This is the last story in the series. If you want to start at the beginning, head over here.
A Place of Their Own
After a while, Perchi stopped crying.
She wiped her eyes with her paws and crawled over to where her battered needle had landed. She tried to pick it up, but winced. She must have landed on her wrist wrong.
She picked the needle up with her other paw and sheathed it.
The rats were long-gone through the broken window, and there was clearly nothing Perchi could do against them anyway. She trudged to a ledge overlooking Mouse Place and sat down.
“Aren’t you a little small to be a guard mouse?” asked a voice.
Startled, Perchi turned. Her heart leaped to her throat, because she thought at first that the figure behind her was one of the rats, returned to finish her off. When he stepped forward into the glow of the city below, Perchi realized he was actually just the biggest mouse she’d ever seen.
“I’m not,” Perchi admitted. “I’m not a guard mouse.”
The tears came again. She started to wipe her eyes, but the pain in her wrist made her flinch.
“Are you hurt?” the big mouse asked.
“I think it’s broken,” Perchi said, holding her wrist up. She’d never had a broken bone before, but this sure hurt a lot.
“Let me see it,” said the big mouse. “Broken bones are my specialty.”
Perchi winced as the giant’s surprisingly gentle hands worked her wrist back and forth.
“Not broken,” he said, taking a bandage from his pouch. “Only sprained. I’ll bandage it up for stability, but just try to stay off of it for a while.”
“I’m Perchi,” said Perchi.
“Grisgo,” said the big mouse. He sat down next to her.
For a while, neither spoke.
“If you aren’t a guard mouse,” Grisgo said, “why are you up here alone with a sword?”
“I always wanted to be one,” Perchi said. “But that’s not the job they assigned me.”
“What job did you get?”
Perchi sighed. “Food management.”
“That sounds like an awesome job,” said Grisgo.
“It’s not.” She looked out over the city. “I wish I were big like you,” she said.
“Well, I wish I were brave like you.”
Perchi’s heart swelled at that, and she had to clinch her jaw against tears. She and Grisgo looked at each other for a long moment, and Perchi thought she recognized something in the big mouse’s face. Something desperate.
“You work in the hospital?” she asked.
Grisgo nodded. “They make fun of me,” he said. “For being so big.”
Perchi shook her head. “That’s so dumb. Why is it so hard for anyone to find their place?”
“I don’t know,” said Grisgo.
They sat together and looked out over Mouse Place for a while, thinking of things too big for mice to think about.
“Thanks for bandaging my arm,” said Perchi.
“Thanks for liking me even though I’m big,” said Grisgo.
“Don’t be an idiot,” said Perchi.
Grisgo chuckled. “I like you, Perchi.”
Perchi smiled. “I like you too, Grisgo,” she said.
They both heard something behind them and turned.
“Now this is a mouse worth eating!” cried the rat with the club. “Boys, come look at this!”
Perchi and Grisgo froze.
Three other rats materialized from the darkness, their fur wet with rainwater. One stepped forward and poked Grisgo in the stomach. “We could make a real feast out of him, I’d say.”
“Grab him. Add him to the haul.”
“Wait,” Grisgo said. “You don’t want to eat me!”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” said the rat with the club.
Before she could think, Perchi was on her feet with her needle drawn. Her sprained wrist ached from the weight, but she held it steady. “No,” she said. “He stays.”
“Don’t make me school you again, girl,” the big rat said. He nodded to the others. “Take him.”
They grabbed Grisgo, but Perchi leaped forward, her blade flashing.
Still too slow. In spite of all her practice, the hammered needle was just too clumsy in her grip.
The big rat deflected the thrust, then hammered his club down on her injured wrist.
Perchi cried out, and her sword clattered on the ground. The rat picked it up and bent it over his knee. Then he threw it off the ledge and it disappeared into the city below.
The other rats dragged Grisgo into the dark, toward the broken window. “Perchi!” he screamed.
“I’m coming!” Perchi shouted.
“Right,” said the big rat, chuckling. He put a paw to Perchi’s chest. “You’re just one mouse.” He kicked hard, and Perchi toppled backwards over the edge.
She fell screaming. She fell through hung cloth and cheap balconies, smashing and rebounding off rooftops. Her long green scarf tangled on a nail and almost choked her, but it ripped at the last second and Perchi kept falling.
She landed in the dust of the basement floor among a hail of splinters. Right beside her lay her useless, bent sword.
Far above, a rat’s laughing face peered down at her before vanishing. Grisgo yelled again, but the distance was too great to make out what he said.
Perchi gritted her teeth and tried to rise. She put her weight on the wrong wrist, though, and fell right back down into the dust. Her whole body was bruised, and every part of her felt broken.
It was too much. It was all too much. She couldn’t even move.
Not quite yet.
Perchi lay on her back and breathed. Hot tears welled in her throat, but she swallowed them down.
She couldn’t stand by and let this happen. She couldn’t just let them drag Grisgo back to wherever they lived and eat him.
But what else could she really do? She was only one mouse, after all. And an extra small one, at that. She didn’t even have a sword anymore.
She closed her eyes and made a decision.
She wasn’t giving up yet.
Something warm fell across her face, and Perchi realized the sun was rising. Somehow, after bouncing off several of mirrored surfaces, a single beam of light had trickled all the way down to the bottom of the basement where she lay.
Perchi rolled over and rose on shivering legs.
The light caught on a strange thing, and Perchi limped over to get a better look.
She was near the wine rack, and one of the bottles had something odd jammed into the cork. It was blue and dusty, but the sunlight glinted off metal.
Perchi reached out with her good paw and pulled. What came free of the cork was a blade just her size. She couldn’t be sure, but it looked like a thumbtack that’s plastic had been ground almost completely away.
She dusted the tack and held it aloft in the sunlight. The battering and hammering it must have endured in its long and strange life had fashioned the tack into a short sword just Perchi’s size. This would do.
She shoved the blade into her sheath and started climbing the basement wall.
Halfway up, she found her green scarf caught on a nail. She untangled it, wrapped it back around her neck, and kept climbing.
When she reached the top, sunlight blazed through the basement window. The storm had passed. Brilliant beads of water dripped from the broken window and studded the grass outside.
The climb had somehow strengthened Perchi’s beaten body rather than weaken it, and when she burst into the daylight, she was running.
The yard stood wild and expansive all around her. She had no idea where the rats lived, but she found scuffle marks in the dirt where Grisgo had kicked and resisted. She followed these signs in a sprint.
Even as she ran her mind was racing. She was still just one mouse. One mouse armed with a tack, for crying out loud.
She’d nearly made it across the sandbox when her foot caught on something and she went down hard. Only instead of hitting sand, her body landed on a rusted sheet of partially buried tin with a thud.
She groaned as her body reminded her how abused it was. She started to rise, but the tin surface suddenly shifted beneath her, damp sand sliding away. With a squeal of ancient hinges, the flat tin became a slope, and she tumbled down it to land in the sand.
“Who do I have to fight this time?” asked a weary voice.
A plastic soldier climbed out of the tin box and looked around, squinting.
“Hello?” Perchi said.
“You,” said the green soldier. “Are you the enemy?”
“I’m Perchi,” said Perchi.
“Private Joseph Mandella,” said the tired-sounding soldier. He extended a hand.
Perchi shook it.
“Right. So, who are we fighting?” Private Mandella asked.
Behind him, a small army of plastic soldiers began climbing out of the tin, high-fiving each other and checking their weapons.
Perchi studied them, her quick mind fitting together pieces. “Rats,” she said suddenly. “We’re fighting rats.”
Private Mandella raised a plastic eyebrow. “Never fought rats before.”
“They took my friend,” Perchi said. “They’re going to eat him.”
“Eat him?” Mandella said, seeming fully awake for the first time.
“Please,” Perchi said. “Please help me get him back.”
“A fight with actual stakes,” Mandella muttered. His plastic eyes locked with Perchi’s. “Let’s go.”
Perchi charged across the yards, following whatever evidence of the rats she could find. A cheerful plastic army marched behind her, ready for battle.
Eventually, Perchi lost the trail. The grass around the bird bath was just too thick–not enough dirt to make out tracks. She cast around desperately but couldn’t find a thing.
Then the worst thing imaginable happened, and Perchi’s stomach and her mouth went dry with terror.
A cat’s face loomed through the grass, bright eyes bolted to Perchi. It moved forward, but Perchi drew her tack and thrust it out. “Get back!” she shouted.
The cat laughed, which is just about the scariest thing a mouse can hear.
“A mouse with a dagger,” said the cat. “You think I’m afraid of you?”
“You should be,” said Private Mandella as he and his men emerged from the grass. “This mouse isn’t alone.”
The cat studied the plastic soldiers. “A mouse with a toy army. I don’t see how this is any more threatening.”
“Look, we don’t want to fight you,” Perchi said. “We’re on our own business. Just please, let us pass.”
“We’re gonna kill us some rats!” one of Mandella’s men shouted. “Woo hoo!”
Mandella shot him a stern look.
“Rats?” said the cat, visibly softening. “You want to kill the rats?”
It turned out that this cat’s name was Taffeta, and that she and her kittens had recently been made homeless by the rats, who had taken up residence in the old garden shed at the back of the property.
“But they’ve got it too well fortified,” Taffeta said.
Mandella and his men had sketched out a diagram of the shed in the dirt and were examining it for possible tactical entry points.
“Guard rats are positioned here, here, and here,” said Taffeta. “There’s just too many of them. I mean, we’re cats and not even we could get back in.”
“We need the element of surprise,” Mandella said, almost to himself.
“The roof,” said one of the kittens.
“Hush, Velvet,” said Taffeta.
“No, wait,” said Perchi, drawing as close to the kitten as she dared. It was holding its paw like it was injured, but a cat was a cat. “What do you mean ‘the roof’?”
“There’s holes all in it,” said Velvet. “Every time it would rain, it would drip all over us.”
Perchi squinted at the shed rising in the distance. “That’s our entry point. We come at them from above.” She turned to Mandella. “They’ll never expect it.”
“I like it,” said Mandella.
“There’s no way to get up there, though,” said Taffeta.
“How do you know?” Perchi asked.
Taffeta narrowed her eyes. “I’m a cat. Climbing is what I do. The siding is too slick. You can’t get any purchase.”
Mandella scratched his helmet. “There has to be some way.”
“Excuse me,” said a small voice nearby.
The mouse, the four cats, and the army of plastic soldiers all turned to see a lone bee hovering by the bird bath.
“I hope you don’t mind me eavesdropping, but I’m afraid I don’t have much else to do. I… lost my hive, you see… But I think I might have the solution to your problem.”
Everyone present with eyebrows raised at least one at the bee.
“Please,” said the bee. “I really just want to be helpful.”
Later, Private Joseph Mandella studied the Pollen Launcher 2000 with extreme distrust.
“I admit, it’s not very good at what I invented it for,” said Macy the bee, rubbing her legs together nervously, “but for a mouse and plastic soldiers… It might just do the trick.”
“That looks extremely dangerous,” said Taffeta.
“We’ll do it,” said Perchi. “Just show us how.”
Once they’d rolled the Pollen Launcher 2000 into position outside the rat’s shed, Perchi and the soldiers all piled into the makeshift catapult’s bucket.
“Everyone know the plan?” Perchi asked.
Taffeta and the kittens nodded, and the soldiers saluted.
“Right,” Perchi said. She turned to face the roof and drew her tack.
If it was possible for a tack to gleam with excitement and purpose, this one seemed to.
“Pull the lever, Macy.”
The bee lunged down hard on the lever, and the catapult launched one mouse and a storm of soldiers into the air.
As they flew through the air, many of the soldiers shouted and whooped, but Mandella and Perchi remained stern-faced and controlled.
They all landed on the roof in a clatter.
“Go!” Perchi shouted.
The soldiers leaped toward the hole in the roof, assembling themselves into a chain using a trick they had learned after a battle with some plastic monkeys years ago. Perchi slid down the chain of soldiers into the cool dark of the shed.
When she reached the bottom, dozens of stunned rats stared at her from every direction. Her tack gleamed.
“Now!” Perchi yelled.
The chain of soldiers dangling from the roof disassembled, falling in among the rats all over and engaging them with bayonets, fists, and knees.
It was the hardest battle Mandella’s army had every faced. Even with the element of surprise and equal numbers, the rats simply outweighed the little plastic men. Soldiers tumbled off shelves and flew hard into walls, only to hop right back up and gleefully charge back into battle.
Perchi was in her element. With a blade she could actually control, all her training with toothpicks growing up came back full-force. The rats were bigger and stronger, their clubs and makeshift swords powerful and heavy, but they had always relied on brute strength. They were nearly defenseless against skill and agility.
Perchi practically danced through them, dodging clumsy strikes and disarming rats left and right. She took them three and four at a time, and they couldn’t touch her.
Parry. Evade. Thrust. Riposte.
She nicked and jabbed at them. Rats everywhere howled and clutched at their paws, unable to pick their weapons back up. Some headed for the door.
“Perchi!” shouted Grisgo.
Perchi turned and saw Grisgo bound with floss and thrown in among a heap of stolen food. The big rat who had kicked her loomed over him.
Perchi’s heart caught fire. She fought through the fray, leaping over rats distracted by soldiers and jabbing their backs and sides on the way down. In the chaos and confusion, rats poured out of the garden shed in terror, many of them limping.
The big rat turned as she arrived, and Perchi saw a flash of recognition in his face, followed by anger. He swung his club at her head, and she ducked it easily. She tumbled between his legs, cutting his feet and gouging his tail as she rose behind him. He howled in pain.
In the time it took the big rat to turn, Perchi had already reached Grisgo and cut the floss binding him.
“You came for me,” Grisgo said.
“Of course I did,” said Perchi. “Don’t be an idiot. Now, let’s–”
The club took her hard in the side of the head, and Perchi went flying. Her blade tumbled from her grip. It rolled off the edge of the shelf and dropped out of view. Perchi’s head spun, and there seemed to be two of everything.
“Stupid little mouse,” the big rat growled. Blood dripped from his legs where Perchi had nicked him. “You think you can come into my home and steal my food?” He towered over Perchi. She scrabbled for her tack, but she couldn’t think straight.
The big rat raised his club high over his head. “Just who do you think you are?”
Perchi closed her eyes, bracing herself.
“She’s my friend!” Grisgo screamed.
Perchi opened her eyes just in time to see Grisgo throw all of his mousy bulk into the unsuspecting rat. Both grunted and tumbled off the shelf to the shed floor.
Perchi shook her head, clearing it. Weaponless, she sprinted to the edge of the shelf and leaped off.
When she landed, Grisgo and the big rat had finished their struggle. Although Grisgo was massive for a mouse, he was soft and small compared to the muscle-bound rat. The rat had found Perchi’s tack and wrestled Grisgo to the ground, the tip of the blade to his neck.
“Not one more step, mouse,” the big rat hissed.
Perchi froze. She and Grisgo locked eyes for a desperate moment.
And then, all three heard something that made their blood run cold. Out of the dark, came the low, lethal purr of a cat.
Taffeta sprang forward, and the rat bolted, taking Perchi’s blade with him. He vanished into a space behind the shelves just before the cat’s claws got to him.
Taffeta gave a frustrated huff and then sprang after another rat that fled in equal terror.
Perchi helped Grisgo up, and the two looked around the shed. The soldiers outnumbered the rats now. Perchi saw one rat stumble blindly around with more than a dozen cheering soldiers piled onto it. Now that the cat had gotten inside, more and more rats fled out the hole in the door.
“You did all this?” Grisgo asked in awe.
“Not alone,” said Perchi.
Sunlight filtered in through the patchy roof, bringing light to the dim shed. Taffeta chased a whole pack of rats out the hole in the door and dove through herself to keep pursuing them outside.
“I won’t forget this,” said a ragged voice. High on the shelf, the big rat stood panting. He pointed Perchi’s tack at them. “I’ll be back. When you least expect it, I’ll be back. I’ll eat every last one of you. The fat mouse, the kittens. Even scrawny, little you.”
Perchi clenched her jaw. She started walking toward the shelf.
“What are you doing?” Grisgo asked.
“We have to finish this,” Perchi said.
“But you don’t even have a sword!” Grisgo shouted.
“But I do have the element of surprise,” Perchi said under her breath.
She climbed the shelf in a heartbeat and stared down the big rat.
The rat glanced over to make sure the cat was still outside. “You must be out of your mind,” he said.
Perchi didn’t say anything. She stood her ground.
The rat studied her, tilting his head and making sure there was nothing about this situation he hadn’t taken into account. All he saw was a vulnerable mouse standing all alone. He roared and charged her, the bright tack raised. He lunged forward in thrust aimed straight at her face.
At the last moment, Perchi whipped the bright green scarf from her neck and gripped it in both paws. She held the cloth up like a shield, and the tack pierced the scarf all the way to the hilt. The sharp point just pricked the tip of her nose, but she’d stopped the thrust.
Perchi whipped the scarf around in a flourish, twisting the blade out of the rat’s paw and into her own.
The big rat had time to blink once in confusion before Perchi drove the point deep into his chest.
The rat fell over dead, and Perchi stood over him panting and shivering. Blood soaked her scarf and covered her blade, but it was over. Sunlight poured into the shed, and Mandella’s men chased the remaining rats out.
Perchi climbed down off the shelf, stumbled over to Grisgo, and fell into the giant mouse’s arms for a long embrace.
Taffeta and Private Mandell’s men spent the rest of the afternoon driving the rats from the yard completely, and Grisgo bandaged up all of Perchi’s new wounds. When the kittens came inside to get a look at their new/old home, Grisgo noticed one of them was limping. Fortunately, broken bones were his specialty.
After Grisgo treated little Velvet’s broken paw, he saw to the injuries of the soldiers. Taffeta was so thankful to them all that she offered to share her home with them, leaky thought it may be.
“I think I can come up with something for that,” said Macy the bee.
“I mean, I’d appreciate anything you can manage,” Taffeta said.
Macy, who had never been appreciated for anything, beamed. Over the next few days, she used honeycomb to repair all the holes in the roof so the shed wouldn’t leak anymore when it rained. Perchi and Grisgo were so impressed with this that they asked Macy to help them build a home inside the shed. Macy was happy to oblige, and she installed dozens of fascinating gizmos in the house to make everyday life easier and more interesting.
Mandella’s men ran training exercises with Taffeta’s kittens, who found stalking and fighting the little soldiers the most fun they’d ever had. Mandella himself retired, happy to watch his soldiers patrolling the yard for rats during the day and watching the stars at night through a device Macy invented called a “telescope.”
In her home with Grisgo, Perchi mounted the tack over the mantle. The tack seemed very proud and satisfied, if it were possible for tacks to feel such things.
Once upon a time there was a white cat and her kittens, a tack who became a sword, an inventive bee, a weary soldier and all of his men, and a pair of brave mice, and they all lived together in the old gardening shed at the back of the yard. It was cool during the day, and warm during the night, and dry when it rained. They may not have lived happily ever after, but they found a home in each other.