June 28, 2012 by petrujviljoen
Mouse, her name was Peggy-Sue, peeked outside her house carefully. Luckily, the grass around where she lived, next to the railway line, escaped the fire that was meant to clean up the garbage and creatures like her. She was most indignant. ”Clean us up, indeed!” Her house was built in a hollow that was formed by the roots of the big fir tree next to the railway line and she could burrow deep into the ground, and so was protected.
The problem was, there was now very little shelter for when she went out to forage for food. But she had to brave it. She hadn’t eaten properly for two days. It was night and she hoped she will be safe under the cover of darkness. The People were up and down the whole day and there were bound to be bits of food lying around that she could gather for her storeroom.
She missed Fred and Dan who ran away when the fire started. They called to her to follow when they bolted but she was frozen with fear and at the last moment dashed inside the tunnel to her home. She wasn’t even sure they made it to safety. Her little heart was very sore. Mournfully she scanned the area again closely, then made her way out the door, her little nose twitching and quivering, ready to run like the Wind at the smallest sign of danger.
Christopher, the Owl, was pasing through The City. He was on his way to deliver a report of the State of Affairs in the North (which, really, was not so good), to Earl the Elder who lived out West. Christopher was not looking forward to delivering the bad news. Earl the Elder would be very sad at the tidings of poverty and drought and to top it all, Elder’s nephew got into trouble with the neighbour’s daugter and the parents were crying for his blood.
Aaai! To be the harbinger of bad news was not pleasant. Christopher decided to stop for a bit and get something to eat. Food in the City was never as good as in the Country, but, nou ja, an Owl had to eat. With a sigh he perched in a big old fir tree next to a railway line. Athough this was a very bad area, what with the trains rushing by and taxis and buses, and lots and lots of People, Owl was clever enough to know this was where he will find both concealment and food.
He knew he must take care not to be noticed by the People, because they will regard him as a bad omen and will try and kill him if they saw him.
Sylvia, the Snake, had been having a very tough time. She had landed up in the City completely by accident and had no idea where she was, or how she was going to get home. She was in an extremely bad mood and had been cursing her bad luck. She had been after some eggs that the Farmer collected, which were packed in a holder. Normally she would not venture so close to People, but with the drought in the North and food being so scarce, she had no choice. Just as she was inside the box, the Farmer loaded the eggs amongst vegetables, onto a truck, not noticing Sylvia inside. Just as well, he would surely have killed her if he did!
In the City, after the farmer unloaded the truck, Sylvia managed to slip away unnoticed whilst an argument ensued about the price of the eggs, the vendor being all cross and the farmer perplexed, that three were missing and quite a few were broken.
And here she was, caught between a road with lots of cars and a railway line with lots of trains and she had never been so afraid in her life. She managed to find a hiding place amongst the roots of a big fir tree and was lying there, very sorry for herself, and very hungry.
The only eggs she had seen since her arrival were hard-boiled and closely watched by a Person and she wasn’t going near one of those, thank you very much! But now it was Night and there were far fewer People around.
She went scouting to see what she could find in this dreadful place. And hopefully she would find the farmer’s truck so she could get home again! Her family must be so worried …
Peggy-Sue made her way along the wire fence, looking out for People and food, unsuspecting that an owl lurked in the branches of the tree. Let alone a Snake in the Grass!
Christopher, with his very good night vision, thought he spotted movement and hopped down to a lower branch to have a closer look.
Yes, he was right! He moved himself into a better position to swoop down on Peggy-Sue and turn her into owl-food before she could say Squeak.
Just then Sylvia uncoiled herself and came slithering in her snake-fashion into the relative open. There was much less noise from the traffic and she thought she heard rustling movements that were too soft for a human being or any other animal that she knew of. She wanted to investigate.
Silently she made her way over and through the roots of the tree, which still disguised her. Carefully she lifted her head to peer round the tree, and yes, it was a mouse that she heard! She would’ve preferred a raw egg, but … She shrugged off the idea of having to vomit up al that fur after eating. If a Snake is hungry she is hungry and hunger is the great equalizer, she thought, rather cleverly for a snake from the Country. Carefully, so as to make no noise, she went after Peggy-Sue.
Time to strike! Owl’s senses were a little disorientated from the noise of the trains, so he didn’t see Snake. He swooped down from the tree; it was only a few metres …
Just then, a Person, walking by, completely unaware of the drama underneath the tree, threw an empty cold-drink can over the fence. It landed exactly next to Peggy-Sue, who gave a frightful peep and sprang away in a mighty jump (for a mouse) to the left.
Sylvia, the Snake who, by this time, was right behind Peggy-Sue, stopped short and coiled around and around in an effort to get back to the roots of the tree.
Christopher, the Owl, who couldn’t stop in mid-sweep so to speak, got his feathers all ruffled with the sudden change of direction and more activity than he bargained for.
What with snakes and cold-drink cans, what should have been a simple meal had turned into a whole palaver.
Snake, who got herself in a knot, managed to land herself right in Owl’s claws, with Owl not prepared to deal with a long, wriggling snake.
The struggle that then ensued was too chaotic for description – then Owl was lifting Snake up to fly away, clutching at snake-straws, in a manner of speaking, there being no Mouse around anymore, and then Snake was wriggling and coiling round Owl’s legs, becoming a weight Owl couldn’t lift.
”What am I doing, trying to catch a snake?” Owl thought to himself in a confused manner. All flustered, he let go of Snake, who landed with a thud, unhurt, but slightly stunned. Owl was forced to land close to Snake to get himself together again after the fracas.
Irritated, he asked Snake what on earth she thought she was doing, getting in the way like that. ”Most inconvenient and disconcerting to say the least,” Owl said in a huff, and shook his frizzled feathers and feelings.
Snake straightened out her coils and hissed: ” I beg your pardon, my dear ssssir! It wasss you who interfered with me getting my dinner! What arrogance!”
”I was not trying to steal your dinner, you were trying to steal mine!” Owl shouted back.
This would’ve carried on for some time if Owl did not remember that he was, in fact, a very dignified bird and to behave in this manner was disgraceful. He gave Snake a withering look and flew off to perch on one of the branches of the silent fir tree to Review the Situation.
Peggy-Sue, a really agile and brainy mouse, had found refuge in a Still Life. A bunch of grapes, left behind by a Person selling fruit during the day was still lying there when she dashed through a gap in the fence, as if it was Time. Things had gone a little bit funny for Mouse. Fright can do this to one. At least she could eat, if she thought of it. She lied there, quivering, a little bit hysterical at the close shave she has had. Imagine! An owl in the City! If her cousins didn’t describe one to her when they came visiting, she would never even have known. And a snake! Two close shaves in fact. ”No wonder I’m a bit hysterical,” she thought. She had to stifle her frantic giggles.
Time, or No Time, this was serious and she had to be as quiet, well, as quiet as a mouse she supposed. Day-Time was still ages away – she could creep away when it was safe to do so. She made sure nothing of her showed through the fruit and settled down to wait. She started to cry, ever so softly, at her misfortunes.
Owl, for once, didn’t know how to sum up a situation. He was sure he saw Snake somewhere before, but how was this possible? Owl looked at Snake first this way, then that, then turning his head right round in the way only an owl can do.
Better to ask directly, Owl decided, discarding his usual sense for diplomacy. ”Whoooo arrre yooou?” Owl hoped there was a note of authority in his voice, to hide the fact that he was feeling exceedingly confused.
Snake didn’t want to answer Christopher, but something told her to be nice. She had heard that owls were quite wise, and although she wasn’t too sure about this one in particular, the bird might be able to give her advice on how to get home.
”My name is Sylvia, daughter of Silvern,” she answered, ”and I’m from up North,” and looked at Owl hopefully.
”Lorrrd Deliver Us!” exclaimed Owl. ”Of course! Your father saved the life of my second cousin, once removed, some time back, by biting a fox in the heel when he was stalking my relative.” Owl was astounded. ”But how did you get here?” he wanted to know.
Sylvia let out a long, relieved hiss, not quite believing her luck. ”You knew my father! But then you know where my house is! Pleassse, oh pleassse tell me how to get home again!”, rapidly telling the story of how she got to the City, a great Old Tear dropping from her eye.
”Hrumph”. Owl cleared his throat, profoundly moved. ”Never saw a snake cry before,” he thought to himself. ”Always thought the creatures were cold-blooded.” The idea occurred to him Snake Tears must be a very precious thing, but this was not the Time for Contemplation.That he had to help Sylvia was clear. Picking her up in his claws and flying back North would be an enormous task. For one thing, he didn’t have the time. Being late for his appointment with Earl the Elder just wouldn’t do and besides, he might actually harm her and delivering Silvern’s daughter all scratched and in tatters was unthinkable.
”What to dooo-o? Whaa-at to dooo-ooo?” He snapped his beak in agitation.
”Put her on the truck that goes to where she is from!” shrieked Mouse, who heard the whole conversation in silent astonishment. Christopher’s stomach gave a faint rumble at hearing Peggy-Sue’s voice.
Peggy-Sue cringed when she realised she spoke out loud. ”Oh dear, oh dearie me!” she whimpered, and quivered so badly she feared the grapes under wich she was hiding would topple over.
Christopher flew down from the branch to get a bit closer to where he heard her voice from, but slowly and gently so as not to scare her away. She had valuable information and one should set one’s stomach aside for important things like that. At least for a while.
”Uhm, excuse me,” he said, slightly put out, not used to being apologetic. ”Couldn’t help but hearing you! Do you have any idea how one could go about this?”
Peggy-Sue didn’t know what do do. ”This dreadful bird is going to eat me if I say another word, so I won’t,” she decided.
Owl, realising that the mouse was afraid, tried a different approach. ”Uh-uhm. Excuse me,” he said again. ”I know you are scared, but I promise we won’t eat you. Owl’s Honour. Sylvia Snake here wants to get home very badly, and if that means us giving up a meal to do so, then that is how it will be. For myself, I’ve already pledged my word, and there aren’t very many things bigger than that! You may stay where you are and speak from there and Snake and I will stay where we are, but please tell us what to do. It is in your interest too you know.”
This decided Peggy-Sue. She was almost proud that an owl and a snake needed her advice, of which she had plenty if anyone bothered to stop and ask. Being a mouse meant having to know all sorts of things if one was going to survive. Like noticing who came and went when and where and how often.
Now that she had them in her control she was going to scold them for the ill-mannered nature in which they hounded her, and then wanted her advice …
”Less said the better,” she thought, rather wisely, so all this could be over. After a moment’s hesitation, for appropriate effect, she decided to tell: ”The truck that brought that frightful snake comes to this street every Thursday at Five in the morning. And if you didn’t know, it will be that time soon, so you’d better be ready,” she said. She gave further directions at which spot the Snake should be and so forth, to be rid of them once and for all.
Sylvia didn’t care that she found herself in the strange situation of having to thank a mouse, and did so promptly, almost crying again, she was that glad. Owl blushed a little, I’ll have you know, but thanked Peggy-Sue in his most dignified manner, even wishing her a Long Life and Happiness besides.
”Well!” was all Peggy-Sue could think, and dared not say another word in case she finally revealed her hiding place. They might change their minds now that they knew – they were hunters of mice after all.
Owl said his goodbyes to Snake and sent greetings to her family, after seeing to it that she was in a safe position to hide while she was waiting, and flew off in a Westerly direction to complete his mission. It would be day soon and he’d better be in a safe place himself before he became the hunted instead.
Sylvia, as she said good-bye to Owl, remembered the story about the owl that was saved by her family, but the way it was told her was rather different. The fox wasn’t interested in the owl, didn’t even know it was there, being after a rabbit instead! She giggled softly at this, suddenly looking forward to the task of getting on the truck unnoticed.
Peggy-Sue munched on a few grapes, in the quiet, timid manner of a mouse, also waiting until the coast was clear of snakes and owls, before she slipped off to Her home and have a good, long rest from her adventures. She was now sure that life in the City was very contrary to recognised behaviour after all. In spite of everything, she was glad she lived where she did. Wait until Fred and Dan heard of this – they will probably not even believe her!