Tomas frowned at the intrusion of the voice, because it had visited him from time to time over the last few hours, and he feared he was going mad. There was no-one else aboard his self-built boat, no-one to talk to; but more importantly, no-one to help him. He sighed, his elbows propped upon gunwales which bucked in leisurely fashion to the rhythm of the waves, staring out at a featureless, seemingly endless sea. Yes, the view was beguiling in its way, he supposed: wavelets capped by the pink reflection of a rising sun, a placid seascape in all of its might and glory. Only one prospect might have excited him more. Where was land?
“I don’t understand it.” Tomas murmured, keeping quiet as if he was afraid the author of his inner voice might hear. “I couldn’t be more than an hour from shore.”
“That was before you fell asleep.” Said the voice.
This was true. Acting alone, catching the tide in the early hours of a Tuesday morning, Tomas had found the little vessel he had constructed to be a heavy burden on the ancient, cracked slipway at the foot of Chorlden Farm Road. He had built it well, a little carvel hulled fishing boat with a rudimentary cabin, and he had built it alone, too. Tomas did most things alone, with independence he valued, but which often cost tiredness.
“I can’t have slept more than a few hours.” He remembered his struggles mounting the outboard motor, and his jubilation when it started. He remembered pointing his boat’s trim little stem towards open water for its first voyage. It rode well. It did not leak. That was all he remembered, for he had dropped into an exhausted sleep. “But only for a few hours.”
“Feel your chin.” The voice told him.
Tomas complied, and was shocked to find his fingers were running through a short, silky beard. “I grew this while I was asleep?” He asked incredulously; wondering why he needed a non-existent companion for confirmation. “How long was I out?”
“A long time.”
“So I’m out of sight of land, the engine has run until its fuel was all used. I’m adrift and I don’t have the faintest idea where I am!”
“That’s certainly true, although it wouldn’t help you if you did.”
“I could send up a flare.”
“You could. No-one would see it.”
“Why not?” Tomas asked suspiciously. Then… “I’m not talking to myself, am I? Just where are you?”
There couldn’t be anyone else aboard – there was no space for concealment; yet he was becoming more and more certain the voice he heard had its origin somewhere on his boat. Nowhere in the stern – he occupied the well deck himself and apart from equipment chests beneath two small side benches (which he had already checked many times) there could be no place to hide. Such a tiny ship had no bilge to speak of, merely a few slats to raise his feet above the contours of the keel. Who, or whatever it was must be forward somewhere – but where?
Tomas ran his eyes carefully across the contents of the open-backed cabin. No more than a shelter, just enough room for a single berth and a shelf. The packet of sandwiches he had prepared for his day’s sailing rested there.
“Down here.” The voice said.
Peering into shadow beneath the shelf, Tomas met two pairs of pinhead sized eyes, reflecting dimly as the low sun sought them out. The owner of one of those pairs of eyes moved forward into full view.
“But you’re a mouse!” Tomas protested. “Mice can’t talk!”
“This one can.” Replied the mouse, in quite cultured English. “Mind you, there is some effort involved – a matter of lung capacity.”
“I must be dreaming this!” Tomas shook his head, rubbed at his eyes. “I’m still asleep.”
“I wish you were.” The mouse replied. “It would put us all to a lot less inconvenience. As it is…”
“As it is I am wide awake, lost at sea and conversing with a rodent?”
“That about covers it, yes.” The mouse nodded, sagely. “Look, can I introduce my wife? She won’t talk to you, but as a matter of courtesy?” At this the owner of the second pair of small pinpoint eyes advanced from the shadows, and Tomas could swear he saw it give a little curtsey.
“How do you do?” Tomas greeted the creature with as much irony as he could muster. “I don’t suppose either of you know where I am, do you?” He chided himself: “That’s ridiculous! I’m asking two household pests for directions!”
“And being rather rude about it, too.” The first mouse said severely. “We shan’t get anywhere if we resort to personal abuse.”
“Or, indeed, if we don’t. Is it possible to end this conversation?” Tomas asked, tersely.
“We could,” acknowledged the mouse. “But there is something you should know first. Something quite important. You see, you have been asleep for some time. I have no knowledge of your name, but I don’t suppose the initials R.V.W. would apply?”
“Rip Van Winkle? No, they wouldn’t. My name is Tomas.” Tomas told the mouse, heavily. “How could I have slept so long?”
“That was arranged.”
“By the Great Arranger; (these words induced the second mouse to simper fearfully) He who foretold Cheesehalla! We mice have awaited His coming for generations. He had to keep you quiet while it all happened, you see. We needed you.”
“One of us is going completely insane.” Tomas said, convinced it was himself. “While all what ‘happened’? Needed me for what?”
“The end of all things; the Great Flood, You’ve missed out on quite a lot of stuff, actually. Ratnarok, in fact. Solar flares, all the ice melting, the land dried and shrivelled to a husk. Most spectacular!” The mouse saw Tomas’s shoulders shaking. “What are you laughing at?”
“You!” Tomas spluttered. “I’ve never heard such utter codswallop! Cheesehalla? Great Flood? And I slept right through it? Which particular bush do you think I was born under?” He controlled his breath with a struggle. “All right, all right. If this gigantic fry-up happened, why wasn’t my boat affected? Why am I still alive? I don’t see any scorch marks.”
“We were pardoned because we are under the protection of the Great Arranger Himself (at this, the second mouse cowered and covered her eyes with her paws). You see…” the mouse said proudly, puffing out its chest, “I am his Chosen One! (and she’s the Chosen One’s wife).” It added as an afterthought.
“And I’m your low-budget Noah!” Tomas snorted. “Enough of this. Tell me which direction will get me back home. I’ll paddle it if necessary.”
“You’d have more success diving.” Said the mouse. “I’d say your home is quite a few fathoms down. You might find it, but things are pretty murky in there.”
Preposterous as it was, this conversation had so distracted Tomas that he had failed to keep watch; so the thump of contact, when it came, was a surprise. He hastened forward to see what his boat had hit, clambering around the cabin. His rodent companion scuttled up beside him.
“A buoy!” Tomas cried, triumphant.
The structure certainly looked like a buoy – large and metallic, roughly conical at its visible base, topped by a tall mast that supported a large, unlit lamp.
“Not a buoy.” The mouse said. “It’s a mast. Don’t you recognise this?”
“No.” Tomas replied, shortly. “I don’t.”
“The words ‘Eiffel Tower’ have no significance?”
Thereafter, Tomas said very little for a very long time. Pale with shock, he did manage to throw a line around the top of the Eiffel Tower, securing his boat while his mind drank in the full meaning of everything the mouse had said. He sat in the stern and stared at the empty sky, reflecting that this was not how he had intended his maiden voyage to pan out. Could he believe all this was achieved by some sort of super-rodent? Right then if he had seen a returning raven he would have believed it. But there was no olive branch, no sign of life.
“If…” He said finally; “if I’m not dreaming and all this is real, I must have drifted south for at least a hundred miles.”
“More ‘borne up on the storm’, I’d say. It was a miracle you slept through it. My wife had a terrible headache.”
“So – you seem to have all the answers, Mouse. What happens next? What does your ‘Great Arranger’ have in store for us? I suppose we just sit here, do we? I suppose we have to hope that others will find us, don’t we, before we die of thirst or starvation?”
“Ah.” Said the mouse.
“There is no-one else. The Great One made sure of that when he cleansed the Earth with his fiery plague.” The mouse paused, expecting Tomas to enquire what on earth it meant by a ‘fiery plague’, but Tomas just stared at it. “It is very regrettable, of course; the Great One went on retreat for almost half a lifetime to consider it – it was the only solution. They were all beyond help, you see. All fornicating and lying to each other and jabbing at their little electrical machines (the mouse’s wife made a ‘tutting’ sound – the first sound Tomas had heard her utter) …those machines were the last straw, in fact.”
“Yes – yes, yes, yes! Your mobile ‘phones were the cause of your final fall from grace. Have you any idea how intolerable those intense radio waves are to small creatures such as us? How they hurt our ears and permeate our brains? It couldn’t go on, you see. It had to stop there.”
“But I have – I had – a mobile ‘phone. Doesn’t that make me as hopeless as the rest? How is it that your ‘Great Arranger’ let me survive?”
“Are you sure you want to know this? Very well. If you were pleased to take another look at our mooring, you would see that the place where you tied off is a little higher than it was. That is because the water level is gradually subsiding. There are tides to be considered too, so if I were you I would leave plenty of line and tie off further down.”
“Surely that shows the water will drain away eventually. We just have to wait!”
The mouse looked doubtful. “There is a problem. Our calculations suggest it will be a lifetime before the water is all drained away. That’s a mouse’s lifetime, of course.” It added, helpfully.
“Calculations now! You make calculations? Oh, I forgot; not you. The ‘Great Arranger’, yes? And this is your lifetime, which is about a year.” Tomas paled as the significance of the wait impressed itself upon him. “There’s no fresh water! I’ve only got my sandwiches!”
The mouse shrugged, and yes, it was the first time Tomas had ever seen a mouse shrug. “That does pose a problem.” It admitted. “Fortunately, the Great One foresaw it. We – my wife and I – we shall not see land again, although, of course, our children will. Oh, we are expecting a family, by the way.”
“Thank you. Our children, and their children, and their children’s children, will be the first to stake their claim to the new world.” The mouse clasped its front paws behind its back, and began trotting on its hind legs back and forth upon the gunwales: “A world where we mice shall have total domination, unopposed by the ravages of man. A brave new world, a…”
“The squeak shall inherit the earth, eh? I think your brave new world cats might have something to say about that.”
“Oh, I didn’t mention, did I? Our fiery plague took care of the cats as well. In fact, it took care of everything that might stand in our way…”
“Everything?” Tomas’s eyebrows reached even greater heights. “All other animals, all the birds, just wiped out?” The mouse had stopped pacing, and now stood posed upon the top of his little vessel’s bow, gazing into the sun of morning with a rapt look on its sharp features, and Tomas caught himself staring at his little shipmate with his mouth wide open. Mighty as the struggle with his unbelief seemed, however, he could not doubt the evidence before him. At last he said: “Suppose – just suppose – all this is real. The Great Flood without the animals two by two, your ‘Great Arranger’ – all of it. Aren’t you forgetting something? ”
“Hmmm?” The mouse glanced over its shoulder; “What?”
“I won’t survive, will I? No food beyond that packet of sandwiches; no water? So your ‘Great Arranger’s’ plan for me is going a bit awry. And I wouldn’t give much for you or your brood’s chances either. Even if you pinch my packed lunch it won’t last all those little mouths more than a few weeks at the most. You’ll all starve.”
“On the contrary,” The mouse said. “You exactly fulfil the Great One’s plan.”
“Oh, really? So you have some other source of food to keep us alive for all that time, have you?”
“Yes.” The mouse responded, and its tiny red eyes took on a hungry look. “Well, not ‘us’, exactly.”
“No.” The mouse’s wife was somewhere behind Tomas, articulating a sentence of its own for the first time. “Not ‘us’.”
© Frederick Anderson 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content