We caught a ride on a gull.
Gull feathers are a bit closer and tighter than pigeon feathers, and he had a little string tied around his body so we’d have something to hold onto. He dropped from the pigeon stand, circled north, then pumped his wings and we soared over the frozen river toward the Canadian Museum of History.
Through the hazy air, the museum architecture looked even more otherworldly than it normally did. He dropped us off at the side of the building, after carefully making sure no human footprints decorated the snow there. A line of mouse tracks lead us across the snow to a crack in the wall. Just beyond the crack, we found a rickety mouse-sized staircase going up. A face appeared near the top.
“Oh! Oh! Bonjour!” The mouse was unclothed, as non-Councilmice usually were. She was a brown house mouse, with old, patchy fur.
“We’re with the Micean Council.” Dichall held out his red bead.
“Right. Thank you for coming. I’m Veronique Hardcover. I watch over the museum. This way, please!” She led us to a large basement room with a water boiler. We snuggled down on an old pillow in a corner, out of sight of the human who was rummaging around. “Water?” Veronique held out a thimble.
Dichall got introductions and refreshment out of the way, then got down to business. “What have you seen, Veronique?”
“The museum has a special area for kids. A place where they can touch things, you know. There’s a Market Bazar section, with play food stands from different cultures. I was watching the youngsters the other day, and some of them seemed to be getting hurt.”
Gretchen leaned forward. “What were they doing?”
“Sometimes they’d reach behind something, or in something, you know, somewhere they couldn’t see, and then yell and pull their hand out. Sometimes they’d suck on their finger like it smarted.”
“Ja. Sounds like pain-eaters. Maybe. Any blood?”
“Not that I could smell. It’s been going on for some days now. The staff thought it might be mice. They’ve laid traps. I know where they all are, though.” She closed her eyes and nodded. “We can walk around them.”
I stood. “Let’s check it out.”
We accompanied Veronique through secret passages in the curving walls to a small hole at the top of a hanging light. Scrambling down the cord, we settled onto the shade and observed the room.
Below us, I could see a miniature international market. The museum was about to close, and the parents were trying to get their kids to wrap it up, with varying degrees of success.
A shriek split the air and we jumped.
“There!” I spotted the hurt child and pointed.
She was rubbing her hand and looking at a shelf covered with plastic vegetables. She inhaled, eyes wide, but instead of the wail we braced for, her face abruptly went slack.
“Bizarre…” Veronique shook her head.
“That’s a classic response to a pain-eater.” Gretchen waved a paw toward the child. “See, they create pain so they can consume it. When they consume it, it goes away.”
Confusion skittered across Veronique’s face. “So… Wait a minute… Pain-eaters reduce pain in their victims?” I was wondering the same thing.
Gretchen nodded. “They could do a lot of good, and sometimes do when they have the mind to.” She sighed while shaking her head. “But often they get lazy, and instead of searching for pain, they create it.”
“Oh. Oh dear…”
“Ja. It’s like cooking dinner.”
The incident seemed to motivate the other kids to get a move on.
Veronique nodded, still looking a little shocked. “I thought it was just going to be spiders or something.” If only.
When the last child had gone, we left Veronique sitting on the lamp and jumped to the ground—a drop that would have broken a dog’s legs, but we mice are small enough that drops from any height are safe. I led the way in, scoping a circuitous route through the scenery up to the shelf. We readied our weapons, inching forward to peek behind a fake can of beans.
Sitting in the dark, with its back up against the shelf, was a faerie about an inch in height. It looked like it was made of two black pom poms stuck together, with fly-like wings extending out of its back. Each of its legs and arms ended with three, needle-sharp digits. Probably what it was poking kids with. It looked like it was picking its nails. Its red eyes sensed movement and shifted to us.
“Micean Council!” It yelled as it scrambled to its feet and fled.