©1987 by Michael Clifford
A short story competition in the Writer magazine. Write a story – within stipulated word limit – ending with the last paragraph.
Boris, an overweight and out of condition grey mouse, fled down the hallway, nervously shooting rapid glances behind him as he went: first this way, then that, then back again. With his ears held sharply back and his tail swishing the floor, he scurried over the patterned tiles feeling terror, guilt and anxiety all at the same time. He blamed himself bitterly. Squeaker, his youngest son, had gone missing and it was all his own fault.
As Boris raced along he rued the evening he had told Squeaker of those wild adventures of the Great Grandpa Rigby, those adventures in which Rigby had always won the upper hand over the humans. If he hadn’t have told the tales so well Squeaker would be safe at home. But it was too late to think about that now. He had and Squeaker had silently slipped off to seek his own adventures in the world of humans and had not been seen for two days. The little fool had no idea of the danger he was putting himself in! He was so young and inexperienced he would surely get eaten!
Confound Grandpa Rigby and his adventurous lifestyle! For all his storytelling that sort of lifestyle had never appealed to Boris at all. It had been years since he had dared to move about inside the house during the day. He was quite happy, thank you, keeping to the safety of the wainscoting. Whoever was it who said that fiction didn’t influence young minds. Woodshavings! Whoever said it should be fed to a cat.
Boris slithered through the ajar door into the room at the front of the house. Squeaker must be in here! This was the only room he hadn’t thoroughly searched.
The door bell rang.
He stood on the carpet in the centre of the room. It seemed safe enough.
Above him blinding daylight flooded through a bay window making him squint as he looked around. A big sideboard was covered with ornaments and vases of flowers. The room was full of materials of all kinds hanging from walls, hanging by the sides of windows, and covering the floor. Humans liked material. He wondered if they ate it.
He carefully sniffed the carpet. His heart raced for a moment when he thought he could whiff his son, but then when his nose quickly raced back to the same spot he couldn’t find it. The carpet smelled pungent: of cat and human smells – particularly that plant stuff that humans smoke out of their mouths. After a while he had to stop sniffing because it made his nostrils sore.
His heart leapt; his body froze. Danger! Earlier he had heard someone come in the front door. Then he had heard voices in the hall. Now someone was entering the room. No four feet. That meant two people. He darted under the settee, but he could see them. There was a woman who wore some red dangling berries around her ears. (How strange – how did humans grow berries on their ears?). A man with a brief case. He wore black shoes. Boris’s twisty reflection dazzled back at him from their shiny surface. (Why did humans wear mirrors on their feet?) The door was closed.
Eek! How was he going to get out?
“Well! What a surprise! My, oh, my, oh, my,” said the man.
“It’s simply ages since I’ve seen you, Harold” replied the woman enthusiastically. “How long is it? It must be at least ten years since. Do you know I can’t bear to listen to Victor Sylvester’s records anymore because they remind me too much of those wonderful times we used to have. What a tremendous surprise. I didn’t know you lived around here. And to think – all this time you’ve been working down at the old council.”
“Well yes… I must say you are looking very well. You look quite ravishing.”
“If I’d have known there was a fiery old flame like you down in the old rat catcher’s department I’d have planted a few rats myself to get you up here, Harold.”
“Ha! Actually I’m not a rat catcher, Marjorie, I’m a Public Health Inspector. Anyway I thought it was mice?”
“Yes. Yes it is. Do you know what happened, Harold? Listen. Can I call you Harry, like the old times? It’s not as though we don’t know each other extremely well is it? You don’t mind?”
“Not at all, Marjorie. You were saying?”
“Oh yes… those creatures are.. despicable! I’ve never been so scared in my life. I was in here yesterday minding my own business, heightening the hem of one of my miniskirts – I can see by the smile you haven’t forgotten my old miniskirts, you rogue! Oh where was I, oh yes. Anyway, would you believe it, this damn little brown mouse started trying to climb my leg. Scream? You’ve never heard anything like it. I kicked it off and ran out of the room and shut the door. I tried to find Tiddles in the garden but he was nowhere to be seen. He’s never been much of a mouser at the best of times anyway. He seems to lack the killer instinct.”
Boris’s whiskers bristled with rage. How dare she kick her son off her leg! He was only trying to be friendly. There was no telling what these fiendish monsters would do next.
“Ah, so it is mice?” said the man. “If you’ve seen one of the little blighters, it’s likely you’ll have them all over the house.” The man pointed to his brief case. “There’s a form you need to fill in about the poison. While you are doing that I’ll just check the place over for you to see where they are coming from Marjorie.”
Boris was thinking hard. Perhaps Squeaker was no longer in the room. Earlier when the lounge door had been open Squeaker might have escaped. Maybe he was hiding somewhere in the room? He’d better have a quick look round anyway if only to find himself somewhere to hide.
“Don’t do everything in a hurry, Harry,” said the woman, purring louder than any cat. “Sit yourself down on the settee and I’ll get you a brandy. I need someone reliable and strong like you to help me fill in this form. There you are. There’s nothing wrong with getting nice and comfy is there? Is that better? Remember?”
“Yes Marjorie, it’s very nice. I say… I wouldn’t say no to a brandy. That is… hey steady on there, you’re tickling me.”
“Let’s save that for a moment, shall we? A brandy for the gentleman. Of course. I’ll also go and see if Tiddles has come in yet. He might make your work extremely easy if he’s in the mood. If he is in the mood, Harry, he certainly isn’t the only one. And it’s such a warm afternoon, Harry, I might just slip into something more comfortable.”
“Could you make that a double brandy, Marjorie?”
Boris’s whiskers were now snuffling around the carpet, but he could still find no new fresh trail. He wished he’d known where she’d been sitting when she had kicked his son off. He wasn’t sure what to do.
Minutes later the woman returned. The woman’s re-entrance into the room further convinced Boris of the peculiarity of humans. She had said she was going to slip into something more comfortable and yet it seemed that all she had done was slip out of most of what she had been wearing. He watched her put a tray down on the coffee table and then go out again, calling behind her, “Tiddles is here. I’ll just go and get him.” She shut the door behind her.
Tiddles was not a particularly dangerous cat, but even the most lethargic cat was given considerable respect by Boris. He had to hide. He didn’t have to look far. The underside of the settee had many holes; the widest of which his teeth rapidly enlarged until the hole allowed him to pass quickly inside the foam webbing.
Sanctuary came none too quickly. He caught the woman’s voice and the waft of cat simultaneously.
“Now Harold, here’s your brandy. And I’ve brought the bottle in as well to keep us company. Tiddles here..” Boris felt a nearby thump on the floor and vile cat-stench, “Tiddles here can go and find the mouse while you… while you … smother me in kisses.”
“Oh Harry I can’t believe it’s you.”
Boris didn’t understand human conversation at all. He thought they had already introduced themselves to each other.
“Squeaker. Is that you I can hear?”
“Yes. I’m down here. Can you see my tail? I’m down here in the lining.
And there he was. Squeaker, with moist red eyes and wilted ears. He looked all in.
“Are you hurt, my darling? Oh praise the Lord of the Long Tail! Oh you’ve been so naughty. You’re mother is furious and you can’t imagine how much you’ve upset your brothers and sisters and me.”
“I’m sorry dad. Soz. I won’t do it again. No, I’m not hurt. I thought I’d twisted my ankle but I’m alright. I want to go home. What’s all that noise going on, and why is the settee shaking so much, dad?”
“I don’t know Squeaker, just hold on.”
They kept completely quiet, swaying around in the foam as the settee seemed to pulsate this way and that. Suddenly they heard a loud cry of anger. It was the woman.
“Damn it, Harold! Every time we start to show each other what we feel for each other that cat jumps on your blasted lap and you start to stroke it. How am I expected to feel!”
“I’m terribly sorry, Marjorie. It’s just that I can’t stop it. Every time I put it down it simply jumps back up.”
“Well, you don’t have to stroke the cat. It supposed to me you’re stroking. It supposed to be mousing. You’re encouraging it.”
“No, I’m not. To be quite honest it seems to be more interested in my brandy than me, Marjorie.”
“Well I’m not playing second fiddle to that thing. It can go back into the garden. And as for being more interested in the brandy than me I know what you mean!”
Boris and Squeaker felt the settee spring higher as someone got off it, and heard the whelp of the cat. “I’m putting him out the back door and then Harold I’m coming back and I’m putting you out the front door. Understand?.”
“I’m going immediately,” said Harold tersely
“Come on son. It’s time to go. Let’s hope they don’t close the door before it’s too late.”
Boris had no need to fear, when they emerged from the settee the room was empty and the door was open. A mad dash down the hall, across the passageway and they both arrived at home safe and sound.
That evening Boris described to his wife and children how exciting and dangerous the whole day had been. Boris felt quite grand over dinner, like a returned conqueror. He would add his own adventures to those of his great grandpas.
It had been pretty terrifying but it had made him feel young and adventurous again and he had found out many new things about humans. They grow berries on their ears, have to continually drink stuff called brandy, and they like to introduce themselves to each other lots of times.
In the end it had all been worth it. Somehow he felt the experience had deepened his understanding of this strange world. Nonetheless he knew he would never attempt such a thing again.
I won third prize and £30