Rodents on the Road, part 1
An act in five scenes by Thorin N. Tatge


LEXY: A lemming—hard toward strangers, softer toward friends.
OWEN: A cheerful hamster.
BLIZZARD: An adventuresome gerbil.
DARCY: A strange, gruff middle-aged man with a pick-up truck.
WAITER/FLUFF: One part rodent, one part man.  Must be willing to go on all fours.

SCENE 1: A highway somewhere in Iowa—a fictional Iowa the world never knew.

OWEN stands on the upper stage and addresses the audience.
OWEN: Ahem.  The greatest beauty of life is how wonderfully it’s able to fit so many things into such a limited space.  Take this planet, for instance.  Oh, sure, it seems like a big place to you and me, but that’s just part of my point.  It’s just twenty-five thousand odd miles around—you could circumnavigate it hundreds of times in your lifetime if you tried.  You can name every place in it, every country, mountain, ocean and lake… memorize the list five times over.  But what does that tell you?  It doesn’t tell you hwo many webs of experience are being traversed every minute.  It doesn’t tell you about every perspective, every network, every kind of journey.  The beauty of life is that so many different significances for it can fit onto such a small planet as this.  Just to illustrate—here’s a journey along a road I bet you never knew existed.
OWEN exits.  LEXY enters and sits at center stage.  She puts her thumb up, in hitchhiking position.  Pause.
BLIZZARD runs across stage going “VROOOOEEEEOOOOMMM!!” like a car, ignoring LEXY.  LEXY is blown back where she sits by the wind, but recovers.
LEXY: Ah, sprouts.  I tell you, hitchhiking is no way to migrate.
After another short pause, DARCY runs onto stage.  He turns in a circle around LEXY, and then stops beside her.
DARCY: Hey, you shouldn’t sit so close to the road, unless you’re hoping to be roadkill!
LEXY (sarcastic): I’m not on the road, just next to it.  Did they change it so the borders of the pavement are just guidelines now?
DARCY: You watch your pretty little tongue.  What are you, some sort of guinea pig?
LEXY: I’m a lemming.  I’m migrating north-east.
DARCY: Oh yeah?  Well, I suppose you want some sort of ride, then.
LEXY: Yes, the kind of ride where I get to use your vehicle for bodily transport would be preferred.
DARCY: You’re a sharp little thing.  But you see, Darcy McMann doesn’t take hitchers.  It’s a principle of mine.
LEXY: Oh, well.  Guess you’d better be on your way, then.
DARCY: Yeah, guess so.  (Starts to leave, then stops.)  Of course, you don’t have to be a hitcher when you travel with me.  You could ride with me as a guest.  If you pass the test, that is.
LEXY: This is getting scary.  I don’t honsetly see what the difference is.
DARCY: Oh, you’ll find out.  Just answer one question correctly and you’re sitting plush as an honored guest in the DarcyRyder.
LEXY: It’s a pick-up.
DARCY: Exactly my point.
LEXY: Give me a break.  What’s the question, McMann?
DARCY: It’s just this: what is the greatest kind of happiness?  In the whole world?
LEXY: Um… the greatest kind of happiness.  Conquest, maybe?
DARCY: Conquest?
LEXY: This may seem a little too romantic, but for me, the greatest kind of happiness would be knowing that despite an overburdened population of your own kindred swarming around you, cramming the meadows, woods, steppe, brake, tundra, taiga, savannahs, strip clubs and every other kind of habitat, you and you alone were able to break free…swim the straits or rivers or streams or rapids or great wide seas, and make it to a wide open land hitherto uncolonized, and open it up to all your family and friends.  To start anew, to find and conquer a free, unspoiled, uncrowded paradise.  That would make me happier than anything else.
DARCY: Huh.  You going for this dream?
LEXY: Maybe.  Where I’m headed, anything can happen.
DARCY: Oh yeah?  Where’s that?
LEXY: Cape Breton.  In Nova Scotia.  It’s the take-off point this century.
DARCY: This century?  I don’t understand, sweet.  Is this a lemming thing?
LEXY: You’ve got it, McMann, it’s a lemming thing.  And you can call me Alexandra.
DARCY: Alexandra, huh?  You know how to make my tongue tired.  Hop in.
LEXY: Thanks.  Just don’t do anything too weird without prior warning, okay?
DARCY: I’ll see what I can do.
LEXY steps into place behind DARCY.  DARCY runs offstage with LEXY behind him.

SCENE 2: The Chirruping Squirrel Roadside Diner.

Enter OWEN and BLIZZARD.  They are pretending to sit at a table in a road stop.  OWEN has his hands bunched in the style of a hamster.
BLIZZARD: Hey, can I get some service, please?  We’ve been waiting fifteen minutes.  Do you know how long that is in gerbil hours?
WAITER rushes in, all on fours.
WAITER: I’m so sorry, sir!  There’s a dominance confrontation going on by the fryer, it’s putting us all behind.  Are you ready to order?
BLIZZARD: Yes…To start with, we’ll have a basket of cardboard tubes, to sharpen the teeth.  Then I’ll have the seed medley, with a side order of lettuce.
WAITER: Very good.  Anything to drink?
BLIZZARD: Of course not.  The lettuce will provide all the moisture I require.
WAITER: Of course, of course.  (To OWEN): And you, sir?
OWEN: I’ll just have a bowl of corn flakes.
WAITER: Very good.  It’ll be just a few minutes.  WAITER scampers off.
OWEN: So, Blizzard.  Have you thought over my offer?
BLIZZARD: I’ve been thinking about it… but it just sounds like such a risk.  I mean, who knows what could happen when you travel with lemmings?  Those guys are dangerous, man.  They live and die on the edge.
OWEN: Honestly, Blizzard, what’s the worst that could happen?  At very worst, they all flock off to a cliff somewhere and jump off.  And then we’re on our own again and no worse off than we are now.  It’s not like they’d sweep us away in a crowd or something.  They’d recognize that you’re a gerbil and I’m a hamster.
BLIZZARD: Well, maybe so.  But it’s just such a crazy idea.  I mean, where are we going to find a lemming to hook up with, anyway?
Enter LEXY and DARCY.
DARCY: I can’t believe I let you talk me into stopping at a rodent truck stop.  What am I going to get to eat here?  Grits?
LEXY: Next time we can stop at a human place.  But as long as I’m your guest in that rusty old pick-up, you have to be fair.
DARCY: Christ.  Look, I’m going to wait over here.  Don’t take too long.
LEXY: I’ll try.
LEXY heads over past OWEN and BLIZZARD.  OWEN sees her and squeaks!
OWEN: Ooh!  Miss Lemming?  Miss Lemming!
LEXY: Huh?  Yes, what do you want?
OWEN: My name’s Owen and this is my friend, Blizzard.  I’ll pay for your meal if you hear our proposal for you!
LEXY: Okay, first of all, I’m a lesbian.  Second, I don’t believe in interspecies mating in the first place.  And third, I’m on a strict schedule.  I don’t have time for this.
OWEN: No, you misunderstand!  We’re not coming on to you—we’re journalists!
BLIZZARD: Rodentiapologists!
OWEN: We’re hoping to write a study on lemming migration habits as observed by outsiders firsthand!  The world is curious!
BLIZZARD: The world must know!
LEXY: Well, I can tell you this much.  Everything you’ve heard about us is probably a myth.
OWEN: So much the better!  Then we’d be getting a real story!
LEXY (sitting down): Well… okay, here’s the deal.  I’m hitchhiking with that human over there.  If you can convince him to take you with him, I’ll be happy to make a deal with you.  I’m all in favor of spreading the truth.
BLIZZARD: Excellent!  What do we call you?
LEXY: Depends—are you friendly?  To my friends, I go by Lexy.
OWEN: Suits me.
BLIZZARD: Hey, Lexy the Lemming!  You’ve got one of those cute alliterative names.  I never could stand those.
OWEN: Blizzard used to make fun of people with names like yours in secondary school.
LEXY: Really?  I think it’s classy.  Lexy the Lemming.  In the right circles, Lexy the Lesbian Lemming.
OWEN: So you really are a lesbian, huh?  Does your girlfriend’s name start with L, too?
LEXY: Haven’t got one at present.  When I told her about this trip, she bailed on our relationship.  Apparently she’s happy to stay at home and let herself get crowded to death.
OWEN: Gosh—is the lemming population getting that big?
LEXY: You’d better believe it.  Our favorite moss species are going locally extinct.  Housing costs are through the roof.  You know lemmings are getting too numerous when the humans make a series of hit computer games about us.
BLIZZARD: I guess that’s true.  And that was years ago.
LEXY: So in short, it’s time to find new fields.  Time to brave the waters.  This sort of thing happens on a continental scale about once a century.
BLIZZARD Hey yeah, I guess we’re in luck!
LEXY: As always… when the masses are out of luck, the journalists are rolling in it.
OWEN: We can’t help it if we’re lucky.
LEXY: I guess not.  So, about buying my meal…

SCENE 3: A highway not so very far from here…

LEXY, OWEN and BLIZZARD are sitting on the upper stage, talking.  DARCY is driving the pick-up on lower stage.
OWEN: Are we there yet?
Pause while nobody answers.
OWEN: Well?
BLIZZARD: Owen, there are four reasons I’m not going to dignify that question with a response.  First, you've already asked it six times since we left the road stop.  Second—wait.  I’m responding, aren’t I.  Damn.
LEXY: It’s all right, Blizzard.  And I forgive Owen… he’s just trying to pass the time.
BLIZZARD: The best hamsters are children at heart.
OWEN: I don’t know if I should resent that or not.
LEXY: Let’s just try and enjoy the trip, shall we?
BLIZZARD: We’re trying.  So, why are you hitchhiking anyway, Lexy?  Couldn’t you afford a car?
LEXY: Do I look like I’m rolling in oats?  The most expensive thing I own is this artificial hitchhiking thumb.  It’s not even opposable.  What about you?
OWEN: Blizzard and I have been wandering for a while.  I didn’t think of the idea of tracking lemming migration until last week.  Until then, we were looking for a great mythical icon of hamster culture, in hopes of getting the story of a lifetime.  But now that it’s mid-February, our chances are down.
LEXY: Really?  What were you looking for?
OWEN: The great Midwinter Hamster Ball.  The legends say it was made ages ago, when the hamster race was new.  It steers the course of our entire people through its ancient magic.  Each generation, one hamster is chosen to enter the ball, and join all those who have come before in directing the fate of the whole species.
LEXY: Wow.  But no one knows where this ball is?
OWEN: Exactly.  As far as we know, it may just be a myth.  But I believe!
BLIZZARD: And I’m with him for the adventure.  Gerbils can do anything, after all!
LEXY: So they say.  Well, I wish you luck.
BLIZZARD: Thanks, Lexy.  Hey, Darcy?
DARCY: Huh?  Yeah?
BLIZZARD: How far are we from the Canadian border?
DARCY: Few hundred miles yet.
BLIZZARD: Have you got any plans about where we’re spending the night?
DARCY: All worked out.  I’ve got a friend in the Minnesota iron range.  He’ll put us up.
LEXY: Cool.  I hope he isn’t allergic to us.
Exit all.

SCENE 4: The house of Fluff.

FLUFF is sitting center stage, reading a magazine.  There is a knock on the door.
FLUFF: Humph.  About time.
FLUFF gets up, puts away his magazine, and answers the door.  Enter DARCY.
FLUFF: Darcy, my man!  Good to see ya!
DARCY: Yeah, nice to be passing this way again.  You’re holding up, I see.
FLUFF: Yep—have you got the guests you mentioned on the line?
DARCY: Sure do.  Meet Alexandra Lemming, Owen Hamster, and Blizzard Gerbil.  Folks, meet my old friend, Fluff.
OWEN: Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Fluff.
BLIZZARD: Likewise.  Is there a story behind that name?
FLUFF: Well, yeah… yeah, there is… um…
DARCY: Fluff and I used to work as delivery men together, you see.  We were making a delivery to a textile factory when this fellow loses control of a cart, smashes through the rail and falls headfirst in an industrial size bin of cotton.  I poked a little fun, and the name more or less stuck.
FLUFF: Yeah, and you more or less suck, my friend.  Shall we show our guests to the guest room?
LEXY: Sure, I think we’re all a little tuckered.  Which way is it?
FLUFF (pointing): Just through here, little ones.  There’s blankets on the floor, or if you prefer I can bring in some wood chips from the chipper out back.
OWEN (leaving): No need, thank you.  Blankets are fine.
BLIZZARD (also leaving): Hey, speak for yourself.
DARCY: Well, that was easier than I thought.  What do you think my cut’ll be on this one, Fluff?
FLUFF: Well, they’re all in decent shape, and the gerbil has some exciting pied coloration… but sheesh, Darcy, there ain’t much demand for hamsters and gerbils, and you know it!  The lemming might bring in a few hundred, but I can’t promise you much.
DARCY: I try my best, Fluff!  The taxidermy industry just isn’t what it used to be, with all these new traffic signs and safety laws.  I liked it best when we dealt in roadkill, not livestock!
FLUFF: I can’t bring back the past, Darcy.  Ours is a dying trade.
DARCY: Tragic, really.  Feel like putting some logs on the fire and bringing out something drinkable to soften the blow?
FLUFF: I suppose we just might as well, Darcy.

SCENE 5: In the Bedroom.

Enter LEXY, OWEN and BLIZZARD, who lie on the floor, holding hands with each other.
OWEN: Hey, Blizzard?
OWEN: I can’t sleep.  I keep hearing noises.
BLIZZARD: Yeah?  You think this house has rats?
OWEN: Could be.
BLIZZARD: Think they’ve got any food they’d share with us?
OWEN: I wouldn’t be brave enough to ask.
LEXY: Look guys, there’s food enough on the open range.  Let’s just try and get this over with.  I have to admit I’m uneasy too… my mother always warned me never to sleep in a human bed.
BLIZZARD: Wow… ignoring a mother’s warning, Lexy?  Quite the rebel, aren’t you?
LEXY: I’m just being practical, same as you.  Whatever it takes to get where we’re going.
OWEN: Have you ever been there before, Lexy?  To Cape Breton?
LEXY: No… it’s way farther north than I’ve ever been.
OWEN: What do you suppose it looks like?  Is it cold?  Or is it just wet, with a lot of cliffs and ocean breezes?
LEXY: I haven’t a clue, Owen.  I just know it’s the place to be.  What do you think the Midwinter Hamster Ball looks like?
OWEN (dreamy): Oh, I don’t know… round.  Ancient.  Smooth.  Shiny, I bet.
BLIZZARD: Perfect for the cover of National Geographic.
LEXY: How do you suppose the one chosen hamster finds it?  Do they just wander until they stumble onto it?
OWEN: I think it’s more a matter of being called.  That’s how its is in the stories.  Some lucky hamster gets a feeling… and knows just what to do.  I think the ball comes for them.  They just need to be right for it… waiting for it.
LEXY: Could the ball come anywhere?  Even a place like here?
OWEN: Gosh, if I were so lucky… I don’t see why not.  But I’m not going to be chosen.  I mean, I’m just a journalist.  I’m just after a glimpse… from a distance.  A few photos, a few hours, or even minutes, just to see if it’s real.  That’ll last me forever.
LEXY: A ball whose memories stretch through time… and can go anywhere… maybe the great Ball is everywhere at once, Owen.  Maybe it is here as we speak, and the chosen one just has to be able to see it properly.
OWEN: You think?  You’re giving me chills, Lexy.
BLIZZARD: She could be right, man.  Maybe you better sleep with your mind’s eye open.
OWEN: Aw, you guys are too much.  How about we try and get some sleep, all right?
LEXY: Right.  I’ll try and swallow my fears.  See you in the morning.
BLIZZARD: Maybe the rats’ll make us breakfast.
OWEN: Yeah, dream on.
To be continued…