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Featured Story VI • April 2018 • Mythic Delirium Books

Featured Story VI • April 2018



Medved the Hamster


Janna Layton


Mikhail was happy. He and Richard still couldn’t quite understand the Thing, but over the last year or so they had learned that a certain pattern of vibrations meant they were going on a playdate with Jai and Dorit. Things seemed to like it when humans raised their elbows in the air as a sign of enjoyment, so they both did that. In response, the Thing patted their legs and then lifted them out of their enclosure, which was on a raised platform in a pool of liquid.

Their enclosure had a bed, exercise equipment, entertainment devices, and a hygiene robot. The hygiene robot usually brushed their hair, but today the Thing carried them above the liquid pool to another raised platform and did their hair itself, using its hyper-sensitive tentacles to braid Mikhail’s long brown hair and Richard’s long black hair into elaborate patterns. Mikhail had a beard he disliked, and the Thing brushed and braided that as well.

Mikhail liked living with Richard. When he had first arrived at the Thing’s house, he had been with a different man. That man sat huddled in the corner and sometimes punched the walls. Mikhail didn’t know what language he spoke. The lights of the enclosure mimicked an Earth day, and one artificial night, the man attacked him. Then the Thing had taken the man away. For a while after that, Mikhail was alone, which was a relief at first, but then awful. If he saw other humans during a walk he would strain at the leash, crying, “Zdravstvuyte! Hello! Bonjour!” He’d been ecstatic when Richard arrived.

Richard spoke Cantonese and English. Mikhail spoke Russian and knew some English words beyond “hello,” like “airplane” and “movie.” They pantomimed, and were able to figure out “soup,” “baby,” and “car” on their first day together. But they had a lot of time at the Thing’s house, and eventually they could communicate well. Richard was 31, from Hong Kong, and had been a director at a marketing firm. Mikhail was 22, had lived in a Moscow suburb, and hadn’t had a job when he was abducted.

Sometimes the Thing carried them in a case when they were going out, but Jai and Dorit lived nearby, so they walked. The Thing snapped gleaming harnesses around their torsos and dipped their feet in a quick-drying, flexible material that protected their soles.

Things were very interested in how humans walked. When Mikhail first arrived, excursions outside of the Thing’s house had been mortifying: naked, on a leash, other massive Things staring. But he walked calmly beside Richard on the walkway of rough gray stone, bathed in the pink light shining through a translucent dome high above. Soon they reached Jai and Dorit’s Thing’s house.

Like their own Thing’s home, Jai and Dorit’s Thing’s house was a structure of hard white material, half pools and half raised platforms. However, both the house and the human enclosure were larger at Jai and Dorit’s. The grandeur made sense. After all, Jai and Dorit’s Thing could afford Dorit: a rare redhead. Although Richard and Mikhail were a little jealous, their own enclosure was still a massive improvement over their living conditions when first abducted: the rancid warehouse and then the cramped store.

The Thing greeted its fellow Thing and carried Mikhail and Richard to the enclosure. Jai and Dorit ran up to embrace them.

Jai and Dorit were both beautiful—they almost all were, the humans kept this way. Despite looking so radically different than humans, the Things seemed to have a similar conception of human beauty: young, healthy, in shape. Facial features didn’t seem to matter as much as lean bodies, but symmetry was apparently valued, perhaps because that was something the Things lacked. Jai had deep brown skin and a black beard their Thing kept shaved in geometric patterns. Dorit had almost translucent white skin and her prized red hair was down to her waist.

The Things hovered over them, gesturing and communicating, maybe laughing at their pets’ antics as they greeted each other. But soon the Things went off into one of the deeper pools, and the humans gathered on Jai and Dorit’s bed to gossip.

Their bed, like Mikhail and Richard’s, was made of a soft material one could shallowly burrow in rather than a separate mattress and blanket. In English, the language they all knew some of (though Jai and Richard alone spoke it perfectly), they discussed what had happened since they had seen each other last.

Mikhail and Richard’s Thing had gotten them a new entertainment: it was security footage of a Tokyo subway station. The Things didn’t seem to have a strong grasp of what a movie was, and brought their humans various media taken from Earth. Neither Richard nor Mikhail knew anyone in Tokyo, but they watched the footage over and over, just in case someone they did know from back home had visited there and happened to ride the subway at the time of the recording. They also discussed which commuters’ outfits they would want to wear and pointed out snacks and drinks.

Jai and Dorit’s Thing had brought them ornate new harnesses to wear outside and a different type of meal capsule. On a trip to the crater lakes up north, they had met another redheaded human, a man named Colin from Ireland. He was older, maybe early fifties, and had been abducted a long time ago. He was his Thing’s only human. “You make do, don’t you?” he had said from his Thing’s limbs.

They had also had a playdate with Nikki and Fatima. Mikhail and Richard gasped excitedly at this. They didn’t like Nikki and Fatima, but they loved Nikki-and-Fatima stories. Blonde Nikki and green-eyed Fatima were owned by another apparently wealthy Thing, and they were not adjusting to their abduction well. They screamed and prayed a lot, and at first screamed at each other for “praying wrong.” They angrily refused to learn the other’s language for longer than sensible before giving in. Nikki’s English was funny because she came from the “cowboy part” of America, according to Richard, and Fatima now said “y’all.” They alternated between believing their faith was being tested and they would soon wake up in their own homes and plotting escapes.

“Fatima,” Richard had reasoned during one of their visits, “where are you going to go? Even if you managed to climb out of the enclosure, you would drown in the liquid.”

“Shut up, asshole. I’ll teach her to swim,” said Nikki.

“And then what?” asked Mikhail. “How go through sky? How go to space? Which way is Earth?”

“I have belief,” said Fatima. “If y’all don’t, sorry.”

They were not doing any better, Jai and Dorit reported. They suspected Nikki and Fatima’s Thing was still trying to “socialize” them, because they had met in a park with other humans. Fatima had curled in a ball and Nikki had yelled at Things and humans alike who looked at them.

“They should really be smarter about this,” said Jai. “Their Thing will get rid of them.”

“No, no. They are going to escape,” Dorit said sarcastically. “Nikki and Fatima Fight Aliens : a movie.”

“We’ve wondered about this,” said Richard. “Would the Thing take them back to the store? To a shelter? Do they have a human version of animal shelters here, with sad commercials asking for donations?”

“The bad man before Richard, I don’t know where he went,” said Mikhail.

“They are lucky,” said Dorit. “We are lucky. Our Thing took me to doctor for shots. I don’t know what for. In back, there was a box on floor with a man in it. He was very dirty and skinny. He screamed and screamed. Maybe doctors take him from a bad owner. You know like on Earth, some people spoil their cat or dog, and some are bad pet owners.”

“I was bad pet owner,” said Mikhail.

The others looked at him, and he paused, unsure if he actually wanted to talk about it. He hadn’t even told Richard. In the early days, after arriving at the Thing’s house from the store and slowly realizing what his new role was, he had thought about it a lot.

“In school, when I was boy, I had…what you call it? A small pet? Like mouse without tail?”

“A guinea pig? No, what is it called? A hamster?” asked Richard.

“I think so. Yes. Hamster. Named Medved, means ‘bear.’ Because he look like little bear. At first I am crazy about Medved. I play every day, give lots of food, give toys. But then I am bored. Watch TV. Play video game. One time, my family go to dacha for few days. Is small house in country. My mother ask, ‘Do you give Medved food and water?’ I say, ‘yes, mama,’ even though I know I not check. When we get back from dacha, water bottle is empty, and Medved is dead.”

Mikhail blushed, unsure what he was confessing. Even back on Earth, he had never been sure how big of a crime he had committed, and he was even less sure now. The others were silent, and for a moment Mikhail was terrified. But then Richard put his arm around Mikhail’s shoulders, and Dorit patted his leg.

“You were a child, Misha,” said Jai.

“Hamsters don’t live long anyway,” said Richard, “and their brains aren’t like ours.”

The Things had come up to the enclosure again, and were communicating. Mikhail wondered if they were saying, “How cute.”



Janna Layton lives in Oakland, California, with guinea pig Kenny and cat Eponine. Her poetry and fiction have been published in various literary journals, including the New Yorker, Polu Texni, NonBinary Review, Zone 3, and Apex Magazine. She blogs at readingwatchinglookingandstuff.blogspot.com and tweets at @jkbartleby.

About “Medved the Hamster,” she shared this morsel: “Although it’s a different story than I wanted to explore here, I do think ‘Nikki and Fatima Fight Aliens’ would be a kick-ass story. I also want to point out that I wrote this long before the election, and Mikhail being Russian has nothing to do with Trump. Misha is innocent! (Trump is not.)”



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