A mouse family lived in a sunlit hollow in a skillfully crafted, three-story town house. The father, Harold Bunchberry, had constructed most of this structure himself and was also responsible for the unique architectural elements on many of the buildings in Dolbeer, including that of the Council Hall. The mother, by the name of Thelbena Bunchberry, held the important position of Chief Craftmouse and was also President of the Dolbeer Crafts Guild.
There were also two mouse children, Wally and Gerry Bunchberry. Wally was the oldest and for an eleven-year-old, he was extraordinarily good. He always obeyed his parents without a whine of complaint, never told them a single lie, not even a very small one; was always courteous towards others, doting relatives included; never played hookey, was always a good listener, and was able to put his mind into doing useful things.
Gerry, like his brother, was also gray and glossy white with a long curly tail. Being eight, he didn’t measure up to his brother in size and he didn’t try to measure up to him in manners. For Gerry, civilization had simply too many rules laid down by the grownups and he did his best to rewrite every single one.
When he was told never to eat the jam out of the jar with either fingers or a butter knife, he helped himself anyway in the usual messy manner. Afterwards, he then denied he ever used his fingers or the knife, despite the incriminating evidence. He never took his empty plate into the kitchen until he was repeatedly scolded at. These were only the minor things; sometimes the tricks he played were more serious in nature. For example, there was the incident last week that involved an irate sea gull loose on the premises, and the week before that, a batch of mysterious cookies at Wally’s eleventh birthday party. The main ingredient wasn’t revealed until much later when the plate was emptied. Then Gerry laughingly announced the mystery ingredient, which happened to be fresh dog droppings. The party guests reportedly turned greener than the mint green frosting on the birthday cake.
One day, after a thorough spanking from Thelbena for sprinkling beetles in the bread dough, he was promptly sent to gather thistledown from a nearby field. It was for a particular quilt she was stitching together. Once it was finished, she planned to have it displayed at the Summer Solstice Festival that was coming up in June.
Gerry found the whole business of sewing, snipping, and piecing together a motley collection of cloth very boring indeed. Such cloth, he thought, could be put to much better use as a fine sail for a homemade pirate raft or part of a costume dedicated to the Spooky Summer Fest. Gerry often fumed during this time, because Thelbena cut the expensive cloth without waste. As a result, there weren’t enough pieces about for an adequate costume, and his mother expected him to go out as a good little spirit with dinky little wings.
As he was moodily plucking thistledown, stinging his small fingers in the process, he noticed something that closely resembled an armored-plated bread loaf lumbering by. It was a pill bug. The minute he snatched it up, it instantly rolled itself into a tight, impenetrable ball. Gerry finally decided to take it home, but he knew his mother wouldn’t approve of him keeping it as a pet.
“It will eat up all my vegetables,” she would say, “and besides, it will stink up the place!”
Already his paws smelled rather rancid. Still he felt it was an extraordinary animal, much like those silk spinning spiders used by some of the town’s weavers. If the spiders were fed and housed well, Gerry thought, then why shouldn’t I have this pill bug?
“I must give him a name?” decided Gerry. “A pet as good as this must surely have a name.”
After a moment’s thought, he said to the pill bug, “I think I’ll call you ’Percival.’ I have an uncle with the same name.”
After cramming it into the burlap sack and covering it with thistledown, he started on his way home.
Gerry hadn’t gone very far when he began to think on how it was such a shame to waste this nice summer day on just work. Right now, he could be exploring a shadowy green wood with its leafy undergrowth and jumbled moss-covered rocks. Presently an idea came into his head. He knew he wasn’t expected back until he had a bulging sackful of down. Since neither his parents nor brother were here to tell him what he should or shouldn’t do, Gerry thought he had plenty of time to spare for a short holiday.
He then spent the next hour and a half in the forest bordering the meadow. There he wandered about, prying open rotten logs or peering under stones for small animals, filling both his pockets and his face with black berries, and chucking rocks in the nearby river.
After a time he became tired of eating berries and chasing after small things, so he decided to go bird nesting at a place called the Shrubby Sand Hills. This was a region of high, steep, sand banks covered with mosses, lichen, berry bushes, scrubby trees, and dense shrubbery. Towering in their midst was a vast sand and clay bank that was gradually weathering away. The small streams of water trickling down it had left some places in the form of hollows or as sharp, steep-looking ridges. In this bank, above the hard-packed clay, were hundreds of holes tunneled by Bank Swallows. At least a thousand of these birds dove, skimmed, and twittered over a scrubby wood that was intersected by creeks and marshes swarming with mosquitoes. The swallows anxiously pursued Gerry as he scrambled up a steep pathway that led to the lower dwellings. Just as he was about to put his paw into a burrow, he slipped and rolled head over tail down the steep bank.
Gerry landed headfirst. He groaned as he gingerly got up and checked himself over for abrasions and broken bones. Aside from a few bruises, brambles scratches, and squashed berries, he was okay.
The ground beneath the bank was spongy and soft with dappled-green moss, and this cushioned his fall considerably.
Picking up the spilled sack of thistledown, he looked up just in time to see “Percival” rolling away downhill.
“Hey!” he squeaked. “Come back here!”
Gerry started after it. The pill bug kept on rolling, at first slowly, but just when he was about to grasp it, it picked up speed. Finally, it hit a bump and bounced to the edge of a steep embankment and teetered for a brief moment before rolling out of sight in a flurry of pebbles.
Gerry, who was close behind, nearly went over too, but he managed to cling desperately to some gnarled roots with his toes and tail. Dangling upside down, he found himself peering down at the bottom of a deep ravine. On the far side of the ravine, nestled under overhanging oak and hazel branches, was a lopsided, ramshackle, rickety, thatched roofed cottage. The door was wide opened.
“He must have rolled in there,” he said to himself.
With great care, Gerry climbed down the bank and crept cautiously to the stone doorstep. Just as he stepped over the threshold, he stopped and stared around him in absolute astonishment. Instead of a small cramped room with a low ceiling and rough wooden floor planks, the chamber was large, high-vaulted with carpets of expensive design. From the walls were hung bundles of herbs, flowers, bells, multicolored cords and gewgaws, wax and clay figures, bones, and bracelets of naturally pierced stones.
Bewildered, Gerry thought, How could a house be so small and junky on the outside, and yet, be so large and grand on the inside? There’s something really strange going on here.
Somehow, not knowing the reason of this strange something was far more fun than knowing. Gerry liked a good mystery when he found one, and finding one was rare back in that “stuffy” seaside community he called home.
As soon as his eyes adjusted better to the gloom, he noticed many other strange and mysterious things. There was a large ornate table that was cluttered with curious bottles, pottery jars, small sturdy chests, carved boxes, leather bags, bell jars, flasks, candle holders, hour-glasses, and other objects more bizarre.
Gerry completely forgot about his pill bug; here were more interesting things to look at. Poking around, he completely forgot the most important rule of all; never fiddle with things that aren’t yours. He inspected a stiff leather bag. On it were runic signs drawn in red ink, and it was also bound with a heavy rope throng. With clever fingers he started untying the knot. He was nearly done unraveling when the loose end suddenly whipped from his paw. The throng then coiled around the neck of the bag like a snake, wounding itself into a more tangled knot.
Frustrated, he tried the other bags, but was met with the same stubborn rope trick. The chest and boxes behaved no better. Some were sealed shut with heavy padlocks, while others needed keys or secret combinations, and the locks that were shaped like animals’ heads nipped his curious fingers. Then he decided he was going to have a go at all those bottles and jars. So Gerry choose a huge stone jar and tugged off the lid.
Never in his life did he have a shock like this, because what came out were miniature flying monkey skeletons—thousands of them, all hopping, flying, and scrabbling around everywhere. They tweaked his nose, pulled his whiskers, then grabbed him up by his clothes and tail and started hauling him to the opened jar.
“Help! Help!” squealed Gerry. “Somebody help!”
He twisted like a hooked fish and finally broke free. He ran, and oh how he ran! The sheer terror of all those sharp skeletal fingers strengthened his short little legs. Gerry flew down a twisting corridor, as he came abreast with a door he paused, trying to open it, but each one was locked. Finally as he came to a sudden right turn, he saw up ahead a slit-like gleam of light. To Gerry, pausing in the shadowy hall, that rosy glimmering could only mean one thing; a door was ajar and just outside was possibly warm sunlight and safety. Shoving it open, he rushed in.
What Gerry saw was not the sun slanting through the trees, but shadows. They were not quaint shadows thrown by a fire burning cheerfully in a hearth or by the sun streaming through a window. No, these were dark shadows full of lurking dread, which oozed from every corner of the room, swallowing the blazing light.
He soon spotted the source of this light. It emanated from several skulls borne aloft on brazen stands. The eyes of these skulls glowed and flickered like torches, but without any smoke. In this weird light, Gerry saw he was in an immense library of dusty manuscripts, charts, and heavy leather- and metal-bound books. Skulls of all shapes and sizes were stacked on dusty shelves, propping up books with queer titles like The Old Gypsy’s Almanac, The Mad Laughter of Alvardo, Demons and What to Do About Them, and The Beginner’s Guide to Black Magic.
None of them he could read, because they were either written in a weird incomprehensible language, or the letters would change into creatures no bigger than small ants, that wriggled across the yellowed pages.
Disappointed, Gerry abandoned exploring the library. So he went examining the tapestries and embroideries hanging from the walls. He also noticed a vast table at one side of the room, littered with laboratory equipment, bottles, and jars of strange liquids, and other appliances of the sort that were used in medicine or maybe even sorcery.
As he looked about, Gerry couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable. The skull lamps turned so that their glowing gaze followed the mouse wherever he went. Also he kept hearing strange rustling and whispering noises behind his back. Yet when he glanced around nothing was there. These noises followed him until Gerry ran down another long narrow passage and up a handsomely carved staircase. Reaching the third floor landing, he saw a stepladder, and above that, a trapdoor.
“Well,” he muttered, “at least I could go and have a look at the attic before I leave.”
Scrambling up the stepladder like a monkey, Gerry shoved the trapdoor open. The moment his head poked through, he was met with a most startling surprise. The attic had neither the gloom nor the mustiness of the lower rooms. Its interior was bright and embellished with polished wood of several kinds. There were also many stained-glass windows, decorative furniture, and a domed ceiling with painted designs.
On a shelf he found several large wicker cages with many exotic birds and beasts chittering away inside. The mouse tried to pet a scarlet and silver parrot. It nipped him hard on the finger.
“Ow!” he yelped. “Fool parrot!”
As he turned away he thought he heard a screechy voice reply, “No, you’re the fool!”
Gerry turned back to the cage. “You said something, didn’t you?”
The parrot cocked its head and gave him an innocent “Who, me?” look from one of its beady blue eyes.
The mouse went to explore elsewhere. On a bureau there were several large tanks, some filled to the rim with murky water. To Gerry’s astonishment and terror, a reddish tentacle would slosh out and slither about. If that wasn’t horrid enough, the things in the clear tanks resembled something that should have been buried a long time ago. They were bony and dripping green with slime and algae, and their bulbous fishy eyes shone like bluish marsh-lights. Their unblinking stare made him shudder, and he was also overwhelmed by a sense of guilt. The hissing and gurgling whispers of these beings appeared to concern his presence, perhaps accusing him of trespassing.
However, this feeling quickly passed when he spotted an old, battered, sea chest on the floor. On opening it up, he didn’t find much; just some dried herbs and spices, some beeswax candles, a dried animal’s claw. It wasn’t until he found an ordinary white box, the sort of box used to keep miniature rock samples or microscope lens, did he discover that there was something of interest here.
“I wonder what’s in here?” he said to himself. “I think it’s safe; there’s no air holes.”
Gerry opened it. Inside was something long and thin, something bright and shiny, not a jewel, but a whistle. He decided to keep it as a souvenir. Before he scurried towards the trap door, he thumbed his nose at all those water wraiths and other beasties. Half expecting screeches, screams, and curses, Gerry was startled when he was met with stares and dead silence. Nervous, Gerry quickly lowered himself down the ladder to the landing, and then hurried down the long fight of stairs.
The journey back through the forest to the field was awful, for he kept hearing rustling and rattling noises in the undergrowth. When Gerry flopped down to rest, he was out of breath and quivering with fright. After several minutes, he finally pulled himself together.
I wonder how that whistle would sound if I blow it? he thought curiously.
Taking the whistle from the box, he put it to his lips and blew with all his might. The sound came, a crisp clear sound, clearer than any temple bell, brighter than the chimes of a wind chime, weirder sounding than any known woodwind instrument. Yet even as he blew, he saw something streak towards him like an orange comet. When he finally saw what it was Gerry gave a strangled gasp and swallowed the whistle by mistake.
An enormous marmalade cat skidded to a halt in front of him, but it didn’t look at all hungry. Instead it looked at him rather curiously and said “Meow?”
Gerry stared at it pop-eyed and open-mouthed. Then he turned tail and bolted. The cat simply shrugged and then followed after him. The little mouse scurried home as quickly as possible. He could still breathe however, but with every breath came a whistle, and with every whistle came a large cat.
By the time he went through town and up the lane towards his house, he had whistled up thirty more and these weren’t ordinary cats. Besides being the size of a tiger, their arrival was very surprising, for before the astonished eyes of Dolbeer’s citizens, a cat would pop out of thin air and join its many friends milling about.
When Gerry got home his mother was already at the front door.
“Where have you been?” Thelbena said frowning. “You’re late! And where is your sack?”
Gerry gave a heavy sigh and at the same time the whistle shrilled.
“What’s that sound?” Thelbena asked, pricking up her ears.
Desperately, Gerry began pointing to his mouth. He could still speak, but only in whistling words.
“F-f-f-f-found a w-w-t-t-t-h-h-histle and t-th-h-h w-was playing t-th-with it and it t-t-th-h-ell in my t-t-h-hroat!”
He was just about to tell his mother about the cats, but Thelbena at once yanked him inside. She tried slapping him on the back, squeezing him hard, and then shaking him upside down in the hopes that the whistle would fall out. When that didn’t work, she made Gerry gargle some salt water, which made matters even worse when he started bubbling spit, retching, and making noises like a sick steam engine.
Wally meanwhile was watching the whole scene.
“Mom,” he said. “I don’t think it was such a good idea to give him salt water to gargle with. Not only does he sound even more strange, but now, it looks like he’s got rabies.”
Just then the front door burst open and Mr. Bunchberry came rushing in. He had just gotten back from the store with a load of groceries.
“Thelbena!” he squeaked. “The whole entire neighborhood’s swarming with humungous felines! I say?”
He heard Gerry burbling and whistling away.
“What’s that noise?” Harold asked. “It sounds like a deranged sparrow or a waterlogged flute!”
With one paw gripping Gerry’s sleeve, Thelbena began hustling her husband out the door.
“Harold,” she replied firmly, “we’re off to see Dr. Rossi. Gerry’s got a whistle stuck in his throat.”
“So that’s that awful noise!” exclaimed Harold. “Well, just let me set these groceries down first!”
“No!” squeaked Thelbena. “We’re going right this minute! Gerry’s whistling is somehow making all those cats appear!”
The moment they stepped out the front door and onto the street, they suddenly found themselves the center of attention. About half the town was packed in the lane watching. It soon became apparent to everyone that Gerry’s whistling was the cause to all these cats appearing. Soon a large crowd accompanied the family as they hurried down the street to the doctor’s. The audience then stood outside, jostling and treading on each other’s toes as they all tried to peer into the clinic’s front windows.
They were more of a nuisance than all the cats combined since they blocked the front door and trampled the garden in front of the building. However, the police soon arrived and started clearing them off.
Inside, the Bunchberry Family had to wait in the crowded waiting room. Gerry’s continual whistling and the chaos surrounding it soon disrupted the peace of the place. Some of the patients fidgeted nervously, while a few looked out at the people and cats running about outside. Many others started looking at the family strangely and tried hiding their grins and whispers. This was all so embarrassing for Gerry that he buried his head in his father’s sleeve.
Fortunately, he didn’t have long to wait. A few minutes later, a nice lady nurse told him to follow her. She led him down a carpeted corridor to an examination room that had the usual table and associated equipment for a routine checkup.
“Please make yourself at home, Gerry,” she said with a smile. “The doctor will be in shortly.”
Gerry returned her cheery smile. “Thank y-y-y-you,” he stammered, making an attempt at worldly politeness. Then he was left to wait for Dr. Rossi.
He felt much better sitting here alone than in the waiting room. Here, at least, there were no stares or whispered remarks. Still he felt bad, though. Now everyone was going to know what a brainless twit he turned out to be. They would probably send him away somewhere. Gerry didn’t want to be sent away, let alone live by himself with just magical cats for company.
As he sat glumly, staring at the floor, he heard a familiar voice say,
“Well, my goodness, Gerry! What sort of shenanigans have you gotten yourself into this time?”
Gerry looked up and noticed the bespectacled doctor peering quizzically at him. Dr. Rossi wasn’t a mouse, but a creature known as a Zoldrak. He was a tall slender person with a triangular, narrow-chinned face with long pointy ears, a wispy white mane of hair, and brilliant yellow eyes piercing with intelligence as he examined Gerry.
“That’s quite a troublesome object you got in there,” remarked Dr. Rossi peering down Gerry’s throat.
Gerry sat perfectly still. He tried not to breathe; still he couldn’t help letting off a faint shrilling from time to time. Dr. Rossi tried snagging the whistle with some small forceps. It was to no avail; the end of the whistle was much too smooth and blunt to grasp.
Frowning, the doctor set the forceps down on the table. He then tried ejecting the object with a firm upward thrust below Gerry’s rib cage, but that didn’t work. Finally in frustration, he hoisted the startled mouse up by his ankles and shook him vigorously up and down. All of Dr. Rossi’s scientific training was to prove useless. The whistle was lodged so tight in Gerry’s larynx that it refused to budge.
Sighing, the doctor gently lowered the dazed mouse back onto the table. “That blasted things got to come out somehow,” Dr. Rossi said gravely. “You don’t want to be left with such an inconvenience, do you?”
Gerry shook his head and began wondering whether this whistle was ever going to come out at all. Shivering, he thought, Will everyone send me away like they did to Odie Merck? He couldn’t remember what little Odie Merck had done, but Gerry was quite sure it was something very bad.
“Good gracious, child!” exclaimed Rossi glancing out the window. “There’s a tiger coming up the main street! We must get that whistle out!”
Gerry watched as the doctor took from a cabinet a bottle and began pouring out a nasty yellowish substance in a teaspoon. The mouse didn’t have to read the bottle to know what the horrid stuff was. His mother sometimes forced him to swallow a spoonful of that awful, bitter tasting stuff, even when he wasn’t sick.
“Dragon’s syrup!” shrilled the terrified mouse. Dr. Rossi looked up in time to see Gerry scamper out of the office and down the hall to the bathroom, which was fortunately open. The doctor’s sensitive ears pricked up at the horrid, hacking, retching sounds that were coming from within. All of this was soon followed by a clear metallic clink of something sticking the porcelain washbasin.
At exactly the same instant, there came the sound of applause and loud cheering from outside the clinic as all the cats evaporated into thin air.
An hour later, the whole Bunchberry Family were all peering at what Dr. Rossi held in his hand.
"That’s a magic whistle?” said Wally in surprise. “Looks pretty ordinary to me.”
“Any magic object would look pretty ordinary,” explained the doctor. “Such appearances always underestimate their real properties.”
“It’s still hard to believe that such a small thing like that could cause so much trouble,” remarked Thelbena.
“Gerry!” squeaked Harold sharply. “I hope you learnt your lesson; no putting strange things in your mouth!”
“Oh, I’m sure he learned his lesson, Mr. Bunchberry.” Dr. Rossi replied. He grinned at Gerry who was cowering behind his mother.
“One thing is still not clear,” remarked Harold. “Where exactly did he find the blasted thing in the first place?”
“Yes,” wondered Thelbena, “I would like to know that too.”
Four pairs of eyes were now on Gerry- no, five pairs of eyes. Gerry saw peering out of Dr. Rossi’s coat pocket a face. A tiny possum-like face, but with more bigger eyes and more brushy eyebrows. Was it a nurse or a lab assistant? No, thought Gerry, who began to shiver. He saw that face before he left Rossi’s office leering at him, just as it was leering at him now. It was like one of those things he saw in the wizard’s house. The word “Familiar” slipped into his mind and a chill crept up his spine.
The wizard was Rossi himself, watching him with his golden eyes; dangerous eyes. If he were to look right into those eyes, he might turn into a spider or something worse, maybe half spider, half toad with a little fish thrown in. Then still another terrifying thought entered his head. Could wizards read thoughts from other people? Could a wizard so easily glance into your eyes, just a brief glance and could easily see what was reflected within your very soul?
You did an idiot thing, thought Gerry. Letting yourself into a strange house without asking and finding that stupid whistle! Now you’re going to get knocked off, not here in front of your parents, but someday when you least expect it, whether by a poison dart or a transformation.
Wait! A brilliant idea slipped into his brain. The wizard might not remember the whistle that was put away so many years ago. I could change the story, change it completely.
“It all started when I found a pill bug.” Gerry began, “I decided to take it home and keep it, probably teach it neat tricks. If weavers can keep pet spiders, why can’t I keep a pet pill bug? Well, I was just walking home when I fell into this hole.”
So Gerry began a tale of subterranean passageways, hidden vaults, underground rivers running swiftly along from unknown headwaters, cities of phosphorus rock. The natives that lived there went about in dark cloaks and wide brimmed hats. They were blue with reddish hair with large orange eyes fixed in deep sockets. Their faces were long and they resembled something like a baboon. They ate people and used whistles to summon ghost cats to use in hunting.
“But,” explained the mouse child, “I didn’t know that the whistle was used for that. I thought that hermit guy gave me an ordinary whistle. You see, he found it in an old tomb and probably didn’t know what it was really himself. He was too busy hiding from the blue cannibals to think much about it. Anyway, he showed me the way out and when I was out in the meadow again, I blew the whistle and you know the rest of the story!”
He looked up at the faces of his family and slightly at the wizard. His family was looking at each other disappointingly, but the wizard, he looked kind of thoughtful.
The mouse mother sighed, “I’m sorry, Dr. Rossi, but he just tells the most improbable stories! We may never learn the real truth about where he got the whistle!”
“I’m sure now you’ll get rid of that infernal thing,” grumbled the father mouse. “Throw it in the sea if you ask me, but you might find a more better way. Well, goodbye, Dr. Rossi, and thank you very much for helping Gerry.”
Harold then shook hands with the doctor.
“Goodbye,” answered Dr. Rossi cheerfully, “I promise you that I’ll get rid of the thing once and for all.”
Dr. Rossi watched as the family left amid a cheering crowd of relieved citizens.
“The little brat was telling lies, wasn’t he?” piped a squeaky voice from the doctor’s pocket.
“He was,” replied the wizard, “although that was a pretty good yarn he was telling there.”
“Are you going to send the water wights after him?” asked the voice.
“Now why should I do a thing like that, Benjamin?” exclaimed Dr. Rossi. “We’re not in the cruelty business and it was my fault anyway that I didn’t repair the front door in time!”
“So, you’re angry, aren’t you?” asked Benjamin.
“A little bit,” replied the wizard. “But the little scamp got what he deserved. Actually I never really wanted the whistle anyway. If that little mouse had been a little more wiser…” He paused, thinking.
“Master,” said Benjamin. “Do you think that little blighter had learnt his lesson?”
“I’m sure he did,” replied Dr. Rossi with a crafty glint in his eye.
“I worry,” said the familiar. “What if he finally tells the truth of where he found the whistle? What about our house? If he found the house, someone else would find it!”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry,” reassured the wizard. “Our house moves from place to place, and if that little fellow does tell the true story, who would believe him anyway?”
Written by Mmpratt99 deviantart