Beatrice Brownbrow dropped to all fours and wiggled through a hole into another passage. She poked her head back through and blinked. “This way!”
I took her paw, squeezed through onto the top of a pipe, and, as I scurried after her, I glanced up and spotted acorns scattered over shelves above us. I frowned. I swear I saw that one move.
As we navigated the hallways and passages, Micean Councilmice hurried by, or blocked the way, chattering loudly. And occasionally, we came upon a wounded, limping, mouse assisted by others. Beatrice stopped beside the end of a rope dangling from somewhere in the darkness above. “Here we are. Dell should be back with your gear and you can meet your other teammate. Up you go!”
We climbed up into a small room. A tea light candle on the floor, which appeared to be on its last legs, lit Dell Grim and another mouse – while also providing a small, but appreciated, bit of heat. They spoke quietly to each other and warmed their paws over the flame. I glanced at the walls, and saw scratched building plans and possible entry routes – relics of previous missions – visible behind the jumping shadows of our bodies.
“This is agent Eve Pixiedrowner,” Beatrice panted, waving one paw at me while catching her breath. “Oh, yeah, I forgot. Welcome aboard, agent.” She withdrew a red bead necklace from her pocket and tied it around my neck. This symbol of the Micean Council, so respected throughout the animal world, would keep predators from eating me. Or so I’d heard. Pride swelled in my chest.
As Beatrice pulled away, I found my hand being pumped vigorously by a wild-eyed little house mouse with a thin, spotted coat of white and brown. “Gretchen Flix!” I heard a hint of a German accent.
I wondered how she’d come to be called “Flix.”
Beatrice slapped me on the back. “Agent Flix here is going to be your mentor for this mission. I’ll let you brief her and you can all get started.” She flashed a smile at Gretchen, then scurried back down the rope and out of the room.
“Oh! We’ve got gear for you!” Gretchen dragged over a bag of stuff and dropped it between us.
I looked between the two agents, feeling somewhat bewildered. “Would somebody please tell me what this mission is?”
She paused while rifling through the bag and blinked at me. “You don’t know the mission?”
“No! I fell asleep in late November and have scarcely been awake until about an hour ago—what month is it, anyhow?”
Dell Grim glanced up. “February.”
February in Ontario. No wonder it was so cold.
“Sorry, sorry, please, take a seat. We’ll explain.” Gretchen gestured at something soft and white in the corner.
I blinked and focused on it, trying to recall similar images from the discarded catalogs and magazines I’d kept in my den. I was about to sit down when it came to me. There had been a box in the human trashcan with a picture of one of these things on it: a human sanitary napkin. “I’ll stand, thanks.”
She shrugged and went back to rifling through the bag. “We got word this afternoon from a chickadee at a day-care centre. Says the kids there are getting sick. We suspect supernatural energies at work.”
“What do you think it is?”
“We don’t know.” Dell pulled a blade out of a sheath beneath his robe. It looked like the cuticle manipulating part of a human nail clipper, but fashioned into a sabre, and shone in the candlelight. “But sicknesses are often caused by corporeal beings. We might have to kill something.” He pulled a stone from his pocket and sharpened his blade.
“Is there a weapon for me?” I looked hopefully at the gear bag.
Gretchen gave me a crooked smile and, with a flourish, drew a gleaming carpenter’s nail from the bag. She held the pointy end with one paw and rested the other end on her other forearm, presenting it to me in a courtly manner.
“It’s beautiful!” I’d never seen a nail that wasn’t rusted and covered in dirt.
“There was a spill at Home Hardware. Luckily, the council was on it before it got cleaned up. We got many great nails that day…” She looked wistfully into the distance for a moment, then snapped out of it and handed be a belt from the bag. I turned it over in my hands, seeing a small hole to hold my nail. Now I had my cloak, belt, nail, and a red bead around my neck. I stood up straighter—I felt like a real warrior!
Gretchen pulled out a backpack and handed it to me. I opened the pack and spotted a desiccated fly in the bottom. I tried to sound grateful. “Thanks.”
“It’s a flyknocker.”
I nodded like I knew what that was, but luckily she wasn’t finished: “When you invoke it, the fly will animate. It can cause auditory illusions.”
I looked at her, waiting for more.
“You know, noises. We use them to distract things. Adult humans, usually.”
“How do I… invoke it?” I turned the fly around in my paws as if it might have an “on” switch.
Gretchen smiled. She obviously loved this stuff. “Just hold it in your hands and focus on your spirit. Just picture it, like ball of light, inside your heart. Then imagine it reaching into the fly.”
I did, and the fly quivered in my hands. I yelped.
“Don’t invoke it now, though. It’s a one-use kind of thing. And so is this!” She pulled an acorn out of the bag with her chapped paws. “I’ve got an acorn trap.” I recalled the shuddering acorns we passed in the hallways. They must have trapped spirits.
Dell put away his sharpening stone. “No enchanted pine nuts?”
Gretchen shook the bag and her head. “Nope.”
Dell sighed and looked into the candle flame. “We’re having to do more and more with less and less. Come on.” He secured his sabre back in his belt. “There are sick kids who need us. I’ll tell you the plan on the way. Help us blow out this candle, Eve.”
And with the combined lung power of three mice, we huffed, and we puffed, and we blew the candle out.