Lester faced the door and counted one to twenty.
Fergus scanned the room. They had played this game many times before and he knew Lester would look for him under the bed.
At the count of 15, Fergus hid behind the heavy brown drape.
At 20, Lester searched the bed and scattered the pillows. Fergus was not there. He smiled and leaned over.
“Gotcha!” But Fergus was not under the bed either. Before he could get up, Fergus was already on his back tickling his armpits. Lester giggled. He grabbed Fergus and pinned him down. It was Fergus’s turn to giggle.
“Smart teddy!” Lester said, scrubbing Fergus’s head.
“Oh, you think only humans are smart?”
“Haha. I know.”
All of a sudden, the door opened. Lester’s mother stepped in.
“Mom! I’m thirteen. Don’t you knock?” He got up and helped Fergus to his feet.
“You’re thirteen and still messing around with him. When will you do something useful? Go out, play in the neighborhood. I don’t care with whom. Just…just take a break from Fergus.”
Lester knew his parents weren’t happy with him. The other day, they had taken him to a psychologist. To them, it wasn’t normal for a teenager to spend time with a talking teddy bear…more than he was supposed to, according to his mother. They had urged him to play music or join sports clubs like the other kids. But he’d rather be with Fergus than do things he wasn’t interested in.
Lester shook his head and whispered, “You don’t understand.”
“We’re having fun, Mrs. King,” Fergus said.
“Well, have it while it lasts.” She scowled and left, slamming the door behind her. Lester and Fergus looked at each other.
“You alright?” Fergus asked.
“I’m always okay when you’re around.”
Fergus smiled. But Lester glimpsed sadness in his buddy’s eyes. Then he heard him sigh.
“What’s it, buddy?”
Fergus glued his eyes to the window. He was thinking.
Then he said, “Your mother’s right. You’ve to mingle with other kids.”
“No. I want to be with you.”
“But your parents don’t like it.”
“My parents are too busy to make time to understand their son.”
Fergus took Lester’s hands. “I’ll go away. Your parents will be happy and won’t pester you.”
“No! Don’t leave me, buddy!” Lester hugged him and continued, “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me. I’ve never been this happy before. Please, stay. I’ll talk to my parents tomorrow.”
Unawares to them, Mrs. King was still behind the door. A devilish grin formed on her face.
The following day, while Lester was at school, Mrs. King executed her plan.
Pretending to take Fergus to the supermarket, she drove him outside of town and stopped next to a closed mill. While Fergus surveyed the place, Mrs. King took out a chloroformed hanky from the dashboard. In a second it was on Fergus’s nose. He wriggled, but Mrs. King was too strong and he fainted. She dragged him out of the car and dumped him in a half-full dumpster. Before she left, she slashed Fergus’s leg.
“This takes care if you decide to come back.” She smirked and left.
An hour later, Fergus regained consciousness. He jumped, trying to reach the top of the dumpster but failed. He tried again. And again. Until a dump truck arrived and before he knew it, he was in a landfill, buried under heaps of garbage. Fergus crept up to the surface, only to cough his lungs out. There was fire all around him. The place stank so much he had to cover his nose with his paws; the fumes were so black he could hardly see anything. He turned around, looking for an exit. There was none.
The sweltering heat was slowly making his hair curly. Fergus vowed not to get fried without fighting.
“No time to waste. My fur will grow back again,” he said, preparing to dash through the flames as quick as he could.
But before he had taken a step, an eagle swooped down and seized him. In the blink of an eye, Fergus was in the sky.
“Who -, Please! I ain’t no meal!” Fergus begged, waggling.
“Fret not, friend. You’re in good claws. I mean hands.”
“I don’t trust without evidence.”
Fergus bounced as the eagle shook in laughter.
“I would need no food for weeks if you were my meal.” The eagle started laughing again.
Fergus kept quiet.
Seeing where they were headed, Fergus yelled, “No, not the pond. I can’t swim!”
The eagle guffawed.
“I don’t do the out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire thing. Relax. I already said you’re in good -.” The eagle dropped him into the pond.
Mid-air, Fergus screamed. It was so loud all the birds on the waters flew away except the Swan couple. They flapped their wings hard, rushing towards Fergus who was thrashing about, trying to stay afloat.
“Why try if you can’t swim?” Madam Swan uttered.
“Whom will we rescue if not the likes of him?” Master Swan replied.
Meanwhile, Fergus was beginning to drown and no matter how he cried for help, no voice came out of his mouth. But aid was drawing near. Soon the Swan couple clasped him.
“Don’t worry, dear. You’re safe now,” they said together, paddling towards the shore.
“Oh, dear bear. You’re quite hefty!” Madam Swan exclaimed.
“Sorry for the trouble, but I’m grateful for your help.”
“Oh, no sweat, dear. It’s been so long since Regal Eagle got our hearts pounding,” Madam Swan said.
“You’re friends with him?”
“We don’t have reasons to be enemies,” Master Swan blurted out.
“Then please convey my thanks. I didn’t have the chance myself.”
“He knows, dear,” Madam Swan answered.
The Swan couple assured Fergus was fine before they left. When they were out of sight, he got up only to shriek in pain realizing his leg hurt. He examined the cut. It was about three inches long but not deep.
“I’ll be fine,” he muttered.
The rolling terrain seemed unfamiliar. He looked up at the sky, trying to find some clues to his whereabouts.
“Quite far from home,” Fergus murmured.
Moments later, he took to the road, limping. Hungry and exhausted, he walked on. Then he thought of Lester.
“He must be worried stiff about me.”
Back at the suburb, Lester was furious. He couldn’t believe Fergus had left him even after their chat last night. He snatched a photo frame that was on the side table. In it were Fergus and Lester.
“You didn’t trust me! You never did. It makes me so mad!” Lester threw the frame on the wall. The glass shattered into pieces.
On the road, Fergus limped on. Brooding over Lester, he didn’t realize he was walking in the middle of the highway. An ear-splitting honk from a ten-wheeler truck broke his thoughts. In a flash, he darted to the side. But the truck veered wildly towards him. He ran as fast as he could, his head turned and eyes on the speeding truck.
Before he knew, he had tripped on a rock, rolled down the slope, and crashed in a deep dry ditch. He fell flat face down at the muddy bottom, with a thud. A red liquid oozed down his leg. Fergus shut his eyes trying not to whimper from the pain. He tapped around the place, but there was nothing to help him resurface. He was 10 feet down, with a barren field overhead, and no sign of life. He could scream for help as long as he desired, but all would be to no avail.
Crestfallen, he sat leaning on the wall, rubbing his throbbing leg. Dog-tired, his eyelids started to droop and he dozed-off. The rattling of approaching footsteps woke him up. It came closer and louder by the second.
Before he could stand, the owner of the feet emerged out of the darkness.
“Welcome, welcome! You’ve come to the right place at the right time, my friend! Dinner is ready; I love company. Quick now. Food doesn’t taste good when cold. Follow me!”
Amazed by the fellow’s hospitality, Fergus got up and followed the stranger; his legs stumbling, and his belly rumbling.
“Ah, such sound is music to the ears. Come, come,” rubbing his belly.
“Thank you very much for this invitation, Mr. -“
“Call me Squirrel!”
“But you’re a rat!”
Squirrel burst out laughing. He collapsed on the ground wiggling his limbs; his laughter echoed through the burrow.
After a while, he gathered himself back on his feet.
“Wait till you see my collection, then you can decide what to call me!” Squirrel said, thrilled with himself, and moved ahead. “Come along!”
Fergus tried to keep up, but Squirrel was too fast for his wounded leg.
“Why do you walk so slow in spite of those long legs?” Then Squirrel noticed Fergus was limping. “Oh, you’re hurt!”
Fergus opened his mouth to answer, but Squirrel jabbered away. “The wound isn’t deadly. However, right now, belly care is the most pressing matter.” Squirrel suddenly stopped and closed his eyes. “Smell the air! What mouth-watering aroma!” He moved his head from side to side, snorting.
Watching the bliss on Squirrel’s face while savoring the ambrosial flavor in the air, Fergus couldn’t help but close his eyes and do the same. He licked his lips; his tummy groaned further.
After meandering through the endless burrow, they finally arrived at Squirrel’s home which was adorned by colorful balloons. Squirrel drew Fergus to the table and gave him a bowl of water. Fergus was about to drink it when Squirrel stopped him.
“It’s for the hands.” He grinned and sat down, and motioned Fergus to take the other side of the table.
“I’m elated to share my bounty with a friend tonight. You don’t know how lucky I was to have stumbled upon these goodies this morning.”
Squirrel stuffed his plate and began eating. He shut his eyes while munching a slice of cheese.
“I’ve never tasted such yummy stuff. You should…” Squirrel realized his guest was staring at him, and not eating.
“Oh, forgive me. Where are my manners?” He left the table and came back with a plate. He sat down and continued talking.
“It’s been ages since guests visited me. I’ve forgotten how to be a good host. Pardon me! Here, have a taste of this…this…I think humans call it cheesenut. No, not cheesenut! Nutcheese, silly me! Made from nuts; not from cruelty! The packet said so -cruelty-free.” He paused and guzzled down a glass of mushroom-tomato soup.
“Sorry, I missed your name.”
“The name’s Fergus.”
Whether Squirrel heard him or not, he couldn’t tell because Squirrel chattered away, narrating tales of his adventures. Stories of the countless times he avoided traps and the unforgettable times he escaped from humans who called his kind ‘pests’.
“They…they’re the real pests!” said Squirrel, extending his left hand. “All they do is multiply and destroy. What arrogant fools. We’re pests my foot!” So saying, he raised his plump tail and lashed it out in the air like a whip.
Fergus just nodded, for his mouth was full of bread and nutcheese. His thoughts wandered back home. “Lester isn’t, but Mrs. King is certainly one!” he whispered, grinning.
Fergus’s belly was full; his heart was sated. He forgot his worries. Even the wound on his leg skipped his mind. It was Squirrel who remembered it.
He got up and removed the first-aid kit. Like a master surgeon, he sutured Fergus’ gash. In no time, Fergus was feeling better. Squirrel asked him to walk to and fro. The result of his handiwork made him glow.
“Two needs down. Now before you drift off to dreamland, let me show you my collection. The story behind my name. The reason why a rat is named Squirrel.”
He pulled a wooden box from under his bed. In it were assorted trinkets, bottle caps, threads and unblown balloons of varied colors.
Fergus was about to lay his hands on the trinkets when Squirrel closed the box.
“Now that you’ve seen the evidence, it’s time to sleep.”
The next morning, Fergus was roused by a loud pop. He saw Squirrel blowing balloons using a rotating tube-blower that he had invented himself. The house was almost filled with them.
“What’re they for?”
“Not for my flight, for sure.”
Moments later, Squirrel and Fergus had a bunch of balloons each.
“Why two?” Fergus asked.
“My friend, when the belly’s full everything falls into its proper place. One for you, the other one for your lunchbasket.”
Soon both were standing at the same pit where Fergus had fallen. Squirrel climbed Fergus and perched on his shoulder.
“I’ll miss you, friend. But I know your heart belongs somewhere else. Remember, you’re always welcome here.” He hugged Fergus’s neck and then jumped down.
Fergus didn’t feel like leaving. He had grown quite fond of Squirrel, the rat. However, he had to go back and see Lester.
With a sniffle, Fergus patted Squirrel. He thanked him and stood at the center of the pit. By and by, the balloons carried him up. The other set of balloons followed. In it were tied a basket of bread and nutcheese. Fergus was teary-eyed.
Believing Squirrel would love to have the balloons back, he tied them to a big rock.
“Watch out, Squirrel!” Fergus warned, dropping the rock with the balloons.
Only Squirrel’s roaring laughter was heard at the bottom.
Back on the road, Fergus clung to his ration and walked on. The vehicles that passed by ignored him until one Ford stopped.
“Where to, lad?”
The driver seemed like a good man. Fergus gave him his address.
“Hop right in!” he said. “Name’s Real. Yours?”
All the way, Real was beaming, whistling, and tapping the steering wheel. Unbeknown to Fergus, the driver was a famous professor and maverick scientist who had been explicit in his attempts to send a live subject to the moon. But due to the current laws on animal abuse and the Animal Rights groups’ keen opposition to using animals in any way, his project remained unexecuted. Until today.
At an intersection, Real turned left away from the main highway. Fergus looked backward and sideways. “Where’re you taking me?” he asked.
“To a place you’ve never been to. I’m going to make you…err, us, famous. Don’t you love fame, little one? ’Cos I do!”
Before Fergus knew it, Real yanked him outside by the hands and dragged him to a garage. When the gate opened, Fergus saw equipment he had only seen in sci-fi movies. One of which was a pod.
“What’re you going to do with me?”
“Don’t worry little one, you’re in the hands of greatness.”
A young man who was engrossed in front of a computer turned around. He was about to greet his master when he was cut-off by his steely voice.
“Take him to the pod. Make sure he doesn’t escape!” The young man obeyed like a slave afraid of being whipped. He strapped Fergus to the seat of the pod. Fergus wriggled, trying to loosen the belt around his body and limbs.
Real tapped Fergus on the head and in the softest voice he had ever heard said, “You’ll get hurt if you struggle, little one. No worries, you’ll enjoy it up there. As for me, it’s party time.” He shut the door of the pod and commanded the young man to launch it. Then he switched on his gramophone and started shaking his legs wildly to the pounding of disco music.
Soon Fergus was in the air heading towards the moon. When the pod landed, its door automatically opened and the straps snapped on their own. Fergus got out and smelled the fresh moon-air. He was standing right at the shiny ball of light that Lester and he admired every night. At first, his mind was debating whether he was really on the moon because according to his knowledge about space travel, he would have needed an oxygen-fitted space-suit. But he felt alright without them. He looked around. There was no sign of life. Only constant blowing of the wind. He looked yonder and saw a blue planet.
“That must be Earth. So I must be on the moon!” His face beamed; his smile turned into gleeful laughter. He gathered moon-stones and rolled moon-mud into balls and played marble golf with them. Then the thought of Lester and home overpowered whatever happiness he felt. He wished to be back on Earth.
Just then he heard a silvery voice as though he was listening to the song of the cosmos.
“Hello, Fergus! Welcome to the Moon. I’m delighted to make your acquaintance. I’m Queen Ether.” He squinted to get a glimpse of the owner of the voice, but she seemed invisible.
“Oh, I’m glad I’ve company. I thought I’m alone here.”
“Oh, dear. You’re never alone. Never were!”
Overjoyed by this sudden realization, Fergus began to weep.
“Hush, my child. I know your situation. Don’t worry, I’ve come prepared.”
Instantly, threads of sparks, twirling and twisting around each other, showed up before Fergus. The lights danced in rhythms of joy. Then they drew midget moon-rocks towards themselves, melting and merging them as they got closer until a pod-like meteoroid was formed. The pod glided and rested next to Fergus.
“Your spaceship has arrived. I’ve given her specific instructions. She’ll carry you home safely. Follow her command; you’ll be fine.”
Fergus stopped sobbing.
“Now get in, my child.”
Fergus was on the way to the pod when he turned back and said, “Can I request you something?”
“Yes, of course!”
“I’d like a moon-stone to give to a friend. Can I’ve one?”
Without answering, Queen Ether lifted a moon-rock into the air and blew a spark into it. Rotating, it molded itself into a perfect circle and glittered. She handed it to Fergus. He stared at it and saw a phosphorescent miniature of the Earth inside.
Jumping with joy, he thanked Queen Ether before bidding her goodbye. Though she was faceless and invisible, he felt her kindness. That was all that mattered.
Soon Fergus was on his way back to Earth. The moment the pod entered the earth’s atmosphere, it spoke.
“I’ve made some calculations. I’ll count to three. When I say jump, you jump.”
“But I don’t know to fly. I’m scared.”
“Just hold on to the moonbeam!”
“It’ll take you home! Queen Ether has sent me on a special mission. I can’t take you with me.”
“Oh. Okay. I’ll do as you say.”
The pod counted three. Fergus jumped and held on to the moonbeam. He descended like he was slithering down a playground slide. He thought of Lester and wished to share this experience with him.
Fergus hovered above a familiar neighborhood.
“I’m home? I’m home!” He cackled.
Down below, Lester stood by the window thinking of Fergus. He saw a shooting star passed by and wished and closed his eyes.
“I wish Fergus is back home with me.”
When he opened his eyes, his eyeballs grew big and his jaw dropped. Fergus was gliding down from the sky as though the meteor had heard his prayer. Lester leapt through his window and ran outside.
When Fergus was about two feet from the ground, he let go of the moonbeam and landed on his feet. The moonbeam sprung back into the air and rose into the sky. Fergus was waving at it when he heard a familiar voice.
“Fergus! Fergus!” Lester hugged him tightly. “I thought I’d never see you again. Mom said you left!”
“I’m sorry I left you, Lester. I’ll never do it again!”
Fergus noticed Mr. and Mrs. King standing behind Lester. Their faces looked ashamed and remorseful; Mrs. King’s eyes were moist.
“Well, I’m here now. I had a great adventure. I’ll tell you all about it.”
Mrs. King approached them. She embraced Fergus and whispered, “I’m so sorry Fergus. Will you forgive me for what I did?”
He smiled and said, “I brought you something.” Then he handed the glowing moon-stone to Mrs. King.
Mrs. King sobbed and gathered Fergus and Lester in her arms.
A few miles away, a meteor crash-landed on a garage. Two men were seen fleeing from the scene. One of them was Professor Real McCoy.
“My, my! If only paychecks were as certain as paybacks! I swear I won’t toy around anymore!” He howled as he darted, covered in flames, in search of water.
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