MY LIFE AS A MOUSE
by Motel Mouse
A short story with an introduction by the novelist
I am not sure what to believe, but the proof is in front of me: an old laptop encrusted with mice droppings, unfit for human use, but an interesting looking object that would fit perfectly in a museum of surrealist art. I have salvaged the hard disc and the text which follows should explain what this is all about. Am I the victim of some clever prankster or is this indeed an extraordinary example of reincarnation? I will let you decide for yourself.
I had paid for a long-term rental of a motel room where I had installed my laptop with the intention of using it every evening after work. I wanted a private room where I would remain undisturbed to write my next novel. I was the only one who had a key to that room, so you can imagine my surprise when I found that someone had, in my absence, started a text, an unbelievable tale of death and reincarnation. I was also disturbed at seeing mouse droppings all over the keys.
I went along with the ghost writer because I became fascinated with his story and found myself starting to believe what he wrote. A mouse who could write? Impossible, and yet…
This went on for over a year. Needless to say that I got myself another laptop and left the other one for the mousey writer.
After he stopped writing for a few weeks, I assumed, from reading his last text, that he had gone on to his next reincarnation. He had a short life, in human terms, but a longer than average one for his own kind.
my life as a mouse
don marquis wrote a story about archie, a poet who claimed that he was the victim of transmigration; that he had been a ‘vers libre bard’ who for his sins of omission or commission had his soul condemned to the body of a cockroach for an undefined period of time. he still wrote biographies, such as the one of mehitabel the cat, but because he was a cockroach he could only type with his head hitting the keyboard and was thus unable to write capital letters or certain punctuations.
i always thought this story was fine piece of fantasy, but now i can vouch for the fact that there is life after death and that reincarnation is not simple speculation. i feel very much like archie. in a previous embodiment i had been the chief editor of a newspaper, a man used to reporting news and observations gathered by himself and by his many contributing reporters, to giving orders and having them obeyed – rewrite this, elaborate on that, more research needed, etc… now for whatever reason – did i perhaps commit some unspeakable sin – i am in the body of a mouse. in my present incarnation, my morphology may have changed, but i still have this need to report everything i can from what i observe around me. it is ingrained in my soul.
i had no idea how i could do this until the day that i was lucky to find a way to write. i happened to infiltrate a dwelling where i found a computer that had been left on, even though its owner was away. my old instinct to report anything that i found of interest came to the fore, even driving away temporarily my endless search for food.
i am a bit limited as to how i can type. just like archie, i cannot do capitals or certain punctuations, because the stretch between my paws is not big enough, but i will do what i can do, it is better than nothing.
i seem to be the only one among my relatives and friends to have such an interest. they do not understand it and cannot see anything beyond the nightly search for anything edible, a mate, and a safe place to rest during the day. i have to admit that i have not found anyone yet who has transmigrated from another living form and who therefore has had other skills. that could explain their lack of interest and why they think i am a bit strange. as far as anyone can remember they have always been mice like their parents before them, and like them they were born with the innate knowledge of everything they need to know to survive and keep the species going – contrary to humans who may have a lot of knowledge, but not without someone to teach them all they know.
among my fellow mice no one has ever wondered, it seems, what the purpose of life might be.
first recollections –
my first recollection after i became aware of my metamorphosis was of a comfortable burrow, surrounded by brothers and sisters. one day our mother did not come back to feed us and we all had to emerge out of our safe home, driven by the necessity to find something to eat. this is our main purpose in life, the driving force that leads us to explore our surroundings day after day. i have this unexplainable gut feeling that tells me to beware of certain things, like hawks that can sweep down out of nowhere, cats who would gladly chew you up after first making you go through atrocious tortures, and humans who both fear you for some reason and would gladly swat you to death if they could. but barring those dangers, life has been pretty good. it first seemed to be an eternal summer of exploring new places and abundant delights just there for the taking, but it did not last.
one day, our stay in our delightful garden of eden came to an end. snow fell abundantly and we all dispersed to try to find shelter, warmth, and food where we could.
the first place that i intended to become my winter residence was a barn where i lived peacefully amidst cows and horses. there were, alas, hungry cats as well, and the constant worry to avoid them got too much for me, so i went looking for a less stressful abode.
this search is what led me to this house. i do not know how long this stroke of luck will last, finding this available computer, but my motto has always been one day at a time. what will happen when the owner of this miraculous find shows up and sees my writing – will he simply delete everything or will he be intrigued enough to try to find out who is really behind it.
yesterday i left the computer for a short while to go and grab a bite where i could find one. this artistic drive of mine is powerful but one can only remain hungry so long before the need to eat something overtakes your whole being. during my search i met one of my brothers who invited me to follow him to a source of nourishment which he had recently discovered. as we were chewing the fat he gave me news about some of our acquaintances. such and such had been killed in a trap. another had found himself unable to move after stepping on an apparently innocuous piece of wood
– placed there by some human no doubt – and had simply starved to death. a third had found an unexpected pile of good smelling stuff, which he described in great detail, that looked perfectly edible, and he had gone to invite his whole family to partake of this bonanza.
– do not touch that stuff, i warned him. it will kill you slowly but surely.
i remembered from my previous incarnation how humans would leave such poisonous foods precisely for killing us mice but i had no illusion that anyone would listen to me. i remembered that when i was a human we were constantly warned not to eat such and such a food, no matter how good it tasted.
– it is bad for your health and could eventually kill you, doctors warned.
but very few people listened. taste buds ruled humans, so why should it be any different with us mice.
– why should they try to kill us, asked my brother, we never did anything to threaten them. i believe they do not even eat mice, like certain other creatures i would rather not enumerate since i am a bit superstitious about naming them, so what do they have against us.
– i cannot explain, i admitted, but genocidal tendencies
seem to be part of the nature of humans. they even kill some other humans because of what they perceive as being unacceptable differences.
– but we cannot be that different. do we not eat, have young, or bleed just like them.
– of course, but life is full of mysteries. we are certainly close enough to their kind for them to use some of us – unlucky ones, alas – to experiment with in unmentionable ways that inevitably end in death – for the benefit of their own kind, they say.
– you tell such frightening tales, and you know so many strange things, said my brother with awe.
i wish i could tell him about my previous life, but that would be too much for him to comprehend. i cannot quite understand it myself.
this morning when i got back to the computer after a night of scrounging for some grub i had a surprise. the owner of the computer had read what i had written and accepted what must have been to him a weird tale. but he accepted it at face value. he did not delete my work, but saved it instead. he also left a note near the keyboard for me. he said it was certainly hard to believe but in view of all the mouse droppings i had left my story must have some validity although it defied his imagination. his only wish is that i should not leave all my disgusting – for him- droppings around, but in any case he would continue to look forward to my tale.
i thanked him for his interest and wrote a note telling him that i will do my best about leaving as few droppings as possible but that he must excuse them for in my present embodiment i am not even aware when this happens.
it is certainly rewarding to know that someone is actually reading the outpourings of my soul.
as i mentioned earlier, nobody in mousedom ever wonders about the purpose of life. but sometimes i have a notion that the creator of all things must have chosen us among all species to be special. even though we are the food of choice for innumerable birds and mammals, we ourselves do not partake of the flesh of others, if we can help it. maybe we were chosen to be models of a higher moral order, to show the rest of living creatures that one does not need to eat another to survive. food is all around us if we only see it.
we may have dietary restrictions but it could be said that we have to follow two major commandments that are built into us.
be fruitful and multiply
eat everything you can
it is also possible that we may serve another purpose, that of reminding humans that all things are ephemeral, hence our liking for many of the things they consider to be some of their highest achievements, such as books.
the other day i was going through an old volume on french cooking and i loved every morsel of it, especially the binding. volumes of a certain vintage have a certain je ne sais quoi, not like books that were more recently published.
another message from the computer owner – he signed his note by the name scribbler.
he said he understood my physical needs as he was now sure that i was a mouse through and through, and that he would excuse them, although they were definitely not to his taste. he also asked me if i remembered the name i had in my previous incarnation as well as my present one. he mentioned that he was a novelist who now stayed in this motel room which he used as a retreat wherein he was trying to formulate his next best-seller, and that my writings gave him food for thought. he slept there all day and wrote all night.
i told him that we mice do not have names by which we call each other. we just know by smell who is who, but i used to be called motel-mike, because many of the juicy stories i had reported took place in motel rooms – bribes, sex scandals, etc – and since i found out that the room i presently share with him is a motel room, i may as well be called motel-mouse. this is how i will sign from now on.
A Joyful Event
Blessed night! I was being dutiful, following the first of our two commandments, when I found a soul-mate. She used to be called Matilda, and she had been in her previous life an investigative reporter for a television station until she died in a yet to be explained manner and was reincarnated to my great joy into one of my own kind. We have become a happy item, and writing is now a collaborative effort which allows at last for what you can see has become normal typing, with capitals and punctuation.
Motel and Matilda Mouse ( MMM for short)
told by Matilda and typed by MMM
I was born like most of my brothers and sisters in a field not far away from a big structure, my mother told me, from which she was lucky to escape before succumbing to some horrible end. By constantly asking her questions, which has remained part of my character in my present re-incarnation, I was able to deduce that she was referring to a research laboratory that had been dealing with genetic manipulations of all sorts. This knowledge triggered memories from my previous life. Here are some of them.
Sorry, I get too emotional remembering these events. I have to take a break and will try again tomorrow.
Here we go again. One of my assignments, the last one before I died, was to find out all I could about a medical lab out in the country that had been sort out hush-hush from the general public. Rumours had it that it dealt with unethical research by some genial but unscrupulous scientists who created monstrous life forms by genetic manipulations. Were they funded by the CIA or by some unsavoury private organisations ? Nobody knew.
I managed to speak with one of their representatives who said he was head of public relations and he agreed to see me and to answer all of my questions. He invited me to a well-known restaurant where, he said, we could talk privately in congenial surroundings. I accepted knowing full well that he was going to try to butter me up.
He was tall and extremely good-looking, an ideal PR man, full of enthusiasm and very witty. Little did I suspect then that he also was a ruthless psychopath.
The reason for all the security, he said, was to make sure that the avant-garde and unconventional research they did would not fall into unscrupulous hands. Their work with genes would eventually benefit all of mankind.
We got along well together and I have to admit that being then a normal woman, I was not insensitive to his manly charms. But after an evening of not quite satisfactory answers to my queries I was not able to give my listeners a full and unequivocal blessing to this still suspicious enterprise. I was not too surprised therefore when he called me up and invited me to come and see the place for myself. We would meet at a convenient spot and he would personally guide me through the lab. Since this was a personal favour to me he asked me not to reveal our visit to anyone as he had no wish to extend similar invitations to any Tom, Dick or Harry. I was flattered, I must say, and rather pleased at the thought of seeing him again privately.
This was a big mistake.
He picked me up at our agreed spot in his fancy sports car and drove me past a security guard to the entrance of an imposing red brick three storied house. It looked a bit spooky but I thought nothing of it. I was just looking forward to find out why everything in there was considered to be so secretive.
The first man he introduced me to was a certain Doctor Kranz who to my eyes was the epitome of a mad scientist. He was short and fat and walked with a slight hobble. He looked me over leeringly and I had the feeling that he was undressing me mentally. Behind a bushy beard his slightly unfocused eyes were darting all around and he never looked me in the face. After a limp handshake he started rubbing his hands together, as if he wanted to wipe away an unpleasant touch. He mumbled a few words, something about having to get back to work, and went on his way.
– Do not pay too much attention to his unsociable behaviour, said my guide, he is a genius. You will see some of his brilliant work in a while. Can I first offer you a drink?
– Later if you don’t mind, I would rather you showed me around this place.
We went in an out of numerous complex-looking labs spread out throughout the building. Men in white coats were busy with microscopes, test-tubes, and other similar paraphernalia. One of the rooms was occupied by various electronic components with lights flashing and small thunderbolts zapping strange matter repeatedly. My guide –I have a memory blank as to his name – was droning on with explanations and eventually said we should go and see the pièce de résistance .Then I would really understand what all this meant.
We walked down three flights of stairs and he unlocked a heavy steel door leading to the basement. We went down again an entered a large well lit space that went from one end of the building to the other. Large cages were lining one side of the room, and glassed-in enclosures were on the other side. We walked slowly from one end of the room to the other and back. My guide was commenting glowingly on what could be seen inside the enclosures, but I was struck speechless. I was shuddering, horrified by what I saw.
The cages were inhabited by nightmarish creatures, who stared in space in a rather forlorn manner, or with a mad gaze. Many of them were animals that had various of their parts interchanged with those of other species. But the most repulsive were a series of naked humanoid – I cannot bring myself to call them human – beings, with certain features that one could only imagine in horror films: giant bird or rat or insect heads, wings instead of arms, claws instead of fingers, hooves instead of feet.
In the glass enclosures were other unbelievable creatures that seemed to have been spawned by the feverish imagination of Hieronymus Bosch.
My guide was staring at me, quite aware of my shock.
– How about that drink now and we can talk about what you are witnessing?
– I nodded my head in acquiescence, unable to utter a word.
He took my arm and guided me to a room where there were comfortable armchairs and a well equipped bar at one end.
– A double scotch with water please, I muttered.
– Coming up.
He busied himself at the bar and I collapsed in one of the armchairs. I felt weak in the legs.
– Here you are. Cheers !
– Thanks, but I do not feel very cheerful after seeing those monstrosities. And would you explain to me how this could possibly benefit mankind ?
– Let me enlighten you. But first you have to admit that it took a genius to create these new species.
– A sick genius, yes, and where did you get those human guinea pigs ? I assume you did not produce them in vitro ?
– Good question. All these subjects volunteered, for a generous monetary emollient, and a desire for a bit of fame. It was their chance to leave a life of misery as street people and to become known as pioneers in the annals of science.
I finished my drink and I was going to ask for another but I suddenly felt very strange. I could not raise my glass, my speech became garbled, and my vision slightly blurred. I knew I could not possibly be drunk after one drink. My guide was staring at me with a satisfied smirk. And I realised that there must have been something in that drink in addition to scotch.
I had been drugged !
– You see my dear, I heard him say as in a fog, so far we have only had the dregs of humanity to work with, and we were looking for someone bright, educated and with a good head on her shoulder. It was not easy to find a volunteer of that calibre until I met you.
I knew I had to get out of this evil house but I could not move. I was paralyzed and not just with fear. I simply could not raise an arm or a leg. Nor could I speak. I had become an object. I could still see and hear what was going on around me but could not react in any way.
Dr. Krantz opened the door and entered pushing a wheel chair before him.
– Everything set ?
– She’s all yours doctor.
– Good work. Lovely specimen we got there.
– Let’s undress her and get going.
Between the two of them they stripped and lashed me to the wheelchair. They threw my clothes in a large garbage pail on which was written “for incineration”.
– A pity to get rid of such nice clothes, my dear, but you won’t be needing them any more and we do not want to leave any incriminating evidence around. You can understand that I am sure.
I was terrified by that time. And nobody knew where I had gone. They wheeled me into one of the labs and mad Dr Krantz took a sample of my blood and injected it in a waiting concoction. He stirred the mixture around and proceeded to inject the result into a mouse. They then wheeled me in the electronic lab and fitted a helmet on my head that looked like the ones that are used on prisoners to be executed in the electric chair. The last thing I remember hearing was the zapping of lightning and then everything turned black. I stopped seeing anything, hearing anything, smelling anything.
I had died.
A message of thanks from Scribbler
Dear MMM, I wish to thank you for what you wrote yesterday. Matilda’s story has captured my imagination and given me lots of ideas for a thriller which will be the subject of my next book. Looking forward to more of your writings.
Remembrance of things from another life
Matilda’s story has triggered a new set of memories from my own past life. I was wondering why I had been transposed into a mouse. It may not have been for some unspeakable sin that I committed but rather as a result of an investigation into the disappearance of a well-known T.V. personality, namely my presently beloved Matilda.
I had been interviewing people who had had dealings with her and this led me eventually to ask questions from the representative of a certain scientific research company. He may have thought that I suspected him of having something to do with her disappearance – which was far from my mind – but I remember now that I was going to meet him one evening on a rainy day when out of nowhere, it seemed, I was run down by a speeding car. I had just time to notice that it was a fancy sports car before I lost consciousness and never woke up thereafter.
Fate had decreed that Matilda and I should encounter some day, and we did. Another of life’s mysteries !
I think we have dwelled long enough into our previous incarnation. From now on we will write about our present everyday life for as long as fate will allow us to do so.
It is said, you see, that even though exceptionally old mice have been known to live for 2 years or more, most of us manage 5 months if luck is with us. Predation by other species is a constant danger, so we must live every day as if it was our last.
The world is vast
There are lots of places to see and to explore. Fortunately we can travel large distances by our subway system, a large grid of interconnecting tunnels which is the result of mice everywhere digging subterranean passages below the snow . This is one of the advantages of winter. We can go far and wide in relative security and due to our magnificent sense of direction we can reintegrate our resting spaces with ease.
Matilda believes she is pregnant so 20 nights or so from now we should see our first set of pups. Since she will have to stay with them for 3 weeks before they can be on their own, we will explore what we can of our world in the next two weeks.
A visit to the museum
Last night we explored a museum filled with ancient artefacts. As many things of a certain vintage these were very tasty. We were gnawing on some giant dinosaur bones when it occurred to me that these mastodons of another age who ruled the earth for millennia are now occasional delicacies for us, when no other normal foods are available. They are but memories of a life form now extinct, but we mice are still present in every part of the world, even though we are hunted and chased daily by innumerable species. I think that this fact is another confirmation that we were chosen by the Creator for a special purpose.
A night to remember
One night we stumbled upon an exciting find. This is still winter and decent food is hard to find, so when we faced a gorgeous field of golden wheat, our mouths started to water even though we knew it was only an image, not the real thing which is still a few months away. We had entered an auction house, as we found out very quickly, and we were facing a painting which was to be the pièce de résistance. To us it would have meant to be literal as we would have loved to sink our teeth in that glorious looking picture. Canvas and a thick layer of oil paint would have satisfied our empty stomachs and we could have used our imagination based on what the image represented.
Before we could proceed with our feast, a door opened and we had to retreat to a dark corner and watch the proceedings from afar. Human females – the word “women” is now for me an anachronism – draped in a variety of skins from dead animals, and accompanied by males of the species all dressed in black, started to fill the room where the painting was enticingly displayed on a stage. When they started to remove their outer coverings, the females displayed a lot of their own bare skin but much of it was resplendent, adorned with glittering stones which reflected the light that was projected on the stage. The auctioneer walked over to the podium and without much preamble started rattling off his rapid monologue. We just kept our eyes on the painting, wondering where it would be taken once the hammer came down, when suddenly one of the humans, a female who had let her eyes wander all around her, let out a shriek that brought all proceedings to a standstill.
– MICE !
She was pointing a shaking finger to the corner where we thought we would not be seen. Our eyes must have reflected some of the lights.
Pandemonium broke out. Shrill cries of fear everywhere, females grappling with each other trying to climb on chairs, males doing their best to remain cool, you would have thought they had just seen a couple of terrorists intent on blowing everyone up instead of a couple of peaceful mice just waiting for a snack. Some “courageous” males moved menacingly toward us with raised chairs, rolled magazines, or whatever they could grab with which to flatten us.
We escaped somehow, but it was a frightening experience, I must admit, until we found our way back to our underground system. We had to make do with whatever we could scrounge to nibble on, while still dreaming of real wheat fields.
Better luck tomorrow we hope.
A visitor from far away
Yesterday we heard through the grapevine that a generous pile of victuals had been located and was there for all to partake. We were a bit suspicious at first but when we reached the spot it looked like the real thing and not some poisonous fare. Many of our friends and relatives were already gorging themselves, trying to get as much as possible before these goodies were discovered by our aggressive cousins, the rats.
The one who first informed us about this find was an old mouse from California. He had found himself locked in a truck carrying fruit and vegetables and a good amount of these had been spoiled for human consumption by the time it reached these parts. So it was dumped with other rubbish and that is how that visitor from sunnier climes found himself suddenly having to deal with snow and ice. He met by chance one of our local residents who introduced him to our underground system of travelling.
That old mouse had experienced many events in his long life – earthquakes, fires, floods, drought – but never snow and ice.
– I guess no place is perfect, he told us. At least here you have a season of relative security, even though food is a bit scarce. We rarely lack food but we constantly have to worry about snakes, coyotes, birds, and a multitude of other predators.
He also told us about a mouse he had encountered who came from overseas. She came on a freighter which had travelled to many places in Asia and she told him many stories about the life of our foreign relatives. He came to the conclusion that none of us have it easy and we all must adapt to our environment as best we can in order to fulfil our life obligations.
It was an enjoyable night, with plenty of food and entertaining stories. It always is a pleasure to hear about the nightly occurrences of our far away brethren.
A happy event
How time flies. It was just yesterday, it seems, that Matilda informed me she was expecting, and this evening we can gloat about our first litter.
When she felt the first stirrings of what was about to occur, we had to make a mad dash to the first attic we could locate where we could be safe and warm, for this is not yet Spring, otherwise a cosy burrow in a field would have been our preferred choice.
I now have to spend a few nights looking for food that I can bring back to Matilda because she has to stay with our brood until they can be on their own.
This being our first litter, we are fascinated by the little ones and their joyful play. In a little while they will be on their own, having to deal with all the dangers and obligations of our species, but for now they can squeal and tumble around to their heart’s content. It is most enjoyable to watch them. I wonder if we’ll be as attentive with our future litters.
They at least will be able to experience from the start the natural surroundings as they should, instead of this attic. I should not complain, we are safe and warm and that is what counts.
Life goes on
We knew this day would eventually happen but we still greet it as if we could not believe it ever would. What surprise and joy to at last see the first stirrings of a new season. Snow is disappearing fast and greenery is making its appearance. Our first litter is long gone and we have had two more since. We are living to the fullest and doing what mice should do. Less time for writing and more for eating and being fruitful.
Season follows season
I cannot believe it. Summer went by like a flash. We have had our share of daily events. More litters, more losses of friends, relatives, and descendants due to events out of our control, and once more we have to start thinking about winter quarters. I have to admit that I am feeling my age and the prospect of another winter, in spite of safer surroundings, does not appeal to me. I am also aware that I am losing a bit of my awareness of everyday dangers. Yesterday I almost got picked up by a hawk and if Matilda had not let go of one of her high pitched squeaks I would be a goner. Perhaps my time has come and I will be spared another winter. After all, I have been a very lucky mouse. I met my great love, we had a fulfilling life together, we have left future generations to pursue our obligations as a species, I was lucky to find a means to express myself. Words from my previous incarnation come to mind more often than I would like.
“Out, out brief candle…life’s but a walking shadow…a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more…”
Marcel Braitstein is a Contributing Editor at sunday @ 6.