There was a time when the pests of the household lived in harmony – each thriving in their separate kingdom, away from the brooms, vacuums, and pyrethroids. They sat in their little cubbies so damp and dark. The mice would chitter through the gap in the drywall, the cockroaches would skitter through the pipes, the spiders would weave webs in the basement, and the rats…well, the rats were another story. The rats made a mistake. They didn’t know how to live in a house full of humans. They were used to the freedom of the sewers where they could explore for hours on end without a human in sight. They did not heed the warnings from the well-groomed mice to stay hidden. One evening at six o’clock, the human feeding time, one rogue rat snuck out for a late night snack. After a child’s shriek and a mother’s wham of a frying pan, the very rat twitched for a moment, the light faded from his eyes, and he fell limp and lifeless on the kitchen counter.
From that moment onward, things became different for the pests. After the incident with the rat, the humans started to suspect their home had been infested with other things. Then came the sprays. Swathes of mice and roaches grew sick and perished. Only the spiders were able to find refuge and did so in the darkest reaches of the basement in the forgotten corners of antediluvian dresser drawers.
As the mice and roach populations thinned, they began to live in fear, fear that they could not venture out to the human’s domain until they had completely run out of resources. So much fear overtook these mice and roaches that they turned against each other, suspecting that at any moment one pest might get too desperate, sneak out for food, and in that desperation proceed without caution inciting another holocaust. The mice and roaches agreed to close off all entries to the human domain except one. They left one gap in the lower crown molding behind the great, blocky void called the television. To quell such fear entirely, the mice and roach guards stood patrolling the area near the exit to ensure that no more rogue pests passed its barrier. To exit they had to be vetted for their stealth, their loyalty, and most importantly, they couldn’t be rats. No rats were allowed beyond the threshold. They could not be trusted.
The rats possessed an unparalleled toughness. In the days of the holocaust, even though the rat population dwindled, the rats stood fearless against the threat of impending death. They courageously scoured the well-stocked pantries even if some were caught and killed by traps along the way. The other pests, except for the spiders whom continued living in ambivalence, hated the rats for their courage. They thought them foolish, irrational. In their view, their recklessness would be the cause of every pest’s downfall.
“Enslave them” said the mouse king to his court in the mice kingdom. “The only way to ensure our safety is if we keep them under our reign.” And so they did. Word was spread through the mice kingdom that there would be an announcement the following morning. That night the mice and roaches secured some of the human’s supply of rodenticide, and dropped it into the rat leaders’ water supply located within the mice kingdom, for the rats shared their domain with the mice much to the mice king’s annoyance.
The following morning, all pests gathered in the mice kingdom square, even the spiders – though they were present only corporeally – and they came upon a ghastly sight. In the middle of the square sat the lifeless bodies of the of five rats. The pests began to whisper in hushed, frantic voices.
An echoing voice rang out among the crowd “Papa? Papa?!” A young, female rat broke through the crowd and skittered up to a large, brown rat lying on the dusty ground. She sniffed all around his body for any sign of life, but found none.
“Who did this?!” she cried. “Speak! Who did this?!” She looked at the crowd, baring her teeth, revealing her bloodshot eyes.
The mouse king stood on his colonial balcony with a horrible grin upon his face. He addressed the young rat “I did.”
She hissed, the words cutting on each consonant, “How could you?! This rat was my father! He and the others lying here are our leaders! Why would you do such a thing?!”
The mouse king ignored the little rat. He looked up at the rest of the crowd and singled out the huddled mass of surviving rats “Let this be a lesson to those who do not obey. Your leaders are dead. They do not have caution enough to check their own water supply for poison, what makes you believe they have the intelligence to rule your kind? Stick with me, and blunders such as this will never happen. I will keep you safe. I know you think you are brave and stalwart, but even the brave and stalwart get hungry. In exchange for your labor and your allegiance, you shall never go hungry. And your people do not have to die any more. We can not afford another surge of death on the pest kingdoms. I must insist you follow. Or perish.”
“No!” The young rat began to lurch forward toward the mouse kingdom’s front gate. Just as she rushed, the two guards seized her.
“You there. Young one. What is your name, loud mouth?”
“My name is Willow.” She said
“What was that? Willow? Weasel, I think. You look very much like a small weasel, so I shall call you such. I could use a personal chambermaid. You shall work for me” and with his pinkish digit he signaled the guards to escort poor Weasel into the kingdom.
Weasel bit the guards as they closed in on her, but she could not puncture through their armor. She squirmed to no avail, and in a few moments, in the cacophony of her screams, the guards drug her into the kingdom.
The mouse king looked out at the crowd once more. “Anyone else have something to say?” The rats remained silent with their gazes downcast. “Very well. Glad to see some of your kind still has the capacity for reason. The head guardsman will assign you your duties. We shall not speak of this day again as we move forward onto a brighter, safer future.”
From that day onward, life within the drywall, and in the pipes was much different. Rats no longer ventured into the human domain. They served the mice and the roaches. They dug the tunnels for the mice’s sewage, lifted the heavy objects for the roaches’ convenience, built the buildings for the mice’s comfort, removed the gunk from the pipes for the roaches’ ease of travel all for a measly crumb here and there and the projected safety of others. The spiders refused to involve themselves with the rats, able to subsist on their own just fine, and not much interested in enslaving others though also not much interested in halting others from enslavement.
One morning the king sent word for a delivery mouse as it was customary to do so on the beginning of each week. The young, nervous, burgundy mouse stood in the king’s doorway looking up at the looming guardsmen towering to the left and right of him. He wore a newsboy cap and bag. He watched as the king sat at his desk pouring through paperwork with his back turned away from him. The king dipped his quill in some ink to the side of him and started to write frantically on the parchment in front of him.
After a moment the king addressed the young mouse whom he sensed was in the hallway. “Yes, yes, enter please. Are you testing my patience?”
“Uh-no-no sir. I would not do that, sir” the frantic mouse removed his newsboy cap and attempted to smooth his unruly tufts.
“Come here, young one. So I can see you.”
The young mouse did as the king commanded. The king looked the young mouse over and sighed for he saw a questionable sight. He did not see the expected fit mouse. What he saw was a scrawny fellow with an unkempt coat, his rear oddly shifted to one side.
“You? You’re the delivery mouse?” The king shouted to the guards “This is indeed the right mouse, is it?” The guards confirmed it was so, and the king asked for the mouse’s name.
“My name is Kidney Bean.”
“What an odd name for a mouse. Why are you called such a name?” the king inquired.
Kidney Bean hesitated, nervously turning his newsboy cap with his two hands as if it were a steering wheel and were desperately trying to turn left. “It’s just my name, sir.” He squeaked.
The king narrowed his eyes, “You are not who I envisioned would take the place of our former, elite delivery mouse.”
Hearing this, the guards entered the room. “Shall we take him away sir?”
The king waved the guards away. “No, no. There’s no time. Deliveries must be made today. You were selected by my guardsmen for this position, so you must be worth something at least.”
“I promise. I won’t let you down, sir.”
“That remains to be seen.” The king seethed.
Kidney Bean’s head dropped “Yes sir.”
“You must collect portions for this week and deliver them to the other two kingdoms without delay. Do you understand?”
Kidney Bean nodded frantically and squeaked out an assurance. Just he did, Weasel the rat entered looking hungry and tired and distant.
“Shall I take your bed, m’lord?” Weasel said in a rehearsed manner.
“What a cheeky thing to say” the king rose from his desk. He sauntered over to Weasel and sniffed the nape of her neck. “Why that human perfume I had you put on suits you well.”
In a monotone voice she continued the charade “I mean – shall I take your bedding, m’lord.”
“Oh yes, of course, of course” the king snickered. “And next time, try to behave better around our guest.” Kidney Bean winced as he saw the king smack Weasel in her rear. Instinctively, Kidney Bean felt the impulse to tell the king to stop such harassment, but just as he opened his mouth, Weasel, with a weary, hardened expression, signaled him to remain silent. The king glared at Kidney Bean. “What are you still doing here? I said without delay!” Kidney Bean hurried himself out the king’s doorway and down a long stone hallway. Behind him trudged Weasel with a pile of the king’s bedding. Kidney Bean started to slow down as he heard her pattering behind him. He looked over his shoulder at Weasel whom wavered back and forth, unable to see above the pile in her hands. Kidney Bean rushed to her aid.
“Here. Let me help with that.” He rose on his hind legs to steady the tipping top of the pile, but he only stood for a moment before shrieking in pain. He fell back and the pile fell with him.
“Look what you have done! You have been no help at all.” She huffed seeing the king’s bedding sit in a heap on top of Kidney Bean. “Mind your own business.” She started gathering up the bedding in annoyance. She gathered sheet after sheet only pausing when she heard faint whimpers. She lifted the final sheet to find Kidney Bean softly cooing in pain.
“Are you alright?” Weasel’s face changed. She reached her fore-paw out to Weasel’s face, but he turned his face away.
“I’m…just fine.” Weasel quickly hid his teary residue away from Weasel’s view. “Please. I can do this job. I need this job. Don’t tell them I can’t.”
Weasel took a good look at him. She saw the ridges of his spine protrude outward in a curve, and walked around to face Weasel. “That must be painful. You are the delivery mouse?”
“Yes, how did you know?”
“The delivery mouse is assigned every week. I pay attention.” She said, matter-of-factly. “Plus, you have a bag.” Weasel gestured her paw to Kidney Bean’s bag. “That crooked spine of yours may slow you down a bit.”
“I can do this job” Kidney Bean protested.
“I’m not saying you can’t. I’m saying that your spine may slow you down a bit though. It’s dangerous out there.”
“Yeah, well I can do it! And what do you know any way? You are just a-” he paused.
“A rat?” Weasel raised her brow.
Kidney Bean rolled to his feet. “I was going to say chambermaid, actually-”
“Not by choice. It keeps me alive.”
Kidney Bean considered her answer. “I know what you mean. I’m just doing this job so I can eat. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really want the job, but it’s been three days since I have earned a portion.”
Weasel perked up as she heard approaching footsteps, the chinking sound of metal on stone, as a guardsman rounded the corner to where Kidney Bean and Weasel stood.
“Oi. What’s this? You two ‘avin’ a gossip session, or what?” the guardsman crossed his arms. “You shouldn’t be talkin’ to this one. She’s a right dumb wench, that one is. Only good for scrubbing pots and cleanin’ linens.” the guardsman chuckled.
Weasel eyed the guardsman with disdain. The linens in the air flew as she suddenly bounded straight for him. She charged, hitting him square in the chest plate with a resounding bang. The air released from his lungs in one hull. As Weasel impacted, the guardsman fell to the ground, eyes closed. Weasel backed away from him, shocked from her sudden outburst. She smelled around him. As she did she saw the subtle, steady rise and fall of the guardsman’s breathing.
“Not dead. Just unconscious. We have to move.”
Kidney Bean breathed rapidly. Weasel didn’t wait for an answer. She took Kidney Bean by the hand and started to drag him away. Weasel began to shriek “AAAAARRRRGGH! Please! Let me go!”
Weasel released him with a panicked warning, “If we stay here, we are done.”
“Okay, but let me go. The pain is too great.” Weasel nodded. Two guards came around the corner spotting Kidney Bean and Weasel.
“They must have heard your scream. We must hurry!” And Kidney Bean and Weasel hurried down corridor after corridor as the guards chased behind. They ducked under castle’s kitchen counters, leapt over the visiting mice touring the kingdom, and weaved around the grasping mouse guards. They made it to the outside of the kingdom. As the guardsmen sent word of an escaped rat, the head guardsman ordered the gatekeeper to lower the gate. The guards encircled Kidney Bean and Weasel in the castle courtyard. Weasel saw their moment of escape fade as the gate dropped to a close. She looked closer at the array of bars that made up the main gate.
“I think we can still climb it!” She yelled to Kidney Bean. Kidney Bean barreled after her and the two of them together leapt onto the gate, and climbed for their lives. The gatekeeper at the top of the castle fumbled for his crossbow. He shot it, and it sunk into Weasel’s leg. She faltered, bending in pain, but used her adrenaline to lift Kidney Bean from the gate onto the wall. Seeing the wound in Weasel’s leg, Kidney Bean jumped onto the gatekeeper. Having seized the crossbow from him, he held it to the gatekeeper’s face. The crossbow trembled under his nervous, untrained paws. Even with his trembling, the tip of the crossbow hovering only inches from the gatekeeper’s face instilled enough fear in the gatekeeper that he backed away. Kidney Bean stood paralyzed with fear at the sudden power he held over another creature.
Weasel grabbed the folds of Kidney Bean’s collar, “No time to waste! We have to jump – into that pile, there!” Off to the side, near the shadowed end of the drywall, she gestured to a mixed pile of candy bar wrappers and chip bags below them on the other side of the castle wall. She pulled Kidney Bean to the edge to prepare for the descent. Though Kidney Bean fought back against her tugging, for that was a long way to jump for a mouse with a degenerative spine, Weasel’s grip was strong and reassuring. In her face, he saw a focused, furrowed brow, the resoluteness of her kind, and with it the promise of her protection. Weasel lifted him onto her back, “hold on, tight” she said as she jumped with from the castle wall in agony. The arrow in her leg cut further into her muscle as she sprung. Arrows pelted after them from the guards who managed to scramble up onto the wall, but their arrows were frenzied arrows who missed their targets.
Down, down, down, down, much farther down than she anticipated she would go, Weasel and Kidney Bean went. With a great thud, they landed on a musty surface taking an empty chip bag with them on the way down. Weasel grimaced, taking the brunt of the fall, saving Kidney Bean from injury. Kidney Bean slid off her back as Weasel took a breather.
“Thank you” he said.
“It was nothing” Weasel attempted a smile, but as she did she revealed blood-stained teeth.
“You’re bleeding!” Kidney Bean exclaimed. He rushed to her side. She held a hand out to his chest to stop him. She spat blood from her mouth onto the musty surface.
“I’m fine. It’s just a little bit of blood.” She reassured.
“What about your leg?” He asked. He reached out a hand to the arrow sticking out of her leg.
“Don’t!” She cried turning her leg. She promptly broke off the stick of the arrow, so it would no longer prove a hazard for traveling. The point, however, stayed within her tissue.
“But it’s still in there. Hurting you!” Kidney Bean looked at Weasel with concern.
“I’ll fix it later!” She protested.
“It could get worse!”
“What do you know about it? Are you a medicine mouse?!”
Kidney Bean backed off, “No. I was only trying to help.”
“I can tough it out.”
“You don’t have to!”
“Well, unless you have some great idea on how you get this arrow out of me without my bleeding to death, that is the way it is!” Weasel crossed her arms and eyed him with that same self-assured, furrowed brow.
They turned away from one another, silently seething. Where could they be? Were they down Alice’s rabbit hole? It was hard to make out the surroundings. The darkness was heavy and unforgiving. But a crack from above, the above that they fell through, let in enough light to see some of the surface beneath their feet. Kidney Bean noted a dust-covered page beneath his feet covered in script.
“I believe we may be upon a book.” Kidney Bean said in a measured voice. He then blew the dust from the page beneath him. After a moment, Weasel began to laugh. Kidney Bean swallowed the impulse to awkwardly laugh along. “What’s so funny?” He asked.
“In the brief period we have met we have become outlaws, fallen down a great hole, landed on a book, and I don’t even know your name.”
Kidney Bean chuckled. “You’re right. My name is Kidney Bean.”
“Mine is Weasel”
Kidney Bean replied “That’s an odd name for a rodent.” Weasel dropped eye contact for a moment.
“It’s not my birth-given name, but I don’t go by that any more. I am no longer that little girl.”
Why hello. It seems we have a visitor.
Kidney Bean looked around into the darkness. “What was that? Did you hear something, Weasel?”
Into the light emerged a primordial looking-creature with searching antennae and a few pairs of cerci. The light glimmered off its metallic hued exoskeleton giving it an omniscient glow. Why have you come here my children? The creature did not speak in the normal way others spoke with sounds. Rather he gave off a sense, a feeling within the mind.
“We are not children!” Weasel said defensively, but just as she did, Kidney Bean skittered behind her for protection much like a child would.
We did not mean to offend. We are a peaceful kind.
The creature spoke of we even though there only appeared to be one creature present. It is not often that we see others. We are grateful for your company. Its antennae drew close to Weasel. Our eyesight is limited. We must also sense. May we sense you? And to Kidney Bean’s surprise, he saw Weasel slowly nod for she sensed their peaceful nature. Even she, though, as tough as she was, closed her eyes and held her breath at the tickle of antennae quickly reviewed her form. You are not from here. You have fallen a long way down. Weasel felt she should respond. She opened her mouth to speak, but the truth was she didn’t need to speak. She only needed to feel. She felt tears well up in her eyes. You are afraid. You are somewhere distant and you are afraid you may not find your way out. She fought back her tears as she so often did in the kingdom when she and the mouse king played out their charade time and time again. You have been through a great deal. You are injured. Let me help you. Weasel backed away, no longer able to hide her tears, they rained down heavy. The creature backed off sensing Weasel’s apprehension.
Kidney Bean addressed the creature “Don’t take it personal. She wouldn’t let me help either. She has some real trust issues, I guess.”
The creature turned to Kidney Bean. I do not know what it is like. She shared some of her story with us, however, so that we may better understand. She is a brave rodent.
“What are you?” asked Kidney Bean. “I’ve never seen anything like you before.”
We are the silverfish. We are a private kind, so it’s no wonder you have not heard of us. We are of the arthropods. We think as one. We do not venture into the human domain but few times a year. We do not need much food. We can subsist off cloth, papers, and the occasional sweet.
Weasel wiped the tears from her eyes. “How can we trust you?” She asked.
Your trust in us is up to you. We can mend you with our sweet.
Weasel didn’t answer. She just looked into the silverfish’s myriad of eyes like those which you might find on a fly and searched for honesty. After a few fidgets of its antennae, the silverfish scurried away out of the light and disappeared into the darkness.
“Wait, come back. She doesn’t mean it!” Kidney Bean cried. He moved to Weasel and shoved her shoulder slightly. “What did you do? He was going to help you!” Weasel said nothing, only sunk further into her own depression. “Before you were so confident. What’s happened to you? We will find our way out. We will. And we’ll find you help!” With one large grunt, Weasel attempted to rise from her seated position. She set her injured, left leg on the book and attempted to stand. The torrential pain triggered from her leg traveled to her brain and she cried out, louder than she ever had before.
“Yes, you can! If I can move, you can move!”
“NO – I can’t! It hurts too much. If I stand, it cuts me deeper.” Kidney Bean looked into her face and saw helplessness. He thought of his crooked back, and how helpless he had felt when he stood on his hind legs. He sat by her side and placed a hand on her shoulder. His tone changed to a soothing volume as he said, “We will wait then until you are ready.”
As they waited, they saw the familiar buggy antennae approach into the light.
“You’re back!” exclaimed Kidney Bean.
We are back with the sweet. On his back they saw a gooey, gold, gelatinous substance.
Kidney Bean turned to Weasel. “Did you do this somehow? Did you tell him to come back?”
She only had to trust and I would know. She decided to trust. And with that, the silverfish moved to attend to Weasel’s wound. Do you accept us? Weasel confirmed that she accepted it. This is going to feel strange, but you must trust us. Weasel felt that she trusted it, and so the silverfish arched its back and dug a pair of cerci into Weasel’s wound. Kidney Bean suddenly grew anxious. He wondered if the big bug was hurting her. He was content that this was the right thing to do though when he saw Weasel give him a slight nod to ensure him everything would be okay. The silverfish withdrew the arrow tip from Weasel’s leg. Both it and the cerci were coated in blood. The silverfish commanded Kidney Bean. Apply pressure to the wound. Kidney Bean did as commanded as the silverfish fixed a honey salve from the gelatinous substance on its back. The silverfish rubbed the salve into Weasel’s wound. She started to sigh in relief, and a slight smile appeared on Kidney Bean’s face. He was happy to see her pain relieved. It will still hurt, but it will heal. Weasel thanked the silverfish.
After some lighthearted conversation, Weasel felt ready to stand again. The silverfish thanked them for their company and wished them well on their journey. Then it was gone.
She spoke to Kidney Bean. “It’s time we find you some food.” Kidney Bean remembered that he was indeed hungry. He had forgotten from being so worried about Weasel.
“Yes, we should find food.” Kidney Bean patted his growling tummy.
“And you still have a job to do.”
“Don’t be silly” Kidney Bean joked. “There is no way that they will let me into the pest kingdoms now. Like you said, we’re outlaws.”
“Our other option is that we escape. But why escape alone? Why not take those who wish to live in freedom with us?” Weasel’s eyes appeared big to Kidney Bean as she spoke, so full of opportunity. This frightened Kidney Bean. He began to pace frantically.
“It sounds dangerous.”
“Sometimes doing the right thing is dangerous.” Weasel stood now, and walked into the darkness. From the darkness you could hear her voice growing distant as she asked Kidney Bean if he were coming with her.
[To be continued…]
Okay, so I may have cheated with the “to be continued…” thing. It took me a while to decide what to write this month. I apologize. BUT! (Always that big, hairy “but”) I don’t want to sit here and write a rushed second half of this story, because I really have enjoyed writing it so far. It deserves a deliberate (i.e. not rushed) second half. I strongly believe this! In the meantime, I would love to know your thoughts. Cheers!