Suggested Audio Candy:
 Alan Silvestri “Mouse Hunt”
 Bernard Hermann “Psycho”
 Harry Sukman “Salem’s Lot”
 John Williams “Jaws”
Harriet’s Christmas list had only consisted of one thing and that solitary item was Verm, although she referred to him as Mr. Hammy. Verm was the less than affectionate mantle decided on by her mother who despised hamsters but considered them the least hard work of all domestic pets. She made it abundantly clear from the offset that she didn’t wish to be saddled with daily cleaning duties and expected Harriet to keep up her end of the bargain as the aroma of three-day old hamster urine effortlessly snuffed out her Yankee candle. It seemed like an almighty waste of time to mother; not only that but she knew heartbreak would lay around the next corner as dwarf hamsters are traditionally dead within eighteen months. When that happened; Harriet’s world would come crashing in for a day at least and poor old mom would invariably end up picking up the pieces. Nevertheless, after six months of resistance, she finally buckled to her daughter’s demands and made her purchase.
There was no great science to Miriam’s selection process. She didn’t give a flying fuck which of the available vermin had the softest fur or the cutest features. “Just grab me one from the back” had been her request and the kindly assistant stumped for the little fellow whose affiliates had seemingly shunned him. “Right, now give me your most moderately priced cage, three packs of litter and one of those clear exercise balls and charge it” she ordered and left the pet store with her very own Russian dwarf hamster and a ton more junk to litter up her lounge. As tempted as she had been to drop kick Verm into the nearest dumpster; she decided that Harriet’s happiness was paramount, particularly seeing as this was the first year her father wouldn’t be present to celebrate with them. His death had hit Harriet hard; she’d always been daddy’s little angel and ran directly to him every time she scraped her knee. The impending festivities had been weighing on Miriam’s mind and she was desperate to come through for her daughter at any cost. Eighteen months and he’d be expired; she took comfort in that fact and even had a shoe-box lined up to bundle his corpse into the moment the dreaded wet-tail ended his short life.
For the first few days Verm appeared no different from any other rodent. He barely made an appearance during Harriet’s waking hours and left it until Miriam settled with her stem of Shiraz and Downton Abbey before showing his face. This was much to Miriam’s disenchantment as his metal wheel could have done with a spot of oil if truth be known. Sometimes the creaking would infuriate her to such a degree that she would plunge a pencil through the bars and into the wheel’s spokes, sending the hapless Verm ass over head into the surrounding wood shavings where he landed on his back and commenced to writhe in discomfort. This gave Miriam a sick little kick and that was nothing when compared to the fun she had when he took to his ball.
Verm was an energetic little man and loved nothing more than a roll around the living room to keep him trim. However, he hadn’t counted on Miriam’s interference. Every time he cheerfully passed, she would give his sphere a cheeky kick, just to belly laugh at his expense. When it looked like he had mastered the ball she ensured that he was bamboozled, thus crushing his spirit. With a stroke of good fortune, he would suffer from acute depression and fast-track to his demise by next Christmas. Miriam was prepared to play hard ball; but never let Harriet witness her callous acts. In her daughter’s presence she referred to him as Mr. Hammy and waited until Harriet was out of earshot before “Right then Verm, you fuzzy little fuck” would pass her lips and she would reconvene torment. Applying a little extra pressure on his water bottle every time Verm prepared for re-hydration gave her no end of amusement. Another favorite was a delightful little game she devised called Cage Shake; no instructions necessary.
Despite her best efforts, Verm appeared to take each knock in his tiny stride, and even begun to outfox his opposite number by varying his daily schedule. Alas, that creaking wheel gave him away every single time, and she listened intently for that moment to come so she could set her devious plan back into action. Their relationship became one of hatred and mutual respect but, while Verm remained placid, pent-up rage was beginning to consume him. Miriam’s error was in not crediting him with enough intelligence. One-on-one melee would never end favorably for Verm; one grab of the scruff of his neck and a subsequent blender drop and it would be curtains for him. Harriet would never suspect a thing although smoothies would be out of the question for the foreseeable. She could simply relay that Mr Hammy perished while she was at school and was prepared to throw a lavish burial. Verm knew he had to bide his time to win this titanic struggle and bide it he did.
He started putting on a few extra ounces on account of his sudden indifference towards exercise. Instead of scampering on his wheel, he would binge eat in the safe confines of his litter and it quickly went to Verm’s hips. This suggested one of two things; that he was content, heaven forbid, or that he was deeply unhappy and this presented comfort to Miriam as she was far more at ease with the latter. It wasn’t anything personal; just a simple case of wrong time, wrong hamster. As Verm began to become less mobile, she sensed victory was within her sights and pounced like a bird of prey. It started as a simple trick at Verm’s expense; she left his cage door ajar and placed a pile of fresh sunflower seeds on the table just out of his reach as bait. He left his cozy house somewhat cautiously and figured it may be a trap but the allure of that seed mix was just too enticing and he eventually scurried to the exit to investigate further. Bad move Verm.
In fairness to Miriam, she only intended to slam the gate shut in his face, but it all turned awry when her misjudged slam caught the little fellow in-between a rock and a hard place and snagged his mid torso in the bars. She attempted to dislodge him as Harriet was due home from school any second and would be mortified to discover her unruly actions but Verm was understandably shaken and lashed out, sinking his jaws into the web of skin between thumb and forefinger. The sudden pain caused her to recoil and this separated Verm’s front paws from back as his uppermost end hit the back wall with enough force for a faint splat and he slid to the floor in a pool of blood and sinew. Miriam rushed to the kitchen and grabbed her J-cloth, then returned to clean the crime scene before her daughter’s imminent arrival. Sensing that Harriet would request an open casket, she pieced the two plump portions of Verm together and secured a red bow around the cross-section and, no sooner had she tied it, than her offspring came bounding through the door, threw down her satchel, and rushed to greet Mr Hammy as she did every day.
She was as heartbroken as any seven-year old would be on discovery that their very first pet had croaked. Meanwhile, Miriam assured her that all hamsters go to heaven, and gave Verm the exquisite burial her sobbing child pleaded for. “How did he die mommy?” she asked, to which she simply replied “with rosy cheeks and perky whiskers.” What Harriet didn’t know wouldn’t hurt. She supplied Verm with a shallow grave in case she got the urge to dig him up while Harriet was out of the house, and kick him into the bramble bush for shits and grins. The next few days were hard; there were endless streams of tears and impassioned questioning to the tune of “mommy…why?” Mommy knew why. Mommy knew exactly why. Mommy had to live with her terrible secret. Mommy was little more than a murderer in an apron. Mommy was about to rue the day she ever fucked with Verm.
Miriam hadn’t lost any sleep over her callous actions but she had on account of the faint scratching on her window frame. It started vague and soon became increasingly clear. At first, she put it down to the wind but every time she settled back down the scratching resumed and intensified. After the worst night’s sleep she had endured since Harriet was an infant, she wasn’t in the mood for tricks so she grabbed a shovel and retrieved the shoe-box. Empty. Just a single red bow and teeth marks to suggest that Verm had escaped imprisonment. The following evening a fresh audio filled her ears; that of a creaking wheel no less. She frantically reached for the light shade upon primary acknowledgement and slid her feet from her bed, only to place them down with an unexpected crunch. As she looked down with a growing sense of disenchantment, she was shocked to discern a neat pile of sunflower seed shells, alongside which sat Verm’s exercise ball spinning ominously on the spot.
She ran to the door in utter disarray but didn’t notice the sphere picking up pace behind her. As she reached the stairs and looked below to the hallway she was distraught to see Verm sitting there staring right at her with his beady black pips. At least that was his top half. His lower body was behind Miriam unbeknownst to her and it gave the clear ball a gentle kick just to supply it momentum. Before she could let out a scream, her equilibrium was compromised, and Miriam clattered down the stairwell, breaking her neck amongst other bones on her descent. There she landed just shy of Verm and he stopped there for a moment to savor his victory before turning his back and dragging himself back into the shadows. When a neighbor arrived on the scene to investigate the crash they were presented with Miriam’s grey corpse with a red bow affectionately tied round her midriff. It seemed like a fitting tribute.
Nobody was ever charged for Miriam’s murder and it was discounted as some freak accident. Harriet meanwhile was placed in foster care with strict instructions to potential parents that they MUST LOVE HAMSTERS. Folklore would have it that Verm still scours the Earth, stalking those who extort his brethren for their own sick pleasure. Fret not as you will always hear him coming. A delicate scratch, the portentous creak of metal, unsolicited seeds at the foot of your bed. Should you be made privy to any of the above then pray for your life. Cast your mind back to when you were a child and consider any time when you may have acted unjustly. Verm may just have his beady black pips on you. And remember this as you settle down to slumber this night…Nobody, but nobody, fucks with the Verm!