Staving Off the Reaper
My heart wouldn't stop racing. Panic and anxiety had my soul in a vise grip. Nemo laid his hands on my master's tiny, struggling body, and kept them there, as I did, until the human returned with the oxygen. My master received several shots under the scruff of his neck, which he reacted to not at all (this frightened me greatly, since no mouse likes shots, and all of us thrash about and squeak at them). Then he was put in the tent, limp and lifeless. The human went to his knees and prayed. We all joined him. The entire household.
When I looked up, I could see spirits. I saw all the dead spirits of the house. I looked for my mother, but did not see her. I could see the confusion in their empty eye sockets. Many of them did not know where to go. They were lost.
I looked around for the angels, but there were only small lights over some of us, mostly the inner council. Nowhere could I see an angel, and that was a first. It worried me deeply. But there was a soft light over my master, and it looked kinda like the light of Michael's sword. It gave me a touch of hope.
I told BJ and Nemo about the visions I was seeing.
"Prepare yourself to lose him," BJ told me. "He was not strong to begin with after being through so much."
Others looked at me in sympathy.
"No!" I screamed. "No, he's not going! This would be a stupid, stupid death for someone like him! He's not dying here!" I stomped my feet. My mind rebelled against the very idea. It could not happen! Could not!
When I gazed up, eyes full of tears, Nemo was staring at me. I could not read his face at all.
I ran back to my lab and house, ignoring transparent spirits in my way, who were all crowding around my master's tent as if they were still alive. When I got to my place under the desk, I saw how my abode had transformed. My house was completely concealed by study books and lab equipment...everything from tiny vials to bowls and stacks of notes. Liquids and powders. I even had the power to make fire with a candle the human trusted me with. My mind went back immediately to the lab I had been trapped in. It even smelled similar.
Suddenly, I knew. I turned around to go back at top speed and get Nemo, but he was right behind me and I slammed into his soft fur, falling over.
"The lab!" I chirped.
"What then?" He asked.
"The thing...the bug...it isn't a virus! It's a...a thing concocted by the black mouse... in a lab! " I exclaimed. I knew it was true. I felt it.
"Amazing," Nemo said, sounding unsurprised. "You might be right." He frowned. "Chemical warfare."
I stopped and looked at the chinchilla with the supernatural powers.
"He's not going to die, is he?" I asked him.
"Why don't you look and see for yourself?" He said.
I stood there a long time. I wanted to look. I was afraid, plain and simple. I knew I could not handle it if my master died. Ever. I just had to die before him, and that was that. I could not look, even if I knew precisely how, which I didn't. I finally shook my head.
"Can you counter the disease?" Nemo asked me.
"I don't know," I said. "I'm going to need help. The kind human, Doctor Bausone... even you."
"I am at your service, sir knight," he said. "As I am sure they are as well."
"What will happen if I cannot find a cure?" I said.
"We all perish."
No fancy answer, no "see for yourself," no mysterious question-answer. We all die. I swallowed hard.
"Then let's get started."
"One more thing," I said, while I had him answering things straight for once. His ears perked, listening.
"My holy quest...my real calling. Is this it? To save everyone?" I asked.
"Everyone here, no," he said.
"Is it to defeat the black mouse?" I asked.
"Part of it, but...no," he said.
"What is it then! I still do not know!" I exclaimed.
Nemo shook his head. "That you absolutely must discover for yourself."
I growled and stomped a foot. I didn't have time to get angry, or throw a fit. I really, reeely wanted to though. Stupid! Why wouldn't he just tell me what it was and spare us all a bunch of effort!?
I went back to my lab and gathered a bunch of notes. I scribbled on them for a minute, and handed them to Nemo.
"Take these to the kind human and have him get them to the doctor," I said while still writing with my other hand.
"Yes sir," he said.
"And be quick about it, Squire," I said, while I had him as my servant, "or you'll be doing something horrible involving cage corners and a toothbrush for days!"
He snickered and went, lightning in motion. Gone in a flash.
Now I had real reason to work, and a lead I could work with. I prayed the Mousegod, if he had any mercy left in his fat hide, grant me great speed and wisdom now. I needed it more than ever.
I would work for hours on end, remember that there was actually food to eat, and then work some more until I was starving again. I had gotten used to not eating. The guilt-ridden human put scads of treats all about the house, trying to atone for his absence and all the lives it cost. Nemo told me our guardian was having a hard time forgiving himself. Finally I would break down and stuff something in my face, then go back to work.
Only one thing really interfered with my work, and that was the dread fear that I would find my master dead in the oxygen tent next time I visited him. Because of this I would go every couple of hours and check up on him. I'd take him treats and try to get him to eat. His face was haggard and drawn. His backbone stood out and I could see his ribs through his messy fur. He made sickening clicking sounds when he drew breath, and his eyes seemed to never close. His suffering was deep.
"Don't give up master," I said. "You told me not to, so you can't either."
"Not...going to, ...Squib..." He managed. His face was covered in dried blood from his coughing, and I cleaned it off for him. My master. The mighty hero...now reduced to this by our tribulations. I felt burning rage in my chest that I could not aim at anything. Certainly not fate. Not the Mousegod, as much as I wanted to. I always aimed it at the black mouse, but it never struck the target. That coward would not face us.
My master's dream was perishing before his eyes. His true love was dead, and his people were reduced to a fraction of their former number. More died every day, despite everyone's best efforts. We all felt helpless, and more than a little hopeless. Trapped, beaten, and doomed. But there was one of us, in this tent, that must not think that way. He was the light for all of us, and if he died, that light would certainly vanish forever. I could not carry it; it was far too heavy.
"You have to fight, master, like you fought the snake," I said.
He looked at me through strained eyes. "I hate fighting, Squib."
My ears perked up. "What? The mighty Mouse Knight? ....nahhh..."
He nodded. "I...I do. I love peaceful things... reading...friends...writing." He stopped to breathe for several seconds, "I hate fighting and hurting things...it...it should not be necessary...ever."
"I could have your encyclopedias brought over, master," I told him, hoping it might cheer his downtrodden spirit.
He tried to smile and failed. "I'm too tired to read, Squibble... I can't focus my...eyes."
My heart felt heavy for him. "Oh, master," I said. "I'm so sorry. Please don't die."
"I'm so tired," he said.
"You can't give up!" I said. "Can't. No way."
Fearing his answer, I went back to my work. He looked so sick.
I ordered more books, studied more, studied harder, and most of all, tried to think smarter. Every time I thought I had it figured out, there was some new piece of medicine or science I did not know that sprang up to oppose me. The human was giving my master antivirals, bronchodilators (they make it easier to breathe), antibiotics, and fluids twice every day. He was getting alot of shots. Just the stress from that alone was enough to do in many mice. I spent my dreaming hours with Nemo searching for a cure as well, but in a very different way than my usual method. We ventured deep into the astral plane, and asked creatures of legend questions about what was going on. We visited spirits, unicorns, sphinxes and dragons. Real dragons. Not snakes. It wasn't so bad in dreams because I could make myself bigger if I wanted, and not feel so small. They all told us the same thing. The black mouse had blended black magic with science. In the recent years of history, spirits had figured out technology, and were beginning to control it. The frequencies of devices like computers, televisions, and cell phones...the spirits were learning to use these things. It only took them 50 years. That was pretty fast for beings used to slow evolution. In order to find the cure, we would have to do the same thing. Blend magic with science. Many of them had suggestions. Nemo and I memorized them, and he began working with me both awake and asleep, twenty-four hours a day.
Then, one evening when everyone else in the house was awake and I was asleep, I came back from a deep astral expedition and bade good day to Nemo. He departed to wake, and I decided to check on my master from the astral plane. It could be done - Nemo had taught me to do it, though it required great concentration. But when I got there and brought the real world into focus, there was a strange mouse in a white robe sitting next to my master's tent.
I knew immediately this was no normal mouse. I could not tell if it was on the physical plane or just the astral, but it seemed real enough to me. It had a soft, waving glow about it, like the sparkle souls give off, but dim, and with many tiny stars in it. I was afraid of it for some reason, my instinct telling me to run away. Well, that's the advantage of being an advanced mouse (Mus musculus superior) - you can be stupid if you want and ignore instinct.
When I approached, it turned to me, and my heart skipped a beat. Beneath its ragged cowl, there was nothing but a mouse skull! The robed figure was Death.
"Shoo!" I waved my hands at the apparition. "Go way!"
I felt rather than heard a chuckle. It scoffed at me.
"You can't have him!" I cried. "Begone from this place!"
It turned back to gaze at my gasping master, and ignored me.
Frightened beyond reason, I lunged at it to bite its head clean off. It turned and struck me with what looked like a scythe. I woke up instantly, and knew that I'd been "killed" in the dream. If I had been too deep in the dream, like my ventures with Nemo, I might not have come back at all. I raced to my lab/house and found Nemo working.
"Reaper!" I exclaimed.
He looked at me with a slightly curious expression.
"Spells! Ancient power!" I yelled, and zipped up to stand before him. "Help me! He's going to take my master!"
Suddenly understanding, he raced with me to the tent. He peered hard at the area and fixed his gaze on something. His sapphire eyes widened.
"You're right," he gasped. "Death."
"Bite it in the rump!" I chirped.
"It's not that simple," he said. "Even now it has inched closer to your master. Death is no meager opponent, Squibble. History is full of stories where people have tried to beat Death."
"Has anyone done it?" I asked, desperate.
"It has been done," he began.
"Okay! Let's go kick some deathy ass!" I chirped, looking about for a sword.
"No," he said. "That is not the way." He looked at me carefully. I knew that look by now. The power look. He was looking through me, or into my future, or both. For once I put up with it instead of dancing a jig to confound him. When he was done I gave him the "Well?" look.
"You are not ready to lose your master yet," he said.
"This just in."
He contemplated something very heavily. I grew impatient and tapped my foot on the floor. I made a circular gesture in the air with my finger as if to say, let's get on with it, shall we?
At last, he seemed to come to a decision, and was at peace with it. He smiled at me.
"I will save your master, Squibble," he said. I tensed to hop for joy. "But," he added. I stopped in mid-tense. "You understand that someday you must lose him."
"Nah. I'll die before he does," I said.
"Selfish mouse," he said. "With no thought of how that would affect him?"
"Uhhh...but...he's strong..." I mumbled.
Nemo looked at the frail form in the oxygen tent. "Oh yes, he is, but if you cannot see his mortality now, you are truly blind." He turned back to me. "He has lost as much as you if not more, Squibble. His true love, his friends, His children, almost his kind human. He is taking every bit the spiritual beating that you are."
"Why are we taking this spiritual beating, Nemo?" I asked him, genuinely curious.
He smiled sadly. "Because evil realizes we are capable of great things, tiny mouse. And would stop us before we accomplish them."
"But I don't even know what I must do!" I complained.
"You will," he said. "And it's our job to give you the room to do just that." Then he folded up and went to sleep, right near the spot where Death was. When he woke, it was almost dark again. The wait had been very long indeed...full of anxiety and worry.
He rose groggy. "It is done," he said.
"You beat Death!?" I stammered. "You rock!"
"I did not beat him," Nemo said. My face fell. "I made a trade."
(Heard something!) "What?" I said.
"A trade. Your master will live. For now. Death will take someone else."
I stood up. "Me?" I asked softly.
"No," he said. But he said no more, and went back to the lab to work his magics on our potions.
I crawled into the tent. My master was asleep and looked no better, but I felt better. I petted his soft fur. "Sweet dreams, gentle master," I said.
The human was coming home from another visit to the doctor's office (with more dead mice), and he had something in his hands. It was another book. I was up to stock on all the books I recently ordered, and wondered what he was bringing me. It was thick. He set it down in front of me and it said 'Stephen King' on the cover.
"A little mouse told me you read the others in this series, Squibble," he said. "This latest one came out today."
I looked up at him with infinite gratitude. The very book I had wanted more than anything to read while I was in the city. I had dreamed about reading it. I had used it as motivation not to die at one point. If I died, I'd never get to read the next book. Now, here it was, thanks to the kindness of my human friend and the compassion of my master.
The irony, of course, was that I hadn't the time to read it.