Short Story: “Mouser”

MouserTabletopScene

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

For almost all the villagers, it proved a peaceful and lovely place to live. Nearly everyone’s flower-lined windows brimmed with tranquil views of lush meadows, home to contented cows and woolly sheep. Often in the spring and summertime, the crisp air 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 freshly finished arched stone bridge. The pride of the town had been built broad enough for not one, but two horses abreast. Such wonder! The old stepping stones used to cross the brook previously had been left in place underneath. Now no one would ever again fear getting their feet wet.

High on the northern end of the village, up the cobblestone main street, a stone chapel stood 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. Bright 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 at Giselberta’s tardiness. 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 often had to mend 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. Without warning, he had dashed outside with the housecat Schroedie under one arm, only to return soon after, empty-handed.

This sent Giselberta out on a desperate search, only to return empty-handed herself.
Giselberta’s beloved pet and 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 these kinds of problems, even if the other students paid little attention. He smiled and nodded at Giselberta as she joined in lessons on counting.

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

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

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

Neighbours were alarmed. Birds scattered into the air. Cows mooed and flocks of sheep panicked and ran away. Giselberta’s father came running down from the smithy, a large hammer still in his hand.

Another blood-chilling roar sent Giselberta scampering for her bed, trembling under the safety of 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 didn’t seem 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 could this terrifying creature be, and what ill did it bear on its malevolent mind?

Father Thomas bravely emerged from his chapel and strode through the centre of the village, 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 new arched stone bridge and draw out Schroedie from underneath. The terrifying demonic snarl instantly diminished into the plaintive “meow” of a cat left stranded on an old stepping stone in the middle of the brook under a bridge whose shape, it turned out, could modify and amplify sound.

Engelbrecht cheerfully skipped 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 to his work in the smithy.

Giselberta’s mother and father burst out laughing. Murmurs of laughter filled other parts of the village as well. Father Thomas even chortled red-faced from his safe little spot inside the tavern.

Giselberta couldn’t help herself, her anger dissolving into laughter 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 an arched stone bridge.

The locals decided to call 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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