The Mouse

“It’s a scratching sound,” I explained over breakfast.  “Up and down the same place in the wall.”

“Mouse,” nodded Papsa, speaking around his food.  “I don’t have time this morning, but maybe we can get that panel open this afternoon.  Go ahead and mark on the wall where you hear the noise.”

“I can tell Imna you won’t be along to help with the jam this morning if you want to stay back,” offered Mamsa.  She had waited to chew and swallow her mouthful before speaking.

“Oh no, I can help,” I said.

“I quite insist,” said Mamsa.  “I don’t want mice running through my house.”

It was settled then.  An hour later I stood in my room with a crayon, listening in the emptied house for the telltale scratching.  I heard it faintly at first, and then louder, as if approaching from some distance not known to the walls of our home.

“Gotchya!” I said as I traced its path.

The mouse paused, and then took a new route, to the right.  I followed with my crayon.  Up it went, and down, and to the left, down, right, up, back and up again.  I traced diligently, marking its little path.  Sometimes it paused, and others it doubled back on paths it had taken before.  I waited, and followed.  Old man Ordid’s bell sounded several times, marking the passage of time, but I barely noticed.  The world had reduced to me and the mouse, and I wouldn’t have it running all around Mamsa’s house.  When Papsa came home he’d know exactly where to look.

“What are you doing?” asked a little voice.

I turned to find Molly in the doorway, her large brown eyes studying me with amusement.  “I saw you through your window,” she said, coming to stand beside me.  “What is…” her little smile dropped and a crease marked her forehead.

“I’m catching a mouse,” I explained.

“That’s a labyrinth,” she said, and she didn’t sound amused anymore.

“I suppose it looks like one,” I mused, cocking my head.

“Labyrinths are dangerous,” Molly stated flatly.

“Where did you get that idea?” I laughed, flexing my fingers now that I noticed how sore they were from clutching the crayon all morning.

“There was something in the labyrinth, before,” she said.

It took me a minute to figure out what she could be talking about.  Molly and I had encountered many strange things on our travels together, but a labyrinth would have stood out.  But then I did remember.  We hadn’t gone into it, but we had been near a labyrinth once.  And those who went into it claimed there was something inside.

“Perhaps it was this mouse,” I mused.  Molly gave me a sharp look.  “Oh come on,” I laughed.  “That labyrinth is hundreds of miles away.  And this,” I said, pointing to my crayon markings on the wall, “is an effort to hunt a mouse.  Calm down.”

“Be careful,” she said quietly, and then she dashed off to return to her duty as the fastest little messenger in High Hill.

When Mamsa and Papsa returned at lunchtime, they were both concerned by the mouse’s freedom of movement.

“That shouldn’t be possible, the way these walls are built,” Papsa kept saying.  “I can’t get to it this afternoon, either.  Hender needs extra hands at the mill.  The wheel slipped again.”

“I want to know where that mouse ends up!” insisted Mamsa.

I stayed to trace its steps through the afternoon as well.  Sometime around the mid-bell of the afternoon I could barely keep my eyes open.  Barely conscious on my feet, I followed the mouse’s path straight to the door jamb of my closet.  The crayon rattled across the floor and I blinked at the closet door in confusion.  I opened the door and peered in, but there was no mouse in my closet, nor a mouse hole.  I closed the door.  I needed a nap.  I stumbled to the bed and collapsed.

It was dark when I heard a sound downstairs.  Mamsa and Papsa were home and I’d slept through my mouse-watching duty!  I shot upright, rubbing my eyes.  My dreams had been terrible.  No doubt brought on by Molly’s comments.  Hall after hall, turn after turn, there had been something in there with me.  Behind me.  And there was no way out.  I shook my head and tried to clear my thoughts.  It was a dream.  Papsa would open the wall now and we’d see the little mouse, and take it to the fields, where it belonged.  I blinked the room into focus.  The lights from outside filtered in through my windows, making the crayon labyrinth seem to have more dimension.  That wasn’t right.  I frowned.

My closet door hung open.

Written by W. C. McClure  This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure.  Comments are welcome at Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure.  Thanks!

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