A while, and a short nap, later, the human reached into the handbag. We gingerly held up her keys, and as soon as she had the slightest grip on them, we let go.
I must have been breathing hard, because Gretchen rested her paw on mine. “She must be home. Don’t worry!” Her voice was so soft I almost couldn’t hear it. “We do this all the time.”
Once inside, the human hung the leather bag on a doorknob. We looked up at it, swaying back and forth until the bag stopped swinging. I smelled the dog, Lolabelle.
Dichall held up one finger, his ear cocked. We heard the human walk out of the room. Lolabelle was easy to track by the clicking of her nails on the hardwood floor. He nodded. “Okay, up and out.”
Single file we climbed out of the leather bag and, blinking in the bright light, saw that we were in a small hallway across from a coat rack. As we landed on the floor, I spotted black cat hair. A shiver shot up my spine and the feeling of being too exposed crashed down on me. My kettle corn breakfast turned in my stomach.
I sniffed the air and smelled the child. “Over there” I pointed to a door some feet away. “Let’s go.”
My fellow Councilmice squeaked agreement and we started cautiously toward it, but as we got to the opening that lead into the living room, we froze.
There, lounging on a comfy chair just inside the room, was a cat. A black cat. It jerked it’s head up, glaring at us, and leapt from the chair.
I glanced around. Nowhere to hide!
“Micean Council!” We all squeaked, holding up our red beads at the same time (I was getting a little quicker on the draw).
The cat hissed and arched her back, towering over us, baring a mouth full of fangs. “You think the Council means anything in here? This is my house!”
Dichall drew himself up and stared into the cat’s eyes. “We’re here to help your human girl.” His strong, sure voice, combined with his fearless attitude, caused the cat the blink and pull back slightly.
I had to admit it, Dichall was one brave mouse.
“We don’t want any trouble with you, ma’am.” Gretchen held her paws out in front of her.
The cat released a few deep, sonorous chuckles. “You’re not in much of a position to negotiate. I’m a mouser of six years’ experience, but I admire your guts. Tell you what. I’ll take one of you for my jaws, to leave on my human’s pillow, and I’ll let the others live. I’ll even let you pick which one dies!”
Dichall stared the cat down, unfazed. “What’s your name?”
“Well, Sophie, your little human in there is very likely being haunted by something nasty. Have you seen anything suspicious?”
Sophie’s tail twitched. I guessed she wasn’t used to mice talking back at all, let alone with such composure.
I held my paws together to keep them from shaking. The cat smell was overwhelming and my heart wanted to leap out of my chest and scamper away. “Well, have you? The life of your little human is at stake.” It took all my willpower to force words from my mouth.
The cat seemed to see me for the first time. “Uh… no.”
Gretchen nodded. “It’s probably a malevolent essence, a spirit or something, which you wouldn’t see. We’re here to deal with it, and your little human should be just fine, once we get rid of it. Now, please, stop this foolishness and lead us into the child’s room so we can do our jobs.”
The cat let out a soft, guttural meow and pointed a paw at us, her claws showing – sharp and deadly. “Now you listen here….”
I clenched my teeth. Let’s do this. In one smooth motion, I drew Grim’s blade and swiped it across the tender toe pads of Sophie’s extended paw. My blade emerged bloody.
The cat squealed in pain and fell over herself in surprise. She struggled to her feet, holding one paw in the air. “You little…!”
Dichall drew his weapon, a dog’s tooth tied to the end of a toothpick, at the same time Gretchen readied her carpenter’s nail. We stood steady, three armed Councilmice, united.
“We tried reasoning with you.” It was remarkable how intimidating Dichall sounded all of a sudden. “If you want to do it the hard way, take your best shot. I assure you, there’s a lot more pain where that came from. However, we would much prefer you treat us as allies, and let us help your human.” He really is a good talker. Why had he been so rude to me?
I wiped the cat’s blood off of my blade on my cloak, trying to look nonchalant, as Sophie glanced from one mouse to the other. I could see her world turning upside down in her widening emerald eyes. My heart actually went out to her a little. My world had been recently turned upside down, too.
The cat licked her paw, hatred for all of us oozing from her. Her face wrinkled into a snarl for several seconds, then she relaxed and pointed her tail toward a door. “Yes, it’s probably best that you help her. Her room’s in there.” She turned her back on us, and limped back into the living room.
Dichall nodded once, checked to see that there were no humans coming. “Let’s go.”
I followed numbly. Had we really just made a cat stand down?