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Posts Tagged ‘adventure’

A black SUV with heavily tinted windows pulled up to the curb in front of the State Capitol building. Three men in dark suits and red ties got out, looking slowly around the town. Their expressions told nothing, and they walked up the wide stairs to the Capitol doors.
An old woman wearing a pink parka stepped out from behind a pillar. Her pink floral dress covered her legs down to the fuzzy mukluks she wore. “You won’t get in,” she said.
The lead man looked her over, eyeing the grey hair blowing out from under the parka hood. “Who might you be?”
“Mrs. Swainson. I come down here to complain because one of my cats got into it last night with an owl, and all the owls’re supposed to be dead. Doors have been locked since 9:ooAM, and no sign out.” She spat off to the side.
“Killing owls would be a Federal offense,” the man said.
“Keep the cat indoors,” another one of them said.
The third man walked up to the doors and pulled. He banged on the glass and waved at a teenager walking by inside. He pulled out an official looking badge and held it to the glass.
The boy was in a red t-shirt, shorts, sandals, and wore a white ball cap turned backwards. He eyed the badge and nodded. He turned the manual lock on the inside of the doors and pushed them open.
“I’m just headed up there, myself.” He held the door open for the men, but closed it on the old lady. “Sorry, Mrs. Swainson. Open later.”
The men walked past security scanners that were inoperable and security officers who were tied up with zip ties. Teenagers milled about in the hallways, gawking at paintings. The boy with the white ball cap jogged to catch up with them.
“Sorry, son, but you will need to stay down here,” the first one said.
“But I’m with Ella Peabody’s team in the governor’s office!”
They shook their heads, and Deke had to sit at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for his friends. He was furious.

Federal agents arrived at the different police stations in town, and a S.W.A.T. team roared in to surround the building being used as a detention center. Detainees were set free, and officers in charge were arrested, in a wide-spread reversal of fortune. It was all very professional, and like a scene out of some movie.
Phoenix Peabody snatched the cage in which a yellow parakeet was held, much to the objection of the newly-arrested Officer Conley, who had grown fond of feeding the bird (and thinking it was Miss Sophy).
“I am afraid it is Goldie, and Miss Sophy is most likely worried to death about where her parakeet has gotten to,” the doctor told the young officer. He added, “Did you really think you could capture a master wand maker?”

The public confession of Governor Eric Hicks was held on the courthouse steps at precisely 0100 hours. Federal Agent Jack Peabody informed the public that the perpetrators of this reprehensible act of dividing the public had been brought to a close by the heroic actions of a group of teenage wizards and two adult wizards who had guided them, and who had connected all the dots behind the scenes. The method in which it was brought to a close was never mentioned, and the wise never asked.
The body of the Yokai was presented to the Press, along with the three tails, and a brief explanation by one retired librarian, Richard Nagasaki. It would seem that the only way to destroy a Kitsune fox was to cut off all of its tails. No one knew the whereabouts of the missing press secretary, Fred Gist. (Mrs. Collins wept a little then: she had always imagined Fred as sweeping her off of her feet. She was a widow, of course.)
The skill and talent of the youths who had so brazenly broken into the Capitol building and disabled all communications and security was lauded, in particular, the pair of previously delinquent Goths who had disabled the entire electronic system of the building and over-ridden the automatic doors.
Parents were reunited with children, bus drivers were acclaimed as heroes (or not), and Ella skipped out on the limelight with Aric, Gran, Dish, Billie, and Twerp in tow. Someone was interviewing Kyle about his role in saving the teens in the woods and in saving young Tito after his head injury. Not once was being an animal mentioned, as Kyle was a very good story teller.
“Come on,” Ella whispered. “Let’s get to my house before my folks do! We’ll surprise them!”
It was not to happen: Richard informed the parents of the teens about the plot to surprise them, and he told the Peabodys about where they might find the contents of their attic. The teens were surprised by a reception at the Peabody house – a reception which included Uncle Jack and his two FBI counterparts, all wizards. Uncle Jack revealed the truth of the rescue in the privacy of the Peabody house, and Ella was forced to make a speech.
“Um. Yeah. Just so you know, magic didn’t solve this,” she said. “Logic and a little sleuthing did.”
Everyone groaned.
“But, magic did play a good deal into it, and I want to thank my friends for opening my eyes to the possibilities of something outside of what can be easily explained away. I mean, Twer- er, Deacon – managed to transform us all into mice and we overcame a lot of weird things as mice. Aric even killed the governor’s own familiar, an evil toad named Venemo, or Vennie.
“We met Kyle, and caught up with Dylan and Madison. Dylan’s mom protected us. Richard – Mr. Nagasaki – was key in keeping us safe. And I will hate rats for the rest of my life.”
Everyone laughed.
Champagne and sparkling cider were served. Mrs. Peabody waved a wand and created a buffet of wonderful hors d’oeuvres. Miss Sophy arrived with the three Beaman children: Missy, and twins Mike and Tito. Kyle’s mother and father wandered in, and a round of hugs and celebrations went out.
Kyle was forced to explain what happened both in the woods when he saved Ella and crew, and why he was inside the walls after Tito had been severely injured.
“We couldn’t perform any magic, just yet.” He was humble and shuffled his feet. “But I know something about concussions, and I helped Miss Sophy keep Tito awake. We had to get ice from the ice maker to put on his head, and she sneaked through the war zone and back with an ice cube. Must have froze her fingers off.”
She waved it aside. “Point is, young Kyle was a hero.”
“Oh, and she gave me my wand before everything happened,” he said proudly. He pulled it out to show everyone. There were a few tut-tuts. But most accepted that Miss Virginy Sophy had known what she was doing, with or without the boy’s parents.
Deke told how he battled the cat with Horace and Natalie, and perhaps he exaggerated his role a little (Natalie merely smiled). He sniffed when he related the tail end of the tale, especially since everyone now knew Mrs. Swainson’s cat had returned home wounded, but very much alive. Horace was a good owl, familiar, and friend.
There was also the tale about how he came to be in possession of the wand that had belonged to Fred Gist, and how Ella had solved the cryptogram using just logic. Deacon attributed the ability to turn everyone into a mouse to the fact that he had found the wand. A toast was made to the missing Fred, and his generosity in leaving the wand for someone to use for good.
Ella, Gran, Dish, and Billie caught up with Aric, Kyle, and Deke in the kitchen.
“We should all sneak up into the attic and see if everything really is back up there,” Gran suggested.
“We could get our cell phones back, too.”
They went up the stairs as if they were going to Aric’s bedroom, but turned down the hallway where the attic ladder dropped out of the ceiling. Gran pulled it down and they all climbed up.
“So much easier than the first time I was up here,” Dish play-shoved Ella’s shoulder and winked.
Everything was back in place, even the mannequin and the old mirror. The wands were hanging above the trunk in the same order they had been before Gran took them down. It seemed a disappointment. Nothing had changed, and yet – everything had.
Ella walked over to the mirror and stared at it. She saw nothing more than her own reflection, and the reflections of everyone in the room looking over her shoulder. Even after they turned the mirror around, it reflected nothing that was not there. Ella touched it. “I guess it doesn’t want to talk right now.”

The party broke up, and everyone drifted off to their own homes to clean up and restart their lives. Tomorrow would be another day, and with just a little magic, everything would return to almost the way it was before. Ella sat by her window, staring out into the night and listening to an owl hoot.
But I will believe in magic in the morning.

Aric went to bed and stared at the ceiling for a long time.
I was born to be a warrior.

Kyle curled up in bed and smiled.
I have friends who like me.

Dish went home and hugged his father. They played cards into the night until Dish fell asleep on the sofa, dreaming of the girl he wanted to ask out: Ella.

Billie walked home with Gran, and Gran asked her to go to the winter dance with him. She said, “Yes.” She wasn’t worried how she’d tell her former crush, Mike.

Deacon walked out into the backyard and stared up at the moon. Somewhere, an owl hooted, and he hoped it was Horace. He reached into his pockets and pulled out the magic wand left to him by Fred Gist. It was beautiful.
It was not the only thing he’d found in the street the day that Fred Gist disappeared. He hadn’t wanted to show anyone, because they were always making fun of him for his collections, and this was just one more thing. It wasn’t magic; it wasn’t special; it was just pretty to look at, and right now it glowed slightly in the light of the full moon. Deke held it up and studied it.
It was a perfect blue sapphire crystal.

50,009 words

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The cat trotted out into the open. It gently dropped the little creature onto the lawn and waited. The little creature did not immediately move, but the cat expected that. When the thing did move, it was slowly. The tabby expected that, as well. The cat wasn’t worried. The little thing would provide entertainment soon enough.
The cat batted at its new friend: no claws, that would be most uncivil. It just wanted the little thing to wake up and shake it off.
Deacon shook his head. He had his magic wand, but did he dare use it? It would probably alert someone, and the mission would be lost. He needed to think. He rolled over when the cat prodded him, and found himself looking up into its whiskered face.
“Can’t you just be a familiar, like Horace?”
The cat blinked.
“Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.” A tinny voice called from behind, and the cat turned to look. A little beacon of light crossed the cat’s face. The cat knew this game: chase the little light.
It looked back at the little creature, considering options: little light game? Or new friend?
“Kitty, kitty.”
New friend wasn’t moving very quickly, so the cat turned its attention on to the little light.
Deacon stood up as soon as the cat turned around. He saw the light in the grass as well, and could hear Natalie calling the cat.
They’d come to save him! Simultaneously, he wondered: what about the mission? How many others were out there?
The cat pounced in the direction of Natalie, but the light went dark before it landed. The light popped on, again, off to the left, and another voice called, “Kitty, Kitty.” The light danced in the grass, which made it more fun, and the cat danced along with it, waiting to make a final pounce.
Deke could make not out the capitol building He didn’t know how far the cat had carried him. He just needed to make it back to the building. He ran, zig-zagging, through the grass. The cat landed in front of him.
“KITTY KITTY KITTY” Natalie shouted and flashed her light in the cat’s face again. Natalie had also moved closer to the capitol building.
Before the cat turned, it flipped Deke up into the air, caught him as he tumbled back down, and batted him overhead into the branches of an azalea. Deke’s arms helicopter out as he tried to gain purchase on the stems of the little evergreen. He caught himself just above the ground.
The cat abandoned Deke (for the moment, Deke, knew), and pounced playfully after the little beacons of light in the grass. Deke saw one light fly over the cat’s head and go off.
Natalie called. “Run toward my voice, Deacon!”
Deacon dropped to the ground, dusted himself off, and called, “I lost my flashlight!”
“Just run toward me!”
He dashed. The cat dashed. Horace jumped up in front of the cat. The cat caught Horace with both paws and landed on top of him. Horace squealed in terror.
“Nooooo!” Deke changed directions and ran at the cat. “No, no, no, nooooo!”
Natalie tried the distract the cat, but now it was fixated on the little creature running at it. It held the mouse under its paw, and waited.
“Deacon, you must follow me!” Natalie ran forward, to intercept Deacon. “Horace can handle this!”
“It’ll kill Horace!” He cried as the older mouse caught his arm.
“Yes, and it will kill you. It’s a cat. That’s what they do.” Natalie pulled Deke back. “We have a long way to go, to get back to the rest of the group.”
“But – Horace!” He looked over his shoulder in time to see Horace transform into an owl, and push the cat off.
“I’m telling you, Horace can handle this. Come on!” Natalie pulled Deke in the direction of the capitol building.
The cat jumped back in alarm when the mouse changed shapes before its eyes. It hated the big birds, and knew them to very dangerous. It arched its back and hissed, all thoughts of play abandoned.
Horace opened his wings and hissed back, hopping forward with great yellow claws open.
The cat fought back with a strong swipe of sharp claws, and a long, drawn out growl.
Deke could hear them fighting as he ran, tears streaming down his face. How could Horace hope to win over a creature so naturally evil as that cat?! The sound of the battle followed the pair of mice all the way to the capitol building, when it ceased altogether. Deke turned and stared out into the dark lawn. The sun was beginning to come up, and he was a long way from his friends, and from Horace. He slumped his shoulders and followed Natalie.

“Who goes there?” A light shone in Natalie’s eyes, then Deke’s.
“You guys have clothes on,” the voice added. “I thought we were supposed to be real mice.”
“We are real mice,” Deke grumbled. He bet the other voice had never been down a mouse hole, and he had.
“I might ask who you are,” Natalie replied, cooly. “Turn the light off, or you’ll attract the cat.”
The light flipped off. “Th-there’s a c-cat?”
“Who are you, again?”
“Oh. My name’s George. I’m with the front door patrol. We’re supposed to take down Security at 0900 hours.”
“George? Not Gran’s brother, George?” Deke peered around Natalie.
“Is that the Twerp?” George grinned. He was dressed in camoflage, right down to his hunting cap.
Natalie intervened. “Natalie Woodhouse. Deacon and I were way-laid by a particularly hungry feline.” She stressed Deacon, and Deke thought he could hug her. “We lost our group. Where is yours?”
“Oh, this way.” George led them behind a tall plant with sword-like leaves. “We’re digging out our entrance so we can get into the building and hack the security system. I’m on sentry duty. Hey guys!” he called ahead. “I found some more allies!”
Natalie glanced at Deke. “Some sentry,” she whispered.
Deke grinned, the sting of having lost Horace temporarily gone.
The leader came forward when George called out.
“Goodness. Natalie Woodhouse! So good to see you. We’ve just broken through and we’re going in. Where is your group?”
“Long story, Sharon. May we join you?”
George’s group consisted of two more senior high school boys; a pair of Goths; two girls from the high school girls’ basketball team; Mr. Howard, the art teacher; and Sharon, the public librarian. Sharon had a last name, but she’d never used it, and Deke couldn’t remember what it was.
They climbed into the duct work and everyone squeaked, “What now?”
“You climb.” Deke grabbed an Ethernet cord. “Tell me where we’re going?”
The rest followed him, dubiously. “Have you done this before?” complained someone from far behind Deke.
“A time or two,” he answered, irritated.
The plan, Mr. Howard explained to Deke’s tail, was to get into the main security office, and lock all the doors into and out of the building at precisely 0900. They needed to disable all computers and telephone lines.
“Server room,” Deke muttered. Where his own team had been headed, according to Ella. He hoped they would make it in time.
They came out inside of a cabinet. Deke could see footprints in the dust.
“Okay, we’re clear,” Natalie peered out of the cabinet into the darkened room.
The first mice up the server tower were the two Goths. George and his friends explored the top of the cabinet, relaying the information they found on the schematics. The rest fanned out to take up positions in case someone came into the server room. The basketball girls found a conference room chair in poor condition. This was shoved by group effort into place under the door handle, to keep anyone from breaking is easily.
Deke wandered off by himself, looking for tracks from his friends. He needed to think, to devise a way to rejoin them. He felt terrible that Horace and Natalie had followed him out into the grass, and now Horace was gone. He’d let the team down!
He sniffled, once. If only he could have used his wand! But it was safe in his pocket.
“What’s this?” squeaked Sharon. “It looks like someone got caught in a sticky rat trap!”
Deke ran. Sharon, Natalie, and Mr. Howard were standing over one of those traps Aric’s dad used in their old house. Only this trap held a surprise: a very dead rat with a safety pin stuck in the side of its head, and its nose between a pair of black lace-up boots in the shape of mouse feet.
They all looked at each other.
“We stick to the plan, and hope they got past the rat,” Natalie said, decisively.
Deke sank in a heap, wondering whose boots were stuck in the green goo, and who had thought to use a safety pin as a weapon. He hoped it was the same mouse, and that mouse had made it to the governor’s office.

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Aric found himself face to face with a house mouse. Dish and Dylan crowded behind him, and Dylan flashed his flashlight into the mouse’s face. It covered its eyes with a paw, and beyond it, in the remaining light of the flashlight, the trio could make out a crowd of regular mice.
“We go the other way,” Dish whispered over Dylan’s shoulder. “If we back up, maybe they’ll just go down the hole and leave us be.”
“Where’s Ella when we need her?” Aric moaned. He was, for once, completely unarmed.
“Put that infernal light down,” a shrill voice scolded. “I can’t see with it in my eyes.”
“Maybe we don’t need Ella. I understood that perfectly,” Dylan stated. He lowered the flashlight.
The mouse scrutinized them. “You would stand out less if you didn’t wear clothes.”
“Yeah, but we’d be naked,” Dish shot back. “Come on guys, back up.”
“Hey, I know who they are!” Another voice, much younger sounding and female, piped up from behind the forward mouse. “That’s Aric Peabody.”
Aric blinked. “Who are you?”
“Missy Beaman,” the voice went all shy.
“I am Miss Sophy. Now, would you kindly lead me to where Mr. Nagasaki is waiting? And turn the flashlight off.”
“Yes. Yes, ma’am.”
The flashlight went off. The teen mice turned around and led Miss Sophy, and whoever was with her, toward the hole in the wall that led into the still-dark governor’s office. They found Richard, Gran, Kyle, and the girls waiting by the foot of the big mirror.
Ella ran forward and hugged Aric and Dish at the same time. “It sounded horrid down there! Did the rats really attack again?”
Richard bowed to Miss Sophy. “You made it!”
She bowed back, and told him, “I must say, I never thought of reducing ourselves to mice and wearing our human clothing. It must be quite awkward to be so anthropomorphized.”
“Not at all. Pockets have come in quite handy, as well as flashlights.”
“It was how Deke changed us,” Aric muttered, defensively.
If she heard him, Miss Sophy ignored him. “How many are there of you, did you say, Mr. Nagasaki? You look somewhat less than a dozen.”
“Aw, yes. We had an unfortunate scrape with a cat on our way here. Three of ours went off to do battle with the cat. And you? Ten, you said?”
“How did you know to come here as mice?”
“Who all is with you?”
“Gran the man, is that you?”
The questions shot out as mice overcame their initial shyness and manners were lost altogether in the small reunion. Miss Sophy and Richard commanded silence after a few short moments of hugs, high fives, fist bumps, and gleefully exchanged names.
“We have wasted too much time,” Richard said. “We must get our implements of war, and take up our stations before someone comes into the office to work.”
“Right. Hide those poison pills.”
“Scissors, staplers, anything we can use.”
“Zip ties!” Madison had been carrying them on her back like a backpack.
The mice jumped into action.
“I really fail to see the usefulness of clothing,” Miss Sophy reiterated.
“Aric carried the paperclips in his pockets. The paperclips saved us when the rats attacked.” Dish replied. He was trotting by with an armful of rubber bands.
“What do you intend to do with those, Dustin?” She snapped.
“Rubber band gun. I just have to figure out where to launch them from.” Dish passed his load up to Gran, who scrambled up the face of a bookshelf.
“There’s a couple bronze statues up here that I think we can use,” Gran replied.
Dish ran back for more rubber bands.
Aric showed the little mice (for many of them turned out to be fifth and sixth-graders) how to bend the larger paperclips into little spears and where to hide them in the room. “Your role is to try to stay out of the way,” he explained. “But if one of us gets into trouble, you run out and poke and run back away as fast as you can. Be really annoying.”
Mike and Tito grinned at each other, “We can do that!” They started arming them selves with paperclips.
“We don’t want to hurt the governor. But we need to zip tie him to his chair, and we need to keep him from yelling for his secretary.” Madison showed the younger girls how to work zip ties while Billie searched the desk for packing tape or something similar.
At last, everything was as ready as they could make it. The light from the window told them it was nearing daylight, and they needed to hide. Gran and Dish cowered behind the bronze statues of long horn cattle and elk, making themselves as flat as they could. The younger boys and Dylan hid on either side of the room, behind a credenza and a small bookshelf. The girls hid behind books on the lowest level of the large bookshelf, while Madison and Billie hid behind the books on the next shelf up, a red packing tape dispenser between them. Aric hauled a box of push pins up to the top of a large painting with an ornate frame he could set them on, and hide on by laying as flat as possible. Missy joined him. Aric watched the mousehole from his vantage point, hoping that at any moment, his best friend would swagger through with Natalie and Horace, Richard and Miss Sophy took up positions on either side of the door.
Ella, armed with the still-bloody letter opener, and a pair of scissors, lay flat on the floor behind the large mirror. Her heart was thumping so hard and so loud that she thought surely someone would hear her when they walked into the room. She tried to calm her breathing as she mentally cheered herself on.
I know what to do. I can do this. Mom and Dad and everyone needs us to do this. The Yokai doesn’t suspect. He doesn’t know I can see his true self. I can do this.
The clock on the governor’s wall ticked slowly forward. The girls on the first shelf fell asleep, despite their best efforts to stay awake. The boys behind the furniture were restless, and kept crawling forward to peer out, despite Dylan’s threats. Madison nodded off, and caught herself.
7:30 on the dot, they heard the door to the secretary’s office open. The footsteps on the carpet were light and feminine. The secretary moved around the office, opening blinds and putting on a pot of coffee, the aroma of which drifted under the door and into the sharp noses of the waiting mice. Her chair squeaked when she sat down in it, and the computer powered on. The next time the secretary got up was to pour herself a cup of coffee. The mug she carried clinked against the coaster on her desk. She started typing and clicking the computer mouse, sounding busy.
The governor arrived shortly after 8:00. He exchanged a word with the secretary as he poured himself a cup of coffee (or maybe she poured it for him). He opened his office door, turned back to the secretary, and said, “News conference at One. Please hold all my calls until then. And tell that weasel, Fred, to be up here by nine a.m., sharp.”
He closed the door. He took off his outer coat and hung it on the coat tree in the corner after setting his cup of coffee on the desk, then walked over to look at himself in the mirror. He muttered at the reflection, “I look as old as I feel. This had better work to get my charm back. I don’t know how much I trust Fred, anymore.”
He finally sat down and opened up his lap top.
Billie and Madison came out of hiding, and climbed the back of the chair quietly, holding the packing tape between them. They waited, but the younger girls were still napping.
Tito was the closest. He dashed out from behind the credenza and made for the book shelf. He jumped onto the books and dove behind them just as the governor turned his chair.
“Huh. Thought I saw a mouse. Memo to self: have Mrs. Rice order an exterminator.” He turned back, with Billie and Madison hanging on tightly.
Tito shook the girls awake and grabbed a zip tie himself. “Arms first, he whispered, Then feet. We need to time this perfectly.”
Embarrassed, the girls gathered the zip ties between them and teamed up. The arm teams went out first, staying directly behind the governor’s chair. The feet team readied themselves.
Each arm team consisted of two mice: one with the fastener end, and the other with the tip. They would have to move quickly: jump up onto the chair where the fastener mouse would hold steady. The tip mouse had to scurry up and over the governor’s arm, and jump down with the tip to run through the fastener. Both mice would then pull the zip tie tight while Billie and Madison raced around the governor’s head to tape his mouth shut. The feet team had to tie the governor’s legs tight. This was the trickiest part of the plan, and if anything could go wrong…
Tito and the other team leader, a girl name Chloe, nodded at each other. They led the charge up the side of the chair and executed a perfect jump over the governor’s resting arms, connecting with their partners at almost the same moment. Zip! the ties were pulled, and they dove off of the chair.
“Wha?!” The governor started to yell, but Madison scrambled around his face, her hands and feet pummeling along across his chin, while she pulled the clear packing tape around and pressed it against his face, silencing him. Billie used her teeth to cut the tape and pressed down the other side of the tape. The red roll dropped to the floor and clattered.
The secretary paused in her typing. “Everything all right, Governor?”
The governor tried to stand up with his chair. Tito grabbed the zip tie end from one of the girls and raced forward, jumping onto the left shoe. Madison grabbed the other end and raced around the back side of the governor’s right leg. He kicked her, and she rolled under the chair. Dylan rushed forward and pulled her out of harm’s way just as the rolled on the chair came down where she had landed. Billie raced in and picked up the fastener end. Chloe led the girls with their zip ties, and the ends met. It took a group effort to pull the ties tight, and Tito was kicked upward, into the corner of the desk. He fell and did not move.
“Oh!” Miss Sophy ran forward, but not before Kyle appeared from his hiding place and lifted the still mouse away to the safety of the mouse hole. Miss Sophy followed them through the hole.
Richard left his post and jumped up onto the governor’s desk. He walked past the cup of coffee and bowed to the balding man who was now tied to his own chair and muffled with clear packing tape. “We regret to do this to you, but you must know you have been under a very evil spell. We are here to protect you and to release you from the evil that has been done. Cooperate, and you will not be harmed.”
The governor’s eyes bulged, whether from fear or anger, Richard could not tell. “Turn him around, so his back is to the door,” he told Billie and the girls.
Outside the office, the secretary had resumed her typing. She shook her head, and glanced at the clock. 8:35. Time for a second cup of coffee before Fred arrived. She considered getting a cup for the governor, but he hadn’t been very nice the past week, and she decided against it. Let him get his own cuppa.

 

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The vacation cabin sat in a lot with four outer such homes, close to a pond that was named something or other lake (Miss Sophy couldn’t be bothered to look up the name of the thin as it was little more than a pond in her mind, since one could easily walk around it in less than an hour, and it was very shallow). All of the homes were closed for the season, and hers looked just as closed due to the seasonal spell she’d cast on it upon arriving here.
She’d driven herself most of the way, abandoning the borrowed car in a ditch. That had taken a bit of a jolt to her body to do, and her back still ached a little. She was certain the car had belonged to one of the policemen who had come to her house, armed with handcuffs and some sort of legal paper about it being a felony to use magic. She’d read the entire document while the foolish men were still sitting in their car. Did they really think a mast wand maker, seer, and fortune teller as herself would not know who they were or what they were up to?
So she’d released Goldie from his cage and transformed him into her temporarily, and hidden herself under the front seat of the police car. She’d watched the police arrest Goldie, and watched while the Peabody boy and his nerdy little friend ran through back yards, no doubt trampling on precious plants. She was proud of the boys, nevertheless, as they apparently had the foresight to get to a safe place as quickly as possible.
The police officers, not so much. Why, she had been John McLaughlin’s Second and Third grade teacher, and he’d been a most pleasant child. Blake Conely had been one of her Seventh grade students when she was principal of the junior high, and he’d been one of her honor students, and a good basketball player. Now, they were unceremoniously dragging her (Goldie) to the squad car with handcuffs on, and not a please or thank you to be had.
They’d arrived at the police station along with other squad cars, and many befuddled, struggling, or angry wizards and witches. There was little Miss Sophy could do, but she lifted Blake’s personal car key from his key chain and walked, invisible to the human eye, to the private lot where it was parked. She pulled out of the parking lot as the officers were inside booking Goldie, and Goldie was – presumably – returning to the yellow parakeet he actually was. It was, after all, a temporary spell.
Wrecking the car had been an unfortunate last minute decision, but she was later glad she’d had the misfortune of swerving to miss the elk. The car was hidden, there were no tracks of hers leading down the drive to the vacation cabins, and she’d had the good fortune to run into a five-tailed red fox on the way. She recognized Mr. Nagasaki right away, and they had a pleasant conversation all the way to the cabin. He convinced her to provide a safe house for anyone who managed to escape the clutches of the police.
She had not counted on that being a convoy of cold, wet, and frightened fifth and sixth graders, led by the resourceful Miss Beaman, herself scarcely a teenager. There were ten of them, all told: four in the 5th grade, five in the 6th grade, and Miss Beaman. Miss Beaman went by Missy, which was easy for Miss Sophy to remember.
Missy told her that the elementary school bus had been pulled over before it got to the particular bus stop where she waited for her bus, and her twin brothers waited for their bus. The children had simple run off into the woods like gypsies before a raid, running pell mell until the weakest of them got a stitch in the side, or ran out of breath. They took it more orderly after that, staying out of sight, and trying to find a place to hide. It was a very frightening time, but they had their back packs and some snacks they could share, and they made it to a dry shelter under a bridge, where they shivered and waited out the night.
There was much more to the tale, but eventually, they stumbled into a meadow where a deer was browsing, and the deer led them to the lake and the vacation houses. The deer told them to come to this cabin and to knock on the door. They were certain they’d had a very mystical experience, and so Miss Sophy did not bother to suggest that perhaps Mrs. Woodhouse (assuming they would know the Woodhouse family. Certainly Missy would).
Decades of experience in the public school system had Miss Sophy quite prepared for children, and she put them to work reading books or doing simple crafts. She had a small stash of board games, and they played those until they were bored and whiney, and prone to bickering with each other.
The twins, Mike and Tito, had to be separated on several occasions, and threatened with corporal punishment.
“You wouldn’t,” Tito dared.
“You couldn’t,” Mike challenged.
Miss Sophy had grabbed each boy by the ear, tweaking it hard, and walked them to their corners, respectively. “Now, gentlemen, let me explain a few house rules here. You do understand house rules? Good. Rule number one: never, ever, challenge me. Because I can, and I will. Number two: do not think you can outsmart me. Because you can’t. I see everything. And rule number three: there will be no fighting or rough housing in my vacation home. If you need something to do, I am quite certain that the bathroom toilet needs cleaning and the kitchen floor needs mopping.”
Miss Sophy kept her crystal ball in her private bedroom. She had it covered with a black cloth. She had a chest of wands she had not finished spells for, or had not yet begun to carve. That was locked in the cedar chest at the foot of her bed. Several decks of cards used for the sleight-of-hand carnival fortune telling were also in the locked truck. Her own wand was kept tucked in the pocket of her long skirt.
Miss Sophy brought out the crystal ball the first night with the children in the cabin, and they gathered around it like families around the radio during the Great War. Images of their parent’s faces surfaced, and whispered snippets of their conversations revealed the depth of the troubles the wizarding community was in. There were barriers erected against the use of magic, wands had been confiscated, and nearly the entire adult population had been taken into custody. Custody appeared to be housing that resembled disaster relief housing.
Miss Sophy communicated with Mr. Nagasaki as well. He came through the campground once or twice per day for a few days, always full of interesting news from town.
“Now, what family heirloom could someone have possibly taken from that fool head of a governor that he would abuse his authority so?” she asked the Kitsune.
“I have no idea, but he is determined to round up even the children.”
“He thinks a child stole it?”
“I did not say that, Miss Sophy. You are jumping to conclusions.”
“No, he is jumping to conclusions. If this heirloom could only be removed by means of the Dark Arts, then he has nothing to fear from the wizarding community in general. He should be consulting us for our wisdom in dealing with evil practitioners.”
“It is as is everyone in the non-wizarding community is under a spell.”
“Indeed.”
“How are the children?”
“Rapscallions. We need an army, not children. They are much too active, and they don’t have critical thinking skills.” She wiped her hands on her skirt. “I was hoping to tutor the Peabody girl this winter. Her father said he thought she was beginning to open up to her magic. She’s a level-headed young woman, well-grounded in science.”
He laughed. “I think we may have to turn to teenagers to form our army. I have a small group of them due at my cabin this evening.”
“Here we are, you and I, guardians of knowledge, now babysitters of our youth. What has the world come to, Mr. Nagasaki?”
She returned to the cabin feeling peevish. Her mood was not enhanced when she found the Beaman boys had been wrestling in the kitchen, and her teapot had been broken. They were quite ashamed of themselves, and were trying to glue it back together with white school glue.
Miss Sophy stood with her hands on her hips, glowering at them.
“We-we’re sorry, Miss Sophy.” Tito blushed a deep red. The other children fell very quiet.
“We didn’t mean it. We weren’t fighting,” Mike hurried to explain. “We were jostling…”
She took a deep inward breath. “Young men, school glue is water permeable. That means that the teapot, thus repaired, will not hold water again. Let me show you how it should be repaired. We will call it a lesson in magic.”
She pulled out her wand and waved it over the teapot. The teapot rearranged itself, and fused back together. It then filled with water from the sink by itself and made the short hop to the stove, where the propane came on, and the burner lit of its own accord.
“Cool!”
“How’d you do that?”
She turned to go to her room. “Come with me. All of you.”
There, she opened the chest and withdrew the wands, from the very roughest to the almost complete. The children pushed inward, trying to get a look. “Mike, carry this – carefully – out to the living room and set it in the middle of the table. Tito, you take these cards to the table.”
In the living room, she had the boys carefully lay out the wands. They were more than careful with them.
“Now, these are unfinished wands. They have no magic in them, and this is a good thing. I am a maker of wands, and a maker of the magic that lives in wands. Each of these wands represents a wizard or witch who will rise to his or her abilities, and who will be then gifted the wand at the appropriate time. These are not toys, but tools.
“Each of you will one day hold one of these in your hands. Think about the responsibility necessary to wield power that can mend a pot, fill it with water, and turn the stove on.”
“Can you teach us?”
“We cannot use that much magic,” She sighed. “Mr. Nagasaki tells me they are tracking the use of magic these days. I want you to each pick a wand. You may handle it – reverently, Tito – and then I want you to put your wand back into this chest. I will then lock it and store it until the time comes to award you with it.”
The children pored over the wands, selecting their favorite. Tito chose a rough looking one, but the rest chose more finished wands. Tito looked at Miss Sophy, who was watching him closely. “I think you can make it beautiful by the time I earn it,” he said softly. “Like the tea pot I broke.”
She put the wands away, and spent the rest of the night and part of the next two days teaching the children sleight-of-hand carnival tricks. Each evening, they checked the crystal ball for news, but there was little to report. The midget adults were getting restless, again, when the crystal ball turned a deep aquamarine and the foxy face of Kitsune appeared.
“I hope all is well,” he said.
(“Cool, a talking fox!” Mike elbowed one of the other boys, not Tito.)
“As well as can be with preteens.”
The fox smiled. “We have a plan. That is, Ella Peabody has a plan. Let me explain it to you.”

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“Rats like mice, don’t they?”
“I – I don’t think so.” Ella stepped back into Billie. “Sorry.”
Billie squeaked. “Can’t you talk to them like you did the deer mice?”
“I’m trying, but they smell different, and they, um, feel hungry. Like they are looking at us…”
“The way a velociraptor would,” Dish finished. Indeed, the rats seemed to be circling the mice, their noses actively smelling up the smaller rodent versions of themselves.
“How many are there?”
“They keep moving.” Kyle bumped into Dish. “I can’t keep track.”
“We must stay calm,” Richard spoke with authority. “Everyone, control your breathing. If they sense fear, I am afraid they will attack.”
“Can we sort of skootch along one of these cords, at least? Maybe find a place we can get our backs against a wall?” Ella grabbed Billie’s hand.
“Yes. Hold hands. Make ourselves look larger than we are.” Gran reached out and grabbed Madison’s hand.
Aric had whipped out the first of his paperclips and was busy untwisting it. “I’m going to at least try to fight back,” he muttered.
“You’re nuts,” Gran hissed. “They’re bigger than we are.”
“Yeah, and all they have to fight with is their teeth. I’ve got paperclips.”
“Did you really just say that?” Gran was incredulous. “You watch too much old television.”
They had managed to move several inches along one yellow cord. Ella kept her flashlight focused on the cord, but saw a rat coming closer and lifted the light directly into its eyes. Temporarily blinded, the rat blinked and fell back.
“They don’t like light in their eyes.”
It was true: the rats turned their heads away when light was pointed directly at their eyes. They didn’t fall all the way back, however, but changed tactics. The very dark one held its noses high in the air, making it harder for the mice to shine the lights directly into its eyes. Still, he had to drop his head when he was close, and a beam of light in the eyes temporarily stopped him.
They came to the point where the yellow cable went up, next to a post. The hole it went through was just large enough for the wire, and Ella groaned. “Maybe the littlest of us could squeeze through…”
“But I would never make it,” Kyle added.
“We’ve got to try the other cord and hope it goes up in a bigger hole, or we at least come up to a wall.” Richard kept his voice calm. “This way, Team.”
Aric kept his back to the group and he fashioned his paperclip skewers. Dylan used his flashlight to keep the rats back while encouraging Aric in his endeavors. “I think you have the right idea, man.”
Madison let out an exclamation. “A hair clip! I can use this like Aric uses a paperclip! And a safety pin.” She let go of Gran’s hand to dash forward and grab the two items. She was back in line in half a breath. “Bet they won’t like getting poked with the sharp end of a safety pin!” She handed the pin to Kyle.
Richard picked up a dime. “This could come in handy.”
They continued inching their way in the general direction of the other cord, and the rats continued to feint and parry, getting a little bolder each time. There were four rats, most likely a small family, Ella determined. She could sense they were getting excited for the kill: a dead mouse would be fresh meat, and they hadn’t had that in some time. She was beginning to get pictures from their heads, all jumbled up and crazy.
I may have nightmares the rest of my life, she thought. She tried to send calming pheromones and deer-mice-happy-vibes. “How much further, Richard?”
Just then, Billie let go of her hand and picked something up from the floor. “Push pin!” Billie traded hands with her flashlight and held the pin out like a little pocket knife. “I hate rats!”
Aric passed one of his make-shift paperclip pokers over to Dish, and one to Dylan. “I can make you one, Gran,” he called.
“No thanks, hero boy. I’ll use my flashlight.”
The big dark rat charged, mouth open and yellow teeth gleaming before the flashlights. Aric raced forward and met it in the nose with his paperclip. The clip skidded along the rat’s face, narrowly missing its left eye. The rat screamed in pain and backed off quickly.
One of the slightly smaller rats raced in at Kyle. Kyle balled up a paw and bopped it on the nose as hard as he could and used the other hand to jab at it with the bent open safety pin. Madison jumped in and poked it hard on the side of the face with the dual-end of the hair pin, drawing twin pricks of blood. The rat squeaked and turned away, it’s thick tail narrowly missing tripping Madison as she withdrew.
Richard flung the dime like a discus at the grey rat, and they all heard it hit the side of the rat’s thick head before bouncing back and clattering on the floor.
The rat was temporarily dazed, but came at Kyle with its yellow teeth gleaming. Kyle poked it as hard as he could, wounding it in the shoulder. It hissed backward, knocking the safety pin out of Kyle’s hands and out of its shoulder.
The last rat charged both Ella and Gran, the only unarmed mice. Ella’s flashlight fell to the floor and she smelled the putrid breath of the larger rodent over her. Dish poked it on the side of the head with his paperclip. Billie rush in and sank the pushpin into the rat’s neck. The rat jerked back, and the push pin, still firm in Billie’s grasp, came out. A thin stream of blood spurt out of the wound.
“We’re here!” Richard cried out. He turned his flashlight up along the cable and smiled. A rat-sized hole.
Billie and Gran pulled Ella to her feet. “We’ve gotta scramble, before they regroup!”
Aric and Dylan took up position at the bottom of the cable. “We’ll come up last. Go!”
Richard went first.
“What if there are more rats up there?” Kyle said, doubtfully.
“Just go!”
Ella, Billie, and Gran followed Kyle upward.
“Well,” Dylan said. “Which of us goes last?”
The rats had not reformed, but remained off in the dark, making small noises.
“Me,” Aric declared.
“I don’t know. I kinda want to see this one out.”
The dark rat was crawling back toward them, as well as the grey one. A flashlight in their eyes revealed something akin to anger and menacing, more so than when they had been merely hunting the mice. Dish poked his nose down the hole, “Come on, guys. We’re in!”
“Can’t. We have two mad rats.”
Dish disappeared from view, and a second later dropped down to join them, armed with a letter opener shaped very much like a sword. “Three against two. What happened to the other two?”
“I don’t know, but these two look very mad.”
“I say we charge them when they get close enough, go in with all our force. I think rats are basically cowards,” Aric shifted his weight. “Ready guys?”
“What’s our victory call?”
“Deacon.”
“Okay…”
The rats split up.
Dylan raised his paperclip like a fencing sword and Aric held his like a spear. “DEEEEEEEAAACOOOONNNNNN!”
They charged the grey rat, hitting her in the nose and eye. She leaped back, taking Aric’s paperclip with her and hissing something terrible. She stumbled, twirled, and shook in pain. The boys could barely stand to watch and turned in time to see Dish push his letter cutter into the throat of the big black rat. It reared up and off of the letter cutter, clawing at its throat. Then it fell forward, just missing Dish. A single twitch of its feet, and it was dead.
The boys didn’t hesitate, but bee-lined for the cable and the way out of the crawlspace. But before they could reach the cable, the small gray rat blocked their path. It had a twin set of blood pricks on one side, but it clearly was not very wounded. It seemed more curious than angry, sniffing the air, and peering down at the boys.
“I don’t have any more paperclips.”
Dish and Dylan hesitated for a second.
“This time, for Natalie!” They charged the rat, but it thought better of a confrontation and turned and scuttled off.
The mice reached the cables and hurried up, Dish in the rear. He hesitated before he disappeared up. No rats moved.

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The hole they had to climb in was smaller than the deer mouse hole. Kyle got stuck momentarily, and had to be pushed through from behind by Dylan and Aric, as Gran and Dish pulled from the front.
“OOPH!” Kyle grunted when he made it through. “Maybe I should stop eating pizza.”
“Whew,” Aric crawled in. “That was tough. There’s not much room in here, is there?”
Dylan was the last in. “Wish I could’ve…”
“Me, too, Dylan. But we have to stop the executions.”
“Lights on,” called Richard from somewhere up the line.
“Amazing. We could have used flashlights when we climbed to the attic.” Gran ran his beam along the floor and walls. “So this is what the state capitol building looks like.”
They crawled along under the sub-flooring, looking for an opening into the walls. Dish found the Ethernet cords first. “Computer wiring,” he called out. “I think we’re in.”
“How do we know if it goes to the governor’s office?”
“Probably goes to the server room, first. Then we read the connections, and follow the cables.”
“If they’re labeled.”
“They’re labeled in a building this old, with employees as old as some of these are.” Dish hooked a paw around a cable and pulled himself up, holding his flashlight in his mouth. “Eashy peashy.”
“What did he say?”
“Easy peasy.” Billie jumped up and followed him. She put her light into her pocket. “No need to light up his butt.”
The tension broke a little, and everyone giggled. Soon, they were all climbing up the hole where the Ethernet cord joined other Ethernet cords and heavy cables. Richard brought up the rear. They went up, then the cables leveled out, and they crawled on their paws, and turned left until they came to a mouse-sized hole.. The hole came out inside of an empty space that they identified as the inside of a cabinet. Dish turned off his flash light and pushed on the door of the cabinet. It opened easily.
Gran climbed up the cables and pushed his head through the top of the cabinet. Lights flickered on a tall server rack in the middle of the room. The cabinet Gran was atop of ran along one wall, and some papers were taped to the surface. Billie climbed up behind him.
“Brr! Tad chilly in here,” she whispered.
“Server rooms are kept cold,” he whispered back/ “We’re looking for a schematic showing which cables go to the governor’s office.”
The rest of the party had followed Dish out into the open, and now made their way to the rack of servers. Green and white lights blinked above them.
“How will we know?” Madison stared upward.
“Should be marked, somehow. You guys wait here.” Ells jumped up and grabbed hold of a cable, pulling herself up to the first blinking computer. Dish came up beside her.
“Okay, Brain. Do your thing,” he said, softly. “This is your forte, El.”
“It’s not this computer. The server is the next one up. This is just the back up.” She jumped up and peered around. Everything was functioning as it should. She counted the cords that were hooked up. “It shouldn’t be this easy,” she muttered.
GVOFC1 and GVOFC2 were plugged in, side by side. Two very yellow Ethernet cords that traveled back down the server rack where they were tied up with all the others with a zip tie.
Across the room, Billie found a list of telephone extensions. “Gran, check this out.”
“Shh. I just found a map of the building.” Gran ran over to Billie. “Can you memorize some of those?”
“Which ones?”
“Security, maybe. I don’t know.”
Billie rolled her eyes. Then she memorized two numbers: Security Entrance and Sheriff’s extension. She turned around and saw Gran and Richard poring over the map Gran had discovered. She knew Richard was likely implanting it into his brain, like a GPS.
Meanwhile, Ella and Dish had followed the two yellow cables down to the zip tie. Unfortunately, once the cables were tied together, it was impossible to tell which ones were which when they came out and disbursed. Dish set to work on the plastic zip tie, using his teeth.
Aric found some paper clips on the floor and pocketed them. Dylan and Madison located a plastic bag full of more zip ties. They were debating how best to carry the zip ties when Dish broke through the zip tie and the cables loosened enough for the mice to sort through them.
Richard, Billie, and Gran rejoined the team as Ella and Dish declared they knew which cables to follow and landed back on the floor.
“I have the floor plan to the building,” Richard said. I will send the coordinates of the governor’s office to each of you.” He held out his paws and closed his eyes in concentration.
“Good. Let’s hope that matches the direction these cables go,” Ella whispered.
“Hey, where’s Kyle?”
“I’m stuck.” There was a thumping noise and the mice followed it.
Kyle had both boots and his tail stuck on a glue trap hidden behind a chair. He looked miserable. “I’m afraid to move.”
Aric whipped out the paperclips. “I’m about to go MacGyver on you all.”
“How?” someone managed after they all groaned.
“We hold the other end of the trap down with the ends of the paperclips, so we don’t get stuck. Billie and Ella grab Kyle by the arms and pull him out of his boots. He keeps his feet in the air until they’re all clear of the trap, and then they pull his tail off. That part’s gonna hurt, Kyle.”
“There’s no stapler in this room?”
“Wouldn’t it get stuck on the sticky?”
They all stood, considering. Footsteps sounded outside the room, and the door handle rattled. Immediately, everyone went into position with Aric’s plan: Aric, Dylan, Richard, and Gran armed with paperclips ran to the opposite end of the trap and hammered one end into the sticky glue. Dylan untied his laces and then leaned back into the girl’s arms. The three girls pulled hard, with Madison coming up under his back and keeping him off the sticky mat. Once he was free, Madison and Billie yanked his tail loose.
“OUCH!” He cried out.
The sound of a key going into the lock caused them all to look toward the door.

The guard, whose name was “Brown” according to the name tag on his uniform, flipped on the light and looked around the room. It was empty. The servers hummed and blinked normally. Nothing seemed out of place, but then, this room never was the tidiest. He didn’t notice the chewed-through zip tie or the sticky rat trap with two miniature brown boots stuck to it, or the oddly placed paperclips at the other end.
He switched off the light and pulled the door closed behind himself.

The mice collapsed inside the cupboard, breathing heavily.
“I’m sorry, guys,” Kyle sniffed.
“You had no idea,” Richard soothed.
“That was good thinking, Derp. You’re almost my hero.”
“Thanks, Dork.”
“Let’s get going.” Billie stood up and dusted herself off. “I want this over.”
“Here, here.”
“Copy that.”
They pushed their way out of the cupboard and resumed their quest, this time by following the designated Ethernet cords to GVOFC1 and GVOFC2 to the hole in the wall they went into. It was too small.
“Now what?” Gran groaned and sat down.
“We get above the ceiling.” Richard had his flashlight out and was looking up at the false ceiling above.
“but, how?”
“Paperclips,” Aric answered. “We make a chain of paperclips. One of us still has to jump from the top of the server, but the rest of us can use the paperclip chain.”
“Who are you, and what did you do to my little brother?”
Soon, they had assembled a paperclip chain of varying sizes and colors. They scrambled up the server rack until they were as close to the ceiling as they could get, but it still seemed too high for any one of them to take a chancy jump at – and hope to budge the Styrofoam hanging panel while grasping the thin metal supports. Nine mice stared upward.
“Aric, this is where you levitate for real?” Ella asked.
“I thought you’d never ask.” He grinned.
Minutes later, Aric hooked the paperclips around the metal strut, and the other eight mice climbed the tenuous chain into the space between. Aric unhooked the paperclips and let them drop to the floor below. “Don’t worry,” he said, “I have more in my pockets.”
“Stay on the metal strips,” Gran whispered. “We’re going to find our way upstairs now.”
Gran led the way as they balanced their way across the little metal strips that held the Styrofoam ceiling panels in place. They found the edge of the room and began a systematic search of the perimeter for where the two yellow cords might come up. Ella suggested they break up: one group go left and the other right, but Richard felt that was dangerous. It was Kyle who decided the matter, by wandering off to the left, sniffling. He still felt terrible about his ordeal.
“Hey, guys. I found two yellow cords. Well, a lot of cords, but these two go off by themselves up a hole. And it’s big enough for me.” He stretched up, measuring the hole with his whiskers. “Did you guys know whiskers are really cool?”
The mice gathered at the base of the hole. “Can we be certain these are the right ones?”
Ella closed her eyes. “Yes. If the map is right, then these are right. We need to follow these and find our way into the governor’s office.”
“I concur,” Richard said, after examining the map in his head.
They all squeezed through and found themselves in a wider space that ran in both directions, and upward. Cables also ran upward and it was by hoisting themselves up the yellow Ethernet cords, that they began their ascent. The space was dusty, and there were the occasional cobwebs, but very little other life. A pale, long legged spider ran across the wall, once, and Madison almost lost her grip. They had to wait for her to calm down before they could resume climbing. The end of the line was a larger hole that opened into an area between a ceiling and a floor. It smelled rank.
The cords diverged at a ninety-degree angle from each other along the flat space.
“Now what?”
“We have to figure out which one goes to the governor’s office, and which one to his secretary’s.” Ella sat down. “I need to think.”
“Guys, I think someone is in here with us.” Dylan’s flashlight made a circuit of the narrow space, lighting the grey sides of some moving things in the distance. They switched on their flashlights and looked around.
“More mice! Maybe they’ll help like the wild ones did!” Gran exclaimed.
The nearest one came closer, sniffing at the strangers. It was larger, darker, and it had sharp, yellowed teeth.
“I believe we have stumbled into a rat’s nest,” Richard said, drily.

 

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Ella didn’t feel like talking to the mirror. She just wanted to cry. She tried not to look at anyone, but Natalie came over and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Stress makes people lash out,” she said, kindly. “There is tea in the kitchen.”
Aric punched her shoulder lightly, “You can be my hero.” Ella tried to punch him back, but he dodged. “Hey! You almost smiled!”
The rest sat down in the living room and tried not to look at each other. “It’s my fault,” Gran said. “I tried to tell her Mike was on the other side.”
“You should’a asked her out first,” Dish said, making to play punch his friend in the shoulder.
“Oh, yeah, she said that. Like getting Mike to ask her out was a way to get at me.”
“Girls.”

Madison talked Billie out of the bathroom. She continued to snivel, but she no longer had anything angry to say. She accepted a cup of tea from Richard and sat down between Gran and Dish. “I’m sorry, guys. It’s just been so horrid, and now she’s talking about making us mice, again.”
“The mirror is,” Dish reminded her.
Billie sniffed. “I know. It’s the mirror. But it’s telling El all this stuff, and it’s scaring me. What can we do if we’re just house mice?”
Ella returned to the room. She tried to make eye contact with Billie, but Billie wouldn’t look at her. Ella looked at Richard, who said, “We have very little time to intervene, if the execution is truly set for tomorrow at six o’clock in the evening. We must lay down our petty grievances for the better good. I believe we can all agree that we must work together as a team.”
Everyone nodded, including Billie, although she still refused to look up at Ella.
“Okay…” Ella stood before the mirror again. She was herself, and her eyes were puffy. “So, Mirror. Can you tell us the plan?”
The mirror remained silent, and reflected the room. Ella looked first at Richard, then over at Dish and Gran. “Ideas what to ask?”
“Yes.” It was Billie. “Ask it if we all are supposed to go as mice, and where to? And how are we supposed to fight? How do we kill an evil Yokai?” She looked Ella in the eye.
Ella nodded. “Got it. Mirror. Which of us is supposed to go as a mouse warrior?”
The mirror reflected twelve mice. Everyone could see the image this time. They were armed with office supplies: a stapler, scissors, a box cutter, a letter opener, push pins, and rubber bands. It was easy to tell which mouse was who: they were, again, dressed in their own clothes.
“Even Horace?” Deke pointed at the one normal mouse. “Has to be Horace.”
“Who is number thirteen, though?”
The mirror shifted, and the governor’s office was revealed. There was a single desk lamp on, but the room was lit from the street. The mirror reflected mice in positions around the room, behind books, under the desk, on top of shelves, hiding behind photographs on the credenza, or flat against the bronze statue of a cowboy herding cattle.
It faded again, and showed the shadowy form of the Yokai enter the room. He walked around to where the governor usually sat, and began pulling drawers open. He pulled a bottle of pills out of one of the drawers, and poured them out onto the desk.
“Five left. You will be dead in three days, Mr. Governor. Dead of old age.” He put the pills back in the bottle and secured it in the drawer again. He flipped the desk lamp off. He started to leave, but turned toward the mirror in the room.
“I will have four tails in three days. I will look so much more handsome.”
He turned to walk away, and the mirror seemed to zoom onto his handsome tails. The image disappeared slowly.
“I have it,” Ella whispered. “How to defeat him.”
The room was silent for a long few seconds. Billie broke the silence. “Let’s do it, Girlfriend.” She raised her fist to Ella, who bumped it back.
“Let’s do it!”
“Wait! How do we get to the governor’s office? How do we break in? Can’t the mirror show us the way in, at least?” Deke was waving his arms.
“Oh. I guess I could ask it,” Ella said. Billie laughed.

They moved in the dark of the night, after stocking up on food and taking a cat nap. They had to use a popular search engine and map application to decide where to have Deke transport them. The mirror had provided a general lay out of the capitol building, and where they might expect to find entrance. Richard – Kitsune – had implanted the mental map as best as he could. But now they were here, in the bark dust, next to the cold granite blocks the capitol building was built upon.
It was of those dark nights when the rain absorbed all the light, and everything melted into one black mud puddle. The swoosh of an occasional car on the main road echoed in the mice’s ears. They moved along the side of the building, keeping to the shelter of the azaleas and rhododendrons, and dodging the drip of rain off the roof. Noses twitched, and they hurried, silently, trusting their whiskers, instincts, and the mental map. Richard took the lead, and Natalie took up the rear. They overrode any protests by the young mice with their parental/adult authority: they had “experience” and they could shape-shift at will, even under Deke’s spell.

The red tabby was out for a stroll around the big building when he noticed the small moving things under the bushes. His curiosity was immediately piqued. He liked things that moved. He changed direction and dropped down to his belly, crawling stealthily toward the little moving things. He did not possess a good sense of smell, but his hearing and eyesight more than made up for what his nose could not tell him. He did not know what was moving, but whatever they were, they were completely unaware of him.
He left the wet grass for the relative shelter of the shrubs. He sometimes used the bark dust here for a littler box. He knew where he was, how far it was to home, and where shelter ended. He also knew that sometimes there was a cruel man who hid in the doorways and sent little flying pain pellets, but that was during the daytime. At night, the tabby was free to hunt here. Or play, as he was not particularly hungry just now. He just wanted to see if he could catch one of the little moving things.

“Did you hear that?” Aric looked around. He was certain he heard something rustle under the rhododendron.
The column stopped, and everyone looked about. This time, when Deke had changed them, he had commanded their eyesight to remain very human. They could peer out under the bush into the darkness, see the street lights, and the ground lights. Dark shadows were harder to make out: rocks, roots, bricks, a looming cat shape with pointy ears.
Aric turned his flashlight on, illuminating the large amber eyes with narrow vertical slits.
“CAT!” he squeaked, and immediately panicked, looking for a weapon.
“Oh dear,” Horace prayed. “Don’t let a cat catch me as a mouse. It’s so undignified!”
The cat’s body trembled as he prepared to jump at the little things, and he launched into the air. Something hit him on the side of the head, and something threw leaves up in it’s face. The little creatures scattered, and he missed his mark. He turned his head and was smacked on the nose with a twig. Another twig poked him in the side.
The tabby batted at the twig, momentarily fascinated with the way it waved in the air and prodded at him. There was no need for claws, as this was merely an entertainment. The tabby batted at leaves and tossed them in the air with abandon, leapt up into the bush and jumped back down again, scattering the wee things some more. They made tiny sounds like humans, but they raced around like mice or voles. The cat crouched, again, and waited to see what the creatures would do.
They scrambled for shelter, tiny voices shouting. The cat tilted his head and watched: they reassembled behind a little box with pipes coming out of it.

“We’ll have to make a run for it, somehow. The way in should be very close now” Richard hissed.
“We need a distraction.”
“We need Kyle the bear to walk up and swat that cat off its feet.”
“I’m a mouse now, sorry, dudes.”
“I’ll do it,” Natalie said. “I’m a black belt in karate. I should be able to keep up with a cat.”
“No, Mom!”
“Hey, where’s Deke? Deke?” Aric looked around, wildly.

The cat was an expert mouser and bird hunter. It saw the movement off to it’s right. A flick of the tail, a shiver down the length of its body, a pause – and it had the straggler pinned between its paws.
One of the other ones ran at the cat ad leaped at its face, but the tabby snatched its prize in its mouth and trotted off.
“Oh, nooooo.”
“Dylan, Go with the rest. Finish the job. I’m going to go save Deacon.”
“Me, too.”
“No, Aric. You’re needed here. Go, NOW.” Natalie headed in the direction the cat had gone.
“I’ll go with her,” Horace said. “It’s be us against the cat.”
Richard quickly rounded up the rest and ushered them toward the break in the foundation wall that would take them into the duct work and up to the governor’s office. Aric held back, but Ella tugged on his hand.
“He’ll be OK. He has a magic wand, if he really needs to use magic.”
Aric nodded glumly.

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