Chapter One: Happy Birthday, Max!
By Gavin Dahl
“Please tell me they got Cheetos again.”
Max isn’t necessarily supposed to, you know, eat Cheetos. But the lighting is right because it’s a full moon, and it’s his birthday. He knows a guy whose cousin’s neighbor is friends with a former roommate of the teenage bear who accidentally electrocuted himself downtown. That punk bear’s name was Phatty.
“Don’t be like Phatty. You got this Max.”
A two-legged student freed Max on his birthday so while it might seem cool that he’s a liberated middle school mouse, he’s been struggling to avoid starvation for an entire year now. The biggest leftovers mailbox on wheels in this neighborhood gets used by a lot of two-legged families. It’s light green with a black lid and behind a high square fence so those greaser teenage bears who live on the edge of town won’t keep causing such a fuss, getting themselves snatched or worse. The lid is plastic and hinges at one side to open and close with no lock. It’s too big for Max, even with help, to budge. But it’s bent just enough for him to squeeze inside. Max crouches on the decaying fence beam, singing himself the happy birthday song, psyching himself up.
“And many more!”
He plunges down and makes it to an abandoned scrap of carpet, where he can scan the leftovers.
“Yes! What do we have here? Why, it’s a Cheetos bag, peeking out from underneath a sideways paper bag, same side of the leftovers mailbox as last time! I’m getting better with age.”
He starts to use his tiny paws to shovel Cheetos dust into his mouth kernel by kernel, when he notices, too late to stop himself, that the pile of dust inside the Cheetos bag is red, not orange. Max sneezes Flaming Hot and knocks himself down from his precarious perch onto a loosely tied-off trash bag full of cat litter. He shudders. The smell of housecat waste is such a gross reminder of his girlfriend’s grisly murder the week the last snow melted. Feral cats bury their filth, at least.
“Yuck! Cats are such an invasive species! Ok. Ok. Ok. Easy Max. You got this.”
He is precariously balanced on a lumpy sack of stink and ready to get headed back before the sprinklers rotate and start blasting his most convenient path to his latest crash spot. Max jolts up and bounds like Sonic the Hedgehog toward the top of the pile, but he slips, no joke, on a banana peel that should have been tossed in the freaking compost bin and tumbles back toward the floor of the leftovers mailbox.
“Owwwwwwwwwww! Use your stupid two legs to recycle your stupid cans of stupid Le Crotch, you stupid idiots!”
Just like the incident that made his last birthday, the worst day in a year filled with too many bad days, even worse, Max looks down and sees that he has once again sliced his own leg open inside the mouth of a beer can that should have been recycled.
“So careless! How can they call themselves the smartest species when they keep mailing leftover aluminum over and over and over? Stay cool, Max, you got this.”
He takes a different route up the poorly sorted mess and exits the leftovers mailbox. He limps down the closely weed whacked grass line and thinks back to his last leg injury, and the circumstances that caused him to lose his house at the middle school. Liberation is for the birds. He remembers the incomparable joy that is a life of steady meals. A regular feeding schedule, even just the idea that a two-legged might bring food in the morning as the sun comes up, is a constant reminiscence for Max. Enough to keep him going even. Now he just needs to get across the street during a rowdy cruiser ride.