Convent Mouse scurried quickly through the nooks and crannies of her domain, sniffing and listening. Her eyesight was adequate, but she relied mostly on her other two senses to inform her of dangers, and of possible sustenance.
She had already checked on the nuns, and the kitchen, and had found a few crumbs here and there that she’d nibbled down. She didn’t dare go to the guest suite at the far end just yet. There were children there, and it was best to wait for all parties to be completely asleep. C.M. didn’t make hardly a sound when she surveyed her domain for food, but she had learned difficult lessons about people. She paused and rubbed her front paws together for a moment before continuing on. She knew about people. Once upon a time, she had actually been a pet.
That had been a good time in her life. There had always been fresh water, and delicious nibbles, and fresh vegetables and fruit. There had always been a safe place to sleep, and clean bedding. She’d even grown to like being held. But something had happened, and she’d been released--into the wild, where she didn’t understand anything, and everything tried to kill her.
She had found this place through chance, and C.M. would never leave it. The outside world was far too frightening.
Finishing her travel through the woodwork, C.M. cautiously poked her head into the other occupied guest room. She had good luck with this room. There were often bits of bread or cookies left about. Several times there had been fruit. C.M. twitched her whiskers at the memory of several grapes that had fallen on the floor not too far away from her entrance. She’d enjoyed those quite a bit, and she hadn’t even had to go out into the room very far to retrieve them.
C.M. paused to listen and to smell. The young woman was asleep. C.M. could hear her rhythmic breathing. The woman was usually asleep when she was in the room, although she slept very lightly. But C.M. wasn’t afraid of her. She gave a few sniffs of the air. No, there wasn’t anything to be worried about the woman. She was a gentle human, and C.M. could also smell that there was something not quite right with her, as well.
No, it was the other one that C.M. worried about.
The man had eyes like a cat—always watching, hardly blinking. He was a predator, and C.M.’s fur stood on end to even think about getting within his grasp.
She didn’t go any further into the room. The man wasn’t asleep yet. He often was not asleep when C.M. made her rounds. She didn’t think humans were especially nocturnal—they tended to sleep all night long—but this one was often awake late into the night. Usually he was on the bed with the gentle one, but even then, C.M. didn’t dare creep within. She would have to return again later if there would be any hope of searching for a morsel to eat.
C.M. didn’t return to the room until the next night, and she waited until it was very late indeed. This time she was rewarded. Both were asleep, and C.M. hurried as silently as she could into the room. It was endowed with the smells of the outside, which the humans had brought with them, and C.M. knew there would be a treat somewhere for her. She caught the scent of something delicious inside a bag, and she moved stealthily over to it. The bag had fallen on its side and was easy to enter, and there C.M. found some type of pastry that had walnuts in it. Walnuts! C.M. hadn’t had nuts in so very long, and she truly did love them.
Perhaps she lingered too long in eating the nuts, but suddenly a noise filled the room, and the humans on the bed were stirred into waking. Panic filled her, and C.M. moved as far back into the shadows of the bag as possible. She flattened herself down, and was still able to peer out into the darkness, ready to flee if one of the humans came too close.
The man moved out of bed and went to the thing that made the noise, stopping it. Now he was speaking, his voice low and measured. The tone of his voice almost spooked C.M. into flight right then, it was filled with warning and dread and the edge of certainty that a predator’s cry held just as it swooped down onto unsuspecting little mice.
Trembling, C.M. held her ground, and stayed inside the bag.
Now the man and woman were speaking to each other, and their voices were filled with anxiety.
Then the two humans began a flurry of activity. Light flooded the room—C.M. realized in horror that the dark that hid her so well was gone—and items were moved around the room.
C.M. crouched at the bag’s opening, looking and smelling and listening, and when there was a moment when both the humans had moved far enough away, C.M. bolted. She ran without a look back headlong into the crevice in the wall, and once inside, she cowered there for a long time, trembling.
The life of a too-cowardly mouse made for a too-skinny mouse, and C.M. knew she had to brave the room again. The thought of walnuts drew her back most of all. She would be excessively cautious, she promised. Skinny was better than dead, but she needed food to survive. It was a constant balance, between food and safety.
As she peered into the room from the safety of the opening, C.M. thought that she could see how things stood.
To her surprise, and relief, the predator was not present. The human female was still there, sleeping. C.M. sniffed the air, but smelled only the waning scent of the predator—things he had scent marked remained in the room, but he had not been back for the whole day. And she smelled the bread.
Considering that it was safe enough, C.M. scuttled along through the shadows, until she reached the bread. It was only a crust, the doughy part having been eaten away.
C.M. checked on the human—she was deeply asleep, curled up on a scent-marked item of the predator’s. Boldly, C.M. decided to take the whole crust away with her. She bit down on it and carried it along. Bringing it with her made her slow, of course, and cost her in attention. If the woman were to wake up, C.M. would waste a precious moment in dropping the crust before she could make her escape. But she was confidant that the woman wouldn’t hurt her—there was just something in the scent of her that told C.M. that. She was like the one that had once called C.M. pet. Gentle and good.
She reached the crevice and brought the crust inside, delighted in the night’s spoils.
The next night, C.M. did not have such luck. When she came to the crevice, the room was full of light and the human female was busy doing something. The predator was still absent.
C.M. paused, sniffing, but there didn’t seem to be anything in the room that she could eat. When a sharp ring split the air and the far-away voice of the predator softly filled the room, C.M. turned tail and hurried away. She would have to find another meal somewhere else.
The next night the situation was entirely different, and C.M. found an entire tray of food left behind. Neither human was accounted for, and the room was dark and still.
C.M. scrabbled her way to the tray and surveyed the find. She picked through the items—there was very little fruit present—but still, there were many good things to eat, and to save. Once again, there were walnuts inside a pastry, and C.M. spent the night prying them out and carrying them away. They would save for a long time, and be her salvation on nights when she could find no other food.
She had taken most of what she’d desired when the door to the room opened and C.M. realized she was out in the open, a walnut piece in her mouth. She looked up and the piercing gaze of the predator was directly upon her. The gentle human was right next to him. C.M. dropped the walnut and fled.
Safe in her crevice behind the wall, she retreated as deeply as possible, and curled up. Exhausted from her desperate escape, C.M. closed her eyes and slept.
The next night, C.M. pulled all her courage together. She didn’t want to leave her cozy nest and do any scouting around at all. Last night’s near capture had left her feeling frightened and vulnerable. But if she didn’t look for food, even with her little stockpile, then she would eventually become too weak to go out.
C.M. canvassed the kitchen and the rooms of the nuns, but they were near fastidious, and didn’t often leave anything much for her. A few crumbs here and there where bits and pieces had gone under counters or tables were all C.M. could find. She stopped by the room with the parents and children, all of which were awake. C.M. pulled away. One of the children had gotten sick. There would be nothing scavenged from this room tonight.
That left the predator’s room.
C.M. sat back on her haunches. Did she dare?
Slowly, she made her way to the opening in the wall. She could smell something wonderful. Was it a trick?
She had known tricks before—a bit of peanut butter out in the open, and had seen another mouse struck in a blur, and killed instantly.
C.M. edged closer to the crevice opening. There was something there. Waiting just outside the opening, waiting for her to come along.
C.M. twitched her whiskers and rubbed her paws together. The smell of the almond was overpowering. It would be so delicious. Yet, it might be a trap. It could be the very end of her.
C.M. sniffed very carefully. Yes, there was just the barest hint of the predator about the almond. He had touched it at some point. Had he dropped it?
It seemed too convenient that he had lost it just outside the little opening in the wall.
C.M. inched forward. The room wasn’t completely dark, but neither was it full of any bright light. She peered out of the crevice opening, and saw the predator.
He was on the bed with the woman, awake and vigilant over her, and looking straight at C.M. with an unblinking stare. He said something, murmuring, in a tone C.M. remembered well from her days as a pet. She crept another inch closer to the nut.
He had placed it there for her, she was sure of it. But as a trap?
Risking all, she rushed out for the almond, clasped it, and turned and shot back into the wall.
Safe, with the almond in her possession, C.M. blinked. She put the almond down, and scampered back to the crevice opening, staying in the shadows. She could see out, but the predator could not yet see her.
He stayed there on the bed, touching the woman, looking at her with his hunting eyes—which weren’t quite as sharp when he looked at her. C.M. tilted her head, considering. He was a deadly, hungry predator, of that she had no doubt, but perhaps she had mistaken what he considered as prey.
With that, C.M. turned, took her almond, and retreated to her own, safe, little nest.