Chapter 4: The Search
The Mouse Knight gasped and struggled to keep breathing for what seemed like hours as he was washed through tunnels of wet, cold darkness. Occasionally he would plop down into a vast room of water and noise, only to be sucked down another tunnel. Once there was a bit of light and he saw a rat staring at him as he thrashed about, trying to swim to anything that might spare him drowning. The rat was white with a gold color about his head, almost like a light, and looked with compassion on the little mouse being taken by the current out to the great sea. And while the Mouse Knight would rather have stayed to chat, he was swept away again.
Finally, waterlogged and miserable, the mouse was spewed out onto a beach, where he clumsily struggled to shore and lay there on his side, gasping for air. Sand coated his fur, and as he coughed foul sewage emptied out of his lungs. He spat the rest out his mouth. He feared becoming sick, and knew he had to find shelter and warmth. The sun was going down in a deep red sky, casting bloody light across the water in a pathway toward him, beckoning him to surrender. While he stopped to look at the magnificent sight he had never beheld in his young life, he was not of a mind to give up, and so the ocean took harsher measures.
The wave, all of four inches high, was gigantic to a mouse. It took him by surprise and he was smashed over, covered by rapid water and pushed into the ground. It almost dragged him out to a wet death but he fought with every inch of his body for life. His tail anchored him and he swam against the current until he felt sand under his feet again as the wave retreated behind him. Then he lurched up the sand, getting hit by two more waves and struggling not to be sucked to his end. Finally, he made it clear of the fast water. Tired, stinky and shaking with panic, he made his way along the beach until he could find a way up the cliffs. During his trek, he saw the empty carcass of a small lobster. He sat, tired, staring at the strange thing for a time. It was hard, and pointy all over. That it had once been alive was not lost on his delicate nose, but now it was just a shell. He couldn't imagine though what had been strong enough to get past that amazing armor. He doubted even a dragon could penetrate that spiked hide. Shrugging, he went onward. Maybe there were worse things than dragons. Soon he found an agreeable spot on the cliff, and went up it like the amazing climbers that all mice are.
As the cold night wore on, he grew weaker and weaker - and finally used the last of his strength to crawl pathetically over the edge at the top of the giant cliffs to a garage where he found a water heater under which he lay for a time, and passed out.
When he awoke, he was alone and warm. Cleaning himself off thoroughly, he realized he was also starving and thirsty. Scrounging about, he found some seeds and a bit of water outside the house on the early morning grass. Once he regained his composure, he knew it was a miracle he was still alive. And, in the simple thought of mice, he knew there had to be a reason for this. It had something to do with being a Mouse Knight. Maybe the only Mouse Knight. But beyond that, destiny seemed to escape him. Little did he know that he was on the right track, and like the special mouse he was, he stayed on that track when his mind decided that fate was too big a word for a little mouse. Turning his mind to other things, he knew he had to find his family and friends.
It was at that moment, in a dark garage, that the Mouse Knight knew what he was supposed to do.
Mice were treated poorly everywhere. He had never seen any treated well. But somewhere, somehow, it had to happen. And he would make it happen. He would find his fellow escapees - for surely they wouldn't live long without human care. They just weren't wild mice. Thousands of years of domestication had taken their toll. Mice needed to be cared for, plain and simple. So he would find them - all his family, even back at the pet store! He would set them free. All of them. And then he would find the few - or the one - human who by the law of averages simply had to exist in this world of cruelty to helpless mice. He would find that person, and make them understand that he and his family needed help.
And in that solemn moment of revelation, he felt more right, and more strong, than ever in his short little life. A soft light of dawn came under the garage door and made his tarnished white coat seem like gold. He knew what he had been born to do.
And armed with this, he went right back to sleep.
When he woke, he ate more, drank more, and ventured forth into the scary outside world in search of his companions. It was just before night.
He travelled far, speaking in alleys and solitary places to wild mice and house mice. They had not seen his friends. And they were amazed that a white mouse was loose, much less alive. They warned him of demons called cats - and monsters called dogs - but by far the worst of the threats was being captured again by humans, who laid traps that snapped a poor mouse in half, and laid out sweet smelling poisons that took days of agony to end a tiny life. And while all these horror stories scared our hero, he had already been scared out of his rational mouse mind - and chose not to return to that old mouse he had been. He ignored the warnings and simply told them that he must find his friends.
It was days later that out of the darkness of evening, amongst the great towers of several trashcans, came a soft, deep voice.
"And why would you risk so much?" said the voice.
All the other mice he had been speaking to were suddenly gone with a speed that made his best look very slow indeed.
Fearing another dragon, or worse, he puffed his chest up nevertheless and answered, "Because it is the right thing to do!"
"Well," said the voice, "that's good enough for me." And a shape waddled out of the dark toward him. Smaller than he expected, but still several times his size. The Mouse Knight crouched low, rattled his tail and arched his back. If he could kill a dragon, this wayward rodent would pose no challenge.
"Easy, man," said the rat. "Normally mice are lunch for us rats, but myself, I've always liked them for conversation instead of dinner. Besides, you're way too tough if you can survive the sewer."
The mouse perked his head and ears forward, sniffing and looking. It was the same rat he had seen in the dark wet place - white with a hood of gold fur about his head.
They just looked at each other for a short moment.
"Rats eat mice?" the mouse asked.
"Yep. All the time," replied the rat.
"But you're not going to eat me."
"Not stupid," replied the rat, and laughed. "I've heard all about you, Mouse Knight."
Now, if we were to draw the little mouse as a cartoon, this is where we'd put the exclamation point right over his head. His tail went straight up and his ears popped out to full sail. He didn't say anything, but his face said it all.
"Yeah, I've got the right mouse," laughed the rat, smiling broadly. "Your friends are up a few blocks hiding out in an old tool shed. They've told everyone about the mouse that killed the snake and rescued them from certain death - even facing off a human in the process!"
Automatically, the little mouse liked this rat. The rat exuded friendliness and calm. There was nothing at all to dislike. The mouse felt he could trust him instantly. He was strong and handsome. And he had a sweet smile.
"My name is Michael," said the rat, strolling closer to sniff at the amazed mouse as though he hadn't said anything shocking. "Named after the archangel. Do you have one?"
"An archangel?" asked the mouse.
"No... a name."
The mouse lowered his head in deep emotion.
"No," said the mouse. "I've always wanted one. Secretly, it's all I've ever really wanted. But... But you have to be owned... by someone that loves you... to have one."
"HA HA HA HA," laughed Mike. "Well, you have to be owned, that's true, but loved is another story. My owner tossed me out like yesterday's garbage after I wasn't a cute little baby any more."
The Mouse Knight's eyes became sad. "Oh... I'm so sorry, Mike."
"Ah, I'm over it," the rat said, but he turned his face away and began walking. The mouse followed him, heading in the direction of his friends in the tool shed. "It's overrated, you know? Humans just don't care about us."
"Surely... surely there must be one... somewhere... that might?" the mouse asked tentatively.
The rat stopped for a moment to gaze back. He was still smiling.
"Yeah, I've heard that myth. The Caring Human. The Kind One. Don't get your hopes up, kid. It's a fairy tale. Like the Millet Mouse, or the Sugar Rat."
The Mouse Knight's heart sank. Was there no hope? He just refused to give up - he remembered his quest - and strength came back to him.
"Some day, Mike, maybe I will prove you wrong," he said.
Mike chuckled. "I'd love that, my little friend. I really would."
They walked for the whole night. They talked and talked. Each instinctively liked the other. They became close in a very short time. Michael showed the mouse where to get good treats and clean water - at the back of a restaurant. They paused to talk to other rats, who glared at the mouse and made him feel uncomfortable, and a little scared. But Michael appeared to be well respected in his small corner of town, and no other rats would dare to challenge him for his walking meal. Even bigger ones.
Before they knew it, they were at the tool shed. Everyone had made it, living on scraps and early morning dew from the grass. And they were stunned into awe at seeing the Mouse Knight again, much less that he had a rat with him.
Being young and quite uninformed, the little mice came right to the rat, oddity that he was to them. They crawled on him and sniffed him. Michael loved it, touching noses with each one of them.
A few of them questioned The Mouse Knight while Mike played with the others.
"How did you get away?" and "You are our hero!" and "We are hungry and thirsty!"
"I'm no hero," the little one said. "I got away by luck. And we know of a place for food and water - Mike showed me."
Soon, after much scurrying, they were all eating their fill behind a very fine dining establishment, and enjoying every minute of it. While they were eating, Mouseknight told Mike of his plans.
"Well, then, we'd better set out to find this pet store of yours," he said. "It could be far away. There are many in the city. We're going to need help."
"And these mice need to be kept somewhere safe," Mouseknight told Mike.
"Well, safe is an illusion, my friend, but I know a place that's close."
The wee hours before dawn saw the mice and the rat skulking in the park, at the edge of civilization. There were a number of semi-abandoned buildings, and the grass was unkempt and tall. They could hide easily. Mike told them to be careful and stay close - there were loose dogs and cats in the park.
"What are cats!" "And dogs?" "Can I eat this grass?"
"Worse than dragons," Mouseknight told them, looking around nervously. "And no, you better not."
Mike said he'd be right back, they'd better wait for him there and wander not at all. If anything bad came, hide and stay hidden until he made two quick chirps. Everyone agreed.
Half an hour went by and the mice were restless. The little one had trouble containing them. Finally, he began telling them stories from the few books he'd read. He knew it wouldn't help to tone down his already ridiculous reputation, but it might keep them all still for a while.
In the middle of the third story (what was taking Mike so long?) came a noise. A scraping on the pavement near the bush they were in. They all froze, looking up past Mouseknight with horror. Slowly, wincing at what might be there, The Knight looked over his shoulder.
A human! Squatting down looking right at them, not three feet away - well within grabbing distance. He had long black hair hanging around his face, and had soft brown eyes. He smiled in gentle delight.
The mice all chirped and ran for it randomly. "No, wait!" Mouseknight yelled, but they were afraid and did what mice do. God knows how far they'd go or who might get lost. He felt hopeless. Stupid human! His quest was too important for this.
He remembered when he was tiny, just a baby, his mother hissing and snarling at the giant hand that would come into the tank to grab mice. He had felt so protected! He knew now that his mom never stood a chance against the dreaded hand, but the fact that she put her life on the line for her children so quickly, without thought of her own doom, had taught at least one of her little son's courage. So, hissing and hopping, he came at the human. Let the other mice see it, and stay, he prayed. He was sure he would be squashed for this. His heart raced. He had to make a good show of it.
He rattled his tail, and chirped loudly. He dodged quickly back and forth. He jumped high and showed the human his teeth. The other mice stopped and gaped. Mike appeared out of nowhere with several other new (much larger) mice just in time to see the brash display.
Amazingly, the human just laughed! He cocked his head to one side and raised his thick eyebrows. "What a strange mouse you are," he said.
The Mouse Knight stopped and stared, his eyes full of surprise. No squish?
Mike moved without hesitation where all the others were frozen with fear and disbelief. He ran out, and as quick as he could, tried to grab Mouseknight from harm.
And almost as quick the human yelled, "Look out, mouse!" and moved to swat Mike away with his gigantic open hand. But Mike had been around the block more than twice, and was in his prime. He dodged the hand easily - big slow thing - and thought about biting it for good measure, but decided against it. If the man had hurt his little friend though, Mike would have taken at least the ounce worth of mouse his friend weighed out of the human's hide. Mike clamped his jaws around the little mouse's neck scruff and made off with him. The human gave chase for a few feet, but couldn't fit into the bush. The other mice all ran after Mike as fast as they could.
After a minute they were under a building.
"Attacking humans now, mister mouse?" Mike asked incredulously. "Are you completely nuts?"
"The others had to get away," Mouseknight said. "You shouldn't have grabbed me - he wasn't going to hurt me."
"How could you know?" Mike stared.
Mouseknight began back toward the sidewalk. "I just know, Mike. He had his chance."
"Yeah, and he took it with me!" Mike exclaimed.
"That swat was so slow," the mouse replied. "If he'd been trying to hurt you, you'd be hurt. He was not a fat, slow human. He thought you were trying to eat me."
The sidewalk was empty. The little mouse sighed and turned around.
Mike just eyed his friend. "You don't think he was a human who actually liked mice, do you?"
"We'll never know now. Maybe not that one, but they have to exist, Mike. They do."
Mike gave him a look that said, you're dreaming but I love you anyway.
They returned to the group, which sat huddled in their hidey-hole. No one knew what to say. But Mike went to some of the new mice he had brought back and said, "See?"
The new mice, every one of them large and strong, eyed Mouseknight. "Yes, you may all come," said one, a big brawny brown mouse, and led the way out of the hole.
All the way down the gutter they continued to eye the Mouse Knight. He looked around. They were all eyeing him. He snaffed and looked over at Mike. At least Mike was nonchalant, as always. He heard whispers of "Stood up to a human twice" and "Not a normal mouse..."
"Hey." He stopped, and turned on the mice. They all backed up into each other and showed signs of submission, though most of them were twice his size. Their eyes got real big. "I'm just a mouse," he said. "Just like you. We're all just mice, and we all suffer the same, hurt the same, and feel the same. Any of you could have done what I did. Maybe it's time we stopped thinking that we are just mice and started thinking that being a mouse is a great thing to be. This 'just helpless mice' thing is getting on my mouse nerves. So what about that!"
They remained motionless for a few seconds (long time for a mouse to stay still, much less twenty mice) then broke into cheers, squeaks of joy, and little hops of pleasure. They picked up their hero mouse and carried him the rest of the way, led by the street mice, who were cheering also.
Mouseknight looked down at Mike. "Get me down!"
Mike just laughed.