Survival Instincts (and then some)
You ever had one of those days that was so totally messed up - nothing would go right - that you wanted to go back to bed and hide? I was having that day. Only I had no bed.
Mice from the beginning of time had been in my situation. Rain comes, washes the poor mouse right out of his den and into strange territory where he must immediately scour and search for food and shelter while hiding from predators the whole time. Until about 3000 years ago or so, man had been in this predicament too. It's that saying "The best laid plans of mice and men..." No one promises you anything in life. It's a huge gamble. You do the best you can to tilt the odds in your favor, but no one really knows what's going to happen, and random events can kill you. Then you're dead. Bam. Just like that. Ride over, please exit to the left.
Only I had this gift. I didn't need it to tell that I was a step away from death, but my mind was starting to lose it - I was going into that fuzzy, weird place where my body stops mattering so much and I see the spirit world. And for the first time, it didn't scare me so badly. It didn't really matter very much. I mean, what could it hurt? There was something to all this spirit stuff. Nemo had made me immune to the cold of the snow. Maybe I could give it a chance. So I limped into an alleyway and plopped down near some trash. I ate part of an apple that had been discarded for days. Oh, if only my family could see me now. How ashamed I was. How humiliated and low I felt. A Mouse Knight, grubbing for trash to eat. What a sight. I had truly made a mess of things.
As I sat there I took mouse-lotus position (well, kinda, because I couldn't bend my broken leg) and focused on nothing - like Nemo had taught us to meditate. I let all thoughts pass through me on their way to infinity, and let my mind go into the darkness. I forgot how I was in pain, and I forgot how scared I was. I imagined a river, with a dock reaching out into the middle of it. It was an old wood dock, like the kind a single family might make, on their own land. It was a small river, maybe 70 feet across, flowing leisurely. The water was soft and bright. The sun was setting, and the colors in the sky were tranquil. The clouds traveled along like the river, heedless of their destination, uncaring of their destiny. The temperature was wonderful, and the scene was one of total peace. There was only the light on the river, and the sweet sound of it slowly passing by.
I heard a beautiful, distant voice.
"This is a powerful place you've built, Squibble."
I had a memory of my master saying something about this very scene once, and suddenly he was there next to me, on the end of the pier, saying it.
"Squibble, life is like a beautiful river, passing us by under a bridge, or a pier. We see all kinds of things from that place where we watch. We see things on the water, in the water, in the air. Sometimes we can pick up a few treasures as they float by, but mostly we watch as everything passes by, on its way to someone else's pier. We watch everything in life; the very experience is all we have. It's all we take with us in the end, because once things float on by, Squib, they're gone."
He shifted and looked right at me, meaning in his deep red eyes. "Our lives float by, with the river, and then they're gone, Squib. They're gone."
Then he faded away, and I felt him float on by, down the river, happy and careless. I was sad to see him go. I so wanted to hold onto him, but it had been a miracle alone that he had come to sit with me on my dock. Just being so close to him for such a short time had been a precious gift. I knew I could not keep anything here, in life. It was useless to try. For some reason this made me unbearably sad. I saw such beautiful things, floating by on the river. Friends and family, treats and toys, fun and laughter. I also saw sadness and despair, broken hearts and disappointment. Every bit of it drifted on by, at exactly the same speed. I could do nothing to stop it. I knew I could pick something out of the river, if it drifted close enough, but even then, how long could I hold it? It would mean looking away from the majesty of the river to focus on something else. Not that this was wrong. I felt there was no wrong here. None at all. Just experiences. No good or bad, no judgment at all. Just the river, the sky, the sounds of it all. How long had my master been gone? A moment? A week? A month? Maybe a year. Time had stopped. It had no meaning.
I remembered my master saying to me, "Death is like life, Squibble. It's just another journey." He was not smiling as he always did. It was raining. "Souls travel to the sea, and wait there for the dawn, or the sunset, depending on which sea..."
"How long does it take?" I asked, picturing myself at the edge of some sea, a shining and noble soul, ready to be rewarded for a life of faithful service. "What happens then!"
My master looked far away, a longing look in his eye. "Well, it takes awhile to get to the sea, little mouse, and on the way the soul has time to think on their life, and what it meant to them."
"And then!?" I asked, eager and excited.
My master looked at me and forced a smile. He looked tired. "Then the ship comes, Squib. The shining ship of the fates, to take that soul to paradise."
"Cool!" I exclaimed. "And then!?"
"Anything you want then," my master said.
"Anything?!" I gasped. "Even ice cream?"
He laughed, coughed, then continued laughing. "Yes, precious friend. Even ice cream." He petted me. It was so nice. Like heaven. A raindrop hit the side of his face and it looked like he was crying, even though he was smiling.
Then I was back on the dock, sitting out over the middle of the river, watching it pass me by. It was sunset. I was old. I had come to this dock many, many times. I knew it well. The water had not changed. This place never did. Only I had changed.
I was alone.
I woke in the late evening sometime in the dark. The ground was shaking. The trash truck was coming to collect the trash, and I would be collected with it. I tried to get up and run, but had forgotten I had a broken, swollen leg. I fell and squeaked in pain. I wanted my mommy. I wanted to be back on that pretty dock where nothing mattered. But I wasn't. I was struggling to survive in a cold, harsh world, and I'd better get used to it or perish. So I limped as fast as I could with my crutch away from the trash cans. The ground trembled, I fell repeatedly, but I just got up and kept going. It was certain death I was trying to outrun. I didn't look back once. As the trash cans were lifted into the sky, refuse fell all about me, like a crumbling building. Any number of them could have smashed me to death, but I got lucky. Some liquid spilled out onto the pavement and made puddles. I made it to shelter next to a fallen brick. I waited until the trash truck rumbled on by, then crawled out and lowered myself to the shiny pool, quivering and weak. I drank, remembering how pathetic I must look. Look, hell. I was pathetic.
I painfully crawled several blocks, stopping to rest at each one. I was lost. I had no idea where I was going. My only hope was to find that dreaded lab, and somehow steal antibiotics. That place sounded like a dragon's lair. Designed to keep mice in. I wouldn't stand a chance there. Maybe there was an alternative.
I found a phone booth. I climbed up onto the phonebook, which was closed of course, and found the "P" section. I was pretty sure Pharmacy was how it was spelled. Not with an F like it sounded. Weird language. So I chewed. I chewed into the phonebook. Mice are good at this, and it wasn't wood - more like loose wood, all those compressed pages. It went well, and it was fun, but by dawn I still wasn't through to a part of the page I wanted, and I didn't even know it was dawn until a human flipped the phone book over and opened it.
Busted! I snapped my head up and gazed into the face of a fat old lady. Upon seeing a mouse burrowed into the phonebook, she screamed and threw the book down. Only my little gnawed-out cave saved me for being squished to death. She ran screaming from the booth, cursing about mice. Stupid human. You're much scarier than I am.
I recovered from the shock and scurried as best I could down from the shelf and into the nearby alleyway. All day I slept and ate trash, drank icky water and watched the phone booth. Lots of people were mad about the chewed pages, but no one threw out the book. It was on a chain anyhow. At night, many hours after the sun went down and the street was deserted, I crept back into the booth and continued my excavation of the pharmaceutical section.
Finally, I had phone numbers and addresses. HE HE! What a smart mouse I was!
I tore out several sections with addresses on them and folded them carefully, lining my tunic with them, front and back, like armor. I was amassing quite a collection of paper. I wish I had one of my favorite books to read. The mice back home all took great pride in reading, and the house was full of books with mice reading them. My master had personally read over a hundred books, including every single treasured encyclopedia he owned that the human bought for him. Mice competed to see how many books they could read, and how much they remembered. I was different. I only liked a few books. They were by this guy, Stephen King. He was really cool. He wrote stories, one of them about a mouse! And the mouse is so cool, and everyone liked the mouse except this stupid guy. Anyway, I figured Steve likes mice. My master says he's a great writer, so I learned alot from his writing. Or at least I tried. I'd always get lost in the stories and just keep reading. I missed out on alot of "important" books like medical journals and math an' all that, but who cares? I loved Steve's stories. They were important to me. When we put in requests for new books from the kind human, I'd always write his name on the list. Everybody would look at me like I was a loon, but they were obviously a bunch of stiffs who couldn't appreciate a good yarn unless they were chewing on it. So sometimes I got the books. And what I wouldn't have given right then, in that stupid city, to find a King book. Especially the one with the dangerous guy searching for the tower. I can't die before I know how that ends! No way. I gotta live to read that.
So I spent another three days finding a gas station. I knew from my trips with the human that gas stations had maps. I snuck in, and robbed them of a map. You know, if I were a human, I'd leave money or something, but I'm not, I'm a mouse, and mice steal stuff, okay?
I couldn't carry the whole map at all, so I tugged it open on the floor and found where I was at. I looked at the pharmacy addresses and found the farthest one, then chewed out a circle the diameter of the farthest pharmacy from the center, where I was at. Now I had all the addresses on this partial map. I folded that up too and tried to stuff it in my tunic, but it wouldn't fit. So I made a cloak out of it. Fine with me. Wear the map. While I was there I ate some candy bars and beef jerky. I got a drink of some fresh water below the refrigerator. MMMMMM. Good. Then I washed off my leg, found some soap and cleaned it. Puss and nasty stuff oozed out of the tear in my skin where the bone had come through. It burned and hurt, but it looked like it was still set correctly. A miracle considering what I'd put it through. I made a new splint out of more toothpicks and clean toilet paper. I wrapped it good and tight.
I stuffed my tunic with all the goodies I could carry and made my way toward the nearest pharmacy. It was hard. I was sick and weak, but mice have an advantage in this department. When we get sick, the last thing to go is our ability to move and act normal. That's because in the wild if we acted sick, we're instantly marked as a target for predators. They look for that kind of thing. So mice learned to act normal until they were on Death's door, and then they left the nest, went out and died, maybe being spared that pain by some predator that would eat them and make it quick. This kind of behavior always bothers the kind human, because he can never tell which of his mice are sick until it's almost too late. He keeps antibiotics on hand. Smart human.
Anyway, because of this gift to mice by the Mousegod (thank you, Bigfat), we can travel and act fairly normal even when we're sick for some time before we suddenly drop dead. My master almost did that on our first and most holy quest. He was hurt really bad, though. Much worse than I was.
I still couldn't feel my rear end, though, and it would bleed when I sat down on it. So I spent most of my time laying down or standing on one leg when I was still.
I was getting better at using the crutch, and I shortened it so it worked better. I was making about a quarter of the time I would without the break, but at least I was moving at all.
I found things to eat and drink most everywhere. Always trash. But humans throw away some pretty good stuff. I even had pizza. I guess they've forgotten what it's like to starve.
It took me a week or more to reach the pharmacy, and every step was agony. I steadily grew sicker. I would have fainting spells and dizzy moments, and I sometimes felt like I couldn't go to the bathroom. I finally made it to the pharmacy, but I had to wait till they were closed. However, this didn't happen. At midnight, they were still open! I thought, what's up with that? and went to read the door from behind the shopping carts. It said "24-hour pharmacy" on it.
Well, it was search for another one, or just brave this one. It would be very foolish to try to rob humans while they were there. But I was really sick. I was losing my appetite, and that was the beginning of the end.
I decided I had to risk it. The thing my master told me never to try. Going in while the humans were awake.
Sorry, master. I have no choice.
I said a word to Bigfat, asking him to make me invisible to the humans, and snuck in the back.