A SIMPLE LIFE
Crow 11th - Oakland, CA
Basil Burnes is a simple mouse. Every morning at 5:33 AM, Basil climbs out of bed (after a much needed 15 minutes of contemplating life), gets dressed, and starts the tea kettle.
He then prepares himself two pieces of toast with butter and jam, and sits contentedly at his kitchen table, watching the sun rise. He loves this routine, and as a result, feels comfortable and in control of his day.
Basil doesn’t like other mice, but grudgingly spends every day (excluding Mondays and Tuesdays) working at The Tails End bookshop in Tableton. Now the thing about mice is that they are very fond of their books. The average mouse will read five to ten new books a week, which is rather unfortunate for Basil, seeing how he doesn’t appreciate the company.
“Well good morning Mr. Burnes!” A shrill voice cut through the silence.
“Good morning Mrs. Gabblecook,” Basil mumbled. “What new cooking books have you discovered today?”
“You know me too well!” Mrs. Gabblecook hooted. “Well, my friend up in the city? You know the one, Marilee? Right, well she was going on and on in her last letter about this cook she met one day, and my goodness does he sound CHARMING! Ooh, I was blushing just reading about him…”
Mrs. Gablecook’s voice trailed off as she went looking in the cooking section. However, something else had caught his attention.
A growing crowd had gathered in the square, and lots of muttering and gossip was heard distinctly through the walls of any shop nearby. Basil hobbled out to have a look.
“All I’m saying is that this monster has no right to savagely destroy our town, and we need to do something about it!” the town baker, Mr. Cabbrange shouted.
“Oh dear” gasped a mouse beside him, and soon the square was filled with frantic scrabbling.
Confused, Basil slowly looked behind him and found himself looking up into the face of a towering wispy shadow, with bright, glowing eyes.
Time seemed at a standstill, and all Basil could feel was his heart pounding in his ears. He felt so utterly alone. And just as it started, it stopped. The creature tilted its head, alert, and ran off to the woods.
Basil felt his legs crumble underneath him and a swarm of voices reached his ears. Dozens of faces quivered over him and watched him expectantly.
“I am fine,” Basil snapped and shoved himself up to his feet. Everyone moved back quickly and a shiver went through the crowd.
“I am going home,” Basil said defiantly. “I’ve had enough today with all of you, and now this strange creature? No, I am going home.”
Having arrived home, Basil, frustrated, slammed the door open to his cottage and looked around. His routine, comfortable and perfect, was thrown to the side. This mysterious beast had somehow reached into his mind and drawn out something he had never felt before - absolute fear. And yet, in some way, a deep longing and curiosity.
He moved slowly to his bathroom sink and ran his hands through the fresh cold water, still trembling. He leaned down to splash water onto his face, and looked back up, towards the mirror. Horrified, his expression stared back at him.
His eyes, once beady and dark, shone with the same sharp brightness of the monster's eyes.
A cautious knocking came.
Basil sat stoically in his armchair, staring at the door. His bag lay sideways on the ground next to him, and his arms were crossed. He kept this position until the knocking finally stopped and the sun had just peeked over the hillside. Then he slowly got up, wrapped his good winter coat around his waist, hoisted his bag up over his shoulder, and set out to find the beast.
Basil is a very stubborn mouse, and although this might make his life rather uneventful, when something disturbs his routine he will do everything in his power to get that routine back.
And so, Basil starts on his adventure. Whether to get his eyes back, or maybe to satisfy his curiosity, we’ll never know.
Walking stick in hand, Basil tramped through the forest, birds fluttering off in his wake. The sun was now making a steady path above him, matching his pace. Basil refused to think too much about what he was doing, determined that an empty mind was a calm one. As he wrestled his way through the ivy and scrambled up tree roots, he felt a gnawing sense of doom. Despite this, he carried on, only stopping from time to time to take a sip of water from his pouch, or to catch his breath.
Finally, as the sunlight dimmed through the trees, Basil unraveled his makeshift tent and sleeping bag, then sat outside watching the forest get darker. Just then something caught his eye. As the darkness spread, a glowing light in the distance had brightened.
Without stopping to take anything with him (besides a small cheese knife he had got for his birthday when he was six), Basil marched towards it.
As he got closer, he realized that the light came from a small cottage.
“Interesting,” Basil thought to himself. To his knowledge, no one went into the woods, much less lived there.
Cautiously, he climbed up the stone steps and knocked on the door. Hearing no answer, he knocked again and tried the knob. To his surprise, the door was already open. A sharp breeze entered the room, and a wavering light from the kerosene lamp in the corner threatened to blow out. Closing the door behind him, Basil looked around. Although in excellent shape, the cottage seemed to have been recently put to ruins. Picture frames lay on the floor, with shattered glass and broken silverware beside them. Books had fallen from the bookshelf, and pages flitted in the cold air.
Basil inched forwards toward the picture frames, accidentally knocking a vase down in the process. He froze. A chilling crash echoed throughout the house, crunching and shattering. However it wasn’t this that made him freeze, but what followed. For Basil could have sworn he saw a shadow pass the window, with a soft rustling noise.
Basil felt his throat close up. This is what he came here for, wasn’t it? To confront this monster that had somehow changed his eyes, made him so afraid? Unfortunately, that meant he was now afraid again. That same gut-wrenching, silent fear had grabbed him. But something was different. He heard panting outside, and a huge thump. Carefully, Basil pulled back the curtains on the window to investigate. Seeing nothing, Basil heaved a sigh, grabbed the lamp by the handle, and made his way outdoors. As he advanced to where he heard the noise, he saw a large mound on the ground.
Laying there in front of him was the beast.
Basil set down the lamp and slowly made his way towards the creature until he was just inches from it. Shaking, Basil reached out his tiny hand towards its head. Just before he made contact, it flinched back, frightened.
Basil stared at it. He noticed now that what once ignited fear in him now seemed pitiful, exposed. Basil felt as though this creature emitted loss, although he wasn’t sure what it was exactly. Perhaps it’s home? He had never witnessed it being here before. Looking past it, Basil stood up. He must have not noticed before, having no light with him. Staring around at the area surrounding the cottage and beast was a dark, mold-like substance. It covered the trees and ground, dripping and eating away at every living thing. Looking closer, Basil noticed it had covered the beast as well. In fact, it was almost as if the creature was made of it. Its acrid, sour smell made Basil gag, and he took a step backward.
Running back to the cottage, Basil decided the only way to get his eyes back must be to get this beasts eyes back as well. First things first, Basil needed food. Food solved everything (this is a well-known fact among mice, and frankly, should be known by every creature as the truth).
Scrambling throughout the kitchen, Basil found a large pan, only slightly moldy bread, and three cans of cold soup. Pouring the soup into the pan hurriedly and grabbing the bread, Basil went back to the creature. He nudged the pan under its nose gently, and slowly but surely, it began to eat.
And so Basil sat there with this monster, watching it eat until the sun came up. When it had finally finished, it gave a trembling sigh, tucked its long nose into its paws, and fell fast asleep. Basil took this opportunity to explore the cottage more thoroughly, now guided by the sun. He picked up the picture frame which had a photo of a rather eccentric-looking mouse and placed it back on the table. He then cleaned up the broken silverware and vase, being careful not to get cut. Finally, he got to the books. Classics he loved and had copies of his own were strewn about. Gently, he placed them back onto the bookshelf. However, there was a book that caught his eye, in a far corner of the room. Unlike the others, this book had no cover. In fact, upon closer inspection, Basil discovered it must be a journal. Sitting down in the armchair nearby, he decided to investigate.
The first page had a couple of lines that had the name Esdras Walganus written with looping black ink. Basil flipped through a couple more pages filled with drawings of plants and wildlife, and with little scrawling notes in the margins. Some would mention little details about the plants, noting the little hairs or spikes. Others might say something like “adds flavor to stew!” or “mild hallucinogenic properties, would not try again”.
Thoroughly amused, Basil stayed there for a while, reading each little note and studying the drawings. However, about halfway through the book, the pages hardly had any drawings in them. Instead, they held a discovery of something Esdras had found deep in the forest. The entries said “While walking down Huckleberry Hike, I decided to stray off the path, a little past the mushroom patch. I had smelled something earlier, perhaps a dead animal but it wasn’t that at all. I believe something is eating away at the life of the forest here, for I found a frightening black substance with a horrific smell. From my observations, it seems to disintegrate the plants and trees to dust. Possibly a fungus? Will find out more tomorrow.”
Basil was now clinging to every word, hoping to find something that might help.
“Went back yesterday, but noticed something interesting. Rasmodius River was nearby, and so I went down to fill my pouch. I was a little worried since the substance traveled just down there, but the river didn’t seem to be affected by it. In fact, it almost seemed that it burned the stuff! I am about to experiment more with this.”
Here the journal entries stopped. Basil looked frantically through the rest of the book, but nothing more was written. Looking outside the window to make sure the creature was still asleep, Basil grabbed the journal and his knife and decided to canvas the area for Huckleberry Hike. First, he went back to his camp and packaged everything up, cautiously avoiding a newly blackened branch nearby. He remembered bumping against a post earlier when he was trying to follow the light of the cottage, so he traveled back in that direction. Avoiding large amounts of goo, he successfully found a rudely hammered post with a sign that said “Huckleberry Hike” carved in. He traveled down, and soon enough, came upon a mushroom patch. In the distance, the roar of the river reached his ears.
However, Basil had noticed something following him for some time. He turned around, and saw the creature there, staring at him. Basil stared back, trying to figure out what it was thinking. Slightly whimpering, it glanced at the river, then back at Basil. He barely caught the look, but it was obvious that it knew how dangerous that water could be for him. Basil made his way down to the rushing water and let it run through his fingers. Startled, he watched as his reflection changed. His eyes were back. He glanced back at the monster, putting the pieces together.
The creature flinched, then suddenly, started to run away from the river. Basil lunged forward, determined to help him. Even if Esdras wasn’t in his right mind, he deserved to get himself back again. He grasped at the back legs of the creature and almost let go. The liquid quickly made its way up Basil's little arms, and he was overcome with a morbid feeling of emptiness. Yet something in the back of his mind told him to keep holding. And so he did until he was able to drag him back down to the riverbank. He could feel himself falling out of consciousness, and with his last bit of strength, threw the beast into the river.
Basil opened his eyes groggily to see a rather frazzled mouse looking down at him. He gasped and sat up quickly, looking around. He was drenched in water, and to his left was the river. He looked back at the mouse and found that he recognized him.
Esdras started and looked at him in confusion.
“How do you know who I am?”
Basil laughed, a quick, short laugh. “Please, I’d rather tell you when I’m not drenched and tired. It’s a rather long story.”
So Esdras lifted Basil, and holding each other up, they made their way back to the cottage.
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Students 6th-12th Grades