ne night, in the middle of an October thunderstorm, a raindrop ripped a hole in the sky. This raindrop was different, as big as a freight train and made of silver. It dropped through the hole and fell without a sound. At one thousand feet, it froze, hanging in the air. Far below it stood a ramshackle farm house, broken shingles and cracked windows barely keeping out the rain.
From its pointed tip came a beam of blue light. The light pierced one bedroom window, then the other. The raindrop turned and sent another beam of light to the far side of the farm. The light vanished and the hole in the sky sealed shut. The raindrop hid behind a cloud, waiting.
Roscoe awoke just as the morning sun poked through the kitchen curtains. The storm had kept him up most of the night, but he didn’t want to sleep in and miss the morning excitement. The farmer’s wife always sang a little song as she put the food in his bowl, and the farmer’s daughter liked to pet him while he ate, rubbing that hard to reach spot between his ears. As for the farmer, whenever his wife wasn’t looking, he would slip him a piece of bacon or a bit of sausage. And why not? After all, in a year or two, he would be the most important animal on the farm. As a German Shepherd, it would be his job to guard the chickens from dangerous animals, like wolves or skunks or the paperboy.
With a yawn, Roscoe hopped out of his basket and trotted across the floor. His bowl was empty, as was the kitchen. He cocked his head and listened. The house was quiet. “They must still be asleep!” he thought. “I’d better wake them up, or they won’t feed me! Or the chickens, either, I suppose.”
The stairs were narrow and very steep, quite a challenge for a puppy. Usually, the farmer’s daughter would be there to give him a gentle push on the bottom to help him up. It took him almost ten minutes to make his way upstairs.
He trotted down the short hallway to the tiny room where the farmer’s daughter slept. Her bed was empty, her blankets and quilt scattered on the floor by the window. “Maybe the storm scared her and she went to sleep in her parents’ room.” But the master bedroom was empty, too. The family was gone.
“I could go to the barn,” he thought. “There’s food out there, right?” Going down the stairs was a lot easier than going up. He made his way to the kitchen and the gigantic doggy door, and out to the back porch. The barn was about five acres away, but to a puppy, it looked like miles. “I wish someone would carry me…” Sighing, he trudged across the yard.
The barn was a peeling, rusty red with a black slate roof. The two great doors had blown wide open in the storm. Inside, the walls were festooned with tools: axes, saws, shovels, and post hole diggers, and a few yokes leftover from oxen that had been sold long ago. Next to the door stood a pile of canvas bags. He took a few quick sniffs, but they didn’t smell like much of anything. He gnawed on the corner of the lowest bag, chewing the fabric until a piece tore away. An avalanche of yellow. Seed corn! “Far from my favorite, but better than nothing.” Although, it didn’t taste like it.
The hay loft creaked. A piece of straw fell to the floor. Something was up there. “Hello,” he called. “I’m Roscoe. Do you want to be friends?”
“Geronimo!” A black blur slammed into him. The thing wrapped around him like a four-armed octopus, and they rolled across the floor, crashing into the wall. A sledge hammer fell with a bang, missing them by half an inch. The thing screamed and jumped away, it’s fur standing on end.
The thing was a cat, and a large one, nearly twice his size. It was charcoal black, with the exception of its front paws, which were white. The end of its tail was permanently bent to one side, apparently from a break that hadn’t properly healed. It was also missing its left eye. Licking its lips, it extended its claws. “You’re the biggest mouse I’ve ever seen,” it said, in a voice both feminine and cruel. “I shall feast for a week.”
He gasped. “I’m not a mouse! I’m a puppy!”
“Of course you’re a mouse. Only mice eat the seed. Now come here so I can cut you into bite size chunks.”
“Do mice have collars? Can they do this?” He wagged his tail and barked.
“No, I suppose not.” The cat sighed. “So, what are you doing here, girl?”
“I’m a boy!”
“Your collar is pink.”
Roscoe wrinkled his nose. “I didn’t pick it out. The farmer’s daughter put this on me. But it doesn’t matter. She’s gone. The whole family has been missing all morning. I have nobody to feed me!”
“Oh, poor baby!” the cat laughed. “Why don’t you just get your own food? There are plenty of mice to eat. …Or, well, there used to be. Lately, they’ve been acting… strange.”
“Strange? In what way?”
“I can’t just tell you. You’d never believe it…” The cat headed for the door, but Roscoe didn’t move. “Come on, you have to see this! I need someone else to be there, so I know I’m not just imagining things.”
The cat lead him to an enormous, cylindrical building made of gray concrete. The corn silo. “The mice mostly come out at night. They creep up to the silo, when the farming machinery isn’t running, and try to get in through the south wall. I used to just hide behind a hay bale and wait for one to get too close, but now, things are different.”
“Just wait and watch.”
As the hours passed, Roscoe discovered he could be scared and bored at the same time. He wanted to run and play, or at least have a conversation, but this cat was frightening. She knew he wasn’t a mouse, but she still might want to eat him. Better to not remind her that he was there.
Three lights appeared the distance, moving through the grass. At first, he thought they were fireflies, but these lights were too big. Besides, fireflies weren’t bright green.
The lights came closer, and Roscoe’s mouth dropped open. They were mice. Bright green and glowing, but rodents nonetheless. The mice were walking on their hind legs. They were wearing long, silver gloves, goggles, and what appeared to be tiny tool belts. The mice strolled to the south wall of the silo, where the farmer had left a wheelbarrow filled with tools. Under the wheelbarrow, the wall was covered in burn marks, and the mortar around the bricks was mostly gone.
The cat lifted Roscoe’s ear and whispered. “I keep trying to catch them, but they’re too quick now. Quick and dangerous.”
“They’re just mice in funny outfits. I can catch them! Let me try!” He leaped out from behind the hay bale, barking as ferociously as he could manage. The mice turned at the sound. The tallest one drew a tiny object from his tool belt and aimed it at the puppy. A bolt of blue light blasted through the air, flying under Roscoe’s legs. The hay bale burst into flames.
A black blur, and the cat appeared on the wheelbarrow. She yanked a metal bucket from the pile of tools and, with a mighty shove, knocked it over the mice. The cat hopped down and grabbed Roscoe by the ear. “Does this work? Can you hear?”
“Then maybe you should listen to me! These things are dangerous! And you need to…” A sharp, hissing sound, and the smell of ozone. On the side of the bucket, a glowing circle the size of a silver dollar was beginning to melt. “…run.”
They ran halfway to the barn before they realized they weren’t being pursued. “They must have gone back to… wherever it is mice live,” Roscoe said. “By the way, I don’t think we ever finished our introductions. What’s your name?”
“Never mind that now. Let’s just get some sleep. We’ll have to get up pretty early tomorrow to hunt.”
The next day, Roscoe woke with a sigh. It wasn’t a dream after all. He was still laying in a pile of straw in the barn. The cat was pacing atop a hay bale, stopping every three or four turns to scratch behind an ear. “I’m hungry!” Rosco called.
The cat brushed a stray whisker back into place. “…And?”
“…And feed me?” He made his eyes as large as he could and tried to look cute, but the cat just laughed.
“I’m not your momma. If you don’t like the corn, go outside and hunt! There’s plenty of food for the taking.”
Roscoe climbed out of his straw pile and trotted over to the barn door. “Hunting, right. OK, I can do this…” The farm was huge, dozens of acres bordered by woods. Outside the barn, the trees were shivering in the wind. The whole world looked cold. “I wish the farmer’s daughter was here. I don’t know how to find food. People are supposed to feed me. Why do I have to do this alone?”
“Alone?” the cat growled. “You want to talk about alone? I’ve never even seen the farmer’s family! No one has ever come out here to feed me! You had better learn to fend for yourself, and fast. You’re a dog. Very soon, you will be put outside to work, and work will be all that matters, all that you have. The farmer took me from my mother, threw me out here, and told me to kill mice, and that was that. He never even gave me a name.”
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know. …Well, we might not have the farmer and his family to take care of us, but we can take care of each other. And if you want a name, I can name you.”
“No, that’s okay, you don’t–”
“A good name should suit you.” Roscoe trotted over to the cat, looking her up and down. “You’ve got a crooked tail… Maybe your name should be ‘Crook’?”
“I said you don’t have to –”
“Isn’t it a great name? I’ve never named anyone before, but I think it’s great!”
“Well, I suppose that’s okay. …If you have to call me something… Alright, I’ll take you to some food.”
Crook lead him outside, past the outhouse and the silo, to the corn field. The stalks were almost as high as the scarecrow’s waist. Their golden tassels were just poking over the fence. They ducked through a gap in the wood and headed into the field. The plants were just far enough apart that they could slip between the rows. “There are always birds flapping around in the corn field” she said. “We should be able to find a meal or two. The crows are too big, but the sparrows are small and stupid, so they’re easy pickings. Even for you!”
Roscoe ignored the insult. “I’d better not argue with her,” he thought. “What if she ran ahead and left me here? It would be easy to get lost.” Deep in the field, it could have been morning or midnight. The corn blocked most of the light, and made it impossible to see the barn or silo or other landmarks.
A tremendous buzz reverberated through the field. A line of corn suddenly bent down, as if it were being trampled by some great, invisible animal. Roscoe and Crook leaped out of the way of the collapsing plants. Through a gap in the corn, they saw strange lights atop the distant fence. Half a dozen green mice were firing their ray guns into the stalks. Apparently they could bend things as well as burn them.
“What are they -” Rosco began, but Crook put her paw over his mouth. She pulled him back behind a nearby tree stump.
“Looks like they’re writing a message in the field,” she whispered. “The only way to read it would be from the sky, so they must be signaling a bird. And what do birds and mice have in common? Eating seeds! They must be planning to launch another attack on the silo. And when they do, we need to be ready.”
That night, as the sun was setting, a dozen green lights skittered through the grass. The mice were wearing silver jumpsuits and boots. As they walked, the lead mouse scanned the area with binoculars.
Scattered in front of the silo were several small pieces of wood, about the size of a pack of playing cards. On top of the wood were piles of seed. Each piece of wood had a large, metal bar waiting to snap down on the necks of anyone foolish enough to eat the bait.
The mice laughed at the obvious traps and drew their ray guns. Beams of blue light melted the traps’ springs. The lead mouse strutted over to a trap and grabbed a handful of seed. “Ah, lightly toasted. Just the way I like ‘em!” His happiness was short-lived. Something black dropped from the roof, knocking him to the ground. A scream of horror. “The cat!”
The mice turned their guns and fired. Crook leaped over their heads. The blue beams struck the mouse on the ground, burning him to ashes.“Get her!” the others yelled, running after the black blur.
Crook darted around the silo, the mice at her heels. She bounded up some wooden boxes, and into a large, metal bin. The mice tumbled in after her, but she just bounced back out. “You think we’re stuck in here?” the mice called, shaking their fists. “We’ll just blast our way out of this bucket, too!”
“It’s not just a bucket,” Crook said. “It’s a bucket elevator.” She plucked out one of the mice, holding him tightly by the tail. “Roscoe, hit the switch!” With a shrill whir, the bucket elevator carried the remaining rodents to the top of the silo.
“What’s your deal, mouse?” Crook growled at her captive. “Why are you suddenly green and smart instead of dirty and dumb?”
The mouse reached for the holster on its belt, but it was empty. “No! I must have dropped my eek gun!” He struggled violently, but could not shake himself free of the cat’s claws. “Let me go! My brothers will be back any second, and then you’ll be sorry.”
“I don’t think so. The elevator dropped them in the silo, on top of forty tons of food. They won’t be coming back for you for quite a while. Now talk! I’ve never eaten a green mouse before, but I’m guessing you’re still tasty. Where did you get the toys?”
“We made them, of course.”
“Where did you learn to do that?”
“The blue beam of light came and gave us the machine. The machine made us smart, and being smart made us angry. Why should we mice be dependent on the humans? Why should we live off of their scraps? We are the ones who should be ruling the world! We nearly wiped out the human race during the Black Death, and that was without any technology at all! Just imagine how dangerous the machine will make us!”
“You’re about as dangerous as a chicken nugget.” The cat’s mouth opened wide. The mouse reached for the large buckle at the center of his chest and, moving swiftly, slipped out of his jumpsuit. He fell into the bucket elevator, carried away in an instant.
Back at the barn, Crook was pacing atop a bale of hay. “So, the mice found a machine that makes them smarter, like some sort of anti-television. To take them from brain dead to building weapons and wearing clothes, the machine must be powerful, and huge! Where are they keeping it? The chicken coops are too small. They could hide it in a corn field, but I doubt they would leave something that important outside, in the elements. Where would they hide it?”
Roscoe rubbed his growling stomach. “What about the old stable? We pass by it whenever the farmer takes me into town with him. The wood is rotting and some of the beams have fallen, but it’s a huge building.”
“Good thinking! But I can’t get there on my own. That’s where Sarge lives.” Crook stroked her chin. “I’ll need you to talk to him.”
The puppy gulped. “Talk to Sarge? A-about what?” Sarge was the farm’s old guard dog. He was retired, but that didn’t make him any less dangerous. He was a Great Dane the size of a horse, but with the temper of a bull. Once, when the rooster’s crowing had woken him up a little earlier than usual, he grabbed the bird by its neck and tossed it in the well. The rooster survived, but after that, it was too scared to speak above a whisper. The farmer had to buy an alarm clock.
“I don’t care,” she sighed, “just distract him long enough for me to slip by.” She grabbed his collar and pulled him towards the door. “Whatever you do, make sure you keep him occupied! If he sees me and realizes it’s a trick, he’ll probably eat us both.”
Sarge’s dog house sat at the border between the farm proper and the “back forty”, the acres of pine trees the farmer kept for firewood and Christmases. A hundred yards past the dog house stood what was technically still a stable, but was rapidly devolving into just a pile of lumber.
Sarge was pacing like a caged tiger, glaring angrily at the grass, the trees, passing birds, and anything else that happened to meet his gaze. He pounced on a leaf that fell on the roof of his house, crushing it under his enormous paws. Off in the distance, a twig snapped. Someone was approaching. “You there!” he bellowed at the small, shaking puppy. “State your business! Friend or foe?”
“F-friend!” Roscoe sputtered. “I just came to tell you, I saw a skunk lurking up by the hen house. I think he’s after the eggs!”
“The skunk, you say? He has some nerve coming back here! I’ll stomp the stink right out of him!” He rushed off, nearly trampling Roscoe under his feet.
Roscoe ran for the stable, wishing his legs were as long as the old guard dog’s. The back forty was never mowed. Every step sent insects flying. At last, he reached the stable’s south wall, where Crook was waiting.
“There you are, finally! You were right. It’s mouse headquarters.” She gestured at a crack in the wall, pushing him forward to look. Dozens of green, glowing mice were swarming over a vast, silver disk, soldering wiring and welding panels in place. Attached to the top of the disk was a gigantic version of the eek gun. At the far end of the stable stood a huge, pulsating cylinder embedded partway in the dirt. It had a screen like a television, but it was bristling with antennas, like some sort of chrome porcupine. The whole thing was emitting the same unearthly glow as the mice. Apparently, this was the mysterious machine. Every few seconds, one of the mice would rush over to the machine to study a series of diagrams on the screen.
“We have to destroy the machine,” Crook whispered. “It’s the only way to stop them.”
Roscoe threw up his paws. “How? You can dodge shots from three or four of them, but there’s at least a hundred mice in there! If they see us, they’ll kill us for sure!”
“We have to try. If their tiny eek guns can melt through the wall of the silo, the big one on the disk could destroy everything… starting with the farm. The farmer and his family have taken care of you your entire life. Now it’s your turn to take care of them.”
Roscoe’s thoughts filled with images of the farmer’s daughter, the hours he’d spent curled up in her lap, and the warmth of her touch. Wherever she was, she needed him. “You’re right. I have to do something, even if it costs me my life.”
Roscoe circled the stable to the south wall, where an old tractor was quietly rusting. Climbing up carefully, he pulled himself into the torn leather seat. The last few rays of the setting sun were glowing softly through the trees. If the mice had their way, this night might be the last the world would ever see.
He jumped to the back of the tractor and over to a rotting stack of firewood. Logs crumbled and slipped, chunks of wood and bark tumbling to the ground. At last, he made it to the edge of the roof. The loose shingles made every step a gamble. Fighting the urge to look down, he maneuvered up the steep slope to a small window missing most of its glass.
Slipping inside, he crawled to an overhead beam. Twelve feet below, the mice were busy welding the last few pieces of their silver disk. The scene was ghostly. The only light in the stable was a couple of rusty lanterns, the flash of tiny welding torches, and the soft, green glow of the mice themselves.
He crept along the beam, until he came to small, steel bolt. Grabbing it in his teeth, he twisted slowly, until it was nearly unfastened. He inched along the beam to a second bolt, repeating the process. He turned around and crawled back towards the window, stopping in the middle. Taking a deep breath, he jumped once, twice, three times. The bolts shook loose, and the lanterns crashed to the ground.
The flame devoured the dry straw on the floor, crackling across the room. Roscoe rushed across the beam and hurled himself out the window. He landed hard on a loose shingle and skidded down the roof like a sled on a snow-covered mountain. The shingle slipped off the edge, and he tumbled into the wood pile. The logs toppled over, sending him flying into the grass.
Outside, the mice were screaming. A river of burning rodents streamed from the cracks in the stable walls. The flames seemed to attack both their bodies and their minds. They dropped to all fours and ran into the darkness, where Crook’s claws and teeth were waiting.
Roscoe picked himself up, shaking the stars from his eyes. His head was pounding, and he’d scraped off some fur and skin, but he was alive. He staggered through the thick grass, heading for a pair of eyes glowing in the darkness.
Crook was busily cleaning the blood from her mouth. At her feet was a pile of half-eaten, slightly charred mice. “First hot meal I’ve had in ages,” she sighed happily.
The exhausted animals stood watching the flames. The fire’s dance was beautiful. At last, with a low groan, the stable roof collapsed, burying the disk and the anti-television under a pile of rotting lumber.
Early the next morning, Roscoe and Crook were asleep in the barn. He was using a seed bag as a makeshift bed, and she was curled up on a hay bale. A soft breeze was wafting in through the barn’s open doors.
“Roscoe? Are you in here? C’mere, boy!” A young girl in a red flannel nightgown walked into the barn, stepping carefully in her bare feet. “Where are you, Roscoe?”
Roscoe’s eyes popped open. “It’s her!” he thought. “She’s back!”
The farmer’s daughter headed for the back of the barn, unable to see her dog behind the stack of bags. “Are you here? C’mon, boy… Oh, a kitty!” Moving quickly, she scooped up Crook, squeezing the cat against her chest. “Do you want to help me look for my puppy? Let’s go see if he found his way back to the house. On the way, I’ll tell you about this weird dream I had…”
“Roscoe!” Crook called. “I’m going to the house, Roscoe! Are you coming with us?”
“Not just yet,” he whispered from his hiding place. “It’s a big world out there. I want to explore!”