Behold, the third story! (If you missed the previous one, it’s right here.)
Once upon a time there was a very tiny mouse named Perchi. She had fierce green eyes and a fierce green scarf that she wore around her neck.
Perchi lived in the city of Mouse Place, which was the largest mouse city any mouse from Mouse Place had ever seen (although Mouse Place was the only place many mice from Mouse Place had ever seen).
The motto of Mouse Place was “A Place for Every Mouse, and for Every Mouse a Place.” When each mouse came of age, the council assigned them a place. For some mice, their place was to build homes. For others, their place was to study books and become very wise. Some delivered mail, some created beautiful works of art, but every single mouse had a place.
Even before her place was assigned, Perchi knew for sure what it would be. Perchi knew it was her destiny to be a guard mouse.
Guard mice dressed in armor and patrolled the upper ledges to keep Mouse Place safe from rats, cats, and other terrors of the night. They wore thimble helmets and wielded shining swords made of long, hammered needles.
Ever since she was young, Perchi had known she wanted to be a guard mouse. She practiced her swordsmanship with a splinter she’d found, and of all the mice her age, she was the very best at sparring.
When the morning of Assigning came, Perchi sprang from her downy matchbox bed with shining eyes and tail alert. She picked up her worn, blunt practice splinter and went through her exercises with it one last time. That evening, she knew, she would be putting down that wooden sword forever in exchange for a proper silver blade.
While she was waiting to go into the Assigning, Perchi could hardly contain herself. The line into the council chambers seemed to move so slowly. To pass the time, Perchi tapped her feet and mentally went through her fighting techniques.
…deflect, parry, riposte…
When her turn finally came, Perchi leaped to the center of the room.
The council looked at her dully. “Name?” said the High Councillor.
“Perchi,” said Perchi. “Soon to be the best guard in all of Mouse Place!”
The council chuckled. “You’re far too small a mouse to be a guard,” one said.
At this, Perchi felt her cheeks get hot. “I am not,” she said. “And what’s more, I’m the best sword fighter of all the new Assignees.”
The High Councillor snorted. “While that may be, it’s not the place of a girl mouse to be a guard. And even if it were, you really are quite small. Even for a girl mouse! No, no. Your place is to be… food management.”
Now Perchi’s cheeks were practically on fire. “Give me a sword,” she said, “and I’ll prove I’m good enough to be a guard mouse.”
“Perchi,” said the High Councillor, “the line is very long. It’s nothing against you personally; you just aren’t built to be a guard mouse. We need the biggest and burliest mice protecting Mouse Place, and you’re simply not that. Food management. Next, please.”
“No,” Perchi said, her eyes gleaming. “Not until I’ve had a chance to prove myself.”
The High Councillor sighed. “Alright.” He looked to a nearby guard. “Let’s see what she can do.”
The guard mouse tossed Perchi a sword, and she caught it in one hand. She was surprised at how heavy and long it was–far heavier and longer than the splinter she had practiced with for so long.
The guard mouse stepped forward, drawing his own needle. He towered over Perchi. “I’ll be careful,” he said.
Perchi narrowed her eyes. “So will I.”
The guard raised his sword, and Perchi slipped into her techniques.
But the needle seemed clumsy and slow in her grip. She barely lifted it in time to catch the guard’s attack.
The sound of their blades rang out in the council hall, and all the mice from outside peeked in to see what the commotion was about.
The guard advanced again.
But again, the blade was too unwieldy. The guard hit her needle so hard she had to use her other hand to steady it.
Perchi pulled the heavy blade around in a desperate arc, aiming to take the guard in the shoulder.
To the big guard, needles were as light as fluff. He disarmed Perchi as easily as he might a child. Her sword clattered on the chamber floor, and Perchi stared at it in disbelief. All of the council and every mouse peeking into the room began to laugh.
The High Councillor clucked his tongue and scribbled in the Book of Placements. “Food management,” he said.
But Perchi wasn’t a mouse to be gotten down so easily. From then on, she began to live two lives.
By day, she held a scrap of paper and worked at Food Supply, doling out rations and keeping track of the cheese and bread inventory. However, by night she donned her green scarf and took up an old, battered needle she had “borrowed” from the armory, and she patrolled the upper walls of the city on her own.
Mouse Place lay inside an abandoned basement, so the most vulnerable area was the upper ledge that ran along the narrow windows to the outside. As Perchi walked the perimeter, little glowing mouse homes made of old books, playing cards, tin cans, and pipes sprawled over rickety desks and tables below her. Even further below, the city of Mouse Place crammed the floor with streets and blocks.
On bitter nights, when the wind from the cracked window tugged at her scarf and the metal of the needle was cool in her paw, Perchi felt like a real mouse guard.
One dark and stormy night, Perchi saw a gang of rats sneaking out of Mouse Place with bundles of stolen food over their shoulders. They were headed toward the narrow cracked window, so Perchi cut them off at the pass.
“Halt!” she shouted, raising the cold hammered steel. “That food doesn’t belong to rats like you.”
At first, the rats drew back, for the guards of Mouse Place are renowned for their swordsmanship. But then the lead rat, a burly, smelly beast of a rodent, narrowed his black eyes at her. “Wait a minute,” he said. “This ain’t a real guard. This is just a little girl mouse!”
The others laughed.
Perchi jumped a step closer and brandished her blade menacingly. Outside, lightning cut through the rain in a jagged bolt, and her needle flashed in the white light. “I am so a real guard,” she said. “Put that food back, or else. It’s ours, not yours.”
The lead rat set down his sack of food and drew a heavy wooden club. “I don’t have time for a mouse playing pretend. Get out of our way, or this is going to get ugly.”
Perchi said nothing. Her eyes hardened, and she tightened her grip.
“Fine,” said the rat.
He reared back with his club.
Perchi tried to interrupt his attack with a quick thrust, but the steel was just too heavy and cumbersome in her grip. Too slow. The club cracked against the side of her head, and she went sprawling. Her helmet came off and rolled gently off the ledge, down to the city below.
Perchi felt dizzy and disoriented from the blow. Before she could pick herself up, the rat kicked away her sword. “Stay down,” he snarled. “Or it’s going to get a lot worse for you.” The other rats laughed wickedly.
“We could add her to the loot,” one of the rats suggested.
“She’s too small and scrawny,” the lead rat said. “She’d barely even make one meal, and not a very tasty one at that.”
Perchi tried to stand, but her head swam too much. The lead rat went back and picked up his bag of stolen food. Then all the rats climbed out the cracked window and into the rain.
After a while, Perchi managed to sit up again. There was something wet on her cheeks, but she wasn’t sure if it was blood or tears or rainwater blown in by the wind.
She looked at her sword where it lay, and she put her face in her paws.
Know your place.
I received some complaints about the previous story being a bit too dark, so I’ve taken this feedback into consideration (and quietly discarded it) to write a fable I think you’re all going to like even better!
The Plans of a Tack
Once upon a time, there was a tack named Arthur.
Arthur had a very important job. It was Arthur’s job to hold up the Quarterly Financial Reports. Every three months, new Quarterly Financial Reports would come out, so a hand would pull Arthur from the cork board, throw the old Quarterly Financial Reports into the trash can below, and pin Arthur back to the cork board to hold up the new Quarterly Financial Reports.
Even though the job was extremely important, Arthur didn’t like it very much. It never felt very meaningful to him.
His other tack friends told him he should be grateful for the job he had. He might very well have been stuck holding up some old birthday party announcement from last year like poor Dante. Or he could have been like Michelle, whose job didn’t even need to exist since the piece of paper she was pinned to was a sticky Post-It note that would have stayed stuck to the cork board with or without her. Or, worst of all, he might have remained in the tack drawer with all the other unused tacks who didn’t have jobs at all.
So Arthur tried to be grateful. He tried and he tried, but the gratefulness wouldn’t come. He wanted something more than to be trapped in cork all his life. He wanted to get out and experience the world. He had big questions he wanted to find the answers to. Questions like:
What was an adventure like, and how might somebody have one?
Was there such a thing as a soul? And if Arthur had a soul, was it in his metal part, or his plastic part?
Were bees really part-tack, as he had been led to believe?
But more important than all of these, he wanted his life to mean something.
These thoughts grew too powerful. So one day, when the Quarterly Financial Reports were due to be replaced, Arthur decided to escape.
He said goodbye to all of his bewildered tack friends, and when the old Quarterly Financial Reports went into the trash, Arthur slipped from the hand’s grip and dropped with the papers into the trash can below.
The world outside the office was like nothing Arthur had ever experienced. There was just so much to do! After managing to get himself out of the dumpster, the world was his cork board.
He toured the city while stuck to a shoe, but after he saw the whole city, he wanted more.
He got really into music for a while and spent some time as an avant-garde earring, but after visiting all the hottest clubs and listening to all the loudest bands, it all started to feel the same.
He attached himself to a tire and went on a soul-searching road trip across the country, but when he got to the other side he didn’t find anything particularly soul-like.
He even got an exciting part-time job at the police station holding a string to a cork board, but this was far too much like his old job, and he didn’t last very long.
After lots of traveling, Arthur began to feel somewhat empty. He’d had many experiences, but nothing seemed to stick with him. He didn’t feel like he had actually accomplished anything. Was moving from place to place experiencing things all it took to have an adventure? What might it feel like to do something truly meaningful?
He had discovered, at least, that if he did have a soul, then it must exist in the part of him that was metal, because travel had worn away his plastic part almost completely.
Eventually, Arthur found himself living with a very strange old woman who gave him all sorts of unusual jobs to do.
She tried to use him to write a letter, but that didn’t work very well.
She tried to use him to cook kebabs, but that didn’t work very well either.
She even tried to use him to open a wine bottle, but that didn’t work at all!
Eventually, the strange old woman put the bottle back in very bottom of the basement wine rack with Arthur still in the cork, and she forgot about him.
And so it was that Arthur found himself trapped in cork once again. But now, he wasn’t even holding anything important to it, and he felt rather silly. He began to wish he’d stayed at the office. At least there he’d had friends and a job to do, even if it didn’t feel like a very meaningful one.
The years rolled by, and dust settled all over Arthur and the bottle. And that is where he remained.
Use products as intended by the manufacturer.
For a while now, I’ve been kicking around an idea for a dark little collection of seven cautionary tales with ‘family-unfriendly’ morals. I imagine it garnished with a slew of watercolor illustrations like the kind of children’s books I grew up with. Frankly, I don’t have the slightest idea how to sell something like this, and that’s made me hold off on actually writing the fables down in full.
However, better to have it out somewhere than to just let it get dusty in my head.
So here’s Broken Aesops part 1 of 7.
A Place of Her Own
Once upon a time there was a white cat named Taffeta. Taffeta had three kittens: Satin, Lace, and little Velvet who was the smallest and bravest of her children (even though he couldn’t quite keep up with his sisters).
Taffeta and her kittens lived in the old gardening shed at the back of the yard. It was cold during the night, hot during the day, and wet when it rained. The walls were rusty tin, and the roof was a stiff plastic sheet filled with holes.
At night, Taffeta could hear rats sneaking around the base of the shack. The rats would whisper to each other, arguing about what kind of reward the Rat King would give them if they stole a juicy kitten for him. Taffeta would cover her kittens’ ears and keep watch all through the night as raindrops dripped in from the leaky roof.
One morning Taffeta felt exhausted from staying up all night, and she decided she’d had enough. She was sick and tired of being hot in the summer and cold in the winter and wet when it rained.
“Come on,” she said to her kittens. “It’s time for us to find a new home.”
Taffeta and her kittens ventured out into the old, overgrown yard. They saw a birdbath with lots of birds, but a birdbath was no place for a cat to live. They saw a clover patch with lots of bees, but clover was no place for a cat to live. They even saw an muddy sandbox littered with half-buried toys, but a sandbox was no place for a cat to live either.
Taffeta began to lose hope. They had looked all over the yard, and no place looked any better than the leaky, dank shed.
At that moment an owl landed on the birdbath to wash his face.
“Wise owl,” said Taffeta, “my children and I are searching for a new home. Have you seen any suitable place for us in your flights?”
“I have seen one such place,” said the owl. “There is a treehouse up in the dead oak at the corner of the yard. But don’t you already have a home, white cat?”
“Our home is hot and cold and wet,” said Taffeta, “and rats creep around it at night.”
The owl shrugged. “Sounds nice to me. I sleep standing up on a branch. But what do I know about the needs of cats?” And with that, the owl flew off.
Taffeta led her kittens to the old dead oak. Sure enough, hidden in its gnarled branches was a rickety tree-house. Taffeta had to carry her kittens up one by one, because it was far too high for them to climb on their own.
Taffeta and the kittens loved their new home. It was cool during the day and warm during the night. When it rained, the solid wooden roof kept all the water out, and there were plenty of bugs for Satin, Lace, and Velvet to play with. Without the threat of rats, Taffeta could actually get some sleep.
But then, one night a terrible storm boiled up. Lightning lit the sky purple and sheets of hard rain beat down on the treehouse’s roof. The wind made the oak creak and moan and sway.
Taffeta gathered her kittens close to her, and they all huddled in the middle of the treehouse, waiting for the storm to pass.
But it didn’t pass. The rain fell harder, and the lightning flashed brighter, and the old dead oak buckled and bent and finally fell, taking the treehouse with it.
Taffeta woke up in the pounding rain surrounded by broken boards and heavy fallen limbs. Her children were shouting for her, and she had to look for them in the shattered remains of the tree-house. All of them were soaking wet.
A falling board had broken Velvet’s paw, but he was being very brave about it and hardly crying at all. “What do we do now?” he asked.
“We’re going back home,” Taffeta said, picking him up by the scruff of his neck.
They journeyed back across the yard with the wind and rain howling all around them. But when Taffeta stuck her head inside the shed, something bit her right on the nose. She stumbled back, surprised.
“This is our home now,” said a nasty voice. “Get out of here.”
Taffeta squinted into the dark. A flash of lightning glinted off dozens of beady rat eyes glaring at her from inside the shed. Far too many rats for just a cat and her kittens to chase off.
Not knowing what else to do, Taffeta brought her children back to the bird bath. They huddled under the cement rim, trying to stay as dry as they could. All of them were very cold and very wet.
Velvet was licking his hurt paw. “What do we do now?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” said Taffeta.