It’s the smell I notice first, but I try not to pay it any mind. I was having a good dream, full of sun and the floral aroma of the park mixed with the warm, homey scent of my people. But once I hear the sound outside, I know that this will be another restless night. Am I seriously the only one who hears it? It’s approaching, all buck teeth and beady eyes and small claws like needles. I know it’s out there.
On some level, I’ve always known I’m a little different than everyone else in my family. I can hear the train coming before them, and it seems like they can’t smell nearly as much as me. And sometimes they find it really difficult to understand me. I don’t know why; I always think I’m talking quite clearly. But I usually have to say something two or three times before they understand me.
It doesn’t matter, though. They’re my family, and I love them.
But having the keenest ears in the family means that I also have an important responsibility. Every time something approaches at night, it’s my job to warn them. And to venture into the darkness to investigate.
There’s only one problem with that. They lock my bed at night, and I can’t get out. So I have to wake them up, which usually makes them grumpy. I don’t like making them grumpy.
But I have to protect them, since they barely ever hear any of the many threats that slink through the darkness of the night.
“Dad,” I whisper. He doesn’t answer, and when I peek out of the cover over my bed I see a big mound of gray blankets. He’s under those, snoring a bit.
“Daaad,” I say again, pawing at the bars of my bed so that he can hear me. “Dad! There’s something out there!”
He mutters something, but doesn’t get up. I sigh. This is always the hard part, convincing him that I actually need to investigate. He doesn’t understand, but I guess it’s because he can’t hear or smell very well. During the day, when everything is yellow and blue and brown and gray, everything is pretty safe. Those little fluttery bugs with the big wings float on the air, and they’re fun to watch. But at night, everything is black, and bushy-tailed thieves prowl.
I have to be sure that this one doesn’t try any sort of mischief or malice. It needs to know that it can’t mess with my people.
Finally, Mom tells him to listen to me. He grumbles for a moment, but then he climbs out of his bed and raises the cover on mine.
“What is it?”
“You really can’t smell it?” I stare up at him, though his face is all shadowy in the night. “There’s a varmint outside!”
“Do you need to go pee-pee?”
I roll my eyes. “Noooooo, Dad! I need to tell the varmint it can’t steal our plants!”
“Come on, let’s go outside.” He unlocks my door and I sprint down the hall. His stumbles after me, half-asleep. I press my nose against the door in order to smell better. The creature is still out there, but I don’t think it’s taken anything. Yet. I have to be sure that it doesn’t.
Dad opens the door – it squeaks loudly – and I rush out across the rocks, across the cool grass. I dip my nose down; it’s just like I thought, the grass is wet. Why is it that grass always gets wet at night? There isn’t any river or rain, but it’s always wet. Sometimes when it’s cold it even gets a little icy.
Varmints. I’m here for the varmints, not the grass.
I jerk my head back up and growl a warning to the preposterous creature. “Get out of here!” I tell it. “You can’t take anything! That tree belongs to my people, and you’re not allowed to have that fruit. Go away!”
Dad is yelling for me to be quiet.
I bark back, “Dad, I’m not the one trying to steal! Tell the varmint to be quiet!”
He just tells me to be quiet again, though. But I guess it’s okay. I can’t hear the buck-toothed creature anymore, and I can only very faintly smell it.
I did it. It won’t try any sort of mischief tonight. I enjoy the feeling of the wet grass under my feet as I trot back to him, proud that I kept everyone safe.
“Okay, we can go back inside.” I look up at him. “You know, if you don’t lock my bed every night, I can do this without asking you to get up.”
He doesn’t seem to hear me. That’s the problem; if I speak loudly, he tells me to be quieter, but if I speak quietly, a lot of times he doesn’t hear me. Oh, well.
I follow him back inside, and curl up to sleep the rest of the night away.