Short Story: “Mouser”

MouserTabletopScene

Once upon a time, there was a happy little village nestled in a beautiful valley.

It was a very peaceful and lovely place to live. Nearly everyone’s flower-lined windows brimmed with tranquil views of lush meadows, home to contented cows and sheep. The crisp air was often filled with sweet echoing melodies from pipes or the songs of young shepherds far along the gentle grassy slopes between the grey rocky ice-capped peaks.

A small brook of glacial melt babbled through the centre of the village, spanned by a brand new, broad and arched stone bridge. The pride of the town was wide enough for not one, but two horses abreast! High on the northern end, up the cobblestone main street, stood a stone chapel where all the pious came to pray on the Sabbath. Its small bell would call out so no-one would ever miss their duty to the Lord. On other days, the valley would ring to the bell tolling for all the children to come to school.

To one side of the chapel stood the school house. Of the village’s twenty-eight school-aged children, twenty-seven would dutifully arrive every morning, hands and faces scrubbed, boys’ hair combed and girls’ hair all beautifully braided, all by the time the bell had finished tolling. Eyes gleamed for Herr Buchleidener, who would lead his eager charges inside for songs and prayers before bringing out slates and chalk for lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic.

Only when they were halfway through their reading, little Giselberta would arrive at the door. She would patiently await the others finishing before she would enter. Wordless, she would make a deep curtsey to Herr Buchleidener before taking her place next to Christiane, a glum girl who would always roll her eyes and huff indignantly. Herr Buchleidener tolerated this lack of punctuality because he knew Giselberta’s family and the difficulties they had with her older brother Engelbrecht.

Every morning, Giselberta had to help her mother and father with managing Engelbrecht, who was always unruly and difficult after rising. Father Thomas had long ago pronounced Engelbrecht a pure child, blessed by the Lord but bereft of brains, which meant it wasn’t demons that possessed him, although Giselberta sometimes wondered.

She was often mending things Engelbrecht broke. This morning he had torn his hose in the process of putting them on, so Giselberta was out with needle-and-thread as quick as could be. At the breakfast table he had spilt his broth all over her smock, so she had to clean up the mess and get changed. Then he had dashed outside with the housecat Schroedie under one arm, only to return moments later empty-handed.

This sent Giselberta out on a desperate search, only to return empty-handed herself.
The family’s champion mouser had vanished.

Engelbrecht wasn’t able to attend school, so along with Florian the apprentice, helped in his father’s smithy instead.

Herr Buchleidener was aware of all this, even if the other students paid little attention. He smiled and nodded at Giselberta before he began lessons in counting.

When the time came for the midday meal, all the students bounded to their respective homes. Giselberta hoped Schroedie was safe, but upon entering the house and asking, her mother confessed not a hair on the cat’s head was to be found.

Giselberta was so annoyed at her brother, but was more fearful for Schroedie. She clambered all over the garden patch, crept all the way through the thicket and climbed up the apple tree to see if she could spot him.

All of a sudden, she heard a demonic roar reverberate all through the village. It sent chills all the way down her spine, sending her in a scurrying terror to the house. Inside, she clung quivering to her mother’s apron. Another roar only made her clutch even tighter.

Neighbours were alarmed. Cows mooed and flocks of sheep panicked and ran. Giselberta’s father came running down from the smithy, a hammer weilded in his hand.

Once again the blood-chilling roar was heard, and Giselberta scampered for her bed, trembling under quilted covers while her parents clasped each other in fright.

Engelbrecht skipped down from the smithy, laughing and clapping his hands with cheer. Another roar sent the villagers into a panic, but the simple boy was not worried in the least.

Was this some fearsome beast come to spirit hapless villagers away? Were demons rising from the underworld to snatch the unwary? What was this terrifying creature and what ill did it have on its malevolent mind?

Father Thomas emerged from his chapel and strode through the centre of the village, black cassock swishing in the breeze, book of holy scripture righteously clenched in hand, chin up, chest out. The people gazed upon his courage and piety and were both amazed and inspired.

Another roar engulfed the village, and Father Thomas suddenly decided he needed to conduct his business from the sanctity of the nearest building, which just so happened to be the tavern.

Unperturbed, Engelbrecht skipped and hopped, dancing a little dance on the hard cobblestones with glee, laughing and cheering all the way. The villagers were astonished at his innocence and bravery, many terrified for his safety. Another roar and all but Engelbrecht cowered. Giselberta watched from the window as her brother capered about, completely unafraid.

As another roar began, she saw her brother abruptly dart under the arched stone bridge, only to draw out Schroedie from underneath, the terrifying demonic snarl instantly diminishing into the plaintive “meow” of a cat. A cat left stranded on a rock in the middle of the brook under a bridge, incidentally of a shape that could modify and amplify sound.

Engelbrecht skipped cheerfully back to the house and deposited a very annoyed Schroedie into his astonished sister’s arms before he cavorted up the street.

“You’re a very naughty boy!” Giselberta called out. Engelbrecht smiled broadly and waved in response as he kept on dancing back towards his work in the smithy.

Giselberta’s mother and father started to laugh, and there were murmurs of laughter from other parts of the village as well. Father Thomas even started to giggle red-faced from his safe little spot inside the tavern.

Giselberta started to laugh as well, while she cuddled her purring Schroedie.

Years later, masons carved new decorations for the chapel, and in amongst one of the friezes above the doorway, they included a depiction of a cat under a bridge.

The locals dubbed it “The Mouser That Roared”.

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6 thoughts on “Short Story: “Mouser”

    1. I have contemplated writing fairy stories, but haven’t gone there yet. Maybe “Mouser” was a bit of a rehearsal. An illustrated book is a trememndous amount of effort, but I dare say it could be quite rewarding. Certainly something to consider 🙂

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  1. Very young children aged 3 – 6 or 7 (before they are able to read by themselves) love picture books and that age group don’t require so many words – the pictures / illustrations spark their imaginations. And of course adults have to read a favourite story hundreds of time so appreciate less text! Discussions with the child about the story focus on the pictures with the text as a prompt. I think you’d be very good at writing / illustrating for the pre-reader group. They love stories that amuse them and you use humour in your writing. Might be worth taking a look at the children’s section of your library? Just an idea based on your diverse skills…….Enzed

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    1. I started illustrating a childrens book many years ago. A lot of what I drew was inspired by the magical work of Brian Froud, but with my own unique touch. Each illustration took me ages (days, a couple of weeks in some instances). When the author told me I would get around $5 for each illustration, my enthusiasm waned somewhat. It’s a dedication of effort for quite some time that requires funding in order to happen, which is rare with literature. In saying that, I have had a few book ideas I’d like to explore that include illustrated works, but whether they take the form of fairy tales or something else, I have yet to decide. A lot of the publishers I’ve come across for considering my own work stipulate they’re not interest in children’s picture books, so I’m unsure where I’d be taking a property as well…

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      1. I didn’t realise its as difficult to find a publisher for children’s books as it is for other genre. That’s a shame. My kids loved their illustrated story books and my son kept his favourites to read to his own kids. When my grandson was little he saw an Australian TV program called ‘Blinky Bill’. (Blinky is a koala bear). My grandson lives overseas but was desperate to read the series in book form. It was out of print but I managed to find a couple of used copies and a DVD on eBay.
        Commercial publishing opportunities are limited although self publishing in eBook format is always an option. Mind you, I don’t know the costs involved when reproducing illustrations. Creating the illustrations sound very time consuming.

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      2. I suspect the expense of printing is a disincentive for some publishers. I must confess it’s not an area I’ve explored too deeply, but probably will delve into a bit if I ever get the inspiration to go down that path.

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