“Call me Ishmael,” the three-pawed mouse squeaked to his comrades, as they hid behind the door of the seldom-used darkroom . “I—”
“Why would we do that?” asked his second-in-command. “That’s not your name.”
“Because, Starbuck, the cat who guards this photography studio knows me well,” the leader replied. “If he knew who was coming, he would be on his guard.”
“But, he’s a cat!” Starbuck shook his head. “He’s always on his guard. I will continue to call you Ahab.”
“Call me what you wish,” spat Ahab. “But, that will be your last dissention. We must be united if we are going to capture the White Wheel.”
“What the hell is the White Wheel?”
“Cheese,” Ahab responded. “All my life, I’ve been pursuing it. I lost my right front paw to a trap, trying to get just a small chunk.”
He raised the stub leg for effect, and continued.
“The hair on my back was torn out by an alley cat who wanted the same discarded slice as me,” Ahab continued. “But, still, I continue, undeterred, in pursuit of that perfect piece of cheese: The white wheel.”
“But why is that cheese so important to you?” a small mouse cadet asked.
“All that maddens and torments me—the humans’ cunning and the cats’ physical superiority—are practically assailable in the cheese,” Ahab, the mouse, said. “To get it, I must outwit the humans’ trap and outrun the cat, proving the superiority of rodent-kind over its two greatest tormentors. It has been my focus for a long time.”
“I prefer peanut butter,” Starbuck mumbled.
“Peanut butter?” squeaked Ahab. “What use have I for peanut butter? Cheese is substantive. If I were able to acquire my wheel, I wouldn’t eat all of it. I would make sure to leave a slice on my mantle as a symbol of my victory.”
“What makes you so sure that the cheese is here in this photography studio?”
“I’ve been scouting this location for some time,” Ahab explained. “I’ve run up and down the walls of this building since I was a small child. Every time I pass this studio, I hear people yelling, ‘Cheese!” All day long, I hear ‘Cheese!’ Sometimes, it is preceded by the word, ‘say’. I don’t know what that word means, but the word, ‘cheese,’ is unmistakable.
“I snuck out of the wall one time while the head human was eating his lunch,” Ahab continued. “I crawled out over him on one of the boom sticks, and hid behind one of the flash cubes so he wouldn’t see me. I observed the contents of his sandwich. Sure enough, a glorious slice of cheese. I followed him for three days, and each day, more cheese. He must have access to a massive supply, maybe even the White Wheel itself.”
He paused and looked over his troops.
“On the fourth day, I got greedy,” Ahab recalled. “The smell of the cheese overwhelmed me. The human fled the room, but the cat attacked. I wasn’t able to secure the piece of the cheese, but I did manage to get this.”
He held up a toothpick to the assembled troops.
“This stick fell from the human’s sandwich. It was strong enough to hold the whole thing together, and light enough that I can manipulate it with my one good front paw. With this stick, I will be able to trigger any trap that guards the wheel without putting myself in danger. It is your job to locate the cheese, distract the cat, and scare away the humans long enough for me to get to the cheese. If we succeed, I will give you all a piece to display in your homes so you can boast of our victory.”
Ahab edged toward the cracked opening of the darkroom door, as the mice lined up in formation behind him. As they charged into the front room of the studio, the humans were just sitting down to lunch. Upon seeing the charge of the mouse brigade, the humans fled the room, leaving scraps of meat, vegetables, and, yes, slices of cheese, scattered over the counter and floor.
In a flash, the cat jumped out from behind a sand bag right in Ahab’s path. Ahab was cornered as the great predator zoomed in on him leaving no escape route. The cat stretched, languidly, and slowly, framing the mouse in his steady gaze. Ahab inhaled deeply. The smell of the scattered cheese filled his lungs. As the cat’s paw struck at him, he thrust the toothpick into its center.
“To the last I grapple with thee,” he proclaimed. “From hell’s heart, I stab at thee.”
The cat recoiled in pain, as Ahab beat a hasty retreat. The mice all fled back into the hole in the darkroom wall pursued by the cat, who pawed the wall in frustration. The humans had long since fled the scene. The last scout that Ahab sent, who eluded the cat by creatively using some cinefoil he found lying around the photography studio, brought back the following report:
The studio is empty; the cheese stands alone.