Rat in the cottage

Rat's legs stiffened tensely as blood throbbed fearfully through them. Thrusting his muzzle out of a jagged opening, he drew in deep breaths to catch any hints of danger. Even though the house cat disappeared for weeks, it wouldn't hurt to be any more cautious than this. Dropping into a crouching stance, his eyes settled on the table leg a distance away. Dinner in his mind; dinner he shall have.

Then, as if being hunted, his limbs exploded into a series of rapid paw works heading towards the table. Skidding to halt before his next obstacle, he ran his eyes up the daunting pillar to briefly judge the height he had to climb. This wasn't his first time up the table yet weariness crept up his soul over time. Stealing food off the table night after night never appealed to him anymore than a cat's scent but it was the only way to survive.

With a swift blow, he buried both claws into the wood and heaved his body upwards. After assuring his hind legs too had a firm hold, he progressed vertically in a squirming fashion. The battle with gravity promptly ended as Rat, with his months of climbing experience, conquered it with ease. Planting both paws on the table surface, Rat gasped in triumph as he conquered another day's meal.

Another spilled bow, another mess of chunky meat; Rat sniffed each and every piece carefully before sinking his teeth into them. Dried fluids from previous meals formed an ugly stain whilst diffusing an acrid odour that spiked the nose. It came on so strongly Rat could barely tell fresh food from stale ones.

Every second lingered on the table swung his head more violently than a house cat playing with its prey. As soon as he consumed a fair amount, he hastily slipped down the table leg and back to his nest for a rest.

Such is the life of Rat – eat, sleep, repeat. Day after day his thievery became nothing more than a routine to be fed. Never in his life had he considered taking a step outside; a hermit who retaliate the notion of exploration. Bound by the comfort of a stable life, he refused to travel beyond the stinking table even though others took the step forward long ago.

Curling into a foetal position, Rat grunted himself to sleep – another day, another stink.

---

As day fell into the freezing night, a cold ache crept up Rat's limbs, forcing him awake; another day yet the same routine. Jaded he was but reality spared no mercy to his empty stomach. Repeating the same sequence he returned to the fields of stunk. Again scrutinizing every possible food – or look a likes – he found a pleasing fragrant amidst the provoking reek.

Hit by a burning curiosity, Rat dropped the food in hand to investigate the source of relief for his nostrils. Facing the gaping windows beside the table, he leaned forward to breathe in more fragrant and less stink. With a powerful thrust of his hind legs, Rat brought himself to the fragrance where he was welcomed by a field of white flowers blooming under a brilliant moonlight. Frozen by their beauty, he feasted visually at this art of nature.

"Oh!" He exclaimed ruefully, "What a fool I had been to let such beauty of nature fail my sights! Why have I not taken notice earlier?"

A snicker came from above. "Silly rodent, these flowers only show themselves when I shower them with ample moonlight."

Lifting his gaze, he was treated to yet another visual exhilaration of a perfectly curved moon emitting a graceful glow among the dark skies. "I've never seen such a round moon!"

Grunting softly, she replied. "Careful not to praise a female with 'round'; it might save you troubles of flying choppers!"

Rat scratched his head sheepishly, "Sorry."

As his attention was engulfed by the beauty ahead, a growling hunger battered within. "I'm hungry."

Moonlight shifted to a wooden bridge built between a mild river. "I can only show you the way, whether to take it is entirely up to you."

Life exploded within his weary soul as the thought of different food source came into mind. First, he discovered the flowers and then the gorgeous Moon, he eagerly anticipated what was across the bridge. Sliding down a thick vein hung beside the wall, he touched down on a soft and moist ground. Rat raced wildly to the bridge for this could mean no more stinking tables.

Pausing thoughtfully a step before the bridge, he turned to Moon, "How long will you be here?"

"Until the rooster calls," she replied, "Now go!"

---

Dozens of rat lengths away stood a battalion of towering yellow beads no shorter than the green stalks supporting them. Scratching his head in bewilderment, he searched his memory for a name. 'Corn' then hit him in enlightenment. The yellow beads were corn and the towers, he assumed, was their bone. Seeing corn in its most natural form drove his desires wild.

In a few skilful leaps, he came to where the stalks were. Gnawing his way into a thick stem, the giant stick succumbed to its own weight and cushioned a fall on the soft ground. A delightful thump sent thrills across every strand of fur.

A sharp pitch sent him into the stalks hiding. Peering cautiously from the plants, he saw a fluffy white cloud with head and hooves.

"I don't eat rats young one," Baa-ed the sheep.

Hugging the corn close to his chest, Rat walked over and rested beside the sheep. "I've never seen such a roun –" he paused as Moon's advice came into mind, "White animal and one which roams at night!"

"I'm a counting sheep young one; every day when my clients sleep I graze the fields for leisure."

"Why are you calling me young one?" Rat retorted, "How old are you?"

"As old as any dragons ever existed."

And so, Rat companied the Sheep in exchange for tales of magic and sheep, whilst enjoying the juicy corn.

"Blood?" Rat exclaimed, "I thought only cats enjoy them!"

"Oh no young one," Sheep replied calmly, "other animals enjoy blood too but these creatures, they have a weakness for garlic."

Thus began his new nights of fun on the other side. Every night he would venture across the bridge occasionally dropping a friendly greeting to the every busy Moon. At times she'd respond to Rat and share stories of the world below her. Most of the times however, he'd end up sitting beside Sheep with corn in paws listening to tales of blood sucking monsters that resembled humans.

In a moment of enlightenment, he grasped the motivation behind other rats' departure for better food. Never in his life had he thought the world was this 'good'. Not once in his whiskers had he considered, let alone stepping out of the cottage. Sighing at his own years of ignorance, he grew disgusted at thoughts of eating off the filthy table. Nevertheless cornfields would be as far as he would travel from the cottage – no matter how rundown or unbearable it maybe, it'd always be his home.

---

Dusk once again descended to a chilling darkness, sending freezing spikes through Rat's pelt. His body convulsed violently, forcing the spikes to withdraw at the hint of warmth. Night once again graced Rat with her cold body, threatening to bestow a freezing death should he fail to feed tonight. Poverty had never cut him any slack, let alone welcoming joy. Despite all, not once had he envied animals enslaved by humans. Good life they had, dignity they lost.

Shaking away all moody thoughts, Rat climbed up the window allowing happy thoughts to invade his mind tonight – skunk table no more; corn fields aplenty. In addition to good food, he gained valued companions; individuals who willingly share valuable knowledge and time together.

As he reached out to the window grill, he felt cushioned for a moment and levitated the next. His body was tossed a distance away while his arms burst into desperate flaps in hopes of surviving this battle against gravity. Holding his breath tightly, he surrendered for he knew this was a losing fight. A loud thump exploded into his ears while pain consumed his senses almost immediately. Letting out a yelp of hurt, he recovered quickly to massage where it hurt most.

"Oh sorry!" Winds apologised frantically.

Shielding his nose from the moving air, he starred into the mini tornado. "That hurt!"

"Oooh, sorry, sorry, sorry, I was rushing from one place to another! The people in the west need me to power their wind mills and the people to the north need me to cool heat eaves!" She paused, "Sorry!"

Though Rat couldn't comprehend all the foreign terms, he knew she had an important position in both places. "Please go then, people need you."

Winds waved the little fur patch farewell as she travelled hastily to the north – wherever there is. "Don't worry, you still can talk to me through the slightest breeze you feel. My voice is carried by the lightest wind there is."

And so, Rat laid back for a rest before carrying on his journey.

Breathing in the fresh scent of grass brought in by the breeze, he began conversing with Winds randomly. At times she would reply while other times silence ensured.

From a simple conversation, he learnt about people in the west who needed her power to drive many things. People to the north however, worshipped her as a deity for sending heat away. As a single entity she couldn't be at two places at once; this bruised her heart with regret. Even though her heart lies to the north, she refused to abandon the west.

First ray of day pierced his dreamy eyes as he was too engrossed to notice dinner was missed. Scrambling to his feet, he returned to the forsaken bacteria fields for a light meal before going back into hiding.

---

For nights he grew attached to the cooling Winds and failed to visit the fields. After scavenging leftovers on Stink Table, he'd rest by the window grills to converse with Winds for stories from a different walk of life. Sheep may have been old enough to recite legends of mythical beings and Moon stood high enough to see the world but Winds travelled far enough into people's hearts to reveal a different reality.

Those nights were the only time he spent with Winds. Once again the air was filled with silence which spurred him back to where clean food awaits. Slipping down the veins skilfully, he looked up to Moon with deep respect for she never failed to shed precious light upon those who dwell in darkness.

Rat sighed deeply while appreciating the flowers in full bloom, "What are we going to do without you Moon?"

"Oh you'd get by," replied Moon.

Rat squeaked in embarrassment, "Just a random thought.

---

The corns shrivelled, revealing wrinkles of tough times. All moisture brutally drained from the heartless drought. Forcing himself to finish whatever on paw, he complained to Sheep with the bitter after taste in mouth. What was once sweet and juicy no longer so; the ordeal was not well received.

"The corn!" Rat complained.

"Grass is too dry, the sun is rather active these days. Stay home for the next few days, I'm going to draw in rainy skies to water this dry land."

Rat stared incredulously at her hooves, "You draw?"

"Magic," Sheep winked.

---

Windows hurled themselves out of the house and came crashing in as armies of water droplets doused the dry cottage. Puddles settled in every depression they could find. Droplets couldn't fill into any holes slowly found their way into Rat's nest seeking refuge; the freeze hammered hard into his aching bones. Panic stricken from the impending freeze, Rat pressed hard against wall as the puddle marched in oppressively.

Flattening his back against the wall, Rat's feet backed with every inch closer the puddle moved. The wall halted his retreat firmly, not giving any lee way. Every passing second his hunger grew, every moment was a self contradictory argument between his legs and stomach. The conclusion was simple – no pain, no food. Then Moon's words came into mind – "I can only show you the way, whether to take it is entirely up to you."

Puffing his chest with courage, Rat drove a foot down the stinging puddle, sending droplets flying in defeat. Rat conquered the cold and headed towards the Stink Fields. If not for stubbornly hiding in the same cottage in years, he would've led a better life elsewhere. Once again glaring at the daunting pillar, he wondered was all of this any meaning to it?

"Why is it other rats could live a better life elsewhere but I insist in staying in this lousy cottage?" He yelled frustratingly, "Why do I persist in this senseless struggle for stinky food?"

Before an answer came to mind, humans stormed through the door frantically yelling commands that put the violent windows to a stop. Gusts of wind that invaded the house died off with soft grumblings. As humans walked out of the room, Rat returned his attention to his next destination – Reek Table.

Pausing for yet another moment, a thought struck his mind – why has no meat cubes every fall to the ground even though they eat messily? It would've saved him lots of energy from being excused to climb up and down. Stung rudely by another cold breeze, he shook all silly thoughts off and climbed the table.

---

Whilst feasting on the meat cubes, Rat threw occasional glances at the muffled windows. Just moments before, they were slamming themselves from ends to ends seeking a cease to their torture. When the humans came, they received salvation.

The storm may moisturize the land but was it necessary to be of this magnitude? Not once since his birth had he lived through a rain violent as this. The cold wind however, still found their way through the small window gaps spraying shivers down his pelt.

Howls of sadness drowned the windows pitiful yelps thereafter. Every strand of fur erected on Rat's fur. For a moment, he thought some ghastly figure was paying this rundown cottage a visit. Realising it was just the wind, he calmed a little while trying to catch any hints of Winds passing by. As he listened, he found the cries carried by the breeze were none other than Winds.

"Winds!" He yelled, letting food slide of his paws. "What happened? Where are you?"

Questions sent out of the windows were replied with more howls of sadness. So distant yet so near; Rat hoped his voice too, could be delivered to the little tornado. Feeling bogged by all these matters Rat retreated to the miserable hole for comfort. The puddle stubbornly stationed itself in his territory, leaving space no more than Rat's body to rest on. Sighing at his own life, he forced his mind to rest.

For nights torrents of rain raged through the cottage; for nights Rat fought relentlessly against the freeze and worries for the young one. Whenever he stepped out of his hole, the frosty breeze would chew on him like a cat while Winds' silence, like the whirlwind she was, stirred his emotions wildly.

Finally numerous days later, the weather calmed itself. The puddle which laid siege on his resting place slowly died off with heat filling the cottage again. Flexing his muscles to the welcoming warmth, Rat climbed over the now quiet windows and scanned the fields once more. Drenched in water, the flowers hid under their soft pedals waiting for Moon to shower them with light. Moon was not making an appearance today – never mind; there are still the fields.

Soil sponged up the rain while grass blades retained some dew. Every step was damp and soggy but the thought of eating corn again pushed him through the wet land without Moon's guidance. Announcing his arrival with another corn slamming on the ground, Rat was surprised to find him alone – where did Sheep go? Shrugging that question aside, he sat alone in the dark field sinking his teeth into the sweet corn. Instead of joy, the sweet after taste left nothing but bitterness. What is corn without Sheep or Moon?

As he stood at the windows' entrance, he tried to focus on every passing breeze to catch Wind's voice but nothing. Dropping his head in disappointment, Rat returned to his sleeping place again. For the first time in his life, food's glamour didn't, for a moment, become his centre of attention. Was it corn that's sweet or was it the companionship of those he met in the process? Perhaps, Rat thought, that's why he chose to hermit in this rundown cottage – because he wanted to avoid situations like this.

Another night, another expedition to the fields, another disappointment. Rat knew he wasn't going to find them but at least wanted to rest his mind knowing they're doing well. Life is full of tragedies – a rat was hunted down by a house cat right before his eyes and thereafter the community dispersed in search for better life. Although Sheep, Moon and Winds didn't have natural predators to deal with, he wanted to at least have a peace of mind knowing their disappearance was for the good.

Next night, Rat rose with heaviness in his heart; body held down by gravity of no peace. Perhaps tonight, Rat thought, back to the Stink Fields instead for less travelling and more resting.

As he mounted the top once again, a familiar and joyous fragrant defeated the stink on site. Looking out of the window, he saw flowers blooming under a brilliant spot light. Elated by the beauty of it all, Rat jumped over to the grill for a closer look at these beauties.

"Oh hi there little one, heading to the fields tonight?" Moon asked.

"I've been waiting for your return Moon, what is the night skies without your light of enlightenment?"

"My apologies, I had a heated discussion with the Sun regarding daylight saving issues. I'm pleased my light has benefited you!"

Rat bounded off to the corn fields again. Skipping the corns, he headed straight to the grass fields where the fat cloud roamed. A familiar munching noise was heard as he drew closer.

"Hey there young one, how's the corn?"

Rat shook his head, "What is corn without your woolly company?"

"My clients have been a headache lately; they can't sleep until I jump over the fence a thousand times!" Snickering under her sea of thoughts, Sheep Baa-ed.

As the rooster made his morning call, Rat hurried back home before the humans woke up. God knows what kind of brutal arsenal they'd draw this time if they spot him. The cat was the worse he ever had to encounter; good thing it's gone. Cheers of celebration roared in Rat's ears when he reached the cottage – that meant Winds was happy, for now.

Throwing his arms into a wide stretch, Rat threw himself into a deep sleep; smiling for he knew the storm was finally over.

This was going to be the last night going to the fields. Exploring the world worked out as a one off thing but not anymore. The outside world may have better food but the cottage, he could not abandon it. His smile slowly faded away as thoughts of not meeting Sheep, Moon and Winds crossed his mind.

Thus is the life of Rat in the cottage; born a hermit, live as one.