The Hermit Squibble
I took to spending all my time in my box, doing chi gung, recording my thoughts and drawing my ideas, or sleeping. Mostly sleeping.
It would be impossible to share everything Nemo began to teach me. He went too fast for me to even comprehend most of what he said. His words were way over my head. The concepts and theories he was spouting out in the dream realm were intense. He would show me they worked, and I was impressed all to heck, but I couldn't remember much of it once I'd woken up. He said I didn't have to. He told me that the astral self and the physical self were different beings. In a waking, lucid dream we are who we were meant to be, he said. We had much more power than we ever could while awake. In dreams, we could do anything we believed we could do, with few limitations.
He had me believing it by the time I could float on nothing. He told me that in real life he might have been able to move the bag of food, but it would have cost him everything to do it. Through me, with my youth and strong chi, it was easy. I was just a channel for his astral power. Just as I barely got that idea. He got alot deeper, really quick.
The short of it was, my astral self would understand and remember the lessons, and my waking self didn't have to. Which was fine, because my waking self was having trouble with that.
I would stop him and ask many questions, which never annoyed him. His answers didn't always jive with me very well, but he always answered.
Like I asked him if I could use my powers to see where the black mouse was. He said yes, but then what would I do? I said, "Gank him, of course!" And he nodded. Of course, he said. And that would get me killed. The black mouse, he said, already knew how to use his powers. Far better even than Nemo himself did.
Okay. That was scary to hear.
"Howcome then he doesn't just smite us?" I asked.
"Who's to say he won't?" Nemo replied.
Every darn time I think he can't get any scarier...
He gave me things to practice while I was awake. Every day, I had homework. Sometimes they were strange things. Draw this feeling, or that thought. Write down what I thought about this or that. Those were easy ones. Once a day I had hard work, too. New and difficult chi gung moves, or intense concentration exercises that made my head hurt. And he always encouraged me to try to produce powers (like super powers!) - moving objects with my mind, reading the thoughts of other rodents, seeing the futures, or being able to make things hot and cold....all kinds of weird stuff. He gave me a list of these powers a mile long. He said they were called Siddhas or something like that. He said they were proof of progress, but I didn't see any powers pop out of my head or hands. I had no real proof in the waking world that my dreams were real. Not since the bag incident, which I didn't even see.
Scratchy recovered slowly. I spent a few minutes each day doing chi gung near him, which delighted the runt. He would watch me in glee while I went through my advanced movements (he was learning them, too, as I later found out - the freak has a darn good memory!). Afterwards, I would go put some chi into him, like I did with Nemo during the sitting part. He always gave me an adoring look after that, which bothered me for some reason, and I would go away. He seemed to heal in no time. Maybe it was the chi. Maybe not.
I practiced this waking and sleeping routine of Nemo's for weeks. I dreamed during the night, and was awake in the day, and saw almost no one. It was a different world in the day. The house was empty and quiet. It was peaceful. My master told me rodents talked about me behind my back, saying all kinds of weird things. Nothing like what One-Ear had said, but they were pretty spooked about me. I was just the weirdest thing that ever hit the earth to them. Well then I didn't mind not seeing them often, I told my master. I was getting used to being alone, which I found kinda sad and ironic.
It occurred to me that as long as Nemo didn't die while his body was in a coma, our arrangement was quite sneaky. Sneaky like a mouse. The enemy might have no clue I was learning so much, being able to see only that Nemo was still unmoving and I slept often. My master agreed. Nemo was tricky, because he had to be.
During that time, Branch wrote again. I took the letter into my dreams (just thought of it, and there it was) and showed it to Nemo. He asked me to write back to Branch, and when I was done, he had a note to add to it. So I wrote back a long letter, explaining everything that was happening around the safe house. I told him his chi gung rocked. I drew a picture of him and me beating the snot out of the black mouse. Then I told Nemo I was going to mail it out. He asked me to add this:
Branch: From Nemo: The time has come but we need it more than you do. Do it when you get this, and let it rip. -Nemo
"It will be months before that letter reaches him," Nemo said.
"If it ever reaches him, you mean," I said.
"The monks will deliver it to him," Nemo told me.
"What, the monks like mice? The monks can read English? The monks know Branch's name? You're dreaming!" I exclaimed.
"All true," Nemo said with a straight face.
"Oh, no way," I moaned.
"All true," he insisted. "Furthermore, do you think you're the only one I'm training? I see Branch at least once a week."
I was amazed once again. "But...but you said the range of astral spirits was very limited..."
"To those who are inexperienced, yes," he smirked. I snaffed.
"So this monk is gonna deliver this letter to Branch, an' he knows where Branch's...hole in the wall, or nest or whatever is?" I asked.
"They treat animals very well over there," Nemo said. "They especially like mice and rats. I wouldn't be surprised if Branch lives better than the monks do." He paused. "Although the mail system there is much worse than here, and our adversary has already proven he can delay mail."
"Branch gave away our...our secret?" I said, amazed.
"It's no secret to those monks," said Nemo. "They would know at first glance anyway, and they aren't about to share their knowledge with a world who would kill their little friends for it."
That stopped me and made me think. That's what the world would do. The scared apes would kill all the smart mice. They'd never own up to their mistakes, never be able to admit their crimes and apologize. They'd just do what they've always done and try to eliminate the evidence of their disgusting behavior. Ugly. I decided to change the subject.
"Your body ain't doing too well, dude," I told him. "You comin' back or what?"
"That is not up to me," he said.
"Oh yeah? Who's it up to? Bigfat?"
"Sort of," he mused. "It's more up to fate...and you."
"Me?" I started.
"Yeah," he said, imitating my voice when I say 'yeah,' which is often. Yeah.
I frowned. "Hmmmm." I wasn't going to dignify his cryptic mystery further. He loved being mysterious an' all that. He liked it even more when people didn't understand him right then, but got it later, like I often did.
So he trained me that evening in telepathy, which was super easy in the dream world, and super hard in the waking one. I kept trying to project "You bother me" into Scratchy's head, but he never gets it. When I told Nemo that I had managed to clean up my act with the runt, he said, "Yes, on the outside, but he still bothers you."
"Of course he does!" I said.
"Why?" he asked.
"That, and 'I don't know,' 'maybe,' and 'but' aren't acceptable answers here anymore," he told me for the twentieth time.
"So what do I do if I really don't know then?" I said, exasperated.
"You find out,' he said.
"So why does he bother you?" Nemo said.
"What, like...find out right now?" I asked, amazed.
"No better time. Time is like food right now, Squibble."
"You mean running out."
"Ah, you aren't as stupid as you pretend."
"Of course not..." but then I realized he had gotten me to admit I acted stupid. GRRRRR! That chinchilla was wayyy too smart.
"So now you owe me two answers," he said.
"Yeah, yeah yeah," I grumbled. "Okay, Scratchy bothers me because he's clingy and stubborn, an'...an'..."
"An' just like you," Nemo said.
"Well, if you knew the stupid answer, why did you ask me!"
"You have to find stuff out for yourself, being set to do things the hard way as you are," he said.
"Hard way huh?"
"So why do I act stupid then, smarty?" I asked.
"So you'll seem so cool when you act normal."
"Oh! Ohhh...you...why you...GrrrrRR...Why I oughtta..."
"If you think you can take me on this plane you've got some astral bruises coming," Nemo told me. "I'm a hundred times faster here than I was back there." He smirked.
Stupid chinchilla. I imitated him with a twisted face and danced around all smug, hopping to make it known that I was unhappy about it. He laughed. All I'd done was amuse him. I couldn't win.
When the evening came to an end, I woke up to the light of dawn, a strange, pariah mouse in his own house. I put Nemo's note at the end of my letter to Branch, wrote his name and address on the front, put our return address, and put a whole bunch of stamps on the envelope with the help of Artemis and Aphrodite, who gingerly took the letter all the way to the mailbox outside, at the end of the driveway, with a score of guards. They were not accosted at all. Maybe the enemy had gone away. Yeah. And maybe pigs fly. But the next day, the letter was picked up by the mousesquasher postman guy, or at least the rats said the little red flag was down instead of up. So the letter was on its way.
Many council meetings later, all the sharp minds of the safe house, including mine, had come up with only a few ideas.
One, we could get to the city and get help. I knew Heide would help us, but telling them about Heide would mean telling people how badly I'd compromised our secret, and almost exposed everyone by being caught in a lab. No thanks. Still, if we could get to the city, we might find out what happened to the kind human. Maybe. However, reaching the city was almost an impossibility. Many knights would volunteer, but they'd die. It would be a waste of life.
The second idea, much more plausible, was to enlist help from the field mice. That would mean going out to find them (good luck) and surviving the expedition, for certainly the enemy would be on us then. I guess maybe the enemy didn't consider mail a threat, and, of course, it wasn't (until later). I thought about whether or not it could be used that way, but couldn't come up with anything. Anyone who got a letter saying, "Help us...starving, trapped by demons... - The mice" would just laugh. I only knew of one address that would work, and I had left that back with Shiva. Oh, I had blown it bad. I should have asked Heide to stay when she dropped me off. I should have kept her address.
Another idea that was posed was to gather what forces we had and take the offensive, but even if my master and the high council went for that idea, (and they most certainly would not), that would mean leaving the women and children unprotected. Not to mention the house itself. Now that the human was gone, this house was all we had. It was ours, and we had to defend it. Leaving our only defense to traipse out into a world where the weather itself would likely kill us, much less the enemy or predators, was just plain stupid. Of course, that was just what I'd done recently. Sigh.
So in the end, we decided our best course of action was to hold out for the end of the drought, cooler weather, and see if anything good came our way. Hold out until the dice fell in our favor, which Nemo seemed to think would eventually happen. I carried his messages to the high council and back each day. I was a messenger boy. That was okay. Each night I took a list to Nemo and used my mind powers to memorize what he told me to tell the council - and on waking, wrote that all down and went straight to the meeting.
BJ and my master estimated we could hold out another few weeks with the food Mike had sent us. It was really wholesome food, and while everyone was hungry, no one was dying anymore. By the middle of fall we had lost a third of our number. Almost 300 mice. BJ and my master set all able bodied mice, including females, to training. It wasn't intense training that would use up alot of calories, but they trained anyway. We tried to find weapons for everyone, and in the end had to improvise. We were out of plastic cocktail swords. We started using toothpicks, popsicle sticks shaved down, and if it came to it, the good old standard was what we'd fall back on. Teeth.
I spent some time each day with Favorite. She'd try to groom me sometimes, but mostly she despaired of life. It was heartbreaking to see it. Her body was wasting away, sitting there in the corner. She had to drag herself by her front legs (not a mouse's strong part) just to go to the bathroom. Sometimes she couldn't make it. Squibette and I cleaned up her messes, but with no human to clean our cages, things were getting bad quick. By the time we had gone through half our food, mice were no longer living in their cages. The ammonia smell from so much urine in the house was choking us and making many mice sick. My master was faring very poorly through it, because of his scarred lungs. He had a handicap right off the bat. We ran out of his tea rapidly, and couldn't find any more in the cupboards. His breath was ragged and rasping throughout the day and night, even with the chi gung. I felt so sorry for him.
We forced the kitchen window open all the way, but none of us had the strength to undo the locks on the others. And the enemy would find their way in through the screen of the open window, so my master asked the bees to guard it at first, but zombies don't much care about bee stings, and the bees die after using their stingers. After a few rounds of that it was the rats guarding the window ledge, and they'd just kick the zombies off the ledge with polearms if they showed their faces.
So, to be grossly blunt, there we were, in the unending heat, without enough water, living in piss and dung, surrounded by a near-invincible enemy, and dying slowly but surely. I was alone and lonely most of the time, and didn't even have time to pursue my writing or art outside of Nemo's lessons. I was miserable and depressed. Everything looked bleak and doomed. Not exactly the glorious life I had expected as a Mouse Knight.