No Escape for the Mouse
"I'm getting depressed," I told Nemo in the astral plane.
"I'm not surprised," he said.
"Of course you aren't," I said cynically.
"You miss your mom."
"I used to dream of her every night, before coming here to be with you," I said.
"Now that you're doing this training, Squibble, your mind gets no rest. You never really dealt with your tragic losses, the trauma of your pilgrimage, and other things...your fear of your master dying, for example," he explained. "You need something to rest with - something to take your mind off all this, or you'll wear out."
"Take my mind off the dying house, the abomination of an enemy that won't let us alone and my master's constant wheezing? What could possibly do that!" I whined, wearing a bitter face.
"A girlfriend perhaps?" Nemo said.
"Oh, wrong answer, wise guy. My girlfriend is crippled and despairs of life. She wants to die. She sits there waiting for someone to put her out of her misery. It's unbearable to watch, and I'm powerless to help her."
Nemo bore a sad face. "I'm sorry, Squibble. I know this is hard on you. Harder than on anyone, perhaps."
"Yeah," I said. "Not as hard as it is on Favorite."
"Matter of perspective."
"Matter of I can use my stupid legs!" I chirped. "I'm making great progress here in the dream world, big guy. None whatsoever in the world where it matters. I can do anything here in dreams, and nothing out there. Nothing at all. This is stupid. What good is it?"
"Are you sure you can't do anything out there?" he asked.
"Ummm...Pretty sure," I snapped. "Last time I tried to incinerate the black mouse with my eyebeams nothing happened."
"You're trying big things too soon, like Branch always did. Try small things."
"I do - I try all the things you say to - levitating small objects, reading people's thoughts, all that. I can't even get to my 'special place.' Nothing's working for me at all."
"Chi gung? Spirit vision?" he asked.
"Well, my chi gung feels really good, and keeps my hunger away, and I feel ...energized all like, but I still can't turn on the damn spirit vision whenever I want to. Not at all. Maybe I'm just a reject mouse, an' no one wants to admit it."
"No," he said. "That's not the case." He floated up for mantra chants and I floated up with him. He brought up his halo and I brought up mine. Crackling energies that flowed as golden nectar, glowing pure power, fell from the sky and filled us. We assumed our stances there in the air and the sky around us changed to rubies. "I would pursue the chi gung if it works for you, and lay aside the pressure of having to perform."
"But...the pressure is real," I said. "If I don't perform, we're all gonna die, or I won't do what the Mousegod wants, or something bad. It's too much pressure! I hate it!"
"Yes," Nemo said. "The pressure is real, but if you focus on that, you'll never make any progress at all. The greatest warriors of all time, like the God Shiva, went into battle like it was no big deal. Focused on winning, worrying about nothing, smiling like they were walking in the park on a nice day. Don't give your fears any power, Squibble. Until you learn to make your power obey your conscious mind, it will obey your subconscious. That can be bad. Don't help the enemy. Relax."
"Easy for you to say."
"Yes, but true nonetheless. You must not worry at all. You must treat this like a huge game, and set your mind to win it."
"I don't even know what to do," I complained.
"You will when it is time," he said. I coulda guessed that part, being that it was cryptic and mysterious an' all that.
"If I could see spirits, I might be able to go find Mike to get us out of this mess," I said.
"Yes, maybe, but it might very well be that this gift only functions in times of pain or trauma, Squibble. Some spiritual gifts work like that."
"That's lame," I said.
"Everything must be paid for," he said. "Never forget that. Nothing is free."
"That's not true. What about love?" I said.
"What I mean, Squibble, is that everything has a balancer. For love there is apathy (not hate), and for the black mouse, there is you."
"We're doomed," I said, and went into chanting.
The large bag of food lasted the three weeks that my master predicted. Then it was gone. The house was too hot. We had mice taking all the sewage out back under heavy guard and everyone was told to go to the bathroom outside or in a corner in the garage. We began starving again, this time rapidly, as we had exhausted all our alternatives.
My chi gung hit its all time high at that point. I think it had something to do with starving, I'm not sure. It felt stronger on an empty stomach. I was sitting against Nemo's body doing my sitting meditation chi gung when he suddenly woke up. Everyone made a big fuss over it, and we had to give him the rest of the food for him to recover. He was almost gone - just skin and bones, and he told me that my chi gung had brought him back. He also told us that he was as near to death as he could possibly get - and it had shortened his lifespan considerably. He knew now that even if he had food and clean water, he might never be as strong as he was once. He was a terrible sight. He looked like one of the zombies. But he was awake, and it improved the abysmally low morals of the house to see his return.
I guess if I had a day of fame, it might have been that day. It was not in battle, or at the head of troops, or anything glorious at all. It began with bringing Nemo back, and he told everyone I had done it with my internal power. All of a sudden mice weren't making fun of my "weird movements" anymore. All of a sudden everyone wanted to do it, but they were too weak from lack of food.
In the same very hour, BJ was brought before Nemo, who told him that he couldn't heal his leg. Nemo said he was too weak, and the leg too badly injured. BJ would never walk, or fight, again. The King's face fell into deep sadness, which I sympathized with all too closely, and he asked my master to name a new king.
That's when I stepped in. I'd had it with all this sadness and bitter disappointment crap. Just had it. I was sick to death of poor endings and doomed stuff. No way was BJ gonna be doomed. He'd fought through too much crap to be doomed. I asked him to delay the new king announcement an hour or so, which he agreed to, though he was wondering what I was up to. I went to Percival and Scratchy and asked them to go through a series of very advanced moves with me, and we did chi gung together. At the end of it, I asked them if they would give me their energy, and showed them how. They did not hesitate at all, suspecting what I was about to do, and Percival even smiled through the whole thing. They both had more chi than most mice, having practiced for some time, and I wasn't about to ask my poor master. He needed his.
When it was done, I was glowing like a light bulb inside. I felt as though I could have run all the way to the city and back without rest. I went immediately to BJ, still breathing in the chi gung fashion, and laid my hands on his leg.
There was a sickening pop and the King almost bit me in reflex, but I kept pouring the golden nectar of life into his leg. Nemo watched with wide eyes - as wide as everyone else's. I didn't know if I could do this...I didn't know if chi gung could actually work miracles and heal bones, but I was sick of watching everyone I loved suffer and rot away. I focused my anger into pure energy, and refused to believe that anything was impossible for one determined enough.
BJ's eyes got widest of all, and his body trembled. When I was finally finished, I didn't even feel tired. It was as if while I was doing it, more power was flowing into me from the heavens. I wasn't out of energy - I had more than I started with. I felt as if I was going to explode, and it was wonderful.
BJ got up and stood on his leg. The crowd gasped. My master came up to the table by Nemo's cage and saw what had happened. I saw him smile in pure admiration for me. BJ hopped, spun, kicked, and danced. He laughed uncontrollably.
"Sir Squibble!" he yelled. "The miracle mouse!" The crowd took it up. I was in my fifteen minutes of fame. The entire house came around Nemo's cage, saw the chinchilla awake, BJ dancing, and me smiling. Nemo grinned at me hugely.
"That's an awful lot of nothing you did there, Squibble," he said.
I was astonished. Chi gung could do things! It kept Nemo alive long enough for him to find his body again. It fixed BJ's leg.
I jumped off the table, three feet up, without using the ramp or the bed, and raced off in the direction of the dining room and my old cage. The crowd made awed noises at my supermousey leap, and went back to congratulating the King and Nemo.
But my fame, and my brief moment of light, was to end there.
When I got to the cage, it was empty. Favorite wasn't there anymore. I looked everywhere. When I came out, my master and Squibette were standing outside the cage, watching me.
"Where is she!" I demanded. "I can fix her!"
Their faces told me before their voices did. I felt a sick sinking in my center. Almost immediately, my chi began to ebb away, escaping through the hole in my heart.
"She died this morning," Squibette said, her face long and dark.
I slumped. How could this be happening? Not now. Not when I was able to heal her.
"She was trying to run on her wheel," my master said, "like she used to love doing. I think she was trying to pick up her life again. She had decided to go on living, and not give up."
"What happened?" I said. My voice sounded hollow and robotic - completely empty of emotion. Just one more stupid thing happening to us here in Hell. Apathy broke into my soul and began carrying away the little joy I had.
"She got her rear legs caught in the spokes of the wheel," he said, "and she tried to fight her way free... it fell over on her. She was stuck in the water dish the kind human provided for her. She drowned."
I almost laughed maniacally. She drowned. In a house with no water. It was insane. Stupid and insane. Everyone had gone through great trouble to keep her water bowl full, to provide her with food, love, and attention...and the first time she tries to come back to the world of the living...she dies in water?! Oh, that took the cake. That was just too much. Too much for Ol' Squibble. Yessir.
I slowly crawled out of the cage, knowing I would never again set foot in there. Kind of like my mother's grave which I couldn't visit. Every step up the ramp on my way was like the way out of the underworld. My steps were too heavy. My heart was beating too slowly. The world took on a dark cast all about me, and somewhere far off I heard evil laughter. But this time, as I got to the top of the ramp, there was no way out. No escape to the world of light. Instead, I walked down the other side of the ramp, and with each step, my soul fell back into the underworld. My mind shut down, all my chi but the barest spark left me. My soul collapsed. I hated everything and everyone then. I would have bitten Bigfat if he'd shown himself. Of all the unfair, stupid, cockamamie, crazy ironies. Favorite was innocent. She had done nothing wrong, and her life had been mostly hellish, ending in a gruesome death of pain and fear. I couldn't take it anymore. I just couldn't.
As I went by my master, it looked like he was going to be silent for the first time ever in a moment of my suffering, but as I was already past and descending toward the floor (and my own rock bottom), he said, "Don't give up, Squibble."
I looked back up at them. Squibette looked horrified. My master looked gravely worried.
"Her body..." I said, praying they hadn't put it with the others in the basement.
"No," he said. "Not with the others. We cannot bury her yet, but we put her in the freezer."
The freezer. Hell.
"I can't take any more," I said. "No more."
Then, bereft of my wonderful chi, my body gave out from hunger and I fell off the ramp. I don't remember hitting bottom.
"There is more to come, Squibble," Nemo's voice said. "You must not give up yet."
I opened my eyes to the astral plane, but this time I was unaware I was dreaming. It just seemed kind of familiar. We were in the house, but it was completely empty. Golden light filtered through the windows. The house was clean. No cages, no furniture. Empty. Barren. I could feel it was cold as well. Despite the warm light flowing into the house in beautiful beams, the house was lost.
"What's happening?" I asked, unable to remember what had come before.
"You're dreaming," Nemo told me. It didn't sink in. I could not wake within the dream, and all my powers on the astral plane were useless.
"Where am I?" I said, suddenly afraid. "Where's my momma?"
Nemo looked deeply troubled, and said nothing, probably realizing what was going on.
"How did you get here?" I asked him.
"Now that I have returned to my body, Squibble, I have some small access to my powers. I wanted to see these bad dreams of yours for myself."
"What are you talking about?" I said, confused and frightened. "I want my momma!" I ran all about the house, panicked like any ordinary mouse. I leapt at walls and scraped at doors, but nothing would open. It was getting very cold. The light was fading from the windows, and as the last of that saving light vanished, I felt black damnation set upon the house. I was sure I was back in Hell. And Hell was cold.
I leapt up to the counter, scraping and bruising myself to reach it, trying to follow the light over the horizon like a dear and departing friend I could not let go of. But the window prevented me, and I saw the bodies outside.
Bodies of mice and rats. Left there to rot. Human footprints littered the ground. Yellow tape plastered the outside of the house, reading "Condemned." Smashed bodies of mice lay in the deep trenches of tire tracks. There was my master, his eyes bugged out of his skull from suffocating. Stompy and Squibette, my daughter, lay side by side, run through with pencils. What was left of Shiva and Thor was scattered about the porch, detailed by burn marks from the explosion that had killed them. There were mice in mouse traps, their necks and backs crushed. There were mouse bodies that were still foaming green at the mouth from the rodent poison they had eaten, desperate for any food at all to fill their starving bellies. The bodies of my babies I had never met were being swallowed by zombie snakes - a twisted wrongness, since they had no need for food.. Hundreds of mice lay flat where humans had stomped them to death. Pools of water were full of corpses from the humans washing the house out with fire hoses. My jaw hung open in horror. I clawed viscously at my eyes, never wanting to see again, knowing this vision would never leave me. I was screaming.
Nemo was beside me, gazing out over the scene with an equally terrified reaction, when I ran blindly over the counter and broke my back against the kitchen floor. Crawling on my front legs, helpless and in terrible pain, I found the way to the back of the house. And my mother's grave.
"OhHHHH," I moaned, inching to it, "Mommmmaaa...nooooo!"
I wept and moaned at her grave, realizing she was dead for the first time. The shock was too deep. I would never see her beautiful face again. Never hear her tell me I was wonderful. Never feel her gentle teeth grooming me behind the ears. Ever again.
"Nooo...No...no...no...!" I crooned. I heard something scrape behind me, and when it didn't smell like Nemo I turned.
The black mouse impaled me with its dark sword, just above the part of my guts where I couldn't feel anything. My mouth opened in gasping agony as I died. The black mouse laughed and laughed.
When I woke, I was gasping for air and cold. It was dark. At first I panicked, thinking I was in Hell again. There was no escape.
Percival put both hands on me, steadying my frail form. I was very thin. I weighed half of what I once did, and I had no strength. I knew that I was awake. I also knew I had had many other dreams like the one I just described, some worse. Many of them that I could not remember.
"What is it!" I screamed.
"Calm!" Percival said. "Calm, Squibble. He's awake!" he yelled to others. Other mice came running. BJ, Stompy, Squibette, and my master surrounded me. Not dead. My eyes were bugged out in terror.
"Go get Nemo," my master ordered. He looked on Death's doorstep. They all did. Even Stompy was rail thin. She had gone from 120 grams to something no more than 30. It was freakish.
How long had I been asleep? Every bone ached. Every muscle felt as if it were frozen. Then I remembered Favorite, and my soul rolled over in its grave. I began weeping.
Nemo hopped up next to everyone. We were in his cage, and I was in a makeshift nest in a corner of it. From the look of it, I had been there some time. The heat was gone. It was cold.
Nemo's paw went to my head and the other to my chest. I felt warmth and energy trying to enter my body.
"Accept the chi," he said.
"You...you don't have any!" I argued, remembering.
"Squibble, much time has passed. I have some small amount to spend as I wish. Take it," he said.
I let myself relax and my body drank the precious energy in. At once I was more alert and aware. My master was not in armor. It was night. I trembled with weakness.
They let me recover for a time. They gave me water to drink and food to eat. I didn't question the gifts until I remembered our predicament. I stopped eating.
"It's okay," my master said. "We found old food in the trash outside. Even some Cheerios." He didn't tell me how many died getting it. I'm not sure I wanted to know. Back to eating trash. And the horrible thing was that it tasted good. Very good.
They let me recover for a few hours before telling me what had happened. It was Nemo who explained it to me, looking haggard and exhausted from giving me too much of his badly needed energy.
I had been in a deep coma for two weeks. Two years for a human.
In that time, mice were dying of starvation. No one had the strength to wear armor anymore. Nor the strength to practice with weapons. Without letting up on the drought, the weather had turned to a cold bitterness. My master hoped it would slow the zombies, and it had, not having moving blood in their veins to keep them mobile. But their number had quadrupled from what everyone could tell, and now the house was utterly surrounded.
In those two weeks, I had been given the treatment Nemo had gotten to keep him alive, and now I understood with great compassion how the poor fellow had felt upon waking. It felt like I had been dead. Nothing worked right.
Scratchy had not left my side in all the time. He alone wore armor still, and bore a sword. Two, in fact, in case I should need one. He smiled at me gratefully. I was too tired to smile back.
Nemo told me that he had been with me those two weeks, riding along in my dreams. From the faces of everyone around me, he had told them the gory details of how horrible my nightmares truly were. Pity filled their faces. The last thing I desired. I wondered if life could get any worse, and stifled the thought before it could come true. Tremors shook me all the way through. I felt violated by Nemo and a stranger to the real world. I knew why he had done what he did, and I probably owed him my life, but it made me no less angry. Reality was stark and grim, and my other option was a terrifying world of pain and suffering. I was trapped, and no mouse likes that. No animal...no one can deal with that for long. Even here in reality, there was no escape.
"We had no idea," my master said. "I'm so sorry, Squibble. I'm so sorry, my friend."
I looked away, unable to bear the shame of his knowing my dreams. I wished I could vanish.
"Please, everyone, go away," I said. "Just...leave me alone."
Scratchy shook his head, but I said, "Yes, you too. Go."
Not really knowing what else to do, everyone left. Being Nemo's cage, he stayed, but went over to the corner and nibbled on something rancid and disgusting.
I was alone in the dark. I wished I could summon Mike. I had some words for him right about now. I wished I could demand Bigfat's presence, and chew him out. How could he let it come to this? Then I remembered that this was only the second horseman. There were supposed to be four. I forgot what they were.
"Plague and War," Nemo said quietly, eating.
"Get out of my head you stupid...chinchilla..." I breathed. It took some effort. "I'll...kill you."
"When you're better maybe. Until then, I am your only psychic defense." He looked up at me. "Your dreams are a confusing mixture of prescience, and visions from both high and low. The good is trying to help you, and the bad, trying to drive you insane."
"Hard to tell who's winning," I panted. "So this stupid crap is going to get worse then? I hardly had any good dreams."
Nemo came over to squat beside me. His face was grim. "I have looked into the future, Squibble. I cannot tell you all of it, but now that I know you have the same gift as me, I can tell you some. You can no longer change certain things."
"Why not!" I squeaked, and fell into a coughing fit.
He waited until I was done and said, "Because once you can see the future, you are bound by it."
"That's stupid!" I gasped. "I can do what I want!"
"And what, pray tell, will that be?" he asked.
NO hesitation. "The right thing!" I said.
He nodded. "Exactly." My eyes got wide as I understood. "You will do exactly what Squibble would do, and anything else would be unacceptable to you. You will see this through no matter the cost to yourself." Shock invaded my belly, making me feel unstable and queasy. He went on, "Now that you can see the end results of your actions, you will do ...the right thing. The future is set." He went back to his eating. "And you wonder why they chose you."
I sat there in the dark, in a diabolic trap of time and my own morals. If I wished everything to turn out well in the end, I saw just a tiny fraction of the suffering we would have to endure now. I understood, in that moment, why Nemo had done some of the crazy things he had done. I understood his story much better now. And above all, I understood that my understanding had just begun.
"Tell me," I whispered.
"I will be short and simple," he said. "War is coming."
"My master will never go to war," I said. "Not against other mice. Not even dead ones. It's wrong."
"You will be the one to convince him," Nemo said, looking at me from across the dark cage. "War is wrong among humans when it's fought for petty reasons - greed, wealth, luxuries. But this war is against true evil, Squibble. Your own oath before your pilgrimage was to fight true evil, was it not?"
It had been, indeed. I remembered it well. I remembered how eager I had been. How full of life and happiness. A whole different mouse. Tears came to my eyes again, and all I could think was of how much water I was wasting. Sadness had me in an iron grip and was not about to let go. I felt I would never be happy ever again, and remembering my naive cheer of youth only made it worse. It was almost winter. I had slept through my first birthday. Most mice never saw their second birthday. I had always looked forward to a grand, wonderful birthday party with all my friends and family. I had imagined all sorts of treats, fun, and attention. Of course, none of that was to be, and instead I had spent my 'party' writhing in nightmares and pain. How very sad.
Half of my life was over. Half of my life was over.
"Before the war, the enemy will hammer us down. We will suffer, and many will die. We are only halfway through this tribulation," Nemo said with a matter-of-fact voice, like a scientist telling someone what happened when a nuclear bomb exploded. Removed and detached. I stared at him in the dark, unable to say anything. My throat felt tight. I was choking on my stupid, wasteful tears.
"Your greatest moment of hardship has yet to come," he turned to look at me. His eyes reflected eerily in the moonlight coming through the window. He looked haunted. "Your holy quest has barely begun." He turned back to his 'food.' "More than that, I cannot see." he said.
"Cannot see," I said, "or won't tell?"
In response, he simply remained silent.
I knew he was right.
There was no escape.