Cat and Mouse

by Dan D'Alimonte

Slipping quietly along the baseboard, the small brown mouse searched out the crumbs that would make up its next meal. It moved slowly, stopping every few seconds to search out the sign, scent or sound of danger. The room was deserted, the large folk that normally occupied it were elsewhere at the moment. While the mouse was not intent on encountering on the large folk, it was more then happy to feast on the scraps that they left behind.

The mouse's search was fruitful, leading it to a sizable chunk of bread crust that some careless diner had dropped. Clutching the dark brown crust between its forepaws, the mouse began to nibble at the morsel. Intent on its meal, the tiny creature let down its guard, its attention completely drawn to the food in front of it.

The mouse's meal did not last long though. It was rudely interrupted as a soft thump sounded around it. Suddenly, the mouse was surrounded by fur. A terrified squeak was issued by the mouse as the bread dropped from its paws. Startled by the sudden pounce, the mouse stood in shock as the furry form above it slid along the polished stone of the floor. Finding itself standing under the belly of its attacker, the mouse quickly regained its nerve and bolted between a pair of legs towards freedom. Hoping to make a clean escape from such a close encounter, the mouse bolted straight for its hiding spot under the serving table that ran across one side of the room.

The mouse's escape was stopped suddenly as a paw slapped across its side. The blow sent the rodent slipping a few yards across the slick stone floor. Climbing back to its feet, the mouse looked at the cat loping confidently towards it, for only a second before bolting once again. The cat had done it a favour, knocking it even closer to its destination.

Even with the shortened distance, the mouse knew that it would not be able to outdistance the cat in an all-out sprint. Sensing the cat's approach from behind, the mouse anticipated another pounce at any second. As if by some sixth sense, the mouse suddenly changed directions, giving up on reaching its bolt hole under the table and aimming towards a much closer arm chair.

Just behind it, the mouse heard the sound of the cat landing with an annoyed snarl as the cat once again just missed its prey. Scampering as fast as its tiny legs could carry it, the mouse made a bee-line for its destination. The cat, climbing back to its feet, watched the mouse run from it. Its missed pounce had given the small rodent the head start it needed to make it to the chair. The cat was not concerned. The chair sat in a corner of the room, and, though it would not be able to reach the mouse under it, there was nowhere else the mouse could go. Calmly following the mouse, the cat watched it pause for a moment, looking back at the cat before diving behind the cloth rim that hung around the base of the chair.

Knowing that the mouse had no way to escape from its safe haven under the chair, the cat began to walk slowly around the perimeter, making sure the mouse did not try to slip out the other side. The hunt had just become a waiting game, and the cat was satisfied to wait, for the moment.

Under the chair, the mouse was not as confident. It huddled in the center of its small refuge, its eyes scanning the small gap of light between the cloth and the floor and its ears scanning for any sign of the cat. Only the cat's paws could be seen as it paced around the chair, and the mouse found itself drawn to watching them, glad that the cat was too large to fit under the chair.

The waiting continued, and though the cat was fully prepared to outstay the mouse at the beginning, its patience quickly grew short. It decided that a change in strategy was in order.

Crouching down next to the wall, the cat suddenly shoved as much of its body as it could under the chair and began flailing its claws around and screaming at the top of its lungs. Under the chair, the mouse was caught totally off guard by the cat's actions. Fear took over and, even though there was no way the cat could reach it, the mouse bolted out the opposite side of the chair.

Quickly jumping to the top of the chair, the cat watched to mouse scamper across the floor. Tensing its muscles, it pounced once again. This time, though, it did not miss its prey. Its hit the mouse, knocking it to the floor and trapping it under its forepaws. The stunned mouse shook its head as if to clear it. Sensing its predicament, the mouse tried to struggle, but the cat's hold on it was too strong. The mouse settled down, looked over its shoulder and awaited its fate. Seeing the mouse's submission, the cat brought its head right up to its prey, took a few quick sniffs, and then began to groom the mouse's face.

While this was going on, a stern looking older woman entered the room. Her already sour face grew even harder when she saw the two animals in the middle of the floor.

"Ah, that's the cause of all that racket." came her sharp voice. "Janice. Peter. Stop it! Let 'im go, Janice. Right now."

The cat, startled from the new voice, jumped back from her prey. Both of the animals got to their feet, and turned to face to woman, a guilty look on their faces.

"I send yea two in here to do a simple job. All that yea had to do was clean the room for 'nights reception. But, oh no, you two had to go off and start playin' silly games, raising a ungodly noise and disturbin' me from my work." continued the older woman. "Now, don't just sit there starin' at me. Go find your clothes and change back to normal."

Slowly, the cat and the mouse slunk out of the room. A few minutes later a young cat-morph girl wearing a simple brown dress and a mouse-morph boy wearing shorts and a plain jerkin, walked back in through the door and stood in front of the matronly woman.

"Good. You're presentable again. Now for you punishment"

"But Jeffery," said Peter, the mouse. "We was just playing around."

"Tom-foolery is never acceptable behavior when you're supposed to be workin'. 'sides, Janice could have really hurt you."

"No way, Ma'am." spoke up Janice, the young cat. "I'm always careful."

"I'm sure yea are dear, but accidents do happen." said Jeffery. "And if I ever catch yea two playin' that particular game again, I'll tan yer hides till the fur falls out.

"Now Janice, finish puttin' out new linens on the tables, and Peter, make sure that all the furniture is dusted. When you're finished that, go help in the scullery till dinner. Think of it as your punishment."

With that, Jeffery turned and left the room. As she was passing through the door, Janice and Peter could hear her mumbling something about "silly children" and "playing around with abilities they shouldn't be messing' with". Once Jeffery had left the room, Janice turned to Peter and stuck out her tongue at him.

"Got you again, Pete." boasted Janice.

"Well, you just happened to got lucky." he replied. "Besides, I managed to get away last week."

"You got lucky. If that page hadn't of closed the door, I would have had you."

"I still got away, and I'll do it again next time."

"No, you won't."

"I guess we'll find out later, Jan." said Peter with a smile. "Unless you're afraid of ol' Jeffery giving you a whipping."

"She doesn't scare me. Now, lets get done in here before Jeff gives us even more work to do."

With a shrug, Peter watched Janice move to continue laying out table clothes, he began making his way over to the utility closet where the dust rags was kept, he bent down, picked up a small piece of bread from the floor and popped it into his mouth.