"Well, that's it. The food's all gone," my master said. "Within the week, we'll be dead mice, and the few remaining here will probably resort to cannibalism. It's a pathetic, sorry, fate. We deserved better."
The high council sat around him. Everyone looked sad. No one liked what he had said, mostly because it was true. I was there to speak to him. The meeting was over with another scheduled in eight hours to see if anyone had any bright ideas, and everyone shuffled away. Knights carried the king away on a platform. I could tell BJ hated that, but he couldn't walk. He might never walk again. Then my master would have to be king, and he doesn't want to.
"Master?" I said.
His head hung down, depressed. "Yes, Squib?"
"Master I had a dream," I said quietly.
"You have them all the time," he said. He sounded tired.
"I had a good one."
He perked up. "Really?" He scooted in close to me. "Do tell."
I told him about the dream with the underworld.
"Your idea of good is kinda strange, Squib, but okay, if you say that's good, then it probably is."
"But it means Nemo's soul isn't trapped anymore," I said.
"You think it was trapped?" he asked. "By the black mouse?"
I nodded rapidly. "Yeah."
"Well, if that was so, and you freed him, that's very good. How sure are you that this wasn't just a... a dream?"
I shook my head vehemently. "No, no...it was all real-like and I saw everything in perfect focus. I knew I was dreaming the entire time. In the other dreams, the bad ones, I never know I'm dreaming. That's what makes them so scary."
"But Nemo's still in a coma," my master said.
"Yeah," I said, looking back at the room. "I don't know why. He shoulda woke up."
He put his paw on me reassuringly. "Keep up the good work, Squib. I knew you'd come up with something to help. You're gonna have to be my muse now that your momma's gone."
"Muse?" I asked, cocking my head.
"Yeah, my inspiration. Every genius has a muse. An angel that inspires them to do their holy work. It's Greek," he said, smiling.
"Like Orpheus!" I chirped.
"Yes, you remember. Like Orpheus."
"Poor guy," I said. "I owe that dude."
My master made a confused face, but he was used to my weirdness. He chuckled.
"I can't be your muse, master. You're mine!" I exclaimed.
"We can be each others', okay?" he said. "I need one now."
"I'm not a very good one," I said, looking down. He grabbed my hairy chin and snapped my head back up to look at him. His tail rattled.
"You don't think like that!" he said. "You're a knight, Squibble, a Mouse Knight. You're worth a billion dollars - a thousand lives - ten tons of millet. You're unique, and there isn't another Squibble in the whole world. I cannot replace you. You're my best friend."
My eyes watered. Love for my wonderful master welled up inside me, covering all the pain, confusion, and garbage that stopped me from remembering what he said was true.
"Thank you master," I whispered.
He let go of my chin. "Don't you forget it, Sir," he said, and snaffed for emphasis. I grinned. "Besides, the word muse - notice how mouselike it is. In Greek it's mousa."
"No way!" I said, perking my ears in the heard something fashion.
"Way," he went on, "While the word mouse itself came from mus, which is muse without the e at the end. So there. You've got the job, buddy."
"He he he...Buddy!" I echoed. We giggled together.
And the doorbell rang.
Suddenly my master was all business.
"DOOR!" he bellowed. Mice erupted from everywhere, running for the door. We had practiced for this. Our chance to get help, even if it meant exposing us.
Everyone ran for the front door. Barreling out the mouse entrance, we found the door guard squashed flat. Armor and all, squished like a grape. It was disgusting. The next thing we saw was the delivery guy from the post office walking back toward his car. He probably didn't ever know he had killed the door guard, who was supposed to perform crazy antics to hold his attention long enough for us to get there and give him a message for help. The door guard had been a faithful knight. Now he was gone, and his death had been a horrible one under the shoe of an unsuspecting human.
For some reason, One-Ear was in our group. He had a weapon in hand. He smiled at me and waved. I guess he was trying to redeem himself by participating in a dangerous mission. Good way to do it.
Mice riding on rats jumped the stairs and pursued the postman, but he was already getting in his car. From all around us the enemy popped up - hundreds of them. We were too far from the stairs and not far enough to the postman. His car started.
"Retreat!" my master yelled. "To arms!"
I spun to see a gopher snake coiling to strike at me. Insane zombie mice were everywhere. I was pulling my slingshot but wasn't going to get a chance to use it. My master had his back to me. There were about fifty of us, surrounded by hundreds of them - and they had snakes.
The gopher snake struck as I was reaching for a BB in my pocket to load my trusty slingshot. I wasn't going to make it. I wasn't wearing armor. It was my end, and as it happened, I thought to myself, this kinda sucks.
Then something spinning in left circles caught me and whisked me out of the snake's path. At the same time, Artemis and Aphrodite, the rat daughters of Michael, zoomed by and grabbed my master and several other mice. The snake hit no one, and we beat a hasty retreat back to the door, fighting every step of the way.
The fight was bitter. We lost ten mice and twenty more were wounded. The enemy had been waiting for us to come out just like that. When we got to the door, we saw something that made our adrenaline shoot through our systems like lightning.
Against the door was a huge package - a fifty pound bag of mouse food. The good stuff. Leaning against the door with our address on it. My dream flashed into my head - the first one I had written down, with magnificent man and the dark man. Mike had sent this food to us. He had known we'd need it!
The enemy knew it too!
I turned to look at my master, desperate. He was already looking at me with the same expression on his face.
"Stand your ground!" he cried. "Hail the house!" he shrieked through the door. "Send everything we've got! Send it all! We have to hold the porch! Send everyone!"
From inside I head BJ bellow commands. Archers from the roof began pelting the enemy with arrows and stones. Soldiers blasted out the mouse entrance while the rats ran back inside to get the door open.
The enemy assaulted us with fearless fury. They threw themselves upon our blades, hoping to overwhelm us by sheer numbers and weight. It would have worked, but for my master's genius. He ordered shield mice to the front, pikes behind those, and swords to the flanks. Archers behind us all, over the enemy beyond the porch, and to each side as well. The enemy fell in huge numbers. As I fired and fired my slingshot I looked for the black mouse. I was saving my last BB for him.
He didn't show, and soon I was out of ammo. Scratchy handed me a sword (if it hadn't been for that little midget, I'd have had no weapon at all then, plus I'd be dead), and took my side for the fight. We advanced when my master said forward, and stepped back when he said fall back. We held the line for minutes while the amazing rats worked the door and finally got it open.
The giant bag of food fell into the house, narrowly missing rodents as it crashed to the ground. The enemy, seeing the great portal open at last, redoubled their efforts and began to die in great numbers. Unfortunately, so were we, and starved as we were, we were no match for them. Our side was tiring quickly for lack of sustenance, while they needed none. We were losing people right and left. The front line of Knights were taking terrible beatings. I heard the constant snap of plastic swords and the cracking of armor. Fur and teeth were everywhere. I slapped a rabid mouse off Scratchy's hide and lunged, running another one through. Moving as fast as I possibly could, I would only hold out another minute. My master was visibly slowing. We'd never get that bag of food into the house, and now it was blocking the door. Hundreds of rodents pushed and shoved at it...there was no way. Laying flat like it was, no amount of rodents would ever be able to budge it. Game over.
"Use the force, Squibble," came a voice in my head. My ears went straight up as if a huge exclamation point just appeared over my head.
I slashed at another zombie. "Whozzat!" I demanded. My master spared me a confused glance before returning to his dirty work.
"Squibble, do you trust me now?" the voice said. It sounded familiar. It sounded like Nemo.
"Yeah. Okay," I said, cutting over and over.
"Relax," the voice instructed.
"Ummm...No thanks," I said. "Busy killing horrible zombies."
"You have to if you want that food, Squibble."
"Oh, pee on that!" I exclaimed.
"Are you hit?" my master yelled over the battle din.
"No, master, just insane," I cried back.
"Okay," he said, and cut the legs out from under a zombie chewing on his armor.
"Do it, Squibble. Relax completely," the voice said.
"Even relaxed I don't have enough power to move that bag," I told it.
"I do," came the reply.
I looked down at Scratchy. He looked up.
"Boy, can you defend us both for a short time?" I asked.
He nodded his head so fast it was a blur.
I handed him my sword and went limp.
And the next thing I remember, we were inside, and the door was closed. Everyone was looking at me as if I'd grown a second head.
"Eh?" I mumbled.
"Squibble," my master said. "That was amazing." The look on his face was strange. Other mice were hauling bodies and wounded to the back of the house. But the knights - the vanguard of our defense, sat there staring at me as if I were on fire. Not one of them blinked.
I felt fuzzy. (In the head, not the fur, okay?) I sat up, not realizing I had been lying down, and rubbed my head. "Whahappened?" I said.
"You mean you don't know? You don't remember?" my master asked.
I shook my head. I saw mice carrying Scratchy's body off on a palette of cardboard. Right next to him on another palette was the crushed body of the door guard. Panicking, I leapt up and raced over. His eyes were open, though he was covered in blood. His armor was in tatters. Shards of broken swords lay all about him. And he still had the presence of mind to wink at me and hold a finger up like a thumb. He grinned. I smiled back.
"Well done, Squire!" I chirped.
He squiggled in delight and then chirped in pain. I put my paw on his head as they took him away.
"He'll live," said a medic mouse. Yeah. We have medic mice. "He's going to be a long time healing though."
I waved goodbye to my faithful squire, and turned finally to see everyone still staring at me as if I had ten tails.
"What!" I yelled, holding up my arms (that was a mistake; they were as sore as could be).
My master limped up to me. He was pretty bad off, too. He'd taken a beating out there. Everyone had.
He squinted at me for a time, laying a hand on me like he always did. Finally, he said, "Squib, you floated the bag inside. And then you shut the door."
"Nah," I said, not believing it. I had kinda thought the voice in my head really was insanity.
My master pointed toward the bag. It lay five feet inside the doorway. No rodents could have moved it so far. And the door was indeed shut. The rats were locking it while staring down at me in awe.
"It was Nemo," I said. "He did it."
My master smiled. "Whatever."
"Really! It was Nemo!"
"Okay, Squib," he said, smiling.
I leaned close. "Master, you have to tell them it was Nemo! They already think I' m a loon!"
He shrugged, turned around and held up his sword. "It was Nemo that performed the miracle!" he shouted.
The mice cheered and hopped about. The rats bruxed their teeth. But BJ and the vanguard Knights just stared at me with the hard eye.
"Doesn't matter," my master said, grinning. "They saw you point your paw at the bag all Jedi-like, and it moved. Not a little bit, Squib. It rose three feet off the ground and floated inside as the door slammed behind us. No one is going to forget that."
"Yeah," I said, "but look how happy they are that it was Nemo and not crazy Squibble."
"Pay it no mind," he said. "You... and Nemo, saved us."
"Yeah," I said, but I was unhappy about it.
That unhappiness faded minutes later when the bag was opened. My master and BJ had all the mice organized into ranks and rows. Even so, there was almost a mad dash for the food when the smell of it hit everyone. Fresh food pellets. Millions of them. Fifty pounds worth. It spilled out in a small pile onto the floor next to where the rat girls Artemis and Aphrodite had chewed a small hole. The remaining Mouse Knights, who numbered twelve, guarded the food pile without even looking at it, faithful to the kingdom.
"This won't last us forever," my master said to the crowd. "A much shorter time that you think," he went on. "We will still ration it out." Sighs of disappointment and snaffs of anger rose from the crowd. "But our deaths have been put off for now, so be grateful for this chance to think...and eat!"
Mice were handed four pellets each, and soon, everyone was eating. My master made me eat one of mine, but the rest I gave to Favorite and my daughter. My daughter tried not to take the one I gave her, but I commanded her to and she had to do it. He he he. Rank is good for something.
There was no return address on the bag. It had come with an apology by the post office for being lost in the mail so long. So. The black mouse had tried even against this sneaky move to foil us. My master and I exchanged telepathic glances. Our enemy was uber-nasty. Really, really bad. Smart, devious, and probably had powers like Nemo. We were in deep trouble.
Over the next hour the sun came up all the way and all the mice went to sleep, fed and happier. But that single feeding had put a noticeable dent in our new food supply. My master was right. We wouldn't last long even with Michael's amazing gift. It was just giving us a small respite. Maybe that was all we needed.
I went back to my hovel in the corner, underneath the human's desk, and did my moving chi gung. Then I went to Nemo's cage and stared at him for a moment. His body was withering away. I could see every rib he had through his fur. Gingerly I sat down against him and did my sitting chi gung for hours until the sun went down and the house came awake, and I fell asleep.