
Ted might be coming after me.
Had he spent night after night running on his little wheel trying to figure out how to off Melody’s old man so he could have her all to himself? Ludicrous! —a hamster trying to figure out a way to kill me.
Well, why not? I spent my nights trying to figure out how to kill him. I had projected so much hatred at him that he had learned to send it back at me when I stood in Melody’s doorway. They say animals can sense things. If that were true, surely Ted knew my feelings and reciprocated them. There was no way to be aware of that much animosity and not feel it in return, if for no other reason than self-preservation.
Then I heard the other sound.
I didn’t know what the noise was. It was muffled, hidden from me, but it didn’t belong in my house. It was a foreign sound, one that set my hair on end.
Gritting my teeth, I got out of bed silently.
More skittering noises. Ted’s little clawed feet on the hardwood floor, I was sure. It was easy to imagine him running around on the floor in my mind’s eye, but that didn’t fit the sounds. There was something more….
I heard footfalls upon the floor and realized Melody must have woken up. She must have taken Ted out of his cage for some reason. My relief melted over me like a liquid blanket. How could I have been so silly as to think Ted had gotten out on his own and was planning to kill me?
I quit trying to sneak and walked down the hallway to Melody’s room. Her light was still off, but her black light was more than enough to see by. More than enough to tell the glowing neon castle lid was open. And more than enough to make out the man who stood in the middle of the room.
His eyes were wide, the black light making the whites luminous. He brandished a long knife, the blade flashing in the purple light as he twisted back and forth, looking around for something on the ground. He hadn’t noticed me.
I panicked. “Melody!”
The man looked up. Under the black light, his skin was purple, and his eyes and teeth glowed in a terrible grimace. He lunged at me, but his feet betrayed him. Yarn had been wrapped around his ankles, tying them together, and he fell, face first onto the wooden floor with a thump that shook the room.
Melody sat up in bed and screamed the ear-splitting shriek of a little girl.
I braced myself to leap past the man and protect my daughter.
“Damn hamster! I’ll kill you yet!” The man cursed from the floor, wildly brandishing his blade at the darkness around him.
Before I could get past him and grab Melody, her bookcase rocked forward and came crashing down onto the intruder’s head. The sharp blade fell from his limp fingers as his body jerked once, twice, and was still.
A small, quick, black shape appeared at his shoulder. I saw beady eyes flash purple hatred and sharp little white teeth gnashed at the man’s ear, drawing a shiny, dark drop of blood. Ted hopped off the man’s shoulder and turned to glare at me for a moment.
I watched in disbelief as he did his slow little penguin waddle back to his castle, climbed in, shut the lid, and resumed his nightly routine.
Squeak, squeak, squeak.
A Colorado native, Sam Knight spent ten years in California’s wine country before returning to the Rockies. When asked if he misses California, he gets a wistful look in his eyes and replies he misses the green mountains in the winter, but he is glad to be back home.
As well as having worked for at least three publishing companies, Sam is author of six children’s books, five short story collections, three novels, and over five dozen short stories, including two media tie-ins co-authored with Kevin J. Anderson: Wayward Pines: Aberration (Kindle Worlds, 2014) and Of Monsters and Men, Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone (Titan, 2016). Find more at http://samknight.com/.
Down a forgotten hallway lie rooms no one has entered.
Each room contains a world waiting to be explored.
Some beautiful and full of wonder, other dark and full of terrors.
You won’t know which until you step inside.
So take a deep breath, and open the door…
Featuring stories by Elmdea Adams, Jen Bair, David Boop, J.T. Evans, Todd Fahnestock, Arlen Feldman, Shannon Fox, Jessica Guernsey, Sam Knight, Chris Mandeville, Kim May, John D. Payne, Wayland Smith, Stephannie Tallent, and Marie Whittaker
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