A winter’s tail


Rich Hannam

It was Tuesday again when the world changed once more. Gulliver announced his arrival with a loud miaow, and a lightening quick pounce on to the chair under which Bernard happened to be sat.
That night the mice cowered under the floorboards. Their fat tummies rumbled for the first time in weeks, and their knees knocked like a woodpecker in spring.
“How did this happen?” snarled Bernard.
“Because we stole her food,” replied Arnold. Bernard shook with rage.
“How dare you. I found us food whilst you crawled around the floor licking dust. I want you out, out, out.”
He dragged Arnold through the gap in the thick stone wall that lead into the garden. With an almighty kick, Bernard booted him head first into the snow (or bottom first, it is difficult to tell with a mouse with no tail). He sank slowly into the icy blanket, and felt his world slip away along with his warmth.
“And next time, it’ll be the fire we throw you in,” hissed Bernard.
Arnold sat without moving. Slowly the cold seeped into his body, and his eyes started to get heavy. He knew of this type of sleep. It was deepest kind. He had one last look up at the house that had been his home, and then … and then he spotted a small ledge that was sheltered from the snow. Would he fit? Almost. But almost would be very uncomfortable. And almost would expose him to that bitter easterly wind.
A voice inside him said “Don’t go to sleep. Go to that ledge.” Arnold didn’t agree with the voice, but sometimes there is no point arguing with such things. He swam through the snow, and climbed up onto the ledge. He was right. The bitter easterly did tear through his fur, and the ledge wasn’t big enough for him, leaving his tailless bottom stuck out into the winter.
He shivered with every pore, and his body thinned day-by-day until his ribs were clear on his underbelly. And where his bottom cut into the storm, rime ice began to build up. It built and built, ice crystal by ice crystal, until it formed a long … well, tail of ice from his rear end, mocking him.
If you stay here you’ll die, came the voice again. This time Arnold agreed with it.
He dropped to the floor, and shuffled slowly to the gap in the wall. He squeezed through. The warm air stung like nettles, as he nosed his nose into the kitchen. He smelt mouse. And he smelt cat. The others would scuttle up the curtains and creep along the beams high in the ceiling. But Arnold couldn’t do that. He didn’t have a tail with which to balance. He cast a glance back at his disappointing bottom. To his surprise, his bottom responded by flicking a sliver tail. The ice! The ice tail had not melted! Quickly Arnold shot up the curtain, and with joy balanced along the beam.
Below him sat Gulliver. And Gulliver was not alone. The cat had Bernard caught by his tail. From far above Arnold watched in horror as the cat opened it jaws.
Now the voice told him to jump. So Arnold jumped. He landed on Gulliver’s head, instinctively digging his claws into the cat’s skin, and bitting a hole in its ear. Gulliver was terrified.
Arnold leant carefully forward and plunged his silver winter’s tail deep into Gulliver shoulder. It snapped, and the mouse let go, flying through the air, and landing neatly by the fire. The cat did not touch the floor once on it journey to the cat flap and out into the garden, swearing on all its eight remaining lives that it would never enter that house again.
Nervously Arnold turned to find the other mouse shaking and curled up on the floor.
“Bernard… are you okay?”
“No … I mean yes … I mean …” the mouse looked at Arnold with big eyes. “Thank you Arnold. Thank you.”
“It’s okay. But are you hurt?”
“I… well, I am a little …”
“Oh no! Where are you hurt?”
“Well you see… I don’t want to say.”
“Tell me, tell me please. Maybe there is something I can do to help.”
“No, there is nothing to be done,” said Bernard. “You see, Gulliver bit off my tail.”
Arnold stared at Bernard. Bernard gulped and stared back.
“So …” said Arnold quietly “… you are a mouse without a tail?”
Bernard let out a sob. And Arnold let out a giggle.
And from that night on, Bernard and Arnold became best of friends. The mice went back to eating Mrs Jenkins’ crumbs, so Mrs Jenkins’ went back to not needing a cat. And everyone told the story of how Arnold had rescued his friend with the help of a winter’s tail.