Heide and Fred
I woke to a mouse grooming me. At first I thought it was my momma. Then I remembered what had happened. I sat bolt upright and scared the female mouse who was tending to my wounds.
"I have to warn them!" I shrieked.
Babies began to cry and squeak in alarm. I was in a nest made of old couch stuffing and newspapers. We were below the house I had run into. This mouse was a new mother, and had ten babies all curled up near her. She had been licking the dried blood from my fur. She was frightened, but ready to defend her children from me if I was dangerous.
"I'm sorry," I said. Pain shot through my body. Instead of squeaking in agony, I said, "Ow." like it didn't matter. Like I was sipping tea. My body burned with fever. I was getting sick.
She cowered in fear.
"I won't hurt you or your family," I said. "I need help."
"I know," she said. "Duh."
Oh. Smart mouse.
"How long have I been here?" I asked.
"Many days," she said. "I feed you. I bring you water."
I looked at myself and tried to laugh. Laughing hurt, and I looked terrible. Of course I looked like I needed help. I tried to get up and couldn't put any weight on the broken leg. It felt cold. Well, that was probably it for me as a mouse. Best bet, even if I could reach a vet, they'd amputate the leg. I'd be a cripple from now on. I immediately thought of Scratchy. I felt guilty pangs of conscience. I'd be like him.
There was one chance. I had attended all the boring classes on medicine that my master had taught. Mouse medicine. I'd gone because it was my master teaching, not because I wanted to know anything about medicine. But it had been him speaking, so I had listened.
"You have to set my leg," I said to the mouse. "But you might have to break it again first."
"Do what?" she said.
"You have to set the bone," I said. "It's broken. You have to pull it apart and set one broken half into the other so it fits perfectly. To pull it apart you're going to have to use your teeth. It's not set right. If it heals this way I'll never be whole."
"I can't do that," she said.
"You have to," I said with desperation. "Or I'll never walk again. And I really need to walk again. Soon!"
She timidly crawled over to me. It seemed that she had strength in her. She wasn't a weak mouse. "I'll try," she said.
I showed her just what to do, and we went over it several times. She asked all the right questions. I was impressed with her confidence. She was a good mouse. I hadn't fallen into enemy territory. She was a stroke of good luck.
When the time came, I said, "Okay. Do it." And she did. My leg immediately shot unbearable pain through my entire body. I gritted my teeth against it, unwilling to cry out. I'd been enough of a coward lately. Enough to last the rest of my miserable life! My teeth gnashed as she pulled, then tenderly turned the bone this way and that, feeling for the right position to put it back where it belonged - together with its other half. It took more than half of forever, and I was in a cold, deep sweat before it was over, shaking uncontrollably. But she did it. It looked right. The bone felt straight. I winced in agony and relief. I felt weak as one of her babies.
"Okay, now we have to bind it," I said. She immediately set out to find things to bind it with. We used parts from her nest, sticks from the house wood, and whatever else we could find. We made a cast and bound the leg. She was amazingly efficient and smart. She didn't get grossed out or shy away from the gruesome task. I never had to tell her anything twice. I liked her.
Once it was over, I said, "Okay. Now I need medicine. I'm going to get very sick. I need stuff called antibiotics."
She shrugged. "I don't know what that is, or where to get it," she said. "The human might know."
"HA HA HA! You're joking, right?" I grimaced through pain. "I'll just walk in there and ask him."
"Her," she said.
"Hmmm?" If the human was a she, I had a better chance. They usually were afraid of mice, but my master had said that in general, the female humans were more compassionate.
"Her name is Heide," she told me. "She likes mice."
"WHAT!" I chirped. Despite the pain, I sat up.
"She likes mice. She used to have one. I would talk to it at night. I learned alot. Like where the cookies were..."
"Another kind human?" I said, unbelieving. I thought we had the only kind human. My master thought there weren't any others. Could this be true?
"You're a smart mouse," I said.
"Takes brains to survive around here," she said. "How did you get so beat up?"
"Lack of brains," I said. "I need to know if that human will listen to me. Do you think she will?"
"Can you talk human?" she asked.
"No, but I can write."
Her eyes got big. "I've heard a story about a mouse that could read and write! Months ago, the story went all around the city. A mouse that found a haven for a bunch of outcast domestic mice. They called him..."
"The Mouse Knight," I finished for her.
"You? You're...the Mouse Knight?" she asked, awe in her voice and eyes.
I hung my head down. "No," I said. "He is my master, and if I'd been him, I wouldn't be in this stupid situation now."
"Then he's real!?" she exclaimed.
"Yes," I said. "He's real."
"There's really a haven? A safe place for mice?"
I nodded. "Yes. It's called the safe house. It's in the Fields of Fate."
"That's so far..." she said, squinting.
"Tell me about it," I said. "I walked there."
She just looked at me with respect. It was a new thing. This was not feigned respect, or old respect, or respect because I was my master's squire. It was mine. It was just for me. It felt good.
"You are an amazing mouse," she said.
"Nah," I said. But she never quite lost that awed look in her eyes. I can't say I didn't like it. She thought I was cool.
She cared for me for a week or so until I had some of my strength back. But, as I predicted, I began to feel sick, and my leg was swelling up...turning purple and sickly yellow. She brought me food and water. She had her kids to take care of, too. It was alot of work. She never once complained. She was so tired that her short naps consumed her with fatigue. She'd be out the moment she laid down. Her kids would always wake her, mewling for milk. Hassles though they be, she seemed absolutely dedicated to them. The kitchen was quite a journey from her nest, yet she made the trip a thousand times those nights, trying to find me scraps from the floor, trying to feed herself and her kids.
Then on a slightly warmer day, I woke. My leg was swollen and purple - a giant bloated thing. I felt ill. She had piled up a bunch of cereal she had found in the cabinet. It wasn't Cheerios, but it was good.
"The human will trap you and kill you if he finds that you chewed a hole in his cereal," I said in the dark.
"It was worth the risk," she said. "But I don't think she will. Heide likes us. She leaves the cookies out for us now, once she found that we had snuck into the pantry to nibble on them."
I thought about that. A human that gives mice cookies. It didn't seem possible, but the mother mouse wouldn't lie to me about it. There was no use in it. I had to go speak to this human. It was against the laws of the safe house, revealing our intelligence, but I was in dire straits, and it was time to bend the rules. My master always said that when you couldn't win any other way, start bending rules. If that didn't work, break them.
"I need to get up to the human," I said. "I need to ask for her help."
"I'll help you."
No 'that's crazy' or 'you're stupid,' or even, 'you'll endanger my babies.' Just 'I'll help you.'
I'm not amazing.
"You're amazing," I said.
She let her babies feed until they went to sleep, then put my shoulder under hers. "I do what I've gotta do," she said. And she helped me all the way up to the house. She pointed out the kitchen, the living room, and told me where the human was. She also told me where the cat would be. She said she'd be back in an hour or so, and every hour after, to look for me. I nodded, and she vanished.
Well, it didn't take long to find the human. She was in the living room watching TV. She was watching my favorite show. The one with the brave captain and the first officer with the pointed ears. So cool. I was going to settle down to watch, but the cat found me first.
He sure looked funny with that BB stuck in his forehead. The human hadn't noticed yet, obviously. He caught me sitting down on the top of the couch, and I couldn't get up with my broken leg very quickly, if at all. He had me.
So I turned around deliberately and went back to watching TV.
"I am your death, mouse," he hissed.
"You'll be my irritation if you don't shut up," I said. "I like this show."
I could smell the fear from the cat. It was working. Good thing, because it was all I had. He was uncertain.
"I will eat you...tear you..." the cat said.
"Blah, blah blah," I said. "Already been tried. You, the mice, the snake, the hawk, the whole stinkin' world. Now take a number and shut up."
I had my back to the cat. I couldn't see it, but I could feel its hesitation. I also felt its desire to kill me in one blow, which it could certainly do. But it hesitated because it was afraid. Why was the mouse so brave? What secret weapon did it have? Would it hurt as much as the last one did?
"Why are you in my house?" It said.
"I'm here to speak to your human," I said. "Fetch, boy."
The cat growled in anger. I turned around with my best irritated face - the one I used to use when Shiva and Thor messed up my cage. "Do not make me come up there and finish what I started, cat."
The cat's eyes widened and it turned from me, jumping off the couch. It went over to the human, complaining about the mean mouse with the dangerous magic. Of course all the human heard was meow. But she got up, and came over to where the cat led her. Her eyes widened too. She squatted down so her head was level with mine. Since I couldn't move without pain, I sat there trying to look calm.
"A mouse!" she said. Oh, very good, human. You're clearly the detective Batman.
"It's got a hurt leg," she said. She slowly reached to pick me up. I let her. Pain.
"What happened to you, little one?" she said. It was the same tone of voice the kind human used. She did like mice. My gamble had come through.
"Piss off," I told the cat. It did, swearing at being ordered about by a scary mouse.
I smiled at the human and licked her finger.
"Oh, you're so friendly," she said. "Would you like something to eat? I have some mouse treats..." She took me into the kitchen. There was an old mouse cage there, still full of toys and a nest box. There was a wheel. Oh, how I longed to run on a wheel again, but I might never get to do that. Ever again. There was a computer on the same table, along with some papers and pencils. She set me down by the computer keyboard and went to get the cookies. That's when I had an idea that changed mousekind forever. I knew how a keyboard worked.
When she came back she set the cookie down and sat at the table. "There you go, cute mousey. I know mice like cookies." Then she looked at the computer screen and a puzzled look came across her face.
It said, Need your help. Wounded in battle. Need antibiotics.
She shook her head and cleared the screen. She tried to feed me the cookie again. I swatted it away. "Now, don't bite me," she said warningly. Her jaw dropped as I jumped onto the keyboard and typed No cookie. Antibiotics.
She just stared for a good long time. Her look was worth the trouble. I grinned.
"Did...did you just type that?" she asked.
I went over to a cup of pencils and pulled one out. I chewed off the graphite end and took it to a piece of paper.
Yes, I wrote.
"Oh...Oh my god," she said.
Hello, I wrote. Hmmm... Keyboard was easier. I went back there.
"This...this is amazing," she looked pallid, like she was going to pass out.
Don't pass out, I wrote on the computer. I need your help.
I waited a good five minutes while she composed herself. She looked at the screen, at the tiny note I had written. She struggled with it. Finally, she seemed to be okay.
"I always knew mice were smart," she said. Then she shook her head to clear it. "Antibiotics...I don't have any. I did once. I had a mouse once."
Pet? And with the paper I wrote an arrow toward the cage.
"Oh, yes," she smiled. "Tiny was his name. He was so sweet. I had to take him to the vet once, but those meds are long gone now."
What happened to Tiny? I wrote.
"Oh, that's a terrible story," she looked distressed. "You don't want to hear that."
I nodded. Sure.
She looked depressed. "I had him for a year and a half. My family went on vacation and I had to go, so I took him to this pet hotel. It was called "Paradise Place Pet Hotel." They assured me everything would be okay, but when I came back..." she started crying. I put my paw on her hand. She petted me. She knew how to pet a mouse. "When I came back...they gave me this...mouse...in the cage I had brought Tiny in. And it wasn't Tiny. It was white, just a feeder, like Tiny had been, but I could tell right away it wasn't Tiny. It ran from my hand, and Tiny always came out to greet me. It didn't even look like Tiny. I told them they had the wrong mouse, but they said that was the only mouse they had. I looked around the place, and they had alot of other animals, but no mice. They had a snake though, and it had a lump in it. So I lost it. I got really mad, and I screamed for the manager. The owner came out, and explained very apologetically that an employee, who had been fired, had ran out of food for several animals, and so he fed the snake my mouse.
I gasped in horror. Heide was crying now. Oh, how terrible.
"He apologized and said he told someone to go get me a new mouse, to make up for it. But that wasn't what was going on. They had thought it would fool me, replacing Tiny. They thought I didn't care enough for my little friend to know his face, his behavior, his...his soul. I guess the cruel trick would have worked on most people, I don't know, but I was destroyed by it. I tried to sue them, to take legal action, but I couldn't prove that the mouse they replaced my baby with wasn't Tiny. So they got away with that awful crime. They fed my darling, priceless baby to a snake for no reason except that they ran out of food for it."
I sat there a long time looking at her. She was still suffering from the open wound. She was a kind human. Her tragic loss, the terrible story she told, was proof. She knew her mouse from a thousand others. She could have picked Tiny out of a huge crowd of mice. Tiny had met an undeserved end at the hands of uncaring humans who valued a mouse at no more than 99 cents. I think my opinion of humans at that moment hit rock bottom.
What happened to the other mouse? I typed.
She shook her head. "I tried to keep it, but I couldn't. It reminded me of Tiny's premature end in the mouth of a snake. I couldn't bear it. I tried."
I looked at her. She hadn't answered the question.
"I gave it to a friend," she said. "One who had other mice."
Other kind humans? What a discovery. And what a horrid story.
I'm very, very sorry, I typed.
"I told you you didn't want to hear it," she sobbed.
But I did, I wrote.
She nodded. "I must be going crazy," she said. "I miss Tiny so much. He trusted me and I left him with those butchers. I keep imagining his end, wondering why I wasn't coming to save him. I haven't even been able to clean out his cage. Now I'm talking to a mouse. It even looks like you have a cast on your leg. I'm insane."
No, I wrote. Many mice know how to read. And write.
"You're...you're kidding?" she asked.
I shook my head no.
"Could Tiny read and write?" she asked.
Maybe, if he'd been taught.
Her face showed her shock at all the new information.
You can't tell anyone about me, I wrote.
"I promise," she said. "But I have to get you to a vet."
I shook my head no. Vet won't help me.
"Why?" she asked.
Don't know about mice. Don't care. Will try to put me to sleep because of my leg. I hopped around lamely thinking of it. I went back to the keyboard, No one must know that I can write! And I hate vets! They poke you and prod you.
She seemed ready to argue but thought about Tiny. She had seen first hand what humans were capable of. "What do I do then?" she asked.
Do you know where I can get antibiotics? I wrote.
"I'd try a pet store," she said.
Can you take me to one? I typed.
She nodded her head.
At night, when they're closed, I wrote.
She nodded again. "Isn't it dangerous?" she said.
What isn't for a mouse? I wrote.
She laughed sadly. "Yeah. No kidding."
But first, I wrote, do you want to make Tiny proud of you?
Wait here for me. I typed, and hobbled to my feet. I crawled to the curtains, down to the floor, and vanished under the sink.
When I came back with the mother mouse, Heide had the cage all set up already. The mother looked at me questioningly. Heide was smiling. She had guessed what I was going to ask of her.
"For everything you've done for me," I said to the mother mouse, "you deserve this. I think this human will take care of you."
"And my babies?" she asked.
"I don't know," I said. "Go get one and we'll see."
When she returned, holding a tiny pinky gently in her mouth, Heide was deeply moved.
"Ohhh, the tiny little thing," she said. "Is she asking me to take care of her and her family?"
I nodded. Will you? I wrote.
"Yes, I would be honored," she said. "Is this the cookie stealer?" I nodded and smiled. She smiled back. She reached out to pet the mother mouse. The female mouse tensed, but held still. Brave mouse. "You won't ever have to steal another cookie again, sweetie," she said.
The mother looked at me with infinite gratitude and vanished to go get her babies, one by one.
These are probably Tiny's children, I typed. She was his friend.
Heide looked even more stunned and gazed down with new affection at the tiny pink baby. I could see she knew it was true. Her eyes watered up again.
"I'll give them everything I ever gave Tiny," she whispered, then looked at me. "Thank you."
Boy did that feel good.
The cat jumped up on the counter.
"No way!" he said.
I looked him straight in the eye. He wasn't used to that. Not many mice could do it. "Way, cat," I said. "Furthermore, if any harm whatsoever comes too this mouse or her family, I will be back to deal with you! Less mercifully than last time." The cat shrunk back, fearing for its life. I stalked forward until I was inches from its face. "Am I perfectly clear?" I said, growling the words.
The cat nodded.
"Oh, kitty!" Heide said. "Are you going to be the guardian of the nice mice?" she eyeballed him hard. She knew what was up. "Don't hurt these mice, kitty, understand!?"
The cat meowed at her, avoided my eyes, and ran from the room.
"Don't worry," she said. "The cage has a lid he can't get through, and I'll make sure they're safe."
I wrote Thank you.
When all the babies were in the new nest (with custom, soft bedding), the mother licked me. "We owe you everything," she said.
"I owe you more," I said. "And I will do more, one day. I promise. But now I am in a race against time to find medicine, or I am going to get very sick and die."
"I understand," she said. "They have medicine in the lab."
I peered at her hard. "What?"
"At the lab, they have medicine. Sometimes pet mice escape from their owners. They know about the lab."
"What is...the lab?" I asked, fearing the way she said it. It brought back visions of my dreams.
"A place where the humans keep mice," she said. "That's all I know. I think it's bad, because mice mention it with great fear."
"Great evil," I whispered.
"Nothing. Just something I promised... awhile ago." I looked at her. "You need a name for helping me. You risked everything to do that. If you'd stayed in that basement those other mice would have come and found us. They'd have killed you and your babies."
"Not without a nasty fight," she said. I smiled. She was so brave.
"We need a name for you," Heide said to the mother, as if reading my mind. I looked at the mouse.
"How about Fred?" the mother mouse said. I gasped.
"Don't joke," I said. "Those things can stick!"
"I like Fred," she said. I looked at her silently. "I do," she said. "Can that be my name?"
I shrugged. Whatever.
Her name is Fred, I typed. Mine is Squibble.
"Hmmm...strange name for a female mouse," Heide said. I nodded. "But okay, Fred it is. And nice to meet you, Squibble. That sounds familiar. My friend has this book..."
No resemblance, I typed quickly.
She shrugged. "Okay."
I smiled at Fred. Fred smiled back. "You're named now," I said. "A loved pet."
She hugged me. Her babies squirmed around my feet. One of them clung to me. I felt my chest warm and my face blush.
I went to the edge of the table. Heide cleaned me up with warm water and soap, careful not to get the cast wet. Then we rested until that night. I said goodbye to Fred and wished her well. Heide wrote down her address and phone number for me, on a tiny piece of paper, which I stuck in my tunic over my chest hoping it would act as armor. I don't know why she wrote that stuff down for me, it's not as if I could come back or use a phone, but okay. Whatever. I took a toothpick and made a walking stick/crutch. I bound my leg further with tape and toothpicks. It hurt alot.
But to face what I was about to attempt, I was going to have to ignore it. I didn't think there was going to be any antibiotics at the pet store. They just let their mice die when they got sick.
I knew what was coming. My dreams made it plain as day. I just didn't want to admit it.
I realized I had been doing that for a long time.