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Hoover Muridae

Not long ago in a green cornfield not far from here, a young and plump brown mouse raced to keep up with his family. His mother looked backed and yelled to the youngest of her litter, "Hurry up, Hoover! They'll start without us."

"I'm trying, Mama," Hoover said, concentrating all his energy on his four short and pudgy legs. To keep them moving at top speed and to talk at the same time was almost too much for him.

Hoover had been the runt of his mother's fourth litter. He was so small and weak at birth his parents worried he would not get enough to eat or would be smushed by the other babies as they slept, but Mama Muridae had faith in her little pup.

"We've had twenty-five pups and never lost one! This baby will be big and strong," said Mama Muridae. From that day forward Hoover was always fed first and longest, and eventually, he was as wide as his fourth sister was long, not counting her tail, of course. Now Hoover Muridae was big, but he did not seem very strong.

The Muridaes trained all Spring for what was called The Great Ceremony. Hoover's Papa made the family spend hours on balance and speed exercises. Everything must be precise and in sync. Over and over again they ran up and down the young corn stalks and saplings near their burrow. Hoover's brothers and sisters all made it to the top quickly and held on until their father gave the signal. However, no matter how hard Hoover tried, he could only manage to get halfway up, and he could never hold on as long as the others. Time and time again Hoover failed, and his father would shake his head in disappointment.

"You're not trying hard enough. Do it again" Papa would say.

The tradition was thousands of years old. Each family was responsible for one corn stalk. The youngest mice always climbed to the highest point of the corn stalk. The older mice always supported the base, but more importantly, it all had to be perfect. Papa Muridae did not want his family to break the tradition.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity to Hoover, the family arrived at the top of a steep levee overlooking the site of the Great Ceremony. Hoover's father pointed to the field below. Hoover sniffed and twitched his whiskers. The smell was familiar and strange at the same time. The moon hung high and full and bright. Hoover squinted and peered out into the cornfield. In the silver light, the ground between the rows of corn seemed to be moving like a living blanket of brown fur. It was mice! Just like the Muridae family, millions of other families had travelled long distances and gathered for The Great Ceremony.

"Do you see, Hoover," Papa Muridae said. "Your cousins and aunts and uncles are down there. The Muscolus family from the burrow down the road and the Rotentus are down there too. Everyone you know, and even more mice you don't know, have traveled far and wide to come here on the fifth full moon of the great life cycle to pay tribute to Man."

"Man," Hoover asked.

"Yes, Hoover, Man. Despite all the dangers that man has created for mice; for all the poisons, house and barn cats they keep, and those horrible traps, they created our greatest food source through the act of farming. No other animal in the world makes food, and no other animal in the world wastes food! They discard food! They even lose food. We eat that food, Hoover, and this is how we show our thanks to man, with the Great Ceremony.

Suddenly a deafening roar came up through the crowd and reached the Muridaes.

"Hurry up! Children, get to your places! We're in circle five, row one hundred, near the edge," yelled their father. As Hoover began his way down the levee, Papa Muridae called to him. "Hoover, wait. I've made special arrangements for you to sit out this year. I know you've been working really hard, but everything must be absolutely perfect. The micematicians have been doing the calculations all year. We're short on elders, and the engineers demand that no stalks are broken. If you can't make it up the stalk, or your weight causes one to fall too fast and break, it will all be ruined. It has to be perfect, Hoover. I know you're disappointed, but maybe next year you can help."

Hoover hung his head and hid the tears, as the rest of the family scampered down the levee and disappeared into the massive herd of mice. It was at midnight, with the dazzling moon directly overhead, that the crowd quieted, moved into position, and became still in anticipation. Hoover then heard a long and loud chorus of squeaks. The engineers gave orders to the rows of mice. At once, the ground became alive, and the corn began to shake furiously. The sound of the rustling crops frightened and excited Hoover. He carefully made his way down the levee to get a closer look.

In the cornfield, a line of forty mice began their climb up one of the long cornstalks, the youngest going up first, and the older larger mice supporting the bottom. When everyone was in position an order rang out, and all the mice shifted their paws to one side of the stalk. Their weight caused the plant to slowly fall toward the ground. The larger mice on the bottom steadied the stalk, keeping the direction uniform and ensuring the stalk bent but did not break. Row by row Hoover saw more stalks coming down, one after another, after another, after another. In a matter of seconds, the mice had bent thirty rows of corn in one section. As the rows cleared and he could see down the field, he realized there were numerous sections with hundreds more rows coming down.

Suddenly, there was a great commotion among the group. Hoover heard someone yell, "We need help! Our stalk is about to break! I can't hold it any longer! Help us!" Hoover looked around. There wasn't a single mouse who wasn't hanging on a corn stalk or holding one up. Then a small voice called from above.

"You, down there, help us," a little mouse near the top of the stalk yelled.

"Me," Hoover asked.

"Yes, you, please help us," the little mouse answered.

Hoover remembered what his mother would tell him after every discouraging practice, "You'll get it when the time is right. You just have to believe in yourself."

Hoover then took a deep breath and ran as fast as he could through rows of mice-covered corn. There on the edge was a stalk swaying out of control. The older mice below, who weren't that much bigger than Hoover, were frantically trying to secure the stalk that threatened to fall out of line and break. Hoover heard his father's voice.

"Shift to the left, to the left!" Papa Muridae was holding up his own stalk while trying to help the mice beside him. He couldn't do it alone. He couldn't leave his own stalk. Papa Muridae was supporting the plant that held Hoover's mother and all his brothers and sisters.

They needed help. His father needed his help. They all needed Hoover's help. Hoover ran over and took a spot next to the bottom mouse. He leaned in on his hind legs with the heavy cornstalk bearing down on his back. His father yelled, "Hoover, what are you doing?"

"I'm helping, Papa."

Papa Muridae smiled and said, "Keep your knees bent and let the corn do most of the work. The other guys will show it where to go. Slow and steady, Son, slow and steady."

As Hoover used his big body to support the corn, the other mice pushed the plant with their paws and directed the fall. When it felt like Hoover could not last another second, and the plant would snap, injuring all those mice and ruining the Great Ceremony, he shut his eyes, took a deep breath, and slowly leaned forward gently guiding the stalk down. It was a perfect bend, not a single break or bad angle.

"You did it, Hoover! You saved The Great Ceremony! I'm so proud of you," his father said as he ran up and nuzzled him. Mama Muridae cried tears of joy, and all his brothers and sisters cheered. The crowd erupted, and Hoover looked around. All the mice were clapping, jumping up and down, and cheering for him. They were all cheering for Hoover.

After the night's corn feast was over, and all the dances and celebrations had come to a close, the Muridae family made their way back up the levee to begin their long journey home. When they reached the top, Hoover turned to look once more at the field, and he gasped at the wonder below. Now he understood what they were doing and what he helped complete.

There, in the middle of the endless rows of green were fifteen circles of bent corn, each one exactly one third smaller than the one before, placed precisely five and one-fourth feet apart, spiraling out toward the west in a perfect 3.2 radians. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Hoover saw the farmer and knew it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen too because the farmer just stood by his tractor scratching his head for a long time. Then a lot of other humans parked their cars on the side of the road to see and take pictures of the beautiful and mysterious crop circles.

Mid-Southerner from Arkansas, now in Memphis. History BA, English Lit MA from Univ. of Memphis. Songwriter, poet, storyteller. Winner of Memphis Magazine Contest.