Fanfare for the Common Hamster is the second book in the Hamster-Sapiens series, and follows the exploits of a plump young female hamster after an experiment at a scientific research facility releases latent psychic powers, which allows her to step through walls into alternate realities. She unwittingly becomes the catalyst for insurrection in a medieval world that is ruled by the iron paw of the church. And what an adventure it is! In fact it’s a farce. Here’s a sample…
The receptionist, Flotti Pañuelo, was once more moonlighting from the surgery of Doctor Growbag’s, when Felicity Bugler visited The Institute of Hugely Important Studies for the second time. And once more she was concerned with the long black skid mark left by Felicity’s three-wheeled scooter as she broadsided the high-speed machine to a spectacular halt in the foyer.
“I remember you.” she said in her best scolding voice, “I had to spend fifteen minutes, and a jumbo packet of Schitoff, cleaning up after your last visit. Now what do you want?”
Well, after hearing the young dormouse’s sad story, Flotti quickly informed Felicity that Doctor Rambling Bramble, Primrose Pickles, and their rather snotty assistant, Freddy Ringworm, were conducting an investigation at Kool Kustard.
Felicity sighed with a modicum of relief: She took this information to be a good omen; and after making a hurried farewell to the fussy receptionist, she raced from the modern building with the athleticism of youth, and the sheer pace of a part-time tadpole-tenderiser at the riverside Pond-Life Bar & Grill beneath Septum Bridge, that she was.
The members of The Institute for Psychic Rodent Research were about to enter the freezer with Algy Timber when Felicity found them.
Throwing herself into Joan’s spare freezer suit, which engulfed her tiny frame like a hungry whale, the young female dormouse joined the hamsters in the frosty air, where she quickly explained that she had extrapolated a theory which strongly suggested that Joan had progressed from seeing through walls – to actually passing her body through them.
“Strongly suggesting that she teleported?” Primrose squealed with untrammelled excitement.
Felicity wasn’t so sure about that particular idea. In fact she thought that it was probably a lot of tonge; a load of bollocks; and utter ditch water.
“No – I just mean that she found a way of passing matter through matter without molesting either.” She answered carefully.
She noticed Bramble nodding. “Hmmm,” the tall male said as he stroked his chin intelligently, “If your theory is correct – and it’s one that I find most attractive – rather like yourself, despite your tail – I wonder if we might find evidence of it in the stinging nettle patch that lies just behind this freezer.”
“But haven’t the police gone over everywhere with a fine tooth comb already?” Algy Timber argued.
“Not necessarily,” Freddy Ringworm spoke from the shadows thrown by the huge piles of custard pots that had yet to have their contents levelled by eager young incisors. He was setting up some very complicated equipment; “They went over it with size twelve boots – the worthless scum. All evidence will have been crushed beneath them.”
This was a serious setback, and everyone knew it. Then Algy had a moment of inspiration.
“I know.” He yelled, “We’ll get a private detective!”
The telephone directory contained a surprisingly large number of private detectives. Far more than anyone would have expected a rural town like Hamster Heath to support. Naturally every one of them was keen as mustard to come running to their assistance – even for a paltry sum and the promise of some micro-waved custard tarts: But Felicity demanded that the detective they enlist should be one with an open mind, an analytical brain, a modicum of imagination, and a very large go-kart. This reduced the list to one.
Fabian Strangefellow was as remarkable in appearance as his name suggested. His clothes were outlandishly individual – as though he’d travelled to Kool Kustard from some gentlehamsters club of a hundred-or-so years past. And his vehicle was a wonder of the go-kart constructor’s art. Its wheels were huge and made from cast iron that ran upon solid rubber tyres – the like of which had not been seen since the days when cheese and pickle had been popular. His manner of speech also elicited visions of yesteryear, which made Felicity feel as though she should curtsy at his approach.
“Fabian Strangefellow – at your service.” He said – doffing a huge, wide-brimmed hat with a feathery plume of some unknown avian protruding from its stovepipe body, “May I introduce my assistant, Mister Roosevelt Teabiscuit.”
At this point a small, rotund, but incredibly cute, dormouse, wearing a nicely-cut tweed suit, stepped into view from behind the billowing cloak of Fabian Strangefellow. “Hello.” He said demurely. “I wonder if anyone has considered the possibility of movement along the dimensional plane as an explanation to the disappearance of um…” Roosevelt quickly consulted a clipboard, “…Miss Joan Bugler?”
Before anyone could reply, Felicity did what any self-respecting young female rodent would do when confronted by an apparition of such obvious good taste and intellect: She fell instantly in love. Guhh…” She grunted.
Fortunately the Head Shrinkers stepped into the resulting verbal vacuum, and began a discussion upon the merits of Roosevelt’s suggestion.
All that Felicity found herself capable of doing was coming over all dreamy. So she did – with an apparently natural talent for it.
“My,” Fabian exclaimed as the discussion drew to a close – and in doing so revealing the fact that he’d understood none of it, “what fabulous fun she must be having – teleporting herself all over the place like that!”
Joan, meanwhile, was not enjoying a bowl of steaming worm broth. There were three reasons for this. One: She hated worm broth – even when it was heavily spiced; and the turgid muck that she was now attempting to consume had only grit and mouldering house dust as tasty additives. It was utterly disgusting – comprising nothing other than pureed worm, which had been rooted out from the soil beneath her temporary tented cavy-abode, by a bored Margarita Hummingbird. Two: Despite the crackling fire in the hearth, Joan still couldn’t shake off the insistent cold from Freezer Number Three, and wondered if it were possible to go through life with permanently erect nipples. Three: It had finally occurred to Joan that she had lost control of her life. It wasn’t like she was over-extended at the bank, or that someone had made her pregnant behind the corrugated bicycle shed at Saint Belchers Church: It was much worse than either of those. She was beginning to wonder if she would ever free herself of this terrible situation of feeling home sick, and being unable to do anything about it. And with a remarkable exhibition of maturity and insight beyond her tender years, she expressed her feelings to Margarita by describing them as ‘A sense of floppy breastedness’. And Margarita knew only too well what a sense of floppy breastedness felt like: She longed for her homeland amongst the lichens and rudimentary ferns of the distant Andes mountains.
Felicity, meanwhile, had torn her gaze from Roosevelt Teabiscuit, and made her planned suggestion to Doctor Rambling Bramble. The older hamster hadn’t been very forthcoming with his praise for her idea; but he found her to be charming, physically attractive – despite her tail – and overflowing with enthusiasm: Therefore he acquiesced, and agreed to put her through exactly the same series of tests that Joan had taken previously. So, leaving Freddy and Primrose to continue their scientific study; and Fabian and Roosevelt to begin their investigation, they arranged a time and date.
The night dragged on interminably in the land of Prannick, and for whatever reason no one in the grotty little house that sat atop the hill overlooking the medieval town of Weasels Pit could sleep.
Following an exaggerated clearing of his throat, Darkwood informed Joan, Rootley, and Brother Alfonso Dos Fresas, that he was temporarily abandoning his quest for knowledge, enlightenment, and the carcass of the thief (who might possibly hail from Joan’s domain) who had stolen from his father, King Longbeach of Sponx.
“Instead,” he announced in something approaching his most royal voice, “I shall join the fight against the oppression, unfairness, and general ghastliness that I have discovered in this foul land of Prannick. The Wheel is absolutely rotten. I don’t like it. Its exponents are total bastards who deserve to either die horribly, or get sent to some putrid place of slime and unpleasantness, where their fingernails will crack and their reproductive organs will atrophy into uselessness.”
It was a long sentence – even for a prince – and for a moment Darkwood felt quite light-headed. But he managed to add, “Is anyone with me?”
Rootley reminded him that as a Stix, he had already embarked upon such a quest; but that he would gladly add Darkwood to his list of allies.
Brother Alfonso – greatly disturbed by recent events, agreed – just as long as he could leave if things looked like getting out-of-paw, or he received a letter from home – informing him that his penance was fulfilled, and that he could return to the bosom of his family and their dandelion wine factory.
Only Joan held back. All she wanted to do was go home.
“Not tonight, sugar,” Margarita’s face appeared at the window, “I just overheard two passing wood mice talking about a Stix meeting being held in some place called Kinell. If cavies get to vote, I’m raising my paw to the suggestion that we get our bored asses outta here!”
“There are two Kinells,” Rootley was only mildly interested, “They’re built on opposite banks of the Turgid River. Did they mention which Kinell?”
“Now how the hell am I supposed to know that,” Margarita came over all haughty, “It’s more than three hop, skip, and jumps to the woodland track. I could barely make out a word of what they said. Are they North and South, or East and West?”
“Neither:” Rootley replied, “They’re known as Near and Far.”
The single eye at the window bulged. “You’re kidding me!” Margarita sounded almost shocked, “Those sure are dumb names. I guess he must’a been talkin’ bout Far Kinell. Yeah – the Stix meeting’s in Far Kinell.”
“Far Kinell,” Brother Alfonso erupted, “I know of a short-cut there via and old drainage pipe. If we move muy rápido we can arrive before the café con leche and buttered scones are shared out during the intermission!”
“Scones?” Darkwood erupted in turn, quickly standing, and kicking away his chair, “I haven’t enjoyed the texture of a buttered scone since Nanny used one to placate me that time when she was forced to smear an unpleasant balm upon my chafed privates after I’d indulged in some tactile experimentation inside a chain mail jerkin. But let’s not get into that right now: If it’s Stix-Time, then I’m ready to do my bit: And let no rodent dare stand in my way!”
Well Brother Alfonso’s secret drainage pipe worked a treat, and before long the four hamsters found themselves stumbling into a forest clearing that was illuminated by the warm, cosy light of hooded oil lamps.
“Pity we had to leave my faithful mount behind.” Darkwood lamented, “Oh how I curse those ancient drainage pipe builders for making them so small. And regard my brass helmet, everyone: It’s got all scratched by the low ceiling.”
He was rewarded by a series of ‘shushes’ from the small, and remarkably quiescent audience as it listened to a rather lack-lustre oratory by the town crier – a hefty hamster by the name of Cyrus Bickers.
“And I say to you,” the rather stout fellow, who wouldn’t look out of place pulling flagons of ale in the town hostelry – and eating a vast pile of pies whilst his wife’s back was turned – yelled in a hushed tone, “some will tell you that The Wheel brings peace and prosperity to Prannick: That, as a direct result of its rule, we have equality for all rodents. But is this true?”
A pleasant-looking middle-aged female bank vole that sat at the front of a group of mixed rodents that encircled Bickers, raised a paw.
But Bickers was too quick for her, “It was a rhetorical question, Flossy: We all know the answer to it: It’s ‘no’.”
Another paw was immediately raised. This belonged to Stubby Collett – though nobody knew that the time because the small, quite elderly harvest mouse was disguised behind spectacles, a huge mass of facial fur, and a heavily padded coat that gave the impression that he was grossly over-weight and was in immediate danger of suffering a cardiac infarction.
“What does it say about our chattels?” He inquired in a cracked voice that sounded as though he could use one of those metaphorical flagons of ale of which Bickers wasn’t a puller.
Bickers was clearly caught off-guard. “Our chattels?” He whined, “What about our chattels?”
“Well I was wondering,” Stubby said in a most reasonable tone, “since you’re so keen to slag-off The Wheel in public, what you had to say about what they say about our chattels. It’s a reasonable enough question, though perhaps not particularly pertinent.”
“You’re bloody right it aint pertinent, ya daft old bastard.” Bickers replied in a tone that was anything but reasonable, “We’re supposed to be rabble-rousing: Not having a reasonable discussion concerning the merits of the autocracy that rules us with an iron paw. Now shut up, or go fluff yourself!”
At this outburst Rootley gave Joan a nudge, and whispered, “A hamster after my own heart. I like this fellow – though not in a sexual sort of way of course.”
Stubby wasn’t to be derailed so easily, and continued to interrupt the speaker at every opportunity, which confused the orator so much that he lost his train of thought, and had to sit down. As he did so he said, “Very well, you win: The floor is yours.”
Stubby was just about to rise, when he himself was interrupted. This time by Flossy…
“I say, I think I’ve seen this fellow nosing about in the market place: Does anyone know who he is?”
Well this was just the opening that Cyrus Bickers was waiting for: Now the usurper would get what was coming to him. Retribution was at paw.
“Yeah,” he bellowed as he stood and pointed an accusing finger toward his tormentor, I don’t recognise you too. Who are you?”
“It’s ‘either’, you twerp,” Stubby snapped whilst giving Bickers a look of one hundred per cent weapons-grade contempt, “not ‘too’.”
Under normal circumstances this would have been more than enough to put down such a vocal local: But these weren’t normal circumstances: This was a Stix meeting, and there was the very real possibility of discovery by the forces of The Wheel. This level of pressure had been known to cloud judgement; and since Bickers’ judgement had already been clouded by the ale that he’d consumed in order to give him the confidence to speak in public, his next words – rather than being “I prostrate myself before your superior wit and intellect” – came out as “Listen to him – calling me a twerp. That’s a sure sign of a Law Master spy, I reckon: Let’s hang him up from the nearest rhubarb tree by his scrotum!”
To Joan’s surprise the strange little fellow seemed almost to greet this accusation with glee.
“Why don’t you put me in the dunking chair?” He goaded the town crier, “That’d be nice, fair, and ever so sensible.”
For a moment everyone watching thought that Bickers’ eyes were about to explode from his head. He was only a smidgeon short of an apoplectic fit, when he managed to stammer, “What – and countenance the actions of The Wheel? We are Stix, sir: We desire nothing more than justice throughout our realm: Only logic and honest evidence shall convict you.”
It was a well-rehearsed response that was verbally most out of character for the fat oaf; and Stubby knew it: But he couldn’t help being impressed by the hamster’s eloquence. He was about to compliment Bickers, and explain the reason for his heckling, when suddenly a series of whistles blew throughout the wood, and pandemonium reigned.
Cyrus Bickers didn’t have to shout “It’s the forces of The Wheel: Run: Run for your lives!” because everyone recognised the sound of hunting lawmen about to fall upon their prey. But he did anyway.
This galvanised the confused foursome. But they had no idea as to which direction they should flee. So they prevaricated horrendously until the entire clearing was surrounded by armed lawmen. Fortunately for them the former subterranean home of a long-dead mole chose that timely moment to collapse beneath their combined weight, and they all fell into a hole with such startled silence that no one noticed their disappearance.
So it was with a partially obscured view of the clearing that, to Rootley’s horror, Perfidity Gallowsmith was almost seen to push through the ranks, probably stride into the centre of the clearing, and most likely begin removing the hoods from the oil lamps.
To Perfidity’s delight the resulting light from the exposed wicks revealed that she had made a good haul. A very good haul indeed. Barely a single rodent had slipped through her metaphorical net. She came very close to smiling. Then her grim countenance returned, and she snarled incoherently at her captives, which made them visibly quake.
Joan was aware that she should have felt fear at that moment: Or at least a touch of trepidation. But she was too busy searching the ranks of captives for the face of the mysterious heckler, whom, she was certain, possessed a formidable personality, and whose talents might well aid her in her quest. But of Stubby Collett there was sign.
Then fear gurgled inside her bowels as she heard the Law Master bellow, “Bring all the known Stix to me: The rest…take them to Far Kinell Town Hall. Incarcerate them with inconsolable misery. Make their bindings hurt, or take away their chairs – that sort of thing: I want them all to suffer in some form or other. Empty the snack bar, and douse the fire in the range. Make it all nasty and smoky for them. Yes – and have the toilets blocked too: Let them wallow in their own filth.”
Joan would have listened further, but Darkwood had gone in search of his huge brass helmet, and in doing so had discovered the late mole’s tunnel. He was now in the process of dragging Joan along it. They had an escape to make.
©Paul Trevor Nolan
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