Reunion and Return
It was not hard to find Heide's house, and it turned out to be quite close. It took me and my squad of soldiers a few hours to get there. Shiva came with me as my friend and mount while Thor commanded the nest. I passed well clear of the place where I had encountered the mouse gang. I had no reason to - not now - but I did. Some wounds never close, maybe. And to tell the truth, I was still afraid of that big bully mouse. I hated his stupidity and his reckless violence, but I feared him. I knew what I should have done, but for some subconscious reason I didn't, and felt ashamed for it.
We sent a mouse up to the doorbell and he rang it.
Heide answered and looked around in puzzlement, at human eye level, of course.
We all went inside while she stared out at the night, and took up formation behind her on the open carpet. I saw the cat peer around the corner and grimace. It was quite amusing.
Heide turned around and gasped, clutching her chest.
"Oh my god!" she exclaimed.
I took off my helmet and bowed. My men followed my gesture.
Her eyes went wide and she sucked in breath. "Squibble? My Squibble?" She asked. I bowed again.
She squatted down to see me and smiled. "My, my...you've come far in the world, little mouse." She put her hand down and I stepped gladly into it. "You better watch it, looking like that, or you're secret's gonna be out."
I motioned to the kitchen. She giggled and walked us over there. My men followed on the floor. Shiva gave the cat a death stare and it vanished like wind.
There on the counter were two large glass aquariums with open tops. In one were Fred and her daughters, and in the other were her sons. All of them grown up. I felt a pang of shock. How long it had been! These mice, so recently, had been pinkies we held gently in our mouths while carrying them. Now they were full grown mice, all staring at me as if I had landed in a ship from outer space. Heide placed me in the cage with Fred and there she was, as beautiful as I remembered her, and just as smart.
"Is...is that...Squibble?" one of her daughters asked in awe. Fred nodded, beaming with pride. She ran over and licked me, groomed me and stroked my fur.
"It's so good to see you again," she said. "I was so worried."
Oh yeah. She wouldn't have gotten the news, being a pet mouse now. I smiled back. "I have come far."
She nodded and offered me a Cheerio. I gasped in surprise and took it immediately. Then I thought twice. My men and Shiva should eat before me. There was a ramp leading out of the cage to the kitchen counter, which was all set up for mice to roam about on. Heide let these mice do what they wished, just like back home. Such a kind human. She knew the mice understood her.
I crawled out and onto the edge of the counter. My men were all down there, happily munching Cheerios Heide had tossed them. I sighed. I should have guessed. I savored my treat and soon it was gone, replaced with memories of home.
"Does the cat bother you at all?" I asked Fred.
"Oh, no," she said. "Quite the opposite. When the other mice come in to harass us or steal our treats, he chases them off. I think he's taken kindly to us. I even chat with him sometimes. He's not so bad."
"Other mice?" I asked, feeling a chill go up my spine.
"Yeah - mice from outside. Sometimes they find their way in here."
"One at a time or in numbers?"
"One at a time."
I cringed at the thought of the bully mouse coming in here and hurting or killing Fred and her family. She needed protectors. Not that I didn't trust the cat. Well, okay. I didn't.
I went over to the cage of the boys. They had no ramp. It looked as though they had been fighting each other. Heide had never had multiple mice before. She didn't know males fought to the death, even siblings sometimes. It was just mousey testosterone. At the safe house we all had an understanding, and plenty of brawling pits, exercise and other ways for the males to get out their aggressions. It had been the first order of business to avoid fighting and unwanted pregnancies. Mice breed way too fast, and before a month is up, an unsuspecting human can have twenty mice from one single litter, and twenty more coming next month. Multiply that by hundreds of mice and you have a serious problem. Many mice had gone to their fates, unwanted and rejected, because foolish humans let their pets breed, or couldn't tell what sex a mouse was. Then, ending up with twenty mice, they freak out and abandon them all. Way to go, huh?
"Better let me in there," I said to Fred.
"Ummm... they know who you are, but..." she said, "They might try to test their dominance anyway."
"Yeah, I know," I said. "That's why you should let me in there."
Fred was used to my ways, and knew I would do what I wanted, so she got Heide to put me in the cage. Apparently they had worked out a simple but effective way of communicating by Heide watching Fred's gestures and body language. Most impressive.
So there I was, surrounded by young, strong mice eager to test my mettle. They stalked around me and rattled their tails, but they were cautious. Fred had told them about me.
I took off my sword belt and let it fall to the ground. I grinned, remaining perfectly relaxed.
"Someone wants a piece of this mouse?" I said.
They came at me. I feigned and dodged, sending them sprawling into the glass wall of the aquarium. I sent some spinning into the wheels, sent them falling over each other, and threw them into their toys. I worked them. Hard. I even used a little aikido. It felt fluid. Smooth. They never knew what hit them.
Less than half a minute later, lying in a bruised pile, they eyed me as if they weren't sure if I were the Devil or God.
"Give?" I said.
They all showed the signs of submission except one mouse. He and I fought for another three minutes. That's a very long fight for mice. He was big and strong, and fast. He had no moves whatsoever, but he made up for it in sheer ferocity. If he had been trained, he would have beat me, I think. But in the end, I put him down, bit him hard on the shoulder, and held him down. He surrendered. A hard thing for him to do in front of the mice he had been dominant over. This mouse had humility as well. I liked him.
He prostrated himself before me. "O, you are worthy, Lord Squibble," he said, "just as we have heard!" He looked back at the others. "Me and my brothers beg you to teach us."
I laughed. He had no idea that's all I had been doing these last months.
"Behave, do as I say, and maybe. Someday. You're in charge here. Enforce the rules I'm about to speak." He bowed low and nodded his head.
They all nodded. So I told them. No breeding with the female mice. Boy, they didn't like that, but they agreed. No fighting with each other, and they had to respect their momma and protect her no matter what. Especially from other mice. They all agreed. I told them it was more punishment from me if they faltered, and then they'd never get training. They understood.
Coming out of the cage, I told Fred, "You can put a ramp on that cage now, as well." The look on her face was sheer respect. It made me feel good. Her sons could now enjoy the life of free range mice.
You know, that big mouse became a Mouse Knight, much later, under some other knight. He did make it.
Then it was down to business. I had Heide take Shiva and I over to the computer. Shiva was glaring up at Heide, and Heide was nervous in the path of such hatred. We could smell her hesitation, but she still picked him up. I held onto my friend/steed, making sure he would not harm this kind human. He shrugged me off, as a gesture that he was not about to disobey me, but neither did he forgive the human race for his trauma. I couldn't blame him.
"My," Heide said nervously. "What a big rat... and what a large...spear...he has..."
As I went over to the keyboard, Shiva mumbled, "All the better to remove your eyes with, my dear."
"Shiva, be nice!" I said.
"Sire," he growled, and put the spear down. He let Heide pet him, on the armor, of course. I could smell how it infuriated him. I worried about his future.
Once at the computer, I typed away at the keyboard.
Need to get home, I typed.
Heide sat down at the table as my men clambered up the drapes and achieved the tabletop. They resumed formation and stayed there.
"A rodent army," Heide said. "It's kinda of scary. Someday, someone is going to notice, Squibble."
It's inenveeble, I typed.
"You mean inevitable," Heide corrected.
Whatever! I need to get home. You're my only way. Please. It's important.
"Well," she said, "I knew I couldn't keep you, but after losing you at that pet store I felt like I had let you down. I worried about you day and night. I came right back after the cop was gone, but you were gone too. I looked until dawn. I couldn't find you anywhere. They all know me at that pet store now - I go around calling your name. I even tried talking to the mice. Didn't work."
I know you tried to find me, but I didn't know it then. I'm not used to humans who care. I should have waited. (Story of my life.)
"What are you used to?" Heide asked.
My momma was abandoned by her owners to the outdoors outside when they found out she had babies, I typed. All my siblings died of cold and starvation and only I barely survived. That's why I'm so skinny.
She made a compassionate face and petted me softly. "I'm sorry, little mouse. Sounds like your life hasn't been easy."
Some yes, some no. I desperately need a ride out to the country. I need to go home. Please.
"I'll take you," she said. "Do you want to go right away?"
Shiva looked at me with doubt in his eyes. He really didn't trust humans anymore. I wondered how he'd feel about our own kind human.
We need to go in the day, I wrote. So you can find the house I describe to you. I don't know the way, exactly. Just descriptions of the way and what the house looks like. We start by going away from the ocean.
"That's not much to go on," she said. "But come morning, we'll set out and give it a try."
I typed out a long description of everything I knew about the countryside, and the safe house. It was from a mousey point of view, but I thought it was pretty good for an amateur writer.
"We'll find it," she said. "We'll get you home at last."
Thanks, Heide, I typed.
She petted me in response. It felt nice.
That night we all stayed in Fred's cage, though it was a bit cramped. Her aquarium was easily two feet and some long, but Shiva made it seem small. My men behaved themselves quite nicely with all the women; they were perfect gentlemen. Heide dumped a whole pile of Cheerios into the cage and we had a feast. Then we held counsel.
"I can't take anyone with me," I told my men. "The safe house is full enough already. It's against the rules of the King - our King - to increase the number."
"What are we going to do?" Clyde said. "What will we do without you, my lord?"
"You have enough mice - you're trained, you're smart. You'll do okay without me."
"Thor and I are staying," Shiva said.
I did a double take and stared at him.
He nodded. "We've talked it over, knowing this day would come. We thought it would be from finding the pickup point, but we knew it would happen either way. We'd love to go back to the safe house, but really, our experiences here in the city have made us realize that safety is an illusion. There really is no such thing. We talked about it, and we both want to stay here. We'll guard the nest, see its numbers grow, and train everyone that wants it. My brother and I feel we have a holy quest to perform, and it's just starting to come clear to us what that is."
My heart sank a little. I understood, though. Every great hero has a holy quest - a vision that comes to them for them alone. It wasn't surprising that Shiva and Thor had one and it would be the same for both of them. Heck, the only person who was missing one was me, although that was slowly changing in my head.
I nodded, still shocked. "Are you sure? I mean...anything could happen to you in the city, Shiva. Anything. Run over by a car..."
"Stuff has happened to me in the city," he said. "I've survived so far. I just feel this is where I need to be."
"Yeah," I said, looking down. "Yeah."
I looked up again and forced myself to be strong in front of my men. I was likely seeing my dear boy for the last time, but I had to be strong. I had not said goodbye to Thor. I hadn't known I wouldn't be back. Kinda stupid thinking. I had thought all along that Heide might be able to take me to the safe house. I'd even taken my things. Why had I thought I'd be back? It was the same "asleep" thinking that caused me not to check the art school on the other days of the week. Boy, it got me in alot of trouble. My master always said "Think smarter, not harder." I needed practice.
"Okay, Shiva and Thor are in charge," I said. "In the event that they aren't there, then it will be someone they name - one of the high ranking officers. Not you though, Clyde. Nothing personal."
"What!" he protested.
I turned to him. "Let's say humans come into our nest below the basement and find our little kingdom. What would your orders be?"
"Blow 'em up!" he gleefully chirped.
"Exactly," I said, and turned back to Shiva, who was spinning his finger around his ear looking at Clyde, who was taking it as a compliment, nodding his head up and down wearing a psycho smile just like Jack Nicholson. "Keep everything running. Let the numbers grow as big as they need to. Keep the standards strict and keep the discipline tough."
"Don't worry about that, boss," Shiva said.
There was a pause. I smiled. "I won't." I took the piece of paper with Heide's number and address on it and gave it to Shiva. "This might help. If you ever need anything, come here or call and squeak, I guess." They laughed.
Shiva said, "Shouldn't you keep this, Sir?"
I shrugged. "What for? I'm going home."
He nodded hesitantly. "I guess so." He took the paper.
The men all snapped to attention and saluted me.
"It's been an honor to serve with you, Sir," Sneaky said.
"We owe you our very lives and we won't forget," Squeaky said.
"Thanks for the demolitions," Clyde said. "Thanks for everything."
I saluted in return. "You are the finest soldiers in all the mousey world," I told them. Some eyes got a little damp. "I will miss you."
"Will you ever be back sir?" one asked.
Another pause. "I don't think so, men. I don't think so. You will carry on without me, and remember that you all belong to the same kingdom as I, the same one as the heroes I've told you about."
"Yes sir!" They all said.
"Remain ready," I said. "Train for the worst. One day, mousekind may need you."
They all nodded vehemently.
I had no idea how true my words were until much later.
In the morning, Heide was ready and woke me up from my slumber. I was sleeping against Shiva, who almost took Heide's fingers off when she reached down to rub my head. He stopped when he smelled who it was, but it was a close thing.
"He's scary," she said.
"You have no idea," Shiva said in an icy tone. I gathered my things. As I did so I felt a pang of regret in leaving. I wouldn't get to take another art class. I wasn't going to see the twins again. My time of knighthood glory was over.
As she picked me up, Heide said, "Squibble, I have too many mice in my house now. All over the place, not pets - mice from outside. They're into everything because I won't set traps or put out poison. Sometimes they harass Fred and the others. What should I do?"
I'd already handled most of it, but...
I hopped down onto the computer table and wrote out a little song. When it was finished, I did a little dance. I made it up. It's called the "No Mouse" dance. I shared it with Heide. It goes like this...
No Mouse No mouse...
Mouse Leave my House!
Don't wanna hurt ya
Can't afford ta feed ya
Please go Please go
An' no one need ever know
No Mouse No mouse
Left in my house... My house!
Shiva looked at me in wonder and my men thought I was insane, but I was fairly sure it would work. I mean, what mouse would stay after seeing a human sing that and do the jig? No mouse.
She slowly nodded her head and said, "Ooookkayyy, Squibble...I'll...I'll do that thing there when I see a mouse."
I nodded happily and got back in her hand. For no rational reason, I was sure it would work. Like magic.
"Ready?" she said.
I waved goodbye to Fred, Shiva and my men. They waved back. I felt sad to go. I had spent three months here in the city. Such a long time for a mouse - twelve human years. Some mice only live three months. I was sure I would never want to come back. Not after my experiences there. I wanted to see my master and momma again, to write and draw again, to see Favorite and play on my wheel again. I longed for home. I longed for security, even though what Shiva said haunted me. Safety is an illusion.
But at the same time, this had defined part of me. I was going to miss them. I hated the city, but I was going to miss my new horde. Not miss being a leader...just miss being that liked and depended upon. They didn't really need me, but they felt they did. And they treated me with great respect. I knew now that aside from a very few rodents, that had been a first for me, being so respected.
I'd be lying if I told you the whole experience had changed me. I was still the same ol' Squibble that came to the city stupidly and stubbornly. I was still afraid of that stupid bully and his maniac mice. I was still a child at heart. I had done what I did because it seemed the right thing to do, and it was what I had been trained to do. Children are very good at doing what they are taught to do, and when one is out of options, I have found that most mice (and humans) will go back to what they were used to, even if it was uncomfortable or painful. In other words, we go back to our cage. When we're scared, we go back to the place we were raised. I was raised by a Mouse Knight. That's what I know. And now I was leaving that behind to go back to what was comfortable. It seemed tragic, somehow. I wondered if I had made a bad choice. And from that day on, I was to wonder that an awful lot.
Once in the car, I got up on the dashboard and tried to navigate Heide around. The sun baked me in under five minutes and I almost passed out, especially in my armor, and I had to get out from under that brutal glass. I climbed up on Heide's shoulder and asked her to roll down the window a bit. I stayed on the opposite shoulder so a strong breeze wouldn't blow me out of the car and end my trip real quick.
Mice are really good at sounds and smells. Not so good at seeing. Brown mice with brown eyes, like me, see better than albino mice, but we still see mostly large shapes and movement. I couldn't direct her to the safe house by sight, so I had to do it by smell. And by what she described to me.
What she described for the first ten miles of our trip was construction. Torn up earth and destroyed landscapes to make room for human dwellings. Great sections of land torn up and ripped to pieces. Bushes and trees smashed under the giant tires of tractors and the tank-like treads of human machines. She didn't know it, but she was describing a holocaust to a mouse. In that field there had been thousands of mice, and now they were buried in their nests, dead of suffocation or crushed by the weight of the human technology. Dead in either case. Entire families. Babies. Whole tribes. All wiped out without a single thought by the humans.
And worse, this was the dread future. Every bit of land was going to go this way as the humans bred out of control like uneducated mice. And so far, Mother Nature had not put them in their place for it. They expanded like a bad bacteria, covering everything and destroying as they went, clearly heedless of the damage they were causing - long or short term. Unless something drastic happened to change it, the wild places of the earth were endangered. Within a few human lifetimes, it would all be gone. And the mice might go with it. At least the wild ones. They would never be able to be pets. They were not meant to be domesticated.
I recognize that tree you described - right here.
As the wind blew my fur and I directed Heide (one tap for right, two for left and three for straight, four for stop I gotta think), I knew there were only a few possible solutions. Most of them were flat out impossible. Heck - the humans themselves had given up on it. Every one of them thought 'it's too big a job for me...one person can't fight against this' - and they went right on consuming and destroying. Kinda like burying their heads in the sand. 'If I can't see it maybe it will go away' thinking. All that kind of thinking ever got a rodent was death. It wouldn't change for humans. By the time they realized how bad they'd messed up, it would be too late.
For them and us. I realized in that moment of clarity that domestic mice would not survive without the humans. Five thousand years, maybe more, was too long. If they went, we went. And they were going pretty fast.
Yeah that smells familiar - left here.
If mice ruled the world it would be different. I mean, humans solve everything by violence, no matter what they claim. In the end, it all comes down to that if people aren't willing to surrender or talk. With humans, might makes right. Mice think that way too, but they bite each other on the ass and call it a day. Well, except for Clyde, but he's a product of human intervention. And TV. Maybe TV isn't so good after all.
Go straight here. This road is long and has green grass on one side, and yellow on the other, just as you said.
Humans had the means to end their existence for the first time in history. They had giant weapons that would kill millions of them at once - and millions of mice with them.
Keep going straight.
Someone had to do something. Mousekind and humankind were both in mortal danger!
But the hugeness of it! The enormity of such a task. Good Mousegod - it was overwhelming. How would anyone do such a thing? You'd have to...I don't know...convince them that hostile aliens were coming or something.... Nah, that wouldn't work. They'd still be mean to mice. Maybe aliens were coming, and the aliens were giant mice! Yeah. And they wanted to see how humans had treated their little cousins they left behind. Yeah...that had potential. But nah. It was science fiction. Humans would never buy it. And the idiot who was going to attempt this would have to have proof. Solid, serious, indisputable evidence. The kind that would make the whole world stop and listen. Otherwise it wouldn't fly.
Stop! Go back. (Sniff) Go left here.
"But it's a dirt road, Squib."
I was glad that wasn't my job. Whoever had that job was out of luck. Someone was gonna have to make humans - all of them - stop and think.
The stop part was easy. The think part had me worried. Humans really hated to think, and if you forced them they crucified you an' stuff. And whatever you do, don't prove they're wrong, because they'll just deliberately keep on doing wrongness just to spite you, even if it means their own destruction. What a wonderful animal, the human. That was sarcasm. I learned that from Shiva.
"That's the house you described, Squibble."
Yes. It is!
I hopped out of the car and down to the ground as Heide opened the door. "You want me to come in with you?" she said.
I panicked. Everyone would know I had leaked our secret. Even though I had discovered other kind humans, it might not be okay with everyone. It was a cardinal sin to expose our intelligence. I would hate to come back home just to be kicked out again and have no place to go. I shook my head, even though a nagging feeling told me not to.
"Are you sure?" she asked. "I don't want to leave you behind again."
I looked at the old house, smelled the smells. So simple, the smells of the country. So few and clean compared to the overwhelming city. From two hundred feet outside the front door I could smell other mice, the bees and the ants. This was home. It was strange that I couldn't smell many mice, but it was early yet.
I looked up at Heide and motioned for her to go.
She reluctantly got back in her car. "Okay, little mouse," she said, "But if you ever need me, you have my phone number."
I nodded. I wrote thank you in the dirt with my sword.
She smiled. "It was an honor and a pleasure meeting you, brave Sir Squibble," she said. "May all mice be so lucky." I blushed. Then she drove away, very slowly, making sure she stayed on the dirt road and didn't hit any mice that might be foolish enough to be out in the day. Like me.
In a short time, she was lost to sight. I had a vision of the kind human driving away, leaving me in the city, and how doomed I had felt. But now I was safe.
I turned around and faced the house.
I was home. I thought of my TV and my wheel and my treats, forgetting all about holy quests and imminent doom. Surely now, everything would be okay.
Oh, please let everything be okay.