Brendan awoke, stirring slightly in a nest of fluff and leaves as he blinked himself awake. It was dark, as it usually was; the only thing that illuminated the mouse’s nest was a bit of light that filtered through the short tunnel to his burrow. He listened, his ears perking as he heard the muffled sounds of birds chirping and chattering. Must be morning.
Sniffing about curiously, he was reassured by the scent and the quiet breathing of his father, still asleep beside him. Careful not to disturb him, he crawled out of the nest and padded quietly over to the mouse-sized tunnel, and sniffed the air. A musty, green smell permeated everything; the smell of dew on the leaves and needles of the trees and of the damp earth. Nothing unusual—except for a faint smoky scent, one that tickled the edges of Brendan’s memory. He looked back over to his father; still asleep. After hesitating a moment, he quietly crawled through the entrance tunnel, emerging from a hole beneath the roots of an old oak tree. Pushing aside the ivy leaves that concealed the entrance, he blinked in the sunlight that filtered through the trees, playing on his dark-grey fur.
Glancing back at the entrance hole, Brendan sighed softly. His father wouldn’t want him to be outside alone, even though Brendan felt he was able to take care of himself. He just worried too much. Pushing these thoughts aside, he sniffed for the faint smoky smell, and began to follow it. Soon he was scampering along the ground, moving from bush to rock to tree while staying away from open spaces that offered no places to hide. A small excited grin grew on his face as he followed the smell into an area he hadn’t explored, farther from his burrow than he’d ever remembered going before.
Out of the corner of his eye, Brendan noticed a bright splotch of color between the trees. Turning to look, he saw through the trees what looked like a pair of large boulders, maybe the height of a young tree. Except they didn’t seem quite like boulders—too round to be normal. Maybe they were humongous beetles? But no, they didn’t move, and Brendan had never seen a beetle stay still for very long. Yet he’d never seen beetles that big before, either. Perhaps they just moved slowly.
Since the scent seemed to come from that direction, Brendan approached them, beginning cautiously, then gaining more confidence as he drew closer. He found the... things... situated in a small clearing, each of them on opposite sides of it. In the middle of the clearing was a circle of stones, a thin wisp of smoke wafting up from the middle of it. Brendan couldn’t quite tell what exactly was in the middle of the circle, but the smell seemed to be strongest there. He finally remembered the scent; he smelled it before when all of the animals fled from a forest fire on the other side of the stream. The fire never got close enough for Brendan to see it, but he remembered clearly the same ashy, smoky smell that made his eyes water. It wasn’t quite that strong here, but he blinked reflexively, his sensitive nose twitching. Yet as he sniffed an even fainter smell tickled his nose, a much more pleasing one. A ‘food’ smell.
Brendan turned his attention to the nearest beetle-thing, the source of the pleasing scent. Up close, he could tell that it wasn’t a beetle either—no bug-like head or hard, shiny shell. Crawling closer, he touched it tentatively, pulling back quickly as soon as he did so. He half-expected the thing to wake up and chase after him, but it remained still, lifeless. Touching it again, he discovered that the thin ‘skin’ of the thing was soft and pliable, maybe even hollow on the inside. The skin seemed to be held up by some odd-looking sticks on the outside instead of guts and bones.
He continued crawling along its side, following his nose to where the food smell was strongest, but he found nothing resembling food. Frowning, he retraced his steps to see if he had missed something while following the scent, and found a small opening in the skin of the beetle-thing, almost hidden by another small flap of its skin. The smell seemed stronger through that opening. For a moment Brendan stayed rooted to the spot as caution battled curiosity, neither side budging—that is, until his empty stomach rumbled and caution lost the battle to his hunger.
Hesitantly, he crawled up to the hole, standing on his hind legs to peer inside. The beetle-shaped thing was hollow inside, cavernous to the small mouse, with a dim orange light filtering through the thin skin. On the floor of the beetle-cave were a couple of—gigantic caterpillars? More like cocoons, actually. And not where the food was, in any case. Glancing around he finally found the food in a corner of the cave; an oblong, yellow, sweet-smelling thing. Quietly as possible, he crawled inside, careful to tread lightly on the cave’s strange floor to keep from making any noise that might disturb whatever was in the cocoons. When he reached the sweet-smelling food, he found it was unlike any food he’d seen before, wrapped in some sort of clear material that was open on one side. On the open side, he found that it wasn’t yellow all the way through; it was filled with some white stuff. He sniffed at it carefully, though finally his stomach made the decision for him and he nibbled at the food.
Sweet. Almost overpoweringly so. And a tad sticky, especially the white stuff. The sweetest thing Brendan had ever eaten before were clover blossoms, but after the initial shock he decided that he liked it. He began nibbling on it more eagerly, pushing his head inside the clear wrapping which began to crackle loudly. Not that Brendan cared much; he was so caught up eating this wonderful new food that he was caught by surprise when he heard one of the cocoon-things speak. “Alex, you’d better stop eating my Twink...” it began, trailing off as it saw the mouse at its foot.
Brendan quickly stopped eating and looked up at the towering figure with wide, terrified eyes. The other one sat up as well, rubbing the sleep out of its eyes. “Wha...? Look, Zach, a mouse!” Brendan and the two giant cocoon-creatures stared at each other, none of them daring to make a move. He glanced out of the corner of his eye for the opening he entered through, and dashed for it. Before he could reach it, the entire floor lifted up and Brendan began sliding back towards the giants. He scrabbled furiously to get back to the hole, but the floor was too slick. Looking back, he saw them pushing against the back wall of the cave, which made the floor come up off the ground. The larger giant reached out with his huge pink hand and grabbed his tail, yanking him back. Brendan squeaked in pain as the giant dangled him in the air. He tried to climb up his tail and bite the hand that held him captive, but before he could, the giant grabbed him by the nape of his neck with his other hand. He squirmed around, trying to twist around to bite his hand and scratch at his arm with his hind-paws, but it was useless. He was trapped.
The giant laughed. “That’s what you get for eating my Twinkies.”
He pulled out a clear, round thing with a twig and a bit of moss inside it from somewhere that Brendan couldn’t see, opened the lid and dropped the trembling mouse inside, closing the lid back on tightly. The giant lifted it up and peered at Brendan through the clear wall. Brendan, dazed and trembling from terror, shrank back as much as he could from the giant’s distorted face. Were they going to eat him?
The smaller giant leaned in to get a better look at the trapped mouse. “Zach, I thought you were keeping that spider in that jar.”
“Yeah, but a mouse is so much cooler.” Spider? Brendan began looking around furtively; although he sometimes ate insects when nothing else was around, he could never eat a spider—they gave him the willies. And some spiders were dangerous, especially to a small mouse. “Besides, Alex,” the larger giant continued, “with the spider in there, he’ll have some company. Or something to eat.”
“Mom’s not gonna like this.”
The larger giant glared at the other one. “Yeah? And who’s going to tell her? You?”
Biting his lip, the smaller one hesitated. “N-no...”
The larger one nodded. “That’s what I thought.” He put Brendan’s transparent cage on the floor of the cave, hidden behind the giant’s cocoon, out of sight. From outside the cave, a muffled voice called out. “Zach?”
“Come on, son, it’s time to go fishing. Gotta catch supper if you don’t want that freeze-dried junk again.”
“Yeah, just a sec.” Brendan heard some rustling and a zipping sound as the giant left.
The other giant spoke. “Um, I think I’ll stay here with Mom.”
Trying to calm himself, Brendan inspected his new prison. He soon found the spider: dead, lying on the bottom of the cage, curled up on itself. He climbed up the twig, which snapped in half under his weight, dropping him to the floor with a dull thud. He tried climbing up the outside, but this was also useless; the clear walls were slick as ice against Brendan’s claws. Gathering his hind legs underneath him, he jumped, but did no more than hit his head against the top part of his cage. He retreated to the opposite side of the cage from the dead spider and curled up into a ball, trembling, wishing that he were anywhere but here, that he’d stayed home, out of trouble, like Dad wanted. But not even his father could help him now, not against these giants. He began to sob to himself, squeaking pitifully.
“You’re scared, aren’t you, little guy?” Brendan’s eyes popped open as he heard the young giant’s voice. The cage was in his hands now; Brendan hadn’t even noticed him pick up the cage. He blinked at the giant, staring miserably at him through the clear, distorting wall.
“You’re pretty small, even for a mouse. I’ll bet someone misses you.” He smiled sadly at Brendan. “You probably miss them too.”
Brendan closed his eyes, dropping his head.
“I know how you feel. I miss my Dad a lot too.” Alex bit his lip, trying to keep his emotions in check. “Zach’s dad tries, but...”
The two merely gazed at each other for several moments, Alex sniffling a bit while Brendan’s whiskers twitched. Finally, Alex let out a long sigh. “Zach’s probably gonna pound me for this one.”
He gathered up Brendan’s cage, stepped outside the cave and ran a small distance away from the clearing, out of sight of the huge ‘beetles.’ Here the giant stopped and opened the clear cage, tipping it on its side and cupping his palm beneath the opening. Hesitantly, Brendan crawled out of it onto the giant’s hand. The two regarded each other for a moment, then the giant lowered his hand, and Brendan hopped off onto the ground, running quickly away in the direction of home. As he ran, he began to find familiar sights and reassuring smells as he entered more familiar territory. And, finally, he heard a sound that made his heart leap.
He could hear his father calling for him.