A Long Time Ago There Was A Mouse

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Eddy Gilbert

Take a mouse like Stanley, the main character in the following story. He didn’t mean to embark on a very long journey but travel far he did, encountering all sorts of adventures along the way. Take 1924, the year in which his tale began. Why 1924? Why not 1924? There were mice around then but most of the fiction we read about them, as a general rule, suggests that the scenes are set in present day.

A Long Time Ago There Was A Mouse

By

Barrie Christian

 

Introduction

Take a mouse like Stanley, the main character in the following story. He didn’t mean to embark on a very long journey but travel far he did, encountering all sorts of adventures along the way. Take 1924, the year in which his tale began. Why 1924? Why not 1924? There were mice around then but most of the fiction we read about them, as a general rule, suggests that the scenes are set in present day.

Because I have chosen 1924, it has given me a different approach, with new avenues to explore and the necessity to engage in a reasonable amount of research. Fast forwarding to the end of this story, I have attempted to blend the fictional experiences of Stanley into a real life event that could have happened all those years ago. Call it a twist in the tail.

 

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1

Stanley lifted his head above the box’s edge and peered out at the dimness of the empty kitchen……..

 

Many years ago, there was a mouse called Stanley, who lived in a cardboard box. The box, which had once contained dishcloths and cleaning products, was dry and comfortable and tucked away behind a plastic bucket under the sink, in a house that had been left unoccupied for quite some time.

Stanley was black and white, very small but with big ears, and still young enough to be cared for by his parents. For many weeks he remained secure in his little hideaway, never leaving it, dependent on his parents to bring him food.  Soon, however, the day came when the food source dried up; Stanley’s parents came no more.  They had either got tired of waiting upon their demanding little son or had met with an unfortunate end.  Stanley would never know what happened to his parents.  He missed them but soon avoiding starvation was more uppermost in his mind.

He had never been outside his box and knew hardly anything about the real world, though his mother had done her best to describe the dangers, with scary stories about cats and dogs and, of course, humans, whom mice and other animals called doods.  Unable to contain his hunger any longer, however, Stanley lifted his head above the box’s edge and peered out at the dimness of the empty kitchen.  Although he could not see very well, his little twitching nose had developed a strong sense of smell. Sadly for Stanley, there was no food within his range so he began looking for a way out of the old, neglected house.  He soon found a tiny hole at the base of the wooden door that led out to the back garden and squeezed through, the same way as his mother and father had always done, before their disappearance.

Stanley blinked as he emerged into the bright daylight outside and hesitated while he took in his surroundings.  Keeping close to the wall of the property, he followed it round until he came to the front garden which gave him access to a quiet cul-de-sac.  The hours passed quickly while he searched for food.  Any tiny morsel would do, he thought, as he rummaged desperately in the undergrowth of one front garden after another.

Suddenly, he spotted a bowl on the ground outside one house. He ran up to it and peeped inside. It contained water so at least he could satisfy his thirst, which he did. There were some breadcrumbs nearby, not many but enough to fulfil his hunger.  He gobbled up the breadcrumbs and began looking around for more when he heard a sound.  It was the padding of paws on concrete; something was heading Stanley’s way. Before he had time to look and see what was approaching, a small brown and white dog appeared on the scene.  It froze and stared at Stanley, then a growl rumbled in its throat.

“Are you drinking my water!?” boomed the dog, his hackles rising.

The tiny mouse did not need any further warning; it was time to flee to the safety of next door’s garden, which he did.  The dog chased him but could not follow Stanley through the thick privet hedge that separated the two properties.

 

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2

A large black cat that had been perched there jumped down, landing just a few inches away from the startled mouse………

 

Once he felt safe, the shaken mouse looked around to see where he might go next.  He wished he could return to the safety of his dry, comfortable box but, by now, he didn’t know his way back.  He soon found himself on the pavement and hid while he waited for a dood to pass by. He remembered his mother telling him to always avoid doods; the reason to avoid dogs had already become quite clear.

It was late in the day and darkness was slowly falling.  Stanley began to wonder where he could find a new home; perhaps another box. All of a sudden, a miaowing sound emanated from the top of a garden wall that towered above him. A large black cat that had been perched there jumped down, landing just a few inches away from the startled mouse. Cats were the one thing that Stanley’s mother had stressed must be avoided, more than anything else, yet when Stanley looked up at the friendly face of the feline stranger, however, he felt a sense of relief. The cat was beaming, causing Stanley to warm to this affable arrival on the scene.

“Hi, I’m Roy,” said the cat.  “I’m a girl cat really, but my owner didn’t find out until I was six months old and by then the name Roy had stuck.  Say, are you alright?  You look cold and hungry.”

“I’m starving,” replied Stanley.  “My parents have left me and I can’t find my way home.”

“Don’t worry,” said Roy, “I haven’t long eaten myself but I can take you to where there is food – and you can get a hot bath too.  What’s your name?”

“My name is Stanley.  Did you say food?” said Stanley.”

“Yes, of course,” replied Roy. “Follow me.”

Stanley was a little unsure where his new furry friend was leading him to but, possessing a trusting nature, he followed anyway.  “I’m sure glad we met,” he sighed, as he did his best to keep up.

“So am I,” said Roy, stopping and grinning down at the little mouse.

“Why have we stopped?” Stanley asked.

“We’re going to wait here for a bus,“ replied Roy. “I’d walk, normally, but my home is too far for your little feet.”

“A bus?” said Stanley, his eyes widening. “What’s a bus?”

“You’ll see,” said Roy. “One will be along, shortly. Just remember to stay close to me when we get on it because there will be doods on board.”

“Aren’t you scared of doods?”

“No need to be,” Roy assured his companion. “Here it is now!”

A bus appeared in the distance and, as it got nearer, Stanley became nervous. Was it a monster? His parents had spoken of monsters as being huge, even bigger than doods. Was a bus a monster?

Before the little mouse could even think of making a run for it, Roy had taken hold of his arm, firmly. The bus came to a stop and three doods got off, pausing to look at the strange cat and mouse who hurried past them and boarded the bus.

The two friends stood on the rear platform of the vehicle, unnoticed for a minute or two, whispering to each other.

“Don’t talk to me or squeak,” said Roy. “Just look straight ahead until I tell you when to jump off.”

When the conductor appeared on the platform too he peered down at the bizarre pair at his feet, unable to contain his surprise.

“Aaaah,” uttered the uniformed dood, giving them a kindly smile. “It’s you again,” he added, addressing the cat.

Some of the passengers turned their heads but couldn’t see what had captured the conductor’s attention. Two people rose from their seats as the bus approached the next stop.

“How cute,” said one of the male doods, looking at Stanley and Roy as he disembarked.

“Yes,” replied the conductor, chuckling, “this cat is a regular. Don’t know where he comes from but I do know where he gets off.”

“Alright for some,” joked the other dood, “getting a free ride.”

At the next bus stop, Roy took Stanley’s arm and guided him as they jumped off together. “You look terrified!” said the cat, unflustered himself……  “You get to know doods and their odd ways. I never thought I’d be able to board a bus without being chased off but…… it’s surprising what a cat can get away with. The conductors have now got used to me hitching a lift home.”

“You know, Roy,” said Stanley, once his little heart had stopped beating so fast, “it’s not every day that a mouse meets someone with such a kind nature as you have displayed.  I consider myself extremely lucky.  If it wasn’t for cats like you, Roy, there wouldn’t be any mice left. I just think it’s so kind of you to invite me, a complete stranger, into your home.  I can’t wait for the hot bath you promised me.  What did you say was for supper?”

“Consider it my pleasure,” replied Roy, turning down a dark entry.  At the bottom was a gate.  “This way,” said the cat, squeezing underneath the wooden panels.  The gate was no problem for Stanley; keeping up with Roy was.  Beyond the gate was the yard of a house that appeared empty.  Stanley blinked his tired eyes and looked for signs of doods.  There were no sights and no sounds of any kind.

“Is this where you live?” Stanley enquired.

“Yes but you don’t have to worry.” said Roy, who Stanley could barely see in the dark.  “My doods are away.  We have the house to ourselves.”

 

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3

Stanley looked warily at the gas ring, which Roy had now turned down, and stepped cautiously into the saucepan……….. 

 

“How do we get in?” said Stanley.

“The cat flap, of course.  They didn’t exactly leave me a key.”

Stanley negotiated the cat flap with difficulty.  Such contraptions were not built for mice, he decided.  If ever he had to get out of the house quickly this was not the best way. Fortunately, he told himself, that was not going to be necessary and he began looking forward to supper, almost as much as Roy.

Stanley’s feline hostess led him straight to the kitchen, immediately jumping upon to a chair affording herself the means to reach the light switch.  As soon as the room was illuminated, a large white fridge caught Stanley’s eye and there were interesting looking cupboards everywhere.  The surroundings were similar to the kitchen in which the box – his little home - was hidden.

Both cat and mouse scrambled on to the working surface adjacent to the cooker, where Roy turned on the nearest gas ring.

“Now then, Stanforth – “ the cat began, filling a small saucepan with water.

“Stanley,” the mouse corrected her.

“Ah yes, Stanley.  Listen Stanley, why don’t you relax while I prepare that nice hot bath I promised you.”

“That’s very decent of you, Roy.  Say, would you like any help?”

“Just you leave everything to me,” said Roy, offering the sweetest of grins as she half filled the saucepan with water and placed it on the gas ring.  “Your bath will be ready soon.”

Stanley was relaxed and wandered contentedly up and down the work surface, whistling, with his paws behind his back.  The kitchen was comfortably warm and welcoming and he felt he was being looked after so well by his charming hostess.

“Your bath is warm enough now, Standish,” the cat announced.

“No, it’s Stanley,” said the mouse patiently. ”My name is Stanley.”

“Yes, yes, now do step into the water, Stanley.  It’s just about right.”

Stanley looked warily at the gas ring, which Roy had now turned down, and stepped cautiously into the saucepan.  The water did feel warm and, as he sat down in it and revelled in its luxury, his thoughts turned to his parents.  He felt guilty almost, that he had discovered the sort of comforts they would probably never come across.

“I don’t suppose you have something I can get the dirt off with, Roy – if it’s no trouble, of course.”

“Why certainly, Stanwick –“

“Stanley.”

“Use this.” His black companion handed him a sponge, tossing spears of broccoli into the saucepan at the same time and looking pleased with herself.  Then she picked up the salt cellar and sprinkled some of its contents over Stanley, who was finding the broccoli ticklish as it floated under his arms.

“Isn’t that salt, Roy?” enquired Stanley, peering hard at the salt cellar.

Bath salts,” Roy assured the little mouse.  “No use having a bath without something in the water to flavour – uh, create – that sweet scented aroma that you want to stay with you, long after you’ve rubbed yourself down.”

“But are the potatoes really necessary, Roy?” said Stanley, eyeing the two blobs that the cat had just added to the water.

“Oh absolutely essential, er Stanley.  Whoever heard of taking a bath without potatoes in the water?”

“You know best, Roy.  I’ll leave everything to your good judgement.”

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4

He began to feel a sense of unease.  Something was not quite right……… 

 

“Now,” said the cat, beginning to lick her lips at the aroma filling the kitchen, “you just continue to relax while I go and set the table.”

Stanley watched as his new found friend went into the next room.  The water in the makeshift ‘bath’ was becoming quite hot; Stanley decided it was time to turn the gas ring off so he stepped out of the saucepan and tried to twist the ‘off’ knob.  His being such a tiny mouse, and having wet paws, he found the task impossible to carry out and there didn’t seem to be anything around that he could use to help him.  There was only one thing for it, he would have to go and ask Roy, who he could hear preparing the table in the dining room.

The very wet mouse scuttled around the kitchen working surface, following the patterned Formica route until it reached the doorway.  At this point he was able to stretch his small frame and peep into the dining room.  Roy had her back to Stanley; she was clearly busy laying out the table.  The cat moved round to the other side, unaware that she was being watched.  To Stanley’s surprise he noticed that there was only one place setting.  How odd, he thought, that Roy, who was right about everything, should make such an obvious mistake.  There should be two places set yet……

Stanley paced up and down and thought the matter over carefully.  The water in the saucepan was now bubbling furiously.  His instinct told him that had he still been sitting in the scalding water he would not have lived to tell the tale.  He began to feel a sense of unease.  Something was not quite right.  He reached for the salt cellar and sniffed it.  Of course it wasn’t bath salts that had been sprinkled so convincingly over him while he had been sitting as comfortably as a dumpling sits in a stew.  Stew!  Did he say stew to himself?  Was he the stew, Roy’s stew?

Just then, there was a squeaky voice behind him.

“Quickly now,” it whispered.  “I’ll lead you to safety.”

Stanley turned round to find a much older mouse, grey, with huge, black shining eyes, beckoning him.

“Who are you?” asked Stanley.

“Well I’m not the farmer’s wife,” replied the stranger.

“The farmer’s wife?”

“Who cut off their tails with a carv-  I was joking. Oh never mind that now.  You’ve got to get away from here or else you will be a cat’s supper.”

“You mean Roy’s supper?” said Stanley, with a worried look on his face.

“Yes, yes!  Now follow me, at once!”

The wise older mouse ran down the side of the kitchen cupboard and fled across the floor, Stanley hot on his heels.  The frightened pair dashed into a broom cupboard where they hid from Roy, just as she returned to the saucepan to find her prey missing.

As the now angry cat began a search for Stanley the two mice cowered behind a box, out of sight.

“What’s your name?” Stanley enquired of the other.

“Marley.  What’s yours?”

“Mine’s Stanley.”

“Now listen, Stanley-“

“What’s inside that box?” Stanley asked, staring at an object close by.

“Don’t look in there,” snapped Marley.

“Why not?” said Stanley, opening the lid before the his new pal could stop him.

When Stanley peered inside the wooden container he recoiled in horror for its contents consisted of a number of skeletons.  The size of the bones told him everything; he had not been the first mouse guest invited to dine with Roy the cat.

“That’s horrible!” squeaked Stanley.

“Shhh!” hissed Marley.  “Roy will hear us.”

“Oh there you are!” boomed the voice of Roy, her figure suddenly towering over the two frightened mice.  “I see you have discovered my skeleton in the cupboard.”  At that, she roared with laughter, sending a chill through each of the trapped pair.  “Or should I say skeletons!”  More loud laughter followed, making her intended prey jump.

Before Roy had time to extract either of the two mice from their temporary refuge, Marley made his move.  As swift as an arrow, he bolted straight through the gap between Roy’s feet and fled across the kitchen floor.  Within seconds Stanley was hot on his companion’s heels until they both halted at the door to the garden.  Before Roy had had time to see which way they had gone, Marley had lifted a loose part of the draft excluder attached to the bottom of the door, revealing a gap just wide enough for each of the fugitives to squeeze through.

 

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5

“What are we going to do?” said Stanley, peering down nervously at the ground far below; then he looked upwards………...

 

Outside in the garden it was dark, affording Stanley and Marley easier concealment in the undergrowth.  They watched Roy as she forced her way through the cat flap to search for them.  After many minutes the thwarted cat grew tired and returned inside the house.  The two mice breathed a sigh of relief and looked around the garden.

“Ah,” said Marley, “I spy somewhere to hide for the night.”

“What?” said Stanley.

“Follow me.”

With that, Marley led his friend over to what appeared to be a small basket on the lawn. The basket was attached to a post by a piece of string. What the two mice could not see in the now darkened garden was that there was also an inflated balloon attached to the basket and this was swaying in the breeze above their heads.  “Get on,” urged the older mouse, climbing aboard the strange vessel.  “Sit behind me and keep your head down.”

“Is this someone’s home?” enquired Stanley.

“It’s what I call a hiding place, right now,” replied Marley. “I know that cat, Roy, she’s too dumb to find us anyway. She doesn’t even know whether she’s a boy or girl! When it’s daylight again we’ll move on from here.”

“What’s this?” asked Stanley, positioning himself behind his comrade and gripping a cord that had pressed itself against him.

“I don’t know,” said Marley. “It’s attached to something on the ground. Bite it, if it’s getting in your way.”

“Whatever you say, Marley.”

“Now get some sleep,” said his companion.

“Marley,” said Stanley, yawning.

“What?” said Marley.

“Where are we, exactly?”

“I’ve never been asked that question before,” replied his companion. “Mice don’t usually care where they are, as long as there is food about and they are away from any danger. But I do know the answer because I have heard the doods mention it a number of times. We are in a place they call Southampton. You are probably going to ask me what year this is; the doods call it 1926 but then that cannot mean a lot to you.”

“No,” said Stanley.

“Now keep quiet and got to sleep,” whispered Marley.

The following morning the two mice awoke to complete silence.

“Oh my grandmother’s whiskers!” exclaimed Marley, peeping over the side of the conveyance in which the two mice had found themselves. “We are floating in the air, way above the doods’ houses. B – b - better keep still Stanley, or we may fall out of this-this box thing.”

“What are we going to do?” said Stanley, peering down nervously at the ground far below; then he looked upwards. “What’s that?” he cried, pointing at the balloon overhead that was carrying them to they knew not where.

“What did you do, Stanley?” enquired Marley.

“I didn’t do anything,” said the other.

“You nibbled that string, didn’t you?”

“What! Well you told me to.”

“And it’s released this basket - this box, whatever, and the balloon you see above us. It must be a child-dood’s toy. We’re being transported somewhere.”

“Well how was I to know this would happen,” Stanley replied. “Look,” he exclaimed suddenly, pointing in the direction they were heading. “There’s a large blue field in the distance!”

“Oh my grandfather’s curly tail! That’s not a field,” said Marley, “It’s the sea. We’re heading for the sea, Stanley. If we don’t get off this flying object quickly we might find ourselves drifting downwards to a watery grave!”

“What do you mean?” said Stanley, alarmed at the anxious expression on his companion’s face. “I like water, in moderation.”

“To drink, yes but the sea is a very, very deep place to find yourself landing in. It’s lots and lots and lots of water! Far more than you or I could drink.”

“Oh,” said Stanley, staring at the expanse of blue that lay ahead.

 

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6

Suddenly, there was a lot of noise that made them burrow instinctively beneath the pile of vegetables that had become their temporary home…………….

 

Just then a flock of crows flew past the balloon. One turned its head and eyed the two mice in their little basket curiously. Suddenly, it circled and landed on the edge of their tiny craft and stared at them. Stanley was the more scared of its two occupants and sheltered behind Marley.

“Uh, hello Mr. Crow,” said Marley, trying to sound brave. “We are so glad to see a flock of crows flying our way.”

“We are not a flock,” croaked the crow, sternly. “We are a murder of crows! A flock of crows is called a murder!

“A – a – murder?” stammered Marley.

“Yes, yes! Don’t worry, we are not going to harm you. I merely want to know what two mice are doing up here, invading our air space.”

Marley explained, as best he could what had happened, while the crow looked on intently.

“We can soon remedy this unfortunate matter,” said the crow and glanced up at the balloon.

“W – what are you going to do?” said Marley, his voice beginning to quaver.

“You’ll see,” replied the crow and, with that, it flapped its wings, rose up and approached the balloon, pecking at it fiercely.

“No!” cried Marley.

The balloon burst with a pop and sent the little basket, the two mice inside, hurtling towards the ground, far below.

Luckily for Stanley and Marley, a soft landing awaited them. A passing lorry, containing crates of vegetables, captured their fall. Dazed from their experience, they found themselves among a large quantity of freshly picked runner beans, on its way to the port of Southampton. Of course, they had no idea where they were except that Marley remembered they were somewhere near the sea.

Stanley and Marley soon recovered from their ordeal and began nibbling away at the tasty contents in the back of the lorry until they had filled their stomachs to bursting. Stanley turned to Marley and said: “We could live here with all this food around.”

“Yes, we could,” said Marley, “but we would have to find somewhere the doods wouldn’t spot us.”

Meanwhile, after their feast, the two friends made themselves comfortable and, before long, fell fast asleep. The lorry continued onwards, heading to the port of Southampton, where it would discharge its load, which was intended for the galley (any clever mouse would know that meant a boat’s kitchen) on board a large merchant ship that was soon bound for America.

The two mice remained hidden among the contents of the lorry for several hours, feasting on the beans when they became hungry. They were laying on their backs in the afternoon sun, not seeming to care what might happen next on their journey to the unknown.

Suddenly, there was a lot of noise that made them burrow instinctively beneath the pile of vegetables that had become their temporary home. Now the load began to move, two anxious mice with it. Soon, they found themselves being tipped into a large trolley and finished up buried under a mountain of beans - but safe, thankfully.

Before they had time to gather their bearings the trolley was being pushed along by a dood towards the huge merchant ship, then up a gangway and aboard the vessel.

“What’s happening?” squeaked Stanley.

“I don’t know,” replied Marley peeping out from their hiding place. “Wait! We’re on a ship. We’d better just stay hidden and see what happens. At least we have a food supply, which means we shan’t have to search around later.”

“That’s a good idea,” said Stanley. “Let’s do that.”

 

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7

Stanley could feel the vessel rocking as it crossed the often stormy ocean but he didn’t fret about it…………

 

The trolley was taken to the ship’s galley and wheeled inside a large and chilly room where it joined a number of other trolleys, all bearing vegetables of one sort or another. There were a lot of doods about, their voices could be heard above the din the ship’s engine was now making. A dood shut the metal door of the room, the trolley inside, with a loud bang, causing the two mice to jump. Now they were in complete darkness.

Many hours passed by as Stanley and Marley settled themselves comfortably in what continued to be their food supply and sleeping quarters; then suddenly they began experiencing a sense of movement.

“Do you feel the ground moving?” cried Stanley.

“Oh my great aunt’s swishy tail! It’s the ship,” replied Marley, jumping on to the floor scampering around in the darkness and pausing to listen. “We must be going out to sea!”

Both mice could hear the doods moving about outside their room. The sound of voices was accompanied by lots of noise. Eventually, Stanley and Marley became used to the activity in the galley and ignored it.

It wasn’t much later before their peace was shattered as the door to their hideaway suddenly burst open. Marley was still on the floor and began to panic, running this way and that way, but it was too late, he had been spotted.

“There’s a mouse!” cried the first dood, dressed in a white apron and skull cap.

“Don’t let it get away,” shouted the second dood, shutting the door behind him and flicking the light switch on. The room, flooded with brightness, at which point a terrified Stanley buried himself under the runner beans and out of sight.

“Go get something to catch it in,” snapped the first dood. “I’ll wait here.”

The second dood quickly returned with a bucket and a broom. From inside the bucket he pulled out a small cage which was intended to imprison the hapless Marley – once he was caught. That wasn’t going to be easy, with six trolleys, laden with food, to shuffle around until the two doods could trap the unfortunate Marley. After a long chase around the space available the two doods managed to scoop poor Marley, wriggle as he might, into the bucket. From there he was transferred to his tiny prison and taken away.

Meanwhile, Stanley peeped out of his hiding place in order to survey his surroundings. As the doods both departed, with Marley in the cage, they left the door of the room open. Stanley was distraught, having witnessed what happened to his friend, and had no wish to remain there any longer. Taking care to conceal himself, he seized his opportunity to jump on to the floor and seek out a new refuge.

Sneaking out through the doorway, he noticed that there was a large oven nearby and, without being seen, he crept into the narrow space behind it. He felt very warm in his new environment while he pondered over what fate awaited Marley and what he was going to do next.

During each of the nights that followed, the galley would fall silent and empty, except for the booming sound of the ship’s engine. Stanley could feel the vessel rocking as it crossed the often stormy ocean but he didn’t fret about it. Though it was a strange new world, as long as he had food nearby he was fairly content for he had been able to nibble away at small scraps that had fallen on to the floor near the oven. He had become particularly fond of crusts of bread and portions of fruit and vegetables, even though they were often squashed underfoot by the doods who staffed this area of the ship.

Stanley couldn’t forget his friend, Marley and hoped for a change of fortunes in that the latter might effect an escape from his captors. It would be so much more comfortable if his former companion was able to join him to share the abundance of food.

Two more nights went by when Stanley thought he heard a new noise from the confines of his hideaway. Was it voices or squeaks, or both, he wondered? Although he hoped to see Marley emerge from behind some cavity in the darkness, he guessed that was unlikely. He went searching for the source of the intrusion but, at first, couldn’t see anything. Suddenly there was a patter of feet behind him. He looked around and found himself confronted by a small posse of rats.

Stanley had heard of rats; indeed, he had seen more than one passing rat in his short life while tucked away in the box where he was born. Here he was confronted by six of them, each with a mischievous look on its face.

“What have we here?” said one, as the rest surrounded Stanley.

Stanley could barely raise a squeak, as they stared at him with twinkling eyes that gave the appearance of shiny black buttons enveloped in their dark grey furry coats.

“Cat got your tongue?” said the leader, causing the rest to roar with laughter. He approached Stanley and examined him closely. “How did you get on board this floating tub and where do you think you are going with it?”

“I – I – I don’t know,” replied Stanley, finding his voice, at last.

“You don’t know how you got on board or you don’t know where you are going?”

“I – I just don’t know,” stammered Stanley.

“What’s your name?” asked the rat.

“Stanley,”

“My name is Bella. I used to have a husband - but he’s no longer with us. He got thrown overboard accidentally, whilst rummaging for food in one of the dood’s waste containers. He was in charge of this motley crew of rats you see here behind me. There are six of us in all, including myself. Now my careless husband Wilf has gone they’ve got me to answer to. I’m in charge of their welfare.”

The other five rats sniggered at this, for they suspected that Wilf had run away to free himself from the overbearing Bella. They quickly ceased their mirth when Bella turned round and faced them. She glared at each one, in turn, as they hung their heads, expecting an angry blast from their furry leader.

“Right,” said Bella, turning back to Stanley, “if you wanna stay on board this creaking old craft, you’ve gotta earn your passage. Is that understood?”

“Ye – yes,” Stanley replied.

“You see, we are easily spotted by the doods, because of our size. You’re small and also not easy to catch. So you, Stanley, will scavenge for food for us every day and leave what you’ve collected behind the oven, where we found you hiding. You got that?”

Stanley nodded. “What do you like to eat?” he asked.

“We eat anything,” replied Bella. “Anything. Just make sure you gather enough scraps to feed six hungry mouths – and don’t get caught!”

“What if I do get caught?” said Stanley, anxiously.

“You will wind up in this vast ocean the doods call the Atlantic sea.”

“Do you mean the doods will throw me overboard?”

“Yes, little mouse.”

“What if I don’t collect enough food for you, each day?”

“Then we will throw you overboard,” answered Bella, with an evil grin.

 

……………………………………………………………………………

 

8

He had resigned himself to accepting that this was the life he would have to settle for, enslaved by rats with no escape from the galley seemingly available.

 

In the days that followed, Stanley foraged for enough food to fill six rat bellies and satisfy his own requirements. He was able to collect sufficient quantities to keep his overseers happy and leave the results of his daily endeavours behind the oven for them each night. The doods left various scraps of every description around the galley, including slices of carrot, cabbage leaves, soggy overripe tomatoes, chunks of cheese, crusts of bread, fruit portions and morsels of meat. Sometimes his tormentors complained that their mouse servant’s choice of fare was not up to standard and threats to his immediate welfare would be directed at him.

He had resigned himself to accepting that this was the life he would have to settle for, enslaved by rats with no escape from the galley seemingly available. The days became weeks as the ship ploughed across the sea to its destination. But destinations had no meaning to Stanley in his burdensome little world. He wanted to be free from his captors and be left alone to do as he pleased again.

Events took a sudden turn, however, when one afternoon Stanley, thinking the coast was clear, ventured on to the work surface where food was prepared. As he busied himself gathering crusts of bread to provide for the hungry band of rats, to his horror a dood arrived on the scene and spotted him. Panicking, Stanley didn’t know which way to turn and tried to make a run for it. He didn’t notice that a second dood had also entered the galley and calmly grabbed the frightened mouse by the tail.

“Don’t you dare bite me!” growled the second dood dangling Stanley in front of his comrade’s eyes, “else I’ll feed you to the sharks!”

Stanley had never heard of sharks but he was convinced that an encounter with one  was not recommended.

“What are you gonna do with ‘im?” asked the first dood.

“Well, I ain’t seen a black and white mouse before; they’re always grey. I think I’ll put the critter in a cage.”

“You’re not gonna let this one get away, like the last one, are ye?” said the first dood.

“Naa! Of course not. Anyway, I ain’t seen that one since. Perhaps he fell overboard, ‘cos last I saw of him he was running along the deck like a streak o’ lightning.”

With that, Stanley was taken to what he learned was the chief cook’s quarters on the ship and placed inside a small wooden cage, which his custodian kept on a shelf. Later, he was given a dish containing porridge oats and which were mixed with water. As he nibbled away at this treat, he thought about the rats. They would be angry at finding him absent and their source of food having dried up. He thought about Marley, too and wondered if he was the mouse that might have fallen overboard, like the dood had said. He imagined his friend being gobbled up by a shark and tried not to think any more about it.

 

……………………………………………………………………..

 

 

 

 

9

The cage in which he was imprisoned did not afford much space. He didn’t mind that as long as his food supply was maintained……….

 

It was hard for Stanley to tell how long he had been holed up in the ship. True, he could sense the swaying of the vessel as it ploughed onwards through heavy seas until it reached its destination, but its jerky movements didn’t worry the little mouse. At one point in the journey he heard a dood say that the mighty vessel on which he was a passenger, had steamed through the Panama Canal for the first time. Though Stanley was aware that this event was causing some excitement among the doods, he didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

There was also a lot of activity soon after the ‘tub,’ as the rats had described the ship a few weeks ago, came to a stop, at long last. Doods were hurrying everywhere as the ship came to rest. Stanley watched and listened carefully, to find out what was going on. He had heard the words ‘Los Angeles’ mentioned a number of times. This was the port of destination. Many doods were disembarking, and cargo was being unloaded with the use of cranes.

Stanley wondered if he was ever going to be given food again for there were no doods to be seen. The cage in which he was imprisoned did not afford much space. He didn’t mind that as long as his food supply was maintained. Several more hours later, however, his overseer returned and picked up the cage, Stanley with it, and left the ship to board a horse drawn wagon. Stanley watched as his master sat down next to the driver and placed the cage at his side.

The wagon was carrying a number of crates with labels attached. Though Stanley did not know it, each label was addressed to Hollywood Film Studios. As soon as the driver  cracked his whip, the horses set off pulling their heavy load. The road along which the wagon proceeded was very bumpy; it was much more uncomfortable than travelling on board the ship, Stanley thought. His only concern, however, was how hungry he had become and he longed for his dood mentor to thrust a juicy segment of corn on the cob through the bars of the cage for him to nibble. His guardian, however, was occupied in earnest conversation with the wagon driver.

An hour later, the wagon came to a halt outside a large building. Here, the horses were tethered to a post and given water to drink. Stanley seldom sought water for himself, in point of fact, as he was able to absorb it through the food he ate. Right then, he just wanted his carer to feed him and satisfy his desperate hunger.

Soon, a number of doods appeared from a large doorway in the front of the building and began unloading the crates from the wagon. Stanley was scared, seeing all these strangers passing to and fro, especially when their labours resulted in the wagon shaking violently at every movement.

All of a sudden, there was loud thud at the back of the wagon. The horses looked up, more out of curiosity than fright. Stanley looked around more in fright than curiosity. A crate had slipped from the grasp of one of the doods, causing one end to land back on the floor of the cart. It was a minor distraction but it sent Stanley’s cage toppling off the end of the wagon’s seat and crashing to the ground. As a result, one of the cage bars, made from bamboo, split and afforded the little black and white mouse the opportunity to squeeze by the damaged strut and effect his escape.

This he did before his captor, whom he could not see when he looked up from his new perspective, realised his furry prisoner had disappeared. At first, Stanley ducked under one of the stationary wheels and peered around him. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to run, without being seen but with all the activity going on, namely the unloading of the crates, he decided to take his chance and sneak into the building under the noses of the doods. He scurried as fast as he could, twice nearly being trampled upon and bringing an end to his adventure, into the darkened interior of the building.

Stanley tried to conceal himself behind boxes and clutter but he didn’t feel safe with so many doods around. He spotted a staircase nearby and inched his way in that direction. The stairs were easy to manage and the little mouse scrambled to the top as fast as he could. He could hear some voices but there was no apparent danger so he began an exploration of the upper level on which he now found himself.

 

………………………………………………………………………

 

10

Stanley froze until his eyes adjusted to the gloom. There in front of him was a tarantula spider………….

 

He could smell food, which mice were very good at doing and began looking for its source. After slinking in and out of three empty offices, he spotted an open door through which light emanated so he moved cautiously in that direction. He had hit on the room where doods helped themselves to coffee and doughnuts.

As no one was around, Stanley clambered up to the work surface and began sniffing here and there until, to his delight, he came across an opened packet of cookies. Without further ado, he dragged one out and began nibbling away rapidly for he was desperately hungry by now. After gnawing his way through half a cookie, he decided to search for a hiding place where he might take the other half to eat later. Just then, he heard footsteps and, gripping the remains of the cookie in his tiny mouth, he descended to the floor and concealed himself behind a waste paper basket.

A dood entered the room and began preparing himself a drink. At that moment, Stanley spied a gap under a cupboard, which was slightly raised off the floor by four wooden feet. It was an ideal retreat for a very small creature and so, unnoticed, he hurried across the room and took refuge there. After he had rested he decided he would explore some more but was unsure which direction to take. A sudden movement nearby caused his ears to prick up. He turned around and, peered into the dimness beyond. He approached the spot that the sound came from with caution. As he got closer, there was another slight movement. Stanley froze until his eyes adjusted to the gloom. There in front of him was a tarantula spider. Two of its eight eyes were closed as if infected in some way. Its amplified body sagged on the floor and it looked as if its legs had given up. It tried to move but didn’t seem able to.

“Are you ok?” Stanley asked.

“No,” said the spider, weakly.

“Oh, that’s sad,” said Stanley. “Who or – or what are you?”

“I’m a spider; no, a tarantula and my name is Doreen.”

“Oh,” said Stanley, “I’m Stanley. I - I’ve never met a tarantula before.”

“Just as well,” said the other, “otherwise you wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.”

“Oh,” said Stanley, now wide eyed.

“But you needn’t worry about me,” said Doris, “I’m on my last legs – all eight of them, as a matter of fact.”

“Oh dear, can I do anything for you?” asked the kindly mouse.

“You can,” replied Doreen. “I have one last request before I depart this earth.”

“Where are you going?” asked Stanley.

“You wouldn’t understand, little mouse – not until you are old yourself, like me. I want to eat one last meal.”

“Would you like the rest of my cookie?” Stanley offered.

“No thank you, Stanley.”

“Then what is it you would like to eat?”

“I’d settle for a cricket. Crickets are the only thing I eat.”

“A cricket?” exclaimed Stanley. “What’s a cricket?”

“Crickets are insects that chirp incessantly at night time. You must have heard them.” Doreen explained.

“Where can I obtain one?” asked Stanley.

“You won’t catch one,” said Doreen. “There’s a box in that cupboard, the other side of the room, the only one that the door doesn’t shut properly. Inside the box are a lot of - uh, dead ones. Dead crickets. The doods used to catch them and feed them to me when I was a prisoner in a glass tank. The tank is in another room. I escaped from it a long while ago and they have never been able to find me since. You see, I was once a film star, you know. Well of course you don’t know, silly me. The doods used me in a film but have had no use for me since. I have always known where they keep the box of crickets and have helped myself under cover of night time. I can’t manage it anymore; I haven’t been able to move for days or nights as I’m too ill and weary.”

“Never mind,” said Stanley, “I’ll go and fetch you a - er, dead cricket, as soon as the coast is clear.”

Although there were now two doods making themselves drinks, Stanley was able to dart across the room unseen. Fortunately, the area wasn’t that well lit and he was able to sneak inside the only cupboard whose door was ajar. Safely out of sight, he looked for a box. There was only one in there. As he stretched to peep over the box’s cardboard edge, wondering what crickets looked like, he accidentally tipped it over, making a slight noise. Crickets there were none; the container was empty.

He heard one of the doods striding towards him and he quickly hid behind some of the clutter that was occupying the rest of the space in the cupboard. The door of the cupboard opened and the dood looked inside. Stanley could hear the light breathing of the individual who was now crouched and silently casting her eyes over the cupboard’s interior, where somewhere among the contents a frightened mouse had concealed itself.

“What is it, Rita?” the other dood called across to his companion.

The crouching dood paused, then straightened the box. “Nothing,” she answered.

She reached further into the cupboard and, while Stanley’s heart beat increased uncontrollably, she plucked a Dixie cup from out of the untidy assortment of odds and ends, almost touching the little mouse’s nose, before pulling herself up and rejoining her colleague, where she began pouring coffee into the newly acquired paper container.

Stanley sighed to himself and thought about Doreen, the tarantula, who was going to be very disappointed that his little furry friend’s quest had proved fruitless. The breathless mouse made his way back to the spider stealthily and reported the news to her.

……………………………………………………………………………….

11

He turned a corner, further along the corridor and found another room that was empty, this time a nice tidy office, not that mice cared about tidiness……….

 

“I’m sorry,” said Doreen, “you will have to speak up, I can’t hear you. I see you haven’t brought me a cricket.”

“There were no crickets, the box was empty,” explained Stanley.

“Come closer, I still can’t hear what you say,” said Doreen.

Stanley approached Doreen warily because he feared she was probably angry.

“Closer, mouse!” snapped the tarantula.

Stanley moved to within a centimetre of the ailing spider and looked worryingly at its eight eyes – or rather, the six that were open. All of a sudden, one of Doreen’s legs lashed out, trapping her black and white helper and holding him firmly. Stanley didn’t know what to do, Doreen’s action took him by surprise since she hadn’t appeared well enough to make even the slightest move.

“What are you doing?” cried Stanley, as the tarantula dragged what had now become her prey towards its inevitable end. “You have tricked me and after I have tried to help you!”

But Stanley was not ready to be sucked into the mouth of an oversized arachnid and struggled to get free. Try as he might, however, Doreen held on to her anticipated meal and Stanley guessed what the outcome was going to be.

Seeing the remaining half of his cookie lying within his reach, he grabbed it with what strength he had left and slammed it into the face of his enemy, causing the loss of another of its eyes.

The shock of the cookie portion smacking into her face caused Doreen to momentarily ease her grip on Stanley. The little mouse seized the opportunity to release himself from the hairy leg that had held him trapped. He fled from his hiding place and made in the direction of the doorway, not caring if he was spotted by the two doods, at that moment drinking their coffee. Stanley’s flight, however, caught the eye of Rita, the lady who had come close to an encounter with him earlier.

“Did you see that?” said Rita.

“What?” replied the other dood.

“I think it was a mouse,” said his colleague “and I’m sure it went out the door.”

The two doods stepped into the corridor and peered in both directions but couldn’t see Stanley. The little wanderer was looking for a new home, one where there were no scary creatures that might threaten to eat him, no rats to bully him, no dogs and no cats.

He turned a corner, further along the corridor and found another room that was empty, this time a nice tidy office, not that mice cared about tidiness. Stanley was only interested in his own welfare and immediately started looking around for a hidey hole. He managed to reach a bookshelf, near a large desk. There was a gap behind the row of books. It formed a mini corridor, along which Stanley could move freely up and down. Although he could hear voices and the noises doods made as they went about their business, he was well hidden and seemed out of danger.

Stanley rested for many hours, ignoring the sound of the doods who kept coming in and out of the office. Night fell and with it came an eery silence. He didn’t think that there was anything to fear and emerged from his new place of safety to explore his surroundings. He clambered into a waste paper basket and there found a juicy apple core which provided his next meal.

A few days later and a few more apple cores consumed, along with sandwich crusts salvaged from the waste paper container, Stanley was feeling contented. He figured that not having to search hard for food, seeing as there was a sufficient supply in the trash every day, it was safe to consider the bookshelf his new home. With that in mind, he slept better, so much so that of a morning not even the cleaner going about her duties, woke him.

 

………………………………………………………………….

 

12

He appeared deep in thought before rising from his chair, giving the motionless Stanley a thoughtful glance, heading out of the office and hurrying down the corridor………..

 

Before long, however, his sleeping soundly failed to alert Stanley to the danger of discovery. There came a morning when the dood – the man whose office and desk it was - strolled up to the bookshelf and cast his eyes along the row of reading material in front of him. Finding what he wanted, which happened to be F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, he plucked the chosen book from its place only to gasp at the sight of a little black and white mouse fast asleep behind the vacant space.  

The dood stared at Stanley’s tiny sleeping form for a long time, while the mouse remained undisturbed. He sat down at his desk then, from a drawer, he removed a booklet and began thumbing through it. He appeared deep in thought before rising from his chair, giving the motionless Stanley another glance, heading out of the office and hurrying down the corridor.

The man returned shortly with another dood and pointed to the peaceful Stanley,

“Hey, Mr. Disney,” said the second dood, “he’s cute……er, is he dead?”

“No, he’s not dead, Joe. You can see him breathing when you get close up…….. He’s got big ears, hasn’t he.”

Roy Disney appeared in the doorway. “Am I interrupting something, Walter?” he asked his brother. “No Roy, come and see this.”

Roy Disney wandered over to take a look at whatever had captured the attention of the other two. “It’s a mouse, Walter – a mouse! What’s so special about it?”

“It’s black and white, for a start, Roy.”

“So are all our films, Walter.”

“Yes but when we change to colour - sooner than you think, big brother - we could use a fresh character to give our image a boost, and this mouse, right here, gives me an idea.”

“I dunno, Walter. What can you do with a mouse?”

“I wonder how long it’s been hiding there, behind your book collection, Walter,” said Joe. He stared at the sleeping rodent again. “Mice don’t live for very long and certainly don’t travel far.”

Roy and Joe left Walt Disney to dream - a dream that one day might become a reality. He replaced the book he had taken off the shelf, not knowing if he had woken Stanley in the process. He returned to his desk, picked up the booklet and commenced sketching an idea that he thought might change his life and the fortunes of his film studio, maybe forever. He began by drawing two large black ears and a face that was white.

Walt Disney never laid eyes on Stanley again. The little mouse would have become restless in a short time and moved on. If, for some reason, he had made an impression on his admirer, he would never know anything about it.  Neither did he recall any of his adventures. Mice have instincts, true, but short memories. Stanley was ready to look for a mate and start a family, but not before he had found a suitable box, just like the one in which he was born and where his incredible journey began.

 

THE END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: November 11, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Barrie Christian. All rights reserved.

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