The following story is a tall tale that was once a very short tail. Writer that I am, and an imaginative one at that, I stuffed plenty of details in wherever I could find a chewed-looking hole.
Long ago (three weeks ago, in fact), a mouse was born. (Actually, so were fifteen or so others. The mouseling I speak of was Mouseling Number Eleven, as imaginative names are not plentiful in the rodent world.) She was born in a musty burrow between two joists in a nest of sawdust, insulation, and her brothers and sisters. For a few weeks they tumbled over each other and grew. And grew.
Then the time came for Mouse Number 5 and Mouse Number 18 (their parents) to lead their troops outside to seek a more substantial source of food.
They were just leaving when the shocking word came that Mouse Number 7 (an uncle) had met his death on the dreaded execution block of the scavenger’s world: the mousetrap. After much squeaking among themselves, the older mice decided to wait a little while longer (about eight hours). But before the time came, Mouse Number 64 (a distant cousin) burst out of hiding and made a mad dash across a vast, open wasteland (the living room floor). As a less distant cousin squeaked it, Mouse Number 64’s family watched in horror from their home as two absolute giants jumped up, pointing at the tiny shadow and rumbling excitedly. One giant pounded away and returned with a flyswatter. But by that time, the foolish little creature had bounded down the stairs and was later retrieved by family, trembling violently.
The parents of the young batch of mouselings carefully taught them the moral in this lesson: risking your life isn’t worth the ounce of cheese. (Mouse Number 64 was always used as a model after that.) In the neighborhood tunnels they practiced skittering, scampering, squeaking quietly (very hard for young mouselings), and peeking around corners before scurrying.
Little Mouseling Number Eleven was eleventh in line the hour they set out. Scouts had told them of a pile of homegrown potatoes stashed somewhere on the kitchen counter, and that was where they were headed. Ominous shadows loomed high around them, thrown by giant-sized furniture in the faint, eerie starlight. Was there a giant sitting on that sofa, or was it Mouseling Number Eleven’s imagination? Every now and then a mouseling squeaked softly, and a mother or father turned around and sternly stared him down. There was a whole lot of stopping and starting, so Mouseling Number Eleven kept running into Mouseling Number Ten, and Mouseling Number Twelve kept running into her.
All at once, the whole line of mouselings jumped in unison. What was that shadow? They all jumped again. Just a cockroach. The insect wouldn’t bother the rodents if they didn’t bother it.
Mouseling Number Eleven felt the plush carpet change under her feet to linoleum. The kitchen! What treasures lay on those counters? What secret passageways were hidden, leading to cupboards of boxed goods, just waiting to be chewed through? Mouseling Number Eleven stopped abruptly. Her brothers behind her squeaked impatiently, but she was suddenly confronted with a puzzle. How would they ever get up to the counters? Her parents were heading straight to a sheer cliff!
Without hardly a thought, Mouse Number 5 sprang, reaching his paws for the towel hanging from the drawer. He missed by a few centimeters, but on his second try, just barely snagged it enough to get a good grip with his tiny claws. His tail hung down just enough for Mouse Number 18 to leap and grab—and she had it! Now her extra-long tail hung just enough for Mouseling Number 1 (The biggest in the litter) to hop and reach—and he had it!
By the time it got to Mouseling Number 6, the mouselings merely needed to hold onto the tail in front of him and wait till the train of mice was pulled up. It swayed a little as Mouse Number 5 paused, catching his breath just under the edge of the counter. It would have been impossible to climb if there had not been the handle of a spoon sticking out just enough for him to reach. Before she knew it, Mouseling Number Eleven was scrabbling onto the counter.
Her senses were going wild! She ached to follow her twitching nose all over the counter, but she had no chance before they were all led across the stove, between big pots and frying pans. As one parent went ahead to fetch the smallest potato he could find, Mouse Number 18 quizzed the children on the scents they had found on the stove. All the mouselings thought they knew it, and squeaked it out at the same time, but it turned out that nobody was right (it had been leftover chili warming in a pot that evening).
Mouse Number 5 scrambled back with a potato the size of his head chomped securely between his teeth. This time they all inched headfirst down the towel and had to jump the rest of the way (most of them landing on each other because the older ones didn’t move fast enough). When a mouseling squeaked to the parents as to why they were going across the kitchen and up a cupboard again, instead of using the counter route all the way around, his parents told him to squeak more quietly and that it was because the sink posed too much of a danger on the counter.
With trembling and trepidation, back on the floor again, Mouseling Number 11 hugged close to her sister in front of her. There was the cupboard again! Somehow, she felt safer up there than in the shadows of this desert.
Without warning, the mice and mouselings in front squeaked in absolute terror. Mouselings Numbers 10 and 11 froze, glued together. Was there a giant, waiting by the cupboard, that they hadn’t seen? Was there a cat in the house they didn’t know about? Was it a horde of unfriendly cockroaches? What was it?
Mice Numbers 5 and 18 rapidly gathered their mouselings around them and skirted a dark, sinister contraption in the middle of a newspaper. Without much thought, they knew what it was. The object of their nightmares—the bane of their existence—the execution block feared by all mice—the mousetrap. And they had barely missed it.
Once back on the counter, Mouse Number 5 and Mouse Number 18 let the mouselings explore a mite while they hunted for any grains of rice fallen in a corner. Mouseling Number 7 (somewhat of a showoff) dangled by his tail from the blender to impress his little sisters, while Mouseling Number 2 (somewhat of a glutton) nibbled greedily at a package of tortillas and got nothing but plastic. The younger mouselings were allowed a snack on the potato.
They were supplied with rice and ready to go. The last thing on the agenda was a head count—one, two, three… twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen—Mouseling Number Sixteen was gone! Frantically the mice and mouselings scattered, squeaking the little mouseling’s name. She was so little, and so young! (Really, they were all the same age, but as the last mouseling, she was regarded as the baby.)
Mouseling Number Eleven and a few of her siblings were dangerously near the sink, when their heard quiet, plaintive squeaking. There she was! She had slipped into the sink and could not scale the slippery, stainless steel walls! In a wink, the family formed a chain and the little mouseling was returned to her mother.
In the excitement and the hurry of returning to the burrow, the partly-chewed potato was left where they had found the rice. Fortunately, they had the rice, but there would have to be another expedition very soon to recover the rest of their food.
Just as the mouselings were squeaking goodnight to their parents, the giants woke up and started to get their own breakfast.
“Adelle?” Mom was standing next to the counter, holding her hand over her mouth. Her eyes were twinkling.
She removed the tub of rice from the corner and showed her the partly chewed tortilla package. Then she pointed far in the corner.
Adelle burst out laughing. The noise aroused her dad, who was shown the same thing.
“How did they get it all the way from here,” said Mom, gesturing across the kitchen by the stove, then returning back to the corner— “to here?”
Adelle shook her head, wondering the same thing. The potato was small, but the cupboards were steep. The whole thing struck her funny.
On a whim, Mom suggested, “You should write a story about this!”
Adelle stared at her. In the next moment, she was in her room and typing furiously.