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The Best Pet Ever

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"Oh, for-" Mom holds up a slice of bread with suspicious nibble marks at one corner. "I think we have mice."

"Cool," Hannah says, taking another bite of her cereal.

"No, not 'cool'. I told you girls to stop leaving food around." Mom sighs. "We'll have to get some traps."

"Mom, no!" "You can't kill them!" Hannah and her sister Julie speak at the same time, for once united against this terrible injustice.

"Then we'll get some humane traps and release them somewhere," Mom says. "I am not having mice in this house."

Hannah quite likes the idea of having mice, but she supposes Mom has a point. The mice are eating their bread, after all, and probably other things. She just hopes they don't start in on her Froot Loops.

The traps are set up that night, one in the kitchen, and one near the front door. Hannah suggests baiting them with cheese like in the cartoons, but Julie, who is two years older and thinks she knows everything, insists that mice actually prefer peanut butter. After a short argument Mom decides to split the difference and use cheese with peanut butter.

Hannah and Julie both check the traps over and over, hoping to be the first to find a mouse, but no luck. By the time Hannah's bedtime comes around, the traps are still stubbornly empty.

"You're probably scaring them away with all your charging around," Mom says. "Go to bed, and maybe they'll be there in the morning."

Hannah gives the hallway trap one last glance, then reluctantly heads up to bed.

She wakes up early the next morning, long before Mom or Julie are awake, and nearly goes back to sleep before she remembers the traps. Hurrying downstairs, she checks the hallway trap – empty – then the kitchen trap.

She can tell as soon as she enters the kitchen that it worked. The door of the trap has sprung closed, and there's something moving around inside. Hannah moves closer and gasps.

The trap's current occupant is clearly visible through its plastic sides. But it isn't a mouse.

She crouches down to take a closer look. There, inside the plastic container, is a tiny hippo.

"A house hippo," Hannah breathes. Her friend Joe said he saw one once, but she always thought he was lying.

Springing up, she charges back upstairs and into Julie's room. "Julie!" she says urgently, shaking her. "Julie, get up, you have to see this!"

"What?" Julie moans. "It's the middle of the night."

"There's a house hippo in our trap!"

Julie rubs her eyes, blinking at Hannah. "What?"

"Come on!" Hannah says, pulling on her arm impatiently.

She pulls a half-asleep Julie down to the kitchen and points at the trap. "See?"

Julie looks at the trap, and Hannah watches her eyes widen. "That's a hippo."

"A house hippo!" Hannah exclaims. "I bet he's the one that's been eating our bread."

"This. Is. Awesome!" Julie breathes. She turns to Hannah, her eyes bright. "We have to keep him."

Hannah agrees, but she can't help sending a nervous glance at the stairs. "Do you think Mom will let us?"

Julie crosses her arms, putting on her best stubborn face. "We'll just have to convince her."

Mom puts up a good fight, but an organised campaign of reasoning, whining, and begging soon breaks down her defences. (Although Hannah has to wonder how much of Mom's protests were just for show after she catches her sneaking the hippo a bit of bread crust.) The hippo is given a cage, a bed of shredded newspaper, and a name; Henry.

Henry turns out to like raisins more than peanut butter or cheese, and spends most of his time sleeping or splashing around in a big bowl of water at the side of his cage. He's happy, Hannah and Julie are happy, and even Mom is happy.

And there are no more teeth marks in the bread.