Once I’d explained we weren’t in any immediate danger and they’d calmed down, I told them what I’d seen. I used a stick to draw a rough map in the ground, showing the layout.
“That’s it?” said Maurice. “Just five rooms?”
“There’s also whatever’s under the trap door. I figure the two of them used it to avoid being captured when the other mice were killed. If they have any treasure, that’s probably where they keep it. Of course, who knows what mice consider valuable? It could just be a big lump of cheese.”
“Actually,” said Dudley, “mice don’t really like cheese. Bread or even chocolate works better in traps. Their love of cheese is a myth.”
“Thank you for that, Dudley,” I said sarcastically. “Very interesting.”
“You’re very welcome,” replied Dudley with complete sincerity.
“So you want us to go in there and kill them,” said Claire. “While they’re having their dinner.”
“Yes. I told you what they said. They plan to attack humans as soon as reinforcements arrive—it’s not like they’re just minding their own business. I’m pretty sure the other groups have been through here and that’s how they got enough money together to leave Probet. Took all the weapons and whatever else they could sell. But if they didn’t know about the trap door, we might still get lucky.
“So what’s the plan?” asked Maurice.
“Very simple. Two of them, five of us. They won’t be prepared and we will be ruthless. It’s very important we don’t give them any sort of chance. Each of us will have a role and you have to do your part or we’ll end up being the ones getting killed.” I looked at Claire. “If you really don’t want to do this, then stay out here. If you go in, you have to stay focused on the objective and follow it through to the end, no matter what.” I looked around the group. “No matter what.”
They agreed and were convinced by me that we would be victorious. I, on the other hand, had some doubts.
Even though it seemed a fairly uneven match in our favour, you can never overlook the ability of an idiot to fuck things up. And I had four of them to contend with. Who am I kidding? Five, if you include me. I was just as likely to have a panic attack at exactly the wrong moment and cost us the win. But I thought back to Maurice and Dudley making sure not to get the sacks wet when they jumped in the water. They were capable of living up to expectations, even going beyond them, sometimes at least. I just hoped this was one of those times.
We made our way to the cave entrance, weapons ready. The plan was simple. We rush in, the girls would grab the female mouse and keep hold of her. They didn’t have to kill her, just keep her out of the picture while we dealt with the male. Maurice and Dudley would take an arm each, I would go in for the kill with my spike. Being able to talk made them superior beasts, which meant if I used my spike to kill one of them, I’d have completed my agreement with the blacksmith’s apprentice. They didn’t know that, of course, they just thought I was willing to take on the burden of dealing the killing blow. Which I was.
We entered the tunnel and quickly moved to the other end. As arranged, the others hid in the openings, two on each side, while I sidled along the wall to make sure the mice were where they were supposed to be. They were sat around the fire with their backs to me. I signalled the others to come forward, ready to attack.
Okay, quick show of hands, who thinks things went according to plan, all nice and smooth? Nobody? Excellent, nice to see you’re starting to understand how my life works.
We charged in. As instructed, no one made a sound. No yelling or threats. Why alert them to our presence before we land the first hit? The girls jumped on the female and pinned her to the ground, squealing (all three of them).
Maurice rugby tackled the male but couldn’t keep hold of him, sending him skidding along the ground. He scrambled to get away but I managed to grab his foot and yank him back. Maurice and and Dudley threw themselves on an arm each. I took out my spike and closed in.
The mouse kicked and struggled violently, bucking to get free. His tail whipped around in a frenzy making it hard for me to strike. I grabbed the tail and pulled it aside and kneeled on the mouse’s stomach, hand raised with the spike pointed at his face. Its eyes darted from side to side, panic welling up as its struggles were firmly restrained.
Flossie screamed. The female mouse had got free of Claire and had buried its teeth in Flossie’s thigh. Dudley let go of the arm he had been holding, and rushed over to help Flossie.
“No,” I yelled, “don’t—”
Too late. The mouse used its free hand to punch Maurice in the face, knocking him away, I lunged, trying to stab the mouse. It twisted out of the way, got its tail free of my grip and wrapped it around my throat.
I desperately tried to get it off but it was wrapped around tight, squeezing. My head felt like it was going to explode.
Maurice tackled the mouse again and it released me to get away. It scrambled to the other side of the room, moving amazingly fast. I sat up wheezing and gasping for breath. Dudley had got the female mouse off Flossie and was helping her up. The mouse-woman was in the corner, hissing and snarling.
The male mouse came running out of a dark corner with a spear held in front of it, levelled at Maurice. He dived out of the way.
My head spun, my whole body was shaking and my throat felt like it was on fire. I groggily got to my feet, stumbled forward a few steps, and then ran.
Down the tunnel. Past the bushes. Into the water.
I climbed onto the island and lay on my back, gasping for breath. I was livid. Fuck them.
I sat up and saw them wading through the water. Dudley was helping Flossie. Claire and Maurice were each checking the other was okay. Fuck all of them.
I got back in the water and headed for the opposite side. Hopefully, the bunnicorns had gone back to the clearing or wherever. I got out of the water and leaned against a tree wanting to scream.
Behind me, they had continued past the island probably thinking I wanted to put some extra distance between me and the danger. I did, but the danger I wanted to get away from was them.
“What the fuck?” I yelled at them as they staggered out of the water, sopping wet. “What the actual fucking fuck?”
Everyone looked down, red-faced and unsure of what to say.
Except for Dudley, who looked up at the sky. “Colin, I—”
“What, Dudley? I’m sorry? I’m useless? I’m a total retard who almost got everyone killed?”
“He didn’t get anyone killed,” Claire shouted back at me. “He saved Flossie.”
“He didn’t save anyone. She got bitten. If the mouse had rabies it’s already too late for her, otherwise she’ll be fine.” I turned to Dudley who had his mouth half open. “And if you tell me mice don’t carry rabies, I will stab you in the heart, so shut up. Fucking one thing, just one thing you had to do. Stay focused. But you can’t help yourself, can you? This is why you’ve always disappointed people. You want to be a free spirit? Great, do whatever the fuck you want. Keeping your word obviously means nothing to you and next time you’re going to get someone killed. Probably me.”
“That’s enough,” said Claire.
“Damn right it is. Piss off, all of you.”
“I-I’m sorry,” stammered Dudley. “I know I let you down. It’s just, I-I—”
“What? It’s not your fault? You meant well? It doesn’t matter. Next time will be the same because no one ever taught you the importance of doing what you promised. My life’s been full of people like you. ‘I meant it at the time, but things change…” That’s not how it works. You’re either someone who can keep their word, or you’re a fucking liar. I can’t rely on you, Dudley, so I think it’s best I just rely on myself.”
Dudley clenched both fists by his side and lowered his head to look me in the eye. “Then teach me.”
“Teach you what?”
“Teach me how to do what needs to be done. If you’re so f-f-fucking perfect, teach me. I’ll do whatever you say.”
We glared at each other for what seemed like forever and then I said, “Fine.”
And so began the training of Dudley Fenderson III.