Runt pushed against the loose white tile at the bottom of the shower. He slid it an inch to the side and squeezed out of the hollow in the wall. He blinked up at the bare lightbulb in the middle of the room. That's strange, he thought, usually Foodbringer is asleep by now. Runt padded through a tiny pool of water ringed with a coil of Foodbringer's white hair. He stopped to take a sip, then sat up on his haunches sniffing the air. The neighbor's dog is or was recently outside. The nasty smell of it wafted through the cracks around the bathroom window.
The tile moved again. Runt looked back. It was Beta. He waddled over to the water and lapped, then washed his hands. He looked up at Runt and grunted.
"What are you looking at?" said Beta gruffly.
"Nothing," said Runt, turning away. "But don't you think it's strange that the light's still on?" Beta looked dull-eyed up at the lightbulb and blinked rapidly.
"Dunno," he said after a moment. "I'm hungry."
"Yes, of course," said Runt. "Should we wait for Alpha and Twofoot?"
"Nah," said Beta. He scurried to the lip of the shower, pulled himself up with some effort, and plopped down the other side. Runt heard his nails scritching on the bathroom tile as he ran into the bedroom. Runt clasped his hands together. Normally he would have no compunction about traipsing around the house at night when Foodbringer was asleep, but if Foodbringer was still up they all risked being whacked by Big Broom. Runt thought back to the time when he was just a few weeks old, when the bristles of Big Broom scraped his back. He didn't leave the nest for three whole days after that.
Runt looked back at the tile hole. What's taking Alpha and Twofoot so long? he thought. Aren't they hungry? Runt thought they had been spending an inordinate amount of time together in the far hollows of the walls. He couldn't imagine what they were finding to do there. It was all just dust and insulation.
there was not a hint of motion or sound behind the tile, so Runt decided to follow Beta before he got too far away. Runt ran to the lip of he shower and jumped over, landing gently on his forefeet. He ran to the jamb of the bathroom door and peeked around the corner. The light was on in this room as well, but Foodbringer was not here. Her bed was smoothly made. Beta was gnawing on the wooden bedpost foot. He always liked to do that to clean his teeth and work up a proper appetite before venturing in to the kitchen. Runt didn't quite see the same joy in it. The bits of wood just abraded his gums and he would spend the rest of the night licking his teeth. He didn't usually partake of the activity.
"There...you...are," said Beta between gnaws. Runt ran across the white shag carpet to join Beta.
"Where is Foodbringer if she's not in bed?" asked Runt. He looked about nervously.
"Dunno," said Beta. "Don't...care."
"I think we should go back," said Runt. He pulled on his whiskers out of nervous habit.
"Nah," said Beta. "We'll...be...fine."
"Maybe we should at least go back and wait for Alpha and Twofoot and get their opinions," said Runt.
"You...worry...too...much," said Beta.
"I like to stay alive," said Runt. He ran around Beta and ducked under the bed.
"Ahhh," said Beta, "that's much better." He rubbed his cheeks with his hands, then licked his lips. "You really should try this!"
"No, thanks," said Runt. He ran to the opposite bedpost, and clung to it. Beta followed. Runt sniffed the air carefully in the direction of the bedroom door. "I think she's still here."
"This whole place smells like Foodbringer," said Beta.
"I know, but it smells especially strong," said Runt.
"Maybe she fell asleep watching the light and noise box," said Beta. "That's happened before."
"We would hear it," said Runt.
"Well I don't know, maybe not," said Beta. "All I know is that I'm hungry." Beta ran across the open carpet to the relative safety of the bedroom door jamb. He sidled around it and disappeared into the hall.
"Wait!" said Runt. He heart was pounding. He glanced back at the bathroom doorway. There was still no sign of Alpha or Twofoot. Runt thought he'd rather be with Beta than with no one. He leapt across the open carpet and nearly faceplanted against the jamb. He slid across it, and ran down the hallway wall as furiously has he could. Beta was waiting for him at the other end. As soon as Runt reached the end of the hall, Beta went running into the kitchen. Runt panted and tried to catch his breath. The light was on in the kitchen as well as the living room. It was all so odd. He watched Beta disappear behind the counter over hang. He was going for the bread. There was probably a fresh loaf out. Beta liked to chew through the plastic, and Runt was happy to let him have the first bite since he didn't care for the taste of plastic any more than he cared for the taste and texture of wood.
Runt started to run across the hallway floor to the kitchen, then he heard a quiet, tremulous sound. He froze, and turned and looked in the living room. There was a large pile of Foodbringer's clothing on the floor. Runt cocked his head, trying to discern where the sound had originated. Then it happened again, and the pile of clothes moved slightly. Runt's heart leapt and somersaulted. He ran back to the wall, and stood on his back legs trying to hide completely behind it.
"Beta!" hissed Runt, "Beta!!" There was no sign of Beta. Runt took a deep breath in and out, then peered around the corner. The pile of clothes was still there, but now Runt wasn't sure that it was just a pile of clothes. He sniffed again. He smelled Foodbringer's scent very strongly. "Beta!" he called out again. Finally beta waddled around the counter. He was carrying a partially eaten Cheeto his hands.
"What?" he said. His open mouth exposed a half-masticated wad of orange. Runt pointed wordlessly towards the pile, and twitched his whiskers frantically. Then the pile made the sound again, slightly louder. Beta stopped chewing, and let his mouth fall agape. "Is that..."
"I think it is," said Runt.
"What is she doing on the floor?" asked Beta. "Is she sleeping there?"
"I don't know!" said Runt. He pulled down on his whiskers again. Then Foodbringer made an even louder sound, and moved one of her arms. She was reaching for a glossy black object, but couldn't get her arm near it.
"Aaaaahhhhh!" screamed Beta. He dropped the Cheeto and scampered off down the hallway and back into the bedroom. Runt fought the urge to run as well. Instead he dug his nails into the wall, clutching it tightly, as if he felt he could merge right into it for protection. Foodbringer made another sound, this time lower and longer. Runt watched her. She tried several times to reach her fingers towards the glossy object. Runt remembered when his mother was ill. She made a similar sound. That was a few days before she fell asleep for good. He felt suddenly sad. Foodbringer scared the water out of him, but if she fell asleep for good, there would be no more food in the kitchen. What will we eat?
Foodbringer made a gurgling sound, then coughed. She tried reaching again. Runt looked around for Big Broom. It was not in the living room. Runt let go of the wall. He padded a few steps towards Foodbringer. Runt saw her hair, which then rotated, and then there were eyes. Foodbringer made a frantic sound. Runt hadn't realized before the Foodbringer actually had a face. She wasn't that much unlike the members of his family group after all--just a much bigger version.
Runt padded closer to Foodbringer. Her eyes were wet with water. He sat back on his haunches and studied her face. One side looked lax, and the other was twitchy. She shrugged her shoulders, and moved a half inch towards the glossy object. She tried reaching again, but she still could not grasp it. Runt saw that she wanted it, but could not understand why she wanted it. It was not food, and it didn't seem to hold water. It was clearly not suitable as nesting materials. It didn't look like she could clean her teeth with it.
Out of shear curiosity, Runt padded up to the object. He touched it with his hands. It was slight warm and smooth. He pushed it with his foot, and it slid a couple of millimeters. Foodbringer watched him, and was quiet. He pushed it again, into reach of her fingers. He stood back an inch, and looked at her hand, then at her face. Her mouth closed and opened, but no sounds came out of her. Then suddenly she reached for the object and flipped it over. Runt raced back to the hallway wall, and peeked back at her. The glossy object lit up. Foodbringer was touching it's smooth surface. Then the object started to make lots of sounds. Then Foodbringer made sounds. Then the object made more sounds. This continued for awhile. Then Foodbringer glanced back over at him. Runt ran down the hall and towards the bedroom, afraid she would get Big Broom and find him. He ran into the bathroom and up over the lip of the shower. He ran for the tile hole, stopped only briefly to resecure the tile in its place, than he ran down the hollow and climbed up the wood to his nest. He curled up as tight as he could and hoped to forget what he had just done. He wondered how he had the courage to approach Foodbringer so closely when even Beta ran? Stupid, stupid, stupid he thought, pulling on his whiskers. He stomach growled as he tried to fall asleep.