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I soon found more signs – again, not like the water parting type of signs but poster board signs with more declarations.
“Keep the Land for the Natives”
“Spotted Naked Mole Rats Need Homes Too”
“Don’t Make the Spotted Naked Mole Rat Homeless As Well”
“We Stand Naked with the Spotted Naked Mole Rat”
“Spotted Naked Mole Rats Are People Too”
I now knew the reason – or a piece of the reason – although it didn’t make any sense to me. I had been camping in the woods for years, and I had never spotted a spotted naked mole rat. “Maybe they were camouflaged to stay safe and warm.”
“I’ve heard they blend well in this environment.”
The voice sounded familiar, and it took me a moment to realize that I had gotten so caught up in the signs around me that I had missed the guys that now stood beside me.
“It’s sad.” The first speaker had been the man behind the microphone, but these others guys were from the band, I was almost certain.
“You guys were the band playing last night.”
“Yeah.” The third guy spoke in single word sentences only – as I was to learn in my association with these people.
I was amazed and a little intimidated that the band keeping me up all night was still up themselves. I thought they would have been off recharging somewhere – all the better to disturb my second night of happy place visitation.
“I’ve never seen a naked mole rat.”
“A SPOTTED naked mole rat.” The guy that had controlled the microphone reminded me.
“Right,” I confessed I had not seen either.
“There is only one left.”
“Sad.” The one-word master offered his condolences.
“Only one?” My first thought was that if there was only one, then there really was no reason to worry about saving it – because when it was gone it was gone – but I knew that wasn’t the right thing to share with the people currently standing around me. Instead, I just twisted my mouth to stop the words from escaping.
“One.” The one-word wonder confirmed.
“How do you know there is only one?” I should probably learn to not talk to people that aren’t making any sense.
“Because Mike found him.” The voice of the band said with a matter of fact tone that told me I not only should know that fact but that I had to know who Mike was as well.
“Mike.” The one word wonder nodded along.
“Mike found the poor guy wandering alone and saved him. He’s in an enclosure up near the stage.”
The band started that direction, and I followed along, intent on seeing the spotted naked mole rat for myself – especially if it was the only one.
The enclosure was far enough behind the stage for the noise from the band not to interfere with its occupant. I never spotted the spotted naked mole rate, but I was assured he was there and came out occasionally.
I hung around a little longer, as the people began to stir. Nothing makes me want to run and hide as much as a stirring people, so I did. At least, I backed up to the edge of the people so that I could observe the actions and try to understand the direction of this movement that had been created in my happy place.
The sound system screeched – forcing me to wince and cover my ears – which made it even more painful because I found myself caught in the movement and actions of the people around me.
Maybe I needed to get out before I, too, was assimilated.
“Unfortunately, human beings are easily brainwashed.” The voice boomed over the speakers. The people nodded along to everything he shared.
I had to turn my head and walk back a few steps. There was no need to incite the people by laughing so hard. I was amazed that they were unable to see the very reality of the comment playing out before them, but people rarely see beyond the people that surround them.
I sat and listened to the impassioned pleas from the stage until my rear end announced it had enough sitting for the moment. Even when I like what I hear, my rear end quotient is only about 30 minutes.
I took a walk, but the pleas echoed around me, and it seemed impossible to find some relief. I had almost made it back to my camp when I noticed a young boy wandering not far from where I had come.
He was an interesting lad – about ten years old and dressed like he knew his way around the woods. I watched him for a few minutes. He stopped every few steps and turned over a stick or a rock. When he did move on, he looked intently at the forest floor around him.
The lad stayed so focused on his search that he almost stumbled over me. “Oh, sorry, mister.”
Now I knew that he was different from the people I had been encountering. He had used a term that I’m sure people had long forgotten or refused to use. The lad had even used the word with a bit of respect, and considering he didn’t know me from Adam’s housecat, his tone and attitude commanded my respect.
“No problem, young man. Are you okay?”
The young lad continued his search almost lost to the words I had offered.
“Can I help you?”
I could tell that he was intent on something, but I had no idea what could cause him to be so intense. He made me want to help.
“Alfred got away.” He spoke with clarity, so I knew I had heard him, but he continued his search without continued explanation. It was as if I should have known Alfred. I had a suspicion that it was not the Alfred from my Batman comics.
I continued to wait out his explanation but found myself joining him in his search. I still had no idea of what I was trying to find, but I just mimicked his actions and expected that there would be results.
We had been conducting our duel search for ten minutes when he stopped and turned to watch me. He seemed to be recognizing for the first time that I was with him. “Mister?”
I stopped my search for my unknown target and turned to face him.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m helping you search.”
I nodded, not sure how to answer because I still had no clue what or who or why Alfred might be.
“Do you know Alfred?”
I shook my head in response this time.
“Then what are you looking for?”
“I was hoping you’d tell me if I found him . . . um, it?”
The lad smiled a soft little grin that just made me want to help him find Alfred even more. “Thanks.” He turned over the next rock and continued his search.
I didn’t mind the search, not just because it kept my backside from falling asleep, but because it distracted me from the people trashing my happy place. I had come out to the woods to get away and every time I thought about it I got frustrated.
Random searching under rocks and logs seemed to be releasing that frustration. After a few minutes of frustration release, I needed more guidance for my search. “Can you tell me a little more about Alfred?”
The lad continued his search as he shared his tale of Alfred. “He’s my pet guinea pig. Mom got him for me a few years back for a birthday present. I wanted a puppy, but she said a puppy would be more work and I had to prove myself responsible with a guinea pig first – whatever that’s supposed to mean.”
The lad continued to turn over rocks and logs. “Anyway, Mom said if I could take care of a guinea pig for three years without incident then she would let me have a puppy.” He stopped and turned to face me. “Do you think this would be considered an incident?”
I didn’t want to laugh, but it was hard. He was so sincere I decided to comfort his concerns instead of laughing at them. “Maybe if we find Alfred before she notices it won’t be anything.”
That seemed to satisfy the lad, and he was back to his search with more enthusiasm.
I now knew I was looking for a guinea pig. That was something.
“Alfred doesn’t have any fur.”
“Well, Alfred is actually what’s called a Skinny Pig. He is almost completely naked.”
I stopped. An idea formed in the back of my head and I couldn’t stop the smile. “Would Alfred happen to be spotted?”
Now the lad stopped. “How’d you know that?”
“I think I know where we can find your Alfred.”
The lad and I walked behind the stage to the enclosure Mike had constructed for his discovery. The band and the organizers were busy setting up for the next big day of protests. The protestors were still recovering from the previous day.
It was almost quiet.
And in the almost quiet, the spotted naked mole rat had scurried out from his hiding place and was perched in the sun next to a rock. If I hadn’t known what I was looking for, I would have missed seeing it.
“Alfred!” The lad called out, and the spotted naked mole rat turned skinny pig ran towards his voice.
It warmed my heart to see the two reconnected, but I knew we needed to make our escape before someone noticed we had absconded with their star.
The lad stopped loving on Alfred long enough to look around and then question me. “Should we tell someone?”
The thought of the protests breaking up and everyone getting back on the train made my decision. “No, not yet. Let’s not make an incident of the situation.”
The lad smiled, getting my meaning. I walked with him for a while and then he headed on up to his family with his buddy Alfred. I made my way back to my campsite and loaded up. It turns out my happy place this trip was the quiet train ride home.