The Fall of Sir Squibble
All of the following chapters involving my pilgrimage I wrote later - after it was over. You'll see why. I recalled the events perfectly, though, so nothing was left out. What you are about to read are the events that catapulted me into the mouse I am now. Many more followed, and more are yet to come, but my pilgrimage was not in the least what I had been expecting, and it set off all the events afterward, I am certain. If I had stayed back at home none of it would have happened. It was required of me that I wake up, grow up, and remember my dreams. I just had no idea how hard that would be.
I wouldn't have done it if I had known.
The air was frigidly cold this close to the ocean, and the street in the early morning was dark. I sat there watching the kind human drive away. He had asked me not to go, like the others had. He had told me he'd miss me and worry about me. But in the end, he had to concede to my will. He had promised to give us what we wanted, to recognize us as sentient beings. And I wanted my freedom. He always gave any rodent that wanted it their freedom, provided they knew what a dangerous thing they were asking for. To date, no mice had asked. Oh, mice went on journeys, knights went on pilgrimages, and messengers went everywhere, but they all came back. Everyone knew they came back if they could.
The outside is very dangerous to domestic mice. We aren't equipped to handle it. That's why the journey my master set out on from the city to find the kind human was so amazing. No one thought he'd make it twenty feet, much less fifty miles. Everyone wanted him to make it, though. They believed in him, against all odds. I've heard of domestic mice being abandoned in the wilderness, or even someone's back yard, and not living one hour. I've heard of mice dying of fright and anxiety. It's really scary to us. We've lived with humans for 5000 years. Nature considers us a free lunch. We haven't the speed or the camouflage any longer to protect ourselves. What we have now is intelligence.
I knew the moment I saw the car drive away that I had thrown away that one great advantage. I had been terribly stupid. My heart lunged in my chest and I panicked.
I ran after the car waving my arms and chirping at the top of my lungs, but there was no way he could hear me or see me. It was too late. I'd doomed myself as sure as if I'd put the noose around my own neck. I watched the car disappear over the horizon in the direction of the rising sun.
My eyes welled up with tears as I looked around me at the empty, bleak landscape of asphalt and dirt. Trash filled the gutters. Alleyways were full of lurking shadow. The salty air made everything damp and miserably cold. I didn't even know which direction the normal drop-off and pickup point was. I did know it was miles away. Much too far.
So that was it. I had killed myself. I would never see my master again, or Nemo, BJ, or anyone. I'd never sleep in my nest again. Never eat millet (or ice cream) again. I was going to die a cold, lonely death. Probably a violent one. I was scared and shaking. I regretted my decision immediately. I would give anything to be back home right now. I'd go kick the snot out of those back talking, low-down, no-good, miserable vermin mice and be happy about it. I'd make everyone proud of me somehow. But not this. Not this! I couldn't hack it here! I was scared out of my wits.
I ran for a tiny crack in the brick wall and hid there. My little heart was humming like a mini turbine, moving too fast. Making too much noise. My scent wasn't even covered.
Oh, what a stupid, stupid mouse I was. In the real world without kind humans, stupid mice die. I was a dead mouse. So dead.
I was suddenly hungry, even though I had eaten before we left. I was thirsty too. I hadn't brought anything to drink, but I had brought some food. I began munching on some corn I pulled out of my backpack when I noticed the two sacks my master and momma had given me. I opened them right away while I ate. My hands shook.
My master had given me some Cheerios, some millet, and a sharpening stone for my swords. He also gave me ten metal balls - the most deadly ammunition for a slingshot. They were BBs, and they were very rare. Sometimes mice found them in the field and brought them home. My master had polished them and given them to me. To our kind, trying to learn technology, these were worth their weight in gold. They had so many uses for mice, but master had given them to me. I took three of them and put them in my pockets for easy access.
But what my momma left me made my master's gift look cheap. She had given me a honeycomb, full of honey, and sealed with beeswax. No wonder it was so heavy. That item had come straight from the bees. They gave it freely to no one, except my master. Honey could revitalize a mouse no matter what was wrong. It was magic elixir. The nectar of the gods. With that, I might make it to the pickup point. It was precious beyond measure to a mouse in my position. My master and momma had known it would be. I shuddered to think of what they would have to do to repay the favor from the bees. Something hard. Bees always made you do something hard. Or, just maybe, they were grateful to him for finding them a warm place to live through the harsh winters. Either way, they never gave out honey or honeycomb. They guarded it with their lives.
I was a little happier now. I was a Mouse Knight, after all. I could make it to the pickup point, wherever that was, and go home. That would be my pilgrimage. Survive, make it home. I could do it. My master had done far more.
Inside me, it didn't sit right. I knew I had more to do, and I was still petrified. But hey, it sounded like a good start, and I had to do something. So I set out in the direction the kind human had gone, which would be to work and school, in the city.
I walked for hours, hiding in the corners and gutters, until the city came awake. Then I was almost noticed by people. If I got found, that would be the end of me. I'd be fed to a snake, or, much worse, they'd wonder why a mouse was wearing armor and carrying a backpack. I'd expose the entire community of smart mice, and then...well then, according to TV, they send those FBI agents out to get you. The guy who looks for flying saucers and the girl who doesn't believe in them. Then they'd come get the house, and it would all be over. All the mice, everything my master had hard won would be gone. Because of me. Stupid Squibble.
A child saw me when I got clumsy and tired. I had wandered out from the gutter a few inches and the stupid kid saw me. He immediately yelled "Look! A mouse!" and ran toward me. I was horrified. Never in my life had I been that shocked. I stood there for a desperately needed second and then dashed back into the trash that lined the gutters. As I turned I was almost run over by a car. It missed me by several inches, and sent me sprawling. I recovered and lost myself in the garbage. The child and his friends didn't give up though. They scoured through the waste mercilessly, not caring how dirty they got, pounding the trash with their feet and hands. I had to move or they were going to kill me - so I ran. They were kicking the trash out of the gutter where I'd been, trying to find me. I guessed they didn't want a pet mouse, since if I had actually stayed where they were flailing I'd be dead now. What wretched creatures. They didn't want to catch me, just kill me. Kill the mouse. Kill the vermin.
Then one spotted me and yelled to his buddies. They came stomping and smashing toward me as I took in as much road as I could as fast as I could do it. Three kids on their way to school. Not bad for a first encounter. I'd rather have met a snake.
They were too fast and I was wearing too much gear. They were going to reach me. I couldn't jump up to the sidewalk with all the weight on me, and if I ran out into the street the cars would get me, or I'd be out in the open for them to stomp my furry head in. I was gonna die.
Oh, I'm sorry, momma! I thought. I should have told you I loved you!
Suddenly there was a sewer grate, and I leapt down it carelessly with glee. The kids cursed and stomped on the grate, spitting and seething. They stuck sticks down into it and poured their lunch drinks down it. They were really disappointed at not getting to maul me to death with all viscous cruelty. What monsters.
Now I was in the sewer. It was nothing new to me. I'd been here before. The entire old mouse kingdom had been real close to the sewers. Of course, human sewers ran for miles and miles. I didn't know the way through them, but I knew some basics. One, don't jump off anything steep. Two, avoid going down too far. Three, rats owned the sewers, and rats ate mice. I must avoid the rats, as badly as I needed their help. They might not care that I was a Mouse Knight. I was alone.
I wandered the sewer for days. I ate all my millet and Cheerios. They went fast, and I was hungry. I couldn't tell day or night down there, so I walked as fast as I could until I was tired, then slept, then walked again. I tried to stay to the clear ways, but I got real dirty. It stank down there. There was no way to avoid the filth. I got wet, I got dirty. I hated it. I stopped to wash several times an hour, but it didn't matter. I was very thirsty, and there was no clean water to drink. I must have been insane to think this was going to be easy. Before I'd left the house, my idea of a pilgrimage had been this nice, kinda lonely walk in the park. Maybe literally. Chat with a few fellow mice ("Hello, why yes, I am a Mouse Knight. Would you like my autograph?"), eat junk food from the leftover carnivals or parties (yumm), and maybe free a few animals from pet stores (real easy if there isn't a guard dog). But no. Here at the beginning of my pilgrimage I had already been scared, cold, sad, chased by stupid kids, and soaked in sewage. Whee. We're having fun now.
After a day and a half I had to chance drinking the sewer water. I found the cleanest stuff I could by smell, and it still upset my tummy. I got lucky. It didn't kill me. It just made my trek miserable. While I was at it I chanced to eat some rotting food that was down there as well. I had to, or I'd starve to death. It was nasty and foul. I had to fight off maggots and bugs to even get at it. Oh, my dignity had fallen far. I wasn't far behind, I feared. With each passing hour I wondered more and more how I was going to live through this. Reality had reared its ugly head, and I doubted it would go quietly back into the mists again. This was my dragon.
Maybe a week passed. I lost track. After about the third day I was tired and sore, and much too weary to think. I started seeing things in the darkness that might or might not have been there. It was scary and I was totally vulnerable. Four times I slipped and fell down into water - once onto hard concrete. If I hadn't had my armor, that fall would have crippled me or worse. It was only five feet - about a hundred to a human. It took me an hour to get up again after that fall, and everything hurt. Stuck in that place I felt damned, as if the world above had moved on and forgotten me. I was wandering without direction, lost underground in an abyss of stink and despair.
Sometimes near the end of the week, I came across rats. I was lucky to be downwind of them, otherwise that blind error would have cost me my hide. They were eating the dead corpse of a dog. They were big, black rats. Not like Mike or the others that I had known. These were mean rats. They would tear me apart instantly. I crept and crept, wary of any noise or movement that might tell me I was being stalked. It took hours to creep by them. My legs ached and cramped several times. I had to be patient. I forced myself to move slow. It was sheer agony. Afterwards, I had escaped them, and I ran for an hour to make up for moving so slow. It had really bothered me. I hate being slow.
A day after that I ate something that gave me gas and almost killed me. I lay on the cold cement rolling around for hours, moaning. It felt as though my belly was ten times its normal size. The pain was all I could feel. I couldn't die down here. I just couldn't. So, with all my remaining energy, I crept out of the sewers and into the world of men. I came out in the middle of the night, and collapsed behind some stairs and trash cans. It was very cold.
It was night when I woke up. Same night or another, I don't know. I was very hungry and cold. I needed water. My tummy was normal again, though. I got up to look around.
I was somewhere in the middle of the city, probably called Egypt. The streets were empty, the lights all out. I peered out of the poor hiding place I had and sat still for a long time. My mouth watered just thinking of the honey in my pack. But I wasn't that bad off yet. I'd save it for a real emergency.
My patience paid off. Across the street I saw a mouse dart from one building to another. I was just about to run over to that building and shout hello when a cat sprang from a dark doorway and landed on the mouse. I heard it squeak. The cat had it pinned. The beast would play with the poor rodent for hours before allowing it to die, if it didn't die by accident first. The mouse was fated to perish, except that it had the fortune to fall right in front of a very famous Mouse Knight.
As scared as I was, as alone as I felt, and as weak as my body had become, I ceased to care in that moment. I suddenly had a purpose that made sense in the midst of all this stupid chaos and despair. My fear went dim. I simply didn't care enough to be afraid any longer. Any knight would know what needed to be done now.
I stepped out into the light of a street lamp, high overhead. I loaded my slingshot with a stone from the pavement and whistled at the cat. It looked at me. So did the mouse. The mouse had an expression of horror and disbelief on its face. The cat ignored me and went back to tormenting the mouse.
So I let fly. My aim is better than anyone's. That includes BJ. No one can even come close to my skill. I've lived with that dear slingshot my master made for me on our first journey for four months. I practice every single day and I never go anywhere without it. I sleep with it. You get the idea. The cat got beaned at a distance of forty feet. Right in the head.
He heee, I thought. Nice shot. Oops!
The cat abandoned the pinned mouse in an instant to lunge after me. The mouse got up, shook its head in disbelief, and ran, limping, to the safety of a crack in the wall. As it took one look back, I nodded to it. There you go, my good man, be sure to tell them who saved you.
The cat charged as I calmly reloaded. My master said you must never panic. Even faced with a charging dragon, the old knights did not lose it. They and their steeds did not falter. Neither did I. I let fly with another rock and pegged the cat in the ankle. It stumbled and fell. I reloaded.
The beast rose, mad as a hornet (yeah, hornets are always mad - it's true). It resumed its charge, screeching for my blood. I let fly again. Its ear suddenly had a hole in it. The cat yowled, but did not turn aside. I began to worry, and a little late. It was only fifteen feet from me now, and coming on flaming paws, claws extended. Hold it together, Squibble! I reached into my pocket and brought out one of the BBs.
"Don't make me use this!" I shouted as I aimed. "Turn aside and take quarter, sir!"
But I could see it was not going to happen. So I let the deadly bullet go. It struck the cat right on target, straight in the forehead. My pressure on the slingshot cord had been just right too - it didn't go through to his brain, it just stuck there in his skull. The cat now had a copper third eye for the rest of its life. He fell, tumbled, and thrashed in pain. He looked at me with horror on his face. Yeah, cat. That's right. A mouse just beaned you with a BB. Now run.
I reloaded another BB. The cat spun on its heels and ran yowling back up the street.
My legs were shaking. I hadn't realized how scared I'd been. In the moment, it had seemed the perfect thing to do, what I'd done. And it went smoothly. I call that flowing. Flowing with the universe. Flowing with your heart. If you're doing what your heart wants you to, everything works. The heart knows best. Always knows better than the mind. Nemo taught me that, and I saw it all right then, in action with the cat. I hadn't felt afraid. I didn't give myself time to feel afraid. Everything worked. It was rightness. Sometimes everything just works. When things that should work don't, that's wrongness. Wrongness sucks.
I pulled another BB out of the backpack and carefully put it in my pocket. Always three BBs in the pocket. Three is a good number for everything. I had brought two extra swords. Too bad I couldn't carry two extra shields. Of course, that's what squires are for. Maybe I should have brought Scratchy. Make him carry all my stuff. Nah. He's have gotten us killed with his spinning bit. Can't run straight. No good at all. I was still mad at the little twerp for some reason.
My legs were trembling something fierce. Maybe I had been afraid but just hadn't felt it. Oh, who cares? Maybe alot of things, huh? Maybe I should stop saying maybe.
I put the slingshot back around my neck, under my armor, where I always kept it (close to my heart). It had been modified several times by my master to make it hardier and sturdier. It had been practically rebuilt from the ground up. It was a perfect weapon in my book. I loved it.
I decided that it was time for a treat after such a glorious victory, since my limbs felt like Jello, so I trotted over to the alleyway the mouse had darted out of and broke out my precious honeycomb. I was gingerly taking the wax off one off the capsules when I heard something scuff the pavement behind me. I quickly sealed the capsule again and put the honeycomb back in my backpack. Then I turned around.
I was facing a huge mouse. Not as big as Bigfat, but close, and he wasn't fat. He was just big. Alot of weight, alot of muscle, and alot of bad attitude right in my face. He had almost twenty mice behind him. He looked mean and rough, like he'd been through the wringer several times. The wringer of life. He had scars like BJ did, and several notches taken out of his ears. His fur was dirty and splotched with old stains. He was standing too close to me for me to draw my sword, and too close for me to get at my slingshot. I was caught holding my backpack with both hands, staring like a frightened child. I'd say that was pretty accurate. I was frightened, and that huge mouse made me feel like a frightened little boy again. He was ugly and nasty. He radiated meanness.
"Ummm... hi," I said.
"Gimme your sniffy," the mouse croaked. He meant my honeycomb.
I felt adrenaline shoot through my system again. I was instantly terrified. These were not domestic mice. They were the same species, and not field mice, but they had never lived in a house or a pet store. They survived on the streets, like the rats in the sewer. They had an edge about them that made them dangerous and unpredictable. Their very smell told me they hated me. I was in real danger.
"I...I'm a Mouse Knight," I said too quietly.
"What?" the mouse barked. He stepped closer. I stepped back.
"I'm a...Mouse Knight," I said. "I think you should leave me alone." My fear was all over the place. They could smell it for certain. And my voice carried it if my scent didn't.
The mice chattered and chittered insanely. They hopped around like a bunch of loons. They pretended to lunge at me and then backed off. But the leader just eyeballed me without flinching.
"What's that?" he said. "What's a mouse night?"
I risked stepping back once more and this time he didn't follow. Now I had room to draw my sword, but I didn't. I was scared silly. Paralyzed with fear.
"I am a defender of all mousekind," I said, holding my hand to my breastplate made of lobster shell. "I am a hero. I saved one of you from that cat." I didn't sound convincing.
They all laughed then. Maniacal, screw-loose laughter. I hated it. The leader turned to his gang and said, "A hero! The pet-mouse thinks he's a hero!" They laughed some more. I should have drawn my sword then. On reflection, it might have worked. It certainly would have worked better than what I did do.
I grew a little angry, trying not to be so afraid, and said, "See here sir..."
Then the big mouse bit me. Hard. I felt a stabbing pain in my hip and fell down, saying "Ow," for some stupid reason as though making a simple comment at a social gathering. He had gone right through my armor where two pieces met. I wasn't surprised. Mice can exert over 24,000 pounds per inch of pressure on a single spot. The human mouth, by comparison, can do about 400. The armor had been designed to protect against teeth, and it would have worked, but the big mouse was too strong, and too good at biting. He got me right where the belt, chestplate, and backplate came together. The chink in my armor. It hurt terribly, and I was stunned by the blow. I didn't know what to do. It was the first real mouse fight I'd ever been in. And I did the worst thing possible. I froze up. I panicked.
"Take off that stoopid suit," he commanded. "Do it NOW!"
I shuddered, got up, and obeyed. Full of humiliation and shame and fear, I took off my armor, took off my helmet, unbuckled my sword belt, and let my shield fall to the ground. I couldn't believe what I was doing, but I felt weak. I felt I had no strength to fight back. The fear took it all out of me. Oh, my master would have been so ashamed. I had given in to a bully. I had always been told bullies were cowards at heart, but this one didn't look it. He looked like he ate rats for breakfast. I watched myself remove the last of my protection and let it fall to my feet.
I stood there naked except for my slingshot around my neck and my tunic, shaking like a leaf. I saw in the crowd the mouse I had saved from the cat. He was playing along with the rest of them. He had probably been the one to go get the rest of them when he got free of the cat. Some gratitude. He didn't even look happy to be alive. He looked like the rest of them - evil and vicious.
I was in tears, I was so scared. "Please, let me keep my things," I said. "I need them. I'm on a journey..."
"I don't care!" yelled the big bully mouse, and he bit me again. This time in the shoulder. I fell down again. More out of fear than pain. The other mice moved to close in and tear me apart, but the bully mouse motioned them away. I cried. I was bleeding, and my bladder had let go. I was lying in a pool of my own urine...
"I'm a Mouse Knight!" I whimpered. "You can't do this to me!"
He laughed and mimicked me. "I'm a mouse night," he said, trying to sound stupid and doing a good job. "You can't do this to meeeee!" He danced around like a stupid idiot. The other mice all laughed. They jeered and lunged at me, stopping just short of landing blows. "Look - he's peed on himself! HAW HAW HAW!!"
As I struggled to get up, he shoved me and said, "gimme that thing," meaning my slingshot. Other mice were ripping my backpack apart, destroying my things, devouring my honeycomb. Oh, no...not my momma's priceless gift! It broke my heart to see it lost like that, taken by monsters and criminals.
Then I realized he was threatening something even more dear to me.
I clutched the slingshot to my chest. "No! I can't give you this! Please, let me go!"
Then the mouse lunged for my head. I barely dodged in time, and I only moved because some other force, perhaps many days of training, seemed to move me. I felt myself ducking, and then felt the blow land. It had been aimed for my eye! It fell instead on my skull, shook my brains, and I saw stars. Blood ran freely down my face.
That had been a killing bite! He was trying to murder me. I knew the blow from BJ's school. That hadn't been a dominance attack. My heart leapt in my chest. He meant to end my life!
Eyes full of tears, screaming like a girl mouse, I felt his second blow break my leg. It snapped like a twig, and blood sprayed all over him, which he seemed to like. He sat back a moment and guffawed to his gang about my pain...about my oncoming death.
Pain and agony filled my body. Terror filled my mind. The smell of my own blood and pee filled my nose. I couldn't think. I was petrified. I knew in that moment I didn't want to die. I knew then I truly did have a fear of death. I had seen too much of it, and I didn't want to go there. Not yet! Not like this...anything but a coward's death!
I heard a distant whining sound, as if a wind were whipping through the buildings and their broken, dark windows. When the sound came close, I heard a voice. It sounded like someone I knew, but I was too far gone to recognize it.
"Run, Squibble!" it said.
The bully had at me then with some of the other mice, as the rest tore into my things and finished off my honeycomb - scarfing it down instead of savoring it. I felt more bites, all numbed for some reason. I knew I was being killed.
Then a real wind hit all of us, a strong gust from the sea. It pulled up the dust and trash on the ground and tossed it into everyone's eyes. It was strong enough that it threw some of the mice from their feet. It gave me a moment and some space.
"I said, run, you little punk!" said the wind. It was Bigfat's voice.
I was up and gone. I couldn't feel anything, much less my broken leg. I knew I was running funny, kinda to the left, but I didn't care. The ground made weird motions and sometimes I fell on my face. Blood was everywhere. My slingshot came up and hit me in the face several times. I looked back and saw the big mouse and several of his cronies right on my heels. I would normally have left them in the dust, but my condition was crippling my speed.
I dodged around every piece of trash on the street. I took a few more bites from mice behind me - they were weak compared to their bully boss. I took the bites on my ass, which is probably the best place to take them. Not like I had a choice. I kept running, hopeless and scared to death, and they kept chasing me. The only advantage I had was BJ's training. He always made us run and dodge in our armor. Now I was without it. It made me alot faster. And still, I was barely holding my own. They were going to catch me. I was tiring out.
I ran across the street and jumped flawlessly onto the curb of the sidewalk. I skittered over the sidewalk and ran for a building that had the lights on. Some of the mice couldn't make the jump to the sidewalk, but most off them did. I couldn't slow down for a second. I was still taking bites from behind. I smelled blood. Alot of it. My hindquarters must be a bloody mess, I thought. I felt sick to my stomach thinking about all the stuff I had lost. Or maybe I felt sick because of all the blood I had lost. My leg hurt now, all the way up to my neck. I was on the edge. I couldn't go much farther.
Up ahead I saw a door opening and light pour out. To most mice this was a dead end - no sane mouse would go near people. But I had been raised as a pet, and although I knew better, I also knew that not all people would immediately kill a mouse. We scared them initially, and that might give me some time. I headed for the door. Just ahead of me the cat I had beaned with the BB came out the door. He turned, looked right at me, and bolted back through the portal. I heard a human's voice saying, "What's into you? First you wanna go out, then you don't..."
I flew through the cracked door. The other mice stopped. The bully mouse was cursing me. "I'll get you, stupid mouse!" he yelled. "I'll get you!" The human never even saw me - it was paying attention to the cat, which was huddled in a corner staring at me with horror. I hissed at it, which had the exact effect I wanted. It fled from the room at top speed and the human followed. I ran the other direction.
I searched the kitchen first. Sure enough, I found an opening into the walls through the cabinets. Once inside the walls, I was relatively safe. I skittered down and into darkness. I fell a few times, once landing on the three BBs in my pocket. Ouch. Everything was ouch. I crawled pathetically around on cold cement beneath the house, bleeding everywhere, lamenting my losses. I was doomed now. To make matters worse, I smelled other mice. I wasn't alone.
And with that thought, I passed out cold.