(Note – This is Chapter 7 (and final) of the story. See chapter 1.)
The world rolled by just outside of the car’s window. The sun had recently set and the western sky still glowed yellow, but the black of night was creeping in. It wouldn’t take over, of course, since the suburban lights illuminated the entire sky. There was still no simulation playing in the car and it was moving at a constant 100 kph.
Jesk didn’t notice. He just sat, staring forward with vacant eyes.
Strangely enough, he was not thinking about Thara nor about Adi. His mind was on the young Jesk, the young Brey and their parents. He even was thinking about their dog, Rex. He rarely thought of them at all, and when he did it was just in passing, but for some reason Brey’s funeral had brought back the memories long forgotten. The good times and bad. All of those shared moments. All of the things they did, saw and talked about.
He thought of Brey teasing him mercilessly, but with love in her eyes. He thought of Mom making peanut butter sandwiches. When had he last eaten peanut butter? The day before the accident? He thought of day to day activities, of TV and family trips, sitting around the table at dinner talking about school. He remembered Brey having a date when she was a freshman in high school and how he had teased her, getting her back for all of those times she embarrassed him in front of his friends. Rex was there for years, his constant companion. And, of course there was Dad.
He never got along particularly well with his father. His mother said it was because he was so much like Jorden. And yet, on looking back, he could tell that his father did try. He tried to get him involved in so much. They did things, went places together. Sporting events. Camp outs. Guy things with other guys. Father son things, just the two of them. Family trips and activities with Brey and Mom. Sure, Jesk hated the art museums and the symphony, which Brey, of course, loved, but he had to admit his father did try to make that connection.
Jorden never took him to those stupid, meaningless so-called cultural events and places, didn’t try to connect with Jesk on more than a mentor level, a teacher. He just taught Jesk about life, about never showing weakness and about winning at all costs; he never tried to reach any deeper. Of course Jorden had his own quirks. He loved his bit of gentle woodland up in Maine and spent as much of his free time there as possible, surrounded by all of that creepy nature. Jesk hated it and only kept the land for a decade or two out of respect before developing it.
The simulation clicked on. Jesk was in his woods, by his stream and field.
With a jolt, Jesk realized that the ideal woodland of the simulation was his uncle’s wooded retreat up in Maine.
Of course he had always know that, he just never thought of it.
Before he developed each tract of land that he inherited or purchased, Jesk had let the simulation production company do a scan. Of the 2500 simulations available, over 600 were from lands that he had developed. He tried to get every last penny out of every investment that he had and the simulation company, Immerse Yourself, Inc., had paid well.
Jesk grew aware of the constant buzz and realize that there were huge amounts of flies out in the meadow. There was something there. A few piles or lumps. The breeze blew in from the meadow. It wasn’t cool and it wasn’t pleasant. In fact, it smelled awful, like rotting meat.
A crow flapped in and landed in front of Jesk. He tried to shew it away, but the crow stayed, eyeing him with its beady little eye.
There were more wings, but bigger.
One of the buzzards landed in the meadow. That had never happened before. Another flapped in, landing next to the first. And then another. And another and another. They started picking at the places where the flies buzzed. The stench of rot became overwhelming.
A loud noise made Jesk jump and turn.
An automated tree harvester was clipping down the woods, one tree at a time, snipping them off, shucking off the branches and putting the trunks on a wagon.
Another harvester came into view and then a third. A huge noise of the machinery and destruction filled the woods.
Jesk spun back around. There were now four crows watching him. More vultures were in the meadow. An automated bulldozer crept up behind them. Another tree harvester came in from a different direction, but this one had a large chainsaw blade to cut down the bigger trees that the others couldn’t easily handle.
Around the bottom of the simulation, the name of the land and the date it was destroyed was displayed. As was Jesk’s name.
Jesk shut his eyes.
Did Immerse Yourself record this? Yes, he had sent them out less than two weeks before he let the bulldozers loose, but they asked for three days, they should have been long gone.
After a wait that seemed eternity, the entire time with his eyes closed, as he listened to the destruction around him, smelled the stench of decaying flesh and death, the car finally said, “Sir, we are at the property entrance. Shall I take down the display?”
“Yes! Yes, please! Shutdown the simulation. Now!”
“Outside temperature, 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Vehicle stopped. Doors unlocked. Please prepare to exit the car.”
Jesk opened his eyes. He was in his compound. The door of the car opened and he jumped out. It had never felt better to be home.
“Hey! You’re home! Hey!”
Rex ran to greet Jesk.
“Good boy, Rex,” Jesk said, but he realized that the dog-plus did not look anything like his boyhood pet. It didn’t act like him in any way, either. He thought of Thara’s statement about all companies being in it just to maximize the investors’ short-term profits. Was that what Rex was, not his long lost pet, but someone’s short-term profit?
“Hungry. She didn’t feed me. Rex hungry!” Rex had his tail between his legs and was whining.
“Leave me alone! Go away! You’re not Rex!”
“I Rex. Hungry! Feed me! I Rex.”
“No, you are not Rex, Rex died a long time ago. Now beat it! Scram! Scat! Get away from me, you imposter!”
“Hungry! Feed me!” The voice was closer to a growl, no longer a whine. “Rex hungry!”
Jesk backed towards the door. He had no idea how Thara fed Rex. He didn’t know were the food was kept. He greeted Rex when he got home from work, but had no other interaction with the animal.
“Good boy. I need to go into the house. I will feed you later.”
Rex growled. “Hungry! Feed me now! Where is she? She is nice, you’re not. Where is she? Rex hungry!”
Jesk backed up, facing the dog-plus. He was afraid to turn his back on it. He hadn’t paid much attention before, but Rex was over 100 lbs. of muscle and teeth, now over 100 lbs. of growling, snarling, hungry teeth and muscles.
“I will feed you. Just a minute. I have to go in the house first. Door, open!” He knew his voice was squeaking. He tried to sound normal. “Door, open! This is me! Open! Please, open! Now! Please….”
“Opening front door,” the house said.
“Hungry!” The growl was menacing, the dog-plus almost slinking. Its hackles were up, the fur standing in an unnatural position. The word “stalking” entered Jesk’s mind. Rex’s eyes were narrowed. Jesk was sure that the dog-plus was hunting.
He backed into the house and slammed the door shut before Rex could enter.
A large mouse ran across the room. It was not a wild mouse. Besides being too big, it was the wrong color. There should be no wild mice around anyway since his robots laid poisons out all over to stop the them.
Another mouse ran across into the next room.
Curious, Jesk followed it into the living room.
The walls were black and it was snowing. The smell of smoke was stifling, making him cough involuntarily. It was hot in the room. Very hot. Snow? In such heat? Jesk realized that it was ashes, not snow, falling from the sky. Well, falling from the simulated sky.
Several more large mice ran across in front of him. They were Adi’s pets.
The door to the play area looked like it had been forced open. It hung loosely on its hinges, the doorframe shattered were the lock had been.
Jesk peeked inside.
Penelope glared back with an odd expression. There was blood on her. Jesk could see the destroyed mouse house behind her. There were bloody marks on the floor that he realized were mice that Penelope had stomped.
He involuntarily backed up a step.
Something about Penelope’s stare chilled Jesk to the bone.
Did Thara feed the elephant as well as the dog or was she fed automatically? Penelope had obviously killed some of the mice. Would she eat meat? Would she eat Jesk, like Rex obviously wanted to do?
“House, please feed Penelope,” he said, just in case.
“I do not understand your command.”
Penelope stepped towards him. Her eyes were wild.
Jesk turned and fled, going to the dining room.
It was even hotter than the living room and the smell of smoke was stronger.
All of the trees in the forest had been harvested leaving large piles of limbs and wood chips. A fire raged through the debris. There was a location and a date at the bottom of the simulation and the words “Over two million acres of old growth forest were destroyed in less than one month.” Jesk’s name and face were also displayed.
Jesk had paid over two billion in bribes before harvesting and had made sure the fires were started to hide the evidence.
Who else was seeing the simulation?
Jesk ran to the bedroom and made sure the door was locked. The room was a “Safe Room” and there was no way the little elephant could break in.
But something was off in the bedroom.
It was bright, not night.
Or, actually, it was night. He was surrounded by tall towers of the mining equipment. Each tower had thousands of spotlights. They had turned the entire range to daylight as the automated equipment worked 24 by 7.
Jesk lied down on the bed, look straight up where the stars would have been if the lights weren’t so bright. He was panting and couldn’t get his breath under control; his heart pounded loud in his ear making his head throb. He had a cold sweat and was shaking. Nothing seemed real. What was happening?
A noise made him sit up.
He realized that the cranes and other equipment were covered with crows. More came down onto the ground closer to him.
A large crow landed on his bed.
That was impossible. The bed was not part of the simulation.
Something pulled at his arm. A crow?
He screamed as he turned towards it.
No, it was only a large mouse.
The mouse bit him as he tried to slap it away. He could feel the blood.
Another mouse jumped onto the bed. It approached. A third jumped up.
“Open door,” Thara’s voice said.
“Thank god!” Jesk said, though it was barely audible.
The door opened and Penelope walked in, staring at Jesk with her crazy eye.
“Open door,” the elephant said in Thara’s voice. “Open outside door. Open door.”
“Hungry,” another voice answered.
The dog-plus slunk in, it’s hackles still bristling up. A low, guttural growl filled the room.
“Rex, good boy, get these damn rats off of my bed! They are good to eat! Really.”
The dog-plus jumped onto the bed but ignored the mice, staring at Jesk as it growled.
A pain ripped through Jesk’s chest, an internal pain. He fell straight back onto the bed, both hands pressed against his chest. His body shook as the pain intensified even more.
He closed his eyes, hoping to wake up from the nightmare soon. The pain was unbearable. He just wanted it to end.
“Close door,” Penelope said in Thara’s voice.
The crows cackled overhead.
This is the seventh, and final, chapter of the story “When the Elephant Bumps the Mouse House” based on the image by Marianne Sopala that was off of Pixabay. The larger story is in response to D. Wallace Peach’s February Speculative Fiction Prompt.