Cheesed Off (or, Who Moved My Cheese? The Saga Continues)
This is for all those who found Who Moved My Cheese?, Spencer Johnson’s famous book on coping with change, a trifle too optimistic. While not all change is terrible, it doesn’t follow that all change is wonderful. Anyway, if you found the characters insufferably smug and one-sided, or if you like your cheese with a dash of the sinister, read on. The story picks up at the end of the original book, as Haw and the two mice await the arrival of Hem–or so they think….
Unbeknownst to Haw and his friends, Hem had already moved from Cheese Station C. At first he, too, found it rough going. But he was encouraged by the signs and marks left by his friend. And, like Haw, he occasionally found pieces of Cheese to sustain him along the way.
One day, after a moderately successful day of hunting Cheese, he came across an unexpected patch of New Cheese. Not only was it fresh, but there was something different about its presentation, too. Instead of being stuffed into the cracks and crevices of the Maze or hidden behind a blind corner, or even piled high in the middle of the floor as it was in the Cheese Stations, this Cheese was situated on the end of a metal rod suspended over a small wooden platform. Further wire ran around half of the wooden platform. The very center of the platform (the cheese was slightly off-center) was occupied by some sort of spring. There wasn’t very much Cheese there, but it did look tasty.
In spite of his lesson on change and chasing the cheese, Hem was still suspicious. He had never seen a contraption like this, and he was instinctively worried. But just that afternoon he had passed a sign left by Haw that said in bold letters:
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
“That’s easy,” he said to himself. “I’d take the cheese. Perhaps this is a Change, and all new Cheese will arrive like this. I’d better get used to it.”
He looked again at the complicated-looking contraption in the middle of the platform, wondering what it meant. Then he remembered what Haw had said about the dangers of overanalyzing things. He remembered another sign left by Haw:
When you move beyond your fear, you feel free.
“Have I learned my lesson or not?” he asked. “It’s time to move beyond my fear!” He stretched out toward the dangling cheese….
As it turned out, the sound of the footsteps that Haw and Scurry and Sniff heard did not come from Hem after all. A moment or two passed, and the footsteps resolved themselves into the form of Ahem, the Maze Crier. At the moment it certainly looked like he had something to cry about. His normally cheerful (if slightly pompous) features looked pale and frightened. Haw asked him what was the matter.
“It’s Hem,” Ahem gasped. “He’s dead!”
The others stared at him in consternation. “Oh, no!” said Haw. “Don’t tell me he starved to death waiting for New Cheese at Cheese Station C after all!”
“No, not at all,” Ahem said. “I passed him the other day and he was even wearing his running shoes. He said he was glad he had finally moved on from Cheese Station C.”
“Then what happened?”
Ahem told Haw that Hem had been found pinched between a wooden platform and a metal loop that had apparently broken his neck. A piece of New Cheese was found in his hand.
“At least he died in pursuit of the Cheese,” Ahem said.
“The pursuit of the Cheese,” Haw repeated, nodding reverently. “You can’t ask for more than that.”
After a moment of respectful silence, Sniff and Scurry (whose instincts, after all, were still good as far as they went) resumed eating. Ahem ran off to find other people to tell (for that is how he found his Cheese).
Haw stood a while looking after him, lamenting the loss of his friend and wondering whether he himself had erred, understating the risk. It seemed there really were things to be afraid of out in the Maze. Could it be that an instinctive pursuit of the Cheese might not be enough to protect one from catastrophe? Was there some way to avoid falling into obvious traps? He shivered, wondering if there might be some use for Thinking and the dreaded Analysis after all.
Finally he turned around and began writing an epitaph for Hem. He even surrounded it with a drawing of the Cheese Hem died chasing. The epitaph read simply:
Oversimplification can sometimes be as fatal as Overanalysis.
As time went by, the cheese at Cheese Station N began to dwindle. However, Sniff and Scurry and Haw were ready for the event. Even before the cheese was completely gone, they ventured out again into the Maze to search for more. After all, they reasoned, it would be better to go looking while they still had a reserve than to have to search on entirely empty stomachs.
So off they went. Personally, Haw was almost happy to leave Cheese Station N. Despite the shrinking volume of cheese present, he was beginning to feel very cramped there. Or perhaps he was just feeling cramps. At any rate, eating cheese just didn’t bring as much satisfaction as it used to. He didn’t mind leaving, all the same.
The first place they came to was a large, empty room. The far side of the room was partitioned off by a low wall to make an enormous, deep, and empty vat. In another part of the room there was an alcove with a bunch of controls and dials. Some of them were labeled things like “Milk Supply” or “Enzyme Supply.” Sniff and Scurry quickly realized that there was no cheese here, so they left the room in fairly short order, and almost collided with Ahem, who was just coming in.
“What’s this?” Ahem asked.
“Not cheese,” said Haw, shaking his head. “And yet…milk and enzymes…isn’t that what cheese is made of? Maybe this is where they make the cheese.”
Ahem snorted. “Don’t be silly. Why should we go through all the trouble of making cheese when there’s plenty already out there? All we have to do is go find it! Besides, didn’t you read my article on the economic effects of oversupply?”
Haw admitted that he hadn’t, on the grounds that he had been too busy pursuing cheese.
“Exactly,” Ahem insisted. “We’re supposed to be hunting cheese–so let’s go hunt some cheese!”
Haw reluctantly nodded and followed Ahem out of the room, but not before pausing to write up on one of the walls:
Instead of pursuing somebody else’s cheese, it might be better to make your own.
Haw decided he’d rather follow the mice than Ahem, so he set off in pursuit. He soon caught up with them; evidently they weren’t having much success. It occurred to all of them that there wasn’t as much cheese around as there once had been–the little deposits of cheese here and there were growing fewer and fewer. Finally Sniff gave an excited squeak and set out in a new direction. Realizing that he had finally gotten the scent of New Cheese, the others set off in pursuit.
Sniff led them to Cheese Station X. It was mostly empty, but in an alcove off to one side was an enormous pile of cheddar. Sniff went straight for it–and bounced off an invisible obstruction. Surprised, Sniff tried again, with the same result. Scurry tried to make a run at it, but he bounced off, too.
As the mice continued throwing themselves headlong against the problem, Haw tried to make a more careful study. There seemed to be a thick glass or plastic wall across the entrance to the alcove that went right up to the roof. At the very top of the wall there was a grouping of small holes that served as ventilation. Haw could see another set of holes in the ceiling that presumably pumped air into the room. “Hmm,” he said at last. “I don’t think we’re going to get in there–not unless we can find some sort of cutting gear, or a battering ram. I haven’t seen anything like that, but I guess we’ll have to start looking for that, too.”
He took out his pen and started writing on the wall:
Sometimes reaching our goals involves an intermediate step.
As he observed Sniff working himself up into a frenzy of desperation, he added:
Sometimes instinct gives us an overly simplistic view of the problem.
Some time later Sniff turned around and noticed that he was alone. How foolish, he thought, to leave now, just when the goal was in sight! If he could just get there; if he could just get through that barrier…. He shook his head, trying to clear away some of the stars that seemed to be crowding his field of vision. One more run ought to do it. He thought he’d heard something start to crack on his last run. He backed up against the far wall and started running, as hard as he could….
Haw and Scurry decided that before they did any more major searching, they’d make a return trip to Cheese Station N, which still contained their reserves of cheese–or so they thought. When they actually arrived, all it contained was a very contented-looking stranger.
“Who are you?” Haw demanded angrily.
“Not Who,” the stranger replied. “Hoom.”
“No, Hoom. That’s my name.”
“What’s your name?”
“No, my name is Hoom.”
“And whom am I addressing?”
Haw wondered if it was hunger that was making him dizzy, or something else. “That just sounds wrong. Anyway it doesn’t alter the fact that you ate all our cheese!”
“Your cheese?” Hoom echoed. “I didn’t see your name on it. Besides, perhaps you haven’t noticed, but there’s a general cheese shortage.”
“We know,” Haw said. “We were keeping this cheese in reserve.”
In the end, there was, of course, little they could do but accept the loss and set off again in search of New Cheese, which they did. Hoom told them that he would catch up with them later, as he didn’t dare run just yet. After all, he’d just had a very big meal.
So off they went through the maze. At Cheese Station W, they found a little bit of cheese which they ate quickly before setting off again. As they were eating, Ahem came in and nearly collapsed with relief.
“Is that it?” he asked breathlessly. “Is that the last piece of cheese?”
“The last one here,” Haw answered. “Surely there’s more out there somewhere.”
“Are you sure? Rumor in the maze is that there isn’t any more,” Ahem said. “I don’t suppose you have any reserves somewhere?”
Haw and Scurry exchanged glances. “Well, we did, but they’ve already been eaten by someone.”
Ahem went pale. “By whom?”
“Just never mind….” Haw offered some of what was left to Ahem, and the three of them finished it off greedily.
As they were finishing, they heard the sound of approaching footsteps and Hoom came in. “Who’s this?” Ahem asked.
“Hoom,” Haw answered.
Ahem frowned. “Are you sure it shouldn’t be ‘who’?”
“Never mind the grammar,” said Hoom. “I think I’ve found a new source of cheese.”
That, of course, got their attention. “Where?” said Haw and Ahem simultaneously.
“This way,” Hoom said. He led the way out of Cheese Station W and through the maze. “There it is,” he said eventually, and pointed down the hallway. Sure enough, there was a respectable stack of cheddar in a large room.
“Dibs,” Ahem called.
“I think there’s enough for all of us,” Haw said, but Ahem was already taking off down the hallway. He didn’t get very far, though, before he jumped convulsively with a terrified yell. The smell of something electrical wafted down the hall toward them, followed in short order by Ahem himself.
“What happened?” asked Haw and Hoom in astonishment.
“I don’t know,” whispered Ahem in a shocked tone of voice. He took a deep breath. “I’m going to have another try.”
He tried again, getting about halfway down the hall before returning back to where the others were standing.
“Something’s wrong here,” said Haw wisely.
“One more time,” Ahem said, panting. “I think I’m almost there.”
He tried one more time, getting a little further. It was no use, though. By the time he got back to the others, his clothes had visible scorch marks, and he was smoking slightly. “You know,” he said, “suddenly I don’t feel like cheese anymore.”
“There’s probably more cheese somewhere,” said Hoom encouragingly.
Ahem shook his head. “I don’t care. I don’t want anymore cheese!” He took off down the hallway in the opposite direction.
“But cheese is all we’ve got,” Haw protested to the retreating figure. But Ahem gave no notice.
“And we haven’t got much of that, either,” Hoom pointed out.
Haw sighed and decided it was time to make a change. He briefly told Hoom about finding the cheese factory. “It’s time we took a more active role in things.”
“You had to mention rolls,” Hoom complained over the noise of his growling stomach.
“So are you coming with me back to the factory?”
Hoom shook his head. “I think I’d rather keep looking. I’m sure something must be out there.”
Haw shrugged and started off toward the cheese factory, pausing only to glance back at the protected cheese and write on the wall:
A reward deferred too long makes people stop trying.
Hoom and Scurry resumed their search for more cheese. At length both of them were getting hungry. Finally they came across Cheese Station Y, where they found an enormous supply of–well, it looked like cheese, and kind of smelled like cheese, but not like any cheese they’d ever encountered.
“That was quick of what’s-his-name,” said Hoom, “getting cheese production up and running again. Pity he couldn’t get the formula right.”
Scurry took a sniff and wrinkled his nose. He tasted it and wrinkled his nose even further.
“Well, I guess that means it’s edible,” Hoom said, “more or less.” He took some and played with it in his fingers. “The consistency isn’t like cheese at all,” he observed, taking a little nibble. “It’s more like tofu. Oh, wait a minute: I’m deadly allergic to soy prod–”
Haw found the cheese factory exactly as he left it. Soon he’d have production started and be pumping out more cheese than he could possibly eat. He reflected that at the moment that probably wouldn’t be a particularly tall order. As hungry as he was, he didn’t feel much like cheese: the last few samples he had had had upset his stomach terribly. He remembered long ago, before he’d found himself in the maze, his doctor had warned him that he might be susceptible to lactose intolerance. Still, as he had pointed out to Ahem, cheese really was all they had. He read up on how to run the equipment and threw the switch to start the milk flowing into the vats. Then he went out to the side of the vat to see what would happen.
The vat itself was about nine feet deep, and the milk was rising rapidly. Clearly he’d be making a lot of cheese.
Without warning he found himself cramping up again. He leaned heavily on the side of the vat, then decided he’d be more comfortable sitting on the edge. It was a fairly wide edge, so there wouldn’t be any danger of slipping in. The cramps would pass soon. He stretched himself out into a lying position along the edge. After all, he wanted to keep an eye out and see when he needed to get up and turn the milk off.
He glanced downward. It was still rising, but it was hard to say how deep it was, or how quickly it was rising–opaque liquids have that property. He had to admit that staring at the milk made him a little dizzy. Or perhaps it was the lactose intolerance. He put out an arm to steady himself and discovered that the edge was narrower than he supposed….
As the milk engulfed him, he knew that he mustn’t let any get in his mouth. If he really were lactose intolerant, he’d hate to cramp up now.
Scurry had left Cheese Station Y in a blind panic. Evidently Hoom didn’t carry epinephrine about his person, even if Scurry had known how to use it. Nor had his attempts at mouse to mouth resuscitation been effective. Instinct told him to run, so he ran.
He thought he was heading for Haw and the cheese factory, but evidently he’d taken a wrong turn: this part of the maze was completely unfamiliar. He passed an alcove, then came back for another look. Was that really a piece of cheese inside? He moved a paw into the alcove. No physical barriers–that was good, wasn’t it? He felt the floor. It wasn’t electrified. That, too, was good.
He moved into the alcove and sniffed the cheese-like object. It certainly smelled like cheese. He inhaled lovingly and prepared to sink his teeth into it.
Suddenly the door to the hallway closed, trapping him inside. He jumped away from the cheese and sprang at the door, but to no avail. It was shut tight. To his lasting horror, he saw the ceiling swing open and a giant, white-gloved hand reach in toward him. A giant voice was saying something about an experiment which had finally come to
Copyright 2006; intro copyright 2011.