The fearless bird carried us low into rush-hour traffic, weaving erratically between the cars. Darkness was rapidly falling, which meant it must have been about 4:30pm. That’s Canadian winter for you.
When we finally landed on the roof of the day care, I slid off the crow’s back and huddled on all fours, still reeling from the ride.
Dell leapt down. “Come back in two hours!”
Reginald Crazywing grumbled something inaudible and burst off in a flurry of black feathers and black magic.
“I’m not feeling too good, either.” Dell patted my back. “Now, let’s find a way in before we freeze to death.”
Humans aren’t usually too careful about mouse-proofing the roofs of old buildings, so we made it through the unfinished attic without trouble, and emerged into the warm day care itself.
A crack behind some books on a shelf served as an entrance, and we paused there, thawing and waiting until all the humans had gone.
When all was silent, we leapt on top of the books and looked around. A cloud of dust erupted into the air, and Dell sneezed, then jumped from the bookshelf down to a play structure. We followed, all of us skittering down the small slide to the floor. Another pause, then a careful creep across the carpet, looking around and sniffing the air for anything strange, ears and whiskers twitching. The reality of this mission was starting to dawn on me: there was a monster in here, and we were hunting it. I felt anxiety creeping from my toes into my chest. What have I gotten myself into?
“I don’t see anything. Do you?” I whispered to Gretchen.
“No, but I’m a shaman. I can open my eyes and mind to see the spirits, but doing it makes me vulnerable to them.” Gretchen twitched her ears, scanning the room again.
Dell pulled a small paper parcel out of his robe. “Do you want to use your magical sight or should I use my… YRCH!” – his body jerked, dragged backward by some unseen force, the paper parcel falling from his hand.
I squeaked in terror and jumped back.
Gretchen grabbed me. “It’s not a spirit―it’s just invisible! Help him!”
Go, feet! Drawing my nail from the hole in my belt, I forced them to move, and chased after Dell’s dragging body.
Before I could get to him, he lifted into the air and sailed across the room, slamming into the side of a plastic, toy airplane.
I forced myself to focus on where he’d been thrown from, and charged, kept my eyes on that spot. I charged, thrusting the point of my nail into the space I thought the invisible creature occupied. I heard its footsteps go away. Hit nothing.
“Eve, release the scranch dust!”
Scranch dust? Oh, the packet Dell dropped. Heart hammering in my chest, I backed up, swinging my nail in wide sweeps in front of me as I went. Where is that thing?
My tail hit the parcel.
It was folded like an envelope and sealed with a small bit of bubble gum. Sheathing my nail in my belt, I opened it to discover that it contained brown, normal-looking, dust. But instinctively I felt something – the way to invoke its magic.
I did so.
As the dust leapt into the air and spread, I clamped my paws over my eyes, and when I lowered them a few seconds later, the room was filled with vibrant colours, and the dust caked on the creature. It stood a gigantic six inches tall on two legs – with a snubbed snout, like an otter’s – and from its back, two additional arms protruded. One hand gripping an almost invisible knife, the shape barely discernible from a light coating of scranch dust.
I had no idea what it was.
It straddled Dell and stabbed.
Dell rolled, yelling in pain as the knife sliced through skin.
Drawing my nail, I dashed forward, followed closely by Gretchen, who was now wielding a pink coloured pencil stub she’d snatched from the floor.
The whatever-it-was grasped Dell’s cape and scuttled up the wall, dragging Dell with it. The hands at the ends of its back arms stuck to the wall like a gecko’s, and it was soon out of reach, screeching down at us.
Dell, blood dripping down his side from the wound, managed to draw his weapon and swing it savagely at one of the creature’s back arms. It bit deep, yellow blood flowing down the blade.
The creature screeched, swinging Dell against the wall. His head slammed against it, his blade knocked from his paw to the floor. My eyes widened as the drops of yellow blood, which splattered near my feet vanished, invisible once more.
High on the wall, the battle continued – the creature fighting to crush Dell’s throat against the wall, and Dell scrabbling at its wrist in a bid for freedom.
“We have to get up there!” I looked around but saw no way to do it. The wall was too slick to climb.
A soft crack startled us both, and we looked up in time to see Dell’s body tumble to the floor.
Gretchen ran to him, but he was already dead. She stood, looking up at the creature where it still clung to the wall, her paws clenched. It was wounded, and trying to brush off the scranch dust.
I put my hand on Gretchen’s shoulders. “We’ve got to get out of here! We need more mice―we can’t kill this thing!” What was I thinking, joining an elite mouse squad? My life was just fine in the woods.
Gretchen whirled around and frowned at me. “There isn’t anyone else, Eve! We have to stop it! If we don’t, those kids will get sicker and die.”
“But I can’t do it!” My voice rose in panic. “If Dell couldn’t beat that thing, than I have no chance!”
Gretchen sniffed once and her voice became deadly calm. “I’m the senior Councilmouse here, Eve Pixiedrowner, and you are a member of the Micean Council. You have a duty and I am going to hold you to it.”
“But I’m not strong enough! I shouldn’t have joined!”
“You might be right. But you did join, and what you have to do now is to reach into that terrified spirit of yours and pull it out!”
“Pull what out?”
“Something! Anything! Because it’s either us or that bogoloblin!”
I thought of Dell’s sacrifice and of the kids who’d be coming in a few hours. Of how this monster would prey on them. I thought of the eternal battle between the mice and the forces of evil, and how mice needed humans to prosper. Finally, I thought of the little boy who’d nursed me back to health when I was just a pup. I gritted my teeth and reached for Dell’s fallen blade, then drew my nail and offered it to Gretchen. “You got my back?”
“Always, sister!” Gretchen squeaked, her ears stiffening with resolve.