Authors: Jamie Wang
Requiem for a Mouse
This is a work of fiction. Everything included within the book is a product of the author’s imagination including names, products, characters, places, and incidents. The author’s imagination in these cases are used fictitiously. Any resemblance or mention of real names, products, characters, places, or incidents are entirely coincidental. This includes but is not limited to businesses, people (living or dead), events, and locations.
REQUIEM FOR A MOUSE
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2016 Jamie Wang
This publication is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted without prior consent from the author.
Trent was about to die for an apple. He would’ve chuckled at the absurdity of it all if it didn’t hurt so much to laugh. For months he had stolen from the street vendors and never once had any bothered to give chase. Except today.
He laid his head against the dead roots of a tree. Around him was a field of cracked dirt and desert shrubs. The tree grew bent over the cliff, overlooking the dying river like it was straining for a taste of water. Trent knew the feeling all too well.
He closed his eyes. With the world blacked out, his swollen knees didn’t ache so bad. The hunger that churned his stomach into knots wasn’t so bottomless. He smiled, after all, there were worse ways to die.
The scorching heat of the sun dissipated into a gentle breeze.
It’s happening. It’s over.
“Do you live here?” It was a girl’s voice.
When Trent opened his eyes, his smile disappeared. There were no angels or golden clouds, only the same dead tree in the same barren field. But now, he was under the shade of some girl. The sun shone above her, masking her face with the exception of her red eyes.
“Yeah,” Trent replied with a raspy voice. “I live under a dead tree.” His lips held more cracks than the dirt beneath him and talking only reminded him of that.
The girl wore a bright summer dress that hung to her knees. It gleamed the same brilliant white as the angels in church windows. Though, unlike this girl, there were never splotches of dirt on the angels. The girl looked about fifteen, only two years older than himself.
“What happened?” she asked.
“I stole an apple.”
The girl shook her head. “You shouldn’t do that. Some people believe that apples are symbols of love.”
Trent’s brow shot up. “Who believes that?”
The girl grinned. “Me. Do you want to know a secret? It’s impossible to enjoy stolen apples. Even if you eat one while its ripe, it would rot inside your stomach and make you sick. If you want one, it has to be given.” She held out her hand with an apple inside, its skin the color of her eyes.
Trent’s mouth filled with saliva. His tongue snaked out along the edge of his lips and for once, it was wet. He shot the girl a wary glance.
“Go on. Half for you, half for me.”
Before she even finished the sentence, Trent ravished the apple. Every bite released a gush of juice, every swallow untied another knot in his stomach. When he was finished, there was barely a core.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
But the girl was smiling a sweet and gentle smile. “Now you owe me,” she joked, “apples are sacred things you know.”
Trent exhaled a single chuckle. “Take whatever you want. This is all I have.”
“You’re looking at my family.”
The girl’s mouth scrunched up into a small frown. She squatted to his level. Though the sun burned Trent’s eyes, he kept them wide open. The girl wore an expression he recognized, but had never seen directed at him before. Worry.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“I won’t let you die here.” She was serious.
“You don’t even know me.”
A smile stretched across the girl’s face. “All I know is that you owe me an apple.”
“Angels don’t exist.” The words slipped out of Trent’s mouth. When he realized what he had said, his face flushed red and he turned away from the girl.
The girl laughed a single ringing note. “So I’m an angel. How sweet of you.”
“I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Well, I’m a Mouse. So I’m the closest thing to an angel in this place.”
At mention of the word Mouse, Trent’s gaze wandered to the girl’s arms. Sure enough, ridges and fissures lined her biceps in strange shapes. Each scar was a Hawk that had cut her to the bone, the punishment for being a Mouse.
“If you’re asking me to become a Mouse, I’ll take my chances alone,” said Trent.
The girl followed his gaze to her scars. Her smile faded. “You don’t have to be a Mouse,” she muttered as she pulled down her sleeves. “But you also don’t have to be alone.”
“I don’t get you,” Trent said, “what do you get out of this?”
“I get to name you,” she responded softly.
“Are you being serious?”
“Bolt,” she answered.
“That’s not a name.”
“But it is your name.”
Trent shook his head. “No, it’s not.”
The girl looked at him like he was a child simply too young to understand. She reached into her pockets and pulled out another apple. “Half for me, half for you.”
“Even after I already owe you one?”
“I don’t even know the name of the last kid I gave an apple to. This one’s for us, Bolt.”
Bolt snorted and took the apple. “Fine, but let me tell you right now, I will never become a Mouse.”
She returned him a crooked grin. “The name’s Sasha and we’ll see about that.”
I won’t fail again.
Bolt zipped through the trash-filled alleys toward the marketplace. Every step submerged his feet into another rotten puddle, shooting sewage up his bare back. In his shorts pocket was a bag of penicillin, enough to save a life. For one family, it meant the world in its entirety, but to the Hawks, just a few dollars’ profit.
“Stop, Mouse!” A female Hawk screamed from behind him.
Bolt dug his toes into the ground and leapt into the blinding sunlight. Before his eyes could adjust, he collided head-first into someone. His teeth snapped shut against the ground and everything went black.
He awoke to the taste of dirt. It must’ve only been seconds, but seconds too long. Just standing up shot pain up his leg. If he surrendered now, nobody would blame him. But his family had all ran their routes, handing off the pills from one route to the next and finally to him. He couldn’t give up on the last leg of the drop.
“I see him!” The Hawks sprinted toward him, only a football field’s length away.
If just standing was hard, running would be impossible. Around Bolt was the standard lunchtime crowd at the marketplace. Street vendors had set up shop along the sides of the road, squishing two lanes of traffic into a single lane of space. Behind the street vendors were houses of stone, brick, and cement, their materials varying as much as their colors. Somewhere among the crowds and buildings was an escape route. There had to be.
The sound of splashing water resounded from the alleys. Bolt glanced back to see three teenage Hawks almost at the end of the alleyway. There was no time to think. Right now, he needed distance. His first step felt like accidentally missing a staircase. His knee crumpled and he stumbled forward, barely able to catch himself in time. With a grimace, he clutched his thigh and pulled his leg through every throbbing step.
He limped into a nearby alley and found his ticket to freedom. A broken basement window, its ledge at his feet. Shards of glass hung off it like cracked fangs. Times like this made him appreciate his small size. The window was small and his hunters had long since outgrown their childish bodies.
“Jonah, cut him off!” The female Hawk entered the alley, just a few yards away.
“Shit.” Bolt closed his eyes in a silent prayer and fell on all fours to crawl through the window. With every push forward, the glass bit deeper into him, first his arms, then his stomach.
“Oh no you don’t.” She was right on top of him.
Bolt yelled and heaved his body through the window as fingertips brushed his feet. He fell three feet onto a wooden table below. A cloud of dust bloomed up in a wild dance.
He stopped to catch his breath. Mistake. The dust in the air felt like tiny feathers tickling his lungs. He beat his chest with a fist as he coughed out all the air he had left, until all that remained were the feathers.
The single thought drove him forward. He staggered across the room to the front door and pushed against it. It didn’t budge.
“I won’t let you out,” an unfamiliar voice said from the other side of the door.
Bolt’s chest felt like it was about to explode. His pupils bounced around the room looking for some way to breathe. Then he found it. A nail in the doorframe, a quarter of it already hanging out. He ran to it and pried out the rusted metal. A small stream of sunlight shone through.
He latched his mouth onto the hole, grateful even for the taste of rotting oak. With every breath, a pile of wood chips and insects lodged itself into his throat. But with them was oxygen. The weightless sensation that had flooded his head slowly passed. Left in its place was an unquenchable thirst for more air.
I need to escape.
There were only two ways to escape. One was through the broken basement window he had crawled through and the other was through the front door. Of the two, only the front door gave him at least a fighting chance. Bolt backed away from his hole to examine the door. It seemed sturdy, but spots of mold betrayed its age. Surely it wasn’t unbreakable.
He headed back to the window. Two silhouettes peered through the dust, mentioning something about burning trash. Bolt ignored them and with an excruciating leap, ran toward the door. His shoulder slammed into it, sending tremors down his spine. The wood snapped. A shallow crack snaked across the door.
With a might leap, he threw his body into the wood. The crack widened.
Bolt stood up and fell against the door. His knees had given out. He lifted his face, surprised to see his own shadow dancing on the doorframe. Behind him was a small fire and a whole basement full of dried out wood.
Tiaren had never met such a stubborn Mouse before. She paced the alleyway, rubbing the crescent birthmark under her right eye. She called it her moon.
“Nervous?” Brand asked her, his usual calm replaced by an uneasy shifting. He played with the spark wheel of his lighter.
“It’s been almost five minutes. The Mouse has to come out.”
“Nobody is dumb enough to die on a drop.”
Brand shrugged. “Mice are.”
Tiaren sighed, and for a second, she regretted playing the role of a Hawk. With perfect timing, her stomach grumbled and reminded her why she did. She stared into the smoke, only able to see a few feet beyond the haze. “If he doesn’t come out soon, we’re going in to get him.”
“Be my guest.” Brand crinkled his nose at the smell of roasting trash.
Tiaren shot him a sharp glare. “We should have at least some standards.”
Brand snorted back, “we’re Hawks.”
“Even so, I draw the line at murder.”
Brand rolled his eyes, but Tiaren knew he would listen. Years of starving together had instilled a blind trust within their group. Plus, the prospect of murder was compelling even for someone as apathetic as Brand.
“Mouse, give me your hand and I’ll pull you up,” Tiaren yelled into the smoke. She pressed against the window with her arm stretched inside, bobbing above the heat of the flames. “C’mon Mouse!” All she could do was pray that the Mouse had the good sense to grab her hand.
At the touch of timid fingers, she seized his wrist and pulled. Despite her care to avoid the glass, it still dug shallow cuts across her arm. With a final grunt, Tiaren flew backwards. She landed in the dirt, her ponytail spread across the floor. “Holy hell,” she muttered between gasping breaths.
The Mouse hung limply out the window. Soot covered his face like makeup. Except for the lines of red that ran down his arms and stomach, his skin was the color of dirt.
“Jonah, we got him!” Brand screamed through the window. “Let go of the door and meet us in the alley.” He dragged the Mouse into the alleyway.
With a heaving cough, the Mouse came to life. His raspy breaths resembled the dying gasps of an old man. Yet, he was just a child.
Brand searched through the Mouse’s pockets. It didn’t take long for him to find a crumple bag of pills. When he did, he threw it to Tiaren.
Tiaren had to strain her ears to hear the Mouse.
“Sorry, Mouse.” She had meant to sound cold, but was surprised by the tenderness in her voice. She couldn’t help it. The Mouse was just a kid, no older than her when she was abandoned.
“Tiaren, we still have to…” Brand’s voice dropped.
“I know.” Tiaren frowned, her fingers already returning to her moon.
Stories of cruelty were the only way to dissuade other Hawks from their hunting grounds. The most common story came in the form of scarring.
“Lighter,” Tiaren said.
“Give me the lighter.” Her voice was the crack of a whip.
Brand raised a single eyebrow and tossed her his lighter. When she began running her blade over the flame, his lips pressed together into a thin smile. He looked at Tiaren like she was something to be protected. Tiaren felt the urge to spit.
“You’re much to soft.”
His look said.
But disease was common in the slums and infections fatal. Brand would’ve teased her regardless. Might as well save a life.
Brand grabbed the Mouse by his arms and held him down. It was as if touching the Mouse awakened him. The Mouse thrashed and kicked under Brand’s grip, but no matter how hard he fought, the difference in their strengths was obvious.
“Do you want me to do it?” Brand asked.
It took Tiaren a second to realize Brand was teasing her again.
“Shut up.” She refused to be babied further. Still, as she approached the Mouse, she wished someone else would bear this burden.
“No, please don’t,” the Mouse begged.
Sorry, sorry, sorry…
Tiaren climbed on top of the Mouse’s right arm. Strange etchings littered his bicep. She brought her blade down until it sizzled and filled the air with an acrid odor. When she finished, it felt like her stomach had bottomed out. Even Brand looked away, his teeth clenched together.
The Mouse grabbed his arm and rolled into a fetal position. Tears streamed down his eyes.
Tiaren and Brand backed away.
“No,” the Mouse grunted through heaving breaths. “A young mother, if she doesn’t get those pills, she’ll die.”
“I’m selling these pills for food.” Tiaren’s words had lost their edge.
“But she’ll die!”
“And if we don’t eat, so will we.” Without another word, she turned and left. From the corner of her eye, she spotted Jonah, joining them only after their terrible act.
Tiaren walked ahead while Brand waited on Jonah. She pulled a yellow gelatin pill out from the plastic bag. Looking through the pills was like seeing a new world. Straight lines curved and blues turned to green. And slowly, her sullen mood lifted.
She turned and giggled at the sight of Brand and Jonah. Jonah looked even rounder and Brand’s lanky arms stretched even further. She wondered how her own golden eyes would look through this lens.
“You okay?” Brand called out.
“Yeah!” Tiaren waved the pills in the air. “I hope you guys are hungry.”
“When aren’t we?” Brand said chuckling.
As usual, Jonah lumbered silently behind him. Tiaren ran her hand through her ponytail. Her hair unfolded down her back. It felt like freedom. She placed the pill back in front of her eyes and looked up at the golden clouds.
She once thought she had a family. Then, her parents had left her in the marketplace with promises of coming back. Back then, she had waited until even the sun had abandoned her. In order to survive, she had become a Hawk. She hated what she did, but loved the people she did it with. Maybe, that was what family meant.
“Tiaren!” Brand screamed.
She saw a flash of mangled hair before being thrown against the wall. The sour smell of alcohol and piss smothered her nose. A sharp pain stabbed her abdomen. She looked down, surprised to see the worn leather handle of a knife sticking out of her stomach.
Her body slumped to the ground. Even as the knife was yanked from her body, she felt numb. For a split second, she looked into a pair of icy golden eyes. In a flash, the image vanished as her attacker sprinted down the alley with her pills.
Like a faraway echo, she could hear Jonah screaming. It sounded muffled and even though she wanted to respond, she was too tired. Just keeping her eyes open was hard enough.
That’s strange, Jonah screaming? He barely talks.
Tiaren laughed breathlessly. She wasn’t sure if her lips even moved. With great effort, she turned her head to see her family. Though it was silly, seeing them so worried made her happy.
She tried giggling, if only to let them know she was alright, but she couldn’t muster any sound. Instead, an odd calming sensation overcame her. She let a final breathless laugh.
Behind her, the fire had become an inferno. A black pillar of smoke rose to the heavens.