Chapter 7: The Great Pet Store Exodus
The little mouse had never beheld anything near the amount of mice and rats in one place as he saw now. There must be hundreds, he thought. As far as his little albino eyes could see: ears, tails, eyes. And far beyond that (about three feet) his nose smelled many more. All here to hear him. He was nervous. In the front row, however, the King, Lady Tree, Squibble, and Mousefriend Mike seemed to have utter confidence in him.
"Umm... hi." he chirped. They all applauded. Hey - this is kinda cool, he thought. "Tonight, we will make a raid on the pet store where my family - and yours - are held against their will by the humans." More applause. Yeah. A mouse could get used to this... "There will be no room for error, and although I have a plan, some mice and rats might get hurt... or worse."
"Well, it's true. Did you think I could shoot lightning out my eyes or something and save everyone by myself?" The crowd looked back with a clear yes answer. The little Mouse Knight sighed and put his hands on his chest. "Anyone that wants out now, it's okay. No loss of honor."
But no one moved.
So, in the night, many mice and rats moved with speed and silence to the bus station. The Mouse Knight read the maps and bus schedules, explaining them to Mike. They decided on a good route to take to the pet store. Then, when the drivers were chatting away on their breaks, the buses were flooded with rodents. The scouts told them which bus was empty, and it was the last shift. It wouldn't do to have humans screaming bloody murder as hundreds of furry bodies attempted to share a ride with them. Those humans - always freaking out over nothing.
Once aboard, it was a short ride; every ear and tail was still. Even Squibble's. Once, they were almost discovered as an old lady boarded the late night bus and one of the mice had to go sniff her foot. Everyone held their breath as he sniffed, and then marked her shoe. Big Fat mouse slapped the daring renegade when he returned. The lady was none the wiser, and eventually got off the bus.
When the bus driver heard the "ding" for a bus stop, he looked back into the empty bus with a puzzled expression. When the stop came close, the haunted vessel "dinged" several times so furiously that he skidded it to a halt and said out loud, "Okay! Go! Get out, spirits!"
So they did. All the little spirits ran out the door as fast as they could, as the driver watched over his glasses. When the last mouse paused as if to chirp thanks at him and then continued out the door, he decided the mouse spirit wasn't all that bad, and maybe he would visit a pet store the next day. The bus drove on, and the rescue team made their way through the dark of night to the pet store.
It was ominous. All dark, huge, and intimidating. Knowing there were trapped family and friends inside that great prison was even more intimidating. One wrong move and they would all remain there, forever. Or be sold as food again. It was stepping back into Hell. One look around at their faces told the Mouse Knight that they all knew it. No one backed out.
Getting in was simple for the mice. The rats had to chew some to open the air vent shaft, and their teeth went through the thin metal like cardboard. When the mice all gazed at their strength, the rats puffed up and pranced around until the Mouse Knight got everyone focused again. He ordered them around to the front.
There, he told them to chew a hole through the weakest portion of the wall, right by the front door. A big hole - bigger than three rats. The rats looked at him briefly as if he was nuts - a hole? In the wall?? They could already get in through the back.
"Can't do it?" Mouseknight asked, tilting his head. "I heard rats could chew through anything."
Without another word, the rats began chewing with fury. With all of them at it, there was a hole any rat could drive a wheel through in minutes. They were actually shocked that the wall was not solid. They joked that humans built poor nests.
"Why two ways?" Mike asked as his cohorts put the finishing touches on the hole.
"Old mouse rule," Mouseknight answered. "Always one way in - and one way out."
Once inside, they were met with a shock. Some of the lights were on! Someone, somewhere, was in here with them! Everyone looked at the leader. Mouseknight softly whispered, in the supersonic voice of rodents that no human could hear, "The plan goes on."
Speedy Squibble zoomed ahead as a tiny blur to scout the way. He came back in minutes and reported that the entire way was clear, but there was a human in the rodent room!
Mouseknight squinted his eyes. "What did he look like?"
Squibble forced his words to a slow flash. "He was big and had things on his face, an' spots on his face, an' he was eatin' somethin, and lookin at somethin."
"Was it flat and in his lap?" Mouseknight asked.
"Yeah! Yeah it was! Wow - you're psychic mouse!" Squibble chattered.
Mouseknight just looked amused at Squibble. "Good job, Squire." Squibble puffed up larger than the rats and paraded amongst them. Mouseknight turned to the others. "This changes the plan. I know this human. He's not bad. I think I can cause a distraction. Be ready when I chirp!" Mike nodded; no one questioned him as he departed.
Stealthy and sleek in the night, the almost glowing white mouse skulked, although he stood out like a lit light bulb against the dim floor and the dark display shelves. He crept to the room, and sure enough, there was the manager he had known before, reading at 3 a.m. Did this guy have no life? Mouseknight shrugged, creeping up ever so slowly behind him. Inch by inch so as to make no noise at all, quiet as a mouse. Halfway up the table Mouseknight froze.
There, next to the manager, was a dog. A big one. It slept now, but its presence could ruin everything. Mouseknight had seen dogs before, at a distance, but this on e was covered in the scars of abuse, and he didn't know how dogs in general felt toward mice. Probably thought they were sport or food, like everything else did, thought the mouse bitterly. Best not to trust the dog. Quietly now... .
At the top of the table, the other mice saw Mouseknight. Some of them recognized him. But, as mice, the human could not hear their secret language.
"You came back!??" one of them asked. "Are you crazy??" and, "No one has ever come back." and "Wow - he was just a baby when I saw him last..." and also, "He's gonna see you."
Mouseknight motioned for them to calm down. At last, they did.
"In a moment, you must all stand on one another - and push the lid off the cage," he said. They argued and gasped. The concept of freedom was lost on them. He hung his head in frustration. "You are food!" he chirped.
They shut up. Some of them shook their heads, unbelieving.
"Yes. You are," he continued. "Everyone who goes from this place is food for dragons and sometimes worse things. You must escape. Do as I say."
"But you said they were going to good happy places..." one little mouse sadly sobbed. The little thing reminded the Mouse Knight of himself when he was ignorant.
"Yes, I know. I'm sorry," said Mouseknight, "I was wrong. I was stupid to think that humans would love us because we were cute and harmless. Now band together when the others come and free yourselves, understand?"
They all agreed. So the Mouse Knight turned around to face the manager.
... And promptly got lost in the book he was reading.
"What's taking him so long?" Mike exclaimed. "We're all aging here..."
Squibble put his tiny nose in Mike's face. "The master does as he knows best, rat," he said with attitude, daring Mike to start something.
Mike smirked widely and chuckled. "Okay, boy... down, now... I wouldn't dare question the master. Or fight his brave servant."
Vindicated, Squibble returned to moving back and forth on his feet nervously.
Four chapters later, the Mouse Knight never saw the manager turn around. The man reached for his Coke (which sat right next to the little mouse) and saw the Mouse Knight. Mouseknight was still reading when the man's voice broke the silence.
"Well, I'll be!" The Mouse Knight's head snapped up to look the manager right in the eye. "I remember you - you're the little runt that used to watch me read! How on earth did you get out?"
The caged mice watched in awe as the Mouse Knight flung himself right at the manager! Hurling through the air, he caught the side of the manager's big nose and with mouse-speed zoomed right down his body and across the floor to the door.
"My god!" the manager yelled.
"That's our cue," said Mike. "Let's go!"
The rescue team saw the Mouse Knight actually wait for the big man to rise and start chasing their white speck of a leader before he resumed his flight across the store tiles. Halfway between the aisles, he chirped, "Now, Mike - now!"
Squibble paused as if to chase the human down, but Mike dragged him along by the scruff of the neck. "Youngster, that fatty won't ever catch your master," he said through his teeth.
Big Fat Mouse said, "Hey watch it, buddy!"
So Mouseknight led the manager a merry chase through the halls of the dark pet store, pausing when the human stopped for breath and loving every minute of it. It's great to be a mouse, he thought happily... This is just the best! When the manager would resume the chase, Mouseknight gleefully continued running as fast as his little legs would spin under him. And all the while, the rescue team was climbing up the table. Oh no! - he forgot to warn Mike about... !
"It's a dog," Mike whispered. "And a bad kind - a pit bull. Aggressive and nasty. Worse, see those lines on its face? It was whipped. Beaten and hurt. That's going to make it particularly mean. It won't hesitate to kill us... and they hear almost as good as we do. Just let it lie, and we might be okay. Be quiet, all of you."
Thus in silent, frightened unison they scaled the display shelves and got up onto the platform of the rodents. The mice and rats alike were flabbergasted to see so many loose kin. But they remembered the Mouse Knight's instructions, and carefully balanced on each other en mass, and pushed to remove the cover a crack. The rats just laughed and bounced upward to dislodge the cover while others caught it so it made no noise - it looked like a practiced trick.
Once all together, Mike informed both sides of the truce, and told them to make their way for the outer door - quietly.
Many mice and rats scaled downward to the floor. Some fell, but were cushioned by the soft bodies of their companions below. No one that got landed on made a squeak. Mike kept his eyes right on the dog. The first of the party were out the door and moving fast when the frustrated manager let out a great bellow from the depths of the store.
"Demon! Come, boy! Come!"
Mike froze in horror when the dog's eyes snapped open and saw them all. It was named Demon?!
The dog was instantly on its feet and by its stance and gaping jaws, absolutely intended to destroy every rodent that was free. Death was in its beaten, sad eyes.
"Run for your lives!!" yelled Mike. "We cannot fight this! RUN!"
Everyone did, though it was clear from the start that some would not make it.
Now, there is a legend among mice. It is said that though small, they are some of the most courageous creatures on the earth. Many gods of myth employed mice because of their unfailing loyalty. Now add to this a mother's instinct to protect their young. Many times mouse mothers have stood against great odds to protect their babies, knowing it was at the cost of their lives, never once thinking of doing otherwise. Many other animals and even people would have fled and let their kin perish before the monster in that moment.
But the mother mice and the mother rats stood their ground. Joined by several of the bravest warrior mice from the Kingdom, they to ok the awful brunt of that first charge by Demon while their sons and daughters escaped. The dog sent several animals across the bridge to Heaven in a heartbeat with the power of its teeth. And while the stoic rats and mice clung to its face and tried to buy precious moments for all with their lives, the others fled in terror behind Michael.
The great beast covered their flight distance in one great leap. Many furry bodies fled in random directions. Chaos ensued. Mike yelled out, "Mouseknight! The dog is loose!"
A far distant voice came over supersonic waves. "Mike, tell them to run this way! To me - my voice!"
Mike yelled as loud as he could, "Everyone to the Mouse Knight! To the Mouse Knight!"
And, coming straight toward them from the entrance, the Mouse Knight chirped as loud as he could for everyone to hear.
Hear they did, and the random chaos that almost ended the rescue effort became one organized dash for safety as the dog snorted and stomped amongst them, taking the remaining warriors to their end, giving chase at full speed when there were no more victims.
Mike was last, and willingly bringing up the rear. The dog was right on his heels, massive jaws a-slavering to have him. He felt the great thundering of its feet through the tile beneath him. For the first time in many months since he had been abandoned, Mike felt fear. There was no choice of actions. He could dodge to the side, but most dogs were too stupid to follow, and then he would have abandoned the group. In seconds, he was going to die.
In the very moment he knew this, a white blur came around a corner and passed him going the other direction.
The Mouse Knight, looking back, yelled the same thing at the same time as Mike did.
The manager barreled heedlessly around the same corner Mouseknight had just come from, and ran smack into the dog. Feet and paws and both bodies missed the two rodents as the manager and his dog hit the ground with a quaking pair of thuds.
Immediately the dog was righting itself, and the manager was cursing at Demon.
"I can't outrun the dog," yelled Mouseknight to Mike. "Go!"
"Foolish Mouseknight," said Mike, rushing to his side, "That's why knights have steeds."
Mouseknight took a tenth of a second to smile at his dear friend before jumping on his wide, strong back and gripping his fur with all the strength in his mouse paws.
Mike flew, holding back nothing. His feet slid and his rear moved sideways before he caught his traction and they lurched forward - half a second before huge, drooling teeth clamped shut right where they'd been.
Demon gave chase.
"To the right!" Yelled Mouseknight.
Mike understood at once. Not toward the front - they were to be the bait for the monster. Obeying his smart friend, he banked sharply and zoomed down a side corridor. The giant was right behind them. He dodged right - left - right - sudden stop! Backward a pace, then to the right again! Mouseknight held on for his life, amazed at Mike's speed and dexterity. Finally, trapped without any direction to dodge, Mike spun, leapt straight over the dog's head, landed on its back, and raced for the opening in the air vent at the back of the store.
"Whee - HA!" The Mouse Knight yelled as he ducked and they vanished through the narrow opening. They had done it!! They heard Demon hit the wall behind them. Hard.
Not too bright, as Mike had guessed.
Around the front, the rescuers and rescuees met and dashed across the parking lot while the manager fumbled for his keys mere yards away on the other side of the door. When the door finally opened, the animals were well outside of his reach. He just shook his head and stared into the empty parking lot in wonder.
"Demon..." he said, "that was the weirdest thing I think I have ever seen."
The dog just growled.
The next morning an African American gentleman in a bus driver's uniform came in, asking if he might buy a pair of mice to keep as pets. The first patron who had asked to buy rodents for anything but snake food in months.
The manager, weary and without sleep, just stared at the man for a long time and finally shook his head. "I'm sorry. They all ran away. All gone. Heh heh. No little mice! Heh heh heh... No rats!"
The driver nodded his head and smiled as if he understood.
"That's what happens when you try to cage the spirits," he said, and walked out of the store. The manager went home.