Aurum chooses to babysit Calex again despite what happened last time. He thinks bringing a book of nursery rhymes will keep the kitten entertained and clearly not have anything spiral out of control. Or maybe he just wants it to at this point.
The Ancient Clock of the Mice
“Hickory dickory dock. The mouse ran up the clock.” Aurum was sitting on the couch in Calex’s home, once again babysitting the werekitten. The white and gold tiger had his usual outfit (which he had recovered after the last visit) of a black tank top, pants and his usual scarf. Currently he had a book open in his lap and the orange kitten was perched atop his head in feral form. The kitten of course was naked of all clothing, not because he was currently a feral housecat, but because he was Calex.
“What’s a hickory dickory?” Calex interrupted Aurum’s reading. He could still talk in this form, at least when he wanted to.
“It’s…” Aurum paused as he considered. “I’m um… Not sure actually…”
“So why does the story start that way?” The kitten tilted his head.
“I don’t know.” Aurum threw up a paw. “Because it’s a nursery rhyme, they needed a certain rhythm and rhyme pattern. Now will you let me continue?”
“Ok!” The kitten moved a paw over his mouth as if making a zipping motion. As he currently lacked fingers or thumbs it didn’t really work.
“Alright then, the mouse ran up the clock.” Aurum continued.
“Why?” Calex interrupted again.
“Well… Because it wanted to?” Aurum suggested.
“Right but you have reasons you want things.” Calex explained. “I want cookies because they taste good. I want games because they’re fun.”
“Well there’s not really a reason here, it’s just something the mouse does.” Aurum for some reason thought reading to Calex would be easier than his other games. But winding up subatomic was starting to feel easy compared to these constant interruptions. They hadn’t even finished the first nursery rhyme in the book yet.
“So does it run up the clock because it’s a mouse, or is it a mouse because it runs up clocks?”
“What does that even mean?” Aurum looked at the kitten. “And does it make a difference?”
“All the difference in the world really.” Calex nodded. “It completely changes the context of the scene.
“Okay…” Aurum came up with what he thought was a clever solution to answer the kitten’s question. “Well, you’re a sharp kid, surely you can guess which it is.”
“Hmmmmm.” Calex considered for a moment and swished his tail. “Based on past experiences… I’m going to say its a mouse because it ran up the clock. That lines up with what I’ve seen in the past.”
“Sure you got it!” Aurum patted the kitten on the head. “Now let’s continue.” He looked back down at the book. “The clock struck one, the mouse ran down. Hickory dickory dock.” And with that the rhyme was complete.
“So… What’s next?” Calex asked.
“That’s it.” Aurum replied. “That’s the whole thing.”
“That can’t be it!” Calex protested. “We barely had an introduction, there’s no narrative, we never find out what’s so important about the clock, and why does it run down at one? So many questions left to answer.”
“Calex, it’s a nursery rhyme, not a novel, that’s all there is to it.” Aurum explained.
“But!” Calex pointed a paw at the book. “Look at how many pages are left! Clearly there’s more to it!”
“Those are different nursery rhymes.” Aurum explained. “The book is a collection. Each page has a different rhyme and picture to go with it.” Aurum turned the page to show Calex. “See?”
“So it’s a collection of incomplete stories?” Calex made a disgusted face. “That’s dumb.” He jumped down from the couch, landing on two legs as he changed to his bipedal form.
“Is that so?” Aurum had hoped the book would be enough to occupy Calex’s attention for most of the night. Perhaps at age six the kitten was a bit old for these, but given previous evidence Aurum had assumed it was impossible for anyone in this house to be too old for anything. Perhaps it was just an attention span issue. “Alright we can do something else. What would you like to do?” Aurum set the book aside.
“Hmmmmmm.” Calex thought for a moment. “Well… I could get you a stronger dose of the youth serum this time and we could go to war with the kingdom of plushies, or we could power up the shrink ray and play hide and go shrink!”
“Let’s not do that…” Aurum remembered how last time they were supposed to wind up mouse sized, and instead had somehow wound up smaller than a Planck length. “Things got a little too intense at the time.”
“I seem to recall you were having a pretty good time.” Calex stuck his tongue out. And this was a fact that Aurum couldn’t deny. But, they had been down there for awhile. There was no telling how long it’d last or how small they’d get this time, best not to take the risk. “Though I see you didn’t learn your lesson very well.” It was clear Calex disapproved of the fact that Aurum was dressed again.”
“Hey I need these!” Aurum protested. “You expect me to walk around naked in public?”
“Well yeah that’s what cats do.” Calex nodded. “Odin’s not a cat and he does it too sometimes if it’s really, really hot. Though usually it’s less that and more a side effect of some kind of transformation.” Calex shrugged. “Either way don’t come whining to me when you get stuck in them again. You know, someday there may not be someone there to help you find your way out from under those clothes.”
“I think I’ll be fine.” Aurum wasn’t planning on any such transformations happening tonight. He had learned that while Calex was mischievous, he wouldn’t actually intentionally force a transformation onto someone. Of course, there were still two possible problems. The first was the ‘intentionally’ part. The second was the kitten seemed to run on a very strange alien form of logic. He would take some things too literally and a poor choice of words might be interpreted as the go-ahead.
“I am giving a pre-emptive I told you so in the event I an unable to later.” Calex grinned smugly. “You know if we wind up like too young to talk or something.”
“Uh huh.” Aurum knelt down and booped the kitten on the nose.
“GAH!” Calex flailed his paws around before falling back on the ground.
“Huh… Did I just learn the kitten’s weakness?” Aurum grinned.
“That was no fair! You caught me off guard!” Calex whined as he climbed back to his feet.
“Anyway, we can play hide and see if you want. But no shrink rays.” Aurum saw Calex about to open is mouth. “Or potions, serums, magic wands or mystical artifacts.”
“You take all the fun out of finding a good hiding place.” Calex huffed. Considering he was already pretty small, Aurum didn’t think the kitten would have too much trouble hiding.
“Too bad.” Aurum stuck his tongue out. “Now if you’re gonna hide you better get going cause I’m already counting!” Aurum knelt down and faced the couch and placed two paws over his eyes. “One. Two.”
“H-hey! You’re supposed to give a warning first!” Calex looked around the living room frantically trying to figure out a place to hide. Under the coffee table, too obvious. Behind the couch? Too dusty. The kitten liked to keep his fur clean. Maybe up on the bookshelf if he crouched real low he wouldn’t be visible from the ground.
“Three. Four. Five.” Aurum continued to count, Calex had lost half his time and not made a decision.
“MROOOOOOW!” Calex shouted in frustration. He was a cat, and therefore a master of stealth by default. This shouldn’t be so hard. Then he froze as his eyes fell to something on the wall. An old clock displaying the time, currently a little after two in the afternoon. “It might actually work…”
“Six. Seven. Eight.” Aurum was almost done, Calex had no time to look for another option. He made his choice.
The kitten ran for the clock on the wall, leaped up off the ground and managed to land on the bottom of its wooden frame. Then he quickly used his claws to scale up the clock as quickly as possible. He started to shrink, and the higher up he got the smaller he got. The fur receded from his hands and tail, and his ears became more round. By the time Calex reached the top of the clock had become a mouse.
“Squeak!” Calex looked over himself with excitement. He knew it! The mouse was mouse because it ran up the clock. And by doing the same, Calex had turned himself into a mouse. Now hiding would be super easy. But… He was still bothered by why the mouse would want to run up the clock in the first place in that story. There had to be something up here.
“Nine. Ten.” Aurum finished his count. “Ready or not here I come!”
Calex was out of time, he was currently standing right above the face of the clock. And sure, he might be a small mouse right now, but he was also still bright orange and stood out. Not to mention, he was probably the only mouse in the world who had a fang. That was a dead giveaway to his identity. He had to hide fast.
Why go up the clock? It would be pointless to run up just to run down again. Aurum had told Calex it was just a nursery rhyme, but now having transformed into a mouse Calex suspected it was something more. It was a riddle. And if there was a riddle to solve, adventure couldn’t be far behind. But where? Calex pushed against the wood of the clock trying to see if there were any secret buttons or levers. He found an entire door. He pushed it open revealing that there had been a secret mousehole at the top of the clock all along.
“Squeak.” Hello hiding place. Calex quickly dove into the mousehole and out of sight of anyone in the living room.
“Did I hear a squeak?” Aurum’s ears twitched as he looked around the room. He was sure he had… But finding the kitten was more important right now. Hide and seek was a mostly harmless game… But it technically meant Calex was unsupervised until found… And an unsupervised werekitten could get himself into a lot of mischief. Aurum began to search the room, first he looked under the table and then behind the couch. Of course, those were too obvious. “Hmmmm if I was a kitten where would I hide.”
Aurum looked upward at what ledges there might be to perch on. Seeing a few bookshelves he went and dragged a chair from the kitchen to stand up on and look over them. No kitten there. Had the kitten left the living room? He had still sounded pretty close when Aurum was nearing the end of his count. Of course, he could run pretty fast on all fours. But Aurum felt like he would have heard that. After all, those tiger ears just weren’t for show.
“You’re not up in the light fixture are you?” Aurum turned the light on just briefly, no kitten shaped shadow in there. “Okay… You clearly got a little creative with your hiding spot. So let’s figure this-“
“SQUUUUUUUUUUUEAK! Squeak squeak squeak squeaaaaaaaak!”
“What?” Aurum heard the sounds of a mouse again. And the mouse sounded very, very excited. He could hear it still squeaking eagerly and slowly followed the sound all the way to the clock hanging on the wall. “Noooooo.” Aurum shook his head. He couldn’t have possibly… And then he noticed the mousehole above the clock’s face, one he was absolutely certain had not been there previously. Well, Aurum had a pretty good idea of where Calex was and the mouse’s identity.
The tiger got as close to the clock as possible and tried to peer into the hole. However, it was just high enough up off the ground that Aurum couldn’t easily see in. He stood on the absolute tips of his toes and grabbed the edges of the clock trying to pull himself into a better view. And right as he got eye level with the clock…
The world got a lot bigger.
“SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAK!” Having already technically been at the top of the clock, Aurum’s own transformation was immediate. He was a tiger one moment and a mouse the next. He found himself falling to the ground and landed on the carpet, then a moment later his pants and shirt both landed atop him. “Squeak…” Well, technically it wasn’t a shrink ray… But now Aurum couldn’t talk. Still… What were the odds that Calex’s home would possess a magic clock that turned people into mice right after he read a related nursery rhyme.
Well actually, if even half the stories Calex told were true, the odds might be pretty good. It still felt way to coincidental. Well, for now Aurum just had to focus on getting freed of his clothing. He had no intention of becoming a nudist, but he was starting to think he might want to investigate in clothing made from a lighter fabric. It took him a few minutes, but Aurum eventually found his way out from under the clothes and climbed up atop them. He looked up at the clock and saw an orange mouse standing at the top of it.
Calex had come running when he heard Aurum’s loud squeak. He hadn’t arrived in time to see the transformation, but the pile of clothes on the ground made it pretty obvious what had happened. Still! To think Aurum would actually look inside the clock for him. He must have been a hide and seek master. Still, as he watched the bump move around beneath the clothing before Aurum freed himself he couldn’t help but be amused. Once again, he was completely right. When Aurum had finally got out Calex let loose a long series of squeaks that was clearly him laughing at Aurum.
“Squeak.” Aurum narrowed his eyes and looked up at the kitten mouse. He knew what he was being made fun of about. It made him kind of glad that neither of the two could talk right now. It limited how much fun Calex could poke at him. Still, now that he was free of his clothing he could get a look at himself. He was a normal mouse, and there was only one small detail that identified him as different from any other mouse. The fact that he still had his white and gold striped fur. Aurum looked back up at the clock and saw Calex had disappeared again.
That was right! They had been playing hide and seek. He had gotten slightly distracted with his sudden change from predator to prey species. But… This had happened, and as he had learned last time there was no good fighting it. It was best to just work with it. Aurum glanced at the clock, then ran for the wall, ran up it until he reached the wood of the clock. From there the climb was easy, mice just as good at climbing as cats, possibly more so thanks to their paws being so small they could find a foothold anywhere. Grooves in the wood made it easy for him to scale the way up the clock and to the mouse hole. And… It led to a really long hallway.
“Squeak?” Aurum was confused. The hallway was longer than the wall this clock was mounted on. Well, it apparently was a magic clock, but that was still freaky. There was no sign of Calex, but the hallway was really long Aurum couldn’t see the end of it. He ran as fast as he could and eventually the hallway opened up into a large circular chamber. Calex was simply staring upward, unaware of his surroundings. It made it easy for Aurum to walk right up to the younger mouse and poke him with a paw. “Squeak.” Aurum attempted to tell him he was it.
“Squeak?” Calex was roused from his stupor by the tag. However, he had already forgotten the game as something more interesting had come along. “Squeak! Squeak! Calex eagerly pointed upward.
Aurum looked up. The room was far taller than should have been possible given the size of the clock but given the hallway this wasn’t surprising. Especially not compared to what it had been that occupied Calex’s attention.
There was a series of massive gears turning above their heads. Well, maybe they were just normal sized gears. They were mice after all. However, the gears were made of stone and looked as if they had been here for hundreds of years. They slowly turned making a grinding noise. In the center of the gears was a large silver sphere constantly spinning in different directions. The sphere had a clear seam running in a circle around it, making it look like it would open up. Of course, there was the problem that there was no visible way to approach the thing without being crushed between the stone gears. Then even if someone could get past that, the thing was spinning so fast anyone who tries to grab it would likely severely injure themselves before they found anyway to open it.
“Squeak.” Aurum’s ears drooped, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
“Squeak! Squeak squeak squeak!” Calex on the other hand was excited. The squeaking that alerted Aurum must have been when the kitten-mouse first found the room. He ran around the room looking for levers, buttons, anything that might stop the gears. For a brief moment he considered climbing up and trying to force a gear to stop with brute force. He took a few steps up the wall…
“Squeak!” When Aurum saw the other mouse climbing up he cried out in protest. Not knowing about Calex’s supernatural abilities he assumed he was no more durable than a normal mouse and would be crushed.
“Squeak?” Calex looked at Aurum then at the gears confused. Suddenly, realization flashed on his face. Just not realization of what Aurum was trying to communicate. Instead he had assumed he was being warned that brute forcing his way through might risk damaging the place and destroying whatever treasure was inside. “Squeeeak.” Calex tapped his tail against the floor as he tried to think of what to do. He tried to think back to the rhyme.
Hickory dickory dock.
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one.
The mouse ran down.
Hickory dickory dock.
Calex still couldn’t make sense of the hickory dickory parts, but the other three lines were understandable enough. The mouse ran up the clock referred to anyone running up this clock would turn into a mouse. So then…what was the next thing to do. The clock struck one, the mouse ran down. It was already after one, so if it was something that could only be done exactly at one that could be a problem. And would it be A.M. or P.M?
“Squeak?” Aurum could see Calex was deep in thought and tried to figure out what it was going on.
“Squeak! Squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak. Squeak! Squeeeak squeak!” Calex attempted to explain the ‘riddle’ that he was trying to solve, but of course Aurum couldn’t understand anything he was trying to say. Aurum sighed and tugged on Calex’s tail, wanting to take the kitten-mouse away from the dangerous gears.
“Squeak?” Calex looked at Aurum confused not understanding his intentions. Then suddenly his eyes lit up! The clock struck one, the mouse ran down. It was obvious! There was some mechanism at the bottom of the clock that could control the gears! But there was still the one part. Well… Did it actually have to be one, or if he just moved the hands to on would that do the trick? There was only one way to find out. “Squeak!” Calex got loose of Aurum’s grip, but to the tiger-mouse’s relief was running back down the hallway towards the exit. Then his mouth gaped in horror as he saw Calex leap from the clock. He had learned about the square-cubed law last time… Or at least gotten the simplified version but it was still frightening to see his charge just jump off.
Calex wasn’t jumping to the floor though, and instead caught the hands of the clock with his fore paws. Here he carefully moved the hour hand to point at 1 and the minute hand to point at 12. He looked down at the base of the clock. Nothing happened.
“Squeak.” Calex sighed. Had he gotten it wrong? He stared at the base of the clock hoping something would happen if he waited… And in this case he was rewarded. For the briefest of moments a small door slid open at the base of the clock. However, it was only open for a second before it slammed shut. Exactly one second. How was anyone supposed to get down there in time if all they had was a second…. Except… Wait!
Calex slapped his face with a paw. It was so obvious now. How had he missed it. The clock had a third hand, the second hands. While Calex had been holding the other hands in position on 1 o’clock the door had opened when the second hands reached the 12. The clock had to be at exactly 1:00 on the dot not a second off. Calex rested a paw on the hour hand, thankful his weight enough wasn’t enough to move it while he used his forepaws to stretch and press against the minute hand to make sure it wouldn’t advance. Then, he watched the second hand go round… And as it slowly approached he wrapped his tail around it and forced it to still at the 12 position. The door at the bottom opened and it stayed open. Not a bad security measure, would be impossible for any one mouse to get the treasure themselves.
“Squeak squeeeeak!”Calex called out for Aurum who emerged from the mouse hole very confused as to what Calex was doing. “SQUEEEEEEAK!” Calex was using all four paws and his tail to hold the clock in position, this left him very little to gesture with. The best he could do was try to point his nose at the bottom of the clock.
“Squeak?” Aurum however wasn’t getting the message. It just looked like Calex was nodding. He tried to slowly climb down the clock surface but as he did he saw the open door too. One that had definitely not been there. “Squeak?”
“Squeak!” Calex shouted in excitement now that Aurum had seen it.
“Squeak!” Aurum understood. He ran down the clock and into the small opening. It was crowded, even for a mouse. But there was only one thing inside. A single lever made out of stone. Aurum grabbed and pulled. The lever resisted him, darn mouse body so small and weak. But this was clearly mouse sized so it had to be possible. He pulled until every muscle in his body ached. And finally, the lever slid backwards and Aurum tumbled backwards from the momentum. A loud grinding noise could be heard coming from somewhere higher in the clock and then silence.
Once Aurum was out of the small room Calex wasted no time heading back to the top of the clock. Aurum followed as fast as he could. With the hands free to move again the door shut. That no longer mattered though. Every single gear inside the place had stopped turning and the silver sphere was perfectly still. Now that the gears were no longer moving between a combinations of their teeth and perpendicular gears there was a staircase perfect for mice to climb up. Aurum and Calex approached the sphere eager to see what was inside. Calex was the braver of the two he reached out a paw and touched it, and suddenly the sphere fell to the ground and opened releasing a stream of mist. When the mist cleared they saw their prize, an ancient looking parchment. There were mouse claw marks all over it, and it looked like it had been made by someone dipping their claws in ink then drawing. It was a map, a map of the house they were in right now. The thing had to be centuries old. Which was weird since the house was less than a decade old.
“Squeak!” Calex picked up the map and pointed at it. He knew his way around the house, it’d be easy to follow the trail.
“Squeak!” Aurum nodded. He couldn’t help himself. Despite how well… Calexy the situation was, even he was excited. What kind of treasure would this ancient map lead them too?
Both mice ran out of and down the clock. Then they ran across the living room. Calex paused for a moment as he checked the map, verifying the route then made a disgusted face. He wriggled under the couch and tried not to think about how many dust bunnies were down there.
Aurum followed and found Calex’s reaction curious. Especially once Calex got out from under the couch and spent several minutes patting his fur to free it of dust. And then they continued. He wouldn’t have guessed such a rambunctious kitten to be a clean freak.
From here, they had to travel up a bookcase. It was actually a new one that had just been bought last week after the last was destroyed in an evil panda related incident. Very forward thinking of the ancient mice mapmakers to include it in their drawings. From atop the bookshelf the map seemed to indicate they should go through the wall.
“Squeak.” Calex pointed at the map to show Aurum.
“Squeak!” Aurum nodded. He had seen enough this adventure to figure out the logic. He began to walk the edge of the wall, every few inches jumping up and pushing his forepaws against it. At one spot, the wall fell inward revealing a secret passage.
“Squeeeeak!” Calex was ecstatic. The two mice took off running. The passage took them through the interior of the house, running across wooden beams. At one point they had to leap to another, and once more the map showed them as having to go through a wall. Neither mouse wasted any time searching the wall for a secret route until they opened the door.
And came out in Calex’s bedroom. They came out right above his closet. Toys could be seen scattered across floor, and there was both a normal bed and a cat bed, causing Aurum to wonder which one Calex slept in.
Here things got tricky, the map showed they had to go straight down to the floor. Scaling down was easy, but Aurum found himself wishing Calex would clean his room more. Giant plush toys and game boxes were littered around the room making it hard to see where they were going.
Luckily, the map had included the location of every single toy. And by following it they worked their way through the maze of giant plushies and out the open bedroom door. From here it led straight across the hallway into another wall. By this point the mice were well practiced in finding the secret doors and it took them no time at all.
Again, they were in the framework of the house. But this time it was harder, the entire path was going upward, climbing posts until they were nearly at the roof. Then they followed the map to another wall and paused.
According to the map, once they found the door and went through there’d be a long fall, and then they would be at the treasure. Calex was eager, while Aurum reminded himself how small he was and that the fall wouldn’t hurt him. No matter how many times it happened it was still an intimidating experience. But, he was burning with curiosity. How had any of this been set up? How had whoever made the map centuries ago known about every feature in the house and even where scattered toys would be? Had they been some sort of oracle? And why hide treasure in a house anyway?
Well… Maybe upon seeing the treasure Aurum would understand a bit better.
Calex held the map in his mouth then looked to Aurum. The two mice nodded too each other and then pushed against the wall with their head. It slid aside, and sure enough the two found themselves free falling from up high before landing inside of a jar.
And inside the jar was the treasure the map promised. It was full of chocolate chip cookies! Each one bigger than either of the mice! There were cookies here to last for days!
Calex eagerly began to nibble on one of the cookies, seeing this as a fine prize. Aurum however took a moment to pause. He slowly climbed out of the jar and looked around. They were just in the kitchen that had always been part of Odin and Calex’s house. In fact, now that Aurum thought about it. When he had been given emergency contact numbers and had them pinned to the fridge, he had seen the cookie jar. It had been here the entire time! They could have just walked in here and gotten cookies! There was no need to get transformed into mice, solve riddles and puzzles, or follow a century old map. All of it was completely pointless!
Then Aurum looked down into the cookie jar and saw how happy Calex was as he nibbled on a giant cookie. It looked like the little kitten-mouse had greatly enjoyed his adventure throughout the house and…
Perhaps it wasn’t so pointless. Maybe they didn’t accomplish anything, but it had been a fun journey along the way. Wasn’t that some kind of saying anyway? Life was about the journey.
Aurum climbed back down into the cookie jar and began to nibble on one himself. And he swore it was the best cookie he ever had. He didn’t know if it was because he was a mouse, or if having to earn them through an adventure just biased his perception, but they were wonderful.
And he realized how happy he was to have had this experience. No, regardless of how silly it was, it wasn’t pointless.
And so the two mice had their fill of the cookies until they could eat no more and fell asleep inside the cookie jar. Eventually Calex’s owner returned home and found them there. Having had plenty of experience with coming home to scenes like this Odin was an expert by now. He gently lifted both mice out of the cookie jar without waking them and set them down in a hamster cage in Calex’s room. He left the cage door open for them and then left them to rest before heading to bed himself.
To Aurum, the entire experience almost felt like a dream. He might have even thought it was…Were he not still a mouse the next morning when he woke up.
“Squeak!?” Aurum looked down at himself. How was he supposed to get back to normal?
“Squeak?” Calex shrugged, he was used to these things working themselves out eventually and busied himself with seeing what kind of food Odin had put in the bowl today. It looked like it was the good stuff! Actual nuts and berries! The kitten-mouse greedily dug in, and after a few seconds of watching Aurum joined him for breakfast.