Legend of the renegade gerbil


There once was a gerbil named Streak. His life was eventful, his story legendary. But let us start at the beginning.

I was teaching junior high at a small, rural school in southern Ohio when one day before Christmas, out of the blue, a student brought in two white gerbils in a small cage. Can we keep them in the room, he asked?

Since he said they were both male, I didn’t see a problem. We promptly christened the gerbils Sunspot and Brownie, Brownie being an interesting choice because both gerbils were white.

All was well until we returned from Christmas break. A janitor had promised to keep the gerbils fed and watered, and as far as I knew they were fine. However, on the first morning back one of my students, after looking at the gerbils, came to me and uttered the now famous words: “Uh, Mr. Shoe? There are seven gerbils in there. Sunspot and Brownie had kids.”

Wait. What? One of the gerbils, I had no idea which one, had given birth?

Seems Sunspot and Brownie weren’t dudes after all. Well, at least one of them wasn’t.

Being the open-minded class that we were, we accepted our new family with open arms, named the new family members, and proceeded to raise them with love and care.

Little did we know it was just the beginning.

Long story short, a few months later we over 50 gerbils. I kid you not. How did we accommodate them all, you ask? Well, although the original cage was wood and wire, we rigged one of those plastic cages you get at Petland to attach to it and went from there. We eventually had an entire wall of the classroom covered, floor to ceiling, with gerbil cages connected by tubes. It was a glorious sight, majestic really.

Nobody complained, and every Friday at 1 p.m. we’d spend the rest of the day cleaning the cages. We’d herd the gerbils out of one cage, clean it, re-attach, herd them back in, and repeat at several locations. It was an educational experience and a lesson in responsibility for all (at least that’s how I rationalized it).

But then it began.

One morning we came in and in one of the cages was a couple dead gerbils, throats seemingly eaten away by a vampire gerbil, blood matted into their wet, white fur.

It was carnage. Some students were fascinated, others traumatized.

We couldn’t figure out what had happened. Something horrific had invaded the sanctity of Gerbil Nation. Trouble, and something very evil, was afoot.

We kept a close eye and nothing happened right away, but a couple days later the same awful scene awaited us as we arrived at school. Another slaughter, this time resulting in three more dead gerbils.

What the heck?

But then a cry rang out from one of my students. There, at the far end of the cages he stood, a stricken look on his face: “Mr. Shoe, it’s Streak. Streak’s the killer.”

We ran down to the cage in question and there, cowering defiantly in the corner and smiling maniacally, was Streak. You ever see a gerbil smiling maniacally? Terrifying.

But there he was, bloodstained fur around his mouth and down his neck.

Streak, man. Streak was one of the more notable gerbils if you will, always darting around or on the exercise wheel, seemingly full of vim, vigor and life. How were we to know he was also full of murderous intentions?

Little did we know he was batcrap crazy. A deranged, blood thirsty, mini-murdering gerbil from hell.

A decision had to be made. What do do? Put Streak down with our own form of capital punishment? If so, how? Hanging? Lethal injection? A pistol shot to the temple? For the love of God, could we fashion a tiny gerbil electric chair? That might make a cool science project after all.

Someone even suggested burial at sea, but I couldn’t bear the thought of flushing the little guy down the toilet.

In the end, we didn’t have the nerve to pull the trigger (so to speak). Being a class influenced by an animal loving teacher, we decided to spare Streak’s life. Possible rehabilitation was discussed, although for the life of me I can’t imagine how that was going to happen.

We finally put it to a vote and decided that Streak would be put in isolation. Perfect! He’d have his own little cell, safely away from the other, more innocent gerbils. You know, the ones who weren’t intent on ripping out throats and whatnot.

The first few days were uneventful as Streak just lounged around nibbling on carrots, corn and other gerbil fare that didn’t include cannibalizing his own flesh and blood.

Little did we know he was simply biding his time and plotting his next move.

The weekend came, and we returned on Monday to find our large gerbil family right where we’d left them. Except for one. Streak had chewed through his plastic cage and was gone. He’d bolted. Vamoosed. Scrammed. Streak was on the run.

Although an all-points bulletin was issued and passed along to students, teachers, cooks and janitors, Streak had vanished, seemingly for good.

I was teaching a few days later when it happened. I was standing in front of the class talking, when suddenly one of my students stood up: “Streak! IT’S STREAK!!!”

She then pointed to the top of a file cabinet to my right and behind me, and sure enough, there he stood on his hind legs, taunting us with his brazen fearlessness. I swear I saw a gleam in his eye and he dared us to approach.

But that we did, myself and a few brave students who made a charge towards the tiny dynamo that was Streak. Of course, before we could get there he dove down behind the cabinet, disappearing into God knows where.

And so it began — the periodic Streak sightings. Streak darting across the classroom floor during class. Streak spotted in the kitchen atop the freezer. Streak on the stage in the gym.

Amongst the janitors, Streak became legendary: “Oh yes, I saw him last night. He was in the principal’s office nibbling on a doughnut.”

“Yep. Clarence saw him last Wednesday. Said he was in the gym. Looked like he was running laps.“

And so forth and so on. Streak was seemingly everywhere, and the legend grew.

Although Streak was sighted from time-to-time the rest of the year, he was never caught, never found dead, somehow avoided all traps set out for him.

And you know, although Streak had committed some horrific acts against his fellow gerbils and I hated him for it, I damn sure came to respect him. He was a gerbil that would not be denied.

Those who remember that historic Spring of Streak will never forget his tenacity, his audaciousness in the face of all who attempted his capture.

Is he still out there somewhere? Sure, gerbils are only supposed to have a lifespan of 4-5 years, but Streak was definitely not your ordinary gerbil. So yes, we wonder. Is he still there lurking, living off cafeteria scraps, rodents, leftover children’s lunches and the occasional stray kindergartner?

We may never know.

Dave Shoemaker is a retired teacher, athletic director and basketball coach with most of his professional years spent at Paint Valley. He also served as the national basketball coach for the island country of Montserrat in the British West Indies. He lives in Southern Ohio with his best friends and companions, his dogs Sweet Lilly and Hank. He can be reached at https://shoeuntied.wordpress.com/.

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