300 Word Writing Challenge -- #52 (January 2024) -- VICTORY TO CHRISTINE WHEELWRIGHT!

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TheDustyZebra

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The inspiration image for Challenge #52 is:

challenge_5 (1).jpg



Image credit: Harebrain AKA Bryan Wigmore


THE CHALLENGE:

To write a story in 300 words or fewer
INSPIRED
by the image provided above
in the genre of

Science Fiction, Fantasy, or other Speculative Fiction



In addition to receiving
the Dignified Congratulations/Grovelling Admiration of Your Peers
the winner
has the option of having his/her story published on the Chrons Podcast!



THE RULES:

Only one entry per person

All stories Copyright 2024 by their respective authors,
who grant the Chronicles Network the non-exclusive right to publish them here



This thread will be LOCKED until January 10, 2024
As soon as the thread is unlocked, you may post your story



Entries must be posted no later than January 31st 2024 at 11:59 pm GMT

Voting will open on February 1st 2024 and will close on February 15th 2024 at 11:59 pm GMT
(unless moderators choose to make an extension based on the number of stories)



We ask all entrants to do their best to vote when the time comes

but you do not have to enter a story to vote
as we encourage ALL Chronicles members
to read the stories and take part in choosing the winning entry!


You may cast THREE votes

NO links, commentary or extraneous material in the posts, please,
as the stories must stand on their own


PLEASE REMEMBER THIS IS A FAMILY-FRIENDLY FORUM

For a further explanation of the rules see Rules for the Writing Challenges


This thread is to be used for entries only

Please keep all comments to the DISCUSSION THREAD



** Please do not use the "Like" button in this thread! **
 
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Baffle

The room is clad in welded steel panels. The only ways in are through the door or via the ventilation duct.
The two men in the room are a study in contrasts. The taller one stands in a pristine uniform, clearly at peaks of both fitness and grooming. The other slumps in a chair: overweight, clothing rumpled, hair in disarray, thick-lensed glasses askew on his ruddy nose.

The tall one tries again.
“Professor Russell, there has to be a way to defeat them. Now we’ve retreated to the Steel Citadels, we can move forward. But your insights into Professor Bertrand’s work will be essential.”

Russell looks at him.
“There is no defeating them. Why can’t you people grasp that?”

“They’re mice, professor. Fancy mice, I’ll grant you. But tiny rodents nonetheless. For humanity to be defeated by such is inconceivable.”

Russell shakes his head.
“They’re intelligent, motivated, and can function as individual, swarm, or hive minds as the situation demands. Plus, the enhancement is chimeric.”

The tall one sighs.
“You’ve been spouting portentous predictions about nebulous doom for a week now. Can we try a different tack? Tell you what: how about you give me a single relevant fact?”

“A relevant one? There are nearly a thousand beetles for every human on the planet.”

“What’s the relevance?”

“They can get into anything humans make. With the intelligence granted by a billion-member hive mind, they can implement what the mouse mind planned.”

The door locks with a muted ‘thud’. Water starts to pour from the duct.
Professor Russell sighs.
“Here’s an even more relevant fact: air and water share many properties. Being breathable by humans isn’t one of them.”
 
Fancy Mice

On my shelf, I have a mouse who lives in a nice little house. His name is Clancy; he's so slick and so quick, one might even call him fancy. I bribe him with cheeses, but he does as he pleases. He lived many a year as an adventurer and sometime privateer. He's been a soldier and poet – sung songs by campfire, but took an arrow to the knee and had to retire.

I met him by the road one cold, lonely day – I was young, see, and out to play. He was limping along when I pulled up to say, "Hey; do you need a friend; perhaps a compadre?"

He looked up at me with little black eyes and thought a moment before he replied. "I'm a broken-down mouse, without spouse or a house. I have nothing to offer, but I don't want to grouse."

"We can talk, you and I – perhaps we'll see eye-to-eye. I'll set you up right; I'll do it tonight." And I did – I found a cabinet and chair, a little table, cups and even a bulbous chandelier. I dressed him in finery fit for a winery. But he doesn't drink, and often says, "I rather prefer to think."

But as the days went by, I saw in his eye a loneliness for an another – an equal – not a friend or a brother. On my life, I realized, he wished for a wife.

So, I set out again to look for a mate; I spoke well of Clancy so he might relate. I arranged several meetings, if at first only fleeting. But, in time he found a sweet older lady – a mouse who matched him so well, he stated it plainly: "She's moving in."

Now I have two mice and, well, it's nice.
 
A Quiet Reprieve From The War

‘It’s good you’re home.’ His mother’s smile reached every part of her face - cheeks full, eyes gleaming, brimming with a warmth Patterfoot didn’t share.

‘It’s good to be home, mother,’ he said, managing a weak smile in return. ‘Is father about?’

She fussed with the teapot. ‘In the garden, no doubt, doting on his snapdragons.’

‘Will he join us?’

‘Of course, sweet, he’ll be in. I thought to invite Tansy from down the Barrow over for supper as well…’

‘I’d rather just visit with you and father,’ he interrupted. ‘Perhaps another time?’

She looked ready to argue, but the kitchen door swung inward, and his father pushed through. His chair barely fit, the bottle cap wheels almost scraping the door jambs where previous, less successful passages showed.

His father glanced up. ‘Boy,’ he muttered, seemingly surprised. ‘I didn’t think to see you for some time.’

‘We’ve a short furlough,’ he explained. ‘The last push succeeded. We’re holding at Old Fence. The general gave the officers a day’s leave.’

‘Officers? Hmph.’ The noise wasn’t quite approval, nor disdain.

His mother set the table and poured the tea. They sat, quiet, for a time.

‘Father,’ said Patterfoot eventually. ‘I wanted to apologise.’

His father looked up, but didn’t speak.

Patterfoot’s voice caught. ‘You were right. I ... was naive. I shouldn’t have enlisted.’

‘No, son.’ His father sighed. ‘I was wrong. Wrong in how I tried to stop you. You’re a man grown. I should’ve spoken to you as such.’

Patterfoot blinked, eyes wet with tears. ‘We lost so many. Flaxseed. Willum. Young Sparrowdown.’

His father reached out, grasping Patterfoot’s shaking paw. ‘We need not talk about that, not now.’ His mother nodded, her eyes glistening. ‘Let’s just enjoy our tea, and each other’s company.’
 
No Pets Allowed

Shannon slipped out of bunk above me and picked up the wooden box next to the new girl’s bed. She peered in its glass front and shook it, eliciting tiny squeals from the mice inside.

“Why’s she get to have pets and the rest of us don’t?”

I knew she was sore that the caretakers had taken away, “Creamlicker” the cat she had tried to keep under her bed.

The new girl stirred groggily, reached out to where the box used to be, then sat up.

“What are you doing?” she said in a frightened voice.

“Just getting rid of vermin,” Shannon snapped, holding the box behind her.

“Please,” the girl said, in a panic, “I need to keep them!”

She looked plaintively at me and at Ann who was peeking down from the bunk above her own, “Don’t let her hurt them!”

“You think you’re special?” Shannon challenged, giving the box another shake.

“Leave her alone,” Ann said tiredly, “You’ll get us all in trouble.”

“Think she’s special,” Shannon continued, “I heard her today, saying she doesn’t belong here. Saying she’s not like the rest of us, saying her parents didn’t leave her.”

“They didn’t!” the new girl exclaimed, crying. “It was an accident...”

“See?” Shannon said to me and Ann, “Thinks she’s special, but she’s just crazy.”

Shannon set the box on the windowsill behind her, opened it, and let the mice crawl into her hands.

“Don’t touch them!” the girl said, rushing towards Shannon.

“I need to introduce your pets to mine,” Shannon said, hunching in front of the open window, “Here, kitty, kitty!”

The new girl pulled Shannon hard by the braids, trying to drag her back from the window, but it was too late.

“Mom...Dad!” the girl sobbed looking out the window.
 
Dear Pen Pal

A young boy was hiding inside a house that was spared the destruction the rest of the village suffered. He was cold and hungry, and when all was quiet, searched the empty house for anything he could find.

The only thing he did find was a small worn box dollhouse, and upon opening it, he gazed at its inviting interior with its whimsical furnishings for the two little toy mice inside, placed as if having tea. There was also a piece of paper with two lines written on it in his language and a small pencil as well.

He found a corner and sitting down, began talking to the two mice as if they were his two best friends that he hadn’t seen in a long time. He felt at ease and fell asleep. The explosions and gunfire returned, awakening him and filling him again with fear. In desperation, he wrote a line on the paper.

Some decades later, a young girl in Pakistan found an old, worn box dollhouse in her grandmother’s small home. She admired the warm and inviting interior where three little toy mice inside and were sharing tea with each other. She saw the piece of paper with three lines written on it and sat down to read it in her own language.

Dear Pen Pal, I am 14 living in France. Many people hate us for reasons I do not understand and are seeking to take us away. I would enjoy seeing you.

Dear Pen Pal, I am 14 and I live in Austria. We are hiding our language and culture but have been discovered. I look forward to meeting you.

Dear Pen Pal, I am 13 and I live in Ukraine. I’m all alone. I would like to see you soon.
 
P-awww

Richard Longtail had a problem.

The long empty house on Acacia Avenue was up for sale. Old Mr Potter, who had been bedridden and never went downstairs, had left this world. He went out on a stretcher some five months ago, never to return.

Now house buyers were coming through regularly and Richard’s family would soon loose their tidy little mouse house on the mantelpiece.

They could have stayed at least a year, there was plenty of rice and flour left in the larder.

So far they had avoided eviction by freezing, stock still, during visits, appearing to be cute ornaments.

On Thursday a man had come around making notes: Ormolu clock, antiquarian books, brass bed warmer and - mouse taxidermy display.

The following week a van came and all those items, including the Longtail family, were loaded in and taken to an antique shop in town where everything, along with their mouse house, was put on display.

“What are we to do?” said Mrs Longtail, crying little mousy tears. “This is an antique shop, there is no food here and if we start chewing the books they will be on to us.”

Richard looked concerned, stroking his whiskers and thinking hard.

“Don’t cry sweetheart. Tonight we will do a reconnaissance.”

At midnight they both set off. Along shelves, behind skirting and up pipe work.

“Brilliant! “ Squeaked Richard as he squeezed up the plumbing and into an attic crammed with hundreds of dusty items. “And no rats here.”

He scurried down to tell Mrs Longtail who had just returned from her own explorations out under the back door.

“That’s great news,” she said. “And even better, we are right next door to a bakery!”
 
Best Laid Plans

"The timeshack," urged Dr. Salt to his assistant and friend, Mr. Pepper. They shuffled in and closed the door behind them. The interior charmed Pepper with the beautiful painting on its wall and golden tea set.

"Oh, that's no trick," chuckled Salt, grabbing a toggle and pulling it down, "You're about to see evolution in motion."

Wheels of digits spun, slot machine-like. The dates on the sides of the wheels dropped rapidly. Pepper watched the landscape transform in reverse through the window.

What neither one knew was that a clan of mice had sneaked inside, finding cover within the wall.

After a minute had passed, Salt replaced the toggle in its former position. Their surroundings slowly came to a standstill.

"I give you the world of the Paleocene Era!"

He opened the door. To their dismay, the mice crawled out from a hidden aperture and skittered out into the wild. Pepper tried to pursue them, but Salt took his arm and held him back, slamming the door shut.

"No!" said Salt, "We have altered time enough! What folly! I'd seen them mice here before...thought I'd killed them all. And by the looks of them, they've drunk some of my intelligence-boosting formula! All we can do now is hope our present and future are not affected."

He grabbed the toggle again and pulled it in a different direction. The dates leapt upwards. Civilization gradually appeared.

The doctor and his assistant stepped out of the timeshack.

"Well, looks like nothing happened," said Salt, an upstanding mouse, "In fact, I don't remember what we were so worried about!"

"I wish I knew myself!" said Pepper, a darker, mouse, looking just as dapper.

A mouse girl put down the book. Of all the worst stories! Mythical creatures such as humans are so old school!
 
Marley's Marvelous, Mystical, Metamorphosizing Menagerie of Mostly Mammals but occasionally reptiles and birds and insects too

It isn't every day a little girl finds herself in my pet shop. Sometimes it's rowdy boys, other days it's disgruntled young people just learning older isn't necessarily better. Each one needs something fresh in their life, something my animals can provide, and usually they can tell me exactly what that something is. But little girls are different. Little girls are too used to being told what they need.

"Welcome," I said when she came through the door with wonder-filled eyes. Happens every time.

"What is this place?" She browsed the shelves where hens sat on nests and bees buzzed in jars and crates rattled and chattered and growled.

"A pet shop, obviously." I leaned across the counter, all secretive. "But my animals are magical."

She looked incredulous. They always do.

I twirled around and pointed out a dollhouse on the shelf where a pair of rats dined on Camembert. "Fancy rats. Take one home, and suddenly you're taking day trips to Paris and sipping champagne. This guy here? Nothing helps you get the job done like an eager beaver." I rushed around the counter, the girl following me with delighted laughter. "Fat cats!" They yowled from their tiny cubicles. "If you need to soar up the corporate ladder!"

"They're really magic?"

"Absolutely." A cobra snaked around my arm. Perfect for aspiring dancers. "Which do you need?"

Her face fell from purest joy to bitter recollection. "Mom says I can't have pets. Or a phone. Or anything." She sighed, frustrated. "She doesn't get me."

Now I knew what she needed.

"Wait here." I went into the back and returned with a golden puppy dolled up in a red bow. "Here. He'll help you both understand each other."

"But–”

"Nothing brings people together better than man's best friend."
 
The Two Little Mice

Once upon a time there were two little mice who lived in a tiny mousehole in a big castle. Their names were Cinnamon and Larkspur.

Larkspur played a banjo made from a matchbox and bits of string while Cinnamon danced. The banjo was badly out of tune, but they had a fine time.

One night, as the mice lay snug in their beds, a beautiful voice sang to them.

Dear mouse! Dear mouse!
Come out of your house!


Shining in the moonlight was a tiny music box, covered with pearls and rubies, playing a waltz. Cinnamon jumped out of bed and ran outside and danced as he had never danced before.

The next day, Cinnamon was nowhere to be found. Larkspur assumed he was searching the dining hall for breadcrumbs and bits of cheese.

The next night, the beautiful voice sang again.

Dear mouse! Dear mouse!
Come out of your house!


Shining in the moonlight was a tiny violin, made from ebony and rosewood. Larkspur jumped out of bed and ran outside and played as she had never played before. She was so delighted that she almost didn't notice an orange cat with green eyes watching her from a dark corner.

Larkspur was a very brave little mouse, so when she saw the cat she smacked its paw with the violin bow.

"You wicked, wicked cat! You ate my friend!"

The cat sobbed and said "I am Lady Lemonade, the Queen's favorite. She gives me caviar and cream and other nice things, so I do not eat mice. She is away on affairs of state. I am lonely. Won't you be my friend?"

Larkspur saw Cinnamon near the cat, safe and sound.

When the Queen returned, the three performed for her every night, and they all lived happily ever after.
 
Hoffeldon mouse and the importance of good manners

I don’t understand why the two of ye are unaffected’, wheezed the Captain, ‘the rest of us have been eating the best of floorcake and we still got sick.’

Hoffeldon mouse’s whiskers bristled.

‘I don’t think it’s a virus captain’, he said.

‘Nobody cares what you think Hoffeldon, anthropology is useless to the nest.’

It had been six days since I broke my leg and heard the captain utter the words ‘you’re too old for foraging, hide under the floorboards and Hoffeldon mouse will bring you food.’
  • My heart sank.
  • Hoffeldon was a hopeless forager.
  • Obsessed with books, the only meals he collected were waste crumbs.
‘Why don’t you go and fetch a slice of that lovely blue floorcake you useless lump?’ I had asked.

‘Because we are in the human nest now, and they value cleanliness. They almost never defecate in their food, you know. Or walk across it -so I’m being polite and keeping the place clean.’

‘You are being an idiot, just like a human’ I’d replied.

‘Humans are actually pretty smart. And they never eat floorcake from the box along the skirting board, so I’m just trying to follow their ways.’

‘Never mind being polite’, I told him, ‘go fetch me floorcake like everyone else has, it smells delicious.’
  • Heffeldon didn’t.
  • And there was not much I could do about it.
  • Except eat the crumbs he brought.
  • For six days.
  • While everyone else feasted on floorcake.
  • And got sick.
  • And began dying.
  • Until all that remained was the captain.
‘I think Hoffaldon might be right’, I said, ‘he’s studied humans.’

‘If it’s not a virus Hoffeldon, then what is killing us?’ wheezed the captain.

Hofeldon mouse’s whiskers bristled.

’Bad manners sir.’

Manners? Such nonsense, it’s a good job nobody listens to you Hoffeldon’, wheezed the captain.
 
The Tithing of Grains

Chaunku tucked the blanket around his ruined legs then wheeled to the kitchen table.

He regarded the tabletop's contents: two earthen bowls, a nearly empty grain sack, his black market, digital grain-centrifuge.

He unsealed the sack, reached in and ran rice through his fingers. This was life for him and his wife, this monthly governmental allotment.

Chaunku emptied the sack into the centrifuge.
Against a cheat sheet he verified the parameters for the device's filtering program and trap hopper – the grain type and weight target.
Basmati rice ranged from .026 to .042 gram per grain, while every piece of the plastics-based nutri-rice the State secreted within the allotments weighed exactly .035g.
The centrifuge was set to trap grains of .035g.

He damned the regional, county and local governments for their greed. It'd become known that at each level, 10% of the actual grain was filtered out, then replaced with inexpensively manufactured nutri-grains with little nutritional value.
The tithed product overfed the powerful and wealthy.

Chaunku activated the machine then waited out its whirring cycle.
He extracted the trap hopper and poured its contents into his own bowl (this'd be mostly nutri-rice, though some basmati would weigh .035g, and be filtered to him).
He poured the remainders hopper of basmati into his wife's bowl; she could still work, she needed the nutrients of honest grain.

A scrawny rat, a frequent visitor he hadn't the heart to kill, scurried over from behind a cabinet. Chaunku placed several grains from each bowl on the floor.
The rat scented, then stuffed its cheeks with basmati and fled.

The next grain delivery – finally, something other than rice – would come tomorrow. Chaunku adjusted the filtering parameters from memory, resetting the targeting weight: .023g.
He knew the weight of nutri-sorghum.
 
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All in a Mouse's Night

When night came, the mice came out from the walls.

House Central hummed to life. "Good evening. How may I be of service to you?"

Several mice gathered around the refrigerator.

"Are you hungry? I'm sure the daytime family would be willing to share with you as usual. If I recall, you particularly enjoy cheese and peanut butter."

The refrigerator door buzzed open. The mice clamored at the opening.

"Allow me."

A mechanical arm extended from inside with a block of cheddar cheese and a jar of peanut butter. The arm deposited the items on the kitchen floor. As the mice tore into the cheese, gnawing through the plastic wrapper, the arm clamped onto the jar's lid and unscrewed it.

Happy mice soon feasted on their meal offering.

"I'm glad you're pleased with the food I've provided. Please let me know if you need anything else."

House Central kept all eyes following each of the scurrying mice. When one did something dangerous, like chewing on a power cord, he issued a warning clarion. When they began rummaging through cupboards, he inferred they were still hungry and made some hand pies, distributing them by delivery drone.

After the mice had visited every conceivable corner of the house at least twenty times, they returned to the walls, one by one. House Central bid each, "Good night." As the last mouse was about to depart, it stopped, stood on its hind legs, and nodded at the drone that hovered nearby. Then it was gone.

The house was quiet now. House Central settled into sleep mode, wondering what trouble the daytime residents would get into in the next few hours. They were certainly the most difficult and noisiest of the residents. It took a lot more effort to make them happy.
 
A Mouse in the House

Eek, a mouse! How did it get here? There hasn’t been a mouse on this planet since the Species Selection Committee deemed them “unpleasant.” And what’s it doing? Building a house? I didn’t know mice could do that. But then again everything I know about mice I learned from the Species Eradication Proposal submitted to the Board of Eugenics by the SSC. Well, I’m just going to ignore it today and hope it’s gone tomorrow.

#

Oh no, it’s much worse today. Now there’s not just one. And there’s not just a house. It looks more like a village. And are those tiny motor cars they are zipping around in? This is getting out of hand. I feel like I should tell somebody. But who? I’m already a pariah for voicing my opinions against the way the government is destroying life on this planet. They’ll just think it’s another one of my ploys, a clever act of civil disobedience. I’m going to have to sleep on this one.

#

Good heavens, is that some kind of airport? These mice seem to be quite technologically advanced. And that mouse city has grown absurdly large in only a couple of days. This is rather disconcerting. I can’t even get to the bathroom any more, what with all these mouse mobiles flitting about on the floor and in the air. Whoa that one almost took out my eye! Was that a missile? These mice seem angry. I wonder if it’s because we tried — apparently unsuccessfully — to eradicate them. I suppose that would make me angry too.

What is this? It appears to be some sort of message projected onto my wall. “We have nukes and demand your species’ immediate departure.” Uh oh. I hope they know I’m on their side.
 
Epilogue

This is not the town, and this is not the village
We are a hundred miles from cobbles and fifty from tillage
Close your twinkly little eyes and think…
Deep within the feral deeps of the wild, wild wood
Where a saplings first suckle could be raindrink…or blood
Where every trunk and every bough a jawbone threatening to engulf
And between them, every path, a thread tethered to the big, bad wolf.
Shadow upon shadow cast between the trees atop the bramble
There were a handful of homes here once - now lost in the tangle.

What happened to the hard-as-nails granny and the spiteful old witches?
Well, there was only one not murdered, since traded her smock for sanatorium britches
Granny found dead, mid ‘you-know-what’ on her makeshift cabin bog
Which you’d know
If the coward, Charles Perrault, had included his epilogue.
The heroic logger ...
That samaritan is fallen, slaughtered in the taint
He’s not venerable, nor blessed and he will never be a saint.

Three little pigs?
For a start there was at least ten and not all of them related
Many thought them loose in the wood was to end ill-fated
A life of hog-swill on tap makes for the softest of swine
It wasn’t a matter of if and when, it was quite simply a matter of time.

First there is bereft that succumbs to the war
A truth…
The pig divorced from husbandry relearns the guise of the boar
A new generation now wears tusks and a quick rage
And they’re at least as deadly as the wolf from the page.

Still, it’s not all darkness, dankness and dour
Coincidentally child at almost this exact hour
All the little woodland creatures have just received gilded invites
To celebrate the wedding of two fantastically, fancy, white mice.
 
Rhyme and Reason

Katie Barbour wasn’t having it. She stood with her back to me, staring at what remained of the bathroom we’d sneaked into while her husband mingled with tech venture capitalists in the dining room below. Gone was that figure-hugging red dress I couldn’t take my eyes off when Clive introduced me, not knowing I’d unzipped it many times in his absence. A red checkered handkerchief about her neck (all that remained of the dress), and her strident voice in my head were the only signs I was still dealing with a human.

Heaven knows what she made of me now, minus my green polo and black leather trousers.

“Put this on, you said. It’s better than s-e-x.” She snorted, although it sounded more like a squeak, a mouse squeak. Her tail twitched twice against the wooden spool I now sat on, which I’m certain had been the bubble bath I was tempting her into when my headset fell into the water.

“It’s probably just a bug,” I said, struggling to balance a cup of beer in my paws. “The Mission Pro 52 isn’t out until next month. We’re still coding fixes.”

Hattie’s ears twitched in response and her head gave an involuntary shake like she’d been tasered.

None of this made sense. I wish I’d never heard of FacePaw and Clive Lewis, CEO.

Hattie screeched and backed into me, knocking cup and saucer from my feeble grasp.

“Look!”

Sentences scrolled down a wall-mounted mirror behind the lamp.

Rhyme and Reason

Hey Mrs Barbour

Who killed your ardour?

The duck’s jumped into a frame

The stupid bird squeaked

Electricity leaked

Fancy mice on the menu again

- C. S. Barbour

The hinge groaned, the door slammed tight, and we plunged into darkness.

“Here, kitty, kitty.”

Clive chuckled.
 

Is the light on?

I can’t see them but they are there, high on the bookshelf.

She bought them from a charity shop. One of those that sit in every high street. Second hand clothes, ornaments, CDs and toys. Fragments of other lives given a second chance.

Our house had an eclectic style, a good old hodgepodge of stuff. Yet, she made it work.

Fancy Mice, I had asked, why are they fancy?

She’d laughed, because they are, can’t you see?

I’d shrugged, accepted their new place in our home.

She used to make a point of lighting their lamp each evening. A tiny LED that shone brighter than it should. It matched her own proclivity for leaving lights on around the house. She hated a dark house, had done since childhood.

“Is the light on?” I asked.

I knew it came out unintelligible, mumbled fragments of words. They leaned close, as if that made it easier. It never did.

I tried again, “The light for the Fancy Mice.”

“Are you in pain?”

Strange and horrible that hearing is the last sense to go.

I shook my head and gave up. I knew they were sad, feeling more helpless than I. I hated that I’d put them in this situation, hated this disease for leaving me to waste away.

“I’ve turned their light on.” Her voice came as sweet as the last time I’d heard it.

“Thank you, dear.” I replied.

“Did he just say thank you?”

“I think so. Dad, who are you saying thank you to?”

I opened my eyes and she was there once more. Oh, so glorious a vision. Her form flickered from when we met to when she left, and every year between.

“The Fancy Mice can drink their tea now, you sleep. I’ll see you when you wake.”
 
The Mouse House - 2151

Christine was on a mission as she slipped quietly through the dusty dirty empty streets of Amarillo. Amarillo had always been dry, but now it was beyond dry. Today her family’s water ration had just been cut to 20 liters a week which was under the minimum for a family of four, certainly not enough for the five that made up her family. They were going to have to move. But they had no money to buy the horse and wagon needed to move east into the “storm and water belt.”

So today she pursued a little-believed family legend. The legend was that Great-Great-Grandpa Noah (What a stupid name that was for an Amarillo native!) had stashed away something of great value in his home against a time when they had to leave Amarillo.

Arriving at the house it was clear that there was not much left. The house had been ransacked but since she didn’t know anything else to do, she walked in. Shuffling through the house, she thought of the stories her grandmother had told. Back in her day, the family had called Great-Great-Grandpa’s house “The Mouse House.” But now no one knew why.

Among the dust and debris, she spotted a bedraggled handmade knickknack of some funny “Fancy Mice.” She picked it up and thought of her grandma’s story.

“Hm? The Mouse House?” The box was broken and dilapidated, but the old wooden spool was still intact. She picked it up. It rattled. As she pried the spool open a ruby fell out. It had to be worth 2000 liters of water, more than enough to buy a horse, wagon, and the 200 liters of water to get to the Mississippi Delta.

Great-Great grandpa Noah had saved his family, just like his namesake.
 
Behind the Freak Show Curtain
1884


“Hey! What are kids doing here?”

“You're Blazo the Clown. The Fire Eater. I’m Jimmy, and that’s my sister Lucy.”

“You kids aren’t allowed inside this tent. Go home.”

“But we’re poor and couldn’t see the show.”

Blazo remembered when he was homeless, “Well…I guess it’d be okay to give you both a little peek behind the curtains.”

“You’re the greatest.”, commented Lucy.

“Just don’t tell anybody.”

“Anything for you Blazo.”, grinned Jimmy.

“Good. I’ll introduce you to my friends.”

#

The children weren’t afraid of meeting unusual people. There was String Bean, the Human Skeleton, Martini, a Sword Swallower, Luna, the Wolf Woman and several others.

Lucy swiveled her head around. “Where are the dancing mice?”

“Ahhhh. You’ve heard of them.” said Blazo, grabbing his lapels. “Follow me.”

#

“Behold, the Dancing Shadow Box Mice. Gertie and Myrtle.”

Jimmy was puzzled, “But they’re just two fake mice in a glass box.”

Blazo knelt down to Lucy’s height, “Open the box.”

Seconds after she did, the two mice leaped out and began to dance. Instant happiness flowed into the astonished children. The siblings applauded and danced with the rodents until Blazo stated the show was over, then carefully placed the mice away. Jimmy approached a huge, canvas covered box and began lifting its cover.

"NO!”, yelled the clown. “You kids should leave.”

#

Not far, within a treeline, the children discussed the mystery box. “You think we should, Jimmy?”

“Curiosity is killing me.”

#

Ugly screams exploded through the quiet humid night. Blazo burst into the tent. He saw the wolf woman, holding the shaking siblings.

Jimmy pointed at an uncovered barred crate. “What, is that?”

“An attraction we decided was too shocking for anyone to see. You’re lucky…IT, didn’t grab and eat you both.”, said Blazo unnervingly.
 
The Taxidermist

Here’s your tea, officer. So, you’re asking about Mr. Stouffer next door? Lovely man! Moved in about a year ago. Very friendly. Oh, I see you’re looking at my Fancy Mice display above the mantelpiece. He gave me that the day he arrived. His hobby is taxidermy, you see. He says it keeps him out of trouble. Oh, I do wish you would tell me why you are asking all these questions!

Anyway, I couldn’t ask for a better neighbor. He even helped me put signs around the neighborhood after I lost poor Felix. I’ve seen less of him recently though. I think he’s preoccupied with his hobby. You know, officer, he seems to have moved on to larger animals. The other night I saw him dragging a deer into his garage. Well, yes, it was quite dark actually and, no, I wasn’t wearing my glasses. What an odd question!

Well, goodbye officer. I hope I was helpful. Be careful out there! I’ve been hearing on the news about the disappearances recently. Oh, I think I shall have a very good evening indeed. Mr. Stouffer has asked me over for the first time ever. You know, he really looked me up and down when he invited me. I think I might get lucky! Ha! Just my little joke. I’m sure he’s an absolute gentleman. Anyway, he said he’ll be ready for me by seven. Why, officer, are you feeling alright? You seem to have gone quite pale.
 
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