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Becoming a mouse

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In the cafeteria at work that day, you bought a bowl of vegetarian stew. It was watercress and beetroot and something they called hotroot, and it was exactly as warming, filling, and spicy as its smell promised.

The next day, you went back to the vegetarian section of the cafeteria to beg the recipe off the cook. They gave it to you, and you took it home by way of the grocery store. That night you made a whole Instant Pot of the stuff, and poured what you couldn’t eat in tubs for the fridge for meals later that week. The cook’s recipe had been printed off of a recipes website, so as you lay in bed that evening, aimlessly staring at your phone, you scrolled through the list of recipes, and every single thing on that site looked delicious. Your nose twitched in anticipation of smelling each one in your kitchen.

That weekend, you planted a vegetable garden in your back yard, sweating in the spring sunlight. Maybe you should wear a looser-fitting shirt when outside?

In the clothes store, there was so much of what you already had in your closet, but new summer, new you, right? The fashion blogs were talking up tabards and loose, drawstring-neck blouses belted at the waist. You picked up a few, in light natural cotton, and a tabard in mossy green wool. The belt selection was kind of lacking, but there was one with a loop accessory at one side that you liked, despite the asymmetry of the loop. Maybe you’d find something to hold in the … the frog, you thought. “Frog” sounded like the right word for this loop on the belt.

Your feet were getting longer, in some sort of delayed adolescent growth spurt. None of your shoes fit, and barely any of your socks did. The soil and sidewalks in town were clean enough, though — no broken glass or upheaved concrete slabs anywhere was a testament to civic planning — so one weekend you tried out going barefoot, and then eventually just forgot about shoes.

The pad at the ball of your foot grew tough yet soft, like kittens’ toe beans. You let your toenails grow out a bit; they looked better that way. And all that walking on your toes was doing wondrous things to your butt.

Had you always had a tail? You hadn’t noticed it until a butterfly landed on it while you were weeding. Its wings tickled your skin; its proboscis lapped at the sweat from your weeding. You had a great harvest of carrots and turnips today.

The tree in your back yard revealed itself as an apple tree. It hadn’t flowered last year, when you moved in, but this year, there were indeed little baby apples clinging to the branches. You started looking for apple recipes, and found some delicious-sounding tarts.

On a cold autumn day, there’s nothing quite like a hot apple tart, fresh from the over. Your whiskers twitched in anticipation, but your paws tell you that you must leave it on the kitchen windowsill to cool before eating it. You place it next to the apple and pear pies that were sitting there, already cooling from the morning’s baking. Two of the neighborhood kids drop by, drawn by the smell of your baking. They proposed a trade: a riddle for a slice each of your pies. You didn’t know the answer to the riddle; they ate their well-earned prize with big smiles and thanked you, scurrying back down the street to the abbey.

The riddle stuck in your head, though. Something about the abbey down the street, you were pretty sure. You visited them during one of their big open-house feasts, bringing along several loaves of fruited bread and a basket of salad greens. There weren’t any clues, but you were invited to return any time.

After several months of growing closeness with the residents of the abbey, you cast your lot with their community and joined them full-time. You let your past jobs go; the abbey was communal enough to provide you with most of what you needed, and you were happy to contribute to their work. Sometimes you got a hedgehog spine stuck in your foot, but such was life, and dock-leaf poultices were wonderful balms. The elderflower cordial was also part of your decision to move in, but you don’t let yourself acknowledge that.

When cleaning the belfry one fine summer evening, you found an old scroll tied to a rafter. The two kids who had brought your the original riddle were excited to see the next twist in their quest, but it turned out to have been addressed to you quite specifically: an outsider from a different background, whose life was changing in more ways than one. In the great hall you found the third clue, in the kitchens the fourth.

Outside, the land too was changing. Stories came from the east of roving hordes of barbarians, whose monstrous leader’s man set your teeth on edge and your fur on end. The woods weren’t safe anymore. The fifth clue pointed outside the abbey, to the very basement of your own house. Some shrews heard about your riddle and decided to go along with you to check it out; they were always looking for adventure, and their guerrilla ways would be useful if any dangers were to crop up.

You were not expecting to find that a cat had moved into your house.

“Your house?” he purred. “I found this house quite abandoned, little mouse. What right have you to any of it?”

O! what fortune that when you sold the house the keys had not been changed, and that you had kept your spare key as a memorial, on the ring with all the abbey’s larder keys. You demonstrated your former ownership of the house by unlocking the door to the basement.

The cat begrudged you a candle, and in a dark, dusty corner of the basement, behind the furnace, you found a chest with an oilcloth bundle, which held the sword.

Perhaps it was luck, perhaps it was an old badger’s vision, perhaps it was a spot of mustard or bad beef that set you on this path.

Here, now, standing in the basement of a house no longer yours, holding the long-lost sword that had defended the abbey time and time again, it felt like fate. With the Guosim shrews behind you, and the squirrels, and the otter tribes, and maybe what hares may pass by from Salamandastron, Redwall Abbey would be safe from the vermin hordes.

But first, you must escape this hungry cat’s basement.