Part 1: The Brisby Bunch
Timothy - Youngest Son
"Dad... Dad." I lightly shook Dad's shoulder, but he barely budged. "Dad, wake up." I shoved a little harder. I guess that got him, because he groaned a little, slightly rolled over, and looked up at me.
"Wha..." that's as far as he got before it turned into a large yawn. He tried again. "What time is it?" So far as I could tell, he was still out of it.
"I don't know, Dad. Maybe about three..."
"Three?" He groaned, sounding none to please to be awake right now. "In the morning?"
"I had a nightmare. It was really scary. I dreamt that I was running through this corn field, and a big monster was after me, and..."
"Jon, is everything all right?" Mom sounded even more tired than Dad. She didn't even bother to try to look up and see me on the other side of the bed.
"Yes, Honey. Everything's fine. Timmy had a nightmare."
"That's great Jonny." Mom was really out of it, and after two seconds of silence, she was in deep sleep once again. Dad turned back to me.
"Do want to tell Daddy all about it?" I nodded. "Wanna sleep with us tonight?" That was exactly what I was hoping he would say. Before he even finished saying that, I was climbing over him to get between him and Mom. Once I was in Mom and Dad's bed and under the blanket, Dad gave me a hug. "How are you doing?"
"I'm OK, Dad, just a little scared."
"Want to tell me what happened in your dream?" He sounded interested, but he was still half-asleep. I wondered to myself if he would fall asleep before I did, because I could have gone on forever and ever about my dream.
But I went on anyway. "Well, I was in this cornfield, just like the cornfield here, except that it went on for ever and ever, and the cornstalks must have been thousands of miles tall. I was walking along, and then I thought I heard my voice being called. So I looked around and I saw Mom and you right there, and you were telling me about how I was always a good boy and deserved tons of presents and that lots of good things would happen to me. And then Mom said that she has a gift for me and pointed somewhere. I looked there and saw this giant monster coming after me, and It was yelling things about how it was going to get me..."
That got Dad's attention. "Your mother had a monster chase and try to get you?"
"No. You wanted the monster to get me, but it was Mom who went out and bought it at the store, and so it would only listen to her."
"Anyway, I was running as fast as I could, because I didn't want it to get me, and I was running and running and after I ran for infinity. Then, I saw Martin and Theresa playing with all their friends by the river, and I yelled to them for help. They wanted to know what the problem was, and I said that there's a monster chasing me. Then, they ran over to the monster and beat him up real good. After I saw that the monster was dead I went over to Martin and Teresa and said thanks for killing it. Then Theresa says that the monster was a weakling, and way too easy to beat up, and Martin told me that I was just a big crybaby for running away from it. Then I saw them and their friends and you and Mom and Auntie Shrew and even the Baby pointing at me and laughing about how big a baby I was."
"What happened then?"
"I woke up."
"Well," he began, in a very comforting voice, "You don't need to worry anymore because I'm here, and your mom's here, and we both love you very much, and you can believe me when I say that we will never, ever go out and get a monster to get you."
"What about Martin and Teresa?"
"Them too. And neither will their friends, the Baby, Auntie Shrew, or anybody else we know." He gave me one of his patented great, big, giant hugs. "Now do you think you can go back to sleep?" I nodded and closed my eyes. "Good night, Timmy. I love you."
A minute later, I was out like a light.
Mrs. Jonathan Brisby - Wife
If there is one thing I've learned from being a parent, it's that the most valuable, and rare, commodity you can possibly have (Aside from your family and friends, ecetera, ecetera. I've heard all that before, so don't start on me now.) is sleep.
On the other hand, the reality of life is that the day begins at sunrise, and ends at sundown. When Jon and I started having kids, one of the first things we agreed on was that it was important to establish a daily schedule so rigorous that it would become habitual. This philosophy is not unusual. Life as mice would never be easy for our children; There are countless dangers for small creatures like ourselves from birth to (a hopefully not premature) death. Living day-to-day is a fact of life, especially in the winter, when food is scarce and anyone who dares go outside has a good chance of freezing to death.
All this leads to explain why I was not pleased to be awakened by my husband a mere two hours after I finally got Cynthia, our 3-week-old daughter, to go to sleep after a long night of hunger and crying.
The first thing my mind registered was Jon calling out my name in a soft plead for me to wake up. I kept praying that it was just a dream, and didn't budge an inch. Alas, it wasn't a dream; My husband went to Phase Two and started to shake me awake.
That did the trick. Even though Jon was in actuality shaking me very softly, it still felt incredibly violent in my half-sleep. I opened my eyes, and saw him standing there. I opened my mouth to try to get five minutes more, but Jon got in the first word.
"Don't budge an inch. Timmy's sleeping." I noticed then for the fist time that my younger son was lying almost right next to my body. "He had a nightmare."
I knew what that meant. After very
"Good morning, Briz." He kissed me on the forehead, but all I could manage in return was a low grunt.
"How long did it take this time?" After three children, the meaning of this often asked question was obvious.
"I don't know. She started just after bedtime, and by the time she stopped, I'd lost all track of time." I paused, but then added another thought. "I tried to feed her, but she didn't seem to want any food."
Jonathan's look turned from empathy to concern. "Think she's sick?" Even if it meant just a slight cold, this question was not to be taken lightly. If we weren't careful, the slightest illness could mean death for a child as young as Cynthia.
I nodded my head. "Can you stop by Mr. Ages' place later today?"
Even under his gray fur, I could see him turn pale. Jon was a born worrier, and was clearly now fearing the absolute worst for our daughter. "She's sick enough to need Ages?"
"No. It's not necessary to bring her there. She's not that sick. You don't even need to go right now." I paused to let Jon sink this news in and calm himself down. "She does need some medicine today, though. Tell Ages that Cynthia's cried all last night, has been somewhat irritable when she's not crying, and doesn't seem to want to be fed."
"Cried all night... irritable... doesn't want to be fed. Gotcha. Any other messages I should give him?"
I thought for a second. "Tell him I said hi. But aside from that, no."
"Sure." Jon turned around, satisfied that this conversation was over, but he paused, and began to look really thoughtful.
I watched him, waiting for him to say what he apparently needed to say. It was fairly obvious, though, that he wasn't sure he wanted to say it.
After what seemed like an eternity of watching him think, I took the initiative to break the ice. "Is something wrong, Jon?"
He mulled that one over before answering. "I'm not really sure, to be honest. Timothy had a nightmare last night."
"You told me that. It's only natural for him to have nightmares once in a while. He's barely..."
"Yeah, but you should of heard what the nightmare was about." Jon's voice was so grave that I wondered if he was going to tell me that Timothy was a psychopath, and was planning to murder us all. "He said that he was running through a cornfield, and came up upon us. After saying what a good boy Timmy was, we sent a big monster after him, in the hopes that it would get him."
Oh. That's why Jon seemed so concerned.
"We made a monster chase Timmy and try to get him?"
"Sort of. He added that I came up with the plan to get Timmy, but you were the one who went to the store and bought the monster."
Already, this story was becoming unbelievable. "Timmy said that?" I asked, somewhat incredulously.
Jon nodded his head. "He also said that Martin and Teresa beat him up for being a crybaby."
This was all very interesting, to say the least. "So, what do you make of all this, Jon?"
"What do you mean, what do I make from all this?"
"What do you think Timmy's story means?"
"Why would I know?"
"You're the smart one. Besides, something about this story seems to be gnawing at you."
Jon sighed. "Do you think that maybe something we're doing is traumatizing him?"
"Traumatizing?" I asked. Jon had an odd habit of using the occasional Big Word in his vocabulary. He was born and raised in the city, so I guess it's a cultural type of thing.
Jon looked confused over my reaction to the word, then realized that I didn't know what it meant.
"It means that maybe we're doing things which are not really healthy for him... You know, mentally-wise."
Now it was getting really unbelievable! "Oh, c'mon, Jon! What could we be possibly be doing that would do that to him?"
Since Jon usually answered questions like these with a long and detailed explanation of what was on his mind, I was surprised that all he could manage from my question was a shrug.
"I really don't know, Briz. I just thought it was kind of... Well, you know... unusual that Timmy would be dreaming that we, of all people, would want to do harm to him. It had to have come from somewhere!"
I considered that for a moment before answering. "You're probably right, Jon," I said. "But I really don't know what could be bothering him."
"Maybe it has something to do with Martin and Teresa," Jon offered.
"Or maybe it's a side effect of the spider bite."
"But that was six months ago!" Jon protested. "This has never happened before, so why would it start now?" He paused and collected his thoughts. "I still think it has something to do with one of us."
"Maybe, but from what we know right now, it could be anything. We probably shouldn't bring this up with Timmy right away."
"Because we should just keep a close eye on him for the next day or so. Just check and see if this thing is a one-time occurrence, or something we should really be concerned with. What do you think?"
Jon nodded his head. "Sure."
With that topic taken care of for now, it was time to press ourselves with a more immediate concern.
"So," Jon said, "What's for breakfast?"
I walked over to our storage room and pulled the curtain open.
"Seeds." I looked around some more. "We don't have much more than that."
I don't think I've ever seen Jon look more disappointed than I did at that moment.
Teresa Brisby - Older Daughter
I was dreaming.
In my dream, I was sitting with all my friends, and we were listening to Dad talk about his adventures in the city. He was talking about how everything is made of glass and stone, and how everything is connected underground. He talked about how millions of people live in these cities, living in houses ("Just like the Fitzgibbons live in" he had said) and things called apartments. It sounded like so wonderful a place, I asked him if we could go to the city one day.
"We can go there right now!" he responded.
So, the next thing I knew, we were all in the city, and Dad said we could go and do anything we wanted to! So we went around, and looked at all the things in the stores, drove in the cars, and even rode around in the subway! It was great!
At the end of the day, Dad took me aside. "Did you have a good time, Teresa?"
"I sure did, Dad!" I enthusiastically responded.
"That's great dear, because there's something I've always wanted to tell you..."
Alas, I never found out what that was, because the next thing I knew, I was being shaken and poked.
"Hey Teresa! Wake up!"
I opened my eyes to see Martin standing there.
"It's about time. I've been trying to wake you for the last five minutes!" From his tone of voice, I could assume that it wasn't the greatest use of the last five minutes Martin wanted right now. "Mom says its time for breakfast."
Breakfast. At this time of year, that only meant one thing.
"Teresa!" Martin was getting madder and madder by the second. "Get up now, or Mom's gonna get mad at you!"
"All right already! You don't have to yell." I sat up in bed and rubbed my eyes. Martin just stood there and glared at me.
I looked up at him. "What's your problem?"
"I'm hungry. Hurry up." Despite the fact he was clearly annoyed with me, I continued at the same pace I was going before, which was not helping Martin's mood. "Will you come on, Teresa? Don't be such a prissy."
A prissy? This meant war. "Well, if I'm prissy, then you're a weakling!" I retorted.
"Well, you're a toad!"
"MOOOOOOOOOMMMMMM!!!!!" Martin ran into the living room, ready to give Mom and Dad his regular 'The World is Out to Get Me and I'm Just a Defenseless Kid' spiel. Unsurprisingly, Martin followed up his desperate cry for motherly attention by loudly blurting out, "Teresa said I was a runt!"
I rolled my eyes, and got out of bed. Within two minutes, my mom would be in here, demanding to know why I dared to say anything mean to my little brother. I didn't really want to face the music, but I knew that the longer I tried to avoid it, the longer Martin would have to build up Mom and Dad's sympathies.
Cautiously, I walked into the main living room.... and immediately noticed four pairs of eyes scowling at me.
I swallowed, and somehow managed to get in the first word. "Uh, morning. Did everybody..."
Dad cut me off rather curtly. "Teresa Geroldine Brisby, we need to have a serious talk."
Uh oh. Martin had managed quite well to get their sympathy on his side, and against me. Nonetheless, I tried vainly to defend myself.
"Well, he started it!" I complained, ready to tell them about Martin's impatience, and how he called me - me - prissy! Unfortunately, Mom and Dad weren't going to have any of it.
"That doesn't matter, young lady! You're almost two years old."
Now it was Mom's turn to scold. "Teresa, you should know better than to call your brother names. How would you like it if people called you names?"
As much as I wanted to point out the obvious, I figured doing that wouldn't be the smartest thing to do right now. So, I gave them the answer they wanted to hear.
"Not very much, I guess," I said, trying to sound sorry.
"Of course not, so apologize to your brother, Teresa."
I looked down on the floor, and shuffled my feet around, trying to stall.
Dad was having none of it, though. "Now!"
"I'm sorry," I said in a voice so quiet, it's a wonder that my parents heard it at all.
"That's better. Now, after breakfast, I want you to go to your room and think about what you've done. OK?"
Great. Not only had Martin managed to get me in trouble, but now I was going to have to waste time in my room, instead of going outside and playing with my friends. I wish there was some way to weasel my way out of it, but that would never happen in real life.
So, I just nodded in agreement, and sat down at the table for breakfast.
I began to think to myself about how many times Martin had conned Mom and Dad into thinking that he was the good little boy. "I wonder where this ability came from?" I thought to myself "Maybe we're all born with it, but we only use it when we have a big brother or sister to annoy." I then noticed Timmy playing with his breakfast. "This ability hadn't kicked in for him yet," I figured. All of a sudden, I came up with a great idea!
"If I could only teach him to use this power for good, and not evil. I bet I could get him to always whine about Martin, and Martin only! The little runt would learn his lesson then! Better yet, Martin's own powers against me would be diminished. I would once again look like the good sister. And Cynthia... Cynthia! When she's old enough, I'll teach her the same things I taught Timmy! It can't fail!
"One day... one day Martin will come crawling up to me on all fours, begging me for forgiveness, and plead to me to remove the curse of the little brother and sister off him! And I know exactly what I'll say to him then..."
My family looked up at me, startled by my sudden outburst. "What's so funny?" Mom asked.
I smiled nervously, and came up with the best on the spot excuse I could. "Oh, nothing. Just a joke I heard the other day." I laughed a little, and silently prayed that they wouldn't ask me to repeat it.
They didn't, thank god.
Martin Brisby - Older Son
The seeds just sat there, just egging me on in their vain attempts to lure me just one step into the hellish world that would surely result if I had dared take a single bite out of one of those bitter, putrid, mind-numbingly disgusting little pills. The fact that my mom and dad were gazing in my direction - Mom in particular was just about giving me the Evil Eye - expecting me to eat up made my attempted standoff against the horrible little buggers harder to bear. Finally, when I realized that I would either have to swallow my pride, or slowly die from starvation in my vain and useless attempt to get my own way, I chose the former route, and silently prayed that I could finish the seeds off as quickly and painlessly as possible.
It can never be too quick or painless.
Satisfied that I was indeed going to eat my breakfast without regurgitating it back onto the table for my entire family to admire, my mom finally broke the silence which had resulted both from my attempted coup and an earlier scolding given to Teresa, my prissy, vain, and ultra-annoying older sister.
"See, Martin? Those seeds aren't so bad, now are they?"
My less diplomatic side wanted to let her know otherwise, but that would have meant far more trouble than it was worth. So, I lied.
"I guess not, Mom." I tried to sound as authentic as possible, though I doubt that even the Baby believed me from the way I sounded.
"I don't see why we have to eat seeds so often," piped in Teresa. "I mean, isn't there anything else we can eat?"
Dad was shaking his head, more than ready to give us the standard answer (No way; nope; not in this lifetime), but I spoke up:
"Yeah, like Josh (a friend of mine) lives in the farmhouse, and he told me that every day, the Fitzgibbons get to eat a lot of different stuff, like lettuce, tomatoes... even corn. Why do the humans get to eat all that great stuff, while the only thing we eat is seeds?"
"Well, Martin," Dad interjected, "The humans are so advanced that they all know how to grow enough food to feed everyone, and have enough left over to save for later."
"Why can't we?"
"Why can't we what?"
"Grow our own food."
Dad paused for a second, carefully thinking about his answer.
"Because mice are natural scavengers. What we do best is look for food. There was a time, long ago, when humans were the exact same way. But, over time, they learned to control nature, while we've remained scavengers."
"Well, that's not fair!"
"Well, Martin, life isn't very fair."
"No kidding," I thought to myself.
We all sat quietly for several minutes, quietly contemplating how truly unfair the fickle finger of fate was, making all of us into mice, and forcing us to eat seeds every morning. Meanwhile, there were humans less than a hundred yards from where we were sitting. They got to live in a big house, with heat to keep them warm in the winter (during which time we're lucky not to freeze to death), cool air in the summer, and all the food they could eat.
What did they ever do to deserve that?
I didn't know, and no one at the table seemed to know either, though it didn't appear that they had the same passion for the topic that I did. Timmy and Dad were by now discussing something completely different; Mom was on her way to the bedroom to tend to the baby, and Teresa seemed to be lost in her own dream world. I'll bet she was plotting her revenge on me for having Mom and Dad yell at her (Though everyone knows that it was her own fault if she didn't want to get out of bed).
Slowly, a grin crept across her face. Her idea must have been good... to her at least.
"HA!!!!" The whole room stopped and stared at Teresa, whose sudden outburst had succeeded in grabbing everybody's attention. It was clear, though, that whatever she had on her mind, capturing everybody's attention was on her list of priorities. She just laughed a little too nervously and paused to blurt out the first lame excuse she could come up with:
"I... uh... was just thinking about a joke I heard the other day." She gave a short titter, as if to prove her point.
It was becoming clear to me, by this point, that my big sister was clearly on the road to becoming a psychopath. The rest of my family, though, didn't seem to care or notice.
It was obvious that Teresa would eventually get so crazy that she would soon go on a murderous rampage, and I would be the only one who wouldn't be surprised.
Mrs. Jonathan Brisby - Wife
Finally, breakfast was over. Now the constant complaints about what we have to eat would cease, and life could go on again once more.
I could only comfort myself with these thoughts for just a moment. It took only a minute for Cynthia to start acting up again, and I was back to my duties as the mother to four young children.
Fortunately, it was a pretty nice day outside. While Jon was gone, I could take them outside, so they could play around for a bit. If we were lucky, we might even run into another family with kids of their own.
Afterwards, I thought, we could go looking for food. With luck, we wouldn't find any. No, I'm not sick and depraved. It would show the kids how hard it really is to find any food worth eating this time of year, putting to rest, once and for all, their complaints about our meals.
While feeding the baby, I relayed my idea to Jon. He was somewhat skeptical.
"I mean, Briz... Take me for instance. I know how hard it as well as anybody to get any food worth eating around here, yet even I can't stop myself from looking cross-eyed at breakfast every morning. It's just mouse nature."
"Jon, that doesn't mean much from someone who grew up in the grand, glorious city: The place where food is more abundant than air, and where cats and mice are this close," I said, crossing my fingers.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Don't you think you're just a tad bit spoiled from that type of living?"
He quickly shook his head, but then paused and reconsidered. "Well, OK. Maybe you have a point, but that's not the point. The point is..."
"I also think your attitude is spreading to the children, and that's why they're always complaining about what I have to give them." I smiled to myself, knowing that it would be impossible for him to get out of this one.
He tried, though. He looked up at me, and made is eyes as big as he could possibly make them. He even managed to get the hint of a tear in the corner of one eye. "So, you think I'm a bad father?" he sniffed.
Obviously, he had learned some tactics from our children's early years. I wasn't sure if I should laugh or cry.
So, I just gave in.
"No, of course you're not a bad father," I said as sympathetically as I could manage (without throwing up, I might add). "You're just... uh... unique, that's all."
Jon brightened up instantaneously with the news. The tear disappeared, and the eyes went back to their normal, regular-sized state. He reached out, embraced me tightly (anymore tightly, and he might have suffocated Cynthia, who I was still holding in my arms), and whispered into my ear, "And, I might add, you are a wonderful mother."
Jon always had the touch with women. I've always thought that it must have been one of those things he picked up from the city.
Anyway, once he could trust that he was once again back in my favor (which he was, in a big way), his tone turned a little more serious.
"Well, Briz, it's almost mid-morning. I've got to get going to Ages' place right now, so I can get there before lunch. Are you going to be all right with the kids?"
I nodded my head, but, for whatever reason, he didn't seem willing to believe me. So I elaborated. "Oh, sure Jon. The Shrew..."
Jon's face contorted with such extreme disgust, that I stopped in mid-sentence, surprised by his gross display. I should note that Jon and the Shrew (nobody knew her real name) had been antagonistic with each other almost from the first day they met. Neither of them ever told me exactly why they constantly bickered with each other, but, knowing both of them, I'd be willing to bet that the Shrew started it. I could name countless times the Shrew was introduced to someone, and within five minutes, that someone would storm off, cursing the fact that he could ever meet such a... uh... shrewish creature.
But I digress.
After pausing to watch Jon's reaction to my mere mention of the Shrew, I continued. "The Shrew..." (No face from Jon this time) "...is coming over in a little while to help look after the kids with me."
"Uh... Okay, Honey." I knew Jon well enough to know that he was anything but okay about it, but the two of us had already spent many an hour arguing over the pros and cons of including this woman in our lives. Neither of us felt much like reopening any of those arguments at the moment, so we blew it off.
"I'll be home by dinner tonight, Briz," Jon added. He sounded sincere, but he had an odd habit of leaving the house by himself and not returning until late at night, or even the next morning sometimes.
He would usually say that he was just "reflecting," and lost track of the time.
He turned to leave through the main doorway, but I quickly grabbed him by the tail, and spun him back around.
I paused rather dramaticly, and looked deeply into his eyes. "Be careful Jon. The cat's probably going to be out today."
He smirked slightly and chuckled. "Don't worry, honey," he said. "I've gone to Ages' a billion times before. I promise you that nothing's going to happen to me." He then kissed me and Cynthia good-bye, turned around, and left.
Maybe I'm just the nervous type, but I worried anyway.
Part 2: A Bad Day in the Rosebush
Jared - Soldier
A sweet, pleasant smell woke me up this morning. It was the smell of fresh dew on the tips of very blade of grass... The aroma of the cool earth mixing with fresh water from the previous night's rain signaled that the eternal cycle of day and night was once again ready to begin anew, at least for another day.
Then I realized something was terribly wrong.
As I opened my eyes for the first time, I realized what it was: I was lying outside - somewhere in the Fizgibbon's garden - face down in the soil, with absolutely no clue how I ended up this way.
This couldn't have been real. Just about every morning since I became old enough to live on my own, I've wakened up in my own warm, comfortable bed, with nothing within those four walls to remind you of any of the headaches and worries of the world for at least one more night. Certainly this must be some sort of joke, right?
Tired already of having my face in the mud, I turned over to get a better look at my surroundings...
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR GGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
... And was stuck by a pain so intense, so mind-numbing, that the only thing I wanted to do was to curl into the fetal position and die.
Of course, the latter didn't happen, but I didn't realize that until I had lied there long enough for the pain to die down sufficiently so that I could get a clear thought in my head.
The pain hadn't come from an external source; I was injured - badly. What had happened? I vaguely remembered being out the night before - at least I hoped it was night before - with the unit. Most likely, we were on some kind of mission, or helping out with one of the Rats' frequent late-at-night projects. But what was the project? What had happened to me? Where was everyone? From the amount of sunlight, it was clearly mid-morning. Why hadn't a search party found me yet? Shouldn't one have been called? Hadn't anyone realized yet I was missing? What if something happened last night, and I was presumed dead?
The more I thought about it, the more questions I kept raising about what had happened to me, the more I worried. It was bad enough that I was lying here in the wide, wide open, as far as I could tell, in a practically helpless state, but if I had any serious internal bleeding, it wouldn't take to long before I ended up in the big Rosebush in the Sky.
It did not look good.
But then something happened that, in retrospect, can only be classified as an honest-to-God miracle. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see something small and grayish dash quickly toward a thick patch of grass on my left, before it suddenly stopped. Carefully, I lifted up my head to get a better look at the object. It stared right back. All of a sudden, it started coming in my direction. I watched the thing gradually come closer, and closer, but it wasn't until it was about five feet away before I realized who this object was...
"Be quiet!" he whispered loudly. Jon then stood over me, checking around in all directions to make sure he hadn't just walked into any predator's trap. He then studied me carefully. Obviously, he was trying to remember who I was.
"Jared, sir," I said, trying not to sound the least bit offended.
"What happened to you?"
"I don't know. The last thing I remember is working on some sort of project last night. The next thing I know, I woke up, and I'm lying here, and hurting pretty badly."
He looked me over. "Well, I don't see any bleeding..." He then paused to study some more. "...and I don't think you have any compound fractures. Have you tried to move?"
"Yes, before I realized I was hurt. I may have a broken rib or two. Are you part of the search party?"
"Search party?" said Jon, sounding genuinely surprised. "I've been home all night. I didn't even know anybody was missing... at least until now, that is."
You know, being creatures of science, us rats had yet to take seriously anything even resembling religion. Yet moments like that one make me want to start jumping up and down, screaming "Hallelujah!" every thirty seconds, and singing gospel 'til the cows come home.
Jon must have sensed what I was thinking, because he added, "Boy, it was a miracle I found you here." That did not get a protest from me. "Fortunately, I'm on my way to Ages' place, so we can get your injuries fixed up." That did get one.
"What??? You're just going to leave me here? In the open?"
"Well, I can't carry you to safety, if that's what you were hoping."
It wasn't. "No! I mean isn't there anything you can do? Drag me?"
"I can't do that! You're more than twice as big as I am!"
"Well why not camouflage me? That can't be too hard, right?"
Jon was beginning to seem somewhat annoyed at my protest. "The best thing for us to do is to go and fetch Mr. Ages as soon as possible, while you just wait. It could be dangerous to move you without dressing your wounds first. I'll get Ages here within a half hour, but I need to go now."
"Yeah, but what if the cat shows up while you're gone? What am I supposed to do then?"
"Pray." Jon turned around and started to make a dramatic exit, but there was no way I was going to let him do so on that note.
"Wait! Jon!" Jon stopped and spun around to see what I had to say. "If I don't make it, tell Mom and Dad that I love them and Regina that she's the love of my life, and Justin, Jenner, and Nicodemus that they're all dammed fine leaders."
"Jared, you really shouldn't curse like that. What will your children think of you if you do that in front of them all the time?"
"But, Jon," I stammered, "I don't have any children."
Then, Jon got this look in eye. A little glint that seemed to be telling me that I would live to the day I could say that I have many children.
But it disappeared an instant later, though, when Jon left to fetch help. All I could do was pray.
Mr. Sigall Ages - Friend
"Friday, February 10, 9:30 AM.
"After waking up and going about my usual early morning business, I checked up on the current growth rate of the poaceae plants I am attempting to grow behind my residence. In the last 72 hours, the plants have grown an additional three centimeters on average, with the highest growth being an amazing five centimeters. All the plants are exhibiting signs of perfect health, an astounding feat this late in winter. Because testing is expected to last for at least the next year, maybe more, it is very premature to declare this experiment a success. However, if things continue to go the way they have been during the past four months, I believe that the fertilizer I have developed will be something that will rival, and maybe even surpass, some of the greatest achievements of humankind.
"In short, what we may be looking at here, is nothing less than..."
Three loud, obnoxious pounds on my door interrupted me from recording my findings in my journal. I grumbled to myself, wondering why this had to come now, when it was so clear that I was just thisclose to a major breakthrough. Hoping that I wouldn't have to be interrupted from my work, I listened closely to the front door. With luck, all I would hear was complete silence.
Naturally, there were three more pounds, followed by the muffled voice of the person on the other side of the door, cursing and demanding that I let him in, in all likelihood.
Grumbling all the way, I trudged my way over to the front door, and cracked it open just slightly enough to see who wanted my attention so badly.
By golly, it was Jonathan Brisby.
"Hello, Mr.... Uh... Mr. Ages? Is something wrong?" He was quite clearly caught off guard by the less than warm reception and expectant glare I had given him.
"Why, Jonathan, I'm so happy you asked. As a matter of fact, something is wrong." Jonathan seemed to be quite stunned by my icy reception to his presence, but I continued on anyway. "For the past few months, I have been working quite hard on a fertilizer treatment that could revolutionize the art of farming."
"Well, hey! That's great!"
"In addition, I have been kept busy by my duties as health advisor for the colony."
And, as you certainly know by now, I am not the type who appreciates nilly-nally distractions like this while in the middle of my work."
"No, you don't..."
"So, if you'll excuse me, Jonathan, I have to get back to work now. Good day." I started to close the door, but Jonathan quickly threw his weight against it, preventing me from getting it closed all the way.
"Wait, Mr. Ages! There's an emergency!" Faced with this sudden news, I opened the door all the way and let Jonathan inside.
It wasn't until then that I noticed how beat Jonathan was. The poor mouse was covered in sweat, despite the near-freezing temperatures outside, and was gasping for air like each breath would be his last.
"One of the rats... From the rosebush... Hurt badly... Needs help." He stopped trying to communicate, hunched over, and just waited to catch his breath. It took a full three minutes for him to do so.
"Okay, Jon, could you please explain to me what's going on?"
"I found one of the guardsmen - I think he said his name was Jared - down by the clearing near where the cornfield and vegetable garden intersect."
As I rushed around to get the equipment needed for treatment, I quizzed Jon on how badly the patient was hurting. "Really? Any injuries?"
"I believe he may have broken a couple of ribs, and maybe one or two of his appendages."
"Did you notice any external injuries?"
"No bleeding, but he was bruised quite profusely."
"Do you know what caused the injuries?"
"No. Jared said that he couldn't remember much about last night..."
"He's been there since last night?"
Jon nodded his head. "He talked vaguely about being on some sort of mission, but didn't seem to know anything other than that."
I paused to collect my thoughts on the situation. "It's lucky he hasn't died already from hypothermia. Hopefully, we'll be able to get to him in time before it sets in and kills him." Suddenly, I realized the implication of one of the details Jonathan had mentioned! "Jonathan, where did you say he was?"
"By the clearing near where the cornfield and garden..."
"But that's cat territory!"
"How am I supposed to treat a patient under those conditions?"
Jonathan hemmed and hawed before sputtering out his answer. "You see, while you're treating Jared, I was planning to... uh... go to the rats, and get them to move the soldier out of the clearing."
"You want me to treat the patient out in the opening by myself?" That's almost guaranteed suicide!"
Despite my protests, Jonathan was adamant that his plan was the correct thing to do. "But if you don't, he could die!" he said, making his eyes as big and wet as he possibly could (A tactic he certainly must have picked up from his kids).
I swallowed hard, and uttered the words that I hoped wouldn't become prophetic: "I guess. But get those rats to the site as quickly as you can. There's no telling what could happen."
Finally, I gathered all my things, and was just about out the door, before I realized that Jonathan was still standing in the same spot, and didn't seem to want to budge.
"Is there a problem?" I asked.
"Well, it's just that my baby girl has been showing some symptoms recently, and my wife wants to know if you have any medicine that can help her get better."
"Ask me later. By the way, how is your wife?"
"She's doing fine, Mr. Ages."
"I haven't seen her in a while."
"Well, she says hi."
"Tell her I said hi back," I said as I headed out the door to treat my patient.
Justin - Captain of the Guard
The pain began almost immediately after I woke up, and didn't end until I fell asleep at the end of the day. At first, it was a little din, and I thought to myself that all I'd need is some R&R after breakfast, and that would be the end of that. Unfortunately, things turned out to be so hectic - not an uncommon occurrence, but ill-timed nonetheless - that it ended up feeling like a full-blown migraine.
My first reaction when the alarm clock woke me up at about 6 in the morning was to groan and immediately (almost reflexively) utilize its snooze alarm function. That would get me fifteen more minutes; When the alarm would go off again, the cycle would repeat once more.
It wasn't until about 6:45 when I finally got the will power to drag myself out of bed (cursing all the way, I might add) and begin my day. It wasn't until 7 that I noticed that my head was beginning to hurt.
Anyway, I got up, and did the usual stuff: Y'know, exercise (push-ups, sit-ups, running, the works; I'm considered the exercise nut among us rats), getting dressed, having breakfast, etc.. Unfortunately, breakfast was not very interesting for me that day: There were no other rats in the cafeteria when I walked in, mainly because of the early hour. So, I just sighed to myself, grabbed some of the more appetizing looking food that was available, and sat down to eat. Naturally, it was only then that I remembered the reason I had set the alarm for six in the morning in the first place.
I think that's when the headache started.
After giving myself a few choice and colorful words, I quickly scarfed down as much food as I could in ten seconds, and raced out of the cafeteria, through the living quarters, down the main hallway (being sure to stop off at my office to grab some important papers), and straight to Nicodemus' office.
I paused before entering to both catch my breath and make myself more presentable before I opened the door and walked in, and immediately noticed six pairs of eyes focused squarely in my direction.
"You're late," declared Nicodemus, stating the painfully obvious.
"I'm really sorry, Nicodemus," I said, trying to sound as sincere as possible. "I think the damned alarm must be on the frizz."
"Then fix it. We have better things to do than to wait around for you while you're going around dilly-dallying and doing what-not."
The only proper reaction to this dressing down was to lower my head and say nothing.
Once I did that, Nicodemus gave me the appearance of being satisfied - a minor coup, I must say - and allowed the meeting to finally begin.
The meeting itself was at once both uneventful... and incredibly boring. One by one, each of us went over our agendas for the coming week, while Nicodemus and the others would often interrupt to offer his own input.
Maybe I should take a minute to explain our system of government. As those of you who have seen a certain documentary know, our main system of government consists of the Counsel, which spends most of its time arguing about every minor detail about the rats' future without seeming to ever get anywhere. However, in order to facilitate day-to-day life under the rosebush, Nicodemus took aside five of the most intelligent rats, and put them in charge of different "departments" (Food, health, education, engineering, and security). Every Friday, we were to meet with Nicodemus and whoever was the Council chairman (at the time, it was Jenner, who turned out not to be very trustworthy, n'est-ce pas?) and brief everyone on the latest developments.
Got that? Good.
Anyway, I wasted three hours of my life at this meeting, totally bored out of my mind. As far as I was concerned, there was no point in being there - I can tell you right now that nothing of interest had happened with security in the last week - and little of anybody else's problems either captured my interest or made any sense to me.
So, I was glad to finnaly get out of the meeting and get the chance to spend the rest of the morning relaxing as the main entrance guard before spending the afternoon working on preparations and planning for upcoming missions outside the rosebush.
At least that's what I hoped.
I had made my way out to the front entrance and was striking up a conversation with the guard on duty, when I heard the pitter-patter of little feet making its way into the rosebush, and towards us. I was more than ready to act if it was an intruder, but when it came into view, I realized that it wouldn't be necessary: The owner of the pitter-pattering feet was Jonathan Brisby.
I tried to say hello, but Jon wouldn't let me finish. He tried to spout off something, but he was going so quickly and was so out of breath, that all I could hear was an incomprehensible stream-of-consciousness mess.
"Jonathan...JONATHAN!!!" I took him by the shoulders and shook him hard enough to get him back to our level. When he calmed down enough, I looked him in the eye. "OK, Jon, take a deep breath. Take it easy. Let what you have to say come out one word at a time."
He did so, but was so out of breath that he was in pain just getting each word out. "Quick! You gotta *cough* get to the... the... *wheeze* clearing by the corn... field and garden!!!!"
"We do? Why?"
"There's an injured rat down there!"
"How badly is this rat injured?"
"Broken limbs, broken ribs, hypothermia, the works."
"Damn." I walked over to the intercom, conveniently located next to the main entrance, and pushed the button.
"Security," came the voice on the other end of the line.
"This is Justin. We have a downed rat located in the clearing near the intersection of the cornfield and garden. How far away from the rosebush entrance is that?
"Hold on a minute." Over the intercom, I could hear the rat scurry to the map of the farm located on a wall in the main security room. After a few seconds, he scuffled back. "About 90 yards, sir."
"I need four soldiers, two medical personal, and a sentry to report to the main entrance immediately"
"A sentry, sir?"
"To fetch Ages! This is a life or death situation! Is there a problem with that?"
"Uh... Justin?" interrupted Jon, "I think I should let you know that I've already talked to Mr. Ages, and he should be tending to the injured soldier by now."
All of a sudden, I felt the headache grow this big (I'm holding my arms as far out as they can go). "You sent Mr. Ages to tend to a wounded soldier in cat territory?"
"I... I thought that he should get medical attention as soon as he could."
All I could do, besides strangling the first neck my hands could find, was to throw my hands up in exasperation and storm back to the intercom. "Well?" I demanded, quite harshly.
The rat on the other end must have heard me yelling at poor Jon, because all of a sudden, his voice was noticably meek. "The soldiers and medical personal have been alerted and are on their way. Do you still want a sentry, sir?"
"No." Just then, I remembered the conversation I'd just had with the front guardsman. As PO'ed as I was, Glenn deserved some of my charity. "But do send up a replacement to guard the main entrance."
The rat paused for a beat before answering. "But, sir! Who am I going to get to do that on such short notice? I mean, no one likes guard duty! They'd rather clean out the..."
"I don't care! Just DO IT!" I yelled into that intercom so loudly that I must have scared the crap out of everyone listening, much less the rat on the other side who was carrying the brunt of my "criticisms."
This was turning out to be a wonderful day.
Before I could open my mouth and yell down anyone for some other offense, I spotted the soldiers and medical personal running up the corridor. Satisfied that at least one thing had gone right, I took a deep breath, counted to ten, and told everyone, "OK, we have an injured rat lying in a clearing about 90 yards from the rosebush entrance. He has broken limbs, broken ribs, hypothermia, and maybe more injuries. All of you," I said, indicating the help, "and you," pointing to Jonathan, "need to come with me to tend to the rat. Mr. Ages has been alerted to the situation, and should be with the rat when we arrive. If he is not, we'll send out a party to search for him. Any questions?" Thank god no one raised their hand.
I then turned to Glenn, the doorman. "I've ordered for a replacement guard to take your place. When he comes, feel free to take the rest of the day off. If no one shows up in ten minutes, give them a call, and let them know that they've just opened up a huge can of whoop-ass from yours truly. Good luck with everything."
Satisfied that all the loose end for the moment were taken care of, there was only one thing I could say:
"All right, everybody. Let's go."
Glenn - Guard
I couldn't even begin to tell you how long I had been standing in that one, single spot in front of the main enterance. Having been on guard duty since midnight, I could hardly tell if the sun should be out, much less what time it was. By this point, I had gone beyond counting the seconds, and was starting to consider the whole thing a constant flow of numbness, with no end in the near future.
Guard duty. No one I know likes it. Not even one tiny bit. Why, you ask? Mainly because the guard must stand at the main enterance in shifts that can go up to twelve hours without any breaks. Acctually, that's really not the worst part. The killer with this job is that the whole expirence can go by without any contact with civilization at all. The main enterance is far removed from the main colony, so the only rats who come through are preoccupied with business, and not much interested in socializing. There is an intercom, but it's only to be used in emergencies. Besides, the rats on the other side are of the gruff, military personality, and take their jobs way too seriously.
In addition, this job was beginning to feel more and more pointless every day. The idea was that the guard is supposed to prevent any intruders from getting into the colony. However, the more hostile animals were all too large to even get into the rosebush, while the smaller ones were all too chicken to dare enter it, especially since word of our somewhat "strange and creepy" (at least to them) activities has been spreading out around the farm. I tell you... this job was becoming obsolete.
Anyway, I was probably into my tenth hour of guard duty, and all I could think about was how bored I was. Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored.
That changed considerably when I heard footsteps behind me. I turned around, and saw Justin coming up the path. I smiled and waved to him. "Good morning, Justin, sir."
"Good morning Glenn," he called back.
"What brings you out here?"
Justin sighed. "Not much, really. I've been stuck in a meeting all morning, and I just thought that I should go out for a walk while I had the chance."
"How was the meeting?"
Justin rolled his eyes at the (clearly unpleasant) thought of the conference. "I tell ya, Glenn. Sometimes I wonder to myself what the point of us being intelligent is if all we seem to do is sit in meetings and discuss the most mundane things."
"No doubt about that one, Glenn."
Normally, I would just leave it at that, but in this particular case, there was no way I was going to let Justin outdo me when I had such a great trump card. "Yeah, well, at least you haven't been standing outside here for the last ten hours with no contact with civilivilization whatsoever."
"You've been out here for the last ten hours?"
"Yeah, since midnight."
"Isn't a shift supposed to be no more than eight hours?" he said, in disbelief.
"Well, yes. But the guy who's supposed to come after me called in sick, and no one's been able to find a replacement yet. So, they asked me to stay out here until they find someone, or the 4:00 guy shows up. Whichever comes first."
"Geez Louize," Justin muttered. "And I thought I had a wasted morning."
"Mind if I ask you something, Justin?"
"Before the whole thing with NIMH and all - You know, before you got smart - did you ever get bored?"
"Did I ever get bored?" Justin repeated, somewhat amused by the question. "You know, I really don't remember. I can't say I remember ever being bored with life or anything else. Of course, there's a lot of stuff I don't remember pre-NIMH."
"You mean that you hadn't yet had the life expirences necessary to put them in proper perspective?"
"No. It was just a long time ago, that's all." I think Justin was miffed that a young one like myself would dare try to out-philosophize one of the Original 20 (They all tended to have egos about their status- like they were so special for being the first). "I guess not. It's hard to be bored when you don't understand the concept of doing something more interesting than what you currently are doing at that exact moment."
Spoken like a philosophical type of guy. Justin knew exactly what he was talking about .
Jared - Soldier
"Ugh." The first thing I remember feeling when I regained consciousness was pain. It was pretty bad, the type where you don't care whether you live or you die; The sooner you can get it to stop, the better.
It took a minute, but soon I was able to get past the pain enough to be able to think clearly and realize where I was: in a bed, covered by sheets, and breathing warm, comfortable air. I was also not alone; A quick glance around the room revealed that a good friend of mine - in fact, he was my best friend in the entire world - Glenn was sitting next to me, waiting for me to either wake up or die, whichever came first.
"Hi, Glenn," I said.
Up until that moment, he hadn't noticed that I had woken up. "Jared!!" he said, quite startled. "You're awake!" Before I could say anything else, he ran over to the door, opened it, and shouted down the hallway, "Jared's awake! Get Ages and his parents here, a-sap!!"
"As soon as possible," he explained, while coming back to my bedside. "Someone must have picked it up from listening into the humans' conversations, and started using it himself. Thanks to him, it's spreading like the Bubonic Plague."
"Wonderful," I said, not very comforted by the imagery. I'm not sure why, but that brought us into a long and uneasy silence. It was hard to tell for sure, but it seemed to me that Glenn was trying to hold back a tear, or something.
"Mr. Ages said that you could have died out there," Glenn noted, in a morose tone of voice.
"I figured as much. Thank god Jonathan was able to get help in time."
"He also says you may not survive the next 24 hours."
More silence. Much more.
Me? Die? I highly doubted it! Surly this information was a mistake, or misinformed, or premature, or something!
"Are... are you sure? I mean, was he sure?" Glenn cast his eyes down on the floor and nodded his head. "Well, didn't he say that my chances would improve if I woke up? I mean, here I am! I couldn't be more un-unconscious than this!"
"He said it would be an improvement, but only slight."
"Oh. What's the problem?"
"Internal bleeding. We know you've got several broken bones, but we're not sure how much blood you're losing. If it's slight, there's not much of a problem, but if it's heavy..."
"Yeah," he noted. I'd known Glenn practically since we were born, and this was the first time I had ever heard his voice be so sad.
Funny, but that sadness upset me far more than the prospect of death did.
At that moment, my parents burst into the room, followed by Mr. Ages. Grateful to see me alive and still breathing (at least for now), Mom and Dad rushed to my bedside and started hugging me and going on about how worried they were and happy that I hadn't been killed.
Mr. Ages watched this display of parental affection, and then requested for everyone to leave the room, and give me time to rest. Although their eyes let me know that it was the last thing they wanted to do, both my parents and Glenn complied with the request. Few of us dared to challenge Mr. Ages when he made a "request," and no one was in the mood to try. So, everyone went out the door, except of Mr. Ages, who simply shut the door.
"So, Mr. Ages, Glenn says that I'm probably going to die soon."
"Actually, Jared, there is good news in that you're probably not living out a death sentence."
"Well, actually, the way things look now, the worst thing is that you're so broken up that you won't be up and about for a bit of a while."
"A while? How long is that?"
"A month and a half, at least. Maybe two. Of course, it won't be until then that we can tell what long-term damage is."
"Jeez," I muttered. Even though this was far better than ending up a corpse, the news was still somewhat of a downer.
Just then, however, I realized that one element of this conversation was not quite right. "Mr. Ages," I asked, "If you're giving me good news, why did you send everyone out before giving it to me?"
Just then, there was a knock at the door. Before anyone could say anything, the door opened, and Justin poked his head in. "Mr. Ages," He said, nodding in Ages' direction. "Jared, good to see you're awake."
"Justin, sir. It's good to be alive."
"So I hear." Justin came into the room and closed the door. "So tell me, good doctor, how is our patient doing?"
"Oh, he'll survive to live another day," said Mr. Ages. "But he'll be pretty banged up for a while."
"That's nice to hear, Mr. Ages. I'd hate to lose one of my finest soldiers under my command."
Flattering, this Justin guy was. I hoped it wasn't just because I was laying in front of him as a huge broken mess.
"Chances are pretty good, Jared, that we'll need to conduct an investigation into this matter."
"An investigation? Why's that?"
"Nothing sinister, I hope. It's just that this..." He motioned towards me and all my 2,000 broken bones, "...deserves some sort of explanation."
"Oh. Then I suppose that you'd like to know what I was doing before I ended up this way." Justin nodded his head, and leaned forward in anticipation of my tale. "Well, all I really remember is that I was on some sort of mission last night with the rest of the squad. The next thing that I know, I'm being attacked by some huge... thing!"
"The cat?" asked Mr. Ages.
"Probably. But don't the humans usually keep the cat inside their house at night during the winter?"
"Up until now, at least," mulled Justin. He turned to Mr. Ages. "Do you think we should start using the powder?"
"It looks like it," answered Mr. Ages. "If we don't, there's no way we can go outside at night without things like this, or even worse, happening!"
"Powder? What powder?"
"That's none of your concern, right now, Jared," said Justin. "Classified information will be revealed to you only when you need to know. What happened after you were attacked?"
I thought about it for a minute, but could only draw a blank. "I don't know, sir. The next thing I remember, I woke up and discovered myself where Jonathan found me."
"Is that all you remember?"
"Yes, it is Justin."
"Are you sure?"
"YES!!" I said, in an increased effort to see that I had indeed told him everything I knew. "Jeez, I wouldn't try to hide anything from you!"
"I know," said Justin. "Just checking." He turned around, opened the door, and shouted down the hallway, presumably to an assistant. "Janice, can you get Nicodemus and Jenner, and tell them I want to meet them with Jonathan?" He listened to the other rat's answer, which was inaudible to me. "Great, thanks."
He then turned to face me. "Thanks for the information, Jared. I hope you get well soon." Justin then cleared the doorway and slammed the door shut.
"Are you feeling all right?" asked Mr. Ages.
"Not really," I answered, "but I'll make do under the circumstances."
"I'll leave you alone, then," he said, "so you can rest some rest. Ring the intercom if you need anything." Within five seconds, he, too, was gone.
I was still in so much pain, that I doubted I could get any rest. I surprised myself, though. I was fast asleep in two minutes after the lights went off.
Some Friday this turned out to be.