August 2008 Volume Two Issue Five
When Lina Went On The Lam - Jeff Soesbe
"Pretty little girls don't go on adventures," my mother always said and every time she said it, I hated her even more.
My mother wanted a little girl she could own and show off, a fairy-tale girl for a fairy-tale world, so she grew me in a flower-shaped vat of proteins and nutrients, tweaked my genes for pretty, dressed me in frills and lace, and made me put on shows. She wanted me to call her Mother, even if the only thing we shared was a few strands of DNA, but the only thing I could bear to call her that was fit for polite company was Mistress.
She called me Thumbelina, a name I couldn't stand from the first moment I heard it. It was far too cutesy, and the sing-song way she spoke it made me feel like retching. She said she loved me, but it was the kind of love you have for a nice painting, or a lovely sculpture, or a new dress. It was the love of possession, not the true love for which my heart yearned. And I certainly didn't love her.
So every time guests came for dinner, I smiled cute and danced and sang and plotted my escape. Sure my creator made me pretty, eight inches of young woman with hair the color of sunshine, a curvy figure, and an oval face with high cheekbones and a strong jaw. But she made one error when she used her own genes to make me. She also made me smart.
Smart gave me drive, to keep myself strong and build muscles of steel underneath my flowery summer dresses. Smart gave me desire, to see the world that waved and shimmered at me through the windows of the locked cage of a house where she kept me when I wasn't on display. Smart kept me alert, noticing every detail of how things worked, and made sure I would be ready to act when I found my opportunity to make a run for it.
The chance came near the end of my first year in the house, soon after the arrival of spring. The mistress and her guests were celebrating the end of the long winter and the bittersweet scent of dandelion wine hung heavy in the air. They requested that I sing a song of spring, so I did. I made sure to add extra lyrics imploring them to drink to the birds of spring, to the flowers of spring, to the very springness of spring, and they were so enchanted they were putty in my hands.
By the end of the evening, the guests were tottering as they navigated their way out the door. The mistress grabbed me and roughly shoved me in the cage before she stumbled around the room, picking up food and dishes and carrying them into the kitchen. Finally she flopped down in her large plush easy chair, pulled a wool blanket over herself, and fell into a noisy snoring sleep.
Usually she put a heavy blanket over the cage, like I was some stupid bird who needed a blanket to tell the difference between day and night. But now I had a clear view of the room. This was it. The coffee table was sprinkled with crumbs of bread and cheese. Soon the mouse would come, and I needed to be ready.
I dressed in my sturdiest boots, my leather breeches and my tunic, and shouldered my small pack holding all the good warm clothes I had made. Now I needed a mouse. I stuck my head next to the bars and made my best squeaking sound, as loud as I could. Again and again I repeated it, until I caught a flash of light grey motion in the corner of the living room next to the pianoforte. It was Madeline Mouse. I'd give her scraps and bits of my food when she came out at night.
"Mouse! Madeline Mouse!"
She peered out from behind the pianoforte, and then scampered across the floor. She periodically paused to cast a frantic and worried glance towards my Mistress's dozing bulk.
"Thumbelina. How are you this fine evening? Any leftovers you don't want?"
"I need your help."
Mouse looked nervously from side to side. She was always much better at taking than giving. "What do you mean?"
"I need a needle from the sewing kit. It's in the purple bag, next to the easy chair."
Mouse directed her worry at the sleeping Mistress.
"But she's in the chair."
"She's had so much wine she wouldn't notice it if you dropped a rock on her head. Come on, help me out."
"Why do you want it?"
"I'm breaking out, silly. I'm going on an adventure."
Mouse's furtive glance came back to me. "What's in it for me?"
"I'll get the good stuff for you. The cheese and crackers from tonight's party. Not just crumbs, but the whole thing. I know where she keeps it. Real cheese. Stilton. Shropshire. Camembert. "
Mouse's nose twitched twice, and then she froze. When her nose started flicking like a butterfly's wings, I knew I had her.
"Mmmm, Camembert. Okay, I'll get the needle."
I held my breath while Mouse scampered over to the sewing bag, scrambled up the side and disappeared into the bag's depths. After a few tense moments she reappeared and brought me the silver needle.
I took the needle, used the eye like a scabbard and jammed the point into the lock of my cage. It was a simple flip-latch mechanism so after a bit of poking and pushing I flipped it up. The click of the lock was the sound of freedom to my ears. I slung my pack on my shoulders and pushed the door open. The air smelled so much sweeter on the outside.
"Where's my cheese?" Mouse said. Always the pragmatist, these mice are.
We went to the kitchen where I climbed up the shelf handles to the countertop. The metal cheese box was locked tight, as protection against mice, but the lock yielded quickly to my needle. My pull-ups did me good as I shoved the heavy door open, and the cheese was ours.
Camembert cascaded from the shelf and Mouse cheered in her own squeaky way as she scurried back and forth and filled her mouth with cheese. I climbed back down and wrapped some chunks of cheese and cracker with paper, provisions for the journey. I helped Mouse with the rest of the cheese and we ducked into her notch behind the pianoforte.
"Now, how do I get out of here?" I asked Mouse, who was busy arranging her cheese into piles between the planks of the walls.
"Oh no, no, you don't want to go outside."
"It's night time. Bad things prowl in the nighttime." She flung one paw towards the door set into the outside wall. "See for yourself."
I pulled open the small metal door. From my cage next to the window, outside had always looked stark, mysterious and lovely. But from down here, next to the ground, the grass was a forest full of dark shadows. Dangerous beast-like plants loomed overhead. Something growled and the grass rustled.
"I think I'll wait until morning," I said as I closed the door.
"Smart, smart. Why do you want to go outside anyway?"
"I'm going on an adventure. I want to find true love."
"True love." Mouse smiled. "I had that once. With Mortimer." She put her paw on a drawing on the wall. It was a male mouse, dapper in round golden glasses and a tie.
"What happened to him?"
"He went foraging outside late one afternoon. He never came back. I think Cat got him." She sighed, and was quiet for a while. She yawned, stretched, and nestled into a mound of paper and leaves. "So I stay inside now and dream of him. Grab a bed, if you want. Good night." Mouse closed her eyes, and soon there was only the soft sound of her rapid breathing.
I tried to sit down, but I couldn't sleep. I kept listening for Mistress to wake up, or jumping when I heard scratches and noises from beyond the door. At times Mouse squeaked and jerked, saying snatches of conversation that sounded like "no, no, let me go, let me go." It was a long night, made longer by the fact that my adventure waited for me beyond the solid wooden door and beyond the shadows of the night.
The next morning, the sky was clear blue with clouds like dollops of frosting. It was the perfect day for an adventure. I accepted a goodbye kiss of thanks from Mouse and her scratchy whiskers and strode out the door into the grass. Mouse had suggested I head for the east and a forest the bees told her was beyond the fence and the fields.
I walked all day, passing the fence early and then making my way through waist-high grass. Soon I'd left the house and fence far behind and was in a land of green rolling hills. It was beautiful out here, far away from cages and captivity. Birds sang overhead, flying insects passed by and said hello, and bugs crawled past my feet. I ate my dinner on top of a hill with a view of an entire valley and the forest far in the distance. So far, the adventure was going well.
I spent my first night outside restlessly tucked into a small bush for cover. The noises of the night kept me on edge and more than once I jerked awake with my needle sword at the ready, but saw nothing. The stars above were amazing dots of light in the sky from end to end and they were my companions as I waited for dawn to come.
In the morning, I realized I had misjudged how much food I would need for my journey. I'd have to start rationing my supplies and see if there was anything in the wild that I could eat. By midday, I'd reached the shore of a large pond. This was good, because I was thirsty, but bad because I had no way to get across it. The yellow and white fish in the water watched me benignly as I filled up my dropper bottle and washed my face. Their little mouths moved as they waited for me to drop food.
The rays of the sun were suddenly blocked and a deep voice interrupted my rinsing.
A boat made of lily-pads arrived at the shore, driven by a toad. He wore rubber pants held up by suspenders and a large contraption of metal and tubes on his back.
"You sure are a pretty little human. What's your name?"
"Lina. What's yours?"
"Thaddeus Jeremiah Toad." He took off his hat and bowed. "At your service."
I gave a small bow. "It's nice to meet you, Thaddeus. Do you think you can get me across this lake?"
"Surely I can Ð" His eyes widened and he froze. "Uh oh."
"What?" I turned around and found myself nearly face to face with Sebastian, Mistress's Cat. The large orange tom was a constant irritation in the house, I never had liked him one bit and took every opportunity I could to tell him about it. He had always eyed me with an expression that I found to be a mix of disdain and hunger. Now, he was a smile full of shining teeth.
"Sebastian Aloysius Cat. You're a long way from home.".
"Well, well, well, look what I finally found." Cat said. "Mother was very upset that you'd disappeared."
"She's not my mother, so I don't care. I'm on an adventure."
"Well, once Mother couldn't find you she blamed me! Assumed I'd eaten you." A low hiss escaped the sharp teeth. "Picked me up by the scruff this morning, and tossed me out the door. The ground was still wet. I hate wet ground."
"You probably needed the bath."
"You might have been a smart mouth in the house, Thumbelina, but we're not there any more. It's a good thing you didn't take a bath before you left. It made it easy for me to track your scent. You're on the lam, and I'm taking you back in. Mother will be very pleased with me."
I brandished my needle. "Try it and I'll give you an eye full of needle."
Sebastian held up his paw and flexed. Alabaster claws emerged from the orange fur. "It's five on one, Thumbelina. You can't win."
"I can sure try." I pulled back the needle, ready to swipe it at Sebastian's paw when it came forward. But before I could swing, Thaddeus's wet, rubbery flipper grabbed my arm and pulled me aside.
Thaddeus had a small tube in his hand, and he was pumping his thin leg up and down furiously. He drew his hand back and forward and a thick stream of green, smelly water flew out of the tube straight into Sebastian's face.
Sebastian spluttered, shook his head, and glowered at us. "You dirty little Toad, I oughta -- Ow!" Sebastian screeched and pawed at his eyes and nose. "Holy mother's milk, what did you do?"
Thaddeus hit him with another stream of water right in the eye and Sebastian yowled in a high, pained voice.
"Lina, get in the boat," Thaddeus yelled. "Start rowing."
I jumped in, grabbed the oars, and pulled us away from the shore as fast as I could. Thaddeus kept the water going with deadly accuracy right into Sebastian's face. Sebastian twisted on the shore then finally turned and ran away into the grass.
"What was in that, Thaddeus?"
"Pond water," he said as he pushed the pump pedal at his feet, "dandelion juice, bee venom, and a little dog pee."
"That's a marvelous weapon," I laughed. "May I see it?"
"Sure." He shrugged the pack off his shoulder and set it on the floor of the boat. "I'll row."
We switched places. I put my needle on the boat floor and examined his squirting weapon. The foot pump drew lake water up a tube and into a metal reservoir. The hand pump pulled water from the reservoir, mixed with the other caustic liquids, and shot it out the nozzle. "Very nice. I'll have to make one some day."
"So, Lina, why are you crossing the pond?"
"I'm on an adventure. I'm searching for true love."
He landed the boat on a small muddy beach, part of an island in the middle of the pond.
"This isn't the other shore."
"No, it's not. It's my home." Toad inflated his throat and let out a slow, arching croak. The closest plants parted and a huge green toad emerged and waddled his way to the shore. "And this is my son. He needs a wife."
"Hiya, cutey," the big toad's son rumbled.
"I'm not interested in staying."
"You seem to think you have a choice," Thaddeus said.
I reached down for my needle sword but Thaddeus had it in his slimy green hand.
He motioned to the shore. "Take off the squirter and get out of the boat."
I thought about shooting him with the water but realized it wouldn't do any good. Toads liked pond water and the dog pee wouldn't affect him. I slipped the squirter pack off my shoulder and picked up my backpack. Thaddeus was big, but I figured he wasn't as quick as me so this was my best chance.
When I stepped out of the boat, I threw the backpack and hit him square in the face. He stumbled backwards and I was on him in a flash. I kicked the needle from his hand, snatched it from the air, and pointed it right where I knew his slimy toad heart was.
"Make one move and dad gets it," I told the son.
He looked at me and shrugged. "You're not my type anyway. Too much trouble," he said as he dragged his bulk back into the plants.
"I'll leave you the water gun, Thaddeus, but I'm taking the boat."
"I swim faster than you can row, girl. I'll catch you."
"We'll see about that."
Luckily, there was something in the water faster than a frog. While keeping the needle between me and Thaddeus, I hopped in the boat and tossed the gun onto the far part of the shore. I shrugged my pack off my shoulder and pulled the last of my cracker pieces.
Once one flake of cracker went into the water, it was suddenly alive with fish. I held up another piece in the air and all the fish eyes watched me carefully.
"I need a lift across the water. Crackers to whoever gets me out of here fast."
A golden carp with black lines stuck her face out of the water. "Grab on," she said as she settled under the boat and stuck up her dorsal fin. I grabbed on and we took off like a shot across the pond. Thaddeus splashed in and gave chase, but we left him in the distance. The carp took me to the edge of the pond, where a stream left and meandered towards the forest, still far in the distance.
"This is where I stop," said the carp. "It's too shallow for me, but the current will take you away."
"Thank you, kind fish." I tossed the last bits of cracker into the water and the carp gobbled them up. The carp gave me a final push and the current took me into the stream.
The land around the stream got drier and less green the farther I drifted downstream. Infrequent patches of flowers dotted among the dirty shores.
I was warm, so I removed my outer jacket and stuffed it in my pack. I tied my hair back in a loose ponytail and pulled it up on my head to get it off my neck.
"Oh, don't do that," a voice like honey said. "Your hair is so lovely."
There wasn't anyone around. "Who said that?" I asked, needle dagger at the ready.
The air shimmered next to the boat and where there had been nothing a butterfly appeared. Pictures and images danced on its wings: a purple pansy on the stream bank, the water splashing on the pebbles below us, me in my jacket and pack.
"How do you do that?"
"I think about the pictures, and they appear on my wings. And if I want, I can turn invisible." With that word, the butterfly disappeared again.
"I'm Lina. What's your name?"
"I'm Rhody." Rhody blinked back to visible. "Where are you going, little human Lina?"
"I'm on an adventure. I'm searching for true love."
"Ah, true love. The simple sweetness of a green leaf, the bitter nectar in the life-giving flowers, the complicated dance in a summer courtship."
"That sounds like butterfly love. I'm looking for human love."
She settled on the edge of the boat. "I can't help you there. But maybe the beetles can. They were made by humans, before they escaped."
"Where are they?"
"They're a few thousand flutters down the stream. Give me the end of a rope, and I'll take you there."
I untied the sash around my hair, held one end and gave the other to Rhody. She rose above the boat and fluttered away, pulling me forward. Her wings were covered with the pattern of my hair shifting in the slight breeze as we moved down stream. I dug out some small bits of cheese and ate them slowly while the landscape rolled by beside us.
When the stream became an unnavigable trickle, Rhody pulled the boat to the side and it grounded on the shore. I climbed to the top of the stream bank. All around me the ground was a flat field with short grasses and stubs of plants.
"Where are the beetles?"
"They're a little farther. Just start walking towards the flat land. They'll find you."
"Thank you, Rhody."
"My pleasure, Lina." She flew away upstream, two exact copies of my hair and face decorating her wings.
From the bank, I headed into an area that was bare of plants as far as the eye could see. All that was left was stubs and shreds amidst the small holes that dotted the ground. It was late in the afternoon and the sun beat on me mercilessly as I walked. I was out of food and drank the last of my water, and I worried that I wouldn't find anything out here. But I knew the butterfly wouldn't lie to me, so I kept going.
As the sun started to set, I heard a clicking sound, barely audible above the sounds of my footsteps. I kept walking and the clicking sound grew louder and louder, like the sound of a key ring filled with thousands of keys.
Beetles poured out of the ground all around me and surrounded me. The evening sun glistened off their metallic shells and wire antennae. Any single beetle only came up to my knee, but they climbed all over each other and touched me with their tiny antenna. It felt like small hairs or points of a thistle. Their voices were an endless, overlapping cascade of words interspersed with clicks and whistles.
"Smells like human?"
"Smells like human. Small not like human."
"Teeny tiny human. Miniscule human."
"Waste of a waist, she's wasting away."
"Skin way too soft."
"No good in a fight."
"Only two legs?"
"How does she talk?"
"Speaks like human?"
"Hair shines like metal."
"Yes, hair. Metal hair?"
"Hair not metal, just shines like metal."
"No name on her shell."
"Name?" one beetle said, then all of them stopped and looked at me with their antenna raised at attention.
"My name is Lina, and I'm on an adventure."
This set off a flurry of moving antenna and action and talking among the beetles.
"Like our journey."
"Journey from danger."
"Journey from far."
"Journey so far."
"Journey to near. Journey to here."
"From where are you?"
"From where have you come?"
"Where did you come from?"
All the beetles were talking to me at once, in an endless series of questions and clicks that were overwhelming me so much my head hurt.
"I can't answer all of you at once. Who is your leader?"
"Head of beetles."
"Beetles have heads, but no head."
"Must determine one to speak for all."
"Must select one as speaker."
"Must hold selection."
The beetles scurried about, touching antenna, emitting whistles and ticks, like a mechanical carpet.
"Twenty-eight speaks for all the beetles."
The beetles parted like sand on a hillside, and one beetle stepped forward to stand at my feet.
"I am twenty-eight. I speak for the beetles."
"Hello twenty-eight. I've traveled a long way, night is coming, and I could use a place to sleep and some food. Can you help me?"
Twenty-eight's antenna twitched, and the antenna of the collective twitched in return.
"Beetles do not sleep."
This wasn't a surprise to me. The beetles didn't act like things that slept at night.
"Beetles do not eat."
"Where do you get energy?"
"We are wound, our springs turned daily by each other or by the spring winder."
"Well, who's the spring winder? Do they have food?"
"Mouse is the spring winder. We bring mouse food, mouse winds the springs. Mouse can help you."
"Then let's go see Mouse."
"Follow the beetles."
The beetles arranged themselves around me and started marching into the fields. I felt like the commander of a great beetle army, leading her forces into battle.
We ended up at a wooden door set into a mound of dirt in the middle of the barren fields. I banged the large brass knocker set into the door.
"Coming, coming. Just a minute," a thin squeaky voice called from inside. The door opened, and a small grey mouse about half my height stepped outside. In his hands he held a brass clock key. "Hello beetles. And who is this?"
"I am Lina, and I'm on an adventure."
"It's very nice to meet you, Lina. I'm Malcolm." He held up the key and addressed the beetles. "Now, who needs a winding?"
Beetles crowded around Malcolm and opened their wings to expose a small hole. Malcolm stuck the key in the hole and gave it several turns. He was getting slower after three or four beetles.
"Can I help you, Malcolm?"
"Oh, if you would. My old arms don't turn as fast as they used to."
I took the key from him and stuck it into the hole in the back of the next beetle. Once the key clicked, I turned it until the tension was tight.
"Lina is a good spring winder," the beetle said.
I worked my way through the rest of the beetles and by the time I was done my arms and shoulders were tired. But it was a good kind of tired, like I'd worked hard and accomplished something.
The beetles collected into a group and marched back out across the field.
"Where are they going?"
"To find more food. They're good little food finders, but they have to go farther every time. It's getting very dry here. I don't know how much longer I'll be able to stay. But what kind of host am I, talking about my troubles? Come downstairs, eat, drink, and meet my friend."
Mouse led me down the stairs and through a hallway. Flickering brass lamps provided spots of light throughout the hallway. The walls were dirt, reinforced with regular arches of wood and metal.
"This is an amazing home. Did you make this, Malcolm?"
"Oh no, no. My friend did."
We walked into a large room containing tables and chairs. Multiple hallways left the room and went in all directions. A mole stood at a large central table, looking at an unrolled document. The mole was snappily dressed in brown pants, dark shirt, and vest with a twisting pattern of red, blue and green.
"Let me introduce you," Malcolm said. "Horace, I'd like you to meet Lina."
The mole stuck out a hand. "Lina, I'm Horace. How nice to meet you."
I shook his warm, slick hands. "Pleasure to meet you both."
"So, what brings you to our part of the world, Lina?" Horace asked.
"I'm on an adventure."
"Oh, how wonderful! I love adventures!"
Glasses of what smelled like lemonade sat on a side table next to the big table. "Malcolm, could I trouble you for a little something to drink?"
"Oh, Lina, I'm so sorry. Where are my manners today? Please help yourself." He swept his paw towards a table holding sandwiches, glasses, and a pitcher.
"Thank you!" My stomach growled and I poured some lemonade and grabbed a sandwich. It consisted of a thick slab of grilled white meat between two slices of hearty whole grain bread. "This smells delicious, what is it?"
"Grilled earthworm," Horace said.
I took a big bite. The earthworm was thick and juicy and the bread complimented it perfectly. "Fantastic," I said around a mouthful of sandwich. Of course, I was so hungry that grilled dirt might have been good but I didn't say that and it was actually very tasty.
"Oh, I like her," Horace said with a smile. "So, Malcolm, what do you think of my latest invention?"
"Let me take a closer look." Malcolm picked up glasses from a side table and set them carefully on his nose. The glasses were round lenses with gold frames.
I nearly choked on my sandwich. He was the spitting image of the mouse in the drawing in Madeline's home. I quickly chewed my bite and swallowed it before I spoke.
Malcolm froze. His lower jaw quivered. He looked up at me and his eyes were wet. "I haven't heard that name in almost a year. Do I know you?"
"I used to live in Mistress's house. I'm Thumbelina."
"Thumbelina." A sad smile spread across his face. "I never actually saw you. The day before you were born, I went out to gather flowers to give to the Mistress. Then that," he nearly spat out the word as he said it, "Cat; that Cat chased me to the edge of the yard. I barely escaped him by hiding in a hole, but when I came out a bird grabbed me and hauled me all the way out here. I fought her off and landed in these fields. The beetles found me and brought me to the Horace."
Horace put a protective hand on Mouse's shoulders. "You were a sad sight. Barely alive."
"He nursed me back to health, and I am so grateful to you for that." He patted Horace on his vest.
"But why did you change your name?"
"I realized I was a long way from home, and I didn't know how to get back, so I figured it was best if I started over. Hearing my old name every day, it would have just reminded me of Madeline."
"She misses you terribly."
His jaw quivered again and he sniffled. "You've seen her?"
"I saw her a few days ago. She helped me escape."
Now Horace was sniffling too. He Horace took out a large red handkerchief and loudly blew his nose. "What a wonderful tale of love and bravery."
It was at that moment that I realized I had finally found true love. The love between Mortimer and Madeline was still strong even after almost a year apart. This was the reason I had gone on an adventure, and now I knew what the purpose of my adventure was. Also, I was the reason the mice were separated in the first place so I felt responsible.
"Mortimer, I know how to get back. I can take you back home."
"Oh, Thumbelina." He ran to me and squeezed me hard, crying all the way.
"It'll take us several days, because it's a long walk."
Horace turned to us proudly. "There's no need to walk. You can fly."
"Come with me," he said and quickly headed towards another hallway. Mortimer and I followed as fast as we could, through three turns and more hallways dimly lit. Finally, we came to a dark cave and stopped in the entry. Horace reached out and grabbed a switch on the wall.
"Here's how you can fly," he said as he flipped the switch.
Bright light flooded the cave from big lamps above. Once my eyes adjusted, I saw two large birds sitting on a raised platform in the middle of the room. They were sparrows, with white bellies and orange and brown feathers. Their eyes glistened with a metallic glow in the light from the lamps.
"Are they machines?"
"Yes indeed, they are. They fell out of the sky one day. I got them working again, and took one on a trip to the ocean. They'll easily carry you for your journey back to the house," Horace said proudly. "They're very strong, and powered by the same winding mechanism that powers the beetles. We'll tune them up tonight, and they'll be ready for flight first thing in the morning."
We spent the first part of the night getting the birds ready for the trip, and then stayed up late hearing Horace's tales of his trip to the ocean. It sounded like a marvelous place, and I knew that it would be my next adventure right after I reunited Mortimer and Madeline.
Finally, it was time for sleep. Horace showed me to a nice warm feather bed. I quickly fell asleep and dreamed of flying and of waves crashing into a beach.
The next morning was clear and beautiful. The beetles carried the birds up to the surface, and we were going through the final pre-flight checks. I wound both birds tight and their eyes clicked to show they were ready.
"It's a perfect day for flying," Horace said as he gave goggles and hats to Mortimer and me. "You'll love it."
"Once I get Mortimer safely with Madeline, I'll return with the birds. Thank you for letting us use them."
"Any adventure in the service of love is an adventure worth taking. You fly safe, and fly free."
"Barring any trouble, I should be back tonight." But there could be trouble back at the house, trouble in the shape of a four-footed feline with revenge on its mind. I needed help to go against her. The image of my beetle army came to mind. "Do you think we could take the beetles with us?"
"I'm sure they'd love to go with you."
"Beetles," I said. "How do you feel about an adventure?"
"Heroic times, to reunite two lovers."
Every beetle said "Yes" in a maelstrom of ticks and whistles. I had my army.
I climbed up on the sparrow as Mortimer got up on the twin with the Horace's help. The beetles swarmed onto the sparrow, covering every available inch of space. One beetle sat on the top of the sparrow's head, and I was sure it was number Twenty-eight.
"Beetles ready," it said.
I took hold of the steering column in the sparrow's neck and flipped the switches. The wings flapped with a mighty gust of air and we were in the air.
"Goodbye," said Horace. "Have fun on your adventure! See you soon!"
The sparrows climbed quickly until I had a good view of the extent of the fields around Horace's home.
"Twenty-eight, which way to the stream?"
I pointed the sparrow towards the morning sun and we smoothly moved forward.
From the sky, everything looked so small. The vast dry field where the plants grew was a small circle in the larger world. There was so much more left to see and explore than I'd ever imagined.
We came to the stream and I turned the sparrow upstream. I glimpsed two eyes fluttering over the water but they disappeared before I could get any closer. I'm sure a sparrow wasn't what Rhody the butterfly wanted to see flying over her.
Finally the stream came to the pond where Thaddeus ran his boating operation. The island where he and his son lived was smack in the middle of the pond. I didn't see a lilypad boat navigating the waters. If I did I might have though of dropping a few rocks near it to make sure Thaddeus stayed in line.
"How are we doing?" Mortimer called from the other sparrow.
"Now it's the field, the fence and home."
We were over the vast field that it had taken me an entire day to cross. Even from here it looked large, but also beautiful, with the green and gold grasses shifting in the breeze. We crested a hill and in the distance I could see the fence and the smoke from the house.
Mortimer was showing his excitement, leaning forward. His sparrow looked like it was covered in armor, with the beetles clinging to the outside. "Almost there!" I called.
We passed the field, went over the fence and there was the house at the other end of the yard.
"Hooray!" Mortimer shouted.
I steered the sparrow to the side of the house and to a landing next to the mouse's front door. Mortimer's sparrow landed and he jumped off, along with a river of beetles that quickly disappeared into the grass.
"And we're home." Mortimer had a big smile on his face. The journey had taken me three days, but we had covered it on the sparrows in a couple of hours.
"How nice of you to make things easy for me." It was a growl I'd heard far too recently. Sebastian jumped out of the grass and pounced on Mortimer.
I pulled out my needle sword and walked towards them. "Let him go, Sebastian."
"Come any closer, Thumbelina, and the mouse gets it."
"Don't worry about me, Lina," Mortimer yelled. "Get that cat."
Behind Sebastian, a beetle stuck its head out of the grass. Its antennae twitched excitedly.
"Okay, Sebastian, I'll back off. What do you want?"
"I'll trade you for the mouse. Mistress will be pleased when I bring you back, alive and well. And, I'm glad you brought back my favorite stalking toys," Sebastian said, tilting its heads towards the sparrows. "I was disappointed when they flew off."
More beetles gathered at the edge of grass behind Sebastian. They were waiting for my signal.
"Lina, don't do it."
"I said I'd get you back alive and well, Mortimer. I'm not going back on that promise." I dropped the needle into the grass and walked slowly towards Sebastian. "Now let him go, Sebastian."
I waited for the moment that Sebastian eased his grip on Mortimer. I was sure that he was going to try to get me as well as Mortimer. He was a cat, after all.
When I was a foot away, he raised a paw.
"Now, beetles," I yelled.
Confusion crossed Sebastian's face. "Who are you talking to?"
The beetles swarmed out of the grass, a river of wire and steel, and speedily attacked Sebastian. I grabbed my needle sword, ran forward, and slashed the back of his paw. He yowled in pain and flinched. I grabbed Mortimer and pulled him out.
"Run, Mortimer," I yelled. He scrambled towards the side of the house.
Sebastian twisted and screeched as the beetles attacked him. He rolled in the grass but they were too dug in and weren't going to let go. Sebastian scrambled to his feet and ran into the back of the yard, beetles attached or following him all the way.
"That should take care of him," I said proudly.
"Mortimer?" It was Madeline, peeking out from the slightly ajar door. "Mortimer, is it really you?"
The door flung open and Madeline ran out. She and Mortimer embraced, and kissed, and embraced again. I felt a surge of pride in my heart. I had brought true love back together again.
"Lina, you're alive!" Madeline said as we went into their house. "Where have you been?"
"It's a long story. It involves the beetles, and those two sparrows you saw outside, and a whole lot more."
"I'd love to hear it."
"I'd love to tell you. And how are things back here?"
"The Mistress has already replaced you. She put a new person in the house yesterday."
"Take a look."
I went out the crack in the wall and to the edge of the pianoforte. There was another person in the cage, standing near one of the windows. Anger filled my heart. I had escaped, and all Mistress did was put another person in a cage. I knew what I had to do.
"I'll be back," I said to the two mice, who were still embracing each other with happy, tearful faces.
I didn't hear any sign of the Mistress, so I dashed across the floor using the chairs and table for cover. At the cage, I climbed the legs and went to where I could see in one of the windows.
It was a young man, facing away from me, standing at a palette next to a window that faced the main window of the Mistress's house. Using a single horse hair, he painted the scene as viewed through the steel bars of his cage. The painting expressed a sense of longing, of sadness as embodied in the cold, black lines that prevented the full view of the scene.
"Your painting is beautiful, but sad," I said.
He flinched and smeared a dab of blue across his green trees. He turned and looked at me with wide blue eyes. He was a pretty young man, very pretty indeed. Strands of hair fell across his face and gave him a mysterious and soulful look on top of his classic, rough-hewn, features.
"Who are you?" His voice was light and melodic, and I knew then that his singing would be divine.
"I'm Lina. What's your name?"
"Hi, Thomas. Why are you in there?"
"I don't get to go out. My Mother keeps me in here, and I paint pictures for her."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
He looked at me like I was a curiosity. "What are you doing out there?"
"I'm on an adventure."
He rushed towards me and grasped the bars of the cage. "What's it like, an adventure?" His long, dark hair cascaded like falling velvet as his shoulder slumped. "Mother tells me that pretty boys don't go on adventures."
"Mother is so full of it. You want to know what an adventure is like?" I took out my needle dagger and Thomas cringed. The lock quickly clicked as I worked at it with the point of the needle. Throwing open the door, I stuck out my hand. "How would you like to see the ocean?"
- END -