Tucked away beneath the hills, far from the prying eyes of lesser humans, was a school for the magically inclined. Hidden away in this school was a classroom, and its teacher, the weathered and experienced Professor Wizwald. Wizwald had taught Advanced Potions and Alchemy for as long as anyone could remember, and knew the ingredients cupboard better than most parents knew their child. His affinity for potions was matched only by his infallible charisma. By far the most outgoing teacher in the institution, Wizwald had a tendency of befriending every student who walked into his classroom. Most of his pupils and all his fellow teachers referred to him with affection by his first name, which he approved of and even encouraged, but was for all intents and purposes far too long and tedious to be written in this story.

Now Wizwald was a curious, fun man, and had consequently decided to live his life a clean shaven wizard after setting his beard on fire for umpteenth time. So instead he let his eyebrows grow full and bushy, and would scrunch them together when he found himself in a less-than-desirable position.

So he did one afternoon, on the fateful day he found jollyweed in Gary Liversprout's book bag. The morning had proceeded normally, just like any other day. The class had just had a good laugh at Millicent Ginger, who accidentally blew up a cauldron and set her fiery-red hair ablaze. After Wizwald extinguished the small blaze, Millicent ran from the room, her cheeks wet with tears of embarrassment. Gary, being the loyal and concerned boyfriend he was, pursued her, leaving his bag behind in his haste. Wizwald, quite undeterred by the course of events, brought the class back under his attention and lectured on the catastrophic repercussions the uncontrolled addition of toad lard into an unstirred hog mix can have. The bell sounded, announcing the end of the day, and Wizwald reminded his students not to do this at home.

When the room was empty, Wizwald began to wipe the pig grease off the tables. As he tossed the dirty cloth away, he spotted Gary's very dinstictly designed book bag. He walked to the back of the room and picked it up. As he walked to the front of the room with the bag, resolving to make sure Gary got it back, his large, powerful nose picked up a most familiar scent. It was a smell all teachers dreaded; the smell of corruption, the smell of addiction, the smell of compulsion. It was the smell of jollyweed.

Despite his moral reservations, Wizwald ventured a hesitant peek into the book bag. Wizwald regretted invading Gary Liversprout's privacy even more as he peered into the bag, staring at a big bag of the drug known as jollyweed. So Gary was one of THOSE kids, Wizwald thought sadly.

The sadness lasted only a moment. The real question was what to do next. This was by no means concrete evidence that Gary actually took jollyweed, but his just possessing it was enough to get him expelled. Really, Wizwald was obligated to take the bag directly to the headmaster, but Gary had such a bright future ahead of him. He was a brilliant student, a powerful magician, and a great friend. Perhaps, Wizwald thought, if he were to give the bag back to Gary without the jollyweed, Gary would realize Wizwald was on to him. And perhaps that thought, and Wizwald's persuasive nature, would be enough to deter Gary from the jollyweed.

Making up his mind, Wizwald flung open a window and grabbed a handful of the jollyweed. He threw it out into the cave, where an artificial sun lit up a magically projected meadow. The field in the cavernous cave was empty now, as the school had completely cleared out for the weekend, but in a few days children would be here, playing their games. Even was Wizwald tossed the second handful out the window, he realized he could not just leave the jollyweed out where innocent students could stumble across it.

He took the bag instead into his ingredient cupboard. He placed the bag beside his store of nirnroot. On his way out, the large bag in the corner of the closet caught his eye. The picture on the 500 pound bag of industrial grade hamster food made him smile. It was a drawing of an adorable, friendly hamster with its paw raised, as if it were waving.

Wizwald closed the door behind him. A whiff of jollyweed in the air reminded him of the handful of the plant still sitting outside the window. That would not do, not at all. He peered at the jollyweed, pondering the situation. A simple incendiary spell would destroy the weed just fine. Yes, that would do the trick.

Something, like a long lost thought or memory, was nagging at the back of Wizwald's brain as he pulled out his wand and sang the incantation. As sparks flew from his wand, he remembered what is was he had forgotten. Wizwald recalled that jollyweed, when ignited improperly, is highly explosive.

The jollyweed went up in flame and shot off in all different directions like fireworks. They fizzed and spat and spiraled through the air and into the magically altered cavern ceiling. As they collided the weeds exploded, each bursting with a resounding boom, shaking the entire hill and cracking the ceiling.

When the explosions had finished the entire cavern fell for a moment completely silent. Long, large fissures and cracks ran through the broken ceiling where the jollyweed had struck. A stillness hung in the air, so heavy Wizwald held his breath so as not to upset the delicate silence. When there was nothing more to happen, Wizwald exhaled with a sigh of relief.

The ceiling began to creak and groan as the cracks expanded. The ground shook as the cavern began to collapse, raining huge chunks of rock upon the school below. Wizwald leapt for cover beneath a table as the rocks came crashing through the school ceiling. The very ground shook as boulders crashed into the school. Dust suffocated and blinded Wizwald as everything crumbled around him. He shut his eyes and madly babbled protection charms. No amount of tenure would save him after this.

When Wizwald opened his eyes everything was still. He crawled out from behind the desk and cleared his throat of debris. He looked around the room, which was, all in all, pretty well intact. The roof had been caved in at a few spots, but the classroom and the ingredient cupboard were still pretty much in one piece.

The same could not be said for the rest of the cavern, however. The windows had been shattered and now dirt blocked any view to the outside. Wizwald walked to the door and opened it tentatively. Dirt poured in through the open doorway. The hall was blocked off completely. Slightly concerned, Wizwald walked back to the window and began digging away at the soil that blocked the window. As the dirt fell, more moved to take its place. In some places Wizwald could feel large rocks, cold against his fingertips. He stepped back from the window, coming to an undeniable, inescapable conclusion:

Wizwald was trapped inside the classroom.

Some hundred tons of dirt rubble sat on and around his classroom. It was a miracle it hadn't caved in. But what to do now? The only viable option Wizwald saw was to wait and hope help arrived. He was trapped indefinitely inside his own classroom. On the bright side, he could finally get some of his midterm papers graded. In fact, he would probably have plenty of time to grade all his papers, Wiwald thought. He may be trapped forever.

And suddenly the weight of his situation dropped on him like a ton of rock. He couldn't die buried in this classroom, lonely and alone. He whipped out his wand and pointed it at the dirt-filled window, singing,

"Make me a tunnel homeward bound,

So I might emerge safe and sound!"

The dirt began to shift, creating a passage to the surface. But as the earth moved itself, it began to rumble, and the passage collapse, and dirt and rocks spilled into the classroom. Wizwald bolted away from the incoming wave of dirt into the safety of the ingredient cupboard as the dirt buried the room from the inside. He slammed the door shut behind him as the dirt flooded through. He felt the pressure build on the old wooden door as rubble filled the classroom and push upon the door.

Finally the rumbling stopped, and again everything fell silent. Wizwald stood up with shaky legs and tried to push the door open, but it would not budge. Now he was trapped in the tiny ingredient cupboard. Things were just getting better and better.

Wizwald's stomach rumbled. He hadn't eaten since breakfast, because his lunch hour had been spent cleaning up after the incompetent freshmen. He regretted putting that work into wiping those cauldrons down, only to be buried under four hundred feet of rock. He wandered around the ingredient cupboard, looking over the ingredients for something edible. He grabbed a bit of basil and began munching on it, sitting down beside the huge case of hamster food. The hamster, and his adorable innocence, seemed to be mocking Wizwald for his current situation.

When he finished the basil he twiddled his thumbs until he was bored, then looked around the cupboard.

The ingredient cupboard was really more like a small room, or a large closet. Shelves upon shelves of ingredients lined the walls, and along the floor extra cauldrons sat here and there. A small, rusty sink stuck out from the wall. In the back of the cupboard a bookcase full of potion books sat, most of which Wizwald had not even read. Of all the things to be stuck in a cupboard with, it had to be books.

Wizwald begrudgingly moved over to the book shelf, and selected the thinnest book on the shelf, "Electrical Cauldrons: Magic in the Modern Age." Wizwald whittled away his hours reading about comparisons between wands and television remotes, cauldrons and microwaves. When he finished the book he found his eyes heavy, so he pulled the light chain hanging from the ceiling and the cupboard went dark. At least the electricity was still working, Wizwald thought sleepily.

When he awoke, his bowels were full. Wizwald looked around. There were cauldrons sitting on the ground. But the smell would be awful. He tried the door again, hoping that perhaps the dirt had receded in the night, but with no such luck. Finally he grabbed a cauldron, deciding he would have to deal with the smell, because his bowels could no longer stand it. As he hiked up his robes and crouched over, his eyes made contact with the caricatured hamster on the case of industrial grade feed. He suddenly felt awkward, for a ridiculous reason. He moved away from the drawing of the hamster, but there was no part of the cupboard where he was not exposed to the case of rodent food. Wherever he went, the cartoon hamster's eyes seemed to follow.

Finally Wizwald's bowels overpowered his humility. His face burned red with embarrassment as he looked over his shoulder at the picture of the hamster. This was silly, Wizwald thought to himself. It's just a picture.

Quickly the stench came so unbearable that Wizwald decided to mash up some ingredients to make a strong-smelling perfume, and magically turned the contents of the cauldron into lead. He settled himself down in front of the door with another book, this one slightly larger than the first, and prepared himself for a long day.

The only way Wizwald could tell time was by trusting his stomach and his eyes. As his belly growled, he figured it must be dinnertime. When his eyelids dropped, he deduced it to be nighttime. When he was not eating or sleeping or turning his excrement into minerals he read and pondered everything there was to ponder. He reflected on his life. It had been a good one, but if he ever got out he would really live life to the fullest. His only regret was that he would die alone.

As the days dragged on, Wizwald's loneliness grew. He longed to have a conversation with someone, anyone. He was beginning to question his own sanity, and certainly, the potion ingredients were not helping matters. Wizwald figured that when he stopped thinking he was crazy, that would be when he lost it.

Nearly a week had passed (a month by Wizwald's reckoning) when Wizwald finally flung his book, "Milking Magical Monsters," across the room in angry despair.

"What am I doing!" Wizwald cried to no one. "Alas! I'm doomed to rot here, alone, drowned in my own filth."

And it was true; Wizwald had not cleaned up since the morning of that fateful day, and had since grown a full beard and smelled awful. Wizwald wailed, and tears started falling down his cheeks. He looked at the hamster on the food bag.

"Stop looking at me like that!" He screamed at the picture. The hamster's printed expression did not move. "You don't understand! I can't take this any more!"

He locked his gaze with the hamster's.

"I can't stand it!" Wizwald screamed, his voicing cracking. "I can't! I'm so lonely, I'm so alone, and I'm going to die down here, all alone! Alone..."

Wizwald curled up into the fetal position and began rolling back and forth.

"I'm alone... you don't understand... I have noone... I need someone... anyone..."

Wizwald whimpered into silence. The picture of the hamster seemed to stare at him. Wizwald's head perked up slowly and looked at the drawing.

"Look at me," Wizwald said. "I'm no good. My whole life I've fed off the company of others. I have always been the life of the party. I could hardly go the morning without talking to someone. And here I am, trapped alone in my worst nightmare, with only death to look forward to. Death will be my only companion down here!"

Wizwald's eyes bore into the picture's.

"I guess I have you too," Wizwald said. "Yes, you're right."

Wizwald pulled himself back into an upright position, facing the hamster.

"I'm sorry I yelled at you, I really am," Wizwald said to the picture of the hamster. "I was just so afraid, so fearful, in this awful place. I spent my life here, I never thought I would die here."

The hamster smiled on the bag.

"I suppose you're right," Wizwald said. "It's really not that bad down here. At least I have you."

The bag did not stir.

"I'm glad we're friends, too," Wizwald said fondly. "It's so wonderful to talk to you."

Wizwald smiled at the bag. He stood up and picked up his book. He sat down beside the hamster food, saying, "You know, this is a very interesting read. I've never been one for reading, but in my free time I've sort of picked it up as a hobby."

The cartoon hamster seemed to listen to Wizwald intently.

"It's about the proper harvesting techniques for magical creatures. It turns out milking a unicorn is far more difficult than you would think. Would you like me to read you some?"

The bag did not stir.

"Oh, it would be my pleasure," Wizwald grinned. "I'm on chapter four, 'Bridling Your Basilisk.'"

Wizwald read to his newfound friend all through the day, stopping only to eat from ingredient stock and, with a polite, "Do you mind," in the food bag's direction, the occasional bathroom break. Finally Wizwald found his eyes drooping and decided it was time for sleep.

"Goodnight, my new friend," Wizwald said to the hamster on the food bag. He smiled and set his head down upon the huge sack, saying, "You know, I really appreciate your company. Without you, I probably would go insane down here."

Wizwald awoke to what he could only assume to be a new day. His beard had grown down to his knees in the weeks that had passed since he had ignited the jollyweed. A huge pile of lead sat in the far corner. He nudged the bag beside him.

"Rise and shine, Hammy," he said. The cartoon hamster waved his paw at him. "It's breakfast time, my friend."

Wizwald stood up and examined the shelves, on the hunt for food. The shelves were nearly empty, with only deadly plants taking up the shelf space. Wizwald's lip trembled as he grabbed the last of the aloe vera leaves. There was not enough food here to last another week. Wizwald sat back down across from the hamster food, munching on the leaves unhappily.

"Oh, it's nothing," Wizwald said to Hammy. "I'm just concerned about the food stores. They're running low. It's worrisome."

He looked at the hamster.

"No, of course you wouldn't understand," Wizwald said bitterly. "You never eat anything. I've been stuck down here for weeks with nothing but disgusting plants to eat. What I wouldn't give for some good meat..."

Wizwald shot a glare at Hammy. The hamster's expression seemed to say, "You can do it!"

"This is awful. I don't understand how vegetarians can stand it. They're crazier than I am."

Wizwald laughed at Hammy.

"You're right, you're absolutely right. That is a great way to describe vegetarians."

Wizwald sat down, resting his back on the bookshelf.

"What I wouldn't give for a good roast pig…" he sighed. "Or even a bit of sausage. I just want to be out of this forsaken cupboard, out where the meat is. And all my old friends. And Marie Pepper.

Wizwald laughed to Hammy. "Oh, she's just a woman," he answered the hamster. "We've been neighbors maybe a dozen years now. She has the most beautiful blonde hair. They go perfect with her blue eyes."

"Oh, what I wouldn't give to see those blue eyes again."

Hammy seemed to stare at Wizwald intently.

"Ha! Of course I've never asked her on a date," Wizwald replied. "Are you crazy? I'm sure she wouldn't say yes!"

Wizwald snorted.

"Alright, fine, if I ever get out of here, I promise I will ask her out."

Suddenly the light bulb in the ceiling snapped, and the entire store room went dark. Wizwald screamed, "Hammy!" as sparks fell from the faulty light socket, and small flames spat from it. In the darkness Wizwald fell into the bookshelf, knocking it over and causing a huge crash. When he found his bearing Wizwald fumbled for his wand, muttering,

"For all the is good and happy and bright,

Bring me relief, peace of mind and a light!"

His wand lit the room, emitting a strong beam of light. There, where he had always been, sat Hammy in the corner beside the door. Wizwald crawled furiously on his hands and knees and threw his arms around the bag.

"Oh Hammy, you're alright! Everything is alright! It was just the light bulb!"

He held the hamster tightly for a long time.

"I was so worried about you, so many things were going through my head," he confessed to Hammy. He laughed.

"I know, I know. I was a bit paranoid. But I couldn't bear the thought of losing you."

Professor Wizwald did not let go of Hammy until he fell asleep again, laying his head on the hamster and shutting his eyes.

Three or four (days, weeks, who knows) later, Wizwald awoke to a rumbling stomach. He lifted his head off Hammy, whom he had fallen asleep on again. He took the book that sat on his chest and set it aside, and stood up. Wizwald's heart fell. There was nothing left. The only ingredients in the shelves were extremely deadly or poisonous.

Wizwald sat down, crestfallen and weak. He had not had protein in far too long. His muscles were flimsy and useless. Hammy looked at Wizwald with concern.

"I'm all out of food, Hammy," Wizwald said, hapless. "All I have left are the poisonous ingredients and a few scraps. Oh, and the jollyweed," Wizwald added resentfully.

"You will make it, I believe in you," Hammy seemed to say.

"No!" Wizwald exclaimed. "You don't understand! I need food to survive! I'm not like you, just a hamster full of food!"

Wizwald poked Hammy's belly with frustration. It crunched at Wizwald's touch. Wizwald and Hammy both fell silent as Wizwald stared at Hammy. Finally he realized he still had 500 pounds of good food left. But it was inside of Hammy.

"Hammy..." Wizwald started. "...I still have you."

Thinking of all the ingredients in a hamster's diet brought drool to Wizwald's mouth. Dried fruits, vegetable, nuts, grains... it was a meal in itself. And it would last Wizwald a long time.

"Did you realize... just how much... you were hoarding from me?" Wizwald said, his voicing breaking in anger. "Hammy, can you not understand, I need food, I cannot live without it, and here you are, hiding a month's supply from me!"

Wizwald's growl had turned to a scream as he finished his accusation. He clenched either side of Hammy, squeezing him in anger. Wizwald felt hurt, distressed, upset beyond description. Tears sprang to his eyes again.

"Why would you do that to me? Why would you hide food from me?"

And in Hammy's eyes, Wizwald realized the answer to his own question.

"Because," they said. "To get to the food, you have to go through me."

Wizwald sat back in silence. Here was an almost unlimited supply of food, wonderful fruit and protein, inside of Hammy. Wizwald and Hammy both knew that in order for Wizwald to get to the food, he would have to destroy Hammy.

"Hammy... what do I do?" Wizwald said, feeling so very lost.

"The choice is yours, and yours alone. I have been your friend all these long weeks, I have kept you company, kept you happy. I can do nothing if you should decide to destroy me. You could tear me open, gain all that delicious food... but you would lose me. Tell me, friend, will you die alone, months from now, your last thoughts those of regret? Or can we die together?"

Wizwald curled up in the far corner of the ingredient cupboard, far away from Hammy. Tears filled his eyes. This was not fair; there was no way to win. He could hardly up and kill his dearest and only friend; the very thought was repulsive in every way. Hammy was as much a part of him as his long, dirty beard. Was it worth starving to death in the company of his beloved friend? It sounded like a death he could live with.

Wizwald slowly walked back to Hammy and knelt in front of him, wrapping his arms as far as he could around the huge hamster.

"You're worth more to me than all the food in the world," Wizwald said, his voice cracking. And he sat there, his arm around Hammy, his stomach rumbling furiously.

As starvation ate away at him more and more, Wizwald found himself venturing tiny bits of the poisonous plants. With a small nibble of some nightshade, he was soon convulsing, his head aching horribly. He set the plant down and took a drink from the sink at the side of the room to wet his dry mouth, but to no avail. He sat down, and, picking up his latest book, "Advanced Alchemy and You," he found his vision failing him.

"The nightshade..." he said to Hammy. "It's... uh... it's not good for you..."

Wizwald trailed off as Hammy hopped from the bag of hamster feed and crawled up his leg. Wizwald giggled, his head wobbling from one side to the other.

"Hammy!" He said happily. "You decided to join the party!"

He laughed as Hammy did a jig upon his knee, and began singing selections from Mozart's "Le Nozze di Figaro."

For a moment Wizwald went blind and then began convulsing again, shaking uncontrollably, losing what little was left of his mind. His bowels began to scream as he realized he was constipated. Soon the pain of the nightshade caused him to cry out.

"Hammy! Hammy, please, help me!"

Hammy did not move from his spot on the bag.

"Hammy, I don't know what to do! I can't stand it! I can't take it any more!"

His fit went on for hours. Finally, he lay weak and broken, his robes soiled and the floor covered in vomit. He crawled back over to Hammy. He set his head weakly on the hamster.

"I never thought it would be this way..." Wizwald said sadly. "What a way to go..."

He set his eyes upon "Advanced Alchemy and You." He had dropped it in his convulsions and it had fallen open to the table of contents. There, in bold letters, Wizwald saw the words, "Teleportation Potion."

Ah, yes, the teleportation potion. One of the most powerful and dangerous potions to make, the mixture could teleport the user to another location. It was an extremely advanced potion, not only because of its complicated procedure but because nearly every ingredient required was extremely deadly. It had long since gone from Wizwald's mind because one of the two main ingredients was banned from any and all use in the classroom. The other main ingredient was a common, household ingredient, but the key ingredient was highly illegal. It was in the back of Wizwald's mind. In his desperation he tried to recall what the ingredient was.

He reached his hand out to the book, touching its pages, as if it help his memory. Then suddenly Wizwald remembered what it was he had forgotten. The main ingredient in the Teleportation Potion was jollyweed.

Wizwald looked up as if by instinct. There, in the back corner, still sitting on the shelf, was the bag of jollyweed he had put there so long ago. The sight brought a surge of strength and will back in to him, and his memory was returning as he grabbed a cauldron and filled it with water from the sink. He started a fire on the ground with a flick of his wand. Everything was here to brew the potion; each ingredient was popping back in to his head. Hammy watched silently as Wizwald snatched the ingredients.

Wizwald grabbed a pestle and mortar from the top shelf and began following the directions as they popped into his head. He did not even need the potions book as his weary tired muscles did what they had been doing for years and years. He even remembered way back from when he had first learned to make the teleportation potion, back when jollyweed was legal. He even remembered the half a sprig of red clover that was essential to the potion. He stirred the mixture with his wand, and was ready to add the final ingredient, the other main ingredient, an ingredient of utmost importance to the potion. Without it, the potion would never work. With it, Wizwald could be free, out in the open, above ground once again.

Wizwald remembered with a sick twist in his stomach that came more from his realization than the nightshade. The final ingredient was industrial grade hamster food. Wizald's bushy eyebrows crushed together in this sick epiphany. He consulted "Advanced Alchemy and You," flipping to the page on the teleportation potion. There it was, in thick black ink letters.

2 ½ cups of industrial grade hamster food.

That was it. One step away from freedom. Wizwald looked at Hammy. There was 500 pounds of hamster food sitting before him, and he only needed two and a half cups of it. Hammy looked at him pleadingly. Wizwald looked from Hammy to his brewing potion, then back to Hammy. This potion was his key to freedom. Wizwald wanted to leave. He needed to leave. Hammy was as permanent a fixture to the cupboard as the rusty sink on the wall. He had never wanted to leave, and he never could have even if he wanted to. All he needed was two and a half cups.

"Hammy..." Wizwald squeaked. Tears welled up in his eyes.

"Go ahead," Hammy seemed to say. "After all, I am just a picture."

Wizwald began to cry. He lifted his wand. He could hardly speak, his sobs were coming so fast and so hard.

"I cast this spell with naught but remorse, with no glee.

With the selfish hope of catching fresh air in my breath.

And so with a slash, let what is inside run free

And finish this spell of my dearest friend's death."

Hammy split in two, sliced down the belly, and exploded open and hamster feed spilled across the floor. Wizwald screamed to nobody and snapped his wand. He threw himself down on his hands and knees, slamming the ground with closed fists. He wailed and threw his arms down and cursed every god that came to mind. He slammed his head against the stone floor and pulled at his hair, tearing out bunches at a time. He took handfuls of the cursed hamster food and threw it across the cupboard at the old wooden door. The food still spilled onto the floor. Wizwald viciously slashed at it with his hands as the full weight of what he had done settled upon his shoulders like a vicious, mocking bird.

When he was found no energy left to with which to curse himself, he fell upon the ground. He cried long until his eyes were dry and red, and he moaned and wept, his open mouth leaving a puddle of drool on the ground. He took a handful of hamster food in his palm and crushed it. He lay for a long time.

Wizwald felt the hamster food between his fingers. It was what Hammy would have wanted. He grabbed a measuring cup off the floor and filled it to the top. He poured it in the cauldron. It bubbled as he filled the cup a second time. He poured the second cup meticulously into the bubbling pot. He filled the cup halfway and let the hamster mix fall into the potion. It slowly stopped bubbling and turned a peaceful orange. Orange as Hammy's fur.

Wizwald took the pot and drank the entire mixture. He felt a strange sensation first in his stomach, then his legs and the rest of his limbs followed. Then he felt immense pain and he doubled over and shut his eyes tight. He fell down and felt the dry grass crunch beneath him.

Grass. He opened his eyes. He lay in a grassy field. The sun was shining brightly, and there were cows grazing. The air smelled fresh and warm. The sweet perfume of flower wafted into his nose, and the birds tweeted their carefree songs of trivial delights. Wizwald stood up. White clouds hung in the sky, fluffy and bright in the sea of blue. The horizon disappeared beyond green hills in the distance. Before him he saw the small wizarding community of Trunipville.

Wizwald stumbled into town, filled to bursting with relief and joy. Tripping over his beard, he moved from street to street, hugging each man, woman, child, and mailbox he came across. Finally he reached his own house.

It stood, as it had the morning of that fateful day so many weeks ago, tall and weathered. The dark purple paint was beginning to peel off, and pieces of junk lay in the yard here and there. It was truly a sight for sore eyes.

Wizwald ran to the front door and flung it open. He peered into his own living room. There was something about it that did not seem welcoming. He did not want to enter. The room looked far too cramped. He scrunched his eyebrows together, mentally and physically refusing cross the threshold into the confining room. He would stay out in the open, in the wide spaces, where the sun shone and the wind blew. So instead he dropped in his yard, forgetting his hunger and weakness and illness and disgusting state of body and felt the grass between his fingers and on his face.

Finally he stood up. He was famished, and filthy. He tried again to enter his house, but there was something about it that scared him off. So instead he stripped off his clothes in the front yard and began washing himself down with the hose. The water felt good, removing the filth and grime from his body. He cleaned his face, scrubbing at it rigorously, and when be brought his hands down from in front of his face he saw Marrie Peppers standing in her yard at the white picket fence, those blue eyes gleaming at him.

His heart leapt. Wizwald ran to her and she flung the gate open and embraced him. He held her a long time, and when he let go she took off her jacket and wrapped it around his waist for modesty. Noticing Wizwald's pronounced ribs, Marie coaxed him after a long while back into his house, where he dressed and she made him a huge, scrumptious meal, and made him a vial of warm green stuff for the toxins inside his body.

By this time word of Wizwald's return had spread all throughout the town, and his friends flocked to see him for themselves. He greeted them, hugged them, kissed them, and they listened to him as he recounted all that had happened to him in the past few weeks. He left out the bag of hamster food in his stories. All the while Marie sat at his side, and they laughed and talked and smiled. Soon night had fallen, and Wizwald stared at the moon for the first time in nearly three weeks. His guests talked and mingled, and a few sat beside him with chairs. Finally Marie stood up, yawning.

"I will be back," she said to Wizwald. "I'm going to my house to grab a pillow and blanket so I can stay with you."

Wizwald nodded her off happily. He sighed, his heart pounding with inexpressible joy. His belly was full, his body was clean, and his headache was gone. Thanks to Marie.

"Isn't she great, Hammy?" Wizwald asked aloud. Nobody answered him. Wizwald looked around at his guests. A longing stabbed at his heart. Here he was, among friends and neighbors, lonely and alone.