Author's Note: This is a work of fan fiction and purely for entertainment; this work is not meant as a copyright infringement. The characters within are from the Secret of NIMH, and are used without permission under fair use laws. Certain themes are inspired by the Babylon 5 episode, "Day of the Dead".
Part 1: The Gathering
"Yes, yes! What is it?!"
Deep within the rusting guts of the discarded thresher, a metal hatch swung open impatiently. The harsh orange light of open flame blazed out through the door; in sharp contrast to the dark and musty corridor outside, the interior of Mr. Ages workplace was a glowing wonder of boiling beakers, twirling tubes, brightly colored electrical flashes and such bizarre scientific splendor to be worthy of the most fabled human mad scientists. Silhouetted in the hatchway by the flame of the large central Bunsen Burner was Mr. Ages himself, an elderly white mouse wrapped in tarnished lab smock and adorned with a typically grouchy expression.
His face softened if only just slightly as he took in the sight of lovely brown field mouse on his doorstep, the familiar red patchwork shawl draped over her shoulders and the equally familiar young mouse clinging to her back. Jonathan Brisby’s widow was getting rich in seasons and it was clear by her weary expression that the trip, and her burden had taken its toll on her.
"Mrs. Brisby." He turned walking back into the lab, leaving her to follow or go. "Whatever is the matter now? Hurry up, I’m terribly busy." He added, "And close the door behind you."
Mrs. Brisby sighed wearily and pulled herself in through the hatch, closing it as asked, taking less of her customary stare at the marvels around her. Looking instead, it seemed, for a place to set down her son and rest. Mr. Ages was not at all surprised that she chose to follow. "Timothy. I think he broke his ankle."
"Oh?" Ages turned, a raised eyebrow, and walked back towards them as Mrs. Brisby set Timothy on the only significantly bare portion of the table nearest to the door.
Timothy returned the look with an anxious excitement, "The Fitzgibbons have a big pumpkin on their porch," he informed Mr. Ages, holding his arms out a length to illustrate what he saw. "It’s hollow and has a big grinning face cut in it’s skin. At night they put a candle in it so you can see the grin all the way from our house!"
Mr. Ages only feh’ed and turned to Mrs. Brisby. "How did he manage that?" He looked back at the young mouse, noting first that his tan fur had begun to grey. It would soon match that his father had, Ages imagined. Noting second the nasty swelled look of the boy’s left hind paw and the dark discoloration barely visible beneath his fur.
Timothy looked back with a apologetic, almost guilty expression. Timothy was, notably not an uncommon reason for Mrs. Brisby’s occasional visits.
"I don’t know." Mrs. Brisby shot her son a disapproving frown. "He won’t tell me." A worried flutter touched her voice as she watched Mr. Ages examine her son’s foot. "But he was in the Fitzgibbon’s yard at the time, and he walked all the way back on it."
Mr. Ages paused in his examinations. "The yard, you say." He looked up at Timothy with an equal scowl. "You were playing around the ruins of the rosebush, weren’t you." It wasn’t a question; judging from Timothy’s tight lipped silence and uncomfortable shifting of weight, it didn’t need to be. "Come on, out with it. You might as well admit it."
"Timothy!" Mrs. Brisby scolded. "You know better! You shouldn’t be down there alone. You know that. It’s dangerous!"
"She’s right." Mr. Ages turned his attention back to the discolored skin of Timothy’s ankle. "There still may be pockets of poison in there, and the farmer has set up numerous traps, in case the rats return. Honestly, you’re probably lucky to"
Timothy cut him off with a soft, "I wasn’t alone." Aware of the eyes on him, the lad made hasty explanations. "Cynthia wanted to go exploring. She would have gone if I went with her or not. I know it’s not safe for her to go alone so I had to go! OWW!"
"Does it hurt when I press there?" Mr. Ages asked, matter-of factly. The response was an emphatic yes. He moved his fingers around the wounded ankle. "And there?" And received another, if less energetic, yes. Without his eyes ever seeming to leave the boy, his voice gruffly bellowed, "Don’t touch that!"
Mrs. Brisby pulled away with a start from the metal contraption she wearily chosen to rest against , eyes wide and heart thankful for the warning as Mr. Ages explained bluntly, "It’s hot."
"Thank you, Mr. Ages. For the warning and for my son." As she searched for someplace safer to rest, willing just to settle with a bare spot of floor, Ages seemed to finish his examination of her son’s ankle.
"The good news is it’s not broken." Mr. Ages gathered ice in a cloth, not looking to either of them. To Mrs. Brisby, he didn’t seem to really addressing either of them, or anyone for that matter. She listened just the same, ears perking and sighing with some relief. She had gotten used to Ages tendency to talk at people rather than to them.
"The bad news is that it is quite badly sprained. I’m going to wrap it in ice, and he’ll need to stay off of it until the swelling goes down and the color returns. It shouldn’t be long, but will be at least a day or two."
"Yes I…" She stopped suddenly, feeling an odd vibration, very slight and nearly unnoticed. But then, Age’s old thresher was always full of odd noises and vibrations. "…will make sure." She noticed the Mr. Ages too had stopped, but only for a moment.
Mr. Ages returned to Timothy with the cloth icepack. He had just barely tied it around the swollen flesh when a heavy metallic thud sounded. Once. Twice. And again. Someone was at the door. With an exasperated growl, "Oh what is it NOW?"
As if one visitor wasn’t enough. Now he certainly wouldn’t get anything done. Not that a visit from Jonathan’s widow or her son was unwelcome, but it seemed they were always so untimely. With an exasperated humph, he lifted the latch bar and swung open the hatch. "Yes…?"
Arms reached from the darkness outside and hefted him up violently, smothering him against the cloth of a tunic in a surprise attack hug. He recognized the smell of his assailant. "MMMmPHBT!" Pushing his muzzle free, "JUSTIN!"
Mrs. Brisby had been staring a long and sad stare at her son, who had in turn been keeping his eyes everywhere else in the room; that name pulled her abruptly away from her thoughts. Mrs. Brisby’s head turned with a pleasant gasp and a twinkle fell upon her eyes as she watched the animated rat let Mr. Ages back to the floor and give a flourished bow.
"In the flesh." Justin beamed. "And it’s good to see you too, you old…" His voice stopped as he looked into the room beyond. And an even broader grin broke out on his face. "Mrs Brisby!"
Mr. Ages arranged his smock and recovered his dignity while Justin glided in past him. "Justin! You featherhead, what on earth are you doing here?!" He paused, caught with the desire to close the hatch lest anyone else choose to sunder in, then hurriedly followed the youthful rat. "Don’t you have a community to be running?"
Justin, on the other paw, was not paying him much attention, his fascination caught by the beautiful female spectacle in the room. With a ginger gallantry he lifted Mrs. Brisby’s paw and kissed it. "It is a distinct pleasure to meet you again, my dear lady."
Mrs. Brisby sighed and blushed. "Oh Justin." Timothy watched and squirmed.
"I’d hoped to live long enough to see you again some day." Mrs. Brisby pulled herself to her feet from the thimble she’d finally found to rest on, and wrapped her arms around her friend with a much less engulfing hug than Justin had bestowed upon Mr. Ages. "What brings you back from the Valley? Do you have long? You must come by and see the children."
Justin smiled. "Of course. I dare say I’m seeing one right now." His smile fell to the young mouse. "You must be Timothy." He was greeted with a smile and an embrace.
Timothy nodded. "I sprained my ankle while looking around where the old rosebush was. Cynthia wanted to see if you’d left behind any old drawings of each other. She has a hard time remembering what you look like sometimes. Did you know that the farmer has put a pumpkin on their doorstep with a grinning face carved in it?"
Justin chuckled. "And do they put a candle in it at night?"
"um-hum" Timothy nodded, fascinated that Justin would know about such things. "Why do they do that? No one else I’ve asked has been able to tell me?"
Justin waves his fingers. "It’s a Jack-o-Lantern. Ooooooh!" He spoke in a mock-spooky voice. "It’s to scare evil spirits away on All Souls Night."
The word "rubbish" sounded behind them as Ages walked towards the trio.
"All Soul’s Night?" Timothy leaned forward. His face was alight with curiosity, much unlike his mother’s who apparently found the subject a little more ghastly and seemed on the urge of requesting a change of subject. She soon didn’t have to.
"All Soul’s Night. Halloween. The humans believe it’s a night when the dead come back and haunt the living. So they put grinning pumpkins in front of their doors and wear strange costumes to keep them aw…"
Justin was interrupted as Mr. Ages finally caught up, "I hate to break this, but I assume there’s a reason you came? Other than to spread joy and cheer." His voice lacked sarcasm, but he tried to impress through it a sense of impatience. The second vibration had been closer, even though it seemed that in their reunion none of the others had sensed it this time.
"Oh yes!" And within a heartbeat, Justin was back at the open hatch. He disappeared through, and with a grunt returned, hauling on the harness of a loaded wheelbarrow. He turned, facing backwards now, trying to pull the wheelbarrow over the lip of the hatchway. He braced his hind paws against the hatchway and hauled.
And the wheelbarrow came over the hatchway, crashing to the floor inside with a resounding thud and sending Justin sprawling. Mrs. Brisby and Mr. Ages both moved to help him up; Timothy stepped down from the table to follow and winced at a spike of pain from his ankle.
A few chuckles and a brushing off of dust later, and Justin was back at the wheelbarrow, now biting through the ties that held the tarp over the bulk of its contents. Within seconds, the protective sheet slipped away.
"A candle?" Mr. Ages looked from the wax column in the cart to Justin in non-comprehension. He took a step closer, looking the candle over, Justin doing the same from the other side of the wheelbarrow. The candle was large enough that it overhung the back of the barrow by several inches, and was covered with strange carvings that Mr. Ages was at a loss to decipher. But the script was clearly by the hand of their old, departed companion Nicodemus.
"It was amongst Nicodemus’ personal belongings," Justin explained, looking it over opposite Ages. Mrs. Brisby watched from some inches away while Timothy tried to scoot along the table to a better vantage point, clearly wishing he could get away with walking up to it. "There was a note with it."
Placing his hands above the candle, Justin stooped under where it overhung the cart, looking at the underside. "Yes. In case…" He stopped, looking forward, past Mr. Ages. To the contraption Mrs. Brisby had so recently been warned away from. A grin broke across his face. "Mr. Ages! You got the still working!"
Dodging under the candle, and brushing past Mr. Ages, Justin brought himself up to the distiller, giving it a winning appraisal. "You old dog. No wonder you’ve been staying here."
Another humph. "I built it to distill alcohol for medicinal purposes only. I couldn’t very well go about stealing it from the humans. You know how we feel about that."
Justin folded his arms and winked. "Medicinal purposes. Of course." Looking around he pulled up an empty bowl from one of the nearby benches, tilting it to the light to make sure it was absent of dust or residue from any of the old mouse’s putterings. Then he stuck it under the spout of the still and, much to Ages protest, filled it. "You have no idea how much we could use this in the Valley…"
He lifted the bowl in a grandiose gesture. "To old friends!" And took a swing of the clear liquid, holding the bowl in both paws.
And immediately broke into chokes sputterings, passing the bowl quickly into Ages’ paws. The mouse set the bowl aside in the wheelbarrow as Justin succumbed to a fit of coughing. "What did I just tell you?"
"Justin," Mrs. Brisby moved to him, patting him sternly on the back. "Are you all right?"
"God, Ages, that stuff is AWFUL!"
"Serves you right too." Ages tapped his left foot impatiently. "Now, you said something about a note?"
Upon recovery, Justin nodded. "In case Nicodemus died before he could share this. We found Nicodemus will," A melancholy had crept into Justin’s voice. Ages had only heard such twice before, the last time when Nicodemus had died. The memory still brought rain to his own heart; to Justin it was clearly even more tender a sorrow. "When we went through his things… to decide what should be kept for the journey… to Thorn Valley." Justin’s shoulders slumped and his whiskers drooped. "He left in his will that should he not have already burned it, he wanted a select group of his closest friends to do so. On the last night of the human’s month of October, before the harvest."
Mrs. Brisby stepped forward whispering Justin’s name, and offering a shoulder. Her own memories of Nicodemus came flooding back and she strangled back a sob, tears softening her eyes. She felt a soft paw take her own comfortingly. "Mom?" Timothy had slipped his way to her, ankle and all, seeing her distress.
Justin let out a sigh that seemed to shake his whole body. "Of those friends, old mouse, you and I are the only ones that remain."
Mr. Ages nodded. For once, he had nothing gruff to say. He stared mostly at the floor, occasionally up to the candle. Timothy, hobbling, lead his mother to a seat, coaxing her to rest.
Finally, "I hadn’t known he had written a will."
"Nicodemus had been thinking a lot about death, it seems." Justin looked at the candle again, paws on his haunches. "Studying human religion, their spirit lore and burial ceremonies. He believed in the afterlife. I know he did." He lowered his voice, attempting to speak such that only Mr. Ages would hear. "He often spoke to Jonathan… after Jonathan’s death. As if Jon could hear him."
Mr. Ages nodded with a scowl. "As much as I admired Nicodemus, he had some very bizarre and outlandish ideas."
"…" Justin walked with Mr. Ages across most of the length of the laboratory without saying a word. Finally, he lowered his voice again, "I think he just felt people more strongly than the rest of us." He didn’t bother to explain at the mouse’s questioning look. "The instructions said to light the candle as the night fell. It would burn until the sun rose. That we should light it in remembrance of those we have love and lost, of dearly departed friends and enemies. He wanted tonight to be a day of remembering… the candle, he says, will help us reconnect with those our hearts cry out to most."
Mr. Ages’ eye clenched. "Sentimentalistic hogwash!" He turned, walking quickly away. "I don’t have time for such nonsense. I am quite busy."
"But Ages!" Justin called out after him.
Mr. Ages walked steadily away, not giving any of his visitors another look. "Thank you for dropping by Justin. Now go away."
"But Ages, it was Nicodemus will!" Justin pleaded, walking back to the candle.
Mr. Ages sighed. "Fine." He waved his paws in the air in exasperation. "You can burn your candle here. I’ll give you one of the old storage compartments. Just don’t get in the way." Not, he supposed, that it mattered. At this rate, he certainly wasn’t going to get any work done.
A creaking metal flap revealed a room of cramped darkness. Mr. Ages tugged heavily on a nearby lever on the floor, greeted by sparks and a smell of ozone. A dingy brown incandescent flickered above, fading in and out of semi-brightness as it illuminated the large, dusty alcove. The room was cluttered with nameless heaps under cloth. There was, Justin noted however, enough free space to set up Nicodemus’ candle.
"There. Now try not to smoke everything up." Ages looked around then noted the second door leading to the other storage rooms. "You can sleep in there if there isn’t enough room here. All those rooms were cleared out when you led the rats to the Valley. I’ve been wondering if you were ever going to send someone to get the rest of this junk."
Justin peeked under the tarp. Tables, benches, chairs designed for the comfort of rats. Things constructed in anticipation for the great move, but too heavy or cumbersome or simply unimportant enough to be left behind in their hurry. "I’m sorry, Mr. Ages. There really hasn’t been time."
Ages voice lost it’s edge. "Things, I take, haven’t been going well."
Justin straightened up, back to him, and shook his head. "Not well at all. The weather has been terrible. It hailed last week. I’m afraid we may have lost nearly half our crop. They’re salvaging what they can as we speak. And Ages… Ages, we’ve lost people." Desperation crept into his voice. "And it’s not even winter yet." He spun to Ages, arms raised to his side in a helpless look. "I’m really not cut out for this."
"They’re beginning to doubt you?"
Again he shook his head, leaning heavily against a tarped bookcase. "I’m beginning to doubt myself. I don’t know what made Nicodemus think I could lead the rats. I’m not him."
The elderly white mouse frowned. "Sounds like you’re suffering a bout of depression more than anything else. I can give you something for that by morning." He turned back to the door, looking over his shoulder, "You knew that the move would be rough. They all did. There were no guarantees. There never are with a new life.
"Ages, old friend, I’m beginning to wonder if maybe…"
Ages spun and snapped. "DON’T. Don’t even think that." He held the metal flap open. "Now I would suggest you get your candle then get some sleep. I’ll have something mixed for you in the morning."
Justin nodded. "Anything you can spare. We’re out of medicines up there." He paused, looking around the room again, looking at the candle. One paw reached out and absently grasped a nearby tarp, draped over a packing crate. "Ages?" He wasn’t really looking at the mouse, nor did he wait for an answer, drinking in just enough of the silence before speaking. "All Soul’s Night… do you think maybe the candle could be some of Nicodemus’ magic? That somehow it will let us speak to the spirits of the dead?" He turned to Ages with an awed expression, "I had heard of human’s doing rituals called ‘seances’ in which they lit candles and talked to the dead. Do you think maybe…"
He stopped as the old mouse rolled his eyes. The mouse brushed the dust off his smock, muttering something about "…youth…" and clambered out into the laboratory. After a last pause, Justin followed. "Personally, I would welcome it. The one my heart calls to most is you, Nicodemus, my old friend. I really need your help right now. Your insight. Before everything falls apart, and we prove Jenner right."
Stepping into the laboratory after Mr. Ages, Justin closed the metal flapdoor. He looked at it, a strange, sorrowful longing creeping over him. And patted it twice, hearing the hollow metallic thud. When he turned back, Mr. Ages was already scurrying Mrs. Brisby out the front door, Timothy riding piggyback (an odd human term as he’d ever heard; strange that they had never found a suitable synonym for it) his foot wrapped in gauze that held a fresh icepack tight.
"Now get along you two, before it gets dark. You don’t want to be navigating the fields at night, especially with the extra weight burdening you down."
"I’m not heavy!" Timothy retorted with the indignity of a mouseling.
Justin couldn’t help a smile. With animated strutting, the brought his demeanor back to the exaggerated cheerfulness that had all but become his trademark. And followed them out into the hall, Mr. Ages in the lead and the Brisby’s between them.
Along the way, as the light of the lab grew dim behind, Justin heard Timothy ask his mother, "Mom, do the dead really come back?"
Mrs. Brisby stopped. Memories of a long night flooded into her head. The longest night of her life, cold and crisp outside, with the starts blinking down from the black void of the heavens, as she stood in the chill and waited. And waited. The night that Jonathan didn’t come home.
No. No the dead don’t come back. You live once, then you move on. Of that she was sure, although she could never quite grasp where you moved on two. Perhaps is was her limited intellect. Something her children one day would be able to explain to her. But not now… for now it was just ‘move on’. And that was enough. Enough to know that Jonathan wasn’t here anymore, and was never going to come back home, even for a night. What was left of him she kept wrapped safe and warm in her own heart. As did the children, and those whose lives Jonathan touched. In a way, maybe that was the ‘moves on’, for in a sense he did live on through them.
Mrs. Brisby opened her mouth to speak. But the word ‘no’ failed on the tip of her tongue as other memories mediated her response. Memories of Nicodemus, whose candle had brought Justin back, who though not dead was thought gone just the same. Whose voice had spoken softly to her in her minute of greatest need, even though he himself lay crushed under the machinery that had failed to move her house. Before Nicodemus, she had never imagined that her home could be moved, even though the Great Owl had told her so. She had never opened her mind to the truth that Jonathan, her loving husband, had been so much more than she had been able, or maybe willing, to see.
She certainly had not believed that the courage and will of a single field mouse such as herself could be channeled and focused to such power as to move an enormous cinderblock.
The silence of his mother had alerted Timothy. "Mom?" his voice whispers softly.
Mrs. Brisby smiled. "I don’t believe so, Timothy. I’ve never known them to." She began to walk again, hurrying, though it wearied her, attempting to catch back up to Mr. Ages.
By the time Mrs. Brisby had reached Mr. Ages, he had come to a stop. Upon reaching them, Justin immediately saw why.
The sky outside had shifted to a think, murky charcoal and water lashed down from above with a steady fierceness. A small pool was forming in a rusty dent in the metal floor, captured from a peephole in the wall above.
"Well that settles it. You two are staying here tonight." Mr. Ages turned and began heading back. "I thought I felt thunder."
"But Mr. Ages!" Mrs. Brisby protested. "I have to get back to the children!"
"Martin can take care of them, mom. He’s old enough."
Mr. Ages spun. "You go out in that at you could catch your death. And if you don’t, he surely will. A fat lot of help to your children that would be."
Mrs. Brisby started to respond, but the conversation was abruptly ended by a start flash of light through the peephole above and a crashing roar of thunder that shook the thrasher underneath their feet with it’s power.
Mrs. Brisby looked to Justin, who looked back at her. Timothy cringed and looked up at the hole.
"Come on. I’ll take some of the tarps and make a bed for you two in one of the empty storage rooms." Ages was already walking away. "Well, don’t just stand there, come on."
Part 2: The Visitors
The empty square of the storage room seemed terribly large; the old thrasher was positively cavernous. Mrs. Brisby laid out two of the blankets Mr. Ages had loaned her, giving some protection from the cold metal of the floor, and thought longingly of her much smaller, much homier cinderblock room. And the company of the rest of her children. She hoped they were all right… Martin was indeed old enough to take care of them, as was Teresa. And they were smart mice. But she couldn’t help but to worry. They surely were worrying about her. Poor dears. She could imagine Teresa comforting Cynthia, Martin standing just in the door.
As Timothy crawled onto one of the blankets, awkwardly with his hurt ankle, the incandescent above slammed dark. "Mom?"
"I’m here dear." She draped two of the three remaining blankets over her son, and leaned close, allowing him to breathe in the comfort of her smell. "Mr. Ages must have turned off the lights. Wrapping the last about herself , she negotiated her way blindly back to the cloth she hand laid down for herself. She was exhausted, and despite a seeping cold in the air, passed into sleep before remembering to take off her shawl.
Timothy lay awake, breathing softly and trying to wish away the dull throb in his hindpaw. He could her his mother start to snore. He loved that sound. But his own fatigue could not overcome the excitement he felt at seeing Justin again. This time for real, and not through the haze of sickness. Or the wonder.
He stared at the darkness, using it as a canvas for his thoughts and imaginings. Drawn back only by the flicker of reflected firelight against the entrance.
The match flared with a pyrotechnic dance of yellow-whites and oranges. Justin hefted the wooden matchstick up to the wick, watching the fire kiss and ignite Nicodemus’ candle. Drawing in a deep breath, the noble rat blew out the match, it’s fire already creeping down towards his paws.
Mr. Ages watched unceremoniously beside the rat as the candlelight bloomed, shedding soft layers of illumination over the room and casting shadows from the covered furniture. The two waited.
"Well, that’s that, then." Mr. Ages shuffled off, pushing his way back into the saturated light of his laboratory. "Good night, Justin." He did not bother to look back as he added, almost flatly, "It is good to have seen you again."
Then the old mouse was gone.
Justin sighed and slumped back into a chair, then took a moment to adjust his tail. The chair was curved for the back of a rat—one of the craftworks that had been created in the Rosebush colony, only to be left hurriedly behind. In this room, the chair was behind him and the candle before him; but for what they represented, it seemed the opposite was true.
"Nicodemus?" His voice felt weary, and sounded desperate in the absence of company. He looked at the flickering shadows.
He spoke to the air again, in the hope that more than air was listening. "Old friend, if ever I needed your council, it is now." But the air did not respond. The shadows did not offer their insight. Justin shook his head. He hadn’t really known what to expect, but somehow, he still felt let down. Nicodemus had been more than a leader, more even than a friend. Nicodemus had been more like a father to him. To the entire community, but much moreso to him… a parent after he had been irrevocably separated from his own by N.I.M.H. Somehow, he felt now even more hollow than before…
Then the door from the hallway opened. And a figure stepped in.
"Nicodemus!?" Justin sat bolt upright, staring. Then relaxed, feeling foolish but smiling just the same. "Hello Timothy. Shouldn’t you be in bed?"
The young mouse hopped in, keeping on her good foot, using his tail for balance and the occasional covered box for guidance or support. "I wanted to talk to you. I didn’t get to last time." He looked at the rat, seeming almost reverent. Then asked, "Do you really think Nicodemus is going to come back tonight? Like the ghosts the humans are afraid of?"
Justin chuckled in spite of himself. "No. At least, I don’t think so. I think…" He looked up at the candle. Timothy could see it’s fire reflected in his eyes. "I think I did expect him, somehow." He looked back down to the boy as Timothy pulled himself onto a small box where his feet could dangle off the floor. "Although I think I was expecting something more kiva-like."
Timothy shifted, trying to get comfortable. His young voice rang out strong with childlike desire for knowledge. "What’s a kiva?"
Justin played with the word in his mind, trying to construct its meaning in a way that a small boy like Timothy could understand. But not so simple that Timothy would feel offended. He was a very smart boy; Mrs. Brisby did say he took after his father.
Timothy watched him, fidgeting only slightly.
"It’s a room that the humans native to this land used to use a long time ago. In the center of the room, they would build a fire, and in the room they would stay, meditating without eating until they had a special spiritual vision." He looked to Timothy, hoping he had not gone over his head, but the young mouse’s thoughtful nod assured him he needed not ask if Timothy wanted clarification. Justin remembered the picture in Nicodemus’ study of such a room. His friend and mentor had always been fascinated with the mystical beliefs of the humans, and while Justin had not, he had learned a great respect for Nicodemus’ fascination.
"I think," Timothy started hesitantly, as if fighting to find the words he wanted, "I think that maybe when Nicodemus said the candle would help us remember and connect with the dead, that this was what he meant."
Justin cocked his head. It was he who was having trouble following. "What do you mean, Timothy?"
Timothy blushed, wiggling his feet. "I mean, well, you’re thinking of Nicodemus, aren’t you? And I know mom is. Much more than she would have tonight without you bringing the candle. And I’ll bet it’s gotten Mr. Ages to think too."
Justin smiles. "A reminder. Yes, I see what you’re saying." Timothy was a remarkable young mouse, he thought. The child had almost a sage-like quality he hoped would grow and blossom within him. He wondered if perhaps the boy shared more in common with Nicodemus than with Jonathan.
Timothy nodded. And looked at the candle as Justin seemed to get lost in thought. He blinked. Then again, longer this time. He really was tired, and had probably overstayed his welcome. He began to shuffle off the box and head back through the door and out into the hall.
"Wait," Justin held up his hand and the tired-looking mouse turned with a startled ‘yes?’ and forward ears.
"What brought you in here? In the first place. You never told me."
"Oh," Timothy smiled. "I wanted to ask you to make some pictures for Cynthia. Of yourself. So she can remember what you look like."
Justin smiled back. "Oh don’t worry, I will. But why not let your sister ask. I plan on stopping by before heading home. I’m not going to miss the opportunity to see you all again."
Timothy beamed happily and nearly feel over. "Thanks! All right!" It took a moment to remember he had been asked a question. "oh, I’m asking cuz sometimes Cynthia forgets. And she’d be really upset if she forgot to ask." His eye caught a solitary table leg sticking from under one of the tarps. He pulled it free and used it to brace himself. "Mind if I borrow this?"
Justin nodded with a grin. "Looking out for your sister. Good. Are you all well? Is that house?"
Timothy yawned and nodded vigorously. He started to say soemthing more, but Justin stood up and shooed him out. "You’re tired. I can see that. Go get some sleep before your mother wakes up and worries where you’ve wandered off too. We can talk a lot more later."
Timothy nodded and hopped, a bit less steadily than before, out the door, closing it behind him. Justin listened as he moved down the hall, makeshift cane taping against the metal floor. But within a few steps, he was out of hearing.
Silence descended. Justin slowly walked back towards his seat. Then stopped, looking at the wheelbarrow. He reached down, and pulled out the bowl of Ages horrid alcohol.
"To you, Nicodemus." And held the bowl aloft. Then took a sip, forcing the wretched liquid down his throat to where it warmed his belly.
Brief flashes of encompassing light scored the driving mass of water as it fell from a muddy sky. Slowly, a black poll extended itself upright into the raining turbulence.
Mr. Ages whirled the next crank as fast as his aching body would let him. The water-proof tarp that he had bundled himself in was as unhelpful as the small overhang on this part of the outer wall of the thresher. He was damp and sticky with the mist and wet that seeped through the folds of the cloth, water dripped from his whiskers and numbed the arthritic aching in his paws. His back protested with little spasms every so often.
Still, there was no time to be comfortable, and even less to be lazy. He had already spent too much time being a conversationalist. And that meant if anything was to be accomplished tonight, he would have to raise the rods now. As he spun the crank, another metal rod rose into place, alongside the three others.
The Rats had sworn to never again steal electricity from the humans. And so had he. But without it, there was only so much people could do. Even he was finding himself more desperate for a source, the old battery from the thresher weakened to exhaustion. The human, Benjamin Franklin, had started with a kite. He was starting with four lightning rods, but he also had the knowledge gathered by humans in the few books on the subject he had gotten a glance at. Unless they could find a way to store and even generate their own electricity, the Rats would forever be at the mercy of the world around them, and Jenner might as well have been right after all.
The old white mouse collapsed over the last crank, breathing hard. He looked up. Four dark poles lanced into a stormy sky. Their bases insulated, from which wired ran through the maw of the thresher and deep inside. With more effort than was really healthy, Mr. Ages picked himself back up and edged his way carefully towards the porthole entrance, inch by inch, along the rain-slicked edge of the thresher wall.
The hallway was dark. Timothy held on paw against the wall, guiding his way along to the room ahead where his mother slept. The table leg poked along the floor, making sure there was nothing to trip on. It seemed, in retrospect, foolish to have shut the door, cutting off the candlelight from the hallway. But by now it would have been as much trouble to go back and open it as to simply move forward carefully, keeping his senses sharp to make up for lack of sight.
So when he came upon another figure in the hallway, almost running into the form before detecting the person’s scent, he was so shocked his scream came out barely a squeek.
Once back, safe within his lab, Mr. Ages threw off the tarp and untied his smock, wringing out droplets of water, watching the sheen of water still trapped each time he twisted. Then he dropped and shook.
Standing and looking at the slight dampness around everything nearby, Mr. Ages only shook his head. "Bother…" Then he stopped, sniffing at the air. He frowned. Smoke. A strange, heady scent to it.
Justin’s candle. It was already smoking up the lab. Incense. He had little use for the stuff, and hoped that the smell wouldn’t seep into everything. He sneezed. Grumbling, he looked for a tissue. It was likely that he’d caught a cold tonight. At his age, a cold could keep him down for a week, easily. He excepted the handkerchief that Jonathan offered him and blew his nose, already formulating in his mind a proper cold remedy. Best to mix it now; it never did any good to put off such things.
Mr. Ages stopped cold.
He turned slowly, taking in the very lifelike mouse sitting on his workbench, smiling at him. "Jonathan?"
Jonathan nodded. "Live and in person." Then the young mouse frowned. "Well, in person at least."
Mr. Ages shook his head and pulled off his glasses, rubbing them. "Th-that’s impossible. Jonathan’s dead. I helped bury your remains myself."
Jonathan hopped down. "Well, old mouse, here I am."
Mr. Ages put his glasses back on. "Impossible." But there he was. As youthful and charismatic as he remembered him. And in considerably better shape than he last saw. He reached out a finger and poked his old friend. Jonathan felt warm, and chuckled at the old mouse. "I don’t believe in ghosts." His voice was resolute.
Jonathan shrugged. "Neither do I. I’ve always leaned towards reincarnation myself. I like the idea that I might find my wife again another time around, have another chance."
"But then how…?"
"I don’t know. I just know that I’m dead. And I’m here. But only for a little while. You’re the doctor. You tell me."
Mr. Ages frowned, staring suspiciously. And all at once was hugged, for the second time that night, entrapped in the embrace of someone he had really never expected to see again. "Oh Ages, you old fool, it’s good to see you again!"
Mr. Ages stammered. Then clinched his eyes shut. "Nicodemus’ candle…" he muttered. "By the Great Owl, Jonathan…"
Jonathan’s embrace relaxed and he held Mr. Ages at arms length, smiling. Then his eyes caught something beyond the old mouse and his face broke into a grin! With a laugh, he scampered past. "I don’t believe it!" And started to clamber up the still, looking it over.
Mr. Ages started to turn, trying to follow the younger mouse’s movements. "Careful, Jonathan, that’s…"
Mr. Ages lowered his head, one paw to his temple. "…hot." He sighed. "Oh Jonathan."
After the first sip, the second had come much easier. And after the second, the third had almost tasted bearable. By the time Justin had finished most of the bowl, Age’s brew was a warm, pleasant rush, and all in all, he felt much more relaxed.
"I’m not cutting it," he admitted wearily to the candle. A continuation of his off and on conversation with the flame. Wax dripped down along the carvings in silent agreement. For a moment, he wondered if the candle was weeping.
"The others don’t blame me. Not yet. I’m trying my best… but it’s not enough." He sips at the remaining pool of alcohol in the bowl. "We weren’t ready. N.I.M.H. forced us to turn a plan still being argued in the Council into a reality overnight. We didn’t have enough seeds, enough provisions, enough time. Thorn Valley wasn’t explored enough; it turned out not to be the ideal we had hoped it would be." He took a deep breath and stood before the candle. "It was no rat’s fault. But…I just can’t help but believe Nicodemus would have been able to make it work. At least, better than I am."
He heard a whispering response. But it was mumbled, made no sense. He perked his ears and listened. The world had taken on a haze, all his senses seemed dulled. But he could make out voices. Not a response to himself, but a conversation. It seemed excited. Or angry.
Slowly, Justin moved towards the door. He couldn’t make out the words, nor tell who was speaking. But the voices were both male. And he didn’t really think either sounded like Mr. Ages. He dropped his paw to his sword, and tried to focus through the haze and he took another step forward.
Mr. Ages carefully wrapped Jonathan’s paw in the gauze, the silky material soaking with the painkilling ointment. "Well, for what it’s worth, Jonathan, you do seem to be real enough."
Jonathan winced. "I noticed."
Mr. Ages frowned. "So why are you here? Why me?"
Jonathan raised an eyebrow. "I was rather hoping you could tell me that. I’m here for you because I’m the one you need the most. But I don’t pretend to be able to read your mind."
Mr. Ages moved away from his old, deceased friend, and made busywork over his table. "Rubbish. I don’t need anyone. What I need is to get my work done. Before the storm passes."
Jonathan crossed his arms and gauged the old mouse skeptically. He clearly was not buying it. But what could he do? "All right then. If all you need is to get your work done, then you could certainly use another set of paws." With a slight blush, and a glance down, "Well, at least one paw."
He strode over to the workbench, looking over Mr. Ages shoulder. "What can I do?" He tried to catch some method the old mouse’s putterings. He took a sniff. "Oh, you smell delightful. Out in the rain?"
Mr. Ages fehhed. "I need a ghost to tell me that?"
Jonathan continued to sniff. "And, is that incense? Are you burning something?" His nose checked the air, catching different scents. "And something else, smells like… like…"
Jonathan started. His face fell, his body seemed shaken. Weak. Mr. Ages turned to help him as the young mouse stumbled. He looked to Ages with a voice tinged with betrayal. "She’s here! Oh Ages why didn’t you tell me??"
Mr. Ages had no answer.
Jonathan steadied himself, biting back sudden tears.
"You still miss her." It was not so much a discovery as an observation. " Go, Jonathan. Go to your wife."
"No." Jonathan looked longingly towards the hatch then shook his head. His voice both firm and filled with defeat. "no."
"Oh for heavens sake, boy. Go! She’s been missing you every day since you died, and I doubt you’ll get another chance." With an exasperated way. "Hell, you shouldn’t even be getting this one! Go!"
Jonathan merely shook his head. "If she needed me, I’d be with her." He lowered his gaze, slumping to the floor. "She’s stronger now. I have no doubt she misses me, but seeing me now… would only make it worse. I’d only hurt her more."
Mr. Ages stared in disbelief. With clear scorn, "next time I summon up a ghost, I’ll make sure to choose someone less neurotic." Then he moved to his friend. "Think about what you’re saying boy. If it were me…" He grimaced. "Well, it wouldn’t be me. But it is you."
Jonathan looked up, his eyes meeting the old white mouse’s. Wet with tears. "I have thought about it. But I know I’m right. She’s with whomever she needs now. But…" And for the third time, Mr. Ages found himself being hugged. "oh Ages I LOVE her…"
Mrs. Brisby stirred. She was cold, even wrapped in her shawl and the blanket. But that wasn’t what had woken her. Voices…
She looked up, perking her ears. In the soft glow of the room, she could see Timothy’s blankets. Empty. "Timothy…"
Her first instinct was to worry. He was probably fine. He could have wondered off to talk to Mr. Ages. Or Justin. Or merely to relieve himself. But the thresher was so large, and dangerous. And it was unfamiliar to him. She could not help but remember the accident that had brought him here. She stood up. Something felt wrong.
She listened to the voices. They weren’t far, and even with the distorting echoes, she could tell one of them was Timothy. She breathed a sigh of relief. She couldn’t make out the other voice, but no matter. It was probably Justin after all.
Wrapping the blanket about her, she moved towards the entrance. Then stopped, looking down at her shadow. Timothy would be cold, she should bring one of the other blankets for him.
Something was wrong. Her eyes widened. She must be getting slower to have not realized before. She turned, looking for the source of the light.
As the glow illuminated her features, she gasped. Then lowered her head, just a little, her voice unafraid. "Your Majesty!"
Justin slowly drew his sword. He crept closer to the door, putting an ear to it. Listening. He focused on his blade, suddenly disturbed as his vision blurred. He blinked. Was the smoke that thick? Or had he drank that much? He swayed, putting a paw out for support. His paw touched warm.
His paw touched warm fur. He was not alone.
He turned, slowly, and when he saw the woman, like a vision, standing before him, he trembled. His sword fell to the floor.
"Mother?" He felt about to faint.
Part 3: Confessions and Comforts
"And what exactly are you planning to do with that?" A darkly amused chuckle. "Kill me again?"
Timothy fell back, raising the wooden leg before him defensively as he scooted against a corner.
"Oh please!" Jenner rolled his eyes and shook his head with a conniving smile. "Dear boy, you brought me here. I have precious little time as it is, what would it possibly benefit me to hurt you?"
Timothy’s eyes narrowed. "I know you!"
"And I know you, although only by reputation." He bowed, sweeping his cloak back. "Timothy Brisby, younger son of dear, departed Jonathan, correct?." He stood up straight glancing from side to side. "I’d be somewhat surprised if he wasn’t here."
"You tried to kill me! And my brother and sisters! You killed Nicodemus!"
Jenner seemed a little taken aback. His busy eyebrows furrowed and he smiled reassuringly. "I assure you, young Brisby, that I made no intentions to harm yourself or your siblings. You just happened to be in the cinderblock I needed. Tragic victims of circumstance."
Timothy glared. "Why!?"
Jenner cooed. "Oh is that all? Is that the reason you chose me, of all people, over even your father, to visit you tonight? Just to ask me why?" He rose his eyebrows. "Well then, so be it, I did it to save the Rats of NIMH."
"To save them?" Timothy stared in disbelief. "Save them from what?"
"From Nicodemus. From the Plan."
"But to kill… "
Jenner sneered. "The Plan would have killed us all. Nicodemus was too stubborn, and too set in his skewed sense of ‘rightness’ to see that. And as long as he was around, others would follow him. If the only way to save us was to take his place, should I have hesitated?"
"It is good to see you again, Mrs. Brisby. I trust you and your children are well?"
Mrs. Brisby nodded, stepping closer. "Yes, your Majesty, thank you. Thank you for everything. I never really got the chance…"
Nicodemus rose one age-withered paw. "No, Mrs. Brisby. You more than thanked us enough when you warned the Rats about NIMH. It is we who should be thanking you. You saved our lives. We did little more than drop your home in the mud. It is you, not us, whom you have to thank of your home and your children."
"It is you who gave me the Stone," she countered.
"And it is you," Nicodemus replied, "who had the strength of character to awaken it."
Mr. Ages sprinkled a mixture of herbs into his thimble of hot cocoa and stirred. The cold remedy soaked in, disappearing with a tail of steam. "If anything, we should have apologized to her for making such a mess of things."
Jonathan shook his head hopelessly. "How’d she take it? Does she… does she hate me for having kept this from her?"
Mr. Ages’s eyes narrowed. "You must not know her as well as you think you do. Jonathan, your wife has never hated you. In fact, I doubt she would be capable of it." Mr. Ages offered Jonathan another thimble of cocoa. "Boy, she forgave you long before she knew what she was forgiving you for."
Jonathan accepted the cocoa and sat in silence. Finally, once half the cocoa in his thimble was gone, "The Plan? The rats went to Thorn Valley?"
Ages stiffened but nodded.
Jonathan looked at his old friend. "Why didn’t you go."
Ages dismissed the question. "I didn’t much feel like being stuck in a colony. That’s why I lived here when the rest of them were in the rosebush. I like my privacy."
Mr. Ages sighed. And drank his cocoa.
"I don’t blame Jonathan for not telling me," Mrs. Brisby affirmed as she sat down on the pile of blankets, offering one of them to Nicodemus, who sat with her. She marveled somewhat when he thanked her for it, and wrapped himself. Apparently, though dead, he still took comfort in the warmth. "After telling the children, I feel I understand more. I wish I could tell him that."
Nicodemus snugged the blanket’s edge up higher around his neck and smiled, his eyes glowing a kind, gentle light. "He already knows."
Mrs. Brisby nodded, looking up towards the ceiling to some spot in the heavens she could not see. "I know. But I still miss him. I still wish I could tell him myself; that he could hear it from my own tongue as well as my heart. I just take comfort though that right now he is in another, better place. And he is happy." She smiles longingly. "I’m sure of it."
There was a moment of silence. Then she turned to the old rat. "Your Majesty, there’s something I must ask," Mrs. Brisby hazarded.
"Please, call me Nicodemus. And whatever you wish to ask, feel free."
Mrs. Brisby walked forward. Feel free, he had said. It had not missed her that of all those she could have talked to, Nicodemus was the one that had come to her. A part of her ached at that. Wished it had been Jonathan here. And wondered why.
But she felt comfortable with Nicodemus. Felt, yes, free. For all she loved Jonathan, and he loved him with all her heart, Jonathan had lied to her. Had kept secrets from her that he took to his grave. But Nicodemus had told her everything. When he had no reason to, and every reason to keep his secrets from her. There was a certain openness she felt with him that she doubted she’d felt with anyone else. He was a confidant.
"What is the afterlife like?"
Nicodemus raised a bushy eyebrow. "I’m afraid I have no idea."
"But… you are dead…" Her voice cut off as a booming crash slammed its way through the old thresher from every side. Somewhere in the rain rent skies above, lightning was slashing white-hot above the fields, battering them, and the thresher, with their thunder. Mrs. Brisby cringed, scooting closer to Nicodemus, her question forgotten.
The old rat smiled ever so slightly and gently slinked his tail around her, nudging her a bit closer. Not all visages of the timid field mouse he had first seen through his looking machine had vanished. Rather, they had matured, become wizened by age and courage.
Mrs. Brisby gasped, startled by the unexpected touch. She looked up to the old rat, but saw only sincere friendship in his eyes. Perhaps it was because she was so tired, but she felt a wash of release as she leaned against him. "Thank you. I’ve never liked storms." Her voice was soft, meandering. She didn’t care; neither did he. "Even as a mouseling. I’d crawl up into my father’s arms and shake. Cynthia never did that. She loves storms. And Teresa…" Her voice trailed. She cocked her head and sighed. "Teresa has taken to dancing in them. I hate to imagine her out in this one; she’ll be soaked to the bone. I don’t know why she does it; it’s so beautiful, but so strange. And when she comes back, she has the oddest look in her eyes."
Timothy hauled himself upright, bracing against the floor with the wooden furniture leg. As he did so, he kept close eye on the figure across from him. Jenner. He had seen him fighting outside his window. Heard this rat as he argued viciously with Justin and tried to strike him down. As he admitted the murder of Nicodemus. Jenner had burned an image on his pneumonia-fogged brain. But now, he was seeing him clearly for the first time. Hearing his words without the veil of dementia.
It was not so strange that Jenner, of all those passed away, would be the one to visit him. He had, after all, given great effort to trying to understand the ways of the Rats. And Jenner had oft been at the center of those thoughts. Timothy had, in fact, spent entire days pondering the meaning of what he had witnessed. So after shock had dissipated, Jenner’s presence wasn’t frightening to Timothy. Rather, it was acceptable. Even predictable. And he found himself watching the rat with tempered curiosity more than anything else. Strangely, Timothy was certain that Jenner was viewing him the same way.
He had awoken frightfully when him bedroom had fallen. Awoken to a spectacle of this rat outside his window. A vision that had ended violently and with blood. Timothy wondered if he should not, in fact, be far more frightened than he was?
Jenner turned, swirling his cloak about him, then looked back over his shoulder at the mousling with a toothy grin. A thunderous boom crashed through the thresher, shaking the halls and floor beneath, causing the young mouse to nearly fall, and seeming to answer his question.
"Are you coming? Are did you really intend to stand around in this hallway all night?"
The pounding of thunder shocked Mr. Ages and Jonathan out of their silent reverie. Mr. Ages gathered himself, setting aside his now empty thimble and readying for the portal. "Well, Jonathan, if you’re here to help, it had better be now. That storm isn’t going to wait any longer."
A moment later, the two mice were dashing on all fours through the dark rusted metal maze of the thresher. The younger, despite his sore paw, easily keeping up and finally outdistancing the older mouse. Mr. Age felt old. But he ran, each moment a binding knot in his heart telling him that time was running out. Both were panting harshly when they reached the light of the portal.
Justin shivered, looking at his mother. Sudden realization passing through him like a ghost. His mother was dead. That’s the only way she could be here. And while he had realized years ago that she must be, that the span of a mouse’s life had run out for her, it had been an intellectual acceptance only. Justin’s face fell. "Oh mother… I’m so sorry."
"Hush, love." The voice was soft, befitting an apparition, although the rat beside him was clearly of solid flesh. "Take your time." She seemed to only now be taking in her surroundings. "Where is this place? How is it that you still look so young and healthy?" A smile angelified her face. "I always knew you’d grow up to be handsome and strong. You must have many mates."
Justin blushed. "Mom!" And sat, or perhaps simply collapsed to the chair. He leaned forward, grasping her paws in his. "Mother, there’s so much I need to tell you. So much I… " He stopped. Words failed him. The last time he had seen her was before NIMH. Before his capture. "I… I should have come back. I didn’t even say goodbye. I… I’m so sorry…"
She reached up, and brushed the tear that was forming away from his eye. "I’m here now. Tell me."
Jonathan clambered up the rim and looked out. The metal wall of the thresher dropped away sharply, a lethal fall of many feet to the muddy ground below. A few inches below him, thin ledge where the metal seems overlapped… barely large enough for his feet and slick with rain. He frowned, wishing Mr. Ages was kidding. But knowing better, and put one hind paw over the lip of the rim.
The younger mouse paused, silhouetted in the circle of open sky, already getting wet. Mr. Ages caught his breath in a wheeze and bunched himself up like a sack of seeds. "Jonathan," His voice was forcibly flat, but under-ran with regret, or anger, or something else he couldn’t quite catch. "There is a reason you’re here with me."
Jonathan smiled a moment, a clear ‘finally’ expression on his face. And to Ages, it looked for the world as if the younger mouse hoped this would mean he didn’t have to go out into the rain. Mr. Ages couldn’t blame him; he was already miserable from the weather, and he had the advantage that he would be around long enough to dry off. Who would want to spend their last hours soaked through the fur and skin? This confession, though, would certainly deprive Jonathan of that look. And maybe himself on one of his oldest friends.
"Jon, I hated your wife."
"I hate Jenner," Justin said, teeth clinched. "Nicodemus was more than our leader; Nicodemus had once been his best friend. How could he?"
He clinched his eyes shut. When he opened them, his mother was looking back. Silently. Not understanding all, or even most of what he was saying. But listening all the same. Listening like only she could.
"So you can imagine," he continued, although in truth she probably couldn’t, "how hard it has been, on top of everything else, to try to deal with rats who have chosen to call themselves ‘Jennerites’."
His eyes stayed on her. Just being here, she was comforting. Relaxing. As if, by speaking his troubles, she could make them seem all less important. Less critical. "We are barely surviving, mom. There are those that want us to start stealing again. The ‘Jennerites’ insist that if we only take what the human’s throw away, it’s perfectly all right." He sighed, shaking his head. "I… I’m not sure anymore. I do know, however, that it’s not what Nicodemus wanted. But when it’s no longer a matter of luxury. When our very survival is at stake… But if we do, what progress have we made. In the end, will Thorn Valley be any better than the Rosebush."
Justin looked to her. "Nicodemus wanted us to be self-dependent. Self-supportive. I believe in that to. But what should I do?"
"Nicodemus wanted us to be isolated!"
Jenner paused in his speech when he reached the door. Slowly, he opened it. And stopped suddenly, eyes widening and mouth opening in a soft ‘oh’ when the light of the candle met his face. He stared at it silently for what seemed the longest time before his gaze drifted downward. He saw the two figures, huddled in the candlelight, and a smirk crossed his face. He turned to Timothy with a finger to his muzzle. His eyes gazed lower, till they fell upon a piece of metal.
Jenner carefully and noiselessly reached down and picked up Justin’s sword. Only the barest metallic whisper sounded as the sharpened tip slid and lifted from the floor. Then, with equal care, he closed the door.
"We can go around the other way. I think they want their privacy." His smile and sophisticated charm made Timothy shiver, even as he agreed.
Mrs. Brisby leaned into Nicodemus and they talked. Of good times. Of memories. Mostly of Jonathan. They had both known him. Both been amongst his closest friends. But they had also both been excluded for an important part of his life. Each seeing one half of a composite whole. And only now, together, could a clear image of her loving husband, his dear friend, begin to emerge.
"I must admit, Mrs. Brisby, that when Jonathan announced his intentions, I was deeply concerned. Both for him and for you. Our secret, the secret of NIMH, is a heavy one. I didn’t want to see him hurt. Or you. And I feared neither telling you the truth nor keeping it secret would have spared him that."
The aging field mouse nodded, understanding. "It’s been tough, watching the children. Knowing has changed them. They are beginning to withdraw. Teresa has cut off all contact with her friends outside, and keeps almost entirely at home. I’m worried for her. I can understand… now knowing that while they grow up she will not. But I don’t think she should be alone." She sighs. "Neither should the others. But Timothy never really had friends outside his siblings, and Martin has become belligerent. Part of that is just being a growing boy, I know, but…"
Nicodemus listened. "It is not good to be alone." He closed his eyes, the light from them becoming mere slits between his lashes. "I fear I was not as supportive of Jonathan as I should have been."
After the door was gone again in the darkness, Jenner continued. "Isolationism doesn’t work, Timothy. It never will. Nicodemus should have known better. If he couldn’t learn that from the humans, then he should at least have learned it from your father."
Timothy perked his ears. "My father?"
Jenner chuckled. "Of course. He married a field mouse, didn’t he? He, more than anyone, proved that we cannot survive separated from everything and everyone else. We can no more survive without taking from the humans than Jonathan could without taking from the lesser animals."
Timothy stopped, confusion setting in. "But I thought you…"
"Just because I did not care about your mother, or feel any need to offer her my assistance when I felt her petty concerns did not cross paths with our own, does not mean I was against Jonathan’s marriage." As he stepped into a beam of golden light, he smiled. "I was, in fact, one of his staunchest supporters…"
They stopped at the rim of the doorway into Ages laboratory. The door had been left open, and golden warm light poured down on them through it from the burner beyond. Ages was nowhere to be seen. Jenner kneeled down, and, much to Timothy’s surprise, helped in up over the rim. And handed his walking stick across to him.
"We are more than rats, as Jonathan was more than a mouse. But we are still, at our core, rats. We are, to be precise, theriomorphs. Not humans with fur. To deny the beastial within us is pure folly. To try to ignore our rat natures is foolishness. Nicodemus would have done good to remember that." He smiled down to the child. "And procreation is one of the most instinctual drives of our beast. Fight, flight and fuck; isn’t that what the humans say?"
Timothy frowned. "I don’t know what humans say."
Jenner strode in, looking around. "Mr. Ages laboratory. I thought this place seemed familiar. Now Mr. Ages, there is someone who is a prime example of what happens to isolationists."
Timothy listened, also looking around. Where was Mr. Ages? He sniffed. Cocoa. Ages had given that wonderful drink to him before. Two thimbles. He was not the only one to have gone on a walk with an unexpected companion. Timothy wondered, with casual amusement, who Ages had, in his heart, needed to see. And how well the old grouch had taken the revelation.
Timothy sniffed at each of the thimbles, trying to pick up a scent other than that of rich chocolate. "You supported my father’s marriage." The concept still was sinking in.
"Indeed," Jenner watched the boy, an eyebrow raised. "I did make it clear though that his animal wife could not ever be brought to the Rosebush. Or know about us at all. For our sake as much as his." When Timothy shot him a look, Jenner leaned close. Expalining as if to a simpleton. "Fight, flight and fuck, my boy. Animals are frightened of what they do not understand what is strange is threatening. They either attack or run away. And I doubt Jonathan could have handled that"
Jenner stood back up straight. "And we were still building. A fledgling colony. The last thing we needed was to fend off a mob of frightened fied animals. Yes, I drummed that lesson into Jonathan every chance I had. And, thankfully, it took. Too bad I wasn’t able to dissuade him from the Nicodemus’ Plan with as much effect."
Jenner’s expression soured.
"Hated?" Jonathan stared at Mr. Ages. He couldn’t imagine this old friend bearing such resentment. "Are you sure ‘hated’ isn’t a bit strong?" The old mouse, as if having said nothing, pushed past him and out the hole. Jonathan’s teeth clinched and after a moment he too was out on the ledge.
"Speak to me, old man! Why did you hate my wife?"
Mr. Ages crept slowly across the ledge, paws grasping the metal wall for support. His expression grew as thunderous as the sky. Over the wind and the rain, he had to shout to be heard. And even then, he wasn’t sure Jonathan would catch his words before the night savagely ripped them away. "Do you think it was easy for me, Jon!? The only other mouse in a world of rats? Knowing I could never have a mate, or children? Too old, too different… even if I had the courage you did? And each day as I watched you struggle, suffer under your secret, I knew more and more that I could never bear it myself! I hate her for taking the only other person of my kind and whisking him away, leaving me with nothing!" He inched further, hindpaws becoming numb with the cold. His voice dropped beneath the rage of the storm. "Nothing but my weakness and my herbs."
Jonathan followed silently. He felt drenched, and my more than the rain. "Good spirits, Ages, why didn’t you ever say anything?"
"Because, Jon, that wasn’t what made me hate her. She made you happy. Even while you made you miserable. How could I hate her while she did that?"
Jonathan felt his forward hind paw slip. He staggered, grasping to a rust-worn divot, as his gaze sank to the depths of the space below. His body froze, unable to move. To speak. Ages was moving ahead, unable to turn his head back, to see his predicament. Very, very carefully, Jonathan moved his foot back to the ledge, breathing harshly. Wouldn’t that be just perfect, to get himself killed. Again.
He finally begin to inch forward, trying to catch up to the old mouse. Shouting over the wind, "If that’s true, then what changed things?"
Ages’ voice carried back to him with a hollow sound, distorted by the wind. "You died!"
To be continued…