I wrote this story for my friend E.'s mother after various discussions of Fox News conspiracies, mutated sci-fi house pets, and the heinousness of Monday mornings somehow culminated in the invention of flying gerbils whose sole purpose was to torment humanity.
She gave them Mountain Dew.
At least that was Jenny Wilson's defense, and it was the only thing she could think to say when the scientist and the reporter started questioning her the day after her gerbils started flying.
"I didn't know it was bad for them," she insisted.
The reporter, a short, balding man in a striped, v-neck t-shirt that didn't quite cover his plume of gray chest hair, nervously rubbed his hands together as he looked around her living room.
The only pictures on the walls were of her mother, who had died unexpectedly last summer after choking on a walnut, and her gerbils, Pinky and Fluffy. Last Christmas her brother had given her Photoshop for her computer, and this gave Pinky and Fluffy the ability to travel, not only geographically but also through time and space. In one photograph, they frolicked along the rings of Saturn. In another, they darted between the feet of a gunfighter in the wild west.
"So you live alone, then," the reporter said, his gray eyes searching her face the same way they had her room. "And you're how old?"
Jenny didn't answer. Instead she stared at the jagged edges of the shattered pane of glass where Pinky and Fluffy had escaped. She tried to think of ways she might have accidentally broken it, of ways she might have been careless. The truth, that they had literally flown out the window, was still too impossible for her to accept.
"We need to know exactly what you've been giving them," said the scientist, shuffling through the wood chips in the bottom of their cage. "We need to know how much and how often."
"I told you, I gave them Mountain Dew," Jenny said, becoming frustrated.
"Can you think of anything else?" the scientist asked. He pulled a plastic bag out of the deep pocket of his coat and saved a few wood chips. "What did you feed them?"
"What did you feed them," Jenny said mockingly. "I fed them the same things I eat, and you don't see me flying out the window."
"And what do you eat?" he asked.
"Normal stuff," she said. "Two Taco Bell tacos with cheese, sour cream, and tomatos, three times a day. Three square meals, see?"
The reporter scribbled furiously into his notebook.
"I see," said the scientist, who leaned over and whispered something to the reporter, who nodded. "Thank you very much, Miss Wilson. We'll be in touch."
The scientist and the reporter hurried out of Jenny's house, ignoring her pleas: "What about my gerbils? Aren't you people supposed to be finding them?"