Thomas had four older brothers and he didn’t like any of them. They always hid his books or made him eat the green paste that came with sushi or tickled him until he peed his pants.
Today they dragged him to the edge of the family’s property, where a mysterious banquet table sat, covered in food. A roast turkey in the center steamed as if it were fresh from the oven, rather than abandoned in a fallow corn field.
Luke crouched in front of Thomas. “If you eat the food, it turns you into animals. It’s magic,” he said. “Like the Harry Potter movies.”
They told him he had to go first because he was the youngest, so he carefully ate a tiny marshmallow off the candied yams.
The change happened fast – and then he was feathered and pecking his way out of his jeans with a bird beak. He flapped and floundered in the trodden grass, trying to call his brothers the bad words he’d learned from Matthew. All that came out was a shrill, “Chirp! Chirp!”
He was scared someone would step on him, but Mark laughed and dropped a crumb of blood-red cake. “This will make you human again,” he said.
By the time Thomas turned back, his brothers had forgotten him. They fought over who tried which foods first. Pop! Luke was a cat. Pop! John was a dog. They chased each other around the table. Matthew turned into an orangutan and made faces.
But it scared Thomas, and he put his clothes back on and hid behind a tree. What if he turned into a rabbit and John-the-dog ate him?
Silver crashed and food thudded and squelched and splashed as the table upended. His brothers wrestled, popping from animal to boy and back. Thomas covered his eyes.
When he opened them, the upside-down table was broken, smeared with yams and gravy and splattered fruit. His brothers were nowhere to be seen, but four brown mice desperately licked the empty cake platter.
Thomas knelt and the four mice sat on their mouse butts, sniffing the air and flicking their whiskers. They stared with beady black mouse eyes.
He reached out a trembling finger and pet one of them gently on the head. It flipped over onto its back all of a sudden, nipping Thomas’ finger. “Ow!” he said, and even though the mice who were his brothers probably had germs, he stuck the injured finger in his mouth.
The mice scattered, running in zigzags over the splintered table.
“Oh no! Don’t run away, it’s just me!” Thomas scooped them up and dumped them into an empty soup tureen. They kept climbing on each other to get out so he put them in Luke’s KoRn t-shirt, held the edges together, and carried them to the house.
Thomas put the mice inside a canning jar and gave them a Kraft single in case they got hungry. He sat at the kitchen counter and colored in his coloring book to the rustling noise of mousefeet on glass until he noticed they were trying to get out again.
He found a lid but they climbed up and pushed at it with their heads. He tightened it. Of course, then the mice started squeaking and he worried. How would they turn his brothers back from mice? When they were boys again, would they be angry about being stuck in the jar?
“Be quiet,” he said. He left them on the kitchen counter and went to play Xbox.
He played a zombie-killing game that his brothers always said he was too young for. Blam! Blam! Blam! Zombie guts everywhere! After a while, the mice were quiet, so it was just the game and the soft crunch of gravel in the driveway as his mother came home.
She entered from the garage.
“Boys?” She called, “Why are there mice in the kitchen?”
Thomas ran to her. “They’re mine! I caught them,” he said, holding his arms out, afraid that she would open the jar and let them escape. As she handed it over, he froze, seeing their stiff little bodies on a bed of Kraft cheese.
“Oh honey,” she said. “You have to poke air holes if you want them to live.”
She opened the fridge. “Put that outside for now and tell your brothers that dinner’s in five.”
Thomas unscrewed the lid and rattled the jar.
The mice didn’t move.