Ashes to Ashes
I've never been a very tactful mouse. I know alot about tactics, but that's different. Those I studied with my master. Tact is when you could say something smoother or better and get more of what you want, or avoid a conflict. Being tactless is like just saying it how it is, and damn the polish. I like telling it how it is, but more than that, it just never occurs to me not to tell the truth. This ended up costing me, because when mice would ask me if I was really out of my mind, I'd say no, but if they asked me if I see things, I'd say yes. I'd even describe the things to them, and read their auras for them. I was trying to be my friendly old happy self, and not the bitter, depressed self I was fighting, but it backfired on me and within a few days the entire kingdom thought I was a nutcase. Mice would avoid me like the plague. (Hey - the plague wasn't our fault anyway.) I felt alone and lonely most of the time.
I fell asleep in front of Nemo's cage as night came after Branch went home, and woke up just an hour later to Nemo's girlfriend screeching at me like a harpy to begone from her porch. I told her it wasn't her porch, but Nemo's, and she tried to pee on me. Female chinchillas can aim their pee and hit targets up to twenty feet away with it! I didn't know that. She missed me, but I took off running, that's for sure. Rude woman!
I went somewhere, I can't remember where - under the refrigerator, I think, because no one ever looks there - and fell asleep. By the time I woke up it was almost dawn again.
This time when I went outside to the training area, everyone got out of my way. Fine. I noticed that I was the only knight without armor or a weapon. I saw the skinny female knight teaching a class on missile weapons. She wore a blue sash. All her students had blue sashes with stripes on them. Scratchy was there again, next to BJ, demonstrating Aikido.
My master looked tired from a hard day of training soldiers. It looked as though the nest was getting ready for some serious trouble.
"Hello, Squibble," he said. "I apologize for offending you the other day. I meant no harm."
"What can I do for you?" he said, ignoring the class, which stood at attention.
"BJ didn't take the little half-chewed twit as a squire, did he?" I asked.
My master ignored the insult to Scratchy, which I knew he didn't like. "No," he said.
"But he offered."
"What!" I exclaimed. "The King offered to take a squire? A...a midget squire?"
"He sees the value in Scratchy that you clearly don't," my master said.
"What happened? Why isn't Punky Stupid in armor by now?" I asked.
"Scratchy," he intoned the name over my mockery, "refused."
"What a moron!"
"He wants to be your squire, Squibble. He turned down The King for it."
"Utter idiot, since he ain't gettin' it."
He was thinking of biting me. I could tell. I made the submissive gesture and cut him off. He smirked at my smartness. Then he giggled. I giggled too. Then I remembered my reason for coming.
"Nemo wants to train me in my powers," I said too loudly. Some mice in the lineup chuckled.
"Hey!" my master bellowed. "That's a Mouse Knight you're scoffing at, maggots! Now get down and give me three hundred!"
The lineup of recruits gasped and fell down, doing push-ups. Good thing mice have short arms, I thought. I felt warm all over at my master's display of defending my honor. BJ looked at us from all the way across the back yard, as shocked as the troops were to hear my master yell. He never yells.
"That oughtta keep 'em busy for awhile," he said, and turned back to me. "I think that's a great idea, Squib."
"You do?" I said.
"Howcome?" I asked.
He put a hand on me and groomed me a bit between the ears. Although he was putting on a cheerful face, I could see the weariness in him. It showed in his eyes. He missed my momma, and until now, I had selfishly thought I was the only one affected so. My mom had been his true love. I felt sorry for him. How could I have been so blind?
"Nemo knows alot," he said. "Much more than I do. He's older than any mouse. He's read a ton of books. And he's connected to the spirit world on a level I can't even begin to comprehend." He played with my whiskers affectionately. "But you can, Squib. You've got the touch."
"I'm insane, you mean."
He scowled. "Don't you believe that gossip nonsense," he said. "Mice gossip. They just do. No stopping it. They're gonna be mice, so don't let it bother you."
"But it does, master."
He thought a moment, his nose in his hand. "Yeah. You're very sensitive, Squibble. You have fragile feelings. The problem is, heroes have to toughen up some."
"Or alot," I said, thinking of the city.
"Shiva and Thor were let down by their human," I said. "Our kind human sent them to a bad home. They were put in a shelter and abused."
My master's face sank and I saw his fatigue clearly now. He was thin and pale. He didn't look good. The shield of bravado fell from his face and I saw the sadness there. There was more than I had thought. Way more.
He turned and looked back at his troops. It didn't take long for speedy mice to do 300 push-ups. It was almost dawn anyway.
"Class dismissed!" he yelled. A mouse somewhere rang a chime. Mice everywhere began to pack up and go in for the day. To sleep.
He turned back to me. "I'll share that with the human. Are they alright?"
"Yeah. Kinda," I said. Not really, I thought to myself.
"You haven't told anyone about your pilgrimage, Squibble," he said. "I gather it wasn't all you hoped it might be."
"It was really hard," I said. I showed him the scar on my leg underneath the fur. "I didn't like most of it." I pondered what it was safe to tell, and then, "Master...I think I found great evil."
"The black mouse?"
"No...different. But..." I described to him the pet stores, the poor mothers in their tiny, tiny cages, and the laboratories with all the horrors they inflicted on mousekind. I described things in detail, but I left out anything having to do with me or what I did there. I thought he'd be mad if he found out how much I had risked (or blown completely) the Kingdom's secret.
He thought about it as we walked back to the house. Apparently it wasn't safe to stay outside anymore, day or night.
"That is great evil, Squib. That is."
"Someone's gotta do something about it!" I said, ignoring the fact that I pretty much had, but only in part of one tiny city. The world was a big place. My master's power could reach that far. Not mine though.
"Well, I'd say that's so," he said. Then he smiled at me. It was a wide grin. "Squib, I'd say you found your holy quest!" He turned to me and put both paws on my shoulders, looking me right in the eye.
I knew he was right, but I hadn't expected that. Such straightforward confirmation of what I had to do in this life. I didn't want it to be my job. It was too big. But worse, I felt that this part of it was just the tip of the iceberg.
"No, master! You could go abroad - get all the mice to change it - get everyone to cooperate! If anyone could get the humans to change, it would be you! I can't do it!"
He laughed. "Squibble. We'd need a talking mouse in order to reach humans the way they need to be reached. Writing it down for them ain't gonna cut it. Their own prophets have already done that. It didn't work. And we don't have any talking mice."
"There has to be a way, master!" I said with clear desperation in my voice. I was remembering all those poor mothers who were constantly losing their children.
He looked me over seriously. "You'll find a way, Squib." I opened my mouth to protest, but he put a finger over it. "It will be you, Sir Squibble. It feels right. My holy quest is over. This one is yours."
"Oh, but master...it's so huge...I can't do it alone."
"I doubt you'll be alone, kiddo."
"Will you help me?" I brightened up.
He smiled sadly at me and kissed my face. "If I can, my dear friend, I always will. Always."
"Oh, thank you, master."
"No problem, Squib. Want some dinner before bed?"
"I'm...kinda not hungry anymore."
"Yeah. We've all lost weight. It's stressful, losing our security. These attacks are crazy. They come out of nowhere."
Of course, the attacks weren't what I had meant, but I nodded.
"What are we going to do, master? Why is everyone training?"
"We can't let them take our house," he said. "We're well defended here. In the beginning they killed alot of mice. Almost a hundred in the first wave..." he stopped short, looking at me. I didn't know why, but it made me feel bad. I returned his look with one that said what!?
"We're...we're ready for them now, Squibble. They can't get inside again," he said.
"But what then?" I said. "We can't hold them off forever. Aren't we going to fight back?"
He looked astonished. "Against mice, Squibble? Kill our own kind? We can't do that. No, never. We'd be no better than humans then. No... no, we can't do that."
He sounded severely set on that. I worried suddenly. From my perspective, we were very close to being "human" as it was.
"But these mice are insane, master," I explained. "The black mouse has driven them mad."
"They're still mice," he said, and looked at me as if to say, the issue is decided. We can't kill other mice, Squibble.
I sighed and nodded. He always knew best. Every time I ever thought I was right and he wasn't, it was never true.
"Yeah," I said. "Okay."
As we were going in, many mice were coming out. The kind human was leading them. It looked like a parade, all formal and dressed up. In the kind human's hands it looked like he had a cloth or something wrapped around a box. My master looked up and then down.
"What's that, master?" I asked as the human went past us and the mice around us.
He looked at me. "Your mother's funeral," he said. "The kind human is going to bury her."
The kind human dug a deep hole in the vast back yard that stretched into the Fields of Fate. As he did so, all the mice of the Kingdom stood still. As he finished, it began to rain.
I didn't know what to feel. I certainly didn't know what to think. My head went numb and my chest just ached. I wanted more than anything to feel my momma's sweet kiss on my head one more time.
The human was reading something out of a book. It had to do with ashes and dust. I thought it was strange, but what in my life wasn't strange now? I thought I should be crying. Many mice were, but I couldn't. I was beyond it. The feelings growing in me were not content to be expressed by tears.
"My poor momma," I said. "I'm going to miss her every day of my life."
My master sighed. I regretted my words instantly.
I looked at him. We were in the front row of course, and we both saw the little coffin as the human opened it and placed millet and cheerios in - to help my momma on her journey. Then the human showed my momma's body the light at the edge of the horizon and told her to go there - to find it, and to go home. He was crying, and wished her peace on her journey. The box was closed and covered in a plastic bag. I didn't know why until later. It was so that wild animals (or insane ones) wouldn't dig her body up.
Then the human put her in the ground.
"Master...I know you loved her," I said carefully.
"With all my heart," he whispered. "We had such a short time together, but far better than none."
"What will happen to her now?" I asked, sounding worried.
He kept staring into that dark hole, my mother's grave, as he spoke. He wasn't happy anymore. He wasn't smiling.
"Death is like life, Squibble. It's just another journey." The rain picked up as the human began to scoop dirt back into the grave, sealing my momma in forever. "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. I saw my poor momma, walking through the Fields of Fate all alone, maybe lost. "What happens then!"
My master grew a forlorn look on his face, as if he was trying to see the soul of my mother in the spirit world. He was looking out over the horizon. "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," he said.
I had to know if my mother was going to make it.
"And then!?" I asked.
My master smiled at me, even though he was so obviously tired. Tired to his bones and further.
"Then the ship comes, Squib. The Shining Ship of the Fates, to take that soul to Paradise."
I breathed a sigh of relief. I could see my momma on a boat. Not lost in the fields. On a happy boat.
"Cool!" I said. "And then!?"
"Anything you want then," he told me.
"Anything?!" I gasped. "Even ice cream? "
He laughed, coughed, then continued laughing. "Yes, precious friend. Even ice cream." He reached out and petted me, even though he was so sad. I smiled back at him, hoping it would cheer him up, when a raindrop grazed his cheek, and fell down his face, making it look like he was crying.
But he was smiling.
My poor master.