Return to Disaster
The kind human returned. He was driven up the long driveway the very next day in a car that looked familiar to no one but me. My heart leaped in my chest. The car was Heide's.
Our kind human dashed out of the car before it was even stopped. He was wearing a strange robe, lots of bandages, and that was about it. He got to the door, panicked, and as he turned around, Heide threw the keys at him from a bundle of his stuff.
Mice flocked out to the front of the house to greet the one human they loved so and thought they'd never again see. I remained behind, trying to sort out what had happened. How in the world did Heide know the kind human? What had gone on?
My master was the first to be picked up by the human, tears running down his furless face. Upon seeing the condition of his animal kingdom, the tears flowed heavier. He unlocked the door and came limping inside, with Heide behind him. He covered his mouth and squinted at the smell of death and urine. He unlocked every window and opened the place up, my master riding on his shoulder.
Heide saw me sitting on the end of the dining table and came right to me.
"Hello, Squibble," she said. Her smile was genuine, but laced with worry. "You look kinda thin."
I nodded slowly.
The animals all followed their human around and around the house. He wasn't walking right. The kind human had been badly hurt. The next place he went was Nemo's cage, where his moans of horror could be heard all the way in the kitchen. He came out, cradling his first pet, his son, who was now rail thin and barely alive - as we all were.
"You want to know what happened?" Heide asked me. I was looking at her as if she were a spirit. I wasn't sure she wasn't. All around me I knew angels stood guard, though I could no longer see them. I nodded slowly again. Spaced out mouse.
She sat down in a chair after checking it for rodents, and leaned on the table.
"I got this very strange package," she said. "It was a note with a request, but no explanation. There was also a check for one quarter of a million dollars." (Heard something!) I looked at her, now interested. "It was made out to me, by someone named Ruby. She gave me very explicit instructions that the money was for me, to help rodents, and that there was this man I was supposed to find. His name and address was on the note, and I remembered dropping you off here, to your kind human." I scooted up to her. Pausing on her arm, I crawled onto it. I was the first mouse having all this explained. By the look of our kind human, he was consumed in grief and guilt. He wasn't going to be talking for awhile. He kept apologizing to the animals. Over and over.
"I looked for your kind human," she said, "but no one answered the phone, and I couldn't remember the way back here, though I tried. I looked up his work phone and they said he hadn't been in in a week. I finally tried the hospitals, and there I found him. He had been in a car accident, caused by a rabid animal he was transporting. He was in a coma."
A coma. Nemo's girlfriend. That possessed psycho. It all made sense.
"There was a huge, strange man in the room with him," she said. "Really handsome and powerful." I perked up again, seeing it coming. "His eyes were so blue, and had long blonde, wavy hair. He told me it was my job to guard the man now. He asked me if I'd gotten the package from Ruby. I was so shocked I didn't know what to say, and that was when your kind human woke up."
That Mike. He's still looking out for us. There's hope.
"The first thing he did on waking and finding out how long he'd been asleep was to leave the hospital against doctor's orders. He made me drive him out here right away. The rest you know. He's got some very bad injuries. They might not heal at all."
I stared at her.
"Give me a sign, Squibble, that I'm not crazy, okay? Sometimes I still don't believe that mice can read, or understand me."
I shook my head.
"I bought your book."
Not my book, human.
She showed me a copy of The Mouse Knight she had kept in her back pocket. It was out in paperback now, eh?
"I have much more respect for you now, Sir Squibble," she said with a smile. "And it wasn't hurting to begin with."
That book was going to cause us trouble, it was.
I smiled back. One more on the very small list of people that didn't' think I was a lunatic.
Heide was sent back to the city to get food immediately, and the kind human sat down, still apologizing, and had a "talk" with the mice he loved. He had seen the basement. He had seen the garage. I could tell it ate him up inside. He felt responsible, and although he wasn't, he kinda was. Guilt sat on him like a big, fat, black mouse, chewing on his heart strings.
I wasn't in on that conversation they had then. When the advanced mice communicate with the human it isn't fast. We had no computer at the house. The mice have to point to words in a book, or write words out on paper to get their side of it across. The human is always patient, and it takes a long time. They told him about everything he'd missed, and what we were up against. My master decided to confide in him completely, and no mouse was going to stop him apparently. I saw his forceful gestures and wild hops as he conveyed his messages to the human. He had said we needed the human on our side. From the beginning. We needed a human. Now that we had almost lost that human, I saw for the first time that he was absolutely right. Without the human, our intelligence meant almost nothing. We couldn't buy things, couldn't use cars, couldn't even pick the phone up to call for help without several of us in on it (or Stompy at full weight). We were as dependent as they come, but looking up at the human's face, I saw that he needed us too. Without us, he was alone. We were his children. It showed on his face. His shiny, tear-streaked face. He felt he had failed us.
I guess he took all the news well, even though he looked a bit bewildered and not a little confused over some points. He never let go of Nemo, and the chinchilla who looked so mighty and wise to us now looked like a sleeping baby cradled in the arms of his loving father. The human asked alot of questions. The meeting lasted several hours.
By the time it was over it was well into the middle of the night, and Heide had returned hours ago with so much food it took her and our human many trips to bring it inside. She brought hundreds of pounds of food. She had bought trashcans to put it in - the really big ones - and the human carved a small hole in the bottom of each with his pocket knife so we would always have access to nourishment. Then he filled two more trashcans with 60 gallons of water and sealed the tops but for long plastic tubes coming out, which rested on a two by four that any mouse could reach. He made sure we would never suffer like that again to the best of his ability, even if he was gone. The entire time he apologized to any mouse who came to see him, taking time to bend over, though it was so obviously agony to him, pick up the mouse and kiss it. His face never untwisted from that knot of worry and guilt. The strange thing was, he'd been in a coma. Like me. Like Nemo. And he looked every bit as thin as we did. His body reflected the state of the safe house in general. Wounded badly. In great pain. The synchronicity was eerie. As a young mouse I would not have seen it, but as I sat there, unmoving (like I never would have before), I saw things. Deep, meaningful things that Nemo would have been proud to hear of. I saw how much the human loved us. I saw how much we loved him. I saw how fragile and easily broken we are, and for the first time I saw that he was no different.
He always said we were his little angels. I had always wondered if he knew how fragile his little angels really were, and now he surely knows. But for the first time I knew how fragile he was. Our big angel. One of three.
Finally my master came to me, holding a Cheerio is his mouth for me. I looked at it like it was from Mars.
"Eat it Squib," he said, sounding happy.
"You go ahead," I said, still watching the human trying to fix the house while in pain.
"I already had several. This one is for you."
In that same moment, Scratchy came up on the other side of me, also with a Cheerio in his mouth. He looked miffed that the idea wasn't original.
"Not hungry," I said.
My master put the Cheerio down, worried. "That's ridiculous," he said. "You haven't eaten in days. You're nothing but skin and bones, Squibble. I know you were giving your portions to Favorite and Squibette."
"Now you know about the other kind human, too," I said.
"Yes!" he exclaimed. I looked at him, cringing. "It's wonderful!" he said. "Why didn't you tell us, Squibble? That deed is every bit as mighty and as magnificent as my own holy quest was! Why didn't you tell anyone?"
I sat there, stunned. At last, I said, "I ...I thought you'd be angry."
He shook his head. "No way! You are a knight. Knights have to do what they think is right, and sometimes..." He looked at the kind human in the distance, cleaning up dirty carpet, "that means breaking the rules."
"BJ will crucify me," I said.
"BJ is going to give you a medal," he said cheerfully.
"What's that?" I asked.
"It's something they used to give great warriors, to show that they were great. Humans still do it. We're going to take up this tradition, and you are the first mouse to ever get one!" He beamed at me.
"What is it?" I said.
"Well, humans wear them, and we made some too, but to mice metal is heavy, so we figured we're gonna do it a couple of ways. One is reputation. Once everyone is told what you got, no one will forget, that's for sure! Second, on top of an actual mouse-sized medal and ribbon, you'll have the right to paint a symbol of some kind on your shield, and armor. The symbol we've decided upon for great thinking is a mouse hopping out of a box. Cool, huh?"
"That's what I get? A medal for great thinking?" I said, liking the sound of it. I started to perk up.
"Yes, Squibble. No mouse has ever gotten a medal. It was BJ's idea, and Nemo seconded it. You are the very first. Someone will put the real one around your neck, and pin the little bar on you."
I cocked my head and straightened my ears. "Cooool." I looked around. "So cool."
"Yeah," he said, and picked up his Cheerio very slowly. He took a slow, savoring bite. "MMMmmMMMM...sooo good, this Cheerio..."
"Mine!" I snatched the Cheerio and held it close before going to work on it. I hunched over it, expecting it to vanish, or some other mouse to fight me for it. My master laughed and smiled. Scratchy gingerly put his at my feet and I started on that one next. It pleased the midget greatly.
It was long, hard work for both humans to clean the house. Every minute of labor was torture to his broken body, but he would not allow Heide to do it all, and he would not rest. In the mornings it took an hour for him to be able to move, and in the evenings he could not lie down without moaning in agony. Our kind human began weeping again when he had to dispose of all the rotted bodies in the basement. He dug a mass grave for them and buried them outside in the back yard. We all attended the funeral, and in the same ceremony, Favorite was buried near my mother. My heart felt like it weighed an entire pound as I watched her coffin lowered into the ground. I thought of my momma's funeral, and looked up. It had not rained since that month, and everything was bone dry, except our faces. It was unnatural that this late in the season rain had not come. More black magic, no doubt.
The ceremony to decorate me with that medal came right after that, which I felt was weird, but I liked everyone clapping and chirping for me. Everyone seemed to like me again. I had gotten back my honor to some degree, bestowed upon me by King BJ, Nemo, and my beloved master. It was a high point in my life, and they called me smart in front of everyone. BJ even said "Not crazy. Smart! Smarter than any of us have been," as he put the medal around my neck and pinned the smaller representation onto my tunic. I loved what he said, the pride in his face and the look of delight in my master's eyes. I painted a mouse hopping out of a box on the inside of my shield and armor. Scratchy watched me do it with great interest. I could tell he wanted a medal very badly.
Then the human erected a wall of bricks around the house. It stood fifty feet from the house and was three feet high. He built it to the drawings Nemo and my master drew, which depicted battlements, and dug a deep trench on the other side of it, a foot across and three deep. Deep enough to trap snakes. He put wire mesh up inside that, and set up humane mouse traps all over the field. Our side (the good guys) had instructions to avoid the outside period, and no one wanted to go out there in winter anyway, but we were warned about the traps. My master told the human about the zombies. They probably didn't need to eat, and probably didn't care about traps, either, but the human was overcompensating for everything out of guilt. He bought us new cages (I think Heide paid for everything, because our human was always poor), threw his old junk out of the house to make more room for us, and bought a stereo that played calm, peaceful music during the day for us to sleep by (or not, in my case). He and Heide brought many, many toys home (they must have cleaned out every pet store in the city...I wondered what Shiva and Thor might make of that) and set up intricate webs of ropes for us to climb. They built wooden play houses and castles for us in every room, and set tape on the floor to designate where humans could and could not walk in the house, leaving us free to roam about at will.
Finally, one day, it was just him and I. Everyone else was asleep, and Heide had gone home. I was sitting on the edge of his bed, looking at the blank TV. He came home with his arms full of something and found me there like that.
He put his mountain of stuff on the bed with a pained hiss and sat down next to me. "Want it on, Squib?" he asked.
I nodded without looking up. He clicked it on. He flipped through the channels until I squeaked at one. He stopped there.
"I'm sorry, Squibble," he said. I turned to look at him. His face read as sorry. He smelled sorry. I wondered why. It wasn't like he tried to crash his car. He had almost died. Damn that stupid black mouse. Damn all psycho girlfriends, too.
I nodded, not having pencil or paper nearby.
"You've been through hell here, and I wasn't here to protect you," he said, lowering his head. "I deeply regret it. I won't let it happen again. Not ever."
"My favorite little guy tells me you all are trying to avoid a war."
He was silent a time. I could see his mind trying to work itself around the concept. I went back to watching TV. Finally he said, "I guess I should have expected it, since you can read. I should have seen it coming. All this talk of demons and angels, and powers, and gnarly stuff...it's a bit much to swallow..."
You said it, brother. I mean...nod.
"I wish there was something I could do, but this seems like your evolution...your test as a race." He petted me and scritched me behind the ears. I liked it. I looked up at him questioningly.
"Humans were tested like this too," he said. "Still are, in fact. If we fail, we have no place on the earth." He looked out the window toward the mountains. "It seems to me we're failing. I'd hate to see mice fail too. You deserve more than we do, and yet humans do nothing but hurt and abuse you poor guys. It's not fair."
Yeah. No kidding. Preach it, dude.
"I wish we could all get along," he said, and got up to continue his work around the house. My head tilted some, realizing he'd said something heavy there that I should have gotten. It was as if a clue had fallen into my lap, but I couldn't figure it out. There was something in his words...some special feeling it gave me...like deja vu. Oh well. I'd talk to Nemo about it...after Babylon 5.
The next day I was sitting in my hovel when the human came to the desk. I got ready to run, thinking he didn't even know I was down there, and might step on me by accident since mice weren't supposed to build nests outside of their cages, but he squatted down and smiled at me. He had another armload of stuff. Books.
"Hi Squibble," he said. I lifted my nose at him. He put the books down beside my nest and set them apart from each other, opening the heavy covers so I might turn the pages myself with some effort. I came out, curious mouse that I am, and looked them over.
"Nemo and your master told me you aren't doing too well," he said. "Depressed and sad over losing your momma and Favorite. I understand. I went out and got you these to cheer you up, little friend."
There were several books on art. Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Whelan, some art god named Moebius that I really liked, George Bridgeman, and Andrew Loomis. That last one was old smelling. There were other books as well: physics, chemistry, biology, and a book on pharmacology. He also put a brand new box next to my ruined one, with fresh cotton bedding in it. There were Cheerios in the bedding already. He knows alot about mice. He knows too much. I smiled and my eyes watered up. My master must have told him which books to get. These were the very books they had at the art school in the city. But he wasn't done.
He set down a watercolor set, and a ton of tiny colored pencils, brushes, and a bunch of little cups. He went back and came back with tiny pads of paper he must have gotten cut just for me, and a sandpaper-like block of stone with a water well in it, and inside that he put water. He pulled out a black block of ink and rubbed it in the water. Taking it out, he dipped one of the brushes into the water while I looked on, transfixed. He painted some lines on the paper.
"You can make your own ink this way," he told me, "and when it dries up, which is fine, you can just add more water to make it work again. I'll come by every day and fill up your water containers so you can paint or ink as you like."
Oh, I was so happy. I hadn't known anyone knew how much I liked art. I looked at the science books. No one knew I liked that either. No one. I looked up at the kind human.
"Oh, Nemo told me you might like those," he said. "I told him you'd be dangerous knowing that stuff," he laughed, "but I got them for you anyway. If you're gonna be a smart mouse, you might as well be really smart, huh?" He grinned. I got that weird deja vu feeling again, like he was trying to tell me something important without knowing it. I ran up and jumped onto his chest. He giggled at my fearless leap as I ran up him to his face and licked his lip. It seemed the best thank you I could manage.
"Oh, you're welcome Squib," he said. "I love you too, little guy. I just want you to be happy. Maybe this stuff will help." He set me down gently and carefully backed out from underneath the desk, which was mine now, I guessed.
I spent hours poring over my new stuff. I had never had stuff. My master had his dear encyclopedias, but I never had anything. Now I had lots. Lots and lots.
My master visited me later that evening.
"Wow, that was fast," he said. "I told him what you liked only this morning. Your collection looks bigger than mine almost."
I was to and fro, hopping from one book to the other. "This is so cool, master! Look at what it says about drawing people so simply...mannequins...and...and it has drawings of skeletons, and muscles! This one over here says that the best thing in art is to love what you do! And this book over here has answers to questions I always had about the chemical makeup of that stuff they used on us in the lab..."
"Lab? They used stuff on you in the lab, Squibble?" he asked, suddenly concerned.
I stopped, frozen. Oops.
"There's alot you didn't tell us about your pilgrimage, my little knight," he said.
"Yeah," I said, sounding guilty.
"It's yours to tell or not," he said, "but I'd love to hear it. You had a great adventure, and I wasn't with you for it. I feel left out, kinda."
I looked at him. How I wish he'd been there! I thought about everything I had been through in the city. I wanted to tell him all of it, but some part of me still feared someone getting mad at me for it. It just hadn't sunk in that they knew about Heide and they weren't angry. There was some block to spilling the beans that I couldn't put my finger on, and so I didn't. I didn't like it, but I stayed quiet. So unlike the old me.
My master picked up on it and ruffled my head fur playfully.
"Do what you want, Squib. You're okay with me, pal."
"Are we gonna be okay now, master?" I asked. "Things are looking up, yeah?"
He grew a serious look. "Maybe," he sounded unconvincing. "Somehow I doubt our adversary will be satisfied, or that walls and trenches will keep him out." He saw my look of concern, and groomed me a bit. "But don't worry, Squib. Things are okay for now, and we have room to plan. We have some time."
"I hope he's slow," I said. "I hope he gives us as much time as we need."
"The black mouse?" he asked.
"No," I replied. "The third horseman."
We both sat in silence for a long time.