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Timid Amidst the Thrum

by Shlunka 2 months ago in Nature
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Quiet as a Mouse

Picture by Travis Wellman

The smell of straw filled its nose, and it could feel its tiny appendages wrapped around a single stalk. Its surroundings distilled, though its rodent eyes saw only more of the golden strands settled into mounds by an ambient vibration. The sensation was that of a gentle thrum, which operated softly beneath frequent metallic clangs and the groans of creaking wood. As it became more aware of its surroundings, it noticed the cage.

Pacing about the iron bars was a large cat, its orange pelt striated by black strokes while its belly swayed like a white pillowcase. The creature was fat, or perhaps just very old, and it eyed the mouse with a felid gaze, flicking out its tongue to swipe over its few remaining teeth and crooked whiskers. It was then that the mouse noticed that the bars, which it had assumed separated it from the enormous cat, actually loomed behind the cat’s encroaching figure. It was, to its horror, locked inside the feline’s cage.

Summoning the speed that only rodents and insects possess, it zipped through the straw. The cat followed, stomping down upon the twisted bedding as the rodent blindly zigzagged until, at last, it heard the clang of the cat careening into the cage behind it. It turned around, peering curiously as the big cat stared right back at it through the bars. There was a resignation to the beast’s face, one that long predated its failed chase. The cat turned away, laying in a bed of straw as the mouse scanned the rest of the jostling compartment.

There were crates, dozens of them, all smelling of food; the kind that stays good for a very long time. It twitched its nose, feeling no hunger towards such unsavory morsels, and scurried away from the cage and crates. At the far end of the compartment it spied a small light peering through an opening. The tiger yawned and growled, but the mouse paid no attention to the noise as it scurried through the hole.

There was a flash of light and sound, and the mouse found that it was outside, traveling at a tremendous speed over the ground, which was green and scentless. It ignored the motion, peering only briefly at the passing terrain before traversing a rattling gap to the next compartment. There, an identical hole allowed passage into the next compartment, and so the mouse scurried on through.

The compartment was similarly laden with straw, and a large creature stood in the center without a cage to confine it. The mouse had never seen such a thing, with its long nose and fanning ears that flopped about like bird wings. Surely such a thing couldn’t fly, it thought to itself, having never seen a creature so large or so strange.

The animal, with its large but featureless eyes, seemed to notice the mouse’s tiny presence, and soon those same eyes opened wide, and the creature shrieked with a terrible roar. Upon its hind limbs it reared, its head thudding against the ceiling before the beast returned back to all fours. The mouse froze, puzzled by the fearful giant. Slowly, so as not to startle the creature, the mouse scurried into a stack of crates, which smelled mostly of fruits. Inside, it navigated between the wooden boxes, emerging at the other side of the room where the giant couldn’t see it. Once again, there was a small hole for it to squeeze through, and so it went on outside and across the metal connection to venture into the next compartment.

What awaited was different from the first two spaces, with a tile floor in place of the loose straw. The walls were lined with glasses of all shapes and sizes, and there was an ornate table in the center that remained completely unoccupied. Though the mouse could still hear the thrum of movement, none of the fixture shook or groaned as they had in the previous cars. It sniffed the air, finding no traces of food in the cabin, and so it ventured through yet another small opening.

The mouse was pleased to find that the two cars were attached via hallway, and that it didn’t have to again brave an open transition. Through the hall it went, emerging to find a room filled with tables, chairs, people, and the sounds of a restaurant. Among the noise it sniffed at the air, detecting the aroma of many fine cheeses emanating from somewhere nearby. Its nose twitched in anticipation, knowing all the glowing yellow and pearl white assemblages that awaited.

Without hesitation, it scurried across the floor, and none of the patrons seemed to notice its tiny form. Feet thudded all about as it scurried behind the sanctuary of a bar, noticing only in the calm underbelly of stowed glasses and bottles that something was off about the figures it had slalomed just moments earlier. From its short memory it fetched their appearances, sorting through what it had seen. One was missing arms, another was twice the size of any person it’d ever seen, and yet another, it swore, had possessed two heads.

Although puzzling, it didn’t matter, and the mouse resumed the task at hand, zipping away from the bar to disappear through a kitchen door. It emerged into a narrow kitchen filled with stomping feet, hissing pans, and swearing voices. Ignoring the noises, it navigated under a stainless-steel table where the smell of cheese grew strong. The mouse emerged, climbing up stacked boxes to the prep area, where several huge blocks lay like unattended freight cars upon the perfect surface.

With its jaws, it extracted a yellow chunk, keeping it inside its mouth with its paws as it chewed. The piece didn’t last long, and soon it took another mouthful, scurrying back down the boxes before anyone might see it, the cheese chunk still stowed inside its cheek. As the cheese melted in its mouth, the mouse ventured back out into the dining area and into the next car, where the dining furniture had been exchanged for booths.

The smell of coffee filled the cabin, emanating from a small bar attended only by a metallic array of pots and devices. Slowly, the mouse maneuvered between the booths, careful not to disturb the chatting patrons which lined the seats. It felt the cheese completely melt in its mouth, sliding down its throat with a smoky, acidic chalk that it savored. At that point, it didn’t know what it was pursuing, with its belly tumid and appetite satiated. Still, it moved forward, bouncing its way towards the next opening at the end of the cabin.

It was attempting to scurry under a table when a hand grabbed it by the tail. Weightless but for the cheese in its gut, it looked around with its inverted gaze before being gently deposited atop a table. Its captor, a man with an amused face and fine mustache, watched as the mouse calmed down. Then, still without a word, the man scooted his plate towards its shaking limbs. The rodent looked at the plate’s contents, seeing a desiccated salmon filet and the crumbled ruins of rice pilaf. Puzzled, it refused to move, but stared at the man as he ignored its gaze to talk to another figure across the booth.

“Do you think it understands?” He asked the other figure.

“Mice don’t understand table manners, let alone matters of the afterlife,” the figure replied.

“Who’s to say?” The mustached man protested, then shrugged. “It must’ve been on board when we derailed. Poor fizzle.”

The mouse grew bored with their conversation, accepting the mustached man’s offer of salmon and rice. As the two men continued to make their noises, it ate until its belly engorged, and watched as the mustached man removed a cup of coffee from a saucer. Assuming it was another gesture of goodwill, the mouse leapt onto the small plate, curling into a sleepy ball at its center. Both men laughed, and the mustachioed man put his cup down elsewhere as the mouse listened to the quiet, passing thrum.


About the author


Visual artist and writer working out of a small Virginia town in the Shenandoah Valley.

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