My third and final tale for AMMC, a Christmas Anthology.
Author: Lisa Shambrook
Dedication: To all who dream and believe…
The Little Mouse
Food was scarce, and the little mouse scampered hurriedly across the straw avoiding hooves and scavenging poultry. A chicken screeched in his ear and he skidded aside, ducking quickly beneath the manger’s wooden leg. He dragged a fresh piece of barley caught between his teeth and a couple of lost grains filled his swollen cheeks.
He peered out from behind the manger, chaos had broken out over the last few weeks and finding food had become a chore. His home was overrun with creatures of all kinds and his daily route for food was constantly obstructed.
His bright, black eyes stared with disbelief as yet more shouting rang out as another crude shelter was erected outside the livestock caves. A rough-hewn branch crashed down, its hollow thud resounding through the bedlam as it bounced and rolled. More yells and hasty footsteps followed before the makeshift roof was assembled, roped together above the temporary pens. He watched as more sheep and goats were crammed into the pens, and chickens flapped their irritated wings throwing dust into his eyes. He retreated into the pungent, dank straw, longing for peace and quiet.
The little mouse awoke from his nap as light began to fade and streaks of red filled the sky. He noted with relief that the busy footfall had diminished moving into the streets rather than the livestock stalls. Music and chat poured from the buildings and the sounds and the spices of evening meals curled up into the sky, along with spirals of smoke and fire, but it was quiet in his little neighbourhood. The chickens slept, roosting upon beams and clustered in corners, the sheep cried out every now and then, and the goats had fallen silent. The donkeys in the stalls brayed softly, but these were familiar noises and the little mouse was calm.
As darkness fell, the little mouse scurried to and fro collecting food and grains, and preparing for night.
His tranquillity was rudely interrupted by footsteps, tired voices and the weary drag of hooves on the dusty ground outside, and he scuttled back to his hole.
He squinted in annoyance as a donkey clumsily stepped into the cave and a woman slipped off, steadied by the man at her side. Another man dropped the donkey’s rope, spoke quickly, and handed them an oil lamp before disappearing, leaving the couple alone in the dark stable. The lamp flickered, throwing dancing beams across the shadows and the man helped his wife settle into the straw. He dropped down beside her and wiped away the dust-stained tear that rolled down her cheek. A sheep bleated as a chill breeze wafted in and the man took his weeping wife with her swollen belly into his arms. Her soft moans echoed and the mouse withdrew.
It was very dark when the mouse woke again and moonlight tried to gain entry through the front of the cave. The little mouse ventured out, scampering across the floor, but was stopped by the sudden cry that echoed in the gloom. He lifted his head and rose onto his hind legs, and stared into the shadows. The cry wasn’t a lamb’s mewling call, or the soft bray of a donkey, or even a goat’s bleat, and the chickens were quiet…it was an unfamiliar cry and he stared harder.
Lit only by glimmering lamp light, the corner threw oddly shaped shadows as the couple quickly wrapped a parcel in their arms. The mouse crept closer, every fibre of his tiny being both fascinated and fearful of the soft cries that emanated through the night. At the foot of the couple, the mouse stopped and gazed, and as he beheld, so did every other animal in the cave.
The young mother wiped tears from her face with her threadbare sleeve and kissed her newborn, and the little mouse climbed up onto the man’s scruffy, leather sandal. The little mouse could not take his eyes off the tiny babe and leaned closer. The man felt the scratch of tiny claws on his raw, weary feet and glanced down. He moved his hand and the mouse flinched, but the man took the mouse in his large, rough hand and brought him up, cradling the tiny creature against his chest. His heart thudded and he whispered softly, “And his name shall be Jesus, and you, little mouse, shall be the first to see him…”
The little mouse relaxed and peeped over the man’s fingers, gazing in fascination and curiosity.
The noise from the late night streets had subsided, and from the fields round about came an altogether different refrain. His large ears heard music vibrating in the air, strains of glory and joy, and shivers reverberated through the little mouse.
A glinting moonbeam sought out the child in its mother’s arms and cast a halo around the babe, and the little mouse remained serene as the new dawn arrived…