The mouse maze

For Brian Z

It was a dry cold Thursday when Professor Brian entered the lab. He’d swapped his moth-eaten sweater with the pug motif for a more thermally appropriate one emblazoned with a photo-realistic knitted pattern of the surface of Pluto.

“Looking snazzy Mr Z” remarked the security guard as Professor Brian waved the rfid-enabled key fob at the elevator door. It opened with an unpleasant hiss that unnerved him as he stepped into the musty smelling space.

“Stairs are broken Mr Z!” called out the security guard. Why bother to tell him this? He was clearly stepping into an elevator. Why would he possibly care about the state of a set of stairs that he never used? And why ‘again’? The stairs were broken again?

The professor was convinced that the security guard was engaged in some kind of mental warfare with him. However, he knew that he had to stay strong and prevent himself over obsessing with these unsettling remarks that the over-paid watchman would throw at him with a glib cheeriness.

The lift rumbled as it descended. The light flickered. The indicator for sub-basement 4 would occasionally blink for no good reason. Yet somehow he felt secure here – safe from both the manipulations of the uniformed Machiavelli at the front desk and the squeaking madness that awaited him below.

He stepped out from the elevator at sub-basement 7. He walked briskly past the first laboratory in which the beagles were kept and walked straight to Room 770.

The maze covered approximately 100 square meters of floor – divided into multiple sections and with each section further subdivided into twisting paths. He paused at the the section in which the mice had been the most active only the day before. It was empty. Each and every mouse had moved on.

It was Section 7/20 that was now occupied with the tiny rodents. Each one feverishly working on some new construction composed of chewed up paper and sawdust.

Professor Brian sighed. He would have to re-start the protocols for the new section. Patiently he laid out the baited cheese and began the voice recorder:
“EPH comment stimulus diversion: trial six hundred and thirteen…”

Was it his imagination? Was it merely his ears finding patterns in the hiss of the air-conditioning or was there a chorus of tiny mouse-like voices saying “Sing for us Brian, sing..”