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Posts Tagged ‘ya novel’

“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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It was decided to bring the mirror into the great room, and to have Ella speak to it, again. Gran and Dish carried it into the room and stood it in the middle of the room, so that each side of the mirror was visible by someone. Horace even got into the mood by hopping down from his perch and hopping over to look into the mirror. He turned his head sideways and then the other direction sideways.
“Shouldn’t I be an owl?” he asked.
“You are an owl. It’s just the first time you’ve ever looked at yourself in a mirror,” Deke laughed.
“No, no. I know what owls look like. Let me tell you, female owls are always making amorous moves on me. I quite know what they look like. They have feathers and large yellow eyes. They do not look like this fellow in this reflection glass.”
Ella came around to the side of the mirror that Horace was looking into. She giggled. “Why, I do believe you are a House Elf, Horace! Or you can become one. You’ve even a sock for a night cap on. Don’t look so irritated at me, I’m just saying that’s what I see.”
Horace pecked at the mirror and the House Elf tapped the mirror with his nose. Horace lifted a wing; the House Elf lifted the corresponding arm.
“Well, how fascinating,” the owl and Elf muttered. No one but Ella could see the change in the owl – the reflection looked like that of a Northern barred owl, and nothing more.
Ella stared at the reflection, “So no one else can see Horace as anything but an owl? Have you looked into the mirror, Richard?”
Richard sighed and came around to the back side. His reflection was one of the fox from the woods. He started. “Well!”
Ella frowned. “How many tails do you have?”
“Five, I believe.” Richard turned around to look at his backside, and, yes, he had five tails.
“The Yokai had only three. So this means you are more powerful?”
“Only older. Perhaps wiser.” Richard bowed to his fox self and stepped out of view of the mirror. “That is most unnerving – a mirror that can reveal our true selves.”
“But I only saw me,” Billie said. She marched around and looked in the mirror. “I see me, I see Horace strutting, and I see… Ella, you’re a mouse.”
“But I see me.” Ella frowned.
“No, you are definitely a mouse.”
Everyone crammed around to the backside and peered at the mirror. One after another, they declared they could see themselves, Horace, and Ella – the latter as a mouse. Aric thought of bringing all the magic wands around.
“What happens if you hold one of Dad’s props?”
“Nothing! I’ve played with these all my childhood, and I can assure you that nothing happens.” Still, Aric shoved a spiraling one into her hand.
“Ask it to show the rest of us as the warriors we are,” he said.
Ella sighed. “Okay. Mirror. My friends want to see themselves as the warriors they really are.”
The mirror reflected mice, rabbits, and a deer. Everyone gasped.
“Wait. Mirror, is this a joke?” She meant it rhetorically, but green words appeared in mist in the mirror.
I DO NOT JOKE.
“Whoa!”
“What!?”
“Wow!”
“WOW!”
Ella backed up. “I’m trying the other side.”
She faced the other side. “Where are our parents?”
The mirror faded, then refocused inside an auditorium. It looked like the inside of an emergency shelter, with cots and people milling about. The exception were the armed guards by all the exits. The mirror moved in closer, until Ella was standing before her mother, who was sitting on a cot, talking to another woman that Ella recognized as Gran’s mother. They looked tired, and as if they hadn’t showered in days.
Ella touched the glass.
“We have to trust the kids,” Ella’s mother was saying.
“I know. I don’t like that they came in and took your husband and Dustin’s father. It feels evil.”
Ella’s mom patted the other woman’s knee. “I know. Phoenix can talk himself out of most things. I’m worried, too.”
Gran’s mother leaned over and put her head on Ella’s mom’s shoulder. “What if they found the kids, and they’re not telling us? The kids haven’t had time to practice their skills. We’ve sheltered them.”
“We never even told Ella who she was.”
Ella frowned, “Who am I, mirror?”
The mirror faded again, and focused on the governor’s office. Fred sat in a chair off to the side, looking miserable and nervous. The governor appeared to be his robust self, and sat behind the desk, hands clasped before him. Seated in the high backed chairs before the governor’s desk were Ella’s father, and Dish’s father.
Phoenix sat as straight as he could, but it was clear he was in some pain. He retained his bearing, however, and stared straight at the governor with his pale blue eyes. Dish’ father slumped in his chair, circles under his eyes, stubble across his jaw, and a look of rebellion on his face. The governor was speaking.
Ella touched the glass.

“Gentlemen, I understand that you do not know where your children are, or how to contact them. They seem to have abandoned you in your crisis. Typical teenagers, thinking of themselves first.”
Phoenix blinked slowly. Dish’s dad looked up at the ceiling as if in boredom.
“I promise you, this will not go well for you if the children do not contact us soon. If you still have a familiar, you are given permission to send it to your children. Tell them to give it up, come out of hiding. The only thing that will happen is that they will be stripped of all magical powers. The reign of the wizarding world is over.”
Phoenix blinked again. “There never was a reign of the wizarding world. I think you’ve read too many novels.”
“Don’t make us hurt you again, Doctor.”
Dish’s father shook his head, “If my kid was some sort of wizard, it don’t explain his bad grades or the fact that he can’t get it together to mow the lawn or take out the trash when I ask him to. That sound like magic to you, boss?”
“Frank, you are tempting me.”
Frank rolled his eyes, very much like Dish did. “I told you. He ran away. Probably spent the night with Gran. That’s what he does when he’s mad at me, or I’m mad at him. His mother just hides in the sewing room and pretends there ain’t a problem. Flipping bad that you killed his cat, though. Dustin can carry a grudge a long time.”
“Phoenix, let us talk about your children. Where do you think they would go?”
Phoenix looked at his fingernails. “Ella has a couple close friends, but she’s a solitary mouse. She’s always hidden in the attic, but I guess you checked that out, am I right? Aric? He’d take off on his bike. Nothing like BMX to work off the adrenalin. You arrested their parents without a warrant. El’s a smart girl. She’d know this is all bogus. She’d pursue all the legal channels. Aric would just run off with Deacon somewhere. I am assuming you haven’t Deacon in custody?”
“Your daughter would go to?”
Phoenix shrugged. “A civil liberties lawyer. El’s pretty sharp.”
Fred looked up. “We could lure them in,” he suggested.
“With what?” Phoenix sounded bored.
“We could kill you.”
A long blink. “Yes, Fred, you could. But my kids would come after you, not come to my rescue.” a short blink.

It hit Ella. “Wait. Mirror. Is he sending a message? Can you decipher my dad‘s blinks?” And Dish’s dad. He keeps tapping his fingers. Can you help me? Translate it?”

The words appeared on the mirror in red.

ELLA. DO NOT BELIEVE THEM. THEY CANNOT KILL US.
DUSTIN. I LOVE YOU.
ELLA. MOUSE.
DUSTIN. HARD ON YOU TO MAKE YOU STRONG.
GOVERNORS OFFICE. MOUSE.

The scene faded away, and Ella was staring at a reflection of herself as a mouse. She turned from the mirror and found pen and pad of paper, and scribbled the messages. Then she sat down.
“I think it’s a message,” she said. “And my dad knows the mirror is watching.”
Everyone crowded around her, except for Horace, who was still parading back and forth before the opposite side of the mirror.
They read what she had written down, and listened to her recount what she had seen. Dish, especially, was intent on the story. “He really said that?”
“The mirror said he did,” Ella promised him.
Meanwhile, Richard tried to get his large screen TV to pull up the local news channels. The television faded in and out, blinked blue screen with digital images, and then connected. Headline news: first executions of wizards tomorrow night at 6:oo PM. The camera focused on four photos of men:
Phoenix Peabody
Frank Delano
Michael Michaels
John Hexton

The teenagers looked at each other: Dylan’s dad, Gran’s dad, Dish’s dad, and Aric and Ella’s father. The news reporter showed no emotion. A gallows showed in the background.
“How barbaric,” Natalie exclaimed. “Isn’t there any outrage?”
“If there is, it is being suppressed,” Ella held back tears.
“The mirror is the heirloom, don’t you get it?” Deke jumped in. “It has nothing to do with El, but everything to do with the mirror. They don’t know El can talk to the mirror. They think she has as much magic as a grasshopper. The mirror is a portal, but it wants us to go through as mice. Or Ella to. We just have to figure out where Fred – or Yokai – will be.”
“Twerp, I hate to admit it, but I think you may be a genius.”
“Yeah, well, Dork, I’m beginning to like you as Aric’s big sister. Let’s not get sentimental.”
Billie walked around the mirror to look at her reflection, again. “It probably only wants Ella to go through.”
“I wouldn’t even know what to do.”
“Be the heroine.”
Ella felt the words like a slap on the face. “What is with you, Billie? I’m not trying to be anything. I just want the same thing you do: our parents and our lives back.”
“Maybe we could have done that long ago, when everyone stopped me from talking to Mike!”
“I did not. I was going with you, to help you. Kitsune stopped ALL of us, and told us it was dangerous.”
“Then you led us into those horrid crows!” Billie’s eyes began brimming with tears. “I’ve always been afraid of birds! And your heroic idea of saving us was to crawl – CRAWL – through a MOUSE den! We couldn’t see, and it smelled awful, and then there were those raccoons, and the hunters.” She started crying.
“Oh, Billie!” Ella reached for her friend.
“Don’t touch me!” Billie turned and ran into the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. Everyone heard the lock turn.
Ella’s lower lip trembled. Madison touched her arm, “I’ll talk to her, El. You go ask the mirror exactly what the plan is, OK? It picked you.”

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Ella couldn’t explain her emotions. She knew the mirror was some sort of clue, but what the clue was, she didn’t know. When had her parents acquired it? She couldn’t remember ever having seen it before, and she’d played dress-up in the attic many times. She had played with all of the magic wands, too, including the one that Gran got to work – and never, never, had anything magic happened.
The mannequin was odd, too, but she vaguely remembered something like it being used on All Hallow’s Eve when she was little: it had been dressed in a long black dress, with a Styrofoam head attached and a rubber mask over the head. Ella’s father sat on the front porch in costume, and scared the bejesus out of his own daughter. Mom had been angry at him, and pranks and dressed up horror models had never been used on the front porch again. Jack o’Lanterns, spider lights, and that weird spider web stuff you could buy at the Dollar Store – those items became the staple of Hallowe’en decorations. Just the way Ella preferred it.
She wasn’t magic like the rest of her family. She always felt like a freak when Aric could do irritating little things like levitate himself or other objects in the room. Her mom sometimes made dinner with a wave of the hand, and Ella told herself – lied to herself – that it had been simmering in the crockpot all day, like normal families. Or that time her father had asked her to run upstairs for something while he repaired a bicycle that had been run over by a backing up car. It was all fixed, not a dent or scratch or spoke out of place by the time Ella returned.
Her parents let her believe what she told herself: that everything could be explained with science. They must have known she didn’t possess an ounce of magic, but it was Aric who had tormented her by hiding her stuffed animals or making them talk at night. He was punished for the trickery, but he always found a way to bug her, like levitating on the last day that Ella did not believe in magic.
Her friends, too, had hidden magic skills from her, good naturedly going along with all of her scientific explanations, and leading her to believe they were just like her. But they weren’t were they? When it came right down to it, that last day, they’d come into her house and started talking about jail, escape, having a plan, and all. Right up to the moment when Deke had turned them into mice and dropped them into the crawl space, Ella had believed that there was no such thing as magic.
That whole bellwether lie that Kitsune gave her – it could all be explained logically, now that she thought about it. She trusted the deer mice because they were mice, like herself. She could understand them because she was a mouse, and they communicated with pheromones and high pitched sounds. She knew the raccoons were trouble, because they were raccoons. Crows were crows. It was all Nature taking its course. Even the stupid toad – any mouse knew a toad was dangerous. Toads ate mice.
That mirror, however. That was strange. She’d looked into a room that noone else could see, and she had a punch-in-the-gut feeling about it. The woman staring at the computer. The dark red oak furniture. It was like being Alice and having a portal to another world.
But why couldn’t anyone else see it?
And why were Gran and Billie acting so put out?
Ella made herself a cup of tea. Everyone else was still in the great room, but conversations had changed. Some of them were playing a card game. Mrs. – Natalie – was showing Madison how to knit. Deke and Aric were head to head on some game they were plaing on a piece of paper. Horace was still roosting. Richard was reading a book, rocking in his rocking chair.
Ella stood by one of the windows and stared out into the wintry scene. A cow elk gnawed at tufts of old grass as it worked it way around the cabin. A light snow was falling, but not the kind of snow that stuck to the ground. Ella wondered where her parents were, and what was going on.
Another elk grazed its way into the scene, a regal four point bull that blew steam into the air as he followed the cow, pulling at tufts of grass the cow missed.
Natalie’s elk, Ella thought. The ones that kept covering our tracks. Even now, they are circling and covering our tracks. Why don’t I have any magic?
But why couldn’t anyone else see the other room?
Richard entered the room quietly, as was his wont. “Is the tea still hot?”
Ella nodded. “Can we make the mirror large again? Only put it in the bathroom, where I can look at it by myself?”
“I would not advise that.”
“I don’t want everyone watching over my shoulder. I need to do this by myself.”
“The mud room is perhaps a better solution.” He nodded toward the back of the kitchen, where a small room led to a back door. A washer and dryer were installed in the room, and the outside door was locked.
Ella walked over and looked. “But I don’t want anyone in the kitchen when I’m talking to the mirror. I don’t know what I’m going to say to it.”
He rubbed his chin. “Only should you promise to not use it as a portal, should I agree to this.”
“I promise.” She looked into his eyes and nodded. “I promise.”
They only let Deke and Aric in on the plan, such as it was. Aric looked doubtful. Deke had to do the magic because it was his spell to begin with, Richard said. Aric insisted that he be allowed to sit in the kitchen, ready to come to her aid should anything happen. Of course. Deke had to be included.
Richard created a diversion: popcorn, sodas, and a movie on the big screen TV in the great room.
The mirror was moved to the mud room, full size, with the magical side facing Ella. The other side faced the locked back door.

Ella ran her hand down the ornate carvings on the side of the mirror. “Where did you come from?” She murmured.
“How about, ‘What do you want to tell me?’”
The mirror dimmed until it was smoky brown. Slowly, a room came into focus, with two men standing before the mirror in an apparent disagreement. Ella moved her hand over the mirror, even as the other hand covered her mouth in surprise.
She was staring into her own attic. Her father, Phoenix, was speaking.
“Why here, Fred?”
“I don’t know. It just seemed like it wanted to be here. I was going to take it to Richard’s house, but it just… pulled me here.”
Phoenix shook his head. “I don’t know. If this is as dangerous a game as you say it is, I don’t know that I want my family involved.”
“It’s only temporary, I promise. Just until I can get rid of this yokel that is zeroing in on the governor.”
“What if he gets to you, first?”
Fred was a little man, slightly stooped, with large glasses on his nose. “Phoenix, you know me well. I’ve been the governor’s body guard for decades. Please, trust me, I don’t want to store it here.”
Phoenix, tall and straight-backed, athletic, with a chiseled face, glanced at the mirror. “I worry most about Ella. What if she comes up here and finds it?”
Fred shook his head, “How often does she come up here? It’s an attic.”
Phoenix shrugged. “She used to play up here all the time. Dress up, some little fantasy game before she had any close friends. I had to deactivate all the magic, lest she discovered she had a gift, and activated something crazy.”
Fred nodded his head. “Yeah, I get kids. You never know. I promise, I’ll be back before the weekend to move it. I just need to talk to Richard about hiding it. He’ll know.”
The mirror faded smoky again, and Ella was staring at her mouse reflection.
“Eek!” she said, automatically reaching up to feel her ears. They felt normal. She glowered at the mirror, “Don’t play around!”

The mirror turned a misty blue, with swirling light blue colors, and she was looking into another room. It was an office, similar to the first one. Fred was standing in front of a very large walnut desk, looking down at his hands, and acting as if he was embarrassed. The governor stood on the other side and seemed to be angry. The governor was a tall, large man who filled out a three piece suit. He wore a blue and white bow tie.
Ella touched the glass, and, again, she could hear the voices.
“You’re telling me that you can’t find anything? No tracks? No sightings?”
“Yes, yes sir, I am.” Fred glanced sideways at the mirror. “I, um, see you moved that into here.”
“What? The mirror? Yes, yes, I moved it in here. Don’t change subjects on me, Fred. I trusted you to get my family heirloom back. You are disappointing me. What do you plan to do now?”
“We could start killing wizards. Put it on TV. The kids would have to come out, then.”
“Killing!?” The mayor started to pace, then looked back at Fred. “When did you get to be devious?”
Yes, when? Ella wondered. “Mirror, is that really Fred? Because Deke has his wand.”
The men in the mirror changed before her eyes. The mayor shrank, his back twisting with scoliosis. He lost hair, and his face became flaccid and wrinkled with age. His hands shook, and he had to hold onto the edge of the desk to keep the shaking from showing. He aged at least fifteen years before Elle’s eyes.
But it was Fred who caught her attention: he grew taller. Darker. A smoke seemed to swirl around him as he took shape. When it dissipated, Fred was taller than the governor, and he was also no longer human in appearance. He was a black fox with three tails.
Ella pulled her hand back as if she had been burned. The image faded, and she was staring at Ella the mouse, once again.
Then she fainted.

She came to on the sofa. The room was hushed. She looked around: everyone was there, Dish kneeling by her head, Billie, Madison. Dylan. Natalie, Gran, Kyle. Aric and Deke stood behind the sofa, trying not to look concerned. Richard was at the head of the sofa, where he had been waving something under her nose.
“How long was I out?” She pulled herself up to a sitting position. “Whoa! Dizzy!”
“Put your head between your knees until it passes,” Natalie suggested.
“No, no. It’s gone.” Ella was pale as the fresh snow outside. “Where’s the mirror?”
“Under the sofa, again.” Deke shrugged. “I thought maybe it sucked the life out of you or something.”
“Twerp.” Ella waved an irritated hand at him.
Richard appeared at her side with a cup of green tea. “Drink slowly. You can tell us when you have a little more strength.”
She tasted the tea: sweet and herbally, it smelled of roses. She took a longer sip, closing her eyes and breathing in the aroma. Without opening her eyes, she said, “Fred stole the mirror. He brought it to our house. Dad didn’t want to store it because he was afraid I would find it in the attic when I went up there to hide. The attic is sort of my safe place, where I go when I feel lonely or Aric has made me especially mad, or I fail a test.”
Another sip of tea. She looked at Dish, who nodded. “Anyway, Fred said it was only until he found this yokel, only he didn’t say ‘yokel’ – he mispronounced it. He was a bodyguard for the governor. Oh, and he kept saying he was going to talk to Richard about what to do with the mirror.”
Everyone looked at Richard.
“He never came to me about a mirror.” Richard frowned.
“Well, he was going to deal with this – um, yokel. I think things didn’t go well.”
“Go on,” Dish urged, one hand on her knee.
“Well, then the mirror took me to another room. The governor’s office. He was arguing with Fred. He was really mad the Fred hadn’t located the missing heirloom, and Fred was apologizing. Then Fred said something really strange that scared me. He said they should start killing all the wizards, to make us come out of hiding. And the mayor called him ‘devious’, like that was a good thing.”
“Kill our parents?”
“Was that everything?”
“Um, no. Every time the mirror got done showing me something, it reflected me, but I was my mouse self. I thought it was being funny, like maybe it had a sense of humor, or Aric was messing with it.”
“No way, Dork!” Aric looked offended.
“I know it wasn’t you,” she replied. She sipped the last of the tea. “I think it was trying to tell me something about our mouse selves, but I didn’t get that far because I asked it why was Fred still alive when Deke has his wand, and he must be dead to have lost his wand.” She shuddered.
“It showed you more?” Billie leaned forward, looking almost like the Billie who was Ella’s friend.
Ella nodded. “The governor got really, really old, really fast. And Fred… Fred turned into this giant black fox with three tails.”
“Yokai,” Richard said, sitting down.
“What?” They all looked at him.
“Yokai, not yokel. Evil Kitsune. The opposite of myself. A shadow fox.”
“There was something else,” Ella interrupted. “The real Fred told my dad that he was trying to take the mirror to you, but that the mirror ‘pulled’ him to our house. The mirror wanted to be in the attic. Isn’t that weird?”
“Not really,” Aric came around the sofa. “I think the mirror belongs to the wizard who can talk to it. I think it’s your mirror, and it was looking for you.”
“Yeah,” Dish said. “I can see that. You didn’t even believe in magic until the mirror was in your house.”
“But why now?”
No one had an answer.
“And why did it keep showing me as my mouse self?” Ella looked at Richard, but he merely shook his head and muttered.
“Yokai. This is very bad.”

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Everyone stared at Ella’s hand writing. Deke broke the long silence.
“So, my wand is legit?”
Richard looked up at him and smiled. “Yes, Mr. Smith. Your wand is yours. It is not the stolen talisman.”
Aric nudged him hard with his shoulder. “Way to go, Deke.”
Ella punched him. “Twerp.”
He smiled as he reached out and picked up the wand. “You guys don’t know how terrified I was that this was stolen. I was so scared.”
“You should’ve trusted us,” Gran growled.
“At least been open,” Billie grumbled.
Ella looked over at them. “Guys. Don’t be mean. We’re all scared.”
“Says Miss Brainiac who never believed in magic, anyway,” Billie spat out. “How scared can you be when you think it’s all logic and programming?”
Ella’s jaw fell open. She blinked.
Gran stood up and nodded, “I’m with Billie. Trust is a big deal. Ella, you’re just so stupefyingly naïve. Twerp could have saved us a lot of pain.”
“How?” Dish snapped. “What if he’d told us? It wouldn’t have changed anything. We were still trapped in a house with white coats coming after us. Deacon figured out a way to save us. He transported all the attic to the cabin, and then to here. The talisman is still in there, somewhere. And, just a point – we haven’t used magic since we met Kitsune. Ella has been a good leader, not a hot head like some people I could mention.”
Kyle coughed. “Guys. I’m with Dish here. Nothing changes how we got here. It’s not Deke’s fault. He’s just a dude who found something and when everything came down, he got scared. I have secrets, too, and I never told anybody.”
All eyes turned to him. He blinked. “Not like a talis- whatever. I just moved here, remember? I… Um. I’ve been lonely. I mean, Deke and Aric are nice, but some other kids haven’t been. And there was this old lady down the street who was really nice. She gave me flowers to take to my mom. And one day she handed me something that wasn’t just a flower. She gave me a wand. I thought it was a mistake and I tried to give it back to her. She just smiled and said, ‘Troubled times, young man. You think about what you want.’”
“So you just took a supposed magic wand from some old lady?” Gran was incredulous.
“Cool,” Dylan said.
“Not just any old lady,” Kyle replied. “Miss Sophy. I used it to make myself a great big bear. I thought when I was a bear that I’d lost the wand, but when I crossed into this house, it was in my hoodie pocket.” He pulled out an ornately carved wand with a crystal tip
“They arrested her,” Aric added. “Deke and I saw it.”
Richard and Natalie exchanged glances. “They thought the arrested her. They arrested her pet canary. She is at one of our other safe houses.” Richard held out his hand, “May I look at your wand, Kyle?”
“Sure.” Kyle held it out, but when Richard reached for it, it pushed him away.
“Interesting,” he said.
“May I?” Natalie held out her hand. The same thing happened.
“Whoa. What if I look at it?” Deke asked.
Again, and again, the wand refused to go to another person. Kyle finally shrugged and put it back into his pocket. “Guess it doesn’t like anyone else.” He looked abashed.
Richard was stroking his chin. “I shall have to ask Miss Sophy what she did with this particular wand. She’s a gifted wand maker, but this one is certainly unique in that it refuses to be handled by anyone other than you, Kyle. No one can steal that from you.” He smiled at the awkward teen.
Gran was trying out the different wands, not paying a lot of attention to anyone else, when suddenly he grew a moustache and beard. Billie happened to look over at him as it happened, and she screamed. Everyone looked.
“Your face!”
Gran jumped, turned beet red, and immediately reversed the spell. “Um, I found the magic one.”
Natalie put her head down between her hands. “Teenagers.”
Richard guffawed. The rest of the room soon joined him, including Gran. The only one who did not laugh was Horace, as he was perched on the back of a chair, trying to sleep. He opened his eyes and gave everyone a baleful stare, which set them off again.
Ella leaned back against the sofa, holding her sides. It felt so good to just laugh and be relaxed! She glanced over at Dish, who had better color this morning and who was engaged in a little game of boyish fisticuffs with Gran, laughing all the while.
They finally gained control of their outburst, and it was suggested that they bring the items out from under the sofa, one at a time, restore them to size, and examine them to see if something was hidden somewhere. They were going with the theory that whatever had been stolen, had been hidden in the Peabody attic, and so everything had to be looked at.
The stacked chairs were first, but were quickly eliminated. They were prank chairs used during parties at the Peabody house. The holiday decorations were also dismissed. The items were sent back to the Peabody attic as they worked. The first trunk enlarged and opened, held old lace, handkerchiefs, linen tablecloths, baby clothes, an ornate box of fine silver, an old sable coat, a mink shawl, and two well-preserved black dresses in the 19th Century Victorian style, as well as their petticoats, and one gentleman’s suit, including a beaver top hat.
“Oh, Mom always brings these out for our big feasts,” Ella exclaimed. “Fine china, the best silver, napkin rings, tablecloths, placemats…” she fondly refolded each item after it was inspected. “The baby clothes were grandfather’s.”
“It’s all sentimental items,” Natalie muttered. “Nothing magic.”
“The trunk itself must be magic.” Dylan ran his hand along the contours of the trunk. “How old is it, El?”
She glanced up from the baby clothes she was refolding. “It’s been in the family a couple hundred years, at least.”
Richard made sipped on a cup of tea. “The spell on the trunk is most likely what included it in Deacon’s spell cast.”
Ella set the hat down on the top, and looked at it. “Yes, definitely. I never thought about it before, but Mom always packed it without a care as to how things stacked, and yet the lid always goes down, and nothing is every squashed. You’d think I would have noticed that before.”
The second trunk was slightly more interesting, filled as it was, with all the stage props from Mr. Peabody’s youthful acting career, and some of his early medical implements. Nothing jumped out as new or so unusual that it fit the definition of what they were looking for. The third trunk held costumes and some larger props, and was – yet, again, dismissed.
“That’s it, I guess,” Ella said, flopping down on the sofa next to Billie, who still looked grim.
“No, there are two more items.” Deke retrieved the sewing mannequin and the free-standing mirror.
“I’ve never seen that mirror before,” Ella frowned. “Have you, Aric?”
“It was in the attic.” He shrugged. He was bored. “Right, Gran? Deke?”
“Right.”
“Huh. Guess I don’t get up there much. What’s the body-thing for?”
Billie rolled her eyes. “Don’t you know? It’s a costume-fitting model.”
“It’s for sewing,” Madison volunteered. “My mom sews – she likes working with her hands. You can adjust the bust and waist, and you hand the blouse or skirt over it to make adjustments.”
“Cool.” Deke eyed the mannequin.
“The mirror is certainly beautiful.“ Natalie ran her hands over the ornate, dark wood. She fingered the carvings. “Such detail in the flowers.”
Billie stood and looked at herself in the reflection. “Looks like me.” She shrugged.
Natalie looked at herself on the opposite side. “I don’t look like a rabbit, thankfully.”
Deke sighed and sat down next to Ella. “Guess there wasn’t anything special in your attic.”
“It’s all special, Twerp.” Ella got up and walked over to look at her self in the mirror.
Ella walked around the mirror and looked at the other side. She gasped. “That’s another place! Like I’m looking into an office!. Gran and Dish tried to peer over her shoulder, but all they saw was their own reflection.
“Psyche!” they said, joshing her.
“No! I’m not joking! It’s an office. Richard, can you see it?”
Richard and Natalie, and everyone else took turns looking, but noone could see the other place. Ella had to pull herself away from it. “Can we make it little again? I don’t want to look at it right now. I feel sick.”

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The following day was crisp and clear. The five companions made good mileage, stopping to eat here and there, and napping only once during the day. The herd of elk kept circling around behind them and around them. The snow had melted, but the ground was soft, and the greens still tender. The only birds they saw were varied thrushes, dark-eyed juncos, and northern flickers. A flock of geese too far away to see glided over, honking as they flew in a southerly direction. Canadas, Ella told them.
They rested a third time as dusk set in, hiding in the hollow of a fallen tree, punky and rotten, with a large, blackened conk growing out of the side of it. They did not talk as much as before, each of them wrapped up in his or her own thoughts about the night before and what lay ahead of them. The mice rode in the hoodies while Dylan and Madison maneuvered through the thinning under growth toward the imagined goal: Deke’s family’s hunting cabin.
The night was clear, but no full moon. A deer made a bed nearby: they knew it was a deer by the different musk scent and the sounds it gave off. Dylan made no mention of his mother, but they all secretly hoped it was her.
Dylan was on watch when he smelled danger. He thumped once. Not far away, he heard the deer rise from its bed and snort softly. Then it bounded off: thump! Thump! Thump! He imagined it jumping, large tail flashing black and white: Danger! Danger! Danger!
Aric and Madison joined him by the opening into the hollow. The smell of wet dog wafted on the air, and a pheromone sense of weariness. They could hear the large foot pads of something clumy working its way in their direction. Occasionally, there was a whuff as the animal sniffed the air. Eventually, a voice drifted their way.
“Let’s just find a place, OK, Kyle?”
“I’m looking.” Kyle sounded peeved.
Aric squeaked into the night air, “Kyle! Buddy! Gran! Billie! Dish! Over here!! Over here!”
“Shush,” Madison whispered, “It could be a decoy!”
“Did you hear that, Kyle? Was that Aric?”
“Gran the Man! Here, dog!” Dylan yelled.
“Dylan! Dylan the Villan! Follow that voice, Kyle!”
Dylan and Aric shouted into the darkness as if they were calling a pet dog. “Here! Over here!”
A large black shape shuffled out of the woods, round black eyes and long snout sniffing the air. “I smell rabbits and mousies. Is that my friend, Aric Peabody?”
“KYLE!” Aric bounced out of the hollow log and hopped across the space between them, doing little paw bumps as he want. “You guys are safe!”
Kyle sat down. “Are all of you safe?”
Billie was the first to scramble off and run toward the hollow log. Ella had just poked her nose out at the excitement. “Ellaaaa!”
“Billeeeeeee” Ella jumped from her perch and ran into her best friend’s hug. They danced in a circle, hugging and exclaiming, and hugging, again. They forgot, for a short moment, what they were, and why, as old friends hugged and slapped paws, and laughed with relief.
The deer brought them to their senses. She stood in a shaft of moonlight, her ears cocked curiously at them, steam rising from her nostrils when she exhaled. She eyed them, and stamped one slender hoof onto the ground. Everyone fell silent and turned to face her. She did not speak, but turned eastward, and slowly walked past, her long, white tail switching furiously.
Dylan hopped after her, “Mom?”
The deer paused, and looked over her shoulder briefly before continuing on her walk away. Dylan looked over at his friends, his eyes brimming with tears. He hopped slowly back. “I thought it could be her,” he whispered.
“And I think it is her,” Ella said, reaching out to pat his paw. “I think she wants us to follow her, but quietly. C’mon, let’s go.”
Dylan was reluctant, but the mice were already on board with anything Ella said, and soon the odd assembly of creatures was moving silently through the moon-lit forest, following the slender doe. The doe did not act surprised or nervous, but walked at a pace they could all keep up with.
She traveled in a fairly straight line, along a well-used deer trail that sometimes narrowed enough that Kyle’s riders had to hold on for all they were worth, lest they be scraped off and left behind. An owl hooted here and there, frightening Madison until Ella whispered in her ear that it was probably Horace, and Horace was a friend.
They came upon a meadow where the elk were bedded down, and the deer crossed out into the open, leading her small parade past the big bulls, cows, calves, and small bulls. Just beyond the dozing elk, she flipped her tail upward with a flash of white, and it was as if the flag had dropped at the car races: the elk lumbered to their feet, grunting and squealing, and they took off at a trot the way the caravan had just come. The doe watched them, and it seemed as if a smile played on her face.
That was magic, Ella thought, if nothing else is! The deer, the elk, the moonlight!
They crossed the meadow, and onto a path. The path led to the back of a cabin, from which warm light glowed. The smell of wood fire was in the air here. The doe led them around the side of the cabin, and to the front. Mr. Nagasaki sat on the steps of the porch, smoking a pipe. He waited until the doe was before him before standing up and bowing deeply. The doe bowed back.
“I suggest you come into the cabin single file,” Mr. Nagasaki said to the animals. “Piggy-back is not advised.” Then he turned and walked into the cabin, leaving the door open.
They all scrambled down to the ground, then looked at the doe, but she made no move to enter the cabin. At last, it was Ella who stepped over the threshold first. She was no more than three paces in when she felt the world change rapidly around her, and she was suddenly herself.
Kyle refused to come in until he saw that both Dylan and Maddy changed into themselves, fully clothed. He peered into the cabin and said, “You promise, Mr. Nagasaki?”
The doe butted him from behind, and he was forced to enter. He felt himself shrink and change, but he kept his eyes closed tight until someone touched his shoulder.
“It’s OK, Kyle. You have clothes on. Pajammas, to be exact, but they are clothes.” Ella stifled a giggle.
The doe entered last, turning into Mrs. Woodhouse, dressed in her painting clothes. She sighed and hugged Dylan, then Maddy.
The rest of the group felt too awed to speak, and too cowed, after their initial meeting with the deer. Mr. Nagasaki had a fire in the fireplace, and everything seemed too homey to be real. The smell of snicker doodle cookies hung on the air, and a heavy aroma of stew.
He smiled at the group and pointed toward the kitchen, “There is hearty vegetable soup in the kitchen. Please refresh yourselves, and then we will talk.”
Mrs. Woodhouse sank into a comfortable chair. “Good evening, Richard.”
“Natalie. Are you not hungry?”
“I will let the kids eat first. They’re teenagers, and their stomach comes first.” She smiled briefly.
The teens filed through the kitchen, filling soup bowls with a barley-vegetable soup, and grabbing cookies from the cooky jar as they passed, They all filed back into the main room, sitting on the floor or on the sofa, or taking up a wooden chair at the dining table by the window. Ella found herself sitting next to Dish. He looked more tired than ever, with circles under his pale eyes. His dark hair hung into his eyes. She leaned over and laid her head on his shoulder for a moment.
“I missed you.”
He tried to smile through a spoonful of stew. “Show you thay.”
Ella smiled.
They went back for seconds, and some went back for thirds. The cookies disappeared. Mrs. Woodhouse even got a bowl of stew before it, too, disappeared. Sated, finally, and the dishes stacked in the sink, everyone gathered around the two adults. Ella asked the first question on everyone’s mind:
“Why are we back to ourselves now? Wouldn’t the use of magic alert someone to where we are?”
“Elemental magic,” Mr. Nagasaki said. “This is my hunting cabin you are in. Everything here is elemental magic.”
“The elk were also elemental magic at work. They covered your tracks so the hunters could not smell you or track you. Real elk, but they obeyed commands.” Mrs. Woodhouse smiled mysteriously.
“So – where are our parents?”
“Who is doing this?”
“What is the talisman?”
“Who stole it in the first place?”
“What do we do now?”
Mr. Nagasaki waited patiently until Ella called out, “Guys, wait. Let them tell us, OK?”
“Thank you, Ella Peabody. First, please call me Richard. That is my given name, when I am not Kitsune.”
“And please call me Natalie, not ‘Mrs. Woodhouse’. That sounds so old.”
“We needed to make certain you were all safe, but we were not immediately certain who – or, rather, what – you all were. There are others, but they are in different locations. We could not risk bringing everyone under the same roof.”
Natalie nodded. “The attack blind-sided the wizarding community. We did not know anything had been stolen, or why this sudden crack down. Only Richard, here, had a strong enough cover to go undetected as a wizard or magician, and he alone was able to discover why we were attacked, and in most cases, illegally arrested and impounded.”
“Yes,” Richard nodded, before adding, “Does anyone want a cup of hot tea? I have made myself some, and wish to pour a cup before I settle down to tell you what I know.”
Ella raised her hand, but everyone else declined. She followed the ex-librarian into the kitchen, where he poured the tea into delicate cups and offered her cream and sugar. She took the sugar and they came back to the rest of the group.
Richard smiled as she settled down. “I went to the emergency meeting where many of us protested the arrests of our neighbors. We were given flyers, propaganda, and a man from the Capitol came to speak to us: Fred Gist, the governor’s press secretary. It was what he did not say that intrigued me.” He took a sip of tea.
“He did not say that the raids were conducted almost simultaneously, starting at 0700. He did not say that many students were missing from the schools, from K-12. He did not say the word ‘wizard’, but he used the words ‘witches’ and ‘sorcerors’. He alluded to a ‘family heirloom’ that could only have been ‘taken by black magic’. He did not mention burglary, alarms, theft, or motive. He did not mention whose family heirloom was missing, but intimated it was someone very high in the governor’s office.”
“So, by all that stuff missing, you figured out the plot?” Gran shook his head.
“Sure, that’s how you figure it out in a book,” Dylan replied. “It’s always what’s missing that’s the real clue.”
“Like these?” Gran held out the five wands from the Peabody house.
Natalie raised her eyebrows, “Everyone knows about those, Gran. Frank pulls them out at every party and tries to trick the newest guest into guessing which one – if any – is actually a real wand.”
Richard sipped his tea, listening. Ella sipped hers, too. “I see what you inferred,” she said. “He was making it sound as if the wizarding community was involved in practicing Dark Arts, and that it was by force the Dark Arts that this heirloom disappeared. But what he really meant was that anyone with access to some magic skill was suspect. But that’s not true.”
“Of course it’s not true!” Aric glowered at his sister.
“I believe your sister has more to add,” Richard said calmly. “Ella? Go on.”
“Dylan reads a lot of true crime and mystery stuff, so he should be on board with this: any good burglar can steal something, and they don’t have to use magic to do it. They just know coding and disable alarms, or they case the place and know all the security code, all of that James Bond stuff.”
“But he did not mention a burglary!” Dish looked excited. “That’s how Mr. Nagasaki knew it was a magic talisman!”
“Or totem, or whatever,” Madison said.
“Riiiight,” Billie leaned forward. “Because it would have had a non-removal spell on it, and someone had to know how to get around that spell in order to take it.”
“But we still don’t know who got robbed, or what it is.”
Richard raised a hand, “You learn quickly, but I have not finished my account. Fred is a good friend of mine. He used to come to the library at least once a week. A very avid reader. Yet, when I approached him after the news conference, he was extremely distracted and agitated. He did not have time for an old friend, and he looked frightened. I asked how the governor was, and he merely shook his head. ‘No comment’, as if I was a news reporter.”
“The governor…”

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