My gunshots died away, firecracker echoes drifting down the alley behind the theme park, behind the castles and rides, behind the crowds and the minimum-wage smiles, back where the high-rev dreams downshifted into ductwork and delivery trucks. I listened at the darkness, but I didn't hear anything. Not a single thing.
I'd seen it. I knew I'd seen it: a six-foot mouse wearing clothes. I'd heard runningnot scurrying mouse-feet, but clomping, like monstrous clown-shoes with claws.
I'd spun around and seen himseen itand fired, strobing the alley with muzzle-flashes, lightning visions of fleeing red pants, bulbous white gloves and yellow shoes. I'd heard a gaspmaybe twofetid last mouse-breaths slammed from its lungs by my slugs. I didn't smile. My vacation had gone bad, real bad.
I slipped into the alley, creeping under the slanted shadows of fire escapes, like a prison in black and white. My eyes dilated with the darkness, the drug of near-success hitting my bloodstream. Maybe, I thought, maybe this time ...
Then I saw it, just like I'd always hoped to see it. A six-foot mouse, lying on its side, facing away from me, one huge round ear sticking up like the lid of a trash can, tail limp as an unplugged cord, head flopped into a spreading rainbow-puddle of oil and blood.
I'd seen him before, of course, plenty of times. My earliest memories were of staring at the TV, but when it was shut off. I waited for the Mouse to sneak out the holes in the back of the set, but it was always too smart for me. The Mouse didn't sneak into the livingroom or my bedroom: the Mouse snuck into my dreams. Just a smile at first. The same smile I'd seen all over the theme park, the rigid smile of abject broken obedience, the brainwashed smile of forced labor, the twisted smile of demented rodent insanity. That smile was first.
The fangs entered my dreams later. The shadows in my dreams were mouse-shaped, skittering under my dream-bed. Fur brushed my face as I lay half-sunk into sleep, and then the claws ripped at my eyes, and the teeth sunk into my neck, and I woke screaming, but no one else ever saw the Mouse. The Mouse squatted behind my eyeballs all my life, spreading through my brain like a giggling cartoon tumor. It took me years to realize that I was the only truly sane person in the entire world, because Iand I alonehad seen the true naked evil of the Mouse.
I smiled in the alley, smiled like I'd always dreamed I would smile. I rolled the Mouse onto its back, its other ear popping out with an audible 'sprong.' The face was shredded, the ragged edges of the wounds still smoking, an unrecognizable mush that only dumdums produce.
Only ... it wasn't the Mouse. It was a man in a Mouse suit. They were everywhere, decoys, sacrificial doubles, taking the bullets meant for the real Mouse. I'd gotten three already, and now, a fourth.
The Mouse was still out there.
I snapped another magazine into my pistol.
My vacation had just begun.