The humid July air clung to Brad's fur, which gathered dust wherever it brushed. It was clumped with a patchwork of tan and insomniatic black, giving him the general appearance of a burnt fried chicken wing. He dragged himself exhaustedly to corner 3, where school was to be held. He drudged through lint, soil, and soot, gathering an earth-toned parka on top of his little body, already moist with sweat.

Finally, he looked up from his exhausted stepping to see the school area in front of him, where the rest of his class was already seated methodically in rows according to age, including his siblings. His new teacher as of yesterdaun, Priest Valens, turned around to stare at him intimidatingly as he walked in. The other mice were hot too, but none of them looked as bad as he did. "You're in the wrong class," one student informed him, chuckling squeakily.

"What?" asked Dane, squinting. His little once-pink nose wrinkled into a tiny raisin.

The mouse smirked. "The black class is in corner four," he said, pausing for the laughter of the rest of the mice, which came readily and strong. The whole class squeaked, and Priest Valens purred with amusement.

Even through his second pelt of dust, the class could see his flesh turn the pink of Susannah's bedspread.

"Well, that's a color I've never seen a mouse in before. Red? Why, I'd say you need a class of your own," mocked Valens.

The mouse who had started the joke stared into Dane's eyes. "The stupid class," he declared.

Dane tucked his long, now bright red tail between his legs and scrambled as quietly and unobtrusively as he could muster, while simultaneously stumbling on four different grooves in the floor along the way. He put his head in his paws, aware of the eyes of the entire class adorning him, another layer to his strange coat of embarrassment.

He shrunk into a ball in the corner, somewhat semblant of the human concept of the fetal position. He felt his validation of purpose and life desiccate in conjunction with the gentle lonely shrivel of his body.

"Well, we were going to discuss the secondary qualifications that the male eleven-mauns among you will need to receive from Priest Leo in the coming maun to become a modmouse, but, considering, eh, Dane's present condition, we'll discuss the hierarchy of races."

Dane, the accidental Jim Crowe, withered even more.

"Brad, Dane's superior brother, tell us the order of species from highest to lowest," Priest Valens said. He was beginning to return to his groove of teaching.

"Man, the supreme being above all else, followed by feline, then white mouse, and lastly, lowest," he sneered at his brother, "black mice."

Valens nodded at the obedient little mouse, swallowing the temptation to be lead astray from his farming by the thought of obedient prey. "Now, who can tell me why this is?"

Any raised her hand. "What's your name, kit?" Valens asked fondly, nodding her way.

Any opened her mouth, but only a tiny, unintelligible squeak came out. She blushed cutely.

Valens turned to another mouse. "That's the order of moral and intel– intellectual sur-premacy among beings," said the little pipsqueak, stumbling on the multisyllabic memorized words.

"Yes. Correct. And how does a mouse attain salvation from his imperfect form?"

"Live to thirty six mauns?" suggested Fil, only half sarcastically.

Valens gave him a predatory look. "Does it require anything other than basic survival?" he directed.

Fil stared back defiantly. "Nope. Not as far as I know."

Little Jak piped in, wanting to back up his brother. "Not as far as we know," he imitated.

Valens turned to Brad. "It requires living to the best of your abilities within the confines of your race and occupation," the mouse repeated obediently.

Valens looked out across the crowd of mice. "We'll break for a half laun. Meet me back here then, and don't come late or dirty," he directed at Dane.

Ego shattered, without speaking to any of his classmates, he rushed to the large Central Air Conditioner which was blasting the heat from the upstairs into the already warm basement. He slipped his paw beneath it and felt for a drip of condensation to envelop it. When the cool relief came, he began frantically scrubbing his body with his paw, trying to remove all traces of his morning from his fur.

In time, he succeeded, however, the expression of solitude and dejection couldn't be wiped from his face with equal ease.

The End

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