How fascinating! This book says there are libraries where hundreds of books live. It also says the fiction books are in order by author name.
Dancer scurried off Your Sixth Year Reader to look at Jeremy Gentle's bookshelf again. Jeremy was Dancer's owner and unknowing educator. Ever since he'd taught himself to read by studying the newspapers lining the bottom of his cage, Dancer had craved reading.
He hadn't figured out why he'd started reading. One day Dancer had noticed patterns in the markings. He saw they repeated themselves in clumps which then formed more patterns. Then he started listening to his owners differently. They also spoke in patterns. "Jeremy" was always called "Jeremy" or "Jeremy Gentle" by his mother and sometimes by his father.
Dancer had learned to understand Jeremy and his parents, and then he'd put the terms they said with the clumps on the paper. Each letter had a sound, and together they formed clumps his master called "words." The idea was brilliant. No wonder they were his owners and he was only a hamster.
Dancer read each paper eagerly to the point of memorizing it, but reading started to bore him. Jeremy only changed the lining about once a week. So he'd watched Jeremy open and close his cage door. Then he copied the motion, using his paws and nose. He left to search for more words to read.
Dancer found a treasure trove. This bookshelf was one of six in the lower level of his master's big cage. Dancer decided to explore upstairs when he finished the books down here. He wasn't even done with this shelf yet.
The books he read so far were Jeremy's old schoolbooks, all marked up by Jeremy. Dancer could smell Jeremy's scent on them. He'd learned about books called "fiction," which were stories humans invented. Humans organized fiction by author, not topic, like nonfiction. Now, he'd look for these fiction books.
He scanned the shelf above the schoolbooks. Some of the hardbacks had names on the binding. Those were the authors. Wells, Yellen, Zach. That was alphabetical—maybe these were fiction books. He climbed to the second shelf and pulled the Zach one—Zombie Turkeys—out of its place.
Soon he so was engrossed, he hardly heard the front door open. Jeremy was home! Dancer had to get back in his cage. Using his paws and mouth, he jammed the Your Sixth Year Reader and Zombie Turkeys back onto the shelf and scampered across Jeremy's lab. He shinnied up the table leg to his cage, flipped the sliding door up with his nose, and squeezed in.
Jeremy rolled into the room in his electric wheelchair, with his friend Dan Elanga holding the back of it.
"Hi, Dancer! You're up to greet me! Look, Dan. He's standing up against his door."
"He does look like he's greeting you." Dan wasn't even looking at Dancer. Dancer knew he was using his telepathic power to see through Jeremy's eyes.
Jeremy picked up Dancer and petted him. Dancer smelled Jeremy's familiar scent. Someday he'd have to tell Jeremy that he'd learned to read. But how?
This Andy Zach seemed to know a lot about animals, at least zombie turkeys. Maybe he'd give Dancer some ideas.
After Jeremy and his parents left the next day, Dancer finished Zombie Turkeys and learned about zombie squirrels, rabbits, cows, and people. They were weird, but not any weirder than what he read about people in the newspaper. Humans did all kinds of crazy things. He didn't even know if Zombie Turkeys was fiction or not. Or was the newspaper fiction? Nothing was marked. There was so much he didn't know.
Dancer noticed a contact email for Andy Zach in his book. He climbed on Jeremy's computer desk. Dancer had played with the computer once before and found it confusing. Now he had a purpose: send an email to Andy Zach.
The hamster pushed the mouse with his front paws until the arrow on the screen was over the circle with the three colors. He had seen Jeremy do this to send an email many times. Dancer clicked it with his nose. A window opened. Now, what do I have to click next?
He read everything on that window. Bookmarks, 120 unread, News, My Drive, Blog. Hmmm … 120 unread what? His nose clicked on the mouse.
Mail. Found it! Now, how to write one? Again Dancer read everything. A rectangle with one word, "Compose." That means to write music. Could it mean write an email? Words often have more than one meaning. He clicked it.
The window changed. It now showed:
From: Jeremy Gentle
To: (blank rectangle)
Subject: (blank rectangle)
Then there was a big blank space. Another rectangle with the word "Send" appeared at the bottom.
Dancer breathed faster like he was racing on the wheel in his cage. This is it! Carefully, he placed his paw on each letter on the keyboard: firstname.lastname@example.org. He’d memorized Andy Zach's email address from his book.
Dancer pushed the mouse and clicked through to the next rectangle.
Subject: how do i tell my owner i can read q.
He couldn't type uppercase symbols like the question mark or capital letters. In desperation, he used a q for the question mark.
That didn't seem quite right, but he couldn't think of any other way to put his question. Andy was an author. He should be good with words. I'm sure he'll understand.
What should I say to Andy? Just tell him the truth.
andy, i'm a hamster. i learned to read. how do i tell my owner, jeremy gentle q i can't talk. please help.
That seemed to cover everything. The letters weren't quite right since he couldn't figure out how to capitalize, but it probably didn't matter. He also shortened “question” to “q.” That didn't seem any more confusing than “?”. He pressed Send and went to read the rest of Jeremy's bookshelf.
As he spun his wheel that evening, Dancer thought, How will I know if Andy responds? I suppose the unread emails will go to 121. I'll just have to check in the morning.
Worn out from worry and wheeling, Dancer nested in his cedar shavings and went to sleep.
* * *
After Jeremy and his parents closed the front door the next morning, Dancer raced out of his cage to the computer desk. Opening the window, Dancer saw 123 unread emails. He scanned them. One subject read, "To Dancer, care of Jeremy Gentle." From Andy Zach. That was for him! He opened the email, twitching his whiskers with eagerness.
Hi Jeremy and Dancer,
If this is Jeremy reading this email, read the attached email and you'll understand. It's from your hamster, Dancer.
If this is Dancer, pay close attention.
Your email fascinated me. Proceeding on the assumption this is not a hoax, here's what I recommend.
First, keep reading and learning about the world of humans. No matter how much you know, it isn't enough. We're weird and dangerous.
Second, you'll have to wait until I finish my Secret Supers book tour. Then I'll come to Maryville and personally introduce you as an intelligent hamster to Jeremy and his friends. I'm sure they'll be happy to meet you and be friends.
Third, if you want to keep this secret, delete this email after you read it. Don't send me any more. Jeremy can read them.
I look forward to meeting you, Dancer!
Your friendly paranormal animal author,
Where was the Delete button? The hamster moused around the screen, hoping for a pop-up instruction. He went over a rounded rectangle with lines. "Trash" appeared. He clicked it, and the email deleted.
Whew! Computers puzzled him. But Dancer hoped Andy would know what to do with Jeremy and his parents. He had plenty to learn while waiting. He'd caught up to Jeremy in English. What subjects should he try next?
There was this group of books called "Encyclopedia" on the bottom shelf of one of the bookcases. He'd avoided them because they were so big and heavy. But he'd just learned the meaning of "encyclopedia" in Jeremy's seventh-grade English book. It meant a collection of books that contained all knowledge. Just what I need.
Too bad he couldn't read an encyclopedia on the computer. He didn't think he could put the big book away. He scanned the screen again for "Encyclopedia." Nothing. What's this? A round symbol with a blank for typing. He put the mouse arrow over it, and the word "Search" appeared.
He carefully typed "encyclopedia" in the blank, then clicked the symbol. A new window popped up. "Free encyclopedia online" the first line read.
"how long do book tours last," he typed.
He read several articles, with no clear answer. It seems questions don't always have one answer. Some authors never stop touring. Others do it for weeks or months. Too bad he didn't ask Andy how long he'd be on tour.
Under "Popular Topics," he saw "Abraham Lincoln," a name Dancer recognized from Jeremy's schoolbooks. He began reading. So much to learn!
* * *
Lincoln fascinated him, and his history showed how dangerous humans could be. As a break from the violence, Dancer read about hamsters. There were seventeen types or species. They lived in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
The world was enormous. What he could see out the windows was the least of it. Dancer felt an urge to explore his neighborhood. How long did he have before Jeremy returned? He glanced at the clock. Twelve thirty. He had four hours.
He'd learned to tell time from Jeremy's first-grade math book. Once he'd gotten past addition and subtraction, he'd been confused, but clocks were a great invention of humans.
Dancer went out the doggy door, followed by Jeremy's black lab, Diesel. He sniffed Dancer curiously and then went about his business.
Dancer explored the backyard and then slipped easily under the gate in the fence. He loved the fresh air and exploring… Ooh! What's that?
A small striped animal ran up to him. Dancer concentrated and remembered the word for it … chipmunk. It looked like the picture in Jeremy's book. Except this chipmunk had a metal cap on its head. Odd.
After staring at him, the chipmunk ran off as fast as it'd arrived. He'd have to ask Andy Zach about this when he saw him.
Dancer completed his circumnavigation of Jeremy's property and returned through the doggy door. Diesel raised a sleepy head as Dancer entered, and then the dog lay back down. Dancer felt proud, a little like that human Magellan he'd read about. Maybe later he'd have a chance to go around the world with Jeremy.
But now he was tired. He reached for Andy Zach's next book, My Undead Mother-In-Law, and snuggled up for a good read. The story talked about human zombies and their problems and adventures. Then rats, snakes, monkeys, and chipmunks appeared with "metal yarmulkes." What were those?
Back to the computer Dancer jogged. He learned a yarmulke was a small cap worn by observant Jews. Judaism was one of the many religions humans followed. Was Andy writing about Jewish animals?
Dancer'd never thought about religion himself. It was just one of the many things about people he didn't understand. He trotted back to the book. What did Andy say about these animals with yarmulkes? Was the chipmunk he saw one of them?
Frantically, he read more of Andy's book. There it was. The metal yarmulkes indicated cyborg-controlled animals. Another online dictionary check taught him a cyborg was a part-human—or animal—part-machine combination. In Andy's book, a criminal controlled the cyborg animals.
Does that mean some criminal is using the chipmunk to spy on Jeremy? That'd be terrible! Now he trembled. Humans had always seemed so powerful, but when they turned to evil, they were dreadful. There was only one thing he could do. Back at the computer, he typed:
dear andy, i found a cyborg chipmunk outside jeremy's house. i'm afraid it's controlled by a criminal. what should i do q please answer quickly.
He sent the message and hurried back to finish Andy's book before Jeremy returned.