Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Christmouse

The following is a story I wrote before Christmas.  The weather is conducive to posting it now.
Enjoy or not as you see fit.
I apologize for the indentation  problem.

The Christmouse

Deep in a corner of the old house was a mouse hole and in it lived a family of mice. Other mouse holes dotted other corners of the old house and other families of mice lived in them.
They got along well and had grand parties and midnight cheese tastings, and all the young mice children took their schooling together.
 One little mouse was too young to go to learn. Instead she sat with her brothers and sisters quietly in class and dreamed of being a big mouse and being old enough to learn.
Little Maggie Mouse dreamed of many things as she sat in the wall school patiently waiting to grow. She'd be a professional cheese wrangler like her grandmother. She'd bring back the very best toothsome cheeses for her family and friends. Another day she might be a trap-springer. It was dangerous work and a mouse had to be very quick and strong to get do it. But Maggie's biggest dream of all was to be the most loved and magical creature of all: the Christmouse.
Oh! What a treat. When the world outside the house was cold and covered in white her house people had the Jolly Season. The house people decorated their home and put out treats for their many guests and put shiny boxes under a fresh-smelling tree in the big room with wide window.
It was deep in the dark of this season that the house people put out a very special trap for the mice. The mice in the old house were very smart. They'd lived in the dusty walls for many generations. They knew their way around the wires and the tattered insulation and they knew the holes to avoid because the house people put their traps at them.
But the Jolly Season was different and even the mice looked forward to it.
"It'll be Christmas soon, Maggie. Do you know what happens then?" Her big brother Thomas rubbed his whiskers on her ears until she laughed.
Maggie certainly did. She'd thrilled to the bedtimes stories from her mother and father about the best and brightest mouse in all the house being chosen by the house people. This lucky mouse was collected many nights before the big day and went to live in a warm, spacious cage.
The special mouse was combed and washed and given the best nuts and seeds and cheeses until it was rolly fat and very, very happy.
Everyone loved the Christmouse. The people grown ups and the people children doted on it. They smiled and laughed and gave it more found than any mouse could ever hope to eat. It had warm shavings and puffs of cotton for its nest and fresh water each day. And toys. Oh! the toys the Christmouse played with in its soft, roomy cage.It was fussed over and petted and best of all the cage kept it safe from Old SnoreWhiskers the cat.
His face was scarred and he had part of an ear missing.  Maggie's great-grandfather Maxmillian the Fierce bit it off one night on a dare. He was the talk of the walls for months afterward. Everyone said it made Old Snorey even meaner.
Maggie's parents made sure she knew how dangerous he was. They told stories of how he patrolled at night and how his sharp eyes and keen nose brought him close to them. It was even said that Old Snorey understood their language and listened in on their plans. Every once in a while one of Maggie's cousins or a family friend when to the people food storage cupboards and didn't come back. 
  "Old Snorey's got him," they'd say with a shiver and sigh. When that happened no one left the mouse holes for many nights.
She was too young to leave the mouse hole, but one night before the big day of the Jolly Season she heard the old cat snuffling in deep, rumbly sleep. She crept out, keeping as close as she could to the wall.  It seemed to Maggie she'd never find the room with the big, wide window, but soon her nose was poking through the cage toward her cousin.
"It's wonderful, Maggie. It's the best. I get fed and fed and I never have to worry about Old Snorey. The children love me. They let me out to run around, but I never get too far. I don't want them to lose me."
Maggie sat wide-eared with wonder.
"It's Christmas soon. Do you see the tree? It's looks so happy with all it decorations and lights. I got to put up some tinsel and run around on the branches to make it hang just right."
Lonnie's tail was straight up as he told Maggie all about trimming the tree. His whiskers quivered with joy.
"On Christmas Day the children will open the shining boxes underneath it and then we'll all sit down to meat of roasted goose or turkey. I'll be at the table."
His eyes shone.
"My cage will be clean and I'll be in the finest clothing ever a mouse could have. The children showed me. A red suit with white trim. It'll be the finest suit at the table."
What wonder to be special guest at a table, thought Maggie. People get upset when her kind have been near their food. Christmas must be even more special a day than she could imagine.
"Lonnie, what happens after the Jolly Season ends?" 
If she was ever going to be the Christmouse she wanted to know as much as she could.
"I've never heard of any Christmouse coming home to the mouse hole."
"I'm going to be freed," he said. "The children told me. After the meal is done I get to go out into the world on my own. I think all the other Christmouses must like the world because they have never returned. It must be a wonderful place."
His nose wavered a bit, but he hid it by nibbling a fat seed from his dish.
How scary, Maggie thought. But she felt a thrill deep inside. Scary can be good. If there was a big world outside the house, then she wanted to see it for herself.
The big special day of the Jolly Season came and went. Maggie thought her cousin must have liked the big world because she never saw him again.
She grew bigger and made sure she was the top student in school so all her dreams would come true. She had set it in her mind that she, Maggie Mouse, was going to the Christmas Mouse.
One night early in the Jolly Season the big cage was set out near her mouse hole. Maggie wished very hard and she made it to the cage. She was the Christmouse.
The children petted her and gave her special treats and tucked her in the warm cotton fluff. She was the happiest mouse ever.
Old Snorey hissed at her and poked a paw through the cage, but couldn't touch her. She slept easily knowing she was safe.
On a night very close to Christmas she was lifted out of her cage. A small, sparkling collar was fitted around her neck. From it hung a thin, long lease that he children took turns holding.
"Go, mousey, go!" said the boy as he set her carefully on branch. Tinsel was draped over her. She ran in and out of the branches, tinsel catching on the needles and hanging down in sparkles.
"Good mousey," the children said with a laugh.
They set her down gently on the cotton in her cage and she fell fast asleep dreaming about trees and Christmas and how she was so happy.
Maggie was fed more and groomed more and one day, when she was fair bursting with the food and joy of the season, the big day came.
It was what she'd dreamed of, and now it was here. The family meal, the presents, and candy and music, and she, Maggie Mouse, in her cotton filled cage in the special spot at the people table.
Maggie was dressed in the finest red suit with a little hat and bell. Her cage was at the end of the table where everyone could see her and she could see everyone. On this day she was no ordinary mouse. She was the Christmouse, and her people family loved her.
The father stood at the head of table. "Today as we sit down to our Christmas meal we must remember all those who have less than us for they are our family, too."
He pointed down the long table past the eager faces of his children, and the warm, kind face of his wife.
"This little mouse is our symbol of the poor, the lonely, the downtrodden among us. Those who have no other in the world are today our family. We are not rich, but we are not so poor that we cannot share with those less fortunate. Remember children, there are always those with less and to them, we are rich. This humble mouse has nothing. Today we open our hands and hearts to it."
He smiled at Maggie. She had tears in her eyes as she listened to the fine speech.
"Welcome, Mouse, to our table. Share with us this day."
And they ate and ate and ate. Maggie got all the best bits of stuffing and cheese and nuts and she even had a small piece of mincemeat pie for dessert.
Finally the family pushed their plates away and groaned with all the food they'd eaten. The children were told by their mother to take their Christmas naps. After they were gone to their beds Maggie's cage was lifted off the table and set down by the big front door.
She stared. The tears welling in her eyes again. What a wonderful meal and what a wonderful day, she thought. Such a joy and honor to be the Christmouse. Now I'll be set free and go out in the world, and that is the best treat of all.
The tears welled a bit more when she thought about not seeing her family again. But who is to say? She might find her way back again someday. An educated mouse can go far in the world, but she must not forget her roots and how to get home again.
The door was opened and the father picked up the cage and set it outside.
He opened the cage door.
"Go mousey, before the children get up from their naps. Go."
Maggie ran out of the cage onto a patch of cold ice and slid. She landed in a pile of snow. It made for a soft landing, if a bit undignified.
She was shocked by the cold. She had only her thin hair to keep warm. A hint of sunlight poked through the grey, thick cloud. The air was dry and sharp and she was sure something hit her nose.
She'd learned about them in school. She thought about her lessons and remembered she could burrow in the snow if she got cold. It would give her a chance to rest and make her plans.
There's a big world to see and plenty of time to see it.
She heard the house door open behind her.
"There you go, cat."
Old Snorey rushed toward her and she ran into the snow.
She heard scratching from behind her.
"Good cat. Take care of it before the children get up."


This story was heavily influenced by Hans Christian Andersen's The Fir Tree.


solarity said...

Wow, that was good! I haven't read any Andersen in about forty years, so you've made me put him on my list. You racked the tension up really nicely.

Mary Anne in Kentucky

Leah J. Utas said...

Thank you so much, Mary Anne. That's good to hear.

messymimi said...

Wow, indeed -- i didn't want it to end.

Laurita said...

Very good story. I loved the voice. Very fairy-taleish. I do hope mouse can move quickly.

Leah J. Utas said...

Laurita, thanks so much. I was gearing toward a fairy tale.Glad to know it worked.

the Bag Lady said...

Excellent tail... err .. tale, cousin.
Hope all that book-learning helps the Christmouse stay ahead of that darned cat!

Leah J. Utas said...

Thank you, Cousin.

Reb said...

Quite enjoyable cousin.I am thinking all that learning is going to keep Maggie out of harms way and frustrate the cat to no end ;)

Good news on the beta blockers.

Crabby McSlacker said...

Great writing! Somehow I am not shocked. Looking forward to more I hope!

Leah J. Utas said...

Thank you so much, cousin.

Crabby, thanks. I'm tapping away on a few projects.