BOXED IN by Claudia Brevis

THE ROOM WAS shrinking again. Anna dropped her phone—no time to call for help—and shoved furniture to the side, kicking rugs away.

She ran naked to the garage, arms stretched wide to keep the walls at bay.

By the time she reached the highway, Anna was suffocating.

Trucks pulled up on her right and left. Another bore down on her from behind. Ahead, a fourth truck slid into her lane.

Boxed in.

She flipped a switch and gulped cold air. And then, at seventy miles per hour, Anna climbed through the open sunroof into thin hands that reached for her.

The Fat Mouse by Claudia Brevis

THE MICE IN Sienna’s kitchen were maddening, especially the brazen, fat little rodent who scooted across the linoleum from the stove to the refrigerator and back again.

The exterminator had visited, and although he’d closed holes and set traps, it seemed for every mouse killed another two appeared. Her cat had lost interest, and even worse, Sienna had seen mice at his food bowl more than once.

A shrill squeak pierced the quiet. The scurrying ceased. It’s the glue trap, Sienna thought. She’d hurry and toss the whole mess now, before the mouse died and that horrible, sweet smell of decomposition permeated her apartment.

Sienna pulled the trap out. The fat mouse’s bright black eyes caught hers, and in a tiny, deep voice, he said, “I can pay for my freedom.”

Sienna rubbed her ears. Had she dozed? Was she dreaming? She picked up the trap and regarded the struggling mouse. “I can pay,” he repeated.

“What are you offering?” Sienna asked slowly.

“Bearer bonds,” he said, whiskers quivering. “They’re like cash, you know.”

Sienna almost squashed the patronizing little rodent right there. She knew what bearer bonds were. “Show me,” she said, annoyed.

“I’ll take you to them,” he said. “But first unstick me, please. The glue makes my toes ache. Pour oil on my feet and I’ll be able to slide off.”

Sienna shook her head. “I’m not stupid. You’ll run away. I’ll pour the oil when you pay me.”

The mouse sighed. “Grab a flashlight,” he said. “And don’t forget the oil.”

***

Sienna followed the mouse’s directions down the basement stairs to a thick wall at the back covered with a century’s grime.

“The bonds are behind the brick,” he said.

She put down the mousetrap and oil and tapped the wall with her flashlight until she could pull out one brick, and then another. She shined the light into the black and retrieved a yellowed envelope.

“I’ve paid you,” the mouse demanded. “Now set me free.”

“No,” she said, examining the bonds.

“There’s gold in there, too,” he added. “Jewelry and coins lost from the apartments above.”

Sienna’s eyes lit and she yanked out more bricks, one narrowly missing the mouse as it dropped, knocking the oil over. “I can’t see anything,” she complained.

Spilled oil rolled over the trap, dissolving the glue. “You need to reach far down,” he said, wriggling free. “The gold’s at the very bottom.”

Sienna bent and stretched her arms into the hollow, fingertips searching.

The fat mouse scurried between the bricks to where his extended family assembled. En masse, they covered Sienna’s hands and arms, nibbling and tugging, biting and yanking, until she lost her balance and fell screaming into the wall, upside down, stuck where she landed.

Calling good-bye in a variety of tiny, deep voices, the fat mouse and his cousins left Sienna and went about their business, not at all minding that soon that horrible, sweet smell of decomposition would permeate the basement.

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