Joshua came up next to Marlin.
“May I help?”
Marlin passed him the knife she was using, and grabbed another for herself.
They made quick work of preparing the meal, and soon Helena was simmering the stew over the old wood stoves hot plate.
Once the stew was ready, Helena ladled the stew into four mouse sized bowls. Gregory busied himself with a loaf of nut bread which he sliced and placed next to each bowl for dipping into the stew.
Marlin laid out the cutlery for the meal and pointed towards the chair nearest her.
“Why don’t you sit there, Joshua?”
Joshua did as he was asked and sat down at the table, as the mouse family served the dinner they had all helped to make.
Soon they were all sitting at the table, and ready to eat.
Gregory dipped his bread into his stew and ripped a piece off of the glistening bread with his teeth.
The others started to eat as well.
Joshua tried the stew, and smiled warmly as the tastes of the vegetables rolled over his tongue.
He began to eat in earnest.
Marlin smiled at him, as she gently spooned a chunk of carrot into her mouth.
“Slow down, Joshua. There’s plenty for you to have. You don’t need to eat it so quickly.”
Joshua blushed and nodded.
“Sorry. It’s just so good.”
“It is good, isn’t it?”
Her parents smiled at the two young animals, as they ate their dinner.
They made quick work of their meal and soon enough the now empty bowls were washed and put away, along with their cutlery.
Gregory closed the cabinet door.
“Why don’t you two go play, and while your mother and I have a chat.”
“Sure thing father. Joshua, do you know how to play tag?”
Joshua shook his head.
“Not really. How do we play?” his voice rasped through the fabric wrapped around his neck.
Marlin offered him a wicked grin, walked up to him, and placed a paw on his shoulder.
“Tag! You’re it. Now chase me until you tag me back.”
She ran off out of the room at full speed.
Joshua looked at Marlin’s parents.
Helena smiled at him.
“Quickly, go get her.”
Joshua ran out of the room smiling widely as he went.
Helena and Gregory sat at the dining table and began to have their discussion.
Marlin ran out of the kitchen, through the back door, and down the alleyway leading out behind their home.
Joshua soon followed, catching up to her quickly with his much longer legs.
They ran through the alleyway, right up until Joshua laid his paw on Marlin’s back and yelled out in great cheer.
“Tag! You’re it!”
Marlin stopped, stooping breathlessly, with a grin from whisker to whisker on her face.
“You got me. Now how about we play hide and seek?
Joshua shook his head.
“How do we play that?”
“I count to twenty, and you run and hide. Then I come looking for you. Simple as that.”
“Is twenty a lot?”
Marlin looked at him incredulously as well as with a small amount of pity
“It’s plenty, Joshua. I’m going to close my eyes, and you run off and try to hide from me.”
Joshua wasted no time and bounded down the alleyway, passing by the back door they had just recently come out of.
Marlin counted out loud, until she was ready, opened her eyes, and saw nothing but an empty alleyway.
She walked through the alley, running her eyes over everything she could, but could not find the stoat anywhere.
Marlin came to the street that joined the alleyway, and searched in both directions for her new friend, but could not find him.
After fifteen minutes of determined searching, she began to call out for him.
“You did it Joshua. You beat me. I have no idea where you could be.”
She walked by an empty dirt lot, it’s high wooden fencing hiding it from view.
“Why don’t you come out and show me where you found such a fine hiding place.”
As she passed the corner of the lot, she could hear faint sniggering coming from the other side.
Marlin found a hole within on of the boards, and lowered her eye to it.
In the corner, the shape of Joshua could be seen, as he tried to look through a gap in the fence without giving away his position.
“Aha!” she yelled, as she laid eyes on him “I found you, you rascal.”
Joshua jumped a little as Marlin’s voice surprised him.
He climbed over the fence expertly and dropped down next to her.
“You got me. Is it my turn to look for you?”
“Yes, but you don’t have to count out loud if you don’t want to. Just wait for me to hide, and then come looking for me.”
Joshua nodded sheepishly.
“I don’t really know my numbers. I’ll do as you said. Be quick about it. I’m sure you won’t find a better hiding spot than I did.”
“I bet I will.”
She ran off down the street, and disappeared from view.
Joshua counted in his head as best he could, and soon was searching for her.
Marlin rounded the corner of the street and was soon at the front door of her parents shop again. She ran around to the back of the building and found her parents waiting for her. They called her inside.
“Marlin, we have something we want to discuss with you, right now,” said Gregory, wrapping his paw around her shoulder, and leading her in through the door.
Joshua searched the neighborhood for the better part of forty minutes before finally admitting defeat and heading back towards the back door of the mouse’s house. The door was open when he arrived, and he walked in feeling no small amount of defeat at not being able to find Marlin.
He was surprised to find her, and her parents, waiting for him at the dining table. Marlin had a serious look on her face, and both her parents were smiling at Joshua as he came into the room.
“So, this is where you were. No wonder I couldn’t find you.” His voice rasped mechanically as he pursed his lips in mock frustration.
Marlin shook her head.
“Sorry. Mother and Father needed to talk to me. I was just about to go out and start looking for you.”
Helena motioned to the chair nearest Joshua.
“Have a seat, dear. We have some things we need to talk to you about.”
Joshua looked worried but sat down as he was told.
“What’s up?” asked Joshua, as concern crossed his furry features.
Marlin cleared her throat and clasped her paws together in a dignified manner.
“We’ve been talking and we’ve got something to ask you.”
Her eyes rose to meet his.
Marlin wrung her paws together before taking a breath and speaking quickly.
“We were wondering if you’d want to come stay with us? Here, at our home.”
Joshua blinked twice, raised his paw, and lowered it to his lap once again.
“You want me to live with you?”
The mouse family nodded their heads.
“We thought you might like a nice bed to sleep on, instead of—what you showed me today?” said Marlin.
Joshua looked from one mouse’s face to another, and flashed a wide toothy grin before looking uncertain.
“You really mean it? You’re not just messing with me?”
Helena shook her head.
“Yes dear. We do mean it. We have space enough to give you a bed, and a roof over your head, and the stores being doing well enough that you wouldn’t harm us in anyway from staying with us.”
Joshua clapped his paws together, so full of joy and excitement he could barely contain himself.
“I would be honored!”
Gregory and the others smiled.
“That’s fantastic! We thought we might even help you with some tutoring, same as Marlin.”
“It’s the least we could do for a brave stoat such as yourself. Especially for what you did saving Marlin today.”
“Happy to help. Gosh. Do you mind if I go and bring my stuff from my home—my old home, with me?”
Marlins parents nodded.
Helena opened her arms and held out her paws, palm up.
“That would be fine, wouldn’t it dear?”
Gregory smiled and nodded.
“I’m sure Marlin will be happy to help you bring your stuff here, while we get your bed and room sorted.”
Joshua looked awe struck.
“I get my own room? I can’t believe it!”
“It’s small, an old storage room of ours—but it will do as your room. I’ve already started clearing out the bolts of cloth that filled it.”
Joshua enthusiastically nodded his head, all too happy to hear about his new room.
“Can we go right now? I could have my stuff packed away in a few minutes.”
Now it was Marlin’s turn to nod.
“Let’s get going then. Let me grab a bag so I can help carry stuff with you, and we’ll have you home with us before morning.”
Joshua jumped up from his seat, and ran to the door, as Marlin did the same right behind him.
They went to Marlin’s room, where she found her travel bag, and soon they were out the door and walking merrily through the darkened streets towards Joshua’s soon to be previous home.
The two of them made it to the warehouse in record time, and after a furtive glace in both directions down the empty street, were soon through the fence and standing inside Joshua’s tent. He quickly began stuffing his meager belongings in the bag Marlin had brought, and even with his blanket rolled up and stuffed inside, it barely felt full. They exited the lean to, and he began to undo the knots that held the red fabric of the door way to what had been his home for these past years.
The fabric securely removed, he flipped it over and held it up to Marlin.
On the side facing her was a large orange star, with three faces of the moon underneath it. The fabric was a flag of some kind.
“It’s the flag of my family. My father had the thought to wrap me in in case I succumbed to my injuries, that if someone found me they might have buried me with it.”
“It’s very nice. Maybe you could hang it on the wall in your room.”
Joshua perked up immensely at the thought.
“I think I will,” he said, as he folded the flag into a small bundle and tucked it safely in Marlin’s bag.
Marlin motioned to the tent.
“Do you want to take any of the rest of this down with you?”
Joshua shook his head.
“No. I’ll leave this for someone else to stay dry in. It’s the least I could do.”
Marlin nodded and turned towards the alley.
“We’d better get back as soon as we can. I’m sure my parents have cleared out your room by now. Father has probably got something nice and soft sorted for your bed.”
“You think so?”
Marlin nodded once again.
“I’m sure of it. We mice work quickly when there’s something at stake such as a new family members bed.”
Joshua’s mouth hung agape, before snapping shut.
“You think I could be a part of your family?”
Marlin rolled her eyes.
“Of course, you silly thing. What else would we want other than to have you be part of our family.”
Joshua’s echoing voice crackled as he sniffled back a tear.
As tears welled up at the corners of his eyes, he blinked them back as quickly as he could, failing miserably to stop them from falling down his furry white cheeks.
“I never thought I’d have a family again.”
Marlin came up to him and placed a paw on his side. She turned him to face her.
Joshua looked down at her.
“Listen to me, Joshua. I—we—would be glad to have you be a part of our family if you’ll have us. You have nothing to worry about when it comes to that. Just don’t go taking us for granted one of these days.”
Joshua wiped back the tears as they came forth.
“I wouldn’t think of it. No, not me. Not at all.”
Marlin smiled and nodded her head curtly.
“Then it’s settled. Let’s get out of here and get you home then.”
They headed down the alley way, and to the opening in the fence. Marlin went through first. As Joshua reached through the opening, he couldn’t help but look back down the alleyway, and with a sharp inhale of breath, smiled one last time as his old home. He turned towards the opening once more and, without hesitation, walked through towards his new life.
oshua grew during his time with the mice. He was an honest, and hardworking young stoat, who took his new found life with his adoptive family as the happiest times he’d ever had. Though his room was small, barely enough to fit the bed Gregory eventually made him, and a small mouse sized clothes dresser in one corner, he was never shy to be openly thankful to his family for such a thing. The flag his biological father had wrapped around him before the knife met him hung on the wall by the door, where he could see it every day as he woke, to be reminded of where he had come from. Soon enough Marlin and he had filled the room with things he had no knowledge of wanting while living on the streets. He earned a fair allowance working in the store most days, after the mornings lessons from their shared tutor, a weasel named Ms. Sims, who’s spectacled face was often one of happiness as her two students worked diligently on their given problems of the day.
But while the life of the family was fine and happy, the city of Port Palo fractured and became increasingly hostile. The two groups: those that wanted foreigners out of the town: The Homefront Coalition, and those that were foreigners themselves or lived in their communities, were hosting competing rallies through the months, and as the parties grew in voice and timbre, so did too the hostilities between the two.
One fateful night, the leading party of the Homefront Coalition, who wanted nothing more than to rid the city of any animal that hadn’t been born there, incited a riot after much speech giving and drunken badgering of those that walked around or through the gathering crowd. The crowd of animals, mostly drunk after a night of heavy inebriation at the meeting halls where the rallies were held, spilled out on the streets, and marched through city, lighting fires at the homes and businesses of the animals that were known foreigners.
The leading animal, a long out of work, chinchilla lead the charge through the streets.
“Make them leave, whence they’ve come! Do not let them desecrate our homes! Take our jobs! Pollute our families!” he bellowed as he led the incensed mob through the streets.
They made it to the merchant alley and stopped outside the family’s storefront.
The incensed chinchilla stormed back and forth in front of the store.
“And here! Ladies and Gentleman—is a house of one of those despicable families! No longer will we sit and wait for them in vain. No longer will we let them do as they please before the sake of those that welcomed them with open arms only to be destroyed by their devious plans!”
The crowd roared in agreement.
Some shouted out towards the frantically pacing chinchilla.
“Burn them! Burn them to the ground!”
The chinchilla bridled with anticipation continued on with his prophesizing.
Gregory woke to the smell of smoke coming through the open window, and the sounds of the crowd yelling below him. He got his family up quickly and quietly and motioned for Marlin and Joshua to head for the back door.
“You head around back and see if you can join the crowd. I’m going to head out and see if I can calm these folks down.”
Helena nodded, and set the two of them out the back door, closing it behind her.
Marlin and Joshua headed around the back of the building and came into the middle of the amassing crowd, as they began to chant in unison.
“Burn them. Burn the dirty animals. Burn. Burn. Burn!”
Marlin couldn’t see over the crowd of animals, and turned to Joshua.
“Let me get up on your shoulders, so I can see what’s going on?’
Joshua bent down and she scrambled up his body and stood on his shoulders, where she could see the chinchilla being passed a torch.
As her lowered the torch to the doorway of the building, the door opened, and Gregory stepped out into the crowd.
“My good animals. What do you hope to accomplish by burning down my livelihood?”
Gregory raised his open palms in an attempt to assuage what the chinchilla was about to do.
That’s when the first bottle thrown from the crowd struck him, dashing alcohol over his body. Others followed suit, pelting him to half empty bottles of what they carried with them, stones, and whatever else they could find to fling at him.
The chinchilla held up the torch, menacing Gregory with it.
He turned to the crowd.
“You see! He tries to trick us with his words. To make us feel as though we are to blame for what his ilk do to cause such pain and misery in our town.”
“String him up!” Yelled an otter from the crowd.
The mob began to chant in thunderous tones.
“String him up! String him up!”
The chinchilla, unbridled with the fervor the crowd gathered, was all too happy to oblige.
“Friends. Grab this mouse. Make him a example of what happens to those that would harm our way of life! String him up!” yelled the chinchilla, as he lowered the torch to the alcohol soaked door frame. It caught alight all too quickly, as those around Gregory wrestled with him and brought him to the nearest lamppost.
Marlin and Joshua looked on in horror as a rope was brought forth, and tied around his neck, and thrown over the lamp post.
The crowd chanted on, in murderous glee.
“String him up! String him up!”
And with one fatal motion, a group of animals, all wearing the drunken smiles of the righteous, hefted Gregory up into the nights sky, and tied off the rope around the lamppost.
Marlin shrieked in horror as her father struggled for air, clawing at the rope around his throat. It was lost in the raucous applause and cheering as the crowd watched him kick at the air hopelessly.
“String him up! String him up!” echoed the mob as the stores second floor caught fire and began burning.
Marlin clawed her way down Joshua and made to run towards her father with tears in her eyes, when a powerful arm stopped her. Trotters covered her mouth as she fought the arm, as it turned her towards whoever was stopping her.
Wilbur stared down at her, a morose look in his eye.
Wordlessly he grabbed each of them by the paw, and led them away from the crowd and down the alleyway away from Gregory’s no longer struggling body.
He did not stop until they were well away from what had happened.
Marlin could contain herself no longer.
“What about mother! What happened to her?” she yelled, hot tears running down her face and whiskers.
Wilbur shook his head.
“You saw the building. It was entirely engulfed in flames. If she didn’t make it out herself, then—”
Joshua shook back tears.
Wilbur offered no reply.
After a moment, he spoke again.
“You must get out of here. It’s no longer safe for you in this city. Come. Follow me, and I’ll get you to safety.”
“I want to see my father. Let me go and see my father!” yelled Marlin.
Wilbur shook his head again.
“No dearest, you may not. I will take care of him once the crowd has moved on. I’ll do my best to find your mother too—but you must leave. Now!”
Marlin slumped to the ground and began to cry shuddering breathes, beyond mere distraught.
Joshua gathered her up and made her stand on her feet again.
“He’s right. We have to go now, or else they may come hunting for us and we’ll end up just like Father.”
Marlin screwed up her face in abject hatred and frustration.
“You’re—you’re right. Show us the way.”
Wilbur nodded a small agreement and headed down the alleyway. They followed.
Soon they came to a metal cover in the center of the alleyway. Wilbur bent down and lifted the cover with his powerful arms.
He threw the cover to the side and pointed into the vast darkness that was the sewer system below.
As the smell of the sewer reached Marlin her nose wrinkled in disgust.
“You’re sure? We can’t just outpace the mob and make a break for it?”
Wilbur shook his head.
“Listen to the city. It’s in agony. There are multiple mobs spreading throughout the city. We’ll be lucky if it doesn’t burn down before the morning comes.”
Joshua nodded and grabbed Marlin’s wrist.
“Come on, we don’t have time to waste.”
He pulled her down into the sewer.
Wilbur peered down at them from the street.
“Just keep heading straight, until you reach the gate at the end of the tunnel. It’ll let you out onto the fields surround the town. Head East until you find the main road, and don’t stop until you have to.”
Joshua looked up to him with a determined eye.
“I’ll keep her safe. Don’t worry about that. You go on. Try to find Helena.”
Wilbur nodded down at them, and retrieved the cover.
“Good luck!” he yelled, as he placed the cover over the opening once again.
The two of them were enveloped in pitch darkness.
Still holding onto Marlin’s wrist, Joshua began trudging through the sludge along the bottom of
the sewer pipe. Marlin held her breath as they raced along in total darkness, their footfalls the only sounds as they sloshed through the muck.
They traveled for what could have been twenty minutes or an hour or two until they came up
hard against the grate at the end of the tunnel. Moonlight peered in between the iron bars, casting a gloom figure behind each of them into the darkness they had just traveled through.
Marlin stopped at the grate.
“There’s a door over there,” she said, pointing towards it with one paw.
They raced up toward it and found that it wasn’t locked, though the door seemed to be jammed shut from all the dampness of the sewer.
“Throw your back into it,” said Joshua as he ran against it.
Marlin and he tried again until the door finally began to budge, and then swung open on creaking hinges and moonlight hit their faces.
They ran out into the night air without taking a moment to look back at the now smoking and burning city they once called home behind them. They headed East and reached the road, and continued running well into the night.
arlin awoke to a warm summers day, the sun beating down on her, warming her fur. Quite to her surprise she found herself laying on a bedroll to the side of the road. Her fur was matted from walking through the sewer the night before. She could smell it rising off of her. She grimaced at the thought of it and rolled on to her side.
Joshua was sleeping on a bedroll across from her, snoring faintly in the sunlight.
“Glad to see that you’re up, young mouse.”
A fennec fox, white as snow, was sitting across a campfire from her.
Marlin sat bolt upright.
The fox tutted quietly to himself.
“I’m Eshu, the fox. Pleasure to meet you.”
Marlin gathered her wits about her and swallowed hard.
“Thank you, Eshu—for lending us your bedrolls, and pulling us from the road last night.”
The fox nodded.
“Yes, you two looked worse for wear, collapsed on the road like you had been trying to escape something truly horrible.”
Marlin shook her head and began to cry.
Eshu smiled at her, and passed her a mug of tea.
“Here, here, child, don’t you fret. What’s got you worked up so?”
Marlin took the tea from him, her paw shaky slightly as she recounted the previous night.
“They strung him up, and then we ran. We kept running until our legs gave out. I’m not sure how we ended up here with you, but I want to thank you for taking the moment to care for us.”
“And you came from Port Palo?”
Marlin nodded, and pointed towards the still smoking city.
“I’m afraid so—and now—now we have nowhere to go. Our home is lost! My parents—are—gone!”
Marlin began to cry fitful tears once again.
Eshu got up from where he was sitting and sat down next to her. He placed a paw on her shoulder.
“We’ll I’m glad I found you. There’s plenty of thieves and slavers that travel this road, and I’m just lucky I was the one to find you. I couldn’t well let you alone in the middle of the road like that, now could I?”
Marlin shook her head, and offered a sad tentative smile towards the fox.
Eshu shook his head.
“No, I couldn’t. I would be wasteful to let such an opportunity such as that to go to waste, don’t you think?”
“Perhaps I should get Joshua, he’s my brother, up and we can help you clean up your camp so you can be on your way.”
Eshu thought for a moment.
“Well how about this? You two help me pack away my bedrolls, and come alone with me to the coast. There are ships leaving there all the time. Perhaps we can find you a way to a new home from there?”
Marlin blinked twice, and said nothing.
She shook Joshua awake, and turned to the fox.
“Let me let Joshua know what you did, and we’ll let you know. Right now it sounds like as good a plan as any, but I want to make sure he’s okay with it first.”
Joshua woke up to Marlin’s continued shaking and groggily sat up. Soon it dawned on him that he was on a comfortable bedroll and not in the middle of the road where he had fallen exhausted early that morning.
Marlin motioned to the fox.
“This is Eshu. He’s willing to let us travel with him if we want. He was the one that pulled us out of the road and gave us the use of his bedding for the day, even though we’re soiled as we are. What do you think?”
Joshua stifled a yawn with his paw, and looked around sleepily at Eshu, and back to Marlin.
He nodded slowly.
“That sounds about as good a deal as we could have. I’m happy to keep you company Eshu, if you’ll have us with you.”
Eshu smiled a wry grin, baring sharp teeth against the day.
“That would please me to no end, dear stoat. Joshua, is it?”
Joshua nodded once again.
Eshu clapped his paws together, his claws tinkering softly against one another.
“Then it’s settled. You’ll come with me to the coast, and we’ll see about finding you a new home from there.”
Marlin and Joshua nodded.
“Do you think we’ll be able to find such a place?” asked Marlin, clearly perplexed at the thought of not having a home any longer.
“I’m sure strong animals such as yourself will find a place to call home no problem what so ever. Now before we head out, would you two like something to eat. I’m sure you must be famished.”
Joshua felt his aching stomach. He had slept through most of the day, and woke with a ravenous hunger that he was all too used to before meeting his family.
“That would be very kind of you, sir,” said Joshua thoughtfully.
Eshu went over to his hiking pack and pulled out two small fish, which he laid out for his guests to enjoy.
“Please take these and eat as much as you can. I need you strong for the walk we’re about to take. It’s a week of travel to the coastal town I’m talking you too, and it’s not easy to get to, but I know you two will do just fine as long as you keep your strength and wits about you.”
Joshua grabbed the fish nearest him and bit into its soft cooked flesh. Marlin tentatively took the other and did the same to hers. They soon made full meals of their breakfast. They threw their bones in the fire that Eshu had started that morning.