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

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A Cheesy Dilemma

Trapped!” Petrov realized as a relentless cat, it’s eyes ablaze, attacked the enclosure. This makeshift prison seemed to be a tiny recreation of a restroom that Petrov and Dmitri were now inside. Petrov, with stunned eyes, turned to his longtime cheese adventuring friend Dmitri. Dmitri, donning extravagant adventuring attire, had been drinking from his signature cheese cup before the ambush; after initially expressing shock, Dmitri’s face began to calm as he looked down in thought and continued his cheese consumption.

“Looks like our intel was wrong Petrov; this wasn’t the cheese we were expecting.” Dmitri said rather calmly as he glanced over at the gold on the makeshift sink, uncannily resembling a cheese delicacy from afar.

Crack, the fragile door cried as the beast viciously pounced at the two mice, only separated by a thin window. Fear gripped Petrov's heart as the reality of their current predicament set in.

“Dmitri,” Petrov gasped, “I’m going to be a father….”

Dmitri put away his cup, and with an uncanny tranquility he walked over to his fancifully dressed best friend. Putting his claws on Petrov’s shoulders, Dmitri started, “Petrov, we have traversed the world together. No cheese has escaped our grasp, no lock has withstood our genius, no trap has ensnared us. And yet while our extravagant tales are too many to count, our bounty too massive to consume, what I cherish most is journeying and laughing alongside you my dearest friend….Now, run quickly.”

“Dmitri! No!” Petrov shouted as Dmitri slammed open the door and sprinted in the opposite direction of safety, buying Petrov time. Heart pounding, Petrov fled for his life.

Some time later...
“So that’s where I got my name, father!” Little Dmitri exclaimed.

“Yes child, you were named after the bravest adventurer of the seven houses.” Petrov smiled.
Time For Cheese

Did I ever tell you about the time the mice visited? No? Then permit me to recount the tale.

It was a cold winter's night back in '42. There I was ensconced in front of a roaring fire, enjoying a vintage port, a rather sublime creamy Stilton, and reading a Wells, when I was distracted by a popping sound and a faint smell of petunias. Looking around I was astounded to see a small box had appeared atop my credenza.

Intrigued, I wandered over for closer inspection. The box, actually a cube about two feet in dimensions, was constructed from mahogany, covered in brass tubing, possessed leaded windows and an oak panelled door. I was about to pick up the box, when its door opened and two white mice stepped out, dressed impeccably in Harris tweed three-piece suits. Both bowed low, then one began to squeak. Several seconds passed before I realised it was squeaking in English. It introduced itself as Murgatroyd and its companion as Alphonse.

Murgatroyd explained that they were adventurers from my far distant future in search of the finest cheeses from throughout time. He further explained that their machine, the box, had been calibrated to detect waves of cheese-related ecstasy and automatically materialise close to the source. It seems I had been enjoying my port and cheese rather more than I thought. Anyway, my visitors requested if they could have a sample of the cheese. I offered to give them the remaining wedge, but they politely declined, insisting a small piece would suffice. I duly obliged with a generous slice. They graciously thanked me and we bade farewell. They reentered their machine and with another pop, it instantly disappeared.

And that's how I met the cheese-collecting, time-travelling mice for the first time.
A Labour of Love

How I loved my uncle Fritz! He was of my mother’s side. A long line of misfits, kooks and eccentrics, quite unlike the straight and narrow mice of my father’s. Uncle Fritz’s whiskers twitched in exasperation, eyes weary, for the sun weighed heavy on the horizon as he twisted a pipe wrench one last time under the sink.

He straightened, and in his usual way, fixed his rose-red bowtie before declaring, “That should do it. Rome awaits!” I scrambled into the wooden box and closed the glass door. He hurriedly pressed a silver key into a slot and turned it, then opened the right-most brass tap and…nothing.

I returned the next day.

“I did it! Oh, the view from atop Palatine Hill! The Colosseum in its full glory! Simply magnifico!” He winked and gestured for me to go in and see for myself. I held my breath in anxious anticipation, yet again, when I opened the glass door, it was still 1963. AD. His shoulders slumped in defeat. Dejected, I returned home.

“Your uncle is living a fantasy. Dementia is what the doctors call it,” Father said, looking up from his newspaper as I trudged inside wearing a conspicuously long face.

“Just humour him Love,” said Mother.

Years passed, yet Uncle Fritz remained unfazed, regularly announcing, “That should do it!”, to no avail. Dutifully, I cheered him on.

One day, I entered his workshop to an unusual silence. He lay upon the floor, cold and lifeless, yet death couldn't snatch away his contended smile. Beside him sat a shiny thing. A large golden coin with the face of Emperor Vespasian. Solemnly, I removed the silver key from his hand and before closing the glass door, I gently fixed his bowtie, winked, and proudly declared, “You did it Uncle. Rome awaits.”
Small Honour

“I like Prince Caspian, but I think Reepicheep is my favourite.”

“He’s mine too. He’s small, but strong. Just like you.” He smiled down at his son and closed the book.

“I’m pretty big, actually.”

“Oh yes, my mistake. Good night.

“Night, Dad.”

He found his wife sipping tea at their small round table. He put his cheek against hers and wrapped her in a hug, enjoying the soft give of her white fur. She closed her eyes and leaned into him, taking a deep breath.

“I wish you didn’t have to go,” she said without opening her eyes. “What difference will one mouse make on a whole battlefield?”

“All the difference in the world, in the right place and time. Besides, we can’t leave the independence of our country to the large creatures.”

“Mice must guard our dignity,” she said, teasingly.

“Quoting my favourite character from my favourite books,” he smiled. “You are the best wife.”

“You quote them enough yourself that I hardly needed to read them.”

Later, after she helped buckle on his breastplate, he looked into her beautiful dark eyes.

“You are the bravest of the pair of us,” he said. “I only have to stand with my unit, pass on commands and keep my nerve for a moment. You are the one who is left wondering, who must keep our son’s spirits up.” She gave him a small, sad smile and ran her hand along one of his large round ears.

“Just come home again,” she said.

After he had gone, she sat back at the little round table and picked up her cold cup of tea. Then, she waited.

Soup dribbled over my chin as I watched a mouse appear over the edge of the table, disrupting my quiet meal. It scampered purposefully over the tabletop and sat down facing me, barely 10 centimetres north of my plate.
My first inclination was to grab the soup ladle and squash the unwelcome guest. But the way it sat there, boldly looking me in the eye, arrested any futile attempts on my part to outmatch the nimble little fellow.
We engaged in a match of staring down the other instead. I lost.
“What?” I challenged, irritated.
It was all the acknowledgement the mouse needed. It tripped to the edge of the table and pointed its nose in a direction below and slightly behind me. I turned. There, on the floor, sat what I supposed was its assembled family; wife, children and grandchildren, in neat rows, 35 mice strong. As soon as they got my attention they started to dance. A swirling ballet in which 35 dots smoothly formed a letter, then swiftly swerved to form the next. It was dizzying.
Unerringly they spelled;
Spelling mice? Flattering mice? What bizarre hallucination was this?
“You need my help?”
But Grandpa Mouse looked at me sternly and shook its head, several times.
“Huh? You mean I need help?”
That evoked emphatic nodding.
I smothered a derisive snort, feeling sure the mouse meant well. “How so?”
The dancing resumed. I watched it, my view somehow blurred.
CALL 911
CALL 911
CALL 911
It was disturbingly compelling.
It made me make that call.
Right before I collapsed.

Since my stroke, once I got discharged from hospital, I place an extra plate on the table with a chunk of cheese. I never see any mice, but somehow the cheese always disappears.
Succor of Time

I’m standing before a diorama, barely the span of an adult’s hand. The subject matter childish, nostalgic; comforting and homey. The technique - astounding. It looks like a the work of an adolescent, but the artist an adult. A blind, deaf, mute adult who has never communicated with another person, never read a book, touched a sculpture or played with a toy. And yet, anthropomorphic rodents pose in perfect forced perspective by miniaturized furnishings that the artist could not possibly comprehend.

“Amène moi à l'aéroport,” to the taxi driver out front of the gallery. I had left immediately after spotting the piece and the author’s name. An unfamiliar name, and I searched for that name and a destination as we wound through the city.

Fame had earned the artist a better facility to sit in silent darkness. No one witnessed my arrival, least of all the lone young man in the room.

“I called them Teddy and Heddy. A Teddy mouse? Stupid.” The little stuffed animals of my childhood seventy years ago, somehow transported into a miniature of the awful row house we lived in - taking the roles of father and son. I assume he can't hear me.

Those stuffed mice were the only comfort of my childhood. My father destroyed them during one of his rages. I left before I could shave, and heard rumors of his death years later. It is impossible that this deeply disabled man before me is my father, yet I can’t help reaching out to him.

As I grip his throat with both hands, he looks back at me through sightless eyes. And in that moment I am looking in a mirror at an enraged old man having a massive coronary. My old body falls to the floor as I get up to leave.
The Fish Can

“Well, here we are,” said Emma. “‘The Fish Can’, the smallest, stinkiest trash trap in Colchester.”

“Second hand shop, you mean.” Lila snapped. “You’re the one who wanted an original present for Nan. You aren’t going to find anything original in the city centre.”

“I wanted something different, not something old. What’s Nana going to do with second hand slippers, or a chipped teapot?”

“Then don’t buy her slippers or a tea pot. Look, you only have £5 to spend on her. This is the place to buy her the perfect present, because everything is old - and cheap. The trick is to work out what she wants, not what you want, and then find something that fits. I can help you if you like.” The girls stood scowling at each other. Then Emma smiled shyly.

“Yes, please!”

They wandered around the shop together, pointing at the strange figurines, old furniture, musty clothes. Lila tried on a long military coat and they both howled at her reflection in a long mirror. Then Emma went quiet.

“Grandad died in the war, didn’t he? Would she like the coat?”

Lila gave that some thought. “Good idea Em, but I’m not sure she would want him back. They weren’t very happy together, you know.” Emma pulled a face; she didn’t like to hear that kind of story. “How about an old book, something she might have read when she was little?”

They were browsing the bookshelves when they found it.


Nana was sitting up in bed when she unwrapped Emma’s gift. Her eyes were like saucers when she saw the fancy mice house. “Oh, I loved these when I was small! I even wrote my name on the back of the one my father gave me.”

Then she turned it over.
Of Mice and Men

Granger started log ‘20960403 Enhanced Serum Trial’ noting Lab Subject 216 at the starting gate of the blue maze and Lab Subject 114 in a sound and light-proof enclosure five centimetres away.

You are close.

Yes. Two ‘strange others’ also.

Yes. Confusing.

“What are we hoping for?” asked Thompson.

“Well, 114’s done it before. Several times. They’re related, have shown promise previously and they’ve both received a dose of the enhanced serum. There’s been no contact between the two of them since 114 was first introduced to the blue maze some six weeks ago. His average time is now 32 seconds. He knows it inside out. First time it took him just over 4 minutes, which is about average for other subjects.

If the enhanced serum works as we think, 216 should exhibit a distinct improvement on the average.”

Granger opened the gate.

Blue place.

I know it. There is food reward.

But ‘strange others’? I am feeling ‘expectation’.

Yes. I also feel it.

“Nothing so far. In fact, no movement at all. Odd.”

Granger made a log entry.

I am feeling ‘disappointment’. I am uncomfortable.

Move away.

I have. It is the same.

“Ah, some movement. And now… nothing. Not what I expected at all. In fact, much worse.”

Another log entry.

“I’ll leave you to it, Granger, I’m off for a coffee.” Thompson headed for the door.

I feel ‘other place’. A place ‘not here’.

Yes. New. Strange.

‘Here’ was everything. Not everything now.

Yes. Here is not ‘all’.

We did not know. Sad.

Yes. Sad. Here is not enough.

‘Strange others’ knew?


Thompson, standing at the coffee machine, felt an urgent need for fresh air and a walk outside…

Granger experienced a sudden melancholy and reached to set the subjects free…
The Dancing Doctor

Time to dance with the Devil again; every Wednesday, come rain or shine, hell or high water, life or death.
Only, this week she was early.

Fear is where the learning is.

Janet considered turning back. It wasn’t that therapy wasn’t her thing, it was the…the dance of it; no choreography, all freestyle. No control.

Ah, yes…control.

Dr Petto’s words rang through a mind already full of other concerns: Treat yourself like a puppet, Janet. The rhythm of life’s easier if you know which strings pull which lever.

Yes, yes, all very, therapistish…
(Not to mention manipulative.)

The sessions were meant to be a refuge from her life -- from the “attack”. Instead she was encouraged to duet with her trauma, peeling the onion layers, and pirouette round her PTSD. She was sick of improving. Or trying to. Couldn’t even remember when the sessions started — must’ve been years — yet she still felt little more than a pipe-cleaner twisted into human form.

Made not born.

She skulked amongst the trees at the head of his driveway as she considered all this, watching him through the undrawn lounge curtai—

Dancing with a mannequin?!

To witness him spinning and reeling with a life-sized puppet in that cosy lounge, came as something of a validation.

She’d always felt like he was leading.

The streetlamp’s irregular strobing lent the scene an uncanny stop-motion. An atavistic fear uncurled in her belly and crawled up her spine. The puppet's vacant eyes betrayed a grim secret. His dance partner was no marionette.

Dread settled in her bosom, Petto's voice in her head:

Fear is where the learning is.

She wondered whether Petto knew if you split therapist into two words, it meant something entirely different.

She removed her weapon and headed up the drive.
“It’s named after the village.”​
Alex dragged her attention from the intricately carved overmantel above the chimneypiece, with its flowers and fruit and playful mice. “I’m sorry?”​
“The house. Named after the Cornish fishing village,” said the estate agent.​
“It fits,” said Olivia, her voice dripping contempt. “It’s definitely a hole.”​
Sophie nodded. In their teenage dogmatism, neither had forgiven her for accepting Frank’s inequitable terms for the divorce. “And she’s definitely a m—"​
“Go wait in the car,” said Alex.​
Pretending sudden interest in his phone, the agent slipped from the room. The girls glared, huffed, then flounced out.​
“Hah! She’s not got the brains of a mouse.”
The words came clear, though no one was there.​
“Nor the beauty.”
Hallucinations. Or…​
There were legends about the old cottage. Built for a magician who had mice as servants, it was said. Or cursed by a witch who turned the family into mice.​
There were also rumours about why, after so long on the market at a ridiculously low price, it still hadn’t sold. Waiting for a mouse lover, perhaps.​
All Alex knew was that after fifteen years of unhappy marriage in a house she’d loathed, the cottage had already enveloped her in peace.​
She turned back to the overmantel. “Probably not the brains. Certainly not the beauty. But I am as poor as a church mouse, if that counts.”​
Wooden snouts twitched beside carved pomegranates. Wooden eyes peeked from behind limewood petals.​
“She hears us.”
“Then she’s the one.”
“You want our house?”
“Yes. Please.”​
“It’s yours.”
For the first time in months, Alex smiled.​
“You’re not really going to buy this Mouse Hole?” demanded Olivia, when Alex joined them outside.​
“Actually,” said the agent, “like the village, it’s pronounced ‘Mowwzul’.”​
“No,” said Alex. “It’s pronounced ‘Home’.”​
The Writer’s Block

The four walls seemed to close in on me as I sat slumped in my chair, staring at the blank screen, the single flashing vertical line upon the page taunting me. Scant hours to the deadline now.
I squinted my eyes shut tightly, trying to think as hard as I could.

Nothing. Blank darkness. I know it’s not that easy, and I feel like Winnie the Pooh struggling to figure something out (except older and greyer, though of similar roundness), but I had to try.
I sigh. One option left, now.

I reach for the unmarked wooden block sitting at the corner of my desk, next to the tea that has long since cooled. I hold it in my hand for a second, feeling its weight, before giving myself a violent thwack on the forehead.

Through the stars, I saw two mice, humanoid in their appearance, one male, one female, sitting in a small room with the window open to a moonlit night, the male bandaging an arm that had bloodied his shirt and pants, the female draped in an emerald night dress standing over him wreathed in the smoke of her cigarette.

“You were so brave with that cat, Mickey,” she says.

“Aw, shucks, it was nothing,” he says.

“No, really, you were heroic.” She started to slip a shoulder loose from her dress –

No! Family friendly, dagnabbit! I cried out in anguish.

The door opened behind me, my servant poking her head in.

“Sir, are you alright?”

“Maria! Get in here, I need you to hit me.”

She looked at the wooden block. “You know how I hate that.”

“I’ll put in a good word for your kids’ admission to private school.”

She barely hesitated before picking up the block with two hands and walloping me.

I’m now almost certain I’m not dreaming. But there are similarities.
My dreams, and whatever this is, are episodic, but in different ways. Episodes in my dreams don't run smoothly into each other: one moment I'm in one scene and the next, I'm in another.
Nothing’s like that here. It's a bit like walking through that Viennese palace – it was so long ago, I can’t recall which one – where one room followed another in a straight line, with double doors between them. In this place, the doors are unseen. I simply pass through… well, I'm not sure. Am I walking through the wall, or into an instantaneous transporter? Or a tethered wormhole?
I have no idea.
There’s one dreamlike aspect very much in play: time is extremely variable.
I didn't notice this at first. Why would I? When you’re surrounded by strong, capricious winds in an unremarkable, closed room with no obvious vents, why would you think the winds were caused by people walking past you? You wouldn’t. But when you start to see them as they slow down….
Or was I speeding up?
A later room, this room, is the opposite. Only I was moving. The people here… I use the term very loosely, as they aren't human but dressed-up, supersized stuffed animals, were motionless.
It was these “people” that finally caught my attention. I examined them. They weren’t mechatronic, for why would they be warmer than room temperature? And why would they be breathing? Such foul breaths… and becoming more frequent.
What’s going on?
Perhaps the answer lies beyond the next “door”… but then, in that Viennese palace, a single corridor, for servants, ran parallel to the rooms.
Now how does one find an invisible door?
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