“Hooray Mick!” a lone voice squeaked from the rear and the rest of the crowd then erupted in applause.
Their fearless leader had called them together with the promise of exciting news. Hope filled the small corner of the crawl space where they had gathered as he motioned his paws for quiet and attention. Soon they had all complied and a hush of anticipation fell over the nest.
“My fellow mice,” Michael began. “Today I bring you news. News that our enduring struggle of the past several months may finally be at an end.”
The crowd buzzed.
“But to appreciate the blessing bestowed upon us, we must remember from whence we came,” he continued and a respectful silence descended on the crowd once again.
“You all know that my grandfather, the adventurous Mortimer, first happened upon this garage in the midst of a cold winter nearly four generations ago. It had been thought to be a temporary shelter. His wife, Josephine, she with a singing voice that has never been rivaled, was pregnant with a new litter and they could travel no further.”
Michael noted the awe and reverence in the dark eyes of his mice as they hung on each word.
“But fate had other plans, did it not my friends?” he asked and sipped from his thimbleful of water during the resulting huzzahs.
“For as my grandparents lined their nest and prepared to welcome their new pups, another couple scurried into the same garage from the cold. At first, they apologized. They vowed to stay only a night and move on to find their own nest come sunrise. But Mortimer and Josephine would hear no such protests. ‘Stay as long as you need, brother and sister,’ they told their fellow mice. And so it was that they became the best of friends with Stuart and Mitzi.
“As time went on, the garage we stand here in now became more of a home than a temporary shelter. My father, Bernard was among the litter born to Mortimer and Josephine. A large group of thirteen offspring was born to Stuart and Mitzi, many of whom perished within the first night. One of the survivors was the beautiful Bianca, my mother.
“Over the span of months and months, the mice of this garage welcomed others to their home. Lone mice left wandering the fields, having lost their way. Pups orphaned by the vicious cats of this alley. Families whose nests had burned or had been absconded by squirrels. It pained my grandparents and their now good friends to see any mouse left out in the cruel world. Our nest had been established.”
Paws clapped together and Michael nodded in approval.
“It was a golden age in our history. A golden age indeed,” Michael spoke again before the cheers and applause had yet subsided. “However, it was not to last.” He sipped his thimble again and allowed the solemnity of the next chapter in history to sink in among his brethren.
“By the time I was born to Bernard and Bianca some two years after my grandparents had founded this nest, hard times had fallen. We lost many good mice those coming months. When the human homeowners paved the backyard, grass seed became scarce. During the weekly trips to the nearby golf course I watched my very own brothers, Gus and Basil, plucked from the ground and carried aloft by a cast of falcons never to be seen again.”
Michael paused as his throat closed momentarily on his words. Tears welled in his small, dark eyes. Some in the nest of mice before him began to weep on his behalf. He cleared his throat, drew strength from their empathy and continued.
“I see their faces every day as I struggle to find our path in this harsh world,” he added quietly. Then, firm and loud, he proclaimed, “They were brave mice and more than I see their faces in my dreams, I see them in the faces of each and every one of you!”
A triumphant roar answered him. Tears streamed down the furry faces of the nest as they shouted praise. “Right on, Mick,” and, “We’re behind you,” or, “Mick-y, Mick-y, Mick-y,” some yelled.
“We have withstood the test of time together. I have fought beside many a good mouse. Jerome,” Michael called and thrust a paw in the direction of the third row. “You fought with me for weeks against the Anderson’s cat in a war that left us both scarred.” Michael took hold of his own right ear to show the crowd the large v-shaped chunk missing from it while Jerome stood upon his hind legs and used one paw to lift the eye patch from his left eye, exposing the crusted socket that remained. His other paw was raised proudly in the air as the nest once again swelled to a feverish applause.
“Harry, that cursed feline, may have taken your eye, Jerome, and part of my ear, but we persevered. We outlasted. When the Andersons had him declawed, he was no longer any match for us and we banished him to his own backyard for good.”
“You know it, Mick,” Jerome called to the podium. Michael saluted him in return.
“That is what we in this nest do. We persevere. We grow. We adapt. While many mice have come and gone, some lost to the harsh conditions outside these walls, some to foes and some choosing to move on and begin their own nests elsewhere, we have remained. I have chosen to stay here by your sides through thick and thin, hoping to guide you to a better time. That is why I have called you all here today, my friends. To usher in better times.”
The nest murmured. In the rousing oration from their leader, they had forgotten the reason for their assembly. Now they wondered what the news was. The time had finally arrived to hear of it.
“Our greatest scholars, Benjy and Frankie, have worked tirelessly to discover new tunnels and pathways by which we might navigate uncharted regions safely. They have searched for the answers to all our most important questions, to the meaning of everything. It would seem they have discovered a source of food that can feed us all for generations to come. And it was hidden right here inside the very walls of this vast garage.”
Shock and surprise was apparent on the faces of those looking up at Michael from the crowd. The news was too good to be true. The recent rumors of a new cat’s arrival between their nest and the golf course would be no cause for concern if what their leader was saying were true. Many of them had seen such hard times, so many litter members lost to savage animals outside the garage that they were afraid to believe in any such salvation.
“I assure you it is true,” Michael said to quell the disbelief. “Benjy and Frankie have partaken of the bounty already as have I.”
The nest collectively gasped.
“There is enough being carried up to this crawlspace from the regions where it was discovered to feed you all even now as I speak to you. Go forth and feed your families. A new golden age has arrived.”
The doors to the great dining hall were thrown open and the adoring mice swarmed towards it. Michael watched them all go, full of pride. As he descended from the podium, passers by patted him on the back, shook his paw and even embraced him.
Soon, the entire nest sat together, dining on bits of the new food source. Its bright, grass green color made Michael imagine all the wonderful things that were to come to his nest as he watched its members fill their bellies. His own grandchildren sat at a nearby table, including the eldest, Fievel and Maisy and smiled at him.
He smiled back and felt a paw come to rest upon his shoulder. He turned to find Frankie, a panicked expression on his face, grasping at his belly with the other paw.
“Sir,” Frankie gasped between shallow breaths, “something is terribly wrong.”
As Michael turned, he saw Benjy on the ground behind Frankie, a white substance slowly foaming from his mouth. Just then Michael began to feel a burning in his own stomach. Frankie’s paw slipped from his shoulder and as he fell to the ground he began gurgling out the same white foam.
Michael gripped his own belly. It twisted and seared inside of him. In horror, he turned to watch as his entire nest continued to devour the new food source.
“Walt, help me,” he whispered and then fell to the wooden beam he stood upon. “What have I done?”
Meanwhile, in the home that sat fifty feet south of the garage where the mice dined, a conversation took place.
“What were you doing out there for so long?” Ginger asked her husband.
“Ugh! You wouldn’t believe how many mouse turds I found out in the side storage room,” he answered. “I hadn’t been in there in years so God knows if there’s even still a nest somewhere, but I put down some poison pellets anyway. Just in case.”
“Do we need to hire an exterminator?”